DH and I are novice cruisers, although his folks cruise 2-3 times a year, including fall repositioning cruises. Living in Portland OR, we look to get away in the winter for places sunny & warm. We've sailed on NCL 3 times before, and were originally booked on the Epic for these same dates. We started hearing negative reviews about the cabins, and realized we wouldn't even get a robe unless we upgraded from a balcony, so we decided to make a change. We had already purchased airfare separately, didn't want to pay rebooking fees, and so settled on the Liberty as it had the same dates and the same general itinerary (Western Caribbean). Boy, we are glad we did!
We took a red-eye flight on Alaska from Seattle, arriving in MIA at 7:00 a.m. If we do that again, we'll rent a car and drive around, as we had too many hours to kill at the cruise terminal. When we did board, embarkation was quick and easy and we helped ourselves to Mongolian barbecue in Emile's (the buffet). We checked out the gym (nicely equipped) and then hung out by the jogging track on Deck 11 until our cabin was ready. I picked up an ugly stain on the seat of my pants from one of the deck chairs; guest services arranged for free laundry with a smile!
We chose an aft-facing, extended balcony cabin on deck 6 (6489) and LOVED it! The cabin itself was roomy and well-laid out, and the oversized balcony allowed room for two chairs, a lounge and a small table. We had 3 sea days on this cruise, and spent a lot of our time on that lovely balcony. We will certainly book the same type of cabin again, but move up one or two decks. We were situated over the aft lounges and there were noise issues. Guest Services offered us another cabin on Deck 10, but we didn't want to be next to a bank of elevators and the kids' pool. We realized that the major noise problem was an over-amped subwoofer in the comedy club. We spoke to the manager there directly and weren't bothered again. I think that Guest Services also spoke with the other venues, as well. We could hear karaoke signing some nights, but not the "whoomp, whoomp" of the subwoofer. Kudos to Danielle in Guest Services for working to make things right for us!
The overall decor of the ship is a bit much for me, and I understand that the Liberty is actually "understated" by Carnival standards! Mostly, I ignored it. We found the ship fairly easy to get around, once we learned to use Deck 5 to travel aft to forward.
We selected "your time" dining, as DH hates fixed times for much of anything while we're on vacation. We found that by dining after 7:00 p.m. we didn't wait long for a table for two in the Golden Olympian dining room. A couple of times the hostess gave us a beeper for our table, but still the wait wasn't more than 20 minutes.
We were pleased overall by the food. Dinner and service in the main dining room were superior. We stuck to the omelet station in the buffet for breakfast, with fresh fruit to accompany. We ate lunch once in the Silver Olympian and enjoyed it; when we went back 2 or 3 days later, however, they were offering the same menu we'd had previously. We also enjoyed the fish & chips and burrito bar for lunch--very tasty! Overall, I think that the buffet food is the weakest part of the offerings. The selections were ordinary and CCL doesn't offer the number of "action stations" (pasta, waffles, stir-fry, etc.) or ethnic foods that NCL does. We also enjoyed speciality coffees in Jardin Cafe and the sweet Thai baristas.
The high spot for food was our dinner at Harry's Steakhouse, a birthday gift from my mother-in-law. Excellent food, superb service, and we stuffed ourselves! The chef came out to thank us for dining there at the end of our meal. Hearing that it was my birthday, he sent out a second "custom" dessert spelling out "Happy Birthday" in drizzled chocolate. All in all, well worth the up-charge AND we gave an additional tip for the fine service. One odd bit, however: Harry's is under the sports deck. If you eat early, you'll hear basketball players bouncing around above you!
We worked out in the gym several times, but skipped both the free and paid classes this time. I enjoyed the spa facilities after a workout, but was disappointed not to receive a robe and slippers. DH and I did miss the "thermal spa" experience of the NCL Jewel. I would've liked a pedicure (didn't have time before we left) but found the prices for spa services too spendy for me, as on the other ships we've cruised. Most folks observed the "adults-only" rule at the aft Versailles pool, but there were the usual deck chair hogs who "reserved" their lounge chairs before breakfast. The two jacuzzi tubs never seemed crowded, but weren't very hot.
Everywhere we went, service was exceptional, smiling and friendly. We enjoyed the variety of nationalities of the staff. Last year on the Jewel it seemed like most of the staff were Indonesian or Filipino, without hotel staff from the eastern European or Commonwealth countries. Perhaps CCL pays in euros--who knows?
Our room steward, Hermogenes, introduced himself at the beginning of our cruise and never failed to greet us with a smile and a greeting. The room was spotless every day and evening, and we accumulated an entire menagerie of "towel animals." I liked the bed linens, but found the bump in the middle of the bed where the two twins are brought together to be annoying.
Prices in the gift and duty-free shops were reasonable. I found the ship's price for Chanel "Allure" to be identical to the shops in Freeport, Grand Cayman. We saw one show, the juggler/comic "Edge," and enjoyed it.
We booked two shore excursions ourselves pre-cruise: a beach day with Cozumel Water Sports, as they offered an all-exclusive with nonalcoholic drinks, and Sting Ray Alley and snorkeling with Stingray Sailing on a catamaran. The beach day was fine--bring water shoes or aqua socks to Cozumel! We loved our excursion with Stingray Sailing and will recommend them separately on the Grand Cayman board and on TripAdvisor. For Ocho Rios, I found the Cobaya Gardens online. For $10 each round-trip, we got on a van at the pier with driver Ian and guide Ava. Lovely folks! After dropping several folks off at the LONG lines for Dunns River falls, Ian left us at Cobaya Gardens and promised to come back 2 hours later. We paid US$10 each for admission (I think), strolled the grounds and gardens on our own, and explored the smaller Mahoe Falls, and then viewed the little museum onsite. Ian and Ava were right on time to retrieve us, and we picked up our fellow travelers and went straight back to the ship. We didn't spend any time in town, and were never accosted during our time at Cobaya.
Disembarkation was our easiest ever! We did not fly home until the following day (Sunday) and I was afraid we'd be the last to get off, but our group (#19) was in about the middle of the pack and we were off by 9:30 or thereabouts. We had no problems getting our bags or making our way through customs/immigration. The procedures for catching a cab have been much improved and we had a cab to our post-cruise hotel (Four Seasons Miami) immediately.
Of course, our room wasn't ready that early, but we took another cab to Coral Gables and the "Carnival on the Mile" street fair. It was lots of fun--live music, arts & crafts, and much food--and we checked out the farmers market, as well. We couldn't find a cab when it was time to go, so walked quite a ways before a bus took us within a few blocks of the hotel.
The room was lovely, as was the entire property, but I won't stay in downtown Miami on a weekend again. Our choices in where to go and eat were very limited, and the hotel's restaurant and room service were beyond our budget. (We got a great deal on the room through LastMinuteTravel*com.) Unfortunately, our air miles are with Alaska, which only has one flight out of MIA to Seattle at 8:15 a.m., too early to catch from the ship. Next time, we'll likely rent a dirt cheap car and spend the day exploring, and then stay at an airport hotel and shuttle to the airport to catch our return flight. We did South Beach last year--once was enough for us.
All in all, we had a wonderful cruise! Weather was just right, the seas were warm and calm, service was excellent, food was good, and our cabin was a delight. We made an advance deposit on another Carnival cruise, and now have to decide whether we want a refund of our deposit with Norwegian. Carnival, you'll see us again!