My husband and I took our four children (ages 10, 5, 5 & 4) on a back to back sailing of the Carnival Liberty. We departed Miami on April 29 departing for the Eastern Caribbean, followed by the return to Miami on May 7 then enjoying the Western Caribbean cruise. We had two cabins, side by side, interior on Deck 8. We have previously taken the kids on the Disney Magic, and we have traveled twice with Holland America. This was our 5th and 6th cruise overall.
EMBARKATION: We chose to purchase Carnival's airport to cruise ship transfers after we arrived at the airport in Miami. There were uniformed Carnival employees at all baggage carousels to answer questions and direct their cruise passengers as needed. The staff were friendly and VERY helpful, which was appreciated after the 24 hour flight odyssey American Airlines put us through to reach Miami. Once at the Carnival Liberty terminal, the line up looked tedious but rapidly moved along. We had issues checking in online prior to departure but it was not a concern at check in. Employees had a master list and easily looked up names at the various checkpoints prior to embarkation, and once at the desk to receive our Sail and Sign cards it only took a few minutes.
1) The back-to-back procedure is simple. We met at Guest Services according to their directions, then they escorted us off he ship around 10 am, through customs and directly back on the ship. Took all of 10 minutes to complete.
2)We chose to take a tour to the Miami Children's Museum. We highly recommend this excursion to fill the hours prior to flight departure. There seemed to be much 'hurry-up-and-wait' while disembarking. However, it once off the ship our luggage was ready for pick-up and a porter was available to assist us. Custom officer was friendly and efficient (as non-US citizens there is a dedicated line for us)then we were on our way.
CABIN: We had interior side by side cabins, 8283 & 8287. They were very conveniently located to the kids club, spa and Emile's buffet restaurant. The rooms were spacious enough, and we appreciated the built-in wardrobes in which to store our clothing and other personal articles. Baggage was easily stored under the bed. We chose to have a queen size bed and a bunk configuration in each room. Our cabins were spotlessly clean and smelled fresh.
CAMP CARNIVAL: We cannot say enough about how wonderfully the Camp Carnival staff treated our four children. The kids space was light, bright and airy as well as scrupulously clean. Security was consistent and very tight. Even when the staff knew us by name & sight, procedures were always followed. Our kids simply loved Camp Carnival and spent hours everyday participating in their structured activities. Structure is important to us as one of our kids has special needs as well as allergies & asthma. The entire week's schedule was available on embarkation day and that is a helpful feature. We especially enjoyed the evenings; the kids ate dinner in the restaurant with the Camp Carnival staff, then spent the remainder of the evening (until 10pm) in the kids club. For a small fee, the kids could have stayed until midnight or later if needed. My kids miss Camp Carnival, and ask daily when we can go back :)
FELLOW PASSENGERS: It was a variety of families, retirees from Florida (many!), and groups/couples from their 20's on up. I can cite a few specific instances where antics made us cringe, and I specifically praise the security staff in dealing with these circumstances. As other reviews mention, there is indeed A LOT of cigarette smoke wafting around the ship. Everywhere, even in non-smoking areas. We didn't bring our kids in the deck area some of the afternoons due to lewd behaviour, drinking and smoking in the hot tub and pool areas. On the flip side, there were also many lovely people we met on our cruise. All of the kids on board seemed well behaved and looked after. I was always curious about the number of passengers paged on board - it seemed very frequent! Did they fall overboard, get lost in a haze of smoke, stayed in port? I guess we'll never know...
THE STAFF: The staff we encountered were pleasant, professional and hard working. We do think Carnival needs to hire further buffet staff as the line ups were very very very long for breakfast and lunch. Our room stewards were the very souls of patience and efficiency. We did not eat in the dining rooms so I cannot comment on those services. The shore ex staff were accommodating and helpful, as were the Guest Services staff on the few occasions we needed to assistance. We received a 'Thank You' fruit basket and split of champagne per stateroom. It was a thoughtful gesture on the hotel director's part and we appreciated the effort. I'm guessing the 'thank-you' was for spending a boat load of cash while on board...LOL
a) I am sure she is lovely and hard working, but Jen's (the cruise director) rambling announcements were the tiniest bit grating to listen to over the loud speaker. We found the loud 9:45pm announcements for Bingo out of place, which occurred almost nightly. Announcements for other activities were inconsistent and infrequent, which leads me to think that Bingo! is a lead moneymaker onboard.
b) The ship is huge, but we navigated it well enough. The flow of the ship seemed choppy though, and we definitely missed the designs of smaller vessels which allow for an uninterrupted saunter that circumnavigates the ship (as in the Disney Magic or MS Zuiderdam etc).
c) There was an abundance of activities scheduled daily, available for perusal in the well laid out daily announcements delivered to your cabin.
a) The food was adequate on most occasions. Without fail we found the vegetables and fruit fresh and crisp, very tasty.
b) Breakfast was...difficult. Line ups were long from open to close, eggs were inedible and bacon was horribly overcooked yet greasy. For ease of use we stuck to toast and cereal most everyday and that was a disappointment to my husband especially.
c) The desserts in the buffet were dismal, though the ice cream was fine. The chocolate dessert buffet on the last sea day was highly attended but with the exception of the banana fritters (sans chocolate?) the cakes were dry and unfortunately tasteless.
d) The Lido grill for hamburgers etc was plentiful and reasonably delicious.
e) Enjoyed the steeped iced tea and refreshing lemonade. However we were bewildered that only half of the beverage stations in the buffet were in use. A beverage centre on Deck 9 by the pool would be welcome in the starboard eating area near the pool hut.
f) The ship featured many large tables. We appreciated this, and did not encounter any difficulty in securing a table for six (except breakfast which was often a trial in every respect.)
a) We found the shops to be curiously understocked with goods. Specifically, we needed beach pails and shovels. They were not stocked in the shops, which I found odd since we could have pre-ordered the beach gift for our stateroom.
b) We purchased many off the ship's photographer's creations. The photographer visited Camp Carnival and took delightful portraits of our kids. She gave us a 'deal' for buying all of them so it cost half ($29) of what we would have paid normally.
a) WATER SLIDE! Minimum height is 42". They would not deviate from that to allow our 41" youngest child to participate. An exception would have been appreciated but understandable as to why not.
b) The pools were clean and well tended. They were often crowded on sea days, but for the most part everyone got along and shared the space available. There was a proliferation of 'cannon ball' jumps one afternoon by grown men. I guess when one starts, they fall like dominos!
c) It definitely was a party atmosphere on board. Loud music, loud announcements, loud passengers, loud (although poorly defined) movies.
d) The 'Hairy Chest' contest is not to be missed. Highly entertaining, and I could be barely stand for laughing. Bravo to the men who participated in shaking their groove thing :)
SPA: I enjoyed two deep tissue massage treatments and I was highly impressed by Anna's professionalism and technique. The treatments were well priced, more in-line with land-based spas in my community than the often overpriced cruise spas.
a) We chose the Carnival Liberty specifically because the eastern itinerary visited Half Moon Cay, which is a favourite of mine and my husband's from previous Holland America cruises. The tender ride to the island fascinated the kids, and was fairly easily handled. The day with the children was lovely as we chose a spot near the water slide park and watched the kids race around for hours. The lunch buffet was adequate, however we had expected better offerings from past experiences on Holland America. Apparently, you do get what you pay for :)
b) We were pleasantly surprised by the shore excursion variety and cost offered through Carnival. We partook of the El Yunque rainforest tour in Puerto Rico with all of the kids. It was well run and interesting but the mini-bus transport could have definitely benefited from a tune-up and new shocks!
c) We stayed on board while in St.Thomas and used the pools.
d) In Grand Turk we enjoyed the beach and FlowRider attraction. Again, a favourite beach day port for us.
Disembarking in all ports was rapid, professionally handled and easy.
We chose this simply because we wanted to stay onboard for two weeks :) This was our first W.Car cruise, and we enjoyed the ports. We didn't disembark in Cozumel due to a change in the tour we booked so we opted for a refund and enjoyed the pools & ship life with our kids instead. The 'Elation' was docked next to us and it was neat to see the funnels lined up side by each.
a) We did the dolphin encounter in Grand Cayman. The encounter was very well done, unfortunately our child with special needs had an issue with wanting the dolphin to play fetch...and if any of our tour mates are reading this review, you have our deepest apologies for enduring his tantrum. That aside, we were impressed with the level of dolphin education we were given and I am looking forward to trying a dolphin swim (without kids) in the future.
b) Boatswain's Turtle Farm in Grand Cayman is directly across from the dolphin encounter and if you have nature loving kids, it will be a hit. Kids loved holding the turtles and it really made the day special.
c) We took our oldest child (the other three stayed with Camp Carnival and were thrilled to have a whole day with their beloved counsellors)on a tour of the Prospect Plantation in Ocho Rios. It was delightful! We enjoyed a 'jitney' ride, seeing how plantations were planted in the past, standing on an ostrich egg, smelling fresh lime and allspice tree leaves, sampling fresh coconut and of course, rum punch. It was deliciously heavy on the rum and we were pleasantly relaxed for the next few hours... This was my 2nd visit to Jamaica and it is a lovely country. I enjoyed taking a tour this time though, to avoid being harassed to buy drugs and such, as in my previous experience.
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: This was definitely an affordable vacation for us. The value allowed us to enjoy two weeks of vacation, as opposed to the one week we could have taken with Disney Cruise Lines. However, if the kids hadn't loved Camp Carnival as much as they did, I imagine it would have been a rather tedious two weeks. We purchased a future cruise certificate but that being said, I think we would enjoy a more genteel cruise experience on Disney or Princess when we travel in Dec 2012.