My wife and I just got off a wonderful cruise on the Carnival Liberty! Thank you to everyone who helped us plan it.
For some background: I am 32 years old and my wife is 33. This is our 3rd cruise, but our first with Carnival. We live in New York, so we flew to Miami the day before the cruise and stayed at the Marriott Miami Airport Hotel.
Friday, June 24 - Pre-stay in Miami
We flew flew from LaGuardia Airport to Miami Airport. We were delayed slightly due to a storm in Miami, which is why it's a good idea to always fly in the day before your cruise. Luckily, that storm was not a preview of the weather to come!
The Marriott Miami Airport Hotel provided a free shuttle from the airport to the hotel. It was slightly confusing to find the shuttle at first, but once we found it, it worked out well. The hotel was very nice, and it shared a "campus" with the Marriott Courtyard hotel and the Marriott Residence Inn. These hotels shared a very nice outdoor pool area, which we used later that night, and there was very easy access to the restaurants at each hotel. I'm honestly not sure what the difference was between the Marriott and the Marriott Courtyard; they were both the same price at the time that we booked. The campus setting was convenient, and saved space by avoiding the need to duplicate facilities. We would definitely recommend this hotel to people who are going on a cruise out of Miami.
Saturday, June 25 - Embarkation Day (and very detailed information about the ship)
This was the big day! We booked a transfer from the hotel to the port. That was a very convenient and affordable option. We chose the 11:00 AM shuttle so we could get to the port before it got too crowded. There were also later shuttles available.
The Miami port facility looked very nice, and embarkation was very orderly and easy. When we entered the ship and saw the lobby area, we knew this would be a great cruise!! The lobby area was really beautiful, and so was the rest of the ship!
Since our stateroom wouldn't be available for a while, we took the elevator up to Deck 9, for lunch at Emile's lido buffet. The buffet area was very nice, and offered both indoor and outdoor (mostly indoor) seating. We were impressed with the diversity of food that was offered at the lunch buffet; there was an international station that offered a different cuisine each day (today was Italian day), a burrito station, a grill station, a deli, a Mongolian barbecue, fish and chips, and pizza. There were several repeated stations, which was a good idea. We enjoyed the food there a lot.
After lunch, we wanted to get back to the lobby. However, the ship's layout was slightly confusing (although we quickly got the hang of it, so this isn't a major complaint). We didn't realize that only the forward elevators connected to the lobby. When our room was available, we dropped off our carry-on luggage at the room, and then decided to explore the ship. Exploring the ship on the first day is something I always look forward to on a cruise.
We started by taking the elevator back up to Deck 9 and exploring the outdoor areas. We really enjoyed the 3 pool areas and the water slide. These were definitely the focal point of this cruise, since it was a warm weather cruise. The main lido area was midship, and centered around the Tivoli Pool. This is where the Seaside Theater is, where the deck parties are held, and there was usually music.
The forward part of Deck 9 had staterooms, but the outdoor areas continued above, on higher decks. Deck 10 had the Coney Island Pool, which was a smaller pool, near the water slide. The water slide entrance was on Deck 14 (there was no Deck 13) and exited on Deck 10. This water slide was a lot of fun!! The tiered setup of this area worked well; it allowed outdoor access to the forward part of the ship, and allowed higher access for better views and for water slide access, while allowing for extra staterooms on Decks 9, 10, and 11.
Emile's Lido Buffet separated this lido area from the secondary lido area, at the Aft end of the ship, which was centered around the Versailles Pool. This was a smaller, quieter lido area, and the pool was for adults only. I liked how this separate, quieter lido area existed. This area also had a retractable roof. One thing I wonder about: if it rains and they close the roof, do they allow kids to use the Versailles Pool, or are they out of luck? When wet, we preferred not to walk through Emile's buffet to access this area, but Deck 10 allowed access to this area without passing through the buffet.
Deck 5 is the center of the ship's nightlife. We liked the promenade, and how all of the major nightlife venues were located close to each other, in order to allow hopping between venues at night. We especially liked the atmosphere in the Hot 'n Cool nightclub. Deck 4 had the Cabinet, which we went to a few nights for karaoke.
As I mentioned before, the confusing aspect of this ship was that Decks 3 and 4 do not allow full access. The forward part of Decks 3 and 4 provided access only to the lobby and to the Golden Olympian Restaurant. Deck 3 midship did not connect to anything at all. It was located between a back entrance to the Golden Olympian Restaurant (which was always closed) and the galley (which is off limits to guests). I'm surprised the midship elevators even went to Deck 3. Also, it would have been more convenient if the lobby was located midship, rather than forward, so that it would have been convenient to more staterooms. To get from one section of Deck 3 or 4 to the other, you have to either use Deck 2 or 5 to cross over, and then go back up or down.
Our stateroom was Room 2438, an oceanview stateroom located on the port side of Deck 2 aft. The room was very nice, and was larger than similar staterooms on most other cruise lines. We always enjoy seeing the ocean from our window. The bathroom was small, just like on any other cruise ship. Also, the decor in the hallways was nicer than we've seen on other ships. Our room was in a very quiet location. The only negative to our location was that it was a long walk to the forward elevators, which provided access to the lobby, the Golden Olympian Restaurant, and the theater. But it wasn't such a bad thing. On this ship, we never had to wait long for an elevator, they were very efficient. Perhaps separating Decks 3 and 4 into sections allowed for more efficient elevator use.
After the muster drill, was the sailaway party, which was a lot of fun! After the sailaway party, we enjoyed the water slide and the pool areas.
For dinner, we had Your Time Dining. We wanted either that, or the late seating, but late seating was not available. We were assigned to the Deck 3 part of the Golden Olympian Dining Room. The first night, we had to wait quite a while to get into the dining room. I wish that they allowed reservations, like NCL allows with their Freestyle Dining. Luckily, we didn't have this problem during the rest of the cruise. The Golden Olympian Dining Room was beautiful, and we really enjoyed the food! I really liked the design of the menu, where they had several items that were available each day, as well as items specific for each day. There was also a great diversity in the items that were offered, ranging from everyday comfort food to more exotic items that you won't see anywhere else. Also, the appetizers each day offered one item that was more exotic than the others. This was a great way to sample new items. Even if someone dislikes their appetizer, there is still the main course. However, I did enjoy everything that I selected! Also the deserts were excellent, especially the warm chocolate melting cake, which was available every day! Other than the long wait we had the first night, the Your Time dining worked well. The advantage is that it offers flexibility each day. Most nights, we were still in the dining room when the waitstaff did the show for the fixed time dining guests.
However, my wife strongly recommends fixed-time dining; a couple of nights, she was a little jealous of the people scurrying upstairs and strolling to their pre-assigned tables. She says that your time dining is not quite whenever you want-you may be given a buzzer and/or wait in line. However, personally, I didn't have a problem with the waiting, other than the first night, and, we were usually still able to enter before we would have been able to enter with late dining anyway. Also, she feels that fixed-time dining guests might benefit from getting to know the same servers. She also feels that Disney's waiters had a much higher level of training. Then again, training has always been a very high priority for Disney. In any case, from what we have heard, Carnival has seriously raised the bar for food quality over the years. Most cruise lines have, since they know that the way to people's hearts is through their stomachs. I wonder if the issue of fixed time vs your time dining might be split along gender lines. In any case, it seems that you have to book very far in advance for late dining. Early dining seems almost impossible, especially on port days. So even if you prefer fixed time dining, it seems that your time dining is a decent compromise if you don't book early enough to get late dining.
The welcome aboard show was this night at 10:30. We enjoyed this show a lot, and it introduced Kirk, the cruise director, and Jaime, the assistant cruise director. Both of them were very fun and very enthusiastic, and were a good fit for this cruise. The Venetian Palace Theater was beautiful, and had a nice, comfortable atmosphere. Deck 3 had the entrance to the main seating section; Decks 4 and 5 had entrances to the balcony. We always sat in the main section, but depending on where you were coming from, given the layout of the ship, it was often easier to enter on Deck 5 and just walk down.
One major complaint about the timing of the nighttime activities: the shows were at 10:30 if you had late dining (or ate during the later part of your time dining). However, the Hot 'n Cool club had the theme nights (such as 80s/90s night) during the hour from 10:00 - 11:00. This meant that if you wanted to attend the theme night at the club, it was not possible to attend the show. The theme nights would have been of more interest to my wife and I than the music that they played at the club after 11:00. I realize that they have to schedule activities at the same time and that it's not possible to attend every event. But I wish that, at least on some nights, that the club theme nights and the late show times did not overlap, so that people could attend both, at least on some nights. I would suspect that most people interested in the club would either have late seating or eat during the later part of your time dining. My wife and I were on a Disney cruise in 2006, and they had the two show times before the 2 dining times. This would have allowed more time to participate in nightlife activities, especially the theme nights. This was my only major complaint about the cruise.
Another great entertainment option on this cruise was the Elite Duo, who performed most nights in the lobby atrium. The man mostly played the piano and the woman did most of the singing, but they did sometimes sing duets. They were extremely versatile and could sing just about any song, which was impressive! Many people on the ship were talking about how beautiful her voice was and how much they enjoyed sitting in the lobby and hearing her sing. I really hope that she is somehow discovered by the music industry.
Now that I talked about the details of the ship, the rest of the review should be more concise.
Sunday, June 26 - Half Moon Cay (Private Island)
This is a tender port, which means that we had to go to the theater to get tender tickets. The video on the stateroom TV warned us that if you don't get there early enough, you could have a very long wait. This is unfortunate, since it required us to get up early and have a rushed morning, on what otherwise would have been a relaxing day. It's too bad that they don't run more tenders or larger tenders, or have a dock (like Disney's Castaway Cay). We had breakfast this morning (and most mornings) at Emile's lido buffet. The breakfast buffet was very good (although this morning we had to rush).
Once we got to Half Moon Cay, it was worth it!! This was a very beautiful private island! When you exit the tender, you are in a circular area with several small stores and a post office, and was a very short walk to the beach. We didn't go into any of the stores. I would have liked to mail a postcard from the post office, but since it was so early in the cruise, we didn't.
The beach was really beautiful; the sand was very soft, and the water was very clear! We also enjoyed the lunch buffet, although the lines were long. But we enjoyed the food very much and enjoyed the atmosphere. There appeared to be a tram, but we didn't use it; it was a fairly short, and very pleasant walk. After lunch, we had a drink at the "I wish I could stay here forever" bar, and then returned to the beach. We had beautiful weather so we stayed at the beach almost all day, until we had to wait for a tender back to the ship.
One minor comment: it would have been nice if they distributed a map of the island to each stateroom the night before, so that people would know exactly what facilities were available at the island.
This night (and the rest of the cruise) we had either a short wait or no wait at all for dinner. We didn't attend the show (at 10:30) this night since we wanted to attend the 80s/90s night (from 10:00 - 11:00) at the Hot 'n Cool Club (see my comment from yesterday about the timing of nighttime activities). They didn't play as many 80s songs as we would have liked, and we sort of wished that we attended the show, since it sounded like a show we would have enjoyed. But then again, after such a wonderful day at Half Moon Cay, it was hard to complain!
Monday, June 27 - Fun Day at Sea
This sea day finally allowed us an opportunity to sleep later, and to have a relaxing morning. We decided to go to the sit-down breakfast at the Silver Olympian Dining Room. We enjoyed this breakfast a lot, and it allowed us to see the other dining room where we did not get to eat dinner at. Both dining rooms looked very similar to each other, except one was gold, and one was silver.
After breakfast, we spent most of the day at the various pool areas on Decks 9 and 10. The water slide was closed due to high winds. It was fun hopping between the different pools, since each one had a different atmosphere. We had lunch at Emile's lido buffet. For part of the day, the retractible roof over the Versailles Pool was closed. I'm not sure why; it wasn't raining, although it was a welcome break from the sun. There weren't too many indoor activities planned during the day, but to be honest, I doubt many people would have attended them even if they did exist, since this is the type of cruise where you want to be outside!
This night was formal night. My wife and I dressed up, as did many other people on the ship. We were able to meet the captain and had our picture taken with him! We had the lobster tails for dinner this night, which was one of the culinary highlights of the cruise!
Later, we went to karaoke, which was a lot of fun! Like I said, I liked the way the nightlife venues were all clustered together, since it made it easy to hop from one venue to another. Interestingly, the quality of singing here seemed to be better than at karaoke bars on land that we've been to. Later at night, they had auditions for the Legends show (which was on Friday, July 1). My wife and I did not audition (neither of us are great singers), but we enjoyed watching the auditions. The karaoke host, Jennifer, was very nice, and she was very fair when assigning turns.
Tuesday, June 28 - St. Thomas
We were able to have a fairly relaxing morning and enjoy our breakfast at Emile's lido buffet, since we didn't have an excursion booked at this port, and were travelling on our own to Magen's Bay Beach. We were able to get a cab near the port area to take us to the beach. Carnival did offer an excursion to Magen's Bay Beach, but it was expensive, and would not have allowed much beach time. Honestly, I'm not sure why people would want to book that excursion.
Riding in the open safari cabs in St. Thomas was fun! The drive to Magen's Bay Beach was scenic, and fairly short. Magen's Bay Beach is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and I certainly have to agree! It had very clear water, soft sand, and an intimate cove atmosphere. It reminded me of some of the beaches in Hawaii that my wife and I visited on our honeymoon. We had lunch at the concession stand at the beach; it was convenient having that available. The weather was beautiful for most of the day, although there were a few very brief rain showers where the rain barely even hit the ground. Everyone remained in the water, nobody left since it was obvious that the rain would stop. That weather also reminded me of Hawaii!
After returning to the ship, we had dinner, and then we watched the Wonderful World show. That was a very nice show, and was one of our favorites. Since we had an early excursion the next morning, we didn't do any other nightlife activities after the show.
Wednesday, June 29 - Puerto Rico
At this port, we booked, through Carnival, the Puerto Rico Favorites tour. This is a bus tour that goes to the rainforest and to Old San Juan. This was our only non-beach / water activity of this cruise, which was good, since our skin needed a break from the sun. We also liked how this tour combined the rainforest with an urban experience; it was like 2 totally different worlds, that were so close to each other! The Old San Juan part of the tour mostly focused on the El Morro fort, which was very interesting to see. It would have been nice to have more time at each stop, but we had only limited time at this port. This was a very interesting tour. After the fort, we had the option of getting off the tour in the San Juan shopping district. But we decided to stay on the tour and go back to the ship, and eat lunch again at Emile's buffet. We figured we may as well eat the free food on the ship, rather than searching for a restaurant in port where we'd have to pay.
After dinner that night, rather than a show, they had a deck party on Deck 9, for assistant cruise director Jaime's birthday! That deck party was a lot of fun! After that, we stayed on deck for a while, and then briefly went to the Hot 'n Cool Club.
Thursday, June 30 - Grand Turk
This was quite possibly our favorite port (although we loved all of them!) Since we arrived fairly late at this port, we were able to have a relaxed morning, and enjoy our breakfast at Emile's buffet. We got off the ship almost as soon as it docked. This certainly had the nicest port areas of any port that we've ever been to! It had a beautiful beach, as well as a resort-like pool! In fact, this port area was basically a Caribbean resort, but with no hotel! We spent the morning at the pool area, which had a very fun atmosphere. I especially liked the bridges that crossed the various sections of the pool. And we had lunch at Jimmy Buffett's Margarittaville! That was a lot of fun.
In the afternoon, we went on the Reef and Ray excursion, which we booked through Carnival. On this excursion, we were on a catamaran that departed from the port area. The first stop on this excursion was Gibb's Cay, an uninhabited island where we saw stingrays! The excursion guide found a stingray and allowed us to touch it and kiss it. This was a very unique experience. After that, we sailed to a coral reef where we snorkeled, and saw a lot of beautiful tropical fish and coral! This excursion was one of the highlights of our trip, especially since the stingray experience was so unique for us.
Tonight was the second formal night of the cruise. A formal night on a port day is a slightly nuissance, but I enjoyed it in the end. The show that night was a tribute to Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., which we enjoyed. The shows on this cruise were excellent.
Friday, July 1 - Fun Day at Sea
Another relaxing day, although it was also somewhat sad, being the last day of the cruise. I was really glad to have a sea day at the end of the cruise; it made leaving the last port not as difficult as it would have otherwise been, plus it allowed an opportunity to relax, and an opportunity to pack without a lot of time pressure. We had breakfast at Emile's buffet, and spent most of the day at the various pool areas, and at the waterslide.
For dinner that night, we had reservations at Harry's Steakhouse, which we thought would be a nice sendoff (my wife and I typically book specialty restaurants on the last night of cruises). I ordered the surf and turf, which I really enjoyed; definitely one of the culinary highlights of the cruise! My wife ordered the prime rib, which she liked, but said that a lot of it was just fat. For dessert, we had the chocolate sampler, which we really enjoyed. Harry's had a very nice atmosphere, which we enjoyed!
The show that night was the Legend's show, where guests (who auditoned earlier in the week) performed as several music legends, such as Frank Sinatra, Madonna, Aretha Franklin, and others. This was a really good show, and we were really impressed with the singing talent on this cruise! After the show, we listened to the Elite Duo (who, as I mentioned, we were really impressed with, and hope that they are discovered by the music industry), and we spent some time on deck, since it was our last night.
Saturday, July 2 - End of cruise
This was obviously a very sad day, ending one of our best vacations ever! We decided to opt for the sit down breakfast at the Silver Olympian Dining Room, since it seemed to be easier than dealing with the buffet with our carry-on luggage. The debarkation process was simple. Although, we had to wait a while to find our luggage on the carousel. On previous cruises we were on (a Disney cruise at Port Canaveral in 2006, and an NCL cruise at Honolulu in 2007), the luggage was waiting for us in a designated section of the baggage claim area. So it was not as convenient to have to wait for it on the carousel. We used Carnival's transfer back to the airport, which was very convenient. However, since we had to wait on a long line at the airport to check our luggage, we had very little time to eat lunch, and just barely made our flight. I wish that Carnival had given us an earlier debarkation zone.
Overall, this was a great cruise! The ship was beautiful, there were many fun activities, and both the cruise director and assistant cruise director were a lot of fun! It also had a great itinerary, since it included a private island (Half Moon Cay), a beach-oriented port (St. Thomas), a sightseeing-oriented port (Puerto Rico), and a snorkeling-oriented port (Grand Turk). We truly had a blast on this cruise. The idea that Carnival is "the Wal-Mart" of cruising makes no sense to us. This cruise combined both rocking parties with quite a bit of sophistication and elegance. The "Wal-Mart" possibly applies to older Carnival ships, but certainly not the Liberty.