Carnival Liberty Jan 14-21, 2011
My self about 15 cruises in 30 years or so and my sixth on Carnival.
Bothered enough by some changes/downgrades I originally intended to rate this cruise 3 stars out of 5, but big efforts, liking some of the changes and just great treatment and service pushed me to 4 stars out of 5. For me part of cruising is the romance and love of ships and the sea plus having multiple adventures in multiple ports before sailing away to a new destination and adventure. I will usually hit what I call my "cruise zone" after one or two good port days then sailing away into a beautiful evening with a relaxing drink and good food. On board activities, shows etc. have never had much appeal to me. One or two days at sea, lounging and using the exercise facilities makes the ship board life mostly relaxing - almost forced relaxation. I hit the cruise zone our day in Roatan, relaxing with some food on Lido before sailing and a beautiful day. Another great about cruising in the winter is usually perfect weather - it was amazing to be enjoying the great weather we got during our cruise instead of the cold weather back home in Utah.
Coming from Utah we flew in the day before to Fort Lauderdale, rented a rental car and drove to Comfort Suites in Miami for overnight. After returning the rental car on cruise morning, we made it by taxi ($25 from Miami airport plus $7 tip) to the ship around 11 AM. No crowds and a smooth running boarding process it seemed like we went from station to station and on board with only a few short (5 minute) waits. The kiosk machine we had to get help with t reading one of our passports which it REQUIRED. That was the only frustration and a minor one. One of the smoothest and shortest lines and wait times for any cruise I ever sailed.
Yes, it's true reflecting the worst aspects of free style cruising and paid on board venues started by NCL(freestyle which equates to paying more for the good stuff) , the food on Liberty in the main dining room has been cheapened and serving sizes slimmed down. No more shrimp cocktail as appetizer every night. Except for formal nights when things like prime rib and lobster are available, expect a menu of flat iron steak, "fancy" chicken dishes and I even saw the one food I can't imagine having such a great reputation - you can get mac and cheese in the main dining room - the gourmet fav of the USA. This is definitely not the great gourmet like dining I have always had with Carnival in the past and on 5 other Carnival ships! Serving sizes have also been slimmed down - fortunately, as always in the past, you can order 2 different entrees or extra potions of one entree in the main dining room. My wife, who really likes breads, and I also noticed reduced quality bread selection. Every night were were offered the same white breads - french, sour dough or rye Specialty breads are gone. It seemed like every other night in the main dining room the menu choices were difficult and not didn't include favorites such as prime rib, fillet Mignon or better meats - those were only available about every other night. If you want the great stuff I guess you have to pay more each seating for their steak house or paid venues, which is what I feel the trend is all about - getting more fees and money from cruisers for the "good stuff" that used to be a staple of what you paid for on a cruise. Cruise lines emulating airlines -make the profit on the extra fees.
On the positive side - the new fast food like venues on board Liberty are a big hit and the food is much better than previous Lido free specialties - I'm referring th Liberty's new hamburger and fries joint, burrito bar(but what's with no chips or nachos at all at a burrito bar) and Mongolian style grill. The Ldio buffet also seemed to have plenty of tasty dishes - one I liked was Caribbean jerked chicken. The burritos and tacos are excellent. It was only breakfast fare that seemed poor - inferior ham, wet scrambled eggs, frequently empty jars of blueberry or no pancakes in the tray - breakfast seemed like a better time to get a custom omelet or breakfast burrito than trying the main breakfast lines. The pizza looked as good or better than any I ever saw on a cruise ship but we didn't get around to trying the pizza. The food from these new free specialty venues are far superior and better quality than any I have had on 14 past cruises on the Ldio deck, but for me it does not make up for cheapening and dumbing down the main dining room menu - which was always the favorite of myself and my wife.
A few other Carnival favorites of mine were also still available - chocolate chips cookies all day long on Lido, warm chocolate melting cake in the dining room, and the ever popular ice cream/yogurt machines.
I am also incredulous at how such an experienced cruise line as Carnival can make such a glaringly poor design for it's Lido deck food distribution - same as I saw on one of their newest ships - Carnival Splendor - alsnot all food dispensing is in long single lines - everyone gets slowed down and stacked up by the slowest, most demanding customer in line. Most other modern cruise ships I have been on have islands of various foods that people can efficiently bounce around to, cut in and out and easily get whatever they want without having to go through a long cafeteria style line waiting for the oldest, slowest and orneriest customers to move along - it just doesn't make sense as far as an efficient design for customers and the result is long slow lines. My last morning I couldn't tolerate any more waiting in the main Lido lines and backed out with only a portion of what I wanted. Maybe a dozen or so people in line and I waited at least 5 minutes or more to get part way through the line. I also am ashamed professional reviewers won't mention things like this. I guess they are like stock brokers - almost all stocks get above average ratings, and for cruise ship reviewers Lido layouts and food are almost all above average because they need their job writing about how great it all is. Don't make waves over poor designs - I guess this layout must have some benefit like being more efficient for the crew to serve food to so many people, is not a good design for a cruise ship with thousands of passengers.
Again, on the other hand, during most of the cruise there were enough employees at the burger line, the burrito line, omelet stations and Mongolian grill that the wait times were small - 5 minutes or less it seemed when I was around. Unfortunately the Mongolian grill, which is also the breakfast omelet station is too close to the long servings lines of the Lido buffet - at times only single persons can squirm their way through between these food venues - what a brilliant design and layout. It was a big bother to me more than once and you tell the pasengers hated having to squeeze through there.
I am a bit of a beer drinker and make my own beer to suit my taste. I prefer ambers and dark and blueberry beers, without much bittering hops. I did want to try Carnival's Red Frog beer. It definitely suited my taste - a good amber flavor and not hopped up to bitterness - very good, but I have liked some others reds as much or more. On this cruise, a Thirsty Red Frog draft was $6.21 tip included. I also had one Foster's during the Captain's Party Happy Hour that was $6.33 after $1 off so it must normally be $7.33 or more. I agree if you want a tip to get more for your money - the Fosters is a very large can of beer and should be a better buy, but the beers on board cost even more than at restaurants and clubs at home - you can almost buy a 6 pack for what one beer costs you on Carnival, so two was my limit.
The best tip I found on these boards and also took advantage of on tie cruise was the 60 minute Farewell Party - open to all passengers and with free drinks was only attended by maybe dozens of passengers and did not nearly fill the Victorian lounge it was held in. It was also helpful for getting us superior free drink service to tip the server $2 each round. The price of drinks on cruises is not the tips - usually 50 cents to a dollar per drink - and I am pretty sure they don't get anything for serving these free drinks if you don;t tip. If you want and like free drinks tip your servers nicely and you will get more drinks and good will. The extra tipping did not seem to be required - there were still plenty of drinks freely given, but I seemed to get much more offers at the two parties where I tipped well.
Another loss to traditional cruising and dollar conscious cruisers - this was the first Captain's party I ever attended where there were no free drinks. Instead there was a "Happy Hour" where you got a whopping $1 off all drinks at all bars. My wife and I were incredulous at this change. Another mark against cruising for me. A good deal on an all inclusive resort stay is starting to look like a much better deal than accepting less or paying for more on a cruise, in the form of inflated drink prices, paying more for the "good" food and paying more for more stuff. "Discovering" the Farewell party and it's free drinks made it up for me some on this trip.
An offsetting positive for the no free drinks at the captain's party was the Past Guest(cruiser) Party. Due to the large number of past guests, the Past Guest Party was split into two seatings. This created a modest sized crowd and there was an abundance of free drink servers and snacks - no problem getting as many drinks as you cared to pour down in 45 minutes. Plus there was the traditional "cheer for your past Carnival ships" where they run through the list of Carnival ships for you to cheer for.
Carnival Liberty is also way behind other ships I have been on with it's adults serenity area. There is some fancier loungers, a very few swing hammocks, but mostly it's just more open steel deck with a few signs stating it's the serenity area - a rather plain, and yes quieter, more adult area, but noticeably inferior in quality and furnishings and decor to others I have recently experienced.
Years ago I was on a ship with changing "mood" lights trimming the public areas. I was very pleased with Carnival Libery's more subdued decor but also it's magnificent constantly changing light-color displays in the atrium are very nice.
The Lido pool areas and sun decks are well supplied with loungers but the main pools are packed early especially on sea days. You should be able to find a lounger in the sun somewhere on the well supplied for lounger upper decks. The decks are fairly plain. The main pool area does reflect the modern, tiered, stadium style design which helps more customers enjoy this are and the wide screen - however this area still only allows a fraction of the passengers to enjoy this area and the big screen during a busy sea day. Be prepared for the volume - the big screen pounds out the sound and you may not want to be subjected to it all day long. Our first sea day morning whenever we passed through early the big screen was displaying the ports and shopping and ship's info talks. Later it was mostly loud popular music on projecting the activities going on such as the hairy chest contest.
Very noticeable and I didn't believe it from other reviewers until I experienced it was the amount of selling going on, especially of photos. The public decks, most evenings are lines with photo ops every 30-50 feet along the deck. Too much sales of "extras".
I usually find better quality and smaller crowds on tours I pick and since becoming a certified diver 2 years ago, find the better small groups and fast boats on my own. Cruise tours are crowded and sometimes cattle boats for diving.
At Cozumel I arranged ahead of time with my favorite dive shop - Opal's Dream Dive Shop and got a 2 tank tour, with gear, at their past guest rate of $68. Their current price for a 2 tank dive with equipment is $75. This dove shop only runs max 6 divers on small fast boats and valet service. I enjoyed two great drift dives on Cozumel with 5 divers and one guide.
Belize was a bust and very poor diving with the expensive ship's 2 tank dive to Turneffe reef for $169. I expected much more. The dives were not really that far away - it was just that the divers were put on a slow catamaran with a big group of snorkelers for the first part of the trip to the dive shop. The dive boat was large enough that 18 divers from the Liberty had enough room because the boat looked equipped to handle 20 or more divers. The divers were also split evenly into 3 groups of 6 which was a good arrangement. The dive boat had motor problems and they barely moved -motored to barely move a few hundred feet because they were having engine control problems after the first dive, so both dives were basically, exactly the same terrain. The underwater scape was just sloping sand with sponges and soft corals - no hard coral, no large coral formations, no walls r swim throughs and nothing special in the amount or variety of fish. I felt the dives were rather drab compared to other places I have dived in the Caribbean and then we were stuck diving almost the same spot for the second dive. Afterwards I felt pretty much ripped off to pay that much for those 2 mediocre dives and a broken down dive boat. About a year ago I paid more like $189 for a 2 tank dive on the Rhone wreck from a cruise ship - now that was worth the money. This ship's tour was a waste and turned me off on wanting to get back to dive in Belize gain - Belize is way down my list now. Quite a few years ago I stayed a week on Ambergis Caye and had much better snorkeling from the shore than this boat diving.
At Roatan I again went for the ship's 2 tank dive. At $99 with equipment included this deal seemed as good or better than what I could get on my own. The tour was run by Anthony's Key Dive resort - a very large and popular Roatan dive shop and resort. A good deal except for the equipment - it was the worst I ever experienced. I never recall much trouble with rental gear other than some torn velcro closures or some minor leaks around the low pressure inflator. I thought I checked out my gear enough but when I went to big stride in, I noticed one side of the mouth piece had been bitten clean off and the other side was barely hanging. Underwater I soon changed to the octopus regulator and gave up on the main regulator. Then I was sinking despite multiple minor attempts to puff air into my bcd. The bcd must have had a bad valve stuck open and the air was escaping as fast as I could put it in. Fortunately I must have been near perfect weight. I found out after surfacing that the DM not being able to fix the inflation problem took 2, one pound weights out of the back pockets on the bcd. I still noticed the rest of the dive that my bcd wasn;t inflating but with proper efforts to control my position I was able to stay barely off the coral the rest of the dive. At least 2 other divers talked to me about problems they encountered with their Anthony's Key rental gear. I dived Roatan once before from a cruise ship in a different area and thought it was fantastic, Anthony's Keys was no different - keeping Roatan as one of my top fav dive destinations - nice wall on the first dive, lots of marine life, and lots of hard coral and small canyon with sandy bottoms through the coral. Similar on the second dive plus we got to briefly visit an old steel ship wreck in about 70-80 feet of water. Changed gear on the second dive served me well except for some minor leaks around the low pressure inflator and the gauges connection. I felt the dives were great, a good value, but their equipment was too used and a little scary.
At Grand Cayman I arranged my own dives on shore, at a shop less than a block from the cruise ship tenders- Divers Down for $99 or $199 with equipment for a 2 tank dive. The ship had a fairly late arrival at 10 AM so I booked an afternoon 2 tank dive. I ended up with a couple and another single diver from my ship and 3 people staying on the island. I was a little concerned that I might get back too late for the last tender, but Cayman time and ship time were the same and we got back within 45 minutes - and I caught a tender 30 minutes or so before last tender. The diving was excellent - a wall dive with swim throughs going down and coing up and an interesint shallower dive on hard coral "tables", mounds and passes. My only comment about a possible downside of the popular, world class Cayman diving, that I noticed on a previous business - is that they hav too many divers, too mandy dive shops and need too many employees to keep this all going. You end up with certified and trained dive master but they have so much turn over many of them are fairly young and relatively inexperienced - like less than a year working there. Some other places I dive a lot such as Cozumel has local, pretty much life long, dive masters with an amount of experience that dwarfs what I hafe seen at Cayman. I haven't seen anything causing major problems but I do feel a little more safer and secure being led by people with years of experience versus newly certified. Cayman diving is great and easily accessible from s cruise ship as do it yourself. With Divers Down I ended up with 8 divers. On a previous trip using a cruise ship's tour I was put in with a large group.
At Cayman I was a bit worried about the tendering process but that worked out very well for us - just and aproximate 20 minutes wait in line to get tender tickets. The day before the cruise director warned of up to one hour waits for tenders at Cayman. Actually in this case the Carnival process seemed to work Ok for us. I knew we would have to get tender tickets at the Victoria lounge. I didn;t want to go line up way early se we went about 15 minutes before the hour. The line already seemed fairly long, but when they started a few minutes before the hour we got through quickly and our tneder group #5 was in the first group called (tender groups 1-8 were called for the first tender). SO we go to shore within about 30 minutes of arrival.
We always get in at least two work out sessions. The Libery gym is well supplied with aerobic machines and a full set of weight machines which is our preference ad only one machine was broken, one time during our 2 work outs. We prefer walking the deck for aerobics. Again the Liberty's design is deficient. The only designated aerobic - jogging track - area is on a high deck on an "island" that is only maybr 1/3 of the ship in length - round and round and round. The promenade deck - the lower deck used for embarking, debarking, and life boats, on many ships allows people to walk all the way around the ship and that is our preference. On Liberty you can only walk eacj side - both ends of Promenade are blocked off with "crew only" doors and bulk heads. We made do with the jogging track during times when it wasn't busy.
For starters, after 15 cruises, you have to fully relize that the main entertianment on a cruise ship, especially on sea days is lounging on deck, eating and for some people the shows. On port days the main entertainment is whatever you like to do on islands from exotic adventures such as zip lines, cave tubing and jungle adventures, to shopping, beaching and sight seeing tours. You really should consider if lounging, parting, eating and Brodaway or Vegs style reviews are entertaiment or vacation enough for you, especially if you have more than 2 sea days in 7 days. Sea days my wife and I find a lounger to watch people while I give her back massages and we also hit the gym for a little while. We watch sme of the main pool antics when pasing through. Sun taning and reading also seem very popular entertainments on eeck on sea days. The various other activities and fun on board,except for the big shows, are sparsely attended by a fraction of the passengers. If you prefer noisce, partying, music and contests try to get to the main pool area early before it fills up. Maybe half the shp can get seats around the ampitheatre of the main pool area - probably most of the people who want the noise, etc. On Liberty there always seemed to be plenty of deck chairs to get away from it all, sun or shade, noisy, partially noisy or quiet.
The big shows the ship put on were as boring uninspired and unoriginal as ever and getting worse. Snippets of everything - little entertainment bites and many activities run so that only a tiny fraction of the passengers can be involved. We gave up one of our favorites - dancing on ships several years ago. For starters you are lucky to get more than 30-40 minutes of music at any one place and time before they move on to something else for the OCD passengers. Secondly is the ridiculous venues - the big thing on this cruise seemed to be having dance music on the tiny atrium foor - maybe 6-10 couples could have room for any significant dacning - if they just packed on, maybe 30 people could wiggle in place on that dance floor. Even better we saw a line dance class on the atrium floow - a whopping 18 passengers, could fit on the flor but they were still running into each other and let's not even mention that it's just a snippet - barely enough to really learn a new dance unless you are a fast study and they never repeat the same dance instruction.
Carnival's main theatre continues to be the crew dancers and musicians just doing another song and dance billed a "Vegas Style" or Broadway - all the same - pick a theme and play snippets of famous movies, or musicals, or the one we watched for 10 minutes - history of rock and roll - see how many different rock songs they can play a few sconds of and have the dancers do their typical plus use some simple probably multi level staging. It put me to sleep and we left after 10 minutes. Nothing unique to Carnival's "big" shows. The young dancers are talented and work hard but they are stuck in boringly similar, repeatedly the same type shows that would NOT be a hot sought after ticket on Broadway, or in Vegas.
A plus - this ship had 2 comedians for the first part of the cruise then 2 more for the seond part of the cruise. I felt all of them were fresh, funnier and better than any cruise ship comedians I have seen for a few years.
One night's show in the main auditorium was a juggler introduced as one of the best and most unique in the world. His show as decently funny and the juggling good, but not way out different than other similar I have seen. He was good enough to keep us through the performance.
Again as smooth as any I ever experienced except for the Customs and Immigration lines which always seem to be a bottleneck and wait. We were drining to a hotel in Fort Laduerdale, from the Miami airport after the druise and we opted to be in a disembark group with our luggage taken away the night before the end of the cruise - the old typical disembarking. Our group number was early middle of the pack and we walked off about 9 AM just as our group number was being called. A difference at this port these days was out luggage as on packed airport type revolving conveyors. I think I prefer the old rows od luggage in a large warehouse type area, but we did seem to find our suitcases as fast as ever on the conveyor belt. The Customs line was the only long line and wait. I didn;t time it, but that was probably only 10-15 minutes. Carnival has loading and unloading down pretty good at Port Of Miami and/or we were lucky coming and going for smooth, mostly unstressful coing and going.