We are experienced cruisers pushing 30 cruises with Celebrity and probably 5 others on Disney, Carnival, MSC, Oceania, RCL and NCL. Both in our late 60s, we find the demographic and feel of Celebrity Cruises to be comfortable and have ... Read More
We are experienced cruisers pushing 30 cruises with Celebrity and probably 5 others on Disney, Carnival, MSC, Oceania, RCL and NCL. Both in our late 60s, we find the demographic and feel of Celebrity Cruises to be comfortable and have remained loyal to that line since 2003.
We have recently taken two short cruises to find the best option for a cruise in August of next year for us and our three oldest grandchildren ages 7-9. We went with Disney Magic in December and just now, Carnival Liberty, both out of Port Canaveral which is drivable from Atlanta for us. Our first cruise with Carnival, sometime in 2007 or 8 out of Tampa on Inspiration was less than impressive. Kept us away from Carnival and loyal to Celebrity.
This recent cruise with Carnival aboard the Conquest Class ship, Liberty, has changed both of our minds about Carnival. There is no question that Carnival has stepped up its game in a very competitive market place. Here are some pertinent comments that I hope are helpful for those who are shopping around for a cruise line or itinerary:
Public Spaces: This is a beautiful ship inside and out. The décor tends to be somewhat more gaudy than what we prefer but this is not a complaint. Fun and somewhat garish or outrageous has been Carnival's style for years. Spaces were clean and well maintained throughout the cruise. I never saw a dirty glass or plate laying unattended. The ship suffers from a weird arrangement on Decks 3, 4 and 5 that I did not ever quite figure out. One cannot walk directly fore to aft on any of those decks and many of the very nice additions in what carnival calls Funship 2.0 are hidden away in hard to find corners of these decks. The main dining room, The Olympic, is also strangely separated by decks and fore/aft positioning. It can be frustrating to find your way around and to your table (Table 433, our table, was on the third deck. Go figure). Carnival allows smoking in the Casino and one of the adjacent bars on Deck 5 among other places. The feint smell of cigarette smoke, therefore fills most of Deck 5 and the deck's servicing stairwells. I found this to be a poor decision on the part of Carnival but smoking does have its appeal to part of Carnival's target demographic. On a very positive note, Funship 2.0 additions include a private area (Serenity) for adults 21 years and older. There is an outside lounge area, a smallish pool and two hot tubs. Mostly empty (except for the pool and hot tubs that were packed), we never felt the need to partake. It is nice though to know there is a quiet space for adults to hide out.
Fitness: The spa and gym are run by Steiner. Not my favorite. Celebrity changed vendors in March of this year but we have not yet experienced whoever is running it now so hard to compare. The usual run of classes are provided some free (morning stretch, abs class, total body conditioning) some with a fee (Cycling, Yoga and Pilates). Equipment was well maintained and the gym and dressing areas/showers were well kept. There was not enough staff emphasis placed on sanitation. If you are one who takes the initiative in such matters, you do your part. However, I didn't see a lot of gym users wiping down/sanitizing the equipment after use. My advise is to adapt strict had washing techniques before and after exercise and do your part even though others may not be doing theirs.
Stateroom: We booked a wrap around balcony cabin (7445) port side, all the way aft. It sports about 30 more square feet and has an aft facing and side facing balcony that wraps around the state room. It's narrow but functional. One part of it is usually in the shade and/or gets a breeze. There were two chairs and a table and two lounges that all fit easily in the space available. I was impressed with the stateroom layout and storage compared to a balcony cabin on the Solstice class ships sailed by Celebrity. Slightly less expensive on a daily basis than a Solstice Balcony it is much bigger, has better thought out storage space and has that huge balcony. Cabin service was on industry standard, if not slightly above; warm, welcoming and efficient. The cabin was spotless on arrival and remained well kept during this short cruise.
Food and Bar Service: Expecting this to not be too good based on my one past experience with Carnival, I was totally surprised at how good both of these services were. Funship 2.0 includes Carnivals answer to Celebrity's Molecular Bar/Iced Martini Bar with Alchemy. Totally fun (a Carnival hall mark) and a different sort of feel with a very unique Martini menu. Highly recommended. Pool side bars were well stocked and service was good although tended to get understaffed at times ... this is an industry wide issue as companies try to reduce overhead costs by reducing staff. Not on Carnival. We ate in the main dining room (Silver Olympic) on Deck 3. First, I think it amazing that cruise ships in general pull off what they do in terms of food quality and presentation. I've always felt Celebrity had good food and dining room service. Carnival Liberty turned out to equal it. Once again, companies cut staff to save money but I was very impressed with this hard working and well lead staff of waiters, assistants waiters and bar staff that circulated to deliver beverages and wine service. I'm not picky at all so, take my comments with that in mind but food quality was very high. I never had something that didn't taste good, was at the appropriate temperature and was beautifully presented. Fun!. Baked goods and deserts were noteworthy. The last day, and as usual, there's a small presentation by the Maitre d' who introduces the head chef and allows diners to clap for their waiters. What impressed me was the warmth and sincerity of our wait staff during this presentation directly to our large table. It seemed they really cared about serving us well. That is a direct compliment to the leadership within the food services department. You don't find this without a commitment to it from the Captain on down. Impressive.
Youth Programs: Carnival calls this Camp Carnival. It is a structured program that, from outward appearances, appears to be very well designed and run for ages 2-17. Kids can move in and out of it as they please (parents have to come get them, once signed in, they can't just walk out) and hours are from 7am al the way to 10p and there is hourly rate sitters available to 2am. I collected all the material that was available to describe it and spoke with several families of 7-17 year olds whose children loved it. There were a lot of kids on this cruise and they seemed to be totally occupied and enjoying the program as they were not at all disruptive or running around unsupervised as they sometimes can be. Disney's program is probably a little bit higher end but you are paying a pile for that when you cruise with them. I saw plenty of electronic games and gadgets along with the usual coloring and painting stuff the equal of what Disney provides. Supervision (staff per child) seemed good but I can't speak with any authority in this area. I do know that Disney's supervision and play-time guidance is very highly rated but its hard to compare them and I asked a lot about this when I was aboard Disney Magic. Still, we feel comfortable with what Carnival offers and will be happy to place our 7-9 year old grand kids in Camp Carnival.
Entertainment: We are huge production show lovers but don't go much for comedians or other one man shows. Carnival had three production shows on this 5 day cruise. They were all very impressive. Nothing matches Disney though but these were the equal in quality and exceeded Celebrity's in number. Costumes were gorgeous. Some a little too revealing so think about this and maybe talk about it before hand if you have young ones. This was a new dance troupe performing on Liberty for the first time on the 8 day cruise just before ours. There were some rough edges but only my wife, who was a professional dancer and still dances sees the spacing an occasional mis-steps and is reluctant to judge. She knows what it takes to perform as a dancer. Not easy so, we just support them in all the ways we can.
Half-Moon Cay: Worth a separate mention. I didn't think anyone could match what Disney is doing on their Private Island ..... until this cruise. Half-Moon Cay is beautiful, clean and exceptionally well maintained. The barbeque was tops, activities varied and many, the water and beaches are as good as any in the world. So, enjoy it. We did.
Value: Right now, I don't think anyone is coming close to Carnival, at least on Liberty, in this regard. Here at Cruise Critic in a recent poll, Liberty was the third rated ship among hundreds. I can't say that rating is not totally justified. There was a time when Celebrity did exceed expectations, and had a leg up, in my opinion, in the cruise industry for our tastes. Over the years, I've watched competitors do as well, if not better, in some areas, pricing being one of them while still presenting a very high quality vacation.