Carnival Reviews - Cruise Ship reviews by Cruisemates Readers

Carnival Cruise Lines
Carnival Liberty
by Kevin Kelly
Western Caribbean
February 11, 2007

Introduction: After reading every review I could find, it became apparent that all reviews are, by nature, personal. Hence, I want to briefly describe myself so you can better interpret my thoughts relative to your own circumstances. This was our first cruise. My wife and I have 5 active sons, three over 20 and two teens. I have been lucky enough to have sufficient means to allow us to afford reasonable items, but not so much that "value" isn't critical to the enjoyment of our vacation.

Dining: I always go by two mottos when dining out – (1) don't expect more than the kitchen can produce and (2) order to the restaurants strengths, not necessarily your own desires. If you adhere to these rules, you have better chance of a good meal. The first night, as a first-timer, I blew both rules. I ordered a steak (against the recommendation of our waiter). Unfortunately, it had been heat-lamped. That's my fault, feeding 3,000 in three hours is going to require some pre-cooking. That night, as our waiter informed me, steak is very high on the list. From then on, I explained my likes and dislikes to our waiter, and let him choose. Everything was excellent – no exaggeration, from appetizers to dessert. (I actually got an excellent steak later in the cruise – the waiter let me know that they were make them to order that night.)

By the way, don't be afraid of unusual things – they are apt to be prepared well, in that they aren't pre-cooked, and if you don't like it, just set it aside and order something else. (Note – this is a comment from a first-timer – most of you already know that, but it was strange at first for us.)

Same rules apply to buffets. The Liberty offers a huge buffet area, which at first glance looks like many similar buffet lines. Wrong. There is a "Mongolian Grill", fresh Asian grille, traditional grille, a pizzeria, a fresh deli sandwich line, a fish and chips bar and a daily, themed "international buffet". On the traditional buffet lines, you have to expect that food will start to taste similar and will vary in temperature. Nobody can help that. Hence, select what you can watch them prepare. In this manner, the Mongolian Grille, the Asian Grille, the deli sandwiches and the fish and chips were all excellent. Note that they were all "made-to-order". Other things were acceptable, if they had just come out of the kitchen, otherwise, stay away. Not a problem, there are more than enough choices.

As for other food items – note that room service does not offer hot dishes. I suspect that is for the same reasoning noted above. The BLT that I ordered at 3:00 AM was excellent and delivered in less than 10 minutes. The sushi bar looked inadequate in terms of options. We have very fine sushi bars at home, so we opted not to try anything. So to be fair, since we didn't order anything, so I cannot comment on the actual quality.

As for the price of adult and some of the other beverages, I found everything to be reasonable. On ship, you are paying for convenience, as well as for actual ingredients. Some have mentioned that soft drinks were too expensive. But I would counter that they are no more expensive than at any other theater, sports stadium, etc. This is not a grocery store; it is an entertainment venue. Plus, they DO offer the soft drink card, if you are a heavy soda drinker. While we don't drink alcoholic beverages, we were very pleasantly surprised at the variety and quality of "virgin" drinks. We treated ourselves to several throughout the course of the week. Finally, there were plenty of limitless, "free" beverages available at all times (fruit punch, lemonade, hot chocolate, milk, coffee, teas, etc.).

Be smart and you will be rewarded.

Public Rooms: The Liberty is dazzling. We thoroughly enjoyed noticing the artists' and architects' embellishments. Some have noted that the dιcor borders on gaudy. I prefer to characterize it as enlivening. Make no mistake, this ship is not meant to have the staid, understated elegance of the traditional, "shuffleboard" set. Rather, this ship is designed to be lively and fun. Success achieved!

Cabins: We wanted the privacy of a large balcony and were able to find Cabin 7445 available. It has a wraparound balcony at the back of the boat. It was a wonderful room, and we heartily recommend such to those that want a quiet place to getaway from the crowds. Our traveling companions had an Oceanview room on the first deck. We were surprised to see the amount of extra space, even larger than our room (but without the generous balcony). We also looked at several interior cabins (planning for our next cruise with the kids). They were sufficiently large and very bright. I can see where one would be happy with them, particularly if you're one to be found on deck or in the bars or casinos for much of the time. We were particularly happy that we had selected a room with residences both above and below; we had no noise issues, whatsoever.

Entertainment: The main show room was spectacular. We attend many theater events at home and were a bit leery of what could be accomplished at sea. The theater occupies the forward portion of three decks. The lighting and sound is as good as I have seen in the finest of "land" theaters. The stage rotates in multiple sections, rises and lowers and provides some sort of "fly" space that I am still trying to figure out. Because of the large size of the theater, there are several pillars creating obstructed views – go early to get the better seats. The seating on main floor and in the first couple of rows of the balcony are laid out in comfortable "bench-style" seats, allowing you to snuggle with your sweetheart. Waiters wander in and out before the show, providing beverage service on the main floor.

The dancers had various levels of capabilities – noticeable, but not necessarily detracting. The two vocalists of the revues, were excellent. The male one even had a large dose of showmanship which really added to the shows.

The shows, themselves, were very energetic and high-paced. The musical selections were all more than acceptable for a family audience. I must admit, however, that some of the costumes were a tad bit suggestive, for those who might be sensitive and to children. To Carnival's credit, they were overtly clear about that, noting it in the daily newsletter and even assigning a "PG" rating for "Las Vegas-style dancing girl costumes".

Comedians were hit and miss, though two of them had us literally laughing from beginning to end of their respective 30 minutes.

The entertainment in the lounges was also hit and miss. The classical trio in the Flowers Bar (the main lobby) was excellent and added a touch of nostalgia to the cruise. The jazz trio in one of the back lounges also was very entertaining and quite talented. Unfortunately the sing-along in the piano bar was less than adequate. Perhaps one shouldn't expect quality in such a setting, but the piano man's singing was painfully out of tune, enough so that I could only tolerate it for a few minutes.

Finally, the Liberty offers a massive LCD screen above the pool on the Lido deck. At night they offered relatively new releases. It was like going to an outdoor movie at home – very fun. Our wives wanted to turn in, so my friend and I stayed up to watch the midnight showing, complete with hot chocolate and popcorn.

Spa and Fitness:

As first-timers, we were overwhelmed at the amount of things to do, both in and out of port. We actually didn't have time to visit the spa or the gym, but I did manage to go for a walk on the jogging track, late one night. It was a very nice surprise, a rubberized, inlaid track along the outer edge of the highest deck above the buffets. Maybe a reason why the two are so close?

Family and Children:

We didn't bring our kids on this one, but we were informed that there were over 300 kids on the cruise. Never once was there a "kid" problem – that should be a ringing endorsement. Another point – all public shows were rated so that one could avoid offensive items. For example, the "R"-rated comedy shows at midnight, were performed by the same guys that performed the best family-oriented shows. Obviously, Carnival keeps a close eye on what content is being delivered and when.

Shore Excursions: As first-timers, we were very nervous about getting on and off the ship in time, quality in excursions, etc. Hence, we purposely selected only Carnival excursions. We realized that we would pay more, but the security and peace of mind was well worth the added expense.

In the Bahamas, we opted for a guided Jeep tour. It was extremely well run and very interesting and entertaining. We learned a lot about the islands and the people. We also had fun. They offered a "lunch" at the end that was, unfortunately, disappointing. If you plan on this excursion, get a good breakfast before leaving the ship. Finally, when we returned to our home base (about 20 minutes from the port), our return-trip bus was nowhere to be found. We waited over 40 minutes. But since we had purchased the excursion from Carnival, we were not concerned and just let things happened – we were on vacation, after all.

In the Cayman Islands, we opted for some shore snorkeling time. The town was WAY too crowded with tourists. Eight ships and 22,000 passengers were in port. We prefer quiet exploration to shopping, so we won't stop at this port again. The snorkeling was mildly adequate, though we didn't pay much, so "you get what you pay for". We brought our own snorkeling gear (bought at Costco for $35). It was FAR superior to anything the excursion was offering. I highly recommend that approach, as you can also control the hygiene, as well. In the future, we will look for good beaches and go on our own.

At Costa Maya, we chose the shorter, four-hour Mayan ruins trip. It was exceptionally hot the day we were there; hence, we were thrilled to see that our one-hour drive to the ruins would be in an air-conditioned bus. Once there, we were treated to a very interesting tour through active excavations, as well as through several restored and/or uncovered sites. Some of the guides were better than others; it was difficult to determine how to get the good ones. We didn't particularly like the ending – the guide explicitly asking for tips. Maybe they have to do that to get most people to realize that it is appropriate. We left a small one, as her skills were not as good as our guide in the Bahamas. (We left him a rather generous tip, because of his efforts and the quality of his presentation.)

Bottom-line – we like the fact that the Carnival excursions have some sense of "guarantee" about them. Hence, we will probably keep doing that, rather than go out on our own – at least for the next few cruises.

Enrichment: Here was a major surprise. My wife and I had a free hour so we wandered into an art lecture. It was not only educational; it was also entertaining. I've never known much about art, but I learned plenty. We were interested enough to go to both art auctions and actually bought a few pieces for our home – daily reminders of the fun we had.

Service: On my business travels, throughout the world, I have had time to stay at some of the finest hotels. None could compare to the friendliness and efficiency of our cabin steward. More than polite, he always seemed to be just around the corner, treating us as if we were his only concern. I really can't even guess how many rooms he was assigned to. Plus, he helped us understand some of the little nuances of cruising; never making us feel out of place for asking silly questions.

Our waiter was second to none. In fact, we wrote to Carnival, to see if they already have waiter assignments for August so that we could come to his table again. As I mentioned above, we let him run our dinners. He had a sense of humor that fit exactly with the four of us at our table. His selections were always well done, even if we didn't care for them. In fact, he seemed to have a hidden microphone – every time someone shared a particular dish that another really liked, he would have another one right on the spot for each to have their own. Plus he was more than happy to answer many first-timer questions, like where does the staff stay, how long are their shifts, whom did he leave at home, etc. (We just got some small T-shirts from home to send to his 11-month old triplets in Poland.)

Value: This is always very important to us. And we were blown away. For the relatively low cost, we received the best vacation we have ever had. The only sad part was the day we had to leave. It's been a week, and we've already booked another 7-day cruise on Carnival for six months from now.