I just completed my first Carnival Cruise, after spending many hours on these boards to help me plan and prepare for the trip. I got lots of good information that proved invaluable so I thought I would return the favor by providing my own perspective and summary review in the hopes it might help others.
There are many very detailed and very good reviews out there on the Carnival Liberty and its Eastern Caribbean itinerary so I won’t try and duplicate those here. What I will provide is summary level perspective and insights into my experience w/emphasis on sharing information that may helpful to others in planning their cruise on this same ship and/or same itinerary.
I’m married and my wife and I are in our late 40’s with two kids – a 16 year old boy and 11 year old girl. This was our first cruise as a family and it was done as a family reunion of sorts, w/my two brothers, Dad and their families all joining – in total we had 13 of us.
We chose the Carnival Liberty with the Eastern Caribbean itinerary mainly because it had already done the 2.0 upgrades, gotten good reviews as a result and fit our fairly tight timeframe and budget requirements.
We initially tried to get a single cabin for 4 but found this was not possible if we wanted to be in close proximity to the rest of our family. So we opted for a balcony for my wife and I and an interior for the kids, directly across the hall.
• The rooms in general were a bit bigger than I anticipated and worked very well for 2 people. Balcony room also has a nice size couch – at one point we had 11 of our 13 family members in our room. Both rooms also have a small desk w/mirror – under the mirror are 2 3-prong plugs – one for 110v and another for 220v
• While the balcony room was more $$, it allowed my wife an I very nice coffee wake-up time in the morning – it was so nice to sit every morning on the balcony, enjoy some room service-delivered coffee while looking out at the sea. I will for sure always book a balcony room on any and all future cruises we take. Unless $$ are really, really tight – I recommend the same.
• Another benefit of the balcony is being able to watch the pier runners come in near departure time at the various ports – a favorite past time of my families
• Bathrooms were fine for hosting 1 person at a time and there were plenty of shelf spaces to accommodate 2 people – I found no need for one of those plastic hang-on-the-door deals you get at Dollar Tree or Walmart that many recommend to hold all of your toiletries and stuff
Our cabins were on Deck 7/Empress which was deliberately done by our TA as I learned later this deck is sandwiched in between two other decks that only have other cabins. Meaning, we were not immediately above or below any noisy areas like the showroom, casino, galley, etc. We were in the forward part of the ship and while we certainly felt it rock from time to time, I didn’t find it that noticeable. However, we also have very nice weather the entire trip so I think we were just lucky.
Last note on the cabins...at least 1 person 18 years or older has to be booked in each room. So for us, our TA booked my wife and daughter in the interior room w/my son and I in the balcony room. This meant that my wife’s S&S card only opened up the interior room and not the balcony room she was actually in. As soon as we boarded, I went to Guest Service to get a complete set of dup room keys for all 4 of us so we could open up either of our two rooms – another must do if you have similar circumstances.
Here is a list of key items I recommend you include in your packing:
• Duct tape – brought it b/c so many suggested it but in the end we did not need it but better safe than sorry
• Power strip – a must for both rooms given both us and our kids had multiple electronic devices to charge up every night (iPods, speakers, cameras, etc.) w/only one receptacle
• Battery powered travel clock – there are no clocks in the room so this proved to me very helpful, esp. given that I like to see what time it is in the middle of the night when I roll over
• Rechargeable batteries – a must for the photographers
• Sun screen – it is very expensive on the ship and at all the ports
• Hat – outdoors in the Caribbean is all about the sun – don’t let a sunburned scalp ruin your vacation
• Singles – see section below on tipping
• Ponchos – brought them but did not end up needing them – again, just lucky w/the weather
• Night light – interior rooms are pitch black
• Small speakers for iPod – we found it very nice each morning and afternoon when we would be getting ready to listen to our own iPod playlists…such a small thing but w/the right music, it really gets you in the mood to enjoy the next set of activities you are preparing for
• Backpack – great to put all your stuff in during the port visits
• Lanyards – a must for your S&S card, esp. for the kids. Go to guest services to get a hold punched in your cards. I read you can get free slinky-like lanyards at the casino that go around your wrist – we brought our own so I can’t verify this is true. However, I did see them selling around-your-neck type in the gift shop.
• Purcell 3 in 1 sheets – if you plan to do laundry on the ship (yes, they have laundry rooms), this is a cheaper alternative to buying the detergent and softener on the ship
• Bungee cord – to tie and keep the balcony door open. This is a very nice treat during the morning and afternoon naps to help let some of the fresh air in and great ocean sounds. However, keep in mind w/the balcony door open you need to be careful when opening the door to the hall as a wind tunnel is created and any loose papers will fly out the balcony door
• Post-it Notes – great for leaving notes for other family members on the door of their cabins
• Water bottles – great for filling up w/ice and water at the morning buffet for use on your port excursions
• Imodium – knowing that many of us generally eat a bit more/varied and drink a bit more while on vacation, these small little pills can prove to be a nice insurance against spending more time in the bathroom than normal :D
• We arrived at the pier at approx 11:30 on Sat morning. Got Zone 21 and were on board the ship in about 1 hour. Several lines to wait in but nothing too terrible
• On disembarking, we got Zone 6 and were off the boat w/luggage in hand waiting for a taxi by 9am. Again, few lines but all was handled fairly well w/o too much waiting anywhere.
Big point of concern before the cruise was the dinning and what/when best to pick – in the end we opted for late dinning which worked out very well for our group for a number of reasons. However, before the cruise both my wife and sister-in-law were quite concerned that they would not make it so late but in then end it all worked out to be the best decision:
• Each day we all went our own ways so dinning together was the best way to all come together and spend time w/one another at the end of the day
• Since it was late we didn’t have to rush back to our rooms to get dressed after port days – had we had early dining it would have been a mess and very rushed on some of the late port days
• With such a large group (13) there was no way to have done Anytime dining as we would likely have had to wait a long time for one table. Note, the largest table holds 11 so w/our late dinning we got one large table and a small table for two right next to it that we end up rotating the kids to each eve. If you have a small group then Anytime dining would probably work out just fine.
• With the late dining, most of us got into a routine of taking a nap in the afternoon which gave us our second wind to go the late dining. This was really a true vacation splurge – so rarely do any of us take afternoon naps that this was a nice treat that then allowed us to go into the eve w/dinner and shows
In addition to the MDR, we thoroughly enjoyed Guys Burgers – it is as good as everyone says so you must try it if you like a nice juicy burger. I must have had 4 or 5 of them during the entire trip. Also high on the list was the taco/burrito bar – open for breakfast and lunch. This was the best kept secret at breakfast as there was almost never a line there and the little pre-made tacos were delicious – I definitely recommend stopping here for breakfast and lunch.
In general the MDR food was quite good – be sure to try it for at least one breakfast for a less rushed dining experience and one where you can indulge in the eggs benedict – quite tasty. Breakfast buffet food was OK but we tended to hit the taco/burrito bar instead since it was tastier and smaller lines. Don’t forget there is also an omelette station if you like omlettes – usually a good size line but if you have a hankering then it will be worth it.
Lunch buffet was OK as well but again, we generally preferred Guys or perhaps the Pizza (which is open 24hrs). Dinner buffet was disappointing – only tried it one night. Did not try the Mongolian Frill nor Fish & Chips so no comments on these. And oh yeah, be sure to check out the warm cookies sold at Jardin’s Café on Deck 5 – make for great afternoon or late nigh munchies snacks. I wish I had found these earlier in the cruise.
Don’t forget room service is also available 24 hrs free of charge. We availed ourselves of this wonderful service each morning w/fresh brewed coffee – went great w/the balcony!
Lastly, I definitely recommend trying the Steakhouse. We did it the last night there and it was well worth the $30/person. I doubled on the starter, skipped the salad and thoroughly enjoyed the steak followed by some ice cream for desert (but do check out the chocolate sampler, if you have any room left). All the adults in our party gave it thumbs up. Side note – I made the reservations by emailing the Steakhouse directly (I got no response from the reservation request I made via the Carnival website) – they were very accommodating, as I changed the reservations several times.
Few comments on the various ports and associated excursions:
• Half Moon Cay
o There is not much on this Carnival island other than to lay out on the beach or do one of the excursions. No real shopping other than some small shops that only take cash (no S&S card). Lunch is provided but nothing too special but the bars do take S&S card. I did a bike tour and it was nice – it was a leisure 1.5 hr ride around the island (w/3 rest stops). Whatever you do, lather up on the sun screen and consider bringing a hat – it is quite hot on the island.
• St Thomas, USVI
o I booked a scuba dive excursion through Carnival on the island. It was OK but after hearing about other divers who booked outside the cruise line, sounds like their experience and dive was much better. Anyhow, wife and kids did shopping here. However, since I was not with them they booked it via one of the Carnival excursions – definitely could have been done at much lower cost by just picking up one of the local taxies outside the dock
• San Juan, PR
o Booked a ziplining adventure outside of Carnival here on Trip Advisor’s #1 rated “Things to Do” – was a great experience and one I recommend if you have never done it. It was followed by a quite tasty local-cuisine, lunch.
• Grand Turk
o Nothing to do here other than hangout at Margaritaville and shop the neighboring stores. Yes, there are other places to go outside the Carnival dock/pier area but you’ll have to take a taxi. However, the pool at Margaritaville is very nice but yes, the food/drinks are quite expensive. Note, they add 15% gratuity on to the bills and they do NOT take S&S card – cash or credit.
o There is a new tour type bus/shuttle running around the island for $20-$25 pp however, you have to go outside the gated dock/pier area to catch it.
o I booked a dive excursion outside of Carnival at this port and it was the best excursion of the whole cruise – great spot to dive the world’s 3rd largest reef
Lastly, I would highly recommend the Behind the Fun ship tour that Carnival offers. I understand they only do one tour for 18 people per cruise (on the last day) so you should visit the Excursion Deck immediately upon boarding (I don’t believe you can book ahead of time). It is pricey ($95 pp) but it lasts 3+ hours and you get a couple of photos (one w/the captain), a hat, lanyard and little knapsack. It takes you to many of the areas that the public are not allowed, including the engine control room and bridge, and was very interesting.
I found the service all around to be very, very good on the entire ship. I did not encounter any service problem during the entire cruise. I left the default tipping amount/% unchanged but did leave the room steward extra $$ in the beginning and middle of the cruise for his and his teams hard work. I also gave $1-$5 tips throughout the entire cruise to various waiters, servers and bartenders based on their service…and of course for all those that delivered room service.
We only went to one of the main shows - it was a variety show and I would say it was just OK. We did go to several comedy shows and they were good but you do need to arrive early to get a seat – both times I went the place filled up w/just standing room only left. I also tried the Piano bar one night – the guy was good and got the audience involved in some of the percussion along w/the singing.
Our favorite part of the cruise by far was the Alchemy Bar. Now none of my family are heavy drinkers but this unusual bar offered a great recipe of drinks and fun that turned it into our favorite hangout before dinner each night. Adri and Corina are filled w/great energy and personality and their drink making abilities are top notch. Now this is not your ordinary bar – if you are looking for a rum and coke or perhaps simple margarita, this is not the place for you. They don’t serve soda, beer or wine but instead custom made concoctions based on your mood and tastes. Just pony up to the bar and tell the ladies what kind of flavors you like and next thing you know, they’ll have a nice drink made just for you. You will not be disappointed.
Also, I highly suggest you signup for one of their martini/cocktail classes. They appear to offer them 2x during the week and it gives you a great opportunity to learn some of their tricks, have fun as well as have some great drinks all for a reasonable cost of $15. Some folks enjoyed it so much they took both classes. In any case, if you like mixed drinks then be sure to give this place a try early in the cruise…this way if you like it, you have more opportunities to visit.
The last thing I want to mention are the financials. I mention this so others can gauge what to budget. Not counting excursions, spa treatments and gift shop purchases my family of 4 spent about $1K on the S&S account – this was mainly for all our drinks and gratuity, including the standard service gratuity as well as $60 for the Steakhouse. Our kids did enjoy sodas/smoothies/shakes, etc. but nothing overboard and as I mentioned earlier, my wife and I drank but also not overboard.
Well, hope this helps others in their planning.
Best of luck to you and let me know of any questions I can help with.