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Cruise Report: Carnival Liberty

Carol Sottili

Just returned from a six-night Western Caribbean cruise (Freeport, Bahamas; Grand Cayman; Costa Maya, Mexico) aboard the Carnival Liberty out of Fort Lauderdale with 10 family members, ranging in age from 19 to 83. Here are a few pros, cons and lessons learned.

Positives:


All gather for the "hairy chest" contest where men's hirsute sternums are scored by female judges. (Carol Sottili/TWP)

* The Liberty is one of Carnival's newest (2005) and largest (nearly 3,000-passenger capacity) ships, so there is plenty to do. If you like to party and listen to music, there are many venues, with live bands in just about every bar in the evenings. The ship attracts a youngish crowd (our group included five between the ages of 19 and 22), and the energy level is really high. We had a blast during deck party night, dancing crazy dances and acting silly.

* There is a lovely high tea that offers a classical trio on one day, a jazz trio on another: a needed respite from the nonstop "fun ship" activities. We also went for the balcony cabins, which are a wonderful place to get away from the noise and crowds.

* Food was not gourmet, but was fine. We stayed away from the buffet. Never did get a chance to try Harry's, which costs an extra $30 a head, but heard food there is excellent. Wine list was good. Staff is super friendly.

* Casino is large (the five of our crowd who gambled all won, except my mom, who lost $5 a night to the penny slot machine). Comedian Percy Crew was really good.

* We only did one shore excursion -- snuba, a kind of scuba-snorkel hybrid, in Grand Cayman. Kids and husband loved it: I realized that I am not for snuba (felt as if I couldn't breathe), although I did enjoy petting the dog-like stingrays.

Negatives:

* If noise, lights and crowds get to you, the Liberty won't work. If you're a snob, it won't work. Most people dressed very well at dinner, but there were more than a couple who showed up in T-shirts.

* We couldn't dock at Costa Maya, Mexico, because of high winds. Found out later that this is fairly common. One crew member said they call it "Costa Maybe." Three days at sea is one day too many.

* Carnival makes its money by selling stuff on the ship, and I found the constant "buy, buy, buy" messages annoying, but people all around me were buying big-ticket items, including $2,500 watches and expensive pieces of signed art.

Lessons Learned:

* Embarkation is a breeze. We got there at 11:30 and had no trouble getting on. Take a cab from the airport in Fort Lauderdale rather than the official Carnival transport -- it's cheap and takes just 10 minutes. There was a line, but it moved fast.

* Debarkation is also easy. We opted for the grab your own luggage option, which allowed us to leave the ship early. We were at the airport by 7:30 a.m.

* Our balcony cabin in the front of the Panorama deck was quiet and spacious, but when the ship started rocking, we felt it. If you tend to get seasick, get a cabin that's lower and more toward the middle of the ship. Also, crew members told me that the Western Caribbean itinerary is the rockiest.

* Don't bother going to the talks at the beginning and end of the trip re: shore excursions and debarkation procedures. You can figure it out on your own. Sign up for unusual shore excursions, such as snuba, early. They do sell out.

* If you're going for fast food, the goat cheese and mushroom pizzas (available 24 hours a day) are great, and the fish-and-chips counter on the 10th deck is good. Also, I ate lots of smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels -- yummy. We went to the dining room or ordered room service for breakfast -- much better than standing in line at the buffet.

Anyone have anything to add?

By Carol Sottili |  June 14, 2007; 10:12 AM ET  | Category:  Carol Sottili , Cruise Industry
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I just wanted to echo your sentiments. My family (ages 10-70ish) went on an Alaska cruise last year with Princess, and we had a wonderful time. For those taking a family trip there, I would recommend not taking more than one excursion per day. I tried to fit two into our shortest day at port and really missed out on seeing anything but the gangplank. Another thing to consider is the age range of the group. My brother felt some frustration because, at age 18, he was too old to participate in teen activities and too young to be allowed in the casino. However don't overlook activities for the whole family. Our ship had several copies of Scattergories and we brought numerous card games of our own. Some of our most memorable moments were playing games together.

Best Excursions: Whale Watching Photo Safari in Juneau, and the tea party at Jewell Gardens in Skagway. Seeing whales that close up shouldn't be missed, and Jewell Gardens had the most delicious food and is the site of many of my favorite photos from the trip.

Posted by: student traveler | June 14, 2007 1:19 PM

I just wanted to echo your sentiments. My family (ages 10-70ish) went on an Alaska cruise last year with Princess, and we had a wonderful time. For those taking a family trip there, I would recommend not taking more than one excursion per day. I tried to fit two into our shortest day at port and really missed out on seeing anything but the gangplank. Another thing to consider is the age range of the group. My brother felt some frustration because, at age 18, he was too old to participate in teen activities and too young to be allowed in the casino. However don't overlook activities for the whole family. Our ship had several copies of Scattergories and we brought numerous card games of our own. Some of our most memorable moments were playing games together.

Best Excursions: Whale Watching Photo Safari in Juneau, and the tea party at Jewell Gardens in Skagway. Seeing whales that close up shouldn't be missed, and Jewell Gardens had the most delicious food and is the site of many of my favorite photos from the trip.

Posted by: student traveler | June 14, 2007 1:20 PM

Hi,
Please keep tips like this coming. I'm taking my first cruise ever next year, and I don't want too much left to surprise. For example, is it true that you can eat 24hours a day on the ship and that it is included with your base ticket price? (I.E., can I eat three meals plus 2-3 snacks each day on the ship and not have to pay extra?) Also, what do you do when the ship is in a port but you don't want to sign up for a shore excursion. Can you just hit the beach and then get a ride back to the ship when it's time to do, or is stepping off the ship at a port of call reserved only for paid excursion customers?

Posted by: Str23 | June 14, 2007 1:34 PM

I'm sure other bloggers will respond to your questions, but, on the Liberty, you could get food whenever you wanted. Room service was available, with a limited menu, 24 hours. Plus the pizza counter is open 24 hours a day. You can eat as much as you want and what you want. Some of our group ordered two entrees at dinner, or an appetizer for dessert. It's all included in the cost. Drinks (other than tap water and lemonade) cost extra, and they're not cheap. Soda drinkers should buy the drink card. With all that eating and drinking, the gym is pretty busy, but I always found an open machine. As for going ashore, you don't need to do the shore excursions. In both Freeport and Grand Cayman (you have to board a tender in Grand Cayman), we just got off the boat and followed the crowd to the taxi line. The taxis take you to a beach. It's usually free to enter the beach area, but you'll pay $10 each for a lounge chair. Most beaches have activities, including snorkeling, banana boat rides, etc., for a fee.

Posted by: Carol Sottili | June 14, 2007 1:57 PM

We took the same cruise last month, and the one thing I'd add is how incredibly clean the ship was. I was amazed. Also, as stated before, it is hard for an 18 year old to find a place to fit in, but my daughter still had a good time. We had excursions at all 3 ports and my favorite was the 3-4 hour Mayan temple visit.

Posted by: b | June 14, 2007 2:03 PM

FYI: Cruise lines have different age rules re: casino. On Carnival, it's 18. On Princess, it's 21.

Posted by: Carol Sottili | June 14, 2007 2:13 PM

I have been on three cruises in the past and my favorite line was Holland America. The noise and crowd levels are limited to say the least on this line compared to others. On the other hand, if you have kids then Carnival is the way to go!

Posted by: Mandy | June 14, 2007 8:24 PM

Check out the cruise line's webpage and see if you can read about the shore excursions and sign up for them on line. That way you won't be disappointed if the slots are limited.

Yes, non-stop included eating opportunities--pace yourself. Buy a soft drink card. If they don't have the kind you like at every bar, ask that it be stocked at the bar you frequent the most. Holland America had no problem stocking diet caffeine-free soda at our favorite deck bar rather than running staff to find it somewhere else. Ditto making coffee based drinks with decaf for us. They will recognize you by the second day.

In port, drop by a local museum instead of the shore trip. Ask for a local crafts bazaar, or festival,or studio, even if it is across the island, and take a cab there (be sure to check travel time and when your ship is leaving). Ask where the locals eat local delicacies, despite your having paid for unlimited food on-board. Look for the outdoor market for local color. In the "downtown" find someone with the equivalent of what you do for a living, and trade stories. Sit in a park and strike up a conversation with a native.

Posted by: Carole | June 20, 2007 1:49 PM

My family took this cruise july 1 - 7.Harrys was awesome. Better than many 5 star restaurants in Miami.

Posted by: John | July 7, 2007 1:57 PM

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