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Liberty 9/29 review -- Good, but alas, not great

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Okay, here's my long-winded review of our Liberty cruise that sailed 9/29. I'm a writer by avocation so sometimes I just can't help it. :)

 

I did take photos and they're posted on Facebook in a public album, but it doesn't seem to be letting 'the public' (outside FB) see them. I'll see if I can insert some of them into the review later.

 

Some key points:

 

  • Faster to the Fun was well-worth it, at least for us (See Day 3)
  • We had serious stateroom climate-control issues (Day 3)
  • For the first time on any of my three cruises, our service in the Main Dining Room was lousy
  • The alternative dining options were often better than the MDR
  • Roll Call Meet'n'Greet was pretty cool (Day 5)
  • The Behind the Fun tour was really good, but could have been better (Day 9)

First, some background and advance-prep stuff....

 

My sister Cindy and I booked the Liberty's Eastern Caribbean itinerary because my mom Loralee and her husband Gaylord had already booked the sailing and, knowing my fondness for "private island" ports, my mom suggested I book it, too. I booked it Early Saver for just myself, and then added my sister after she was able to come up with (some of) the money.

We're all located in the Atlanta metro area. This was my third cruise and second on Carnival, my sister's second cruise, my mom's 22nd cruise on various lines, and her husband's 12th.

 

My sister and I had originally booked an interior cabin on Deck 2, but I got an email from Carnival's Upsell Fairy offering an upgrade to an oceanview for $70 more ($35 each), so I took the offer. Heck, it's a bigger room and it has a window!

Since we had booked separately from my mom and her DH I emailed the Liberty's maitre'd about two weeks prior to the cruise, requesting that we be able to sit with them at early seating, at a big table (since my mom likes talking to other cruisers). I also mentioned that a window table would be nice, but optional. I never got a response back, but the email didn't bounce, either.....

 

My mom and her husband had made plans to fly down the morning of the sailing, but having done that before and not liking the early-morning wakeup -- plus the added stress of potentially missing the cruise -- I determined that I'd rather drive down and arrive the night before. Adding things up for two people and including extra baggage fees if we were flying, it would be cheaper for my sister and I to drive down to Miami and back, stopping en route at a good halfway point for an overnight stay.

Since my sister can't drive and my car doesn't have cruise control, I really didn't want to try to drive it in one day!

 

For our previous cruise in January on Carnival Imagination we had all driven down to Miami and stayed at the La Quinta Airport East because they offer free parking for the duration of the cruise and a free shuttle to the pier (but not back). $75 for a room overnight, saving $140 in daily parking fees at the port and a free shuttle? It's a no-brainer, and I'm happy to say I discovered this great deal thanks to CruiseCritic's message boards! So, we decided to stay there again for this cruise.

For the 'intermediate' overnight stop I chose Baldwin, Florida, just west of Jacksonville, because it was about halfway between Atlanta and Miami, the hotel room at the Best Western was a mere $55 including taxes, and the area looked reasonably safe according to Google Maps street-view.

 

After pooling funds from everyone I also booked a cabana at Half Moon Cay, our first scheduled port-call, plus a snorkeling excursion there because I just looove snorkeling and free-diving. I also booked a poolside cabana at Grand Turk.

 

When Faster to the Fun (F2F) was first offered -- and thanks to CruiseCritic for the heads-up! -- I shelled out $50 for the program, since my sister has mobility issues and I was worried about long delays at embarkation. (I encouraged my mom and her husband to get it also, but they couldn't find it on Carnival's site.)

 

Shortly before the cruise I also booked the Coral World Snuba excursion in St. Thomas because there were only 3 slots left and at $70, it was the lowest price I'd ever seen for snuba anywhere. Plus, the reviews on Carnival.com were uniformly great!

 

I had joined our sailing's Roll Call on CruiseCritic pretty early, and over time it had grown to a big group of cool, friendly folks...a lot bigger than the RC on my last cruise! We arranged a meet'n'greet through Carnival with an open bar -- it costs about $10/person/hour -- and after all was said and done, we had 60 people participating for a two-hour M&G on the first sea-day -- it even had to be moved to the spacious Victoria Lounge!

 

So, with all preparations made, hotel reservations in hand, a new GPS unit ready for the car, new tires, oil changed and a full tank of gas, we were, as Judas Priest would say, "headin' out to the highway"!

 

DAY 1, Thursday 9/27 -- Drive from Atlanta to Baldwin, Florida

 

This ended up being an almost perfect drive without any problems. We took our time and made the transit in about 6 hours, including a few stops along the way (my sister's illness requires her to drink liquids fairly often). We saw a few showers on the way down but nothing too bad, and as evening came on, we saw a few rainbows to the east. Then we saw a vivid rainbow seemingly touching down on the highway right in front of us. We hoped it was a good omen for our cruise.

 

Not only was the lady at the Baldwin Best Western really nice, but she had been on the same ship and itinerary (RCCL Majesty of the Seas 5-day) as my first ever cruise, so we had a great chat about cruising. I think I sold her on taking a Carnival cruise someday. :)

 

Day 2, Friday 9/28 -- Drive from Baldwin, FL to La Quinta Airport East in Miami

 

We left Baldwin and passed through Jacksonville just a little after rush hour and had no traffic issues there, or anywhere further south until we got to West Palm Beach. This was an easy drive all the way down the coast with just a couple of areas of construction. It's weird cruising along on I-95 and passing numerous cities whose names are pretty famous -- St. Augustine, Hobe Sound, etc. -- but making good time and zipping through at around 75-80 mph.

We encountered the first hints of traffic at West Palm Beach, but even so traffic kept moving fairly okay even into Miami, which we had reached before rush hour. Sadly that ended after we got within a mile of the hotel on the Airport Expressway, and in stop-and-go traffic on the Airport Expressway, it took us about 20 minutes to traverse that final, fateful half-mile.

..and then the real problems began.

 

The LQ Airport East is tricky to get to, especially via GPS. We drove in circles around it trying to get there. I think the GPS actually had the route correct, but since it can't suggest driveways or alleys or unofficial streets, it became a nightmare. Having been there before, I knew we were tantalizingly close but couldn't determine exactly how to get there using street-view. Finally I parked at the entrance to an Embassy Suites and called the hotel for guidance. "You're right near here -- we're right behind the Embassy Suites and the Red Roof Inn!" she told me. At about that moment I happened to tap the GPS map display and it switched to an overhead view and I instantly recognized where we were from looking at regular maps before the trip. "Ma'am, we're on the way!"

We were there -- finally -- about two minutes later, after over an hour's delay.

Sitting outside the hotel were two active members of our CruiseCritic Roll Call, Michael and Kim Justice, and they recognized me from my long hair the moment we rolled in. "You must be Paul! Good to see you!"

After THAT hell-ride, it was just the kind of greeting we needed and it really helped lift up our day! ;)

By the time we got to the hotel, we had missed out on signing up for the first shuttle to the Port of Miami, which runs at 10am, but we got on the second one, which runs at 11. Mike and Kim were also on that shuttle, while others from our Roll Call had made the 10am shuttle. It was like a scene from the TV show The Amazing Race: "All teams must now make their way to the Port of Miami, but only the first five teams will get the first shuttle -- and a full hour's head-start!" :)

Having had a bad time with delivered food last January at the hotel, this time we opted to order from Pizza Hut (an easy decision to reach, since our hotel room-keys had their number on them :) ). I couldn't remember the name of the place we had ordered from before, and I really wish I had, because two other groups from our roll call ordered from them and had bad experiences. I could have warned people away. Oh, well.... (The place is called Franco's. Future travellers, ye hath been warned.)

 

A bit later in the evening I met three of the four members of the Allen family, members of our roll call who had driven down from Virginia. Glenn, the dad, had suffered a brain aneurysm the week before and was going to have to miss the cruise...but at the last moment he decided to fly down and join up all the next morning! Pretty gutsy and it worked out with no complications, but the Allens' trials and tribulations for the cruise were just starting.....

 

We went to bed kinda early, mindful of the morning shuttle. Tomorrow was embarkation day!

 

 

(to be continued, hopefully with pics inserted :))

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I can count on almost 3 sets of hands how many times Ive driven to Miami and FLL and Tampa to get on ships.. It gets old after awile..Especialy on the trip home. It always takes longer for some reasons.. My upcoming cruise Im flying.

Edited by david30101

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Looking forward to the pics!!:D

 

So am I. :)

 

I'm having to Take Steps, here. I'm working on porting them over to an older machine, then uploading them onto my own website so I can link to them. (At all costs I'm trying to avoid posting them full-size in the thread. That gets kinda annoying to read. :))

 

Thanks for such a detailed review.

 

Don't speak too fast! I think I'm probably including too much detail, here.

 

 

Anyway, working on getting pics ready from two different cameras...with time just taken off to complete -- wait for it -- an email survey from Carnival I just got. In detail.

 

I hope I wasn't too brutal. ;)

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I can count on almost 3 sets of hands how many times Ive driven to Miami and FLL and Tampa to get on ships.. It gets old after awile..Especialy on the trip home. It always takes longer for some reasons.. My upcoming cruise Im flying.

 

I would have flown down in a heartbeat if it had been just me on the cruise, since it would have been cheaper...and up until July or so, it was going to be just me. (And an expensive vay-cay...insert standard grumble about costs associated with cruding solo.) After my sister was able to confirm and I added her to my solo booking (remember, no name-changes are allowed with Early Saver, but you can add a person and just pay the additional taxes), it became much cheaper under every scenario to drive down. I'm really glad I chose to split the drive over two days, too. Going down wasn't too bad and I could have driven the whole way, but the drive back...after early-morning wake-up and debark...I don't think I could have managed it by myself.

 

Moral of the story: find some friends a) with money to go on a cruise, b) who can help drive down, and c) uh, there is no third thing. :D

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Enjoying your review so far and looking forward to more. Sail her in 96 and a wake up. :D

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Wow, just realized that there is no way to edit previous posts, so I guess I can't go back and insert links to photos. Weird; the message board says we CAN edit our own posts. Whatever.....

 

Here's two sets of pics taken with my underwater-capable digital camera, Part 1 and Part 2.

 

http://www.paulcashman.com/Carnival-Liberty-2012-Part-1/

and

http://www.paulcashman.com/Carnival-Liberty-2012-Part-2/

 

I'm still sorting through the pics from my cellphone's camera; it's been a real challenge trying to offload them without issues! I'll have those up at some point also.

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Day 3 -- Embarkation Day!

 

Morning arrived and not wanting to eat too much before the expected long wait at the port, we skipped the La Quinta's free morning breakfast downstairs. We boarded the shuttle -- this time it was a full-sized bus, not a small bus with a trailer as it was in January -- and we were off to the port. This time the driver didn't almost kill us all (hooray!) and Liberty was the first stop at the pier, with Valor second. After settling up with the driver and the porter, who had already noticed our F2F tags, we headed over to the TSA checkpoint.

It wasn't too crowded at that time and my sister was using her birth certificate, so we were politely directed to that screening line, which was shorter. After a blissfully uneventful screening experience we entered the waiting area. They were already boarding Zones 1 and 2. The nice Carnival lady was about to direct us to the appropriate long line, saw the "F2F" emblazoned on our Boarding Pass, and then immediately escorted us to the empty VIP check-in line. She also crossed our names off an arrival list and radioed ahead, probably to verify that our stateroom be cleaned and readied if it wasn't already.

At check-in, I confirmed with the very pleasant woman there that Carnival only had sold thirty F2F slots for our sailing; two groups of fifteen. She had the VIFP and F2F guests' Sail & Sign cards already prepared in envelopes, making it much quicker to dispense them. She handed us our sacred "Priority Boarding" placard and we were off to the gangway!

 

Total time from TSA checkpoint through the check-in desk to walking along the gangway and onto the ship: 7 minutes. It would have been

even quicker, but we put cash down for my sister's S&S account and that took up some time. :)

 

A few more words about Faster to the Fun:

I thought 30 slots for our sailing was just about right: I was at Guest Services several times on the first day (see below), and I only had to wait briefly in the VIFP/F2F line at Guest Services twice during the entire cruise; otherwise I was served immediately with no-one else waiting ahead of me. The F2F program is capacity-controlled per sailing based on the number of Platinum and Diamond cruisers on the sailing, so it looks like they chose a good number of slots to offer and still maintain a good level of service.

It was also nice to find our luggage already outside our stateroom door when we got there at around 1pm.

We were given information for priority debarkation and some sacred Zone 1 debarking luggage tags, as well as the private number to call Guest Services while onboard ship. (In practice they tended to answer the 'special' line slower, since it rings a separate phone behind the Guest Services desk with an amber light on it.)

We didn't get to make use of the priority tendering because we missed our port call at Half Moon Cay due to weather :mad:, but if we had, we would have met in a pre-selected lounge for direct escort to Deck 0 and the tender gangway.

All in all I have to say it was $50 well-spent for F2F. I'd do it again if it's offered.

 

Okay, back to Embarkation Day. It gets a bit uglier here.....

 

I went over to Shore Excursions to confirm the arrangements for our cabana at Half Moon Cay. There was no line that early, but they said I had been assigned Cabana #8, not #9. I produced a copy of the email from Carnival confirming my reservation for #9 and, after about a five-minute delay and some conferring, they said they would take care of it. I gave them our soda request and shoe-sizes for snorkeling and then we bee-lined for the Mongolian Wok, since it gets busy fast and the lines can get long. There was almost no line and it was just as good as it had been on Carnival Imagination back in January. :) (I'm a Mongolian fiend back home, so this is one Carnival dining option I realllly love!)

 

We went down to our stateroom, #1355, past the signs on doorways saying "Welcome VIFP and F2F Guests" and found our luggage already

waiting outside the door. Inside the room looked bigger than the interiors we were used to and whoo-hoo, there was a window!

We DID notice that the room seemed a bit warm and muggy, so we double-checked the thermostat was set to the coolest setting and went out to explore the ship a bit. I also went to find the maitre'd to see if we could get seated next to my mom and her DH, since I'd never heard back about my email to him.

After wandering through both MDRs I eventually found him and he confirmed that we had already been seated together at an 8-person table. So, they got my email, but never acknowledged it. Two, count 'em, TWO cheers for Carnival!

When we returned to the cabin briefly it was still warm and humid, so I called Guest Services and asked them to check on it. It was time for muster drill by then and, since my sister has trouble with stairs we decided to jump the gun and went to the muster area on Deck 4. Muster was delayed for about twenty minutes -- in part because some guests' Carnival-arranged flight from Toronto had been delayed, we heard -- and to our surprise the ship began moving during muster drill. First time we've ever had THAT happen!

I hustled back up to Lido Deck for our Roll Call's unofficial meet & greet during sailaway, which had already started, and I met a few more people from our Roll Call, which was really nice. We headed back down to the room to get ready for our 6pm early-seating dinner and it was still warm and muggy, but a card had appeared on the bed saying that the room had been checked and "found to meet Carnival's standards."

A bit dismayed but rushed for time, we changed out of our shorts and into nicer clothes and headed off to dinner. Not only had we been seated at an 8-person table, but it was a window table with an aft view! Our dinner group consisted of us four, plus Bob and Pat, celebrating their 65th anniversary and 50th cruise; Cecelia, an experienced Carnival cruiser and widow travelling solo, and Thin (pronounced 'tin'), who had travelled solo all the way from Vietnam to visit America and take a cruise. (!)

 

MDR Problems

Sadly, that aft window view didn't quite make up for other failings at dinner. We were consistently the last table in the area that our waiter visited for starter and entree orders, consistently the last to receive our food, and drink service and refills were spotty. We noticed that other tables were always chowing down on their starters and entrees well before we ever got ours, and on that first night, our desserts were finally brought to us at around 8pm...and remember, late seating starts at 8:15!

The headwaiter even came on the PA to chide his people: "This message is for servers only: It's 8pm. Late-seating starts in fifteen minutes!"

It seemed as if our waiter and assistant waiter were responsible for at least three or four 8-person tables between them, and that they were spread too thin.

Sadly, this poor service repeated on every night of the cruise. Although the speed improved so that we were getting desserts by 7:45, drink service remained abysmal. The third night, Thin, our tablemate from Vietnam, was ignored by the drink server lady despite having ordered wine both nights before, and when she finally came back (after we'd started on our entrees) she argued with him over it. On one occasion Pat's baked potato was cold. Not lukewarm, not room temperature, but cold. Food was often received lukewarm. My sister got sick halfway through her lobster tail and had to go back to the room; she was still feeling sick the next day and I spoke to two other passengers who had also gotten sick. My mom's husband received an entree that he wasn't expecting and left his plate untouched; our waiter never checked with him about it to see about ordering something else. On the last night our desserts took so long to appear that we had given up on them and were getting up from the table when they finally came around the corner.

The 'entertainment' during dinner was pretty lacking, too.

It was so bad that toward the end of the cruise even Cecelia, who was a Carnival supporter and Platinum member, quit trying to defend CCL, and even easygoing Bob and Pat told us this, their fiftieth cruise, would be their last. :(

Although this was only my third cruise, our service in Liberty's MDR was well inferior to last January's service on Imagination and FAR worse than my first cruise on RCCL's Majesty of the Seas, where our table waiters actually had time to talk to us, learn our names, etc. Also, drink service there was handled by the assistant table waiter and was consistently impeccable.

 

...Back to our stateroom...

...And it is still uncomfortably warm and humid. After some more back-and-forth at Guest Services -- remember, that F2F priority line was really coming in handy now -- their technician confirmed that the room temperature had dropped from 76 degrees to 73.8 degrees. It still felt really humid, not air-conditioned, and they sent over a table-fan, saying that was the most they could do. They said the ship was full, so we could not be moved.

I carefully weighed our options. My sister has medical issues and could not deal with a humid, sweaty room for 7 days, and neither could I. I sat on the bed away from the desk-fan in shorts and no shirt and waited.

After ten minutes, I was still sweating. We decided we could maybe have lived with the humid air on a short 3-day cruise, but this was a 7-day and it would be unbearable. With my sister's agreement I went off to Guest Services to invoke Carnival's satisfaction guarantee, which would have us leave the ship at the first port and return back to Miami at Carnival's expense. My sister was heartbroken about leaving the ship early, but we had little choice.

I had already spoken with the other Guest Services representatives down there, and this time I spoke to David Meza. I asked him what the deadline was to invoke the satisfaction guarantee, as it was getting close to 11pm on the first day. He said he wasn't sure and went off to check. Ten minutes later he returned. "I've spoken to the Hotel Services Manager. Let's go look at a room."

I followed him up to Deck 6 and he showed me a different stateroom. Balcony room 6-434. Of course that would be an upgrade but I was still concerned about the climate-control....and after sitting in the room for just a couple of minutes it was clear that THIS room was actually air-conditioned, with drier air. I accepted the room-change...and our cruise was saved.

 

Back in the room, in full Oscar-nomination mode, I sadly told my sister to start packing our bags.

"What? We're leaving?!"

"Yes, we are...to a new room. A balcony!" Since my sister is a smoker, this was pretty much the best news she could have heard. :)

As directed, we called Guest Services when we were re-packed and they kindly sent by a crewman with a baggage cart, and we had finished moving by about 12:30 am. With priority first-tendering early in the morning, it was time to go to bed...but at least I could sleep under the covers without sweating like a bridegroom!

 

Some final thoughts on this: although we were disappointed by the original room's truly lousy climate-control, I was pleased that Carnival was able to work with us. I'd like to say a special thanks to the Guest Services reps working that night, especially David Meza, for being tolerant and professional the whole time. I don't think our F2F status had anything to do with their resolution of our problem, but in any event, we were able to salvage our cruise and it was a huge relief to us.

The only problem: now that I've experienced a balcony cabin, I might not ever want to go back!

 

(To Be Continued with Day 4....the Unexpected Sea Day)

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Wow, just realized that there is no way to edit previous posts, so I guess I can't go back and insert links to photos. Weird; the message board says we CAN edit our own posts. Whatever.....

 

You can edit your posts for 10 - 15 minutes (I think that is the time frame) after you originally post. I do wish the time frame was longer as well.

 

I'm glad that they were able to transfer you to another cabin, though I am kind of curious why at first you were told that they couldn't because the ship was full and then miraculously a cabin becomes available....either way...good on them.

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You can edit your posts for 10 - 15 minutes (I think that is the time frame) after you originally post. I do wish the time frame was longer as well.

 

That explains it. I knew I'd seen an 'edit' button before... :D

 

I'm glad that they were able to transfer you to another cabin, though I am kind of curious why at first you were told that they couldn't because the ship was full and then miraculously a cabin becomes available....either way...good on them.

 

Because the official Carnival policy is that all ships sail full. It is stated on their website and is the reason given why you cannot upgrade on the day of sailing.

 

In reality I know from my January cruise that not all ships sail full; Imagination was between 75-80% full on that sailing.

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Because the official Carnival policy is that all ships sail full. It is stated on their website and is the reason given why you cannot upgrade on the day of sailing.

 

Last year, on the Imagination, we had problems with a hallway flooding from the hot-tubs being emptied above us. 3 inches of water in back hallway. Two elderly woman, each travelling solo, got relocated. I had the last interior room, and the water came under the wall, into my room. They moved all 3 of us, into vacant cabins. I went from interior to interior, and was told that I got the last cabin available (I assume in my interior class). I was able to move back the next day.

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Last year, on the Imagination, we had problems with a hallway flooding from the hot-tubs being emptied above us. 3 inches of water in back hallway. Two elderly woman, each travelling solo, got relocated. I had the last interior room, and the water came under the wall, into my room. They moved all 3 of us, into vacant cabins. I went from interior to interior, and was told that I got the last cabin available (I assume in my interior class). I was able to move back the next day.

 

IMPOSSIBLE! They always sail full! Except when they don't! ;)

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Finally got the pics from my phone organized!

 

http://www.paulcashman.com/C-Liberty-10-2012/

 

 

To recap, the other two photo galleries are:

 

http://www.paulcashman.com/Carnival-...y-2012-Part-1/

and

http://www.paulcashman.com/Carnival-...y-2012-Part-2/

 

Videos are going up on YouTube...albeit slowly.

 

Still working on the rest of the review...if not tomorrow night then definitely Thursday since it's my regular day off. (10-hour workdays don't leave too much spare time.)

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Still working on the rest of the review...if not tomorrow night then definitely Thursday since it's my regular day off. (10-hour workdays don't leave too much spare time.)

 

Thats no excuse!!!! :p get back at it!! :D

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Day 4: The Unexpected Sea Day

 

(Just pretend I didn't mention previously that we missed our first port-stop due to weather, okay? Thanks. :) )

 

Since I had booked a cabana at Half Moon Cay, I was entitled to be among the first over to the island on the first tender, and so I had to get up super-early in the morning to be at the Victoria Lounge by 8:45, which was the designated time on my ticket. Looking out the balcony door -- wow, a balcony! -- we saw a nice island...shrouded in rain and clouds. "Oh, well, it should clear up, and besides, the cabana has a roof over it!"

My sister went back to sleep and I went down to the Victoria Lounge and joined a small group of people waiting with two Shore Excursions people.

"We're just waiting for the word by radio so we can start tendering; the weather should be clearing somewhat."

So we waited.

The crowd swelled larger as the people with 9:15 arrival times showed up. Still no word. Was the sky a bit brighter out the window? It was hard to tell. It was getting well past 9:30 now and I remembered that about one in five port-calls at Half Moon Cay are cancelled due to weather or waves. I'd found a few fellow members of our CruiseCritic roll call who had booked the horse-riding excursion and was hanging out with them. "If the voice on the PA is Karl-with-a-K, we're going over," I told them. "If it's the Captain, we're doomed."

The PA came on.

It was the Captain.

Our port-stop was doomed!

With tears in our eyes -- well, okay, not really -- we all trudged out of the Victoria Lounge. Back at the room, which was right over the Lounge's stage and really close, my sister had heard the announcement from the Captain (it was probably carried on the all-call, to every stateroom). "Oh, well, we're not going to Half Moon Cay," I said sadly. "But on the plus side, we've got a lot of onboard credit to blow!" :D

 

So I went down to the casino and lost it all.

 

 

 

Nahh, just kidding. :D

 

We watched in silence as the ship slowly pulled away from Half Moon Cay -- even through the rain, the beach looked nice, and I imagined I could see our cabana beckoning to us. We went down to one of the bars on the pool-deck and, as planned before the cruise, bought our Bottomless Bubbles soda passes, which all of sudden had become PRE-PAID soda passes. Later, we tried the burritos and tacos at the Blue Iguana Cantina and they were great! Another pleasant surprise from an alternative dining establishment, which on this cruise were proving to be better bets than the main dining room!

As the day went on the weather improved slowly and at some point they retracted the roof over the aft pool and hot-tubs, so I spent some time there and my sister did also. (One of her primary missions on this cruise was to work on her tan.) Later they closed the roof again and sure 'nuff, there were some showers in the area.

We explored the ship some, since we hadn't had much of a chance yesterday due to the whole stateroom flap. My sister had been along for the ride on my previous Carnival cruise, and we did a lot of comparing between Liberty and Imagination, our 'old' ship.

 

 

Thoughts on Carnival Liberty

 

1. The Serenity area and Camp Carnival forward are inaccessible by wheelchair; you must climb stairs. Seems kinda dumb.

2. The hot-tubs in Serenity close wayy too early, at 9pm. (On Imagination, the hot-tubs closed at midnight, and one night they forgot to come by and I was relaxing in one until 2am!)

2a. The Serenity area on Fantasy class ships has a nicer location, one deck below the Lido buffet and right on the fantail in the back. Much less windy and a great view of the ship's wake curling off into the distance.

3. The aft pool and hot-tubs are a welcome chillin' spot when the main pool on Lido is being flayed by loud music and parties, which is almost always. They should keep them open later, though. 11pm is kinda early, especially for adult-only facilities.

4. Despite the ship's name, smokers don't have much 'liberty' onboard, since the Lido Deck is non-smoking.

5. There sure are a lot of bars onboard! (My sister can't drink for medical reasons and I very seldom imbibe. But see below.)

6. It seemed like there were a lot of under-utilized areas. There was a club on Promenade -- I've since identified it as the Hot'n'Cool night-club -- that was almost always empty. We saw it being used once for an art auction and one night there was a hip-hop dance party in there (IDs being checked at the door, too), but otherwise it always seemed to be empty. There wasn't an obvious sign for it and the red-colored windows looking in weren't too inviting, either.

7. Jardin's Cafe on Promenade had awesome cakes and pies. Even while my sister was sick from the lobster, she really wanted another slice of that glorious chocolate cake. $2.25 but worth it; you'd pay $7 for such a slice in the real world at an upscale diner.

8. I'm curious to know if the Serenity area was ever truly crowded. It never seemed to be when I walked up there.

9. Although there have been some complaints about the FunShip 2.0 upgrades taking away valuable Lido Deck space around the pool, I have to say I liked the 'terraces' going up from the pool level, all facing the screen.

10. I never really saw a problem with chair-hogging, either. Even if the immediate pool area was crowded, you could always find a deck-chair one deck above.

11. Did I say Promenade? I meant to say "Smokenade." (The smell of cigarette smoke from the casino wafts down the Promenade all the way to the Alchemy Bar....)

12. "Nothing says chillin' in the Bahamas and Caribbean like rap and hip-hop." --NOT.

13. Although every other bar onboard closes at 12:30, the bar by the aft pool near the 24-hour pizzeria doesn't close until 3:30am. (It is therefore the only place you can get so much as a soda after 12:30.)

14. And speaking of the pizzeria... No, wait, foodstuffs deserve another section on their own....

 

 

Eateries

 

My sister and I aren't "foodies" by any stretch, but we DID eventually try most of the eateries onboard. Here's a rundown:

 

1. MDRs. Already covered above. I really hope the Golden Olympian dining room was better than ours.

2. Emile's (Lido Buffet). Actually better than I was expecting. On one night they had the same petite sirloins that were being served in the MDRs. We had a small breakfast in there on two mornings and it was adequate.

3. Mongolian Wok. GREAT, but I'm a sucker for Mongolian stir-fry restaurants anyway.

4. Fish and Chips. I kept reading about it but never knew where it was until the 4th cruise day, when I noticed the small sign directing you upstairs inside Emile's. For that matter, I hadn't noticed there was an upstairs, either. :) I don't eat seafood but my sister does and she loved it! It supplanted the cantina in her pantheon of good eateries. Speaking of which.....

5. Blue Iguana Cantina. The made-to-order burritos were wonderful; my sister said she loved their fish tacos also.

6. Guy's Burger Joint. Not only great hamburgers but excellent fries as well...and the best part? Seldom a line since they sling the burgers out to you as fast as they can get them. They're also open until 6pm, unlike most of the alternative eateries like the Wok and the Cantina.

7. Jardin's Cafe. Actually worth the slight upcharge ($2.25) for scrumptious slices of cake and pie. I wanted to try a shake but I always felt a little too full to put one away.

8. Pizza Pirate. Don't know if Liberty just happens to be better than other ships in Carnival's fleet, but despite dire reviews online I thought the pizza was great. Thin crust, fresh and flavorful, and the guys working there were pretty friendly, too. Open 24 hours and very welcome at 2am.

9. Good Eats. This is on the starboard side in the aft pool area, across from Pizza Pirate which is on the port side. I think this station was only open as a late-night snacking option from c. 11pm-2am or so, but the hot dogs and ham'n'cheese sandwiches were pretty good and a welcome change-up from the pizza.

10. Deli. This is on the starboard side forward from Good Eats. I never actually tried it since there was a line whenever I walked by (not a huge line, but enough that I didn't want to bother). Food looked good, though, and online reviews are sharply positive.

11. Steakhouse. At $35 we didn't opt to eat there but most reviews are favorable. It looked nice when I was in there during the Behind the Fun tour.

12. Swirls. 24-hour soft-serve ice-cream and frozen yogurt. There are two stations, one just aft of Guy's and the other in the aft pool area near Good Eats. Ice-cream was decent but after trying it, I liked the yogurt more.

13. Taste Bar. We never saw any customers at the counter and I wasn't even sure what it was until after the cruise. I suspect not too many people did. Oh, well.

 

I think that's everything except room-service, which we only had once (just some breakfast pastries and coffee). That was fine, but I really wonder why they can't offer what the Main Dining Rooms have on their menu at the time.... Then again, judging from the level of service we had in the MDR, they might be afraid everyone would simply opt to 'eat in' and order room service!

 

 

Day 5: The "Real" First Sea Day

 

So, another "fun" day at sea, this time a planned one. I was beginning to see how a trans-ocean or repositioning cruise could drive someone stir-crazy with all the sea days...you really have to hope that your ship has a lot of things to keep you entertained!

fortunately my sister and I cruise largely for the relaxation and enjoyment, so we're pretty easy to please. We didn't really partake of any of the evening shows and we could hear the evening's entertainment in the Victoria Lounge anyway in our room...which was directly above the stage. Luckily the shows there were always over by 12:30am.

This was the day we had arranged for our Cruise Critic Roll Call's meet'n'greet, which started at 1:30 and ran until 3:30pm.

As mentioned earlier, it had grown so large that Carnival scheduled it for the Victoria Lounge, one of the bigger spaces for private meetings on the ship, which was awesome. (Really, $10/person/hour for an open-bar party is a remarkable deal.) I had paid for me, my sister and my mom to attend, but they were never on Cruise Critic or the Facebook group and they only stayed about 45 minutes before heading out to the aft pool area. I was a different story, trying to make the rounds and meet many of the people who I'd already 'met' online. Tina Hearn, the roll call member who had set up the party and collected all the funds via Paypal, had also made up colored nametags for everyone on the list, which was really cool!

As mentioned before I'm not much of a drinker, but before the end of the party I had put away three drinks: a midori sour and two strawberry daiquiris (note that you can't really taste the alcohol in them; I never really have liked the taste). By far the most I've ever had in a day! By way of comparison quite a few members of the roll call were taking full opportunity of the open bar, since drinks onboard normally start at $8 or so and work up from there. One fun group from Kentucky, including some 22-year olds, were pounding drinks down as fast as the servers could bring them!

All things must eventually come to an end and so did the party. I staggered up the one flight of stairs to our stateroom -- well, okay, not really; actually I wasn't feeling that tipsy -- and happily changed into 'pool casual' attire.

Since the main pool and hot-tub area on Lido was usually crowded and loud, my sister and I opted to use the aft pool, and so did my mom after she was able to consistently find it. :) The weather had cleared and the roof was open, so we enjoyed a little sun-time, then it was time to get dressed for the first formal night. I hate dressing up but I figured, heck, we'd schlepped the garment-bag for all four of us down in the car for SOMETHING.....

All tricked out, with me in three-piece suit (with black leather vest), we went down to the Silver Olympian for dinner. Once again it lived up

to its 'second place finish' reputation although the service had improved a bit from the first night. (This was, however, the night when the drink-server lady argued with poor Thin from Vietnam after she ignored him on her first 'pass.')

After, we relaxed on our balcony and my sister and mom went down to the casino for a bit, too.

My mom went to the comedy show that night (or it might have been the night before) but said the comedian was pretty poor.

FYI, she said the quality and show-offerings at night were sub-par on this sailing: there was one night when there wasn't any big show at all, and the last night, with "Carnival Legends," really didn't count either (she said) since it's just the winning passengers from previous competitions performing.

 

Day 6: St. Thomas, USVI

 

Finally! We've sighted land! Land ho on the port beam!

For some crazy reason I was actually awake when we steamed into the harbor at Charlotte Amalie two hours early at 8am, and I took some photos. It really looked gorgeous! (Having a 'bonus' balcony to watch from didn't hurt the experience either!)

My original plan had been to go to Sapphire Beach and just enjoy a beach-day, but as I mentioned earlier, I decided to book the snuba excursion at Coral World through Carnival since, at $70, it was a lot cheaper than I'd ever seen it as a cruise excursion -- usually it's $100 and that's how much the snuba excursion at Grand Turk cost on the same sailing. I'm an avid snorkeler despite my hefty size and regularly free-dive down to around fifteen feet all summer at 'my' swimming hole (http://bluehole.paulcashman.com) up in Tennessee, so I figured "snorkeling but with an air-hose connected to a tank on a floating raft? Sign me up!" I'd wanted to try it as far back as my first cruise in 2010, and dangit, I wasn't about to let this chance pass me by!

 

The excursion didn't meet up until 12:15pm and the ship had arrived at 8am, so after a small breakfast in the Lido buffet my mom and my sister went out exploring St. Thomas while I relaxed and waited on the ship...which rapidly emptied. I got a lot of pics of the ship since I had time to kill, and they also had a crew-only lifeboat and abandon-ship drill for the fifty or so people, including me, who were left on the ship. It's not often that you get to hear the captain say over the PA "This message is for crew only and is part of the drill. As Master of the vessel, I am hereby ordering all hands to abandon ship."

I really wish I had been video recording at the time!

Eventually it was time to meet downstairs for the excursion. THIS time (unlike when I snorkeled at the wonderful CocoCay) I remembered to bring my underwater camera, but I left my snorkeling gear in the cabin since they provided the necessary gear and I wasn't sure if there'd be a place to secure our belongings. (Big mistake, as we shall see.) After exchanging my snuba ticket for a blue wristband it was off to a handy gazebo by the pier to wait, then aboard an open-air 16- or 20-passenger transport for the hair-raising ride over to Coral World. (They could almost charge admission for it: curvy, hilly roads and then glorious views of the harbors that, oddly, none of us were able to capture successfully on camera.)

St. Thomas is odd. The vehicles have left-hand drive (steering wheel is on the left, just as it is in the U.S.), but traffic flows on the left side of the road, like in the UK. There are McDonalds. There are Pizza Huts. There's a Hooters. There's even a K-Mart, which is weird because almost all of them here in Atlanta have closed down.

There's also a lot of poverty, and at times during the ride over I remember thinking it was a good thing the open truck we were riding in didn't break down....

 

Snuba Excursion at Coral World

 

Once we arrived at our destination we were led into Coral World itself. Just to our left was Coki Beach, one of St. Thomas' three biggest beaches (Magens Bay and Sapphire are the other two). We were split into two groups, one with 5 and one with 6, and I was selected for the group that was to go snuba'ing first; then after about an hour and a half, the second group would go. When we weren't doing the excursion we were free to explore Coral World (which costs $19 for a regular adult admission on its own) OR walk over to Coki Beach, and I realized then that I should have brought my own snorkeling gear!

But first, our group was to go snuba'ing. (I'm making up words and verb forms as I go, here.)

After an orientation and safety briefing by Glenn, our guide, and completing the usual and customary waiver forms we were fitted with harnesses that had our regulators attached and we picked out our fins and masks. (No snorkels.) We trooped down to the big white 'seadome' where Coral World conducts its scuba, snuba and helmet dive tours and Glenn gave us all weight belts (he had to find a larger size for me. *sigh* )

Then we went down to the metal 'launch' platform and got into the water. Not too cold, not that warm either...just about right. It was windy and there were some waves, so we had to be careful. Glenn plugged my hose up to the supply line from the floating raft and I was the first to slip underwater and breathe through the regulator! Cool! I'd done it before, buddy-breathing with friends who were scuba diving, but it was the first time for me in about eight years.

After everyone had had a chance to become acclimated to the water and breathing under it, we were off! Glenn led us away from the platform and for a little while, WE were the underwater entertainment for a nearby group of tourists who were doing the helmet dive! (We should have gotten some money back for being part of their show!) At first I had some trouble controlling my buoyancy -- I probably should have asked Glenn for one more weight for my belt -- but after a while I was able to reach neutral or negative buoyancy by expelling most of my air. The other problem I encountered was that my fins kept slipping off, and I had to retighten them a couple of times. NEXT time, I vowed, I'll bring my own!

We were underwater for about 45 minutes, as advertised, and we saw a lot of fish; at one point Glenn got some food out and fed them and there was quite a rush! I got a few pics and several videos with my underwater camera, which was rated down to 12 feet but survived on THIS day down to 20 feet (whew).

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Eventually Glenn led us back to the metal start/stop platform and, with regret, we got out of the water, took off our gear and tried to get our ears working correctly again! We also tipped Glenn for his services, as he was a good guide.

Back at Coral World itself we were free to wander and see the exhibits or go over to Coki Beach while the second group from the ship did their snuba. I wish I'd brought my snorkeling stuff so I could have enjoyed the beach, but Coral World itself is pretty nifty. I was able to watch a pair of giant sea-turtles being fed and even got to feed them myself, I walked through their mini coral reef aquarium, picked up a starfish at their display, and other things. All while watching our feet to avoid stepping on a veritable army of iguanas that basically loiter around the grounds, fifteen or more. They're accustomed to humans, but not 'tame.'

After an hour or so the other group finished their excursion with Glenn and we all hopped back on the same vehicle for the ride back to the pier, which was again pretty hair-raising. Once back at the pier I'd been considering trying to ride up to Paradise Point for some nice views of the harbor, but I decided there wasn't quite enough time to do it before sailing.

 

Back on board we met up for another lackluster meal in the MDR, but it was nice to be able to watch our departure from Charlotte Amalie through the aft windows. We were all pretty worn out and the following day would bring an early port-call, so I think we all retired a bit early.

 

To be continued with San Juan PR, Grand Turk T&C, and the Behind the Fun tour!

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Here's a few more pics. Couldn't include them inline before due to image restrictions. (And I'm not sure how to include thumbnail images that expand into larger images via the board's interface, either.)

 

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^^ Charlotte Amalie

 

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^^^ Gee, wonder if we're in a popular port?

 

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^^^ The Great Seal of the Aft Pool and Hot-Tubs. (Adults-only, retractable roof, nice and usually quiet, convenient to late-open bar and 24-hour pizza)

 

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^^^^ If only I didn't have a snuba excursion booked onshore!

 

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^^^ Beautiful Coki Beach, looking out. This is right next to Coral World and shore excursions booked through them may allow time to chill here

 

 

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^^^ Part of the staff at Coral World. These little guys were EVERYWHERE. Although they are not 'tame' per se, they're not aggressive unless threatened.

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I am truly enjoying your review. We did the August 18th sailing of the Liberty and had a blast. Your pics are bringing back so many great memories! I, too, loved the pizza. Looking forward to the rest of your review :)

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Enjoying your review, we sailed on the Liberty last year but went to the Western ports. Isn't having a balcony the best? We had an interior and were upselled a balcony on Liberty, my first balcony! Now I have an aft-wrap on our Victory cruise next month! You do get spoiled ... once you go balcony!!

Edited by ibcnusoon

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We didn't have any complaints about the food. We were in the Golden Olympian with anytime dining. The first 2 nights we didn't care much for our waiters. They just didn't have any personality and didn't seem to interact with anyone. We also didn't really care to be seated so close to other people. We're not snobs but we like more of an intimate dinner. Everyone seemed to be too uncomfortable to carry on a conversation with the person they were with. The third night we asked for a more private table for 2 and had Francisco as our waiter. We really liked him as he tried to get us to go out of our comfort zone and order things we hadn't tried before. He brought us extra appetizers so we could try them. We asked for his area every night after that.

 

At St. Thomas we decided to go to Sapphire Beach. If you want a beautiful beach that's not overly crowded, this would be the place. We took a taxi there with a very nice driver, taxi number 903, and she arranged a time to come back and pick us up. We had her drop us off at K mart so we could pick up a few things and then we walked back to the ship area for some shopping. We were still disappointed about missing Half Moon Cay but this kind of made up for it.

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Thanks for a great detailed review. Brings back the memories of the ports. Looking forward to the rest of it.

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Just having such a good time reading your review..you all just have the right outlook and enjoyed yourselves with all the pros and cons..thanks sooo much..Sarah

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Just having such a good time reading your review..you all just have the right outlook and enjoyed yourselves with all the pros and cons..thanks sooo much..Sarah

 

Thanks. My sister was wheelchair-bound as little as 3 weeks before our cruise in January, but thanks to some injections she was able to walk with a cane on that cruise (although she was really leery about the sand on the beach at Cozumel). For this cruise, although she still has a lot of medical issues, a total inability to produce saliva in her mouth among them, she was walking unaided the entire time except once when she wrenched her hip. She helped my mom a lot, too, since SHE had to use a cane on this cruise. My sister has a certain "take each day as it comes" mentality and with all the adversity she has triumphed over, I thought adopting the same attitude was the least I could do.

 

We didn't have any complaints about the food. We were in the Golden Olympian with anytime dining. The first 2 nights we didn't care much for our waiters. They just didn't have any personality and didn't seem to interact with anyone. We also didn't really care to be seated so close to other people. We're not snobs but we like more of an intimate dinner. Everyone seemed to be too uncomfortable to carry on a conversation with the person they were with. The third night we asked for a more private table for 2 and had Francisco as our waiter. We really liked him as he tried to get us to go out of our comfort zone and order things we hadn't tried before. He brought us extra appetizers so we could try them. We asked for his area every night after that.

 

I'm probably going to switch to anytime dining on my next cruise. (Sorry, Mom!)

 

For me, I didn't think the food was all that bad, but I did think that the same food items weren't as good on Liberty as they had been on Imagination. For example, I was really looking forward to the lasagna bolognese this time and it didn't quite measure up to Imagination's, which was really good. (I'm a bit of a lasagna fiend. My mom and sister both make excellent lasagna and I play them off eachother mercilessly. :) )

 

Similarly when chocolate-covered strawberries were delivered to the cabin the evening after my Behind the Fun tour (coming up in the review, don't go away!), they were...strawberries with some chocolate heaped on one side. Or something.

After the tour back in January on Imagination, I was sent a larger tray with more treats, plus the strawberries had been painstakingly 'clothed' in detailed chocolate-and-icing tuxedos and there was a "compliments of the chef and Behind the Fun" card with it.

Maybe the staff on the larger Liberty is overworked...or more accurately, MORE overworked. I dunno.

 

At St. Thomas we decided to go to Sapphire Beach. If you want a beautiful beach that's not overly crowded, this would be the place. We took a taxi there with a very nice driver, taxi number 903, and she arranged a time to come back and pick us up. We had her drop us off at K mart so we could pick up a few things and then we walked back to the ship area for some shopping. We were still disappointed about missing Half Moon Cay but this kind of made up for it.

 

Sapphire Beach will definitely be on my itinerary the next time I go to St. Thomas...unless I do the snuba excursion again. (And THIS time I'll bring my own equipment, damnit. ;) )

 

If it's daytime, click http://www.sapphireinthesun.com/ and wish you could teleport through your monitor.

 

(If it's nighttime, it won't be quite as inviting but I'd still teleport. :D)

 

 

The rest of the review should follow today. Huzzah!

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(It's still today somewhere in the U.S., heh)

 

 

Day 7: San Juan, PR

 

To be honest I wasn't too jacked up about the port-call at San Juan. I'm more of a beach and snorkeling guy, plus with an early arrival and departure by 2:30pm I wasn't too thrilled about getting up early in the morning. Nevertheless I ventured out with my sister, my mom and her husband and, armed with some info about the free trolley system, we set about trying to find Trolley Stop #1. We finally found it (it's around a corner from the main dockside roadway) and I decided to accompany my family on the shorter "shopping route" trolley instead of my first inclination, which was to make a beeline right to the two forts. It's a good thing I did, because my mom needed some serious help ascending the steep stairs up into the trolley (it's like a bus) and I had to assist her up the stairs.

 

We rode the entire route while my sister and mom noted possible shopping destinations, and we did see some of the sights. By random chance, Pat and Bob from our dining room table were on the same trolley and they gave us a lot of background info on San Juan since they'd lived there at one time. Looking out at San Juan I could certainly understand now the warning that many of the streets look alike and that it was surprisingly easy to lose your bearings!

 

After riding back to the pier area my sister and my mom decided they needed to go to the CVS for a few things and so our tour of San Juan ended...with shopping at a CVS. My sister was happy, though, since she was able to find t-shirts for her sons three for $10 at the CVS (the same price she'd seen elsewhere on the trolley ride). By this point my mom really needed to get off her feet and we sauntered back along the pier to the ship, stopping to pick up a few trinkets from one of the vendors along the quay.

 

After lunch on the ship (another glorious burrito from the cantina for me, I think) my sister and I went up on deck to watch sailaway. After backing away from the pier the ship briefly blocked the approach to the airport runway just to the east of the port, and we saw a jet aircraft have to abort his approach because we were in the way. About a minute later a prop plane buzzed over us right near the ship and dropped down to land on the runway. Sorry we got in the way, guys!

If I'd realized we'd be sailing so close to El Morro Fort on the way out I'd have had a camera handy, but unfortunately I didn't. The view from the ship, no more than a few hundred yards away, was almost as good as going there in person, and the next time I go to San Juan I'll be sure to go there for a tour!

 

I can't remember too much now as to what we did the rest of the afternoon and after dinner, but I know that we did spend some time enjoying the sun upstairs and also the view from our balcony. We were cooking along pretty fast, and no surprise there since the distance from San Juan to Grand Turk is pretty far to do overnight (it's why we had such an early departure from San Juan). We clocked 21 knots a few times and Liberty's reported max is 22. I have to add here that, although we could often feel the ship rocking, especially during this leg, it was never too bad on this cruise and we never felt nauseous. I think we had a bumpier ride at times aboard Imagination in the Gulf of Mexico!

 

Here are a few pics from San Juan:

 

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US Coast Guard vessel approaching dock

 

 

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Looking past the port terminal building at the ferry pier and government complex.

 

 

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Liberty at San Juan pier

 

 

Day 8: Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos

 

 

After booking along at nearly flank speed overnight, the captain actually got us to Grand Turk about a half-hour early! We had a nice view of the approach from our balcony and it looked gorgeous. Nice beach, pretty blue water... It wasn't Half Moon Cay, but it looked wonderfully inviting!

 

I had booked one of the poolside cabanas at Margaritaville for the family, and those have to be reserved first-come first-serve at Margaritaville. I wanted to get one as far away from the music and noise as possible, so I tried to be among the first people off the gangway. While waiting in the Deck 1 elevator lobby (we couldn't go down to the gangway yet on Deck 0) I noticed that some people were coming down the stairs, seeing a pretty big crowd...and then sitting ON THE STAIRS. Pretty inconsiderate since others were still trying to come down the stairs in large numbers....

 

After a quick walk (for me, anyway) down the pier and over to Margaritaville I was following the cabana guy ("cabana boy" doesn't sound quite right) to get a cabana; I was the second person to arrive. It turns out that, of the ten cabanas, #6 through #10 along the back are pretty much the same distance from the bar and the music, and since #6 has a ramp instead of stairs -- one of only two cabanas with ramps -- I figured it'd be easier for my mom to negotiate with her cane. With cabana key in hand I went to enjoy the big pool there, talking with some members of our Cruise Critic roll call and watching out for my mom and sister (my mom's husband wasn't feeling good and stayed on board).

My choice of a cabana with a ramp proved to be a fortuitous decision because when my mom arrived with my sister, she was being pushed by one of the Grand Turk port guys in a wheelchair; apparently the length of the dock had proved to be too formidable for her.

 

After getting them established in the cabana and experiencing a brief tropical downpour -- which almost justified the purchase of the cabana all by itself! -- I went off to the beach, maybe 100 yards away past the flow-rider, and did some snorkeling. As expected, the snorkeling wasn't that great but I got a few underwater pics and also some shots of the ship, which docks amazingly close to the beach. I went back to the cabana after a while and we ordered some food through our cabana guy. Pretty expensive ($12 for a burger and fries, etc.) but it was really good.

 

My sister and I walked over to the shopping area but her quest for dirt-cheap souvenir t-shirts was in vain: with no real competition, prices were pretty high.

 

We headed back to the cabana and I went off to do some more snorkeling. Unfortunately I didn't bring my camera that time, so of course I saw more fish, plus I went out a bit further by the rope that marks the end of the snorkeling area and the beginning of the drop-off, from about fifteen feet to maybe forty feet deep. I was hanging out with some kids from Kentucky and their dad and we tried moving some artifacts that had been placed on the bottom in about 15 feet. There was an old anchor, which we shifted a little, and an old cannon, which we didn't. I don't recommend this because I got a small coral cut and one of the Kentucky kids got cut bad enough to bleed some ("Let's get away from him before the sharks come!") I also dove down about thirty feet, past the drop-off, which was the deepest free-dive I've done in many years. The guys from Kentucky were pretty impressed since I'm older and, to put it politely, "have some extra baggage."

 

Alas, it was getting late and time to get back onboard the ship. We had been given an extra hour at Grand Turk due to missing Half Moon Cay so we were scheduled to depart at 7pm. My sis and I had already seen the dinner menu for the evening and weren't thrilled with it, so with my mom's agreement we got back on board a little after 6pm, having decided to skip our scheduled dinner seating in the MDR (and it was the second formal night, too!)

 

We sailed away from Grand Turk a little earlier than 7pm, too, so I guess everyone must have reboarded by then. We got dinner in the buffet and it was a lot better than we were expecting...and not cold, either.

 

 

Here are a few pics from Grand Turk:

 

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Can't get too much closer to the beach with a ship at ANY port!

 

 

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Margaritaville pool area seen from the entrance -- bar is to the left, cabanas to the right and dead ahead

Edited by Pellaz

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Here's a few more pics from Grand Turk because, well, it really IS that nice! (Next time I want to do more exploring up and down the beach, drop by Jack's Shack and maybe go snorkeling at Governor's Beach.)

 

 

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There's that anchor I mentioned....

 

 

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This is the drop-off from about 15 feet deep to about 40 feet. You can't see it underwater, but the hull of the ship itself is about 100 feet further out from here.

 

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The swim-up bar at Margaritaville. Hope they accept wet money or ruined credit cards!

 

 

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Pool area looking back toward the entrance and the bar. The pier entrance/exit is through the DuFry shop, rooftop at the far left

 

 

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Pool, flowrider, beach and the ship. It's amazingly close.

 

 

 

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This is part of "Cabana Row." Ours, #6 with the ramp, is at the left.

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Great review. Thanks for sharing it and your pictures!

 

 

Hi Stacy! I see you're sailing the Liberty again - same time as this year :) We're counting down the days too! Hope you are well.

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Hi Stacy! I see you're sailing the Liberty again - same time as this year :) We're counting down the days too! Hope you are well.

 

Hey Sharon! I so wish we were sailing in March. I changed the signature before I had it booked. lol We are changing schools next semester and our spring break is different, so we decided to look at May instead. Darn it, I am going to get on the Liberty sooner or later.

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Hey Sharon! I so wish we were sailing in March. I changed the signature before I had it booked. lol We are changing schools next semester and our spring break is different, so we decided to look at May instead. Darn it, I am going to get on the Liberty sooner or later.

 

May should be great - sounds "late" for a spring break - but anytime is a good time for a cruise :) Keep in touch!

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Day 7: Revisionist History

 

 

Ooops, I forgot that the "Latin Sounds" Lido Deck Party happened at 10pm on the day we left San Juan. I actually thought it happened on the last sea day, but a check of my copies of Fun Times revealed the truth. So, time for a quick flashback.

 

I'm not really one for all the hoopla and the pool-deck parties, but some people from our CruiseCritic roll call had invited me to an informal gathering they were planning at 10pm to coincide with the deck party. I remember thinking "a big, crowded deck party is probably not the place to arrange another meet'n'greet" but I dutifully showed up on schedule and after a while, found some other members of the roll call drinking at one of the bars. (Honestly it was hard to keep the Red Frog and the Blue Iguana bars distinct in my mind. It's a bit like the interchangeable Silver Eel and Golden Lamprey taverns in the Lankhmar fantasy novels by Fritz Leiber.) We hung out for a while and, after some urging by other members of the roll call, and WITHOUT any liquid encouragement from the Wizard of Booze, I actually joined the conga line that formed up. I gotta say, it was a lot of fun and it gave me new appreciation for the cruise director, "Karl with a K," who did a great job encouraging the crowd.

 

Anyway, we now return to your regularly scheduled cruise itinerary....

 

 

Day 9: Fun Day At Sea (although not all THAT much fun because the cruise is coming to a close)

 

 

It's a bit depressing to wake up on your last full cruise day and realize that all of the cool port-visits and stuff are now behind you, but I did have something I was really looking forward to......

 

 

Behind the Fun Tour

 

I had booked the Behind the Fun tour when I first went to the Shore Excursions desk upon embarkation, and finally the day had arrived to take the tour! For those who don't know, Carnival offers a behind-the-scenes tour of the crew areas of the ship on every vessel they sail. It isn't mentioned prominently on their website and it cannot be booked via the site, but only in person aboard the ship. For smaller ships without a steakhouse, the tour is $75 and is supposed to last about 3 hours, while on larger ships with a steakhouse, like Liberty, the tour is $95 and is supposed to last 3.5 hours. I'd had a great time on this tour aboard Imagination back in January and was really looking forward to it on this cruise, too.

 

Our tickets for this tour gave the location and time for meeting up -- the Antiquarian Library at 8:45, with the tour starting at 9am -- so after getting dressed and not having any real breakfast, I wandered down to the library at the appointed time. Much like last time there were some refreshments, like juice, cookies, and pastries set out for us and after being wanded by a security officer (no cameras or cellphones are allowed on the tour and they are VERY strict), off we went.

 

This tour had some differences from my first one aboard Imagination and a few extra stops and extra perks (for $20 more, it should!) There were also a few surprising similarities. I'll go ahead and compare them:

 

-- This tour had fifteen participants; on Imagination we had twelve. I think fifteen was too many and twelve was really pushing it since it was sometimes hard to get close enough to hear our guide and the various crew-members.

 

-- One of our suggestions back in January was for the tour guide -- the ship's training coordinator in both instances -- to carry a portable powered mic and amplifier. THIS time the tour-guide carried one, but unfortunately she was a soft-spoken Asian woman whose English was sometimes spotty and even with her voice amplified, it was sometimes hard to make out what she was hearing.

 

-- As advertised, this tour included a final stop at the steakhouse where we also saw its small, separate galley and met the head chef. Champagne and orange juice was provided (separately, not as screwdrivers) as we completed the post-tour survey. My suggestion: smaller group sizes!

 

-- This tour included a walkthrough of the captain's dining room whereas the other one did not. Both tours included the other crew dining and 'mess' areas.

 

-- This tour included a look at the dressing room behind the Venetian Palace (main show theater); the other tour didn't only because it was locked at the time.

 

-- This tour included a glimpse into an open crew cabin whereas the other tour didn't.

 

-- This tour included individual photos with the captain taken on the bridge as well as a group shot, plus a group photo taken on the prow with the ship's bell (yes, it has a bell) in the background. The tour on Imagination only included the group photo with the captain on the bridge. (All photos are delivered to your cabin the same night.)

 

-- This tour lasted...about as long as the last tour, even though it was supposed to be longer. The reason: that first tour ran late because we had a more active group asking (usually) good questions; we were about a half-hour behind schedule when we finally got to the bridge. The Chief Engineer on Imagination was more outgoing and gave us a lot more information, plus we asked a lot of questions in Engineering Control. Overall, we got more information during the first tour than the second.

 

-- This tour, being more expensive, also comes with more freebies. In addition to the Behind the Fun lanyard, you get a BtF Carnival baseball cap, a wristband and a BtF "backpack" which is more like a stuff-sack, but wearable as a small backpack.

 

-- Both tours included the galley (although it was a longer visit the first time), ship's laundry, Engineering Control (but, as stated beforehand, not the engine room itself), waste-disposal area (not as gnarly as you'd think), soda and wine storage room (but not hard liquor, which per regulations is kept in a separate locked area) and the linen folding machines.

 

-- The bridge and Engineering Control seemed almost identical between Imagination and Liberty. Both ships were built in the same shipyard but you'd think there might be more differences. Still, both are highlights on the tour.

 

After the tour I went to look for my mom and my sister on the aft pool deck, but didn't see them, so I went to go enjoy a last bowl from the Mongolian Wok. (Sad to contemplate, really.)

 

 

Hot Time on the Pool Deck

 

Back in the stateroom I heard an announcement from the main corridor paging my mom's husband to call Guest Services. A bit puzzled, I called their stateroom but there was no answer. A few minutes later HE called; he'd heard the number wrong. I corrected him and he called Guest Services. Strange, but I figured I'd hear about it from them later.

 

I went back to the aft pool deck and didn't see my sister or my mom there, so I shrugged and laid out for a while. Back in the room I saw there's a message waiting, but after trying several times, I couldn't retrieve it. I called Guest Services, who sent up a technician to try to figure it out. He was able to retrieve the message for me but still couldn't identify the problem with the message system. The message was from my mom's husband; she had been taken to the Medical Center but was on her way back to their cabin by that point. (!) (I'd like to take this moment to say that Liberty's onboard phone system is lousy! Confusingly, the dial tone, ringing tone and busy signal are all the same sound.)

 

I went down to my mom's cabin and it turned out that she had blistered her feet on the aft pool deck and had been treated and bandaged by the ship's doctor. There was another woman there who'd had the same thing happen to her, too! Carnival had provided a wheelchair, and for the rest of the cruise and their flight home, my mom had to use it.

 

Dinner that night in the MDR was a bit sad since we'd gotten to know our dinnermates somewhat during the cruise. This was the night my mom's husband Gaylord didn't care for his first entree and left his plate basically untouched...and our waiter never came by and asked if there was a problem. Our desserts took so long to arrive we thought they'd forgotten us and we were getting up to leave when, miraculously, they arrived. Yet more strikes against the Silver Olympian Dining Room on this cruise, and none of us were heartbroken about leaving it behind.

 

The last night is also, unfortunately, packing night, and we raced against the deadline to get our checked luggage out into the corridor by 11pm. (My sister, a former cosmetologist, travels with at least 30-40 hair- and bodycare items -- packing all that stuff takes TIME!) Thanks to the F2F program we were given Zone 1 luggage tags, and we debated whether we should try to leave early or take our time since we didn't know what time the shuttle picked up for the ride back to the La Quinta.

I almost fell asleep out on the balcony after packing. :)

 

Day 10: Debark Day and Drive to Baldwin, FL

 

I wish I could say I slept nice and late, but for some reason I awoke just as the ship was halfway through Government Cut and approaching the dock. Since we were both up, we decided to go ahead and leave early.

 

To our surprise the lobby area wasn't too crowded (they had just called Zone 3) and debarkation was swift. In the baggage claim area it took us a while to get all of our bags (they had to rotate around again) and then, thanks to recommendations on Cruise Critic, we quickly summoned a

porter to help us since that was reportedly the ticket to breezing through Customs. For whatever reason it worked well, and we were through the checkpoint in less than five minutes.

 

Outside we had to look for people wearing the same shuttle stickers we had been given and we found a group going back to the hotel, including the Allen family. Amazingly, their missing suitcase had shown up THAT morning in front of their cabin, with all clothing and jewelry intact! The shuttle showed up after about fifteen minutes -- a big passenger van and orange baggage trailer, just as it was in January -- and we were soon on our way back to the La Quinta by way of the airport first.

 

The trip was uneventful until we got to the hotel, where one of the other cruise passengers mistakenly picked up one of the Allens' OTHER pieces of luggage! It was retrieved quickly with a "Hey! That's ours!" but we all got a (slightly nervous) chuckle over it. This just wasn't their cruise for luggage!

 

My sister and didn't want to waste any time getting out of Miami and so we got on the road heading north as soon as we got the car loaded. Even on a Saturday there was some traffic getting over to I-95 and then north of there due to construction and a car-wreck, but eventually we were rolling north on I-95 toward Jacksonville. We stopped at a Denny's about halfway up and had a really good meal (most of the Denny's in the Atlanta area have closed, so it was a bit of a treat) and we got to the Best Western in Baldwin, west of Jacksonville, by around 6pm. I was glad because I was reallly tired by that point. I felt that I could have driven all the way down to Miami from Atlanta in one trip, but not the way back; that early morning wake-up and debark was really getting to me!

 

We relaxed at the hotel and I caught up with Facebook and my email thanks to their fast Wi-Fi. They also have a small pool in back and I jumped in for a bit. (It might have been my last chance to swim until next summer!)

 

 

Day 11: The Drive Home to Atlanta from Baldwin, FL

 

I made sure we had enough gas for the ride through the swamp on I-10, as it had been a close call on the drive east ("22 miles to E" on the dashpanel display when we finally got to an exit!) and we were on our way by around 11am after a nice, restful night. The drive home was pretty much uneventful, with no unusual traffic delays and (sadly) no rainbows touching the highway in front of us. We stopped at a McDonalds near Perry GA that had some of the slowest service I've ever seen (seriously, fifteen minutes waiting inside...it's as if they'd never heard of an Angus burger before) and even so, we were back in Kennesaw, Georgia at my mom's by around 6pm.

 

I returned home to my house in Auburn, GA fearing the worst, since my two cats had been alone in the house for 11 days, but everything was great, they had not left any unusual 'deposits' anywhere, and they still had some food and water left. (The litter box was a candidate for an EPA SuperFund clean-up site, but that was to be expected. :) )

 

To my surprise I also discovered some clothes I had left in the washer when I left, so I'll need to add "Check washing machine for unfinished load" to my pre-departure list of things to check at the house. (Washing with vinegar appears to have taken care of the mold and mildew...finally.)

 

 

And that's about it. There were some really glorious high points and some really low points, but overall it was fun and I want to do it again. Maybe next time with friends and not with family so I have a bit more freedom to do what I want, but there WILL be a next time!

 

Here are a few pics from the last days:

 

imag0253.jpg

 

Harbor tug Dade has finished pushing the fuel bunker up against the ship

 

imag0255.jpg

 

Venetian Islands and South Beach in the morning sun

 

 

imag0254.jpg

 

Looking northwest from the Port

 

 

Things that went well and I'd recommend:

 

-- For those who'd like to break up their drive down to Miami or Fort Lauderdale, I can recommend the Best Western in Baldwin on I-10 Exit 343 as a good stopping point. It's about midway between Atlanta and Miami, reasonably priced and a decent hotel for the money, in what looks like a safe area with nearby fast-food restaurants and walking distance to a Waffle House and a TA truck-stop. It's just far enough west of Jacksonville to be inexpensive, at $50 (advance internet rate) per night.

 

-- For those who'd like to arrive the day before their cruise, I can recommend the La Quinta Airport East as a place to stay. They do significant cruise business and the shuttle to the port is free. The return ride was only $10 apiece for this last cruise (I thought it was $20 back in January). For those driving, like we did, the hotel offers free parking for cruise guests for up to a 7-day cruise, so with the Port of Miami charging $20/day it's as if we paid $75 to get a good night's sleep and save $140 in parking. That's a no-brainer. Just don't go to the Bennigan's right in front of the hotel and don't order from Franco's!

 

-- Faster to the Fun. Bypassing the lines at embarkation and having quick access to the stateroom is nice, but being able to bypass the line at Guest Services was absolutely critical on that first day and easily saved me an hour of waiting. On some ships and sailings it's been reported that F2F guests also get to bypass the line for Your Time Dining in the MDR, but apparently this is not an official perk. Priority tendering would also have been a great plus if we had made the port-stop and hadn't already booked a cabana at HMC.

 

-- The FunShip 2.0 improvements made up for a lot of the other problems we experienced on the cruise. Good alternative dining options are always a plus and Guy's Burger Joint and the Blue Iguana Cantina were both great.

 

-- The 24-hour pizza was surprisingly good! I was expecting lousy pizza based on CruiseCritic reviews but it was crispy, flavorful and tasty.

 

-- Not every Cruise Critic roll call group is fun and active, but THIS one was. The smiles, the waves, the "Hi Paul!"s from other members of the roll call really helped pick up my spirits sometimes when problems came up or family issues intruded. Really a highlight of the cruise to have others to talk to, since I'm somewhat shy. Be sure to check if your cruise has a roll call on Cruise Critic and if it doesn't, consider starting one!

 

 

Disappointments

 

 

-- That first oceanview stateroom, for its non-air-conditioned air. I pity anyone who books Liberty Room 1355 until they get it fixed. Kudos to Carnival, especially Guest Services officer David Meza, for eventually moving us to an air-conditioned stateroom, but they've spoiled me forever by giving us that bonus balcony!

 

-- The Silver Olympian Dining Room, for slow/nonexistent service and sometimes cold/lukewarm food. Can't really sugarcoat this one.

 

-- The aft pool deck was apparently hot enough on that last sea day to blister feet, as my mom and at least one other cruiser found out.

 

-- Missing Half Moon Cay, apparently due to rainy weather and maybe seas too high for tendering. (I meant to ask the Captain during the tour which was the most critical factor, but forgot.) Not Carnival's fault but still a disappointment.

 

-- The Liberty's phone system, for reasons detailed above.

 

-- The Serenity hot-tubs closing at 9pm each night, the aft pool and hot-tubs closing at 11pm, and the main pool and hot-tubs at midnight. Seems a bit early for a "Fun" ship.

 

-- The Behind the Fun tour wasn't as well-handled this time as on Imagination. The group was too large, the tour guide and other presenters could often not be understood, etc. There was another BtF tour also taking place, on a different schedule -- in part because one of the show dancer's family was on board -- and their tour guide had a more commanding voice and presence. Oh, well. I won't be taking the tour again for a while, having now taken it on a small and a large ship.

 

 

---And that's all, folks! :D

Edited by Pellaz
spacing and line-breaks

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Paul, what an outstanding review! Thanks for taking the time to post your comments and photos! It was very nice to meet you.

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Great review Paul and it was indeed a pleasure to cruise with you. Hopefully we can meet up again in the future.

 

I don't want to hijack your post but you did mention us in your review so I'll quickly add a little...

 

My wife is the one whose luggage was lost. She went all week without her clothes, shoes, jewelry, etc... Thanks to others we met on the roll call, she had some borrowed clothes to work with. Donna was very excited when walking around Old San Juan she found a Marshall's clothing store. She was able to buy some more clothes to get her through the rest of the week. Guest Services worked with us almost to our satisfaction and they did give her some on board credit to try to replace some things but the gift shops have very limited stock. What really sucked was that the luggage was on the ship the entire week because it was sitting in front of our cabin door on debarkation day when we came back from having breakfast. Go figure. We both would've been without our clothes all week if I had gone on vacation from the get go but we discovered that I had an aneurysm and the doctors wouldn't let me go. But I actually decided at the last minute to buy a one way ticket to Miami and join up with the rest of the family who had already left home two days earlier. Heck, why not...if it's my time to go then so be it.

 

Other than all that, I have to agree with you Paul that the MDR left a lot to be desired. Service was slow and the food just wasn't as good as it has been in the past. Grand Turk was our favorite stop and if you get a chance to go there again, be sure to go down the beach about 500 yards to Jack's Shack and have the Jerk Chicken...you won't be disappointed.

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