The 2,974-passenger Carnival Liberty launched in 2005 as the fourth of five ships in the line's Conquest class, the series that preceded the splashy Dream-class trio. In fall 2011, Liberty became the first Carnival ship overhauled as part of the $500 million Fun Ship 2.0 initiative, a multi-year program focused on adding "signature" dining venues, bars and entertainment options to more than a dozen ships. Among Liberty's plethora of new offerings, passengers will find a candy store, four new soon-to-be signature bars (at two of which you'll find an iguana and a frog doing battle), comedians approved by George Lopez and burgers backed by the Food Network's Guy Fieri.
Like its Conquest-class sisters, Liberty also boasts a decent ratio of cabins with private balconies, a library, an ornate three-deck theater and a series of shops. The hard-to-please teen set get their own nightclub, too (which is located along the promenade with the rest of the "adult" fare).
On the new(er) Carnival Liberty, the experience is quintessential Carnival blended with a handful of twists. The "old faithfuls" are still here: personal and efficient service; comfortably sized, charming cabins; and varied evening entertainment ranging from Vegas floor shows to jazz to the "piano man," who packed in the crowds with his group singalongs. Cuisine often exceeded expectations, particularly at the for-fee Harry's Supper Club and the new, and free, Guy's Burger Joint -- not to mention Emile's buffet, the fish-and-chips bar, the sushi station and even in the dining room, where the waiters sang and danced. (Sadly, the 24-hour pizza joint missed the mark.) And the new EA Sports Bar, with its video games, flat-screen TV's and beer, has to be the best man cave at sea.
Ultimately, Liberty 2.0 offers a glimpse of what the Carnival ships of the future will look like following their similar overhauls (scheduled through 2015) -- same comfortable, unpretentious vibe but with a few more menu options and, in the form of Guy Fieri and George Lopez, a few more recognizable faces.
On Carnival Liberty, the main dining rooms offer either a traditional dinner scenario with set times and tablemates (open-seating at breakfast and lunch) or flex-dining, via Carnival's "Your Choice Dining" program. With the flexible option, passengers can have dinner in the main dining room anytime between 5:45 and 9:30 p.m. (though these times may vary slightly). Dining assignments, which you select before the cruise, are made on a first-come, first-served basis, so if you have your heart set on one or the other, consider booking earlier rather than later.
The Silver Olympian Restaurant is the nicer one in that it's located aft and framed by three walls of windows; the Golden Olympian is located in a more central spot. Both offer the same menus. At dinner, low-carb and vegetarian fare is offered, as well as Spa Carnival choices. When we say that the highlight of our meal one night was watching the effervescent servers don wigs and jump up on serving stations to energetically dance to the strains of Lou Bega's "Hey Baby" (and they were awesome), well, that should say it all.
The two-level Emile's, a buffet venue, offers hot and cold buffet fare for breakfast and lunch (though we would advise folks in the mood for eggs to take a turn at the omelet station rather than eat the premade stuff). The food itself is displayed mostly in cafeteria-style lines, with desserts (and sometimes salads) occupying a kiosk of their own. A separate station also offers deli sandwiches; a "Taste of the Nations" station offers varying international cuisines. Don't miss Fish & Chips; located on the second level of the Lido, it's easy to bypass, but the offerings -- from calamari salad to scrumptious fried oysters -- were delightful and prepared upon request. Adjacent to the Lido, in the aft pool area, is the pizzeria.
To one side of the main pool on Lido Deck, you'll find the BlueIguana Cantina (open 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on port days, 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on sea days and noon to 2:30 p.m. every day), a new fee-free venue that was added, along with the BlueIguana Tequila Bar, as part of the line's $500 million Fun Ship 2.0 initiative. Choose from chicken, fish or pork tacos and beef, chicken or shrimp burritos. Toppings run the gamut from lime-infused rice and pico de gallo to beans and corn. The soft taco shells are made fresh on-site by a machine that can crank out up to 700 shells per hour. There are also separate bars for toppings and hot sauces.
On the opposite side of the pool, you'll find Guy's Burger Joint, a Fun Ship 2.0 enhancement backed by Food Network personality Guy Fieri. Choose from one of five burgers on the menu, or simply build your own with the help of a nearby toppings bar. There's no charge to scarf down as many burgers and fries as you'd like, and you can do so from noon to 6 p.m. daily.
On the Promenade, you'll find the Jardin Cafe. The coffee is great, and the pastries and desserts ... well, let's just say they're irresistible.
Harry's Supper Club, a reservations-only gourmet experience, levies a fee of $35 per person -- and it's worth every penny. Harry's specializes in quality cuts of filet mignon, lobster, veal chops, lamb chops and Chilean sea bass, and its wine list is solid.
For an even more exclusive dining event for just 12 guests, book the Chef's Table through the ship's information desk. For $75, diners can attend a multicourse dinner, hosted by one Carnival's master chefs. The evening begins with a private cocktail reception and a tour of the galley, led by the chef, and concludes with a sumptuous dinner in a nontraditional dining venue, such as the galley or the library.
We tried Liberty's 24-hour room service numerous times (and even found ourselves ordering tuna sandwiches at 3 a.m., testing the actual around-the-clock quality of the operation), and it was exceptional. Items are fairly limited to salads and sandwiches (and continental breakfast, unless residing in a suite), but they were fresh and well-made.
On Carnival Liberty, every room has not only a theme that's tied in with the artisan scheme but also a story -- which gives bars and other spots a nice added element of interest. The center of the activity is the ship's nine-deck-high atrium; there, the Grand Villa Garden features ironwork over lovely, lighthearted flowers in pastels.
Another room worth appreciating is the Venetian Palace, the ship's main theater, using as its major design element Murano glass made in Venice. There are also colorful tiles and chandeliers ... and check out the ceiling, which is dotted with the famous Venetian Carnival masks.
Other public rooms include the Antiquarian Library (lovely as it, is the book selection is pretty meager so you'll want to bring your own supply) and the Victoria Lounge, the secondary theater, which is genuinely elegant with its theme being English-style majolica glassware.
Carnival Liberty has a hard-to-find Internet cafe (tucked away behind the Cabinet Bar), and the number of computers is underwhelming. The good news is the ship is very Wi-Fi-friendly; I'd advise you to bring your own laptop.
Carnival Liberty's cabins occupy the usual basic Carnival range -- insides, oceanview, balcony, suite -- and are a touch larger than industry average. Non-suites are typically about 185 square feet; balcony sizes range from 30 to 75 square feet depending on cabin location.
In cabins from the inside category to standard balcony category (including cabins with picture windows), decor is a pleasant amalgam of peachy and soft yellow tones. Insides come with chairs; all others have seating areas with sofas (some are pull-outs) and coffee tables. One way in which Carnival distinguishes itself is by offering beds that convert from two twins to a king. (Other cruise lines use more narrow twins that, doubled, equal a queen.) Beds are outfitted with soft linens and duvets.
On the technology front, beyond in-cabin wireless Internet access, there's an interactive television system that offers everything from pay-per-view movies to reservation capabilities. Flat-screen televisions with remotes, safes (Carnival recommends you use a credit card to lock them instead of your room key, making it impossible to secure that particular credit card), filled mini-fridges (price cards are offered) and phones with voicemail fill out the rest of the amenities. Storage is excellent.
All bathrooms in these categories feature only showers (with the type of shower curtain that seems to know how to snake its way around you; make sure it's tucked inside, or you'll flood the floor). Mirrors above the sink are flanked with shelves for toiletries. A sampling of free items is offered. (It changes; ours included razors, dental floss and toothpaste.) Showers dispense gel and shampoo from anchored containers. Towels provided were not only generous in quantity but also quite nice in quality.
Balconies, for those standard cabins that have them, are pretty shallow, but the furnishings are nice: one mesh adjustable chair, one regular chair and a small table.
This ship, like it siblings, offers family-friendly accommodations. Most notable are those with floor-to-ceiling windows.
Suites are not quite twice the size of balcony cabins, but they're plenty roomy. Beyond the extra space, there are more bells and whistles, such as bathrooms with tubs.
Carnival Liberty also has two large Penthouse Suites. Each accommodates five people and features a living area with a sofa bed, a separate bedroom, a balcony and two full bathrooms -- including one with a tub. At 750 square feet, these are the largest cabins in the fleet.
Camp Carnival's facility on Carnival Liberty encompasses some 4,200 square feet. First up is an enclosed play area -- features include an arts-and-crafts center, a video wall, a soft play area, a computer lab, PlayStation 2 consoles and a library. There's also a wading pool just outside.
Carnival divides kids into four age groups and has introduced more edu-tainment offerings into its programs. Among them are Sea Notes, a musical program; H2Ocean, which focuses on hands-on science projects; EduCruise, which features interactive projects on ports of call; and ExerSeas, a series of recreational and fitness activities. Camp Carnival also offers activities that involve family members.
Most impressive was the ship's teen disco. Rather than lump the teens with the rest of the kids, its high-energy O2 disco is in a central location right on the promenade -- a few doors down from the adult disco. The club itself looked quite cool -- the dance floor is outfitted with special sensitive light panels that recreate your footprints as you walk across. Other features include a big juice bar in the center, multiple video screens, flashing lights and arcade games. Next door is another area of arcade games, this one open to kids (and adults) of all ages. Another cool feature: Teen-targeted shore experiences are offered.
Group baby-sitting is available; the cost is $6 per hour for the first child, $4 per hour for each additional kid in the same family.
|Fitness and Recreation|
The only big downer on Carnival Liberty is its main pool area. Oddly, the centerpiece of the main area, here called "Tivoli," is two big whirlpools -- the pool itself is tucked off to the side, literally under an overhang. It didn't inspire visions of wacky pool games, that's for sure. Seating is terraced, so people are spread out all over the place -- we thought the configuration was confusing. Above the main pool area is Carnival's famous waterslide, which is a bit underwhelming for thrill-seekers but seems to attract a lot of kids.
Much more appealing is the pool aft. The Versailles pool is center stage, with two big whirlpools off to the side. This area has a retractable roof in case of inclement weather and also has the advantage of being the site of both the grill and the pizzeria (plus a nice bar), so there's good reason to plant yourself down and spend the day.
Spa Carnival's health and fitness facilities pretty much feature the usual (expansive fitness center with a separate workout area and classes, some of which require a fee). There's also a funky waterfall with a Jacuzzi.
The spa itself is pleasant if a tad barren in decor (no extravagant Thai or Santa Fe desert themes). The Beauty Salon has one wall lined by windows -- a perfect scenic place for folks getting pedicures and manicures. Our ginger/lime salt scrub and massage was exceptional ... and there was no Steiner product pitch afterward. You can buy all the products you desire, though, in the spa's standalone boutique.
There's also a jogging track.
On Sun Deck (Deck 12), forward -- just above the spa, gym and salon -- is Serenity, an adults-only sun deck that offers loungers, hammocks and couches for relaxation away from the masses. In addition to great views, you'll also have access to additional hot tubs, and waiters will come around to take your drink orders.
Expect mostly Americans to join you on the ship's Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings out of Miami. Age-wise, the audience for this ship literally runs the gamut from families with small kids to seniors -- and just about everybody in between.
There are two formal nights on each seven-night trip, and most people really do dress up. (About 30 percent of men wore tuxedos.) The rest of the time the dress code is country-club casual. In the daytime, dress is very casual.
Carnival recommends $11.50 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $5.80 to dining room services, $3.70 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff.
Frankly, the three-deck-high Venetian Palace is such a spectacular theater -- with its Murano glass, funky jester-like patterns on the chairs and wild Venetian masks on the ceiling -- that just walking in gives you a buzz. On Carnival Liberty, three mainstay shows are presented, all in the Vegas mindset. These include "Rock Down Broadway," "Wonderful World" and "Singin' with the Big Band."
Carnival Liberty's Seaside Theater towers over the main pool deck is a 270-square-foot screen that thrums with programming, day and night. During the day, the screen plays music videos and displays photos taken of random passengers on deck. At night, a variety of films were played, both family-oriented and retro-hits like; late in the evenings, concerts featuring performers like Tom Jones were shown. Alas, it seemed as if Carnival wasn't really sure how to best handle the Seaside Theater on our voyage -- deck chairs were stacked high, there wasn't any genuine incentive to check it out (whereas Princess offers steamer rugs, free popcorn and a drinks service). As a result, the area was pretty underutilized at night.
On Spa Deck (Deck 11), aft, you'll find nine holes of miniature golf. You can snag putters and brightly colored golfballs on Lido Deck (Deck 9) before making your way to the top of the ship, near the funnel. Be warned: The funnel is so loud you won't be able to hear youself think while playing, and if it's a particularly rough day at sea, it can be nearly impossible to make par on each hole.
Far more popular is the indoor Promenade, an avenue of sorts that connects most of the bars, lounges and entertainment options. From there, you can check out Hot & Cool, the disco whose decor celebrates the art of tattoos; the Piano Bar, which can get quite raucous as people sing along to the best of 60's, 70's, and 80's pop music; and the Jardin Cafe for after-dinner noshing. Cabinet, the ship's cigar bar, is tucked away a deck below, but devotees managed to find it anyway. On the other hand, places like the Stage, billed as offering live jazz and karaoke, and the Empress Bar in the Club Lounge, were desolate.
During the day, Carnival features the usual wacky antics along with bingo, bad-hair-day seminars and shopping in its duty-free emporiums.
Cherry on Top is a cute corner store on the Promenade Deck (Deck 5) that's done up in shades of pink. It offers loose candy, for which you'll pay $8.80 a pound. Also available are prepackaged sweets, including boxed candy that's great for munching during movies on the Lido Deck or production shows in the theater. Choose from treats like jellybeans, bubblegum, gummy candy and more. You can also purchase flowers, cupcakes ($2.50 each) and special occasion confections like birthday cakes in addition to upscale bath products from Bliss. Get your sugar fix there until 10:30 p.m.
Another fun hangout spot is the EA Sports Bar, also on Promenade Deck. A man-cave to end all man-caves, it features 16 46-inch flat-screens that can each be tuned to individual games or combined to show just one or two games that span across several screens. The bar also offers video games and an LED ticker that posts current game scores. The relaxed atmosphere is accented with black and red tones, and you can enjoy the game with your favorite beer until the wee hours of the morning.
Further aft on Promenade Deck is Alchemy, a swanky-but-simple dark wood bar that serves alcoholic beverages by "prescription." Choose a drink from one of the light-up menus, or create your own by writing down what you'd like on one of the bar's prescription pads. Prepare to be surrounded by apothecary jars and bartenders in white lab coats. This venue is also open late.
The Lido Deck features two popular bars -- the BlueIguana Tequila Bar and the RedFrog Rum Bar. Everything about the pair screams "let's take this outside!" The tequila bar shares its mascot with the adjacent BlueIguana Cantina, and the RedFrog Rum Bar is a variation of the wildly popular Red Frog Pub, which made its debut on Carnival Magic. Each bar's menu includes a host of tasty alcoholic beverages, including Iguana's Iced Tea, Red's Rum Treasure and other interesting concoctions.
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