Seattle’s weather loomed gloomy and overcast, our social calendar was empty, (not that it is often full!) and we saw a bargain price on a cruise to the Caribbean. So with five days’ advance notice, we booked our flight to Port Canaveral and started an eight day Caribbean cruise on the Carnival Liberty–a much sunnier option than a Seattle stay in an RV.
Even though we’ve cruised before, it’s still a bit overwhelming to embark on this gigantic 13-deck cruise ship that can hold more than 2,500 passengers. Surprisingly, once on board, the crowds seem to disperse.
Activities Onboard a Carnival Cruise
Each evening, a tri-fold brochure of the next day’s activities appeared in the mailbox outside our door, providing plenty of bedtime reading. It’s no easy feat to keep 2,000-plus people happily occupied. (Though for some people “happily occupied” means lounging in a deck chair the majority of the day.)
Activities began with exercise classes at 7am and continued until well past midnight with dancing, karaoke and adult comedy shows. In between, other choices include sports tournaments, trivia contests, art auctions, informative lectures, behind-the-scenes tours of the ship, dance classes, free spa treatments, Blackjack, evening song and dance shows, BINGO ….get the idea? If anyone complains about being bored, it means they haven’t checked the schedule and made an effort to participate. I appreciated that staff didn’t pressure people to take part in the programs, yet made everyone feel welcome.
In addition to organized activities, people could meander and create their own fun. The casino was a popular pastime for the over-21 crowd. Others enjoyed relaxing in one of the many hot tubs or swimming in a pool where the water sloshed over the sides if the ship was cruising through rough water. We made a point of daily walking nine laps on the top deck, resulting in a one mile walk.
Camp Carnival for Kids
Most kids love camp and Camp Carnival offers a myriad of fun camp-type activities. Have an infant? No problem. The supervised children’s program ranges from babies to teens. On the first cruise day, the youth orientation program reassures parents their children will be safe and engaged in creative fun. Once parents leave, the fun begins!
With children divided by age groups, activities are geared to each child’s abilities and interests. Pre-schoolers can enjoy bubble dancing, candy art and giant bowling. Older elementary aged cruisers participate in magic shows, Dodge Ball, Karaoke, Ocean Olympics, T-Shirt decorating and Teddy Bear creations.
Naturally, tweens and teens have their own facility and age-appropriate activities. On port days, some children choose to participate in Camp Carnival activities onboard the ship while their parents disembark. Several activities center around a Dr. Seuss theme with a Seuss-A-Palooza Parade, visits from Dr. Seuss characters and of course, a green eggs and ham breakfast.
Feast on the Food
Cruise ships are known for offering sumptuous meals and buffets and Liberty upheld that reputation. The Lido deck, where the majority of meals were served, served hungry or stuffed passengers, depending if you were coming or going. Anyone wanting a “customized” meal could select from create- your-own burritos to omelets to grilled sandwiches. At the Mongolian Grill, simply fill a bowl with the type of noodles and vegetables you want and a chef cooks everything together with the meat of your choice.
Sure, I heard a few grumbles such as, “This apple pie isn’t as good as my grandmother’s.” But, come on folks….when you have 12 desserts to choose from, do you need to complain? (Obviously a pet peeve of mine!)
Kids should have no problem finding food they enjoy. I watched many youngsters happily munch on burgers and then serve themselves a “swirl” ice cream cone. Because of the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables available, parents can add a few healthy options to their child’s plate at each meal.
Carnival Restaurant Options
Evenings offered the option of eating in a restaurant style setting, complete with uber-friendly staff. Before the cruise begins, simply select if you want the 6pm or 8:15pm seating, since the dining room can’t possibly hold all the passengers at one time. On this cruise, my husband and I selected the third option: “On Your Own Time.” We could go to a designated restaurant between 6 and 9:30pm for a delicious meal with multiple choices for appetizers, entrees and of course, desserts. The four ladies at our next table happily ordered two desserts each and savored each bite!
For people wanting even more options, the ship offers the Diamonds Steakhouse restaurant. For an additional $35 per person, the restaurant creates the “ultimate steak experience.” This includes charbroiled steak, gourmet appetizers and seafood entrees.
This isn’t the usual cruising experience, but I lost five pounds on my cruise. It was all too easy to fill up on the fresh fruits and vegetables. At home, I never take the time to make fruit salads or peel and slice grapefruit. How many people make a salad at home that includes cucumbers, jicama, sliced radishes, chick peas, beets, tomatoes, zucchini and carrots? By eating a mostly vegetarian diet and skipping desserts, I felt full (and healthy!) after each meal.
Shopping Till You Drop (Or “Rock” if the Ship is Swaying!)
I wish I could be more objective about this topic but I am the world’s worst shopper. My husband will threaten me with, “If you don’t buy yourself a new coat by this weekend, I’m buying it for you.” I wait. Sure enough, in a few days he presents me with a coat in my perfect size and style. That’s my idea of shopping!
However, it was very obvious that the majority of people on board the Liberty love, and I mean LOVE to shop. At times it was difficult to move through the hallway because of the number of people crowded around the special displays of jewelry and watches. (Are watches considered jewelry? See how little I know about shopping?)
Shops onboard offer items ranging from T-shirts to candy and were always filled with happy shoppers. Throughout the cruise, I saw people displaying new pieces of jewelry and proudly boasting about the bargain prices, so I assume shopping onboard is a good deal!
As with most cruise ships, Carnival encourages guests to sign up for their sponsored land excursions for city tours, snorkeling or other activities. These can be scheduled when you book your cruise or onboard.
Booking with Carnival provides a guarantee that you’ll be back onboard before the ship leaves for a distant destination! Naturally, we did the opposite and booked a half-day Viator Tour of St. Maarten. Towards the end of the tour, we had to “hurry” our guide so we’d arrive back to the ship on time. There’s a bit of anxiety thinking you’ll arrive at the dock as the ship pulls out of port while the onboard guests wave goodbye to you!
In many cases, people simply walked off the cruise ship and strolled around the towns without booking any organized tour. Don’t forget…you can also stay onboard when the ship docks. Meals and activities still take place, although with fewer people participating.
On this Caribbean cruise, our ports of call were Grand Turk, St. Thomas, St. Marteen and San Juan. Due to rain and strong winds, the stop in Grand Turk got cancelled. Staff quickly readjusted and came up with extra onboard activities to compensate for the extra day at sea.
I heard several children make comments such as, “Great! Now we can swim some more and then play miniature golf!” In reality, if you are a 10-year- old, would you rather stay onboard to swim and get your own ice cream cone or walk through historical museums with your parents?
A Look at Both Sides
Because my husband and I are easy-going and try to make the best of any situation, we enjoyed our Caribbean cruise with Carnival Liberty. It’s easy to engage with people in the elevator or the buffet line, so I heard many different perspectives about the cruise.
One woman proudly told us this was her 18th cruise with Carnival and she was planning many more. Her friend scowled and said, “Not me! I’m bored and the food is awful!” Other comments ranged from complaints about rickety chairs in the dining room to too much chlorine in the pool.
Some people told me they didn’t like the photographers asking them to pose for photos throughout the day. Despite that, sales were brisk at the photo gallery as people purchased photos of their family involved in various ship activities.
I felt one of the entertainers at the evening “family friendly” show used way too many innuendos that only 13-year-old boys would like. Yet the mom sitting next to me with young children declared it her favorite show.
As with all things, you can’t please everyone. People looking for a cruise with sophisticated educational lectures or fine dining in an adult only restaurant, should check out other cruise possibilities. However, if you want a well-run cruise that offers fun and entertainment for singles, retirees, families and those in- between, a Carnival cruise could be for you.
Last and Most Important Tip if Traveling With Children
Did you take your children out of school to enjoy a cruise? No doubt their teachers sent along a packet of work to be done while on vacation. You probably never got around to pulling out those math worksheets so your children could learn multiplication tables rather than speeding down the ship’s waterslide.
While waiting for my flight home at the Orlando airport, I noticed an above normal amount of yelling and protesting from elementary aged children. Seems parents suddenly realized there was school work to be done and were threatening and bribing children to do their worksheets. Several temper tantrums ensued! Save end of the vacation melt downs by getting a token amount of school work done each day while on the cruise.