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Cruise Ship Review

Carnival Liberty - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

Carnival Liberty -- the line's fourth Conquest-class vessel -- won't surprise folks familiar with the Conquest-style layout, public spaces and cabin amenities. As with its siblings, the ship features a plethora of themed bars and lounges, four restaurants, two main pool areas, a spa and fitness facility, a sprawling casino, and Harry's, a reservations-only supper club. Carnival Liberty boasts a high ratio of private balconies (18 were added during an October 2008 dry-dock), a library, an ornate three-deck theater and a series of shops, and offers teens their own nightclub (which is uniquely located along the promenade with the rest of the "adult" fare). It's pretty safe stuff.

Where Carnival Liberty does elicit some head scratching is in its decorating scheme, celebrating the craft of art rather than having anything at all to do with the concept of liberty -- which appears, at first, a bit esoteric for a Carnival vessel.

At least it may well seem a stretch to those who haven't traveled on Carnival ever -- or even lately -- and who may still expect a neon-palace-type experience. That's because Carnival, long dubbed the "Fun Ships" line (with an onboard ambience that in the past has been more likely to emphasize wacky, high-energy antics and oft-cartoonesque design schemes), is in the midst of a gentle evolution.

Much of what has earned Carnival its distinctively lighthearted niche (and it's pretty much solely their niche these days) is a unique joie de vivre, an "anything goes" philosophy both in physical features -- bars, pools and theaters especially, not to mention entertainment varied enough to please just about anybody -- and in silly activities. If passengers were required to compromise on food, itinerary, a sophisticated decor or even service in the past ... well, nobody's perfect.

But on our voyage aboard Carnival Liberty, this occasional (rather than habitual) Carnival cruiser found the experience genuinely exceptional in just about every possible way. Service was outstanding, both personal and efficient. Our standard balcony cabin was charming, low-key and spacious. The entertainment, particularly at night, was so varied and offered so many options -- Vegas floor shows, jazz, the fabulous "piano man" who packed in the crowds with his group sing-alongs -- that they kept us up way, way, way past our normal bedtime. Cuisine definitely exceeded my expectations, particularly at Harry's Supper Club -- not to mention Emile's buffet, the fish-and-chips bar, the sushi station and even the pizzeria (which made fabulous thin-crust pies). Only our dining room meals were mediocre.

And the artisan-themed public spaces designed by Carnival's uber-interior architect Joe Farcus were much more sophisticated than I expected: the colorful glass lamps along the walls of the art nouveau Emile's; the elegance of the Antiquarian Library, with its book-binding theme; the Cabinet Room, a bar for jazz and cigars that was downright low key in its elegance; and the genuinely lovely Flowers bar, which literally seemed a breath of fresh air with its garden pastel watercolors tucked behind iron gate like fixtures.

And yet, in an era in which some cruise lines are abandoning long-occupied niches to broaden their audiences -- and, in the process, forgetting all about what made them special in the first place -- Carnival is making no such mistake with Carnival Liberty. The line, which has already successfully evolved from a party-hearty budget option to one that's equally geared to singles, families and seniors (no easy feat there), is simply tweaking its well-established formula. Travelers are becoming more sophisticated and discerning across the board and Carnival, especially through its newer ships, is simply raising its bar to meet the new demand via coffee bars, supper clubs and sushi stations. And even while the line embraces a new, subtle sophistication, an oddly placed alarm sensor -- like those that appear in mall shops -- sits outside the photo shop. The reason? To prevent theft of photos!

Ultimately, the ship's onboard pizzeria best makes the point that Carnival Liberty can serve many masters well: Good ol' pepperoni sat side by side with a pie featuring goat cheese -- and both pretty much flew out of the oven.

Dining

On Carnival Liberty, the two main dining rooms offer the traditional set-tablemates, set-time dinner scenario (and are open-seating at breakfast and lunch). The Silver Olympian Restaurant is the nicer one in that it's located aft and so is 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 I 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 Vega's "Hey Baby" (and they were awesome), well, that should say it all.

What I frankly found more appetizing than the main dining rooms was every other option for noshing on the ship. The two-level Emile's, a buffet venue, offers hot and cold buffet fare for breakfast and lunch (though I would advise folks in the mood for eggs to take a turn at the omelet station rather than eat the pre-made stuff). The food itself is displayed mostly in cafeteria-style lines, with desserts (and sometimes salads) occupying a kiosk of its 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 much-praised pizzeria and, on the opposite side, a counter for burgers, hot dogs and the like.

On the Promenade, two gustatory highlights include the Jardin Cafe (the coffee was great and the pastries and deserts ... well, let's just say they were irresistible) and the Origami Sushi Bar, adjacent (open evenings only).

Harry's Supper Club, a reservations-only gourmet experience, levies one of the highest service tabs in cruising -- $30 per person -- and it's worth every penny. Harry's specializes in quality cuts of filet mignon (and a 24-ounce porterhouse), lobster, veal chops, lamb chops and Chilean sea bass, and its wine list is definitely one of the industry's most intriguing. A combo performs during dinner (and, whether dining at Harry's or not, the venue has a lovely bar).

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.

And if you're still not sated, Carnival's one of the few lines that still offer the occasional and splendiferous midnight buffet -- the Chocolate Extravaganza is worth missing a few hours sleep.

Public Rooms

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; here, 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); the Victoria Lounge, the secondary theater, which is genuinely elegant with its theme being English-style majolica glassware; and the Empress Room, a tiny gem of a room with a fake fireplace whose design revolves around Chinese Cloisonne.

Carnival Liberty has a hard-to-find Internet cafe (it's tucked away behind the Cabinet Bar) and the number of computers is underwhelming -- there were lines on our trip. The good news is the ship is very Wi-Fi-friendly; I'd advise you to bring your own laptop.

Cabins

Carnival Liberty's cabins occupy the usual Carnival range (no surprises here), and are pleasantly larger than industry average from insides on up.

In cabins from the inside category to standard balcony and including picture window, decor is a pleasant amalgam of peachy and soft yellow tones. Insides come with chairs; all others have a seating area with a sofa (some are pull-outs) and coffee table. One way in which Carnival distinguishes itself is by offering beds that convert from 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. Color 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 voice mail fill out the rest of the amenities. Storage was 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 the dubious innovation of Crest orange-flavored toothpaste -- though, since we forgot ours, we weren't too choosy). 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. (Editor's note: Balconies were added to 18 of its cabins during an October 2008 dry-dock.)

This ship, likes 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 plenty roomy. Beyond the extra space, there are more bells and whistles, such as bathrooms with tubs and televisions with VCR's.

As part of the dry-dock, Carnival Liberty also gained two huge new 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 ft., Liberty's new Penthouse Suites are by far the largest cabins in the fleet.

Entertainment

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."

Introduced in a very low-key fashion is Carnival Cruise Lines' first-ever outdoor movie screen. Carnival's Seaside Theater is similar to that developed by Princess Cruises; towering over the main pool deck is a 270-square-ft. screen that thrums with programming day and night. During the day, the screen played music videos and basically took over the role of a band, while at night a variety of films were played, both family-oriented such as "Shrek" and retro-hits like "Titanic"; late in the evenings, concerts featuring performers such as 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) and as a result, the area was pretty underutilized at night.

Far more popular is the indoor Promenade, an avenue of sorts that connects most of the bars, lounges and entertainment options. From here, you can check out the sports-themed Gloves Bar (which was rarely crowded and had the most comfortable leather chairs!); Hot & Cool, the disco whose decor celebrates the art of tattoos; Paparazzi, a wine bar that sits in a crook in the hallway and, as such, is the best people-watching spot onboard (another good place was the Flower Bar, in the lobby); Piano Man, 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 and jazz venue, 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 music and karaoke, and the Empress Bar in the Club Lounge, were as desolate as graveyards.

During the day, Carnival features the usual wacky antics along with bingo, bad-hair-day seminars and shopping in its duty-free emporiums.

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 -- I thought the configuration was confusing. Above the main pool area is Carnival's famous slide.

Much more appealing was 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 area 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.

The Spa Carnival health and fitness center pretty much features the usual (an expansive fitness center with a separate workout area; some classes, like Pilates and yoga require a $10 fee) and 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 afterwards! You can buy all the products you desire, though, in the spa's stand-alone boutique.

There's a jogging track.

Family

Camp Carnival's facility on Carnival Liberty encompasses some 4,200 square ft. 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 Without Batteries disco is in a central location right on the promenade -- a few doors down from the adult disco. The club itself looked quite cool -- it's themed around antique toymaking before batteries were necessary -- but high-tech toys aren't lacking. The dance floor was 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 babysitting is available; cost is $6 per hour for the first child, $4 per hour for each additional kid in the same family.

Fellow Passengers

On Carnival Liberty's sailings in Europe, expect a more international crowd, with fellow passengers hailing from Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom and beyond, as well as Americans. Age-wise, the audience for this ship literally runs the gamut, from families with small kids to seniors -- and just about everybody in between.

Dress Code

There are two formal nights on a 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. Daytimes, dress is very casual.

Gratuity

Carnival automatically tags a $10 per person, per day gratuity onto onboard accounts; to adjust it, go to the purser's desk. Drinks get a 15 percent gratuity. In the spa, the gratuity is at your discretion.

--By Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor

Dining

On Carnival Liberty, the main dining rooms offer either traditional set-tablemates, set-time dinner scenario (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 they like between 5:45 and 9:30 p.m. (though these times may vary slightly depending on ship and sailing date). 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 so is 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 I 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 Vega's "Hey Baby" (and they were awesome), well, that should say it all.

What I frankly found more appetizing than the main dining rooms was every other option for noshing on the ship. The two-level Emile's, a buffet venue, offers hot and cold buffet fare for breakfast and lunch (though I would advise folks in the mood for eggs to take a turn at the omelet station rather than eat the pre-made stuff). The food itself is displayed mostly in cafeteria-style lines, with desserts (and sometimes salads) occupying a kiosk of its 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 much-praised pizzeria and, on the opposite side, a counter for burgers, hot dogs and the like.

On the Promenade, two gustatory highlights include the Jardin Cafe (the coffee was great and the pastries and desserts ... well, let's just say they were irresistible) and the Origami Sushi Bar, adjacent (open evenings only).

Harry's Supper Club, a reservations-only gourmet experience, levies one of the highest service tabs in cruising -- $30 per person -- and it's worth every penny. Harry's specializes in quality cuts of filet mignon (and a 24-ounce porterhouse), lobster, veal chops, lamb chops and Chilean sea bass, and its wine list is definitely one of the industry's most intriguing. A combo performs during dinner (and, whether dining at Harry's or not, the venue has a lovely bar).

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 multi-course 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 non-traditional 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.

And if you're still not sated, Carnival's one of the few lines that still offer the occasional and splendiferous midnight buffet -- the Chocolate Extravaganza is worth missing a few hours sleep.

Dining

On Carnival Liberty, the two main dining rooms offer the traditional set-tablemates, set-time dinner scenario (and are open-seating at breakfast and lunch). The Silver Olympian Restaurant is the nicer one in that it's located aft and so is 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 I 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 Vega's "Hey Baby" (and they were awesome), well, that should say it all.

What I frankly found more appetizing than the main dining rooms was every other option for noshing on the ship. The two-level Emile's, a buffet venue, offers hot and cold buffet fare for breakfast and lunch (though I would advise folks in the mood for eggs to take a turn at the omelet station rather than eat the pre-made stuff). The food itself is displayed mostly in cafeteria-style lines, with desserts (and sometimes salads) occupying a kiosk of its 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 much-praised pizzeria and, on the opposite side, a counter for burgers, hot dogs and the like.

On the Promenade, two gustatory highlights include the Jardin Cafe (the coffee was great and the pastries and deserts ... well, let's just say they were irresistible) and the Origami Sushi Bar, adjacent (open evenings only).

Harry's Supper Club, a reservations-only gourmet experience, levies one of the highest service tabs in cruising -- $30 per person -- and it's worth every penny. Harry's specializes in quality cuts of filet mignon (and a 24-ounce porterhouse), lobster, veal chops, lamb chops and Chilean sea bass, and its wine list is definitely one of the industry's most intriguing. A combo performs during dinner (and, whether dining at Harry's or not, the venue has a lovely bar).

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.

And if you're still not sated, Carnival's one of the few lines that still offer the occasional and splendiferous midnight buffet -- the Chocolate Extravaganza is worth missing a few hours sleep. Carnival Liberty -- the line's fourth Conquest-class vessel -- won't surprise folks familiar with the Conquest-style layout, public spaces and cabin amenities. As with its siblings, the ship features a plethora of themed bars and lounges, four restaurants, two main pool areas, a spa and fitness facility, a sprawling casino, and Harry's, a reservations-only supper club. Carnival Liberty boasts a high ratio of private balconies (18 were added during an October 2008 dry-dock), a library, an ornate three-deck theater and a series of shops, and offers teens their own nightclub (which is uniquely located along the promenade with the rest of the "adult" fare). It's pretty safe stuff.

Where Carnival Liberty does elicit some head scratching is in its decorating scheme, celebrating the craft of art rather than having anything at all to do with the concept of liberty -- which appears, at first, a bit esoteric for a Carnival vessel.

At least it may well seem a stretch to those who haven't traveled on Carnival ever -- or even lately -- and who may still expect a neon-palace-type experience. That's because Carnival, long dubbed the "Fun Ships" line (with an onboard ambience that in the past has been more likely to emphasize wacky, high-energy antics and oft-cartoonesque design schemes), is in the midst of a gentle evolution.

Much of what has earned Carnival its distinctively lighthearted niche (and it's pretty much solely their niche these days) is a unique joie de vivre, an "anything goes" philosophy both in physical features -- bars, pools and theaters especially, not to mention entertainment varied enough to please just about anybody -- and in silly activities. If passengers were required to compromise on food, itinerary, a sophisticated decor or even service in the past ... well, nobody's perfect.

But on our voyage aboard Carnival Liberty, this occasional (rather than habitual) Carnival cruiser found the experience genuinely exceptional in just about every possible way. Service was outstanding, both personal and efficient. Our standard balcony cabin was charming, low-key and spacious. The entertainment, particularly at night, was so varied and offered so many options -- Vegas floor shows, jazz, the fabulous "piano man" who packed in the crowds with his group sing-alongs -- that they kept us up way, way, way past our normal bedtime. Cuisine definitely exceeded my expectations, particularly at Harry's Supper Club -- not to mention Emile's buffet, the fish-and-chips bar, the sushi station and even the pizzeria (which made fabulous thin-crust pies). Only our dining room meals were mediocre.

And the artisan-themed public spaces designed by Carnival's uber-interior architect Joe Farcus were much more sophisticated than I expected: the colorful glass lamps along the walls of the art nouveau Emile's; the elegance of the Antiquarian Library, with its book-binding theme; the Cabinet Room, a bar for jazz and cigars that was downright low key in its elegance; and the genuinely lovely Flowers bar, which literally seemed a breath of fresh air with its garden pastel watercolors tucked behind iron gate like fixtures.

And yet, in an era in which some cruise lines are abandoning long-occupied niches to broaden their audiences -- and, in the process, forgetting all about what made them special in the first place -- Carnival is making no such mistake with Carnival Liberty. The line, which has already successfully evolved from a party-hearty budget option to one that's equally geared to singles, families and seniors (no easy feat there), is simply tweaking its well-established formula. Travelers are becoming more sophisticated and discerning across the board and Carnival, especially through its newer ships, is simply raising its bar to meet the new demand via coffee bars, supper clubs and sushi stations. And even while the line embraces a new, subtle sophistication, an oddly placed alarm sensor -- like those that appear in mall shops -- sits outside the photo shop. The reason? To prevent theft of photos!

Ultimately, the ship's onboard pizzeria best makes the point that Carnival Liberty can serve many masters well: Good ol' pepperoni sat side by side with a pie featuring goat cheese -- and both pretty much flew out of the oven.

Dining

On Carnival Liberty, the main dining rooms offer either traditional set-tablemates, set-time dinner scenario (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 they like between 5:45 and 9:30 p.m. (though these times may vary slightly depending on ship and sailing date). 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 so is 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 I 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 Vega's "Hey Baby" (and they were awesome), well, that should say it all.

What I frankly found more appetizing than the main dining rooms was every other option for noshing on the ship. The two-level Emile's, a buffet venue, offers hot and cold buffet fare for breakfast and lunch (though I would advise folks in the mood for eggs to take a turn at the omelet station rather than eat the pre-made stuff). The food itself is displayed mostly in cafeteria-style lines, with desserts (and sometimes salads) occupying a kiosk of its 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 much-praised pizzeria and, on the opposite side, a counter for burgers, hot dogs and the like.

On the Promenade, two gustatory highlights include the Jardin Cafe (the coffee was great and the pastries and desserts ... well, let's just say they were irresistible) and the Origami Sushi Bar, adjacent (open evenings only).

Harry's Supper Club, a reservations-only gourmet experience, levies one of the highest service tabs in cruising -- $30 per person -- and it's worth every penny. Harry's specializes in quality cuts of filet mignon (and a 24-ounce porterhouse), lobster, veal chops, lamb chops and Chilean sea bass, and its wine list is definitely one of the industry's most intriguing. A combo performs during dinner (and, whether dining at Harry's or not, the venue has a lovely bar).

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.

And if you're still not sated, Carnival's one of the few lines that still offer the occasional and splendiferous midnight buffet -- the Chocolate Extravaganza is worth missing a few hours sleep.

Gratuity

Carnival automatically tags a $10 per person, per day gratuity onto onboard accounts; to adjust it, go to the purser's desk. Drinks get a 15 percent gratuity. In the spa, the gratuity is at your discretion.

Gratuity

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. An envelope is provided on the last night for those who want to extend thanks to the maitre d'.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.

Dining

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.

Public Rooms

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.

Cabins

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.

Entertainment

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.

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.

Family

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.

Fellow Passengers

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.

Dress Code

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.

Gratuity

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.

Gratuity

Carnival recommends $12.00 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $6.10 to dining room services, $3.90 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 it can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping a couple dollars for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff.

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