01 of 06
Embarkation in Miami
Our seven-day Carnival Liberty cruise roundtrip from Miami to the western Caribbean included stopovers at Cozumel, Belize, Roatan, and Grand Cayman, where we enjoyed the following activities:
- Training Dolphins,
- Zip Lining,
- Cave Tubing at Crystal Cave,
- Exploring Mahogany Bay, and
- Swimming with Stingrays.
My husband Ronnie and I drove the 650 miles from our home near Atlanta to Miami, stopping over for the night in Port St. Lucie before continuing onto Miami the next morning. I know that driving isn't an option for everyone, and the parking at the Miami cruise terminals is $20/day, but it was nice to not... fight the airport crowds and enjoy quiet time with my husband, who detests flying.
We arrived at the cruise port in Miami just before noon and were on the ship 30 minutes later. It couldn't have been smoother! With ships like the Carnival Liberty docking every week in Miami, it's not too surprising that they have a smooth boarding process. Our cabin wasn't going to be ready until about 1:30, so we took our carry-on bags up to Emile's Bistro on Lido Deck 9 and settled down for a leisurely lunch. Ronnie and I enjoyed the Mongolian wok barbecue in the buffet. It is one of the most popular places on the ship for lunch, and the line was short this first day since no one had discovered it. We were in our cabin before 1:30.
While waiting for our large bags to arrive at the cabin, I did a little exploring of the ship before we sailed. It was a gorgeous January day in Miami, in the mid-60's and with sunny skies. The top deck of the ship provided marvelous views of the city, the islands in the bay, and Miami Beach. I eagerly checked out some of the Fun Ship 2.0 changes recently added to the Carnival Liberty like the RedFrog and BlueIguana bars by the pool, but skipped the interesting Mexican cantina and Guy Fieri's burger joint since I had just finished lunch. (Even I have my limits.)
The Carnival Liberty left the dock about 4:30, and the ship sailed towards Miami and turned around before re-tracing our path towards the sea. Not sure why the captain had docked with the bow facing in towards Miami when the other four ships in port were all docked with their bows seaward. Anyway, we all left at about the same time, and it was quite a parade of huge ships leaving Miami--the Carnival Destiny, Celebrity Millennium, Celebrity Eclipse, Norwegian Epic, and us. There was a sailaway party on the deck. The fun had begun!
Before getting ready for our 8:15 dinner, we meandered along the Promenade and enjoyed some sushi and a drink. At first, the ship really seemed crowded, but we quickly got used to the high energy level that permeated much of the ship. Fortunately, you didn't have to go far to find a quiet spot (like your cabin balcony or the Serenity all-adults area).
Dinner was on deck 3 aft in the Silver Olympian dining room. Ronnie and I both had the prawns and Singapore rice noodles for dinner. They were very good. I had the delicious gazpacho cold soup, and Ronnie had the creamy tomato. We both had salad and Ronnie had the creme brulee for dessert, while I had the yummy chocolate melting cake. The late evening entertainment sounded tempting. The Venetian Palace, the main show lounge, was having a welcome aboard show. Other lounges featured magic, piano bar, karaoke, and adults-only comedy. Since the weather was nice, the ship was showing a horror movie at the outdoor Seaside theater. We wandered around a little and did some people watching, but decided it was time for bed.
Page 2 > > Day at Sea and Training a Dolphin in Cozumel > >Continue to 2 of 6 below.
02 of 06
A Day at Sea and Training Dolphins in Cozumel
Day at Sea on the Carnival Liberty
Our first day on the Carnival Liberty we were at sea. It was kind of windy, but lovely otherwise. The outdoor decks were packed with sun worshipers and partiers resting from the previous night and recharging for the current one. Ronnie slept in to almost 10 am, but I was happy reading my book on our balcony. We ate a late breakfast at Emile's Bistro buffet. It was good, and they did have grits to mix with my scrambled eggs.
Our day was quiet. We read, napped, explored the ship, and watched the football playoff games on the satellite television in our cabin. While wandering the ship, we watched the people, many of whom were packed into the EA Sports Bar, absorbed in the playoff games. All in all, a lazy day. We enjoyed a late lunch at Fish & Chips on deck 10. Ronnie had the fried oysters and bouillabaisse, I had the fish and chips.
The daily FunTimes cruise program was packed with activities for those who weren't content to sit in the sun (or... shade), watch the football games, or just enjoy the bars. The casino was open, so many chose to play the slots or table games. The spa staff had three lectures on health and beauty, and there was a presentation on the upcoming ports of call and shore excursions. One of our table mates won the hairy chest contest by the pool, and he was so proud at dinner! We were all thrilled for him and sorry we missed the contest. The staff also led bingo, bean bag tossing, dodge ball, and several other of the usual cruise ship activities. The bar staff had a martini tasting, and the chefs had a lecture on food and wine pairing. All of the shops were open, and one had a gem seminar. Several of the indoor and outdoor spaces were filled with live music. All in all, it was as expected--a fun-filled day on a large cruise ship. Everyone we saw seemed to be having a great time.
It was our first elegant evening onboard, so the meal was especially good in the dining room. I had the stuffed mushrooms, Greek salad, and the lobster and shrimp for dinner. Dessert was chocolate ice cream for me. Ronnie had the stuffed mushrooms, shrimp cocktail, lobster and shrimp, and cherries jubilee (not flaming). The three men at our table wore sports jackets, but many of the men did not. As usual, it seemed like the women were more dressed up.
The Carnival Liberty singers and dancers did a production show in the Venetian Palace, and the nightclubs and bars rocked into the late evening.
Dolphin Training at Dolphinaris in Cozumel
The next day we awoke in Cozumel. Ronnie and I had breakfast, but our tour wasn't until 11:15. So, we walked into the shopping area about 10 o'clock and just looked around for an hour or so. The Carnival Dream was docked next to us, so there were about 6000 cruisers on the dock and in the shops. Plus, Cozumel has other docks--we saw two other big ships in port at another dock closer to town.
Ronnie and I did an excursion called "Dolphin Trainers". This was at the Dolphinaris facility. Although I had been to Dolphinaris before, I wanted Ronnie to swim with dolphins, and I was happy to have an excuse to go again. It's only about a 10 minute ride (3 miles) from the ship.
There are several levels of interactions with the dolphins, but "dolphin trainer" is the longest, most expensive, and includes lunch. Only Ronnie and I and another couple from Philadelphia who were on the other Carnival ship did this tour. Really nice to have am almost private tour, although only 12 is the maximum. We toured the facility and had one of the trainers (Alex) as our guide. He told us much about dolphin diets, training, and physiology before taking us to the food area where we learned how to sort out the bad fish with cuts or other damage from the good ones. The 16 dolphins at the facility have three kinds of fish they eat (herring, squid, and something like a sardine). Each has a set amount they get the six times a day they are fed. Most of the feeding is done during the interactions with the customers. The food fish are kept in ice chests, each labeled with a dolphin's name. And, each dolphin gets a certain amount of each type of fish, along with vitamins or medicine (if needed). One dolphin with kidney problems gets a liter (or more) of fresh water each day. It's very scientific, and I was impressed with the cleanliness of the facility and the process for feeding and monitoring the dolphins.
After sorting out some of the fish and scrubbing the fish smell from our hands, we moved to the training area where we learned seven simple hand commands for the dolphins. It was harder than you would think, especially since the dolphins are like people--each with its own personality. You have to do the commands exactly right or they might get confused. They only use positive reinforcement in the training, so the only way to "reprimand" them is to just stand still, ignore them, and not use any commands. They quickly learn that no food or praise is coming unless they do as asked.
The four of us spent quite a while giving the dolphins commands and then rewarding them with fish from their respective ice chests. No telling how far back we set their training since none of the four of us was particularly confident in giving the signals, and sometimes the dolphins got confused. They gave each of us a special t-shirt to wear that identified us as trainers to the staff. Maybe the dolphins recognize the t-shirts, too!
After we "trained" the dolphins, we moved into the water to do the same things those who swam with dolphins did. We petted them, got a kiss, shook hands, and rode on their stomachs (the best part). Soon our time with the dolphins was over. One of the waiters took our lunch order, and we went snorkeling for about 30 minutes while it was being prepared. We fed some of the culled fish from the dolphin food sorting to the reef fish, so we saw lots of nice fish while snorkeling. Needless to say, we were all starved, especially since it was after 3 pm
Ronnie and I both had fajitas washed down with a Dos Equis beer. Soon it was time to return to the ship, and we were back at the pier in time to board by 4:30. Of course, it seemed like everyone else on the ship waited until the last minute too. Therefore, the line was pretty long, but moved quickly.
Other Cozumel Activities
The Carnival Liberty had several other great shore excursions in Cozumel. The variety of activities on and near this western Caribbean island are impressive. Of course, there were plenty of opportunities to enjoy the water and the beach or go shopping. Adventure lovers could take one of several snorkeling tours or go horseback riding, parasailing, submarining, jeep or ATV riding, or zip lining. Those interested in culture or history could tour the island or visit Mayan ruins. Foodies could take a culinary tour to learn how to make salsa or Mexican food.
Ronnie and I returned to the cabin, got cleaned up a little, and had some sushi before finalizing our dress for dinner. We had gotten reservations ($30 per person) to eat at Harry's Steakhouse, and it was as good as I remember.
After dinner, the Carnival Liberty had a RedFrog Caribbean beach party outdoors, with lots of beach music, dancing, and fun. Some people auditioned for a spot in the Carnival Legends show, while others went to see the comedian in the Victoria Lounge.
Next Page > > Zip Lining and Cave Tubing on Belize > >Continue to 3 of 6 below.
03 of 06
Zip Lining in Belize
The next morning the Carnival Liberty was sailing into the narrow strait that separates Belize from the many islands that dot the Central American coastline. We could tell the water was shallower by its lighter blue color. Checking the GPS view on the television, we noted that the Captain had to navigate around many of these islands, and we were actually sailing north (rather than south as expected) into the area off Belize City. Once the sun was up, this was very obvious. (Note: We never changed our time on this cruise, always staying with Eastern Time. Therefore, the sun did not rise until about 7:10 each morning since we were actually in the Central Time Zone.)
Ronnie and I ate breakfast outside (much quieter) and then donned our swimsuits and packed our back packs for the zip lining and cave tubing combo tour we had booked through the ship. Since this was a tender port, all tour groups met in the beautiful large theater. Of course, we had to stand in a line to get our stickers, but... once we were in the theater, they called our color/number quickly. In fact, we were on the tender before 9 am, which was our appointed meeting time. The tender ride to Belize City took about 15 minutes since the ship had to anchor pretty far away since the water was too shallow closer in. Like Grand Cayman, we used local tenders, which held many people and were more comfortable to ride in than the ship's life boats are. I think there were three or four tour groups on our tender.
Arriving in Belize City, we met up with our guide Edward and soon boarded the bus, which was very air conditioned. The day was warm, and we really didn't need the cold air. There were 50 on the tour, but only 37 of us on the first tender. Therefore, we ended up waiting on the bus for about a half hour before all the stragglers arrived. Anyway, the next group finally arrived and we were off by about 10 am.
The bus ride to the cave/zip line area was about 50 minutes on the main highway (called the West Road since it heads west from Belize City towards the mountains and the capital of the country), followed by about 15-20 minutes on a very bumpy dirt road. Edward the guide said that this road provided "complimentary back massage", but all we did was laugh. Belize seems to have two seasons--very rainy and rainy. The very rainy season is during the hurricane months of June through November, but it also rains sporadically the rest of the year. Apparently, they had a lot of rain the few days before we arrived, given the pot holes filled with water and the swollen creeks. The coast of Belize is very low (18 inches below sea level) and has a lot of swampy land, along with a lot of reclaimed land that is still subject to flooding.
The zip line/cave area is in a national park, so was quite nice. We drove through the main caving area where many tours just do an inner tube float through a section of the miles and miles of limestone caves in Belize. Apparently, you can even tube float and and camp along the way! We saw numerous buses parked at the cave area, all emblazoned with the "Butts Up" motto they use to warn tubers of upcoming shallow water. Very cute. (Note: We had no butts up for our group since the water levels were very high.)
We rented a locker for $5 and those who had worn flip flops had to rent water shoes for $5. I was glad we had read the directions and worn our Keen water shoes! Ronnie and I stowed our stuff and got ready for the zip line adventure. Our bus had about 25 people who were traveling in a group of over 40. They were all friends from a small town in Washington state.
The guides divided us into groups of eight, and Ronnie and I were with a group of three other couples--one from North Carolina; the second from Melbourne, Australia; and the third couple were two girls traveling together who were friends. Anyway, the zipping was much like I have done other places. We were rigged up and had to walk up a lot of steps to the first zip. Of course, since we had 50 in the group, we had to stand in line to wait our turn. Once we got started, it went quickly. This facility only had five zip lines, compared to the nine or ten I've had elsewhere. It was still fun, and although it was his first time, Ronnie did better than I.
Next Page > > Cave Tubing in Belize > >Continue to 4 of 6 below.
04 of 06
Cave Tubing in Belize at the Crystal Cave
Following the ziplining, we stowed our clothes in the locker (already had our swimsuits on underneath) and joined the tubing guide. We picked up an inner tube, donned a hard hat with an attached miner's light, and made our way to the cave. We had a lot of steps up and down, and most were wet, so this excursion is not a good choice for anyone with walking difficulties. The passageway into the cave and to the river was very narrow, low, and slippery in some places, so we had to stoop down. Not an easy trek with a hard hat with a light on it and carrying a big inner tube!
This cave was called the Crystal Cave, and it was quite lovely. No lighting on the inside except that from our head lamps. Kind of eerie to see the other tubers ahead of us since we could only see their lights. I couldn't help but remember my trip to see the glow worms in the caves of New Zealand! The eight of us in our group hooked together, and the poor guide had to pull the group of us upstream through the... cave, pointing out stalagmites and stalactites along the way. We didn't see any bats, but others did. We got off the tubes and did some walking to see the remnants of broken pottery left by the ancient Mayans who had used the caves. Then we re-boarded the tubes for the float back downstream. We were in the cave a little over an hour. At the end of the float, we had time for a short swim in the cave.
We lugged our tubes back to the staging area and removed our life vests, hard hats, and lights. Very fun experience, and the water wasn't as cold as I feared it would be.
After our zip and cave float, many folks ate a late lunch at the snack bar at the facility, but Ronnie and I changed back into our dry clothes and just sipped a diet coke. They sold photos of our zip and float, but we didn't buy any since we had paid big bucks for the dolphin photos the day before.
We re-boarded the bus and were back at Belize City by about 4:30 and back on the ship soon after 5 pm. Since we hadn't had lunch, we stopped at the sushi bar (opened at 5 pm) and had some very good shrimp and salmon rolls, all washed down with a beer. Nice way to end the day!
Other Belize Activities
Belize City is a much poorer city than the other ports of call on this itinerary. Many Carnival Liberty guests did an organized tour since the city itself did not offer much to see or do. The ship had several bus sightseeing tours, but also some interesting historical tours to see Mayan ruins in the Belize countryside. Most of the other activities were adventure-related such as snorkeling, scuba diving, horseback riding, and kayaking. Since Belize is filled with limestone caves, there were several cave tubing activities. Some were to the Crystal Cave we visited on our combination tour, others to a different cave. Some cruise passengers went to the beach to just swim or lounge on the sand.
Dinner was at 8:15 in the main dining room, but Ronnie and I went for a drink at the lobby bar to watch them dance before dinner. Just a few "old" (like us) couples dancing, but they were all good. You could tell they had taken dance lessons. We joined our regular table of six for dinner. I had an asparagus vichyssoise (cold potato) soup, salad, short ribs/filet combo, and apple pie for dessert. Ronnie had oysters Rockefeller, salad, fried shrimp, and a cake with filling. He thought the oysters were the best dish. Mine was delicious, especially the soup, the short ribs, and the pie.
Since it was Tuesday, the Carnival Liberty had a big Mardi Gras deck party. There were more Carnival Legends auditions and karaoke, and plenty of dancing in the Hot & Cool nightclub. The Carnival Liberty big band, the singers, and the dancers performed in the Venetian Palace. We were both very tired after all the stair climbing at our shore excursions, so we went to bed early, even missing the bead throwing that was part of the Mardi Gras celebration.
Next Day > > Mahogany Bay at Roatan, Honduras > >Continue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06
A Day at Mahogany Bay on Roatan, Honduras
The next morning the Carnival Liberty was at the dock in Mahogany Bay, a cruise village and beach area on the island of Roatan, Honduras. Mahogany Bay was developed by Carnival Corporation for the numerous ships its companies (Carnival, Holland America, Princess, Costa, and Seabourn) operate. Mahogany Bay was gorgeous, much like one of the private islands in the Bahamas. Of course, what made it clean, neat, and quiet was the restricted access and planned development. When you start from scratch just a few years ago, you can build everything to match. When you have to have a cruise card or pass to enter the development, you don't have vendors lining the streets trying to sell stuff. Very nice, but maybe a little too pristine. I hope those who didn't leave Mahogany Bay to see more of Roatan don't think the whole island looks like that nice village and beach.
Ronnie and I didn't have any organized tour scheduled, so we just wandered ashore (we were docked) after breakfast... and spent an hour or so walking around so I could get photos and a feel for the place. Like Cozumel, you have to walk through a bunch of duty-free shops just to get into the small village. There, you find more shops. There's the usual gamut of jewelry and souvenir shops, along with a large craft market and a Fat Tuesday's bar. Leaving the village, you have to show your cruise card to either walk to the beach (it's not far) or ride the chair lift ($12/day for unlimited rides for adults and $7 for kids). There are two ways to get to the beach--a paved path lined with flowers and manicured lawn/raked sand or a nature trail that meanders a little through the forest and has some nice benches and swings. The trail is probably only 1/4 of a mile long, not much longer than the paved path.
Arriving at the beach, there are more shops with beach stuff, some restrooms, a bar, and a restaurant. In addition, there are water toys (kayaks, snorkeling equipment, etc.) to rent. Guests can also rent cabanas or space in the VIP beach area. There's a long pier with a ladder at the end, which enables snorkelers to walk down the pier and then enter a little deeper water without having to swim.
The beach offers terrific views of the ship (and vice versa), so I got some good photos.
Things to Do on Roatan
A large coral reef is right off the coastline of Roatan, so many of the activities are water-related. There's terrific snorkeling and diving, and Roatan has gorgeous beaches. Adventurers might want to explore via 4-wheel drive or boat. There's also a zip line canopy tour and island sightseeing tours. Many North Americans have retired to Roatan, so English is widely spoken.
Most Carnival Liberty guests took some time to visit Mahogany Bay beach and enjoy the activities there. Some rented cabanas, beach floats, kayaks, or snorkeling gear.
We returned to the ship in time for a late lunch. I had a good burrito from the Blue Iguana Cantina. They have delicious burritos and tacos. Ronnie got the fried oysters, calimari fritters, and ceviche.
We went to the past cruisers party at 3:45 that featured free drinks and canapes. There are so many past cruisers on the ship that they had two parties--ours lasted for 45 minutes, and the second followed at 5:00 pm (after they reset the Venetian Palace).
Ronnie and I returned to the cabin for a while before going to the 7 pm juggler show. This was the first time that the show for the late diners was before dinner. The guy was a comedian/juggler and was one of the best I've seen. Even Ronnie commented that he enjoyed the show, and he's a tougher sell than I am.
After the show, we sat along the promenade and had a little sushi and a drink, but mostly people-watched. People certainly didn't dress up on the Carnival Liberty. Even the "smart cruise" attire requested at the past cruiser's party was more casual than I'd consider "smart". Ronnie and I dressed early for dinner, but most people at the past cruisers' party seem to have not changed since they had come in from the beach. Since we had to be back on board and the party was 3:45, it wasn't like they didn't have time. Oh well. They are on vacation, so maybe dressing up a little is too much to ask.
Dinner was in the Silver Olympian Dining Room. After dinner, there was a big Mexican fiesta party out doors by the pool. This was the third themed deck party during the week--Caribbean, Mardi Gras, and Mexican. Very nice, and the excellent set of activities/entertainment everyone expects from Carnival.
Next Page > > A Day at Stingray City on Grand Cayman Island > >Continue to 6 of 6 below.
06 of 06
A Visit to Stingray City on Grand Cayman Island
Our last port of call on the Carnival Liberty was at Grand Cayman Island. This flat, sandy island is one of the most popular in the western Caribbean. Unfortunately, it's a tender port, which makes getting there and back again a little problematic, especially for those who don't take organized tours. We anchored about 10 am, and they immediately started boarding the thousands of us on tours into the large tenders provided by the port (like in Belize). The organization was good. We were in the main lounge at our 10:30 appointed time and waited until our tour was called at 11:15--not sure what the hold up was since we were supposed to be on the bus at that time. Those not on tour had to obtain a free tender ticket to use after all the tour groups were ashore. So, many of them didn't get ashore until after noon.
Ronnie had never been to Grand Cayman, so we went on a short (3.5 hour) tour to Stingray City, a shallow sandy area where Southern Stingrays come to get free food. I... booked us on the Allura catamaran since it provided a shuttle back to the tender dock after the time with the stingrays. (All the other tours took you to a beach for a few hours, and neither of us cared about that since we had beach time in Roatan).
We got very lucky with this tour. It was all adults, and there were only 14 of us. The captain told us that the day before they had 62 on the tour! We rode a small van to the Grand Cayman yacht club, noting how much more prosperous this banking mecca was than Belize. Our small group boarded the nice Allura catamaran, and motored about 45 minutes out to Stingray City, arriving about 1 pm. We were in the water with the stingrays about an hour; petting, kissing, and watching them gracefully swim in the shallow water (about 3 feet deep) around us. Note--kissing one brings you 7 years of good luck. I've been pretty lucky since I kissed one in 2010, so decided I better do it again. Of course there were a dozen other boats on the sand bar and hundreds of people.
The Allura had a fresh water rinse, so we washed off the salt and had a few glasses of water or overly-sweet punch. The captain said it would be the only thing we would get free on Grand Cayman. The captain raised the sails on the way back to the yacht club, so we had a leisurely voyage on the Allura back to the dock. We were back on the ship about 3:30.
Other Grand Cayman Activities
Like most islands in the Caribbean, many activities are centered around the water. Guests on the Carnival Liberty could enjoy one of the many beaches and the sparkling clear waters surrounding the island. Or, they could go snorkeling, diving, or take a boat ride. Grand Cayman has an interesting turtle farm that both kids and adults will enjoy. And, you can always visit Hell. Just don't forget to send a postcard back home from there. Grand Cayman also has many shops, so it's a good place to buy those last-minute gifts.
Most of the restaurants were closed, but the ship has pizza, the deli, and Guy's Burger Joint open most of the day and into the night. Ronnie and I hadn't tried this new burger place on the ship, but wished we had before. It was one of the best burgers I've ever had. Carnival has recently partnered with Guy Fieri to put his burger joints on all the Carnival ships. The good thing about Guy's is that it is free, and the burgers are better than Johnny Rockets. They are smashed out thin, but are still huge. The buns are buttered and steamed on the burgers. They even have a short video playing that shows how they are cooked.
After the late lunch, we went back to the cabin. I took a much-deserved nap, and Ronnie went out exploring for a while on the ship. Before long, it was time to get ready for drinks and dinner. Of course, we had to have our daily sushi before meeting some cruise friends for drinks, enjoying the people watching along the promenade. It was "cruise elegant" night. We saw about four tuxedos, mostly worn by couples getting their photos made, and probably only about a third of the men had on some type of jacket.
The six of us enjoyed a nice dinner. Ronnie had a seafood sampler (tuna tartare, shrimp, and salmon), escargot, and grilled shrimp. I had the seafood sampler, a Caesar salad, and the fish. We both had baked Alaska for dessert. The waiters danced on the small platforms scattered throughout the restaurant as they had done a couple of other nights. It was a fun evening.
Since I had a nap, I was ready for the show that featured the two singers and twelve dancers (eight girls and four guys). It was as good as expected, and the theater was almost full. Walking along the Promenade around midnight, we weren't surprised to see many people still in the bars and clubs. The comedy club was full, and the disco floor had several people dancing. It was a fun last night before our final sea day and then home.
Our last day on the cruise was our second sea day. It was another beautiful day. What good weather we had on this cruise! Guests gathered by the pool and outside on the decks to soak up the sun before heading home.
As you can tell from this review, my husband and I had a great time on the Carnival Liberty. I loved this itinerary since it included many diverse opportunities for adventure and water-related activities. However, those who love Mayan history and culture would also enjoy this western Caribbean cruise. The ship is a good value, has good food, and excellent onboard activities. Add that to the exciting ports, and you've got a memorable cruise vacation!
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary cruise accommodation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.