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WHO: HBCU Alumni & Friends
WHEN: Nov 14 - Nov 21, 2009
WHERE: From Miami
CRUISE STOPS: (7 nights)
  • Miami, FL
  • Half Moon Cays, Bahamas
  • St. Thomas, US VI
  • San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • Grand Turk
SHIP: Carnival Liberty
CRUISE LINE: Carnival Cruise Lines
PRICE RANGE: From $611.00!

RESERVATIONS: Call 877-864-4446 x301
or x303

The Carnival Experience

Bring some heavy-duty sunglasses; thanks to the boundless imaginative (some would say hallucinogenic) designs of inventive designer Joe Farcus, Carnival ships are fervently garish. So much so that we feel compelled to coin a word to describe them; Farcusian. You can be munching a slice of pizza in Imagination's Lido deck, for instance, minding your own business, and suddenly realize you've been mesmerized by the bright purple and green neon tubing on the ceiling. Bring a sense of humor along with the sunglasses, and be ready to dispel all preconceived notions of acceptable color combinations.

Think Mardi Gras at sea. By day, young singles sip little-umbrella-laden cocktails, and then dance on deck to a live band. But it's by night that the action really goes into overdrive, with dozens of venues offering everything from lavish production shows to R-rated comics. There's a jazz bar whose patrons are urged to sing. You can hear funky blues or enjoy some torrid disco action. And both the casino and disco stay open very late, while the library, just for comparison, is open 60 minutes per day!

You'll encounter a very wide range of passengers, from singles, to the retired, to multi-kid young families, the latter especially during the summer and school vacation periods. When you want to get away from it all, you'll do so in some of the largest cabins at sea. The food's mostly delicious, and you'll marvel at how well managed everything is, especially considering how many passengers are apt to be aboard.

The price you pay for the never-ending fun on these ships is that you begin to feel as though you're never more than a few seconds from an announcement of another zany contest -- belly-flopping or hairiest chest, anyone? In fact, if you plan on using your cruise to catch up on some much needed rest and a trashy novel, a set of eyeblinders and ear plugs are recommended.

That said, Carnival can be one of the best deals around. With outside staterooms, even balconies, available for less than a thousand dollars per person per week (if you shop around), Carnival may well offer the most bang for the mid-price cruiser's buck.

The flexible dining program, Total Choice Dining, comprises four seatings for dinner in the main dining rooms, alternative Bistro dining every evening, and an increased number of service staff. Passengers are assigned a table for dinner at one of four seatings; 5:45 p.m. or 6:15 p.m., 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. Between six and nine each evening the poolside Lido eateries turn into Seaview Bistros, offering "Nation of the Day" specialty cuisine buffets, with neither reservations, formal dress nor advance notice required.

There are now alternative restaurant's on all of Carnival's ships (see individual reviews) with specialty menus at a premium price. This started with Carnival Spirit's reservations-only Joe's Stone Crab alternative restaurants charging $20 per person. All ships offer dedicated specialty grills now with USDA choice meats, combo music and dancing.

Noting its great popularity with younger passengers, Carnival now offers its "Fountain Fun Card" to adults as well as youngsters. Priced from $14.95 for a three-day cruise to $29.95 for seven-day voyages, it's valid at any bar, restaurant or lounge for unlimited soft drinks throughout the cruise.

Carnival's cabins are among the most spacious afloat, and a big draw for families, especially those holding three and four passengers. Outside standard cabins are an ample 220 square feet and include a leather sofa and coffee table, while inside cabins measure 195 square feet. Many have pulldown berths to accommodate third and fourth passengers, and are consequently popular with families and groups of singles. There are also 230 square-foot "family" cabins with connecting doors near the children's center.

Considering the Farcusian flights of fancy in the public areas, cabin decor is often surprisingly understated and utilitarian by comparison. Count on a color TV with CNN, ESPN, plus movies. The bathrooms are nice and roomy, with shower, hair dryer and a basket of complimentary toiletries. Oceanview staterooms and suites offer a minibar and bathrobes. The spirit-class ships offer some of the most pleasing-to-the-eye cabins with plenty of wood shelves and drawers.

A small caveat: The soundproofing between staterooms is such that you're likely to get a better idea than you'd prefer of your neighbors' television-viewing preferences.

Fellow Passengers:
Carnival carries a wide cross-section of salt-of-the-earth Americans: high-rolling, single twenty-somethings, young parents with toddlers, baby boomers, and empty-nesters. During the summer and school breaks, Caribbean, Mexico and Bahamas cruises can carry up to 700 children each. Carnival has now lived down its reputation as a "party-ship," but unfortunately, there are apt to people who still haven't gotten the message. So, if you have a neighbor who feels its appropriate to continue drinking until 2:00 am with the cabin door open, be sure and call the front office - anonymously.

Shore Excursions:
Carnival's shore tours, geared toward the up-and-at-'em type who loves water sports, party boats, and general sightseeing, tend to be a bit costlier than on other lines. Read the descriptions and book online at www.carnival.com, or arrange your own excursions after doing some research of your own.

Taking The Kids:
The exemplary "Camp Carnival" is available on all ships year-round for Toddlers (2-5) Juniors (6-8) Intermediate (9-11). The 'tweens get their own club called "Circle C" while for the teens (15-17) it's the "Club 02". Each level offers supervised activities in facilities open from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Group babysitting is available in the playroom between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. and, 8 a.m. to noon on port days for a fee. There is no in-cabin babysitting. Cribs are available upon request, but bring your own stroller.

The recreational fitness program "ExerSeas" aims to get the next generation of couch potatoes up and burning off some calories. "A-B-Seas" is a reading and writing program that a lot of little ones seem to relish, while H2Ocean features a wide variety of enjoyable-looking hands-on science projects. The line's popular EduCruise program has also been expanded to include even more interactive projects focusing on the cultures, landmarks, history and geography of the destinations to which Carnival sails.

The youth spa program, recently introduced on Carnival Miracle, allows kids ages 12-14 and their parents to indulge in luxurious body and beauty treatments together on port days in the ship's health and fitness center at a discount. Offered to mother/daughter and father/son combinations, packages include hair and nail treatments, health evaluations, and foot and scalp massages.

Fantasy, Spirit and Conquest-class ships all have dedicated teen areas, including a club/coffee bar and a high-tech game room.

Past Passenger Program:
Return passengers receive Carnival "Currents" magazine, and discount coupons. There's a big "Festivale Party" for recidivists on 5-day or longer cruises. For more information call 1-888-CCL-GUEST.

Special Programs:
The Wedding Program, available fleetwide, offers soon-to-tie-the-knotters an affordable and convenient alternative to land-based ceremonies. They can elect to do the deep either aboard the ship or in a romantic setting ashore. For more information, call 1-800-933-4968.

Managed by Sunrise, Fla.-based Elite Golf Cruises LLC, Carnival's golf program includes professional instruction both aboard ship and during excursions ashore. Thirty- and 60-minute shipboard lessons are conducted in a covered, lighted "practice range" that shields students from the elements and allows for both daytime and evening instruction by a golf pro armed with state-of-the-art V1 teaching computers; golfers can continue their lessons at home with a take-home video, available for purchase onboard. All-inclusive golf excursions include professional golf escort, priority tee times, round-trip transportation between ship and course, and cart and green fees. Carnival will rent you some very good clubs.

Theme Cruises:
Carnival organizes cruises with themes as diverse as NASCAR racing and psychic healing. For a list of charity benefit sailings, see the theme cruise page.

Even on the two formal nights, most men wear dark suits rather than tuxes, which may be rented from the eveningwear shop. Daytime wear is strictly casual, but jeans aren't allowed in the dining room.

Carnival's automatic gratuities arrangement adds $10.00 per person (except children under two) per day to your Sail & Sign card. This includes $3.60 for the stateroom steward; $5.50 for the dining room team. and $.90 for service in the alternative dining rooms, amounts that can be raised or lowered at the purser's desk. You may also prepay gratuities for all service personnel at a rate of $10.00 per person per day. On Cruises-to-Nowhere, such prepayment is compulsory.

The Carnival Liberty: What's On The Ship