By WALLACE IMMEN After a full day of fun in the sun in the Caribbean the party has really only started on Carnival Liberty.
There’s been so much to do that a day and a half after getting on board that I’m still exploring. Even long-time Carnival cruisers will discover new addidtions by day and night that are part of Carnival Cruise Lines’ Fun Ship 2.0 renovation program. The features just added to Liberty will be appearing on a lot of other ships in the fleet in the months ahead.
Here’s a look at some of the new nighttime attractions:
Alchemy Bar Hey doc, mix me up a little Love Potion Number 9.
From a distance, this bar on Liberty’s grand promenade on deck 5 looks inspired by the counter of the all-night diner in Edward Hopper’s famous painting Nighthawks. Alchemy Bar’s theme is an antique pharmacy shop, complete with wooden cabinets and marble counters with jars of intriguing liquids sitting on top. The drinks menu is displayed inside leather bound notebooks that light up when you open them and the staff dressed in lab coats takes orders on prescription pads. The bar’s cocktail therapy choices include Relief for What Ails, Passion Potions, Energizing Elixirs and selections from the Fountain of Youth, including “Forty is the new Twenty.” I could relate to them all.
Of course you can also just ask for a prescription of the remedy of the day or order your own blend or let the staff do a little concocting. Some potential customers went away disappointed that there’s no beer to be had at this bar, but there are plenty of brew choices nearby — at the casino bar or the EA Sports Bar. The only thing that I found less than successful is that — like the Hopper painting — the bar is overly bright compared to the evening tone of the promenade around it. That makes it more of a meeting place than a cozy area for a romantic rendezvous.
EA Sports Bar
This bar with action going on everywhere is a great example of re-creating a space to keep up with the technology available. When Carnival Liberty was built, the bar was outfitted with the latest and biggest flat screen televisions available. But six years later, what was big then is ho-hum today. Now in a collaboration with games maker EA Sports the bar features a sweeping set of high-definition screens that make the action beamed in live by satellite seem almost life size. The place was packed for football or basketball games but less so for soccer because of the predominance of Americans on this cruise.
The bar isn’t the easiest place on the ship to locate, in part because some signs on board still call it by its old name: Gloves Bar. That was a reference to the former barstools whose seats resembled baseball mitts. Now they’re cozier and let you lean back to see the action. On my cruise they were only serving two kinds of beer on tap, including Carnival’s own Thirsty Frog brand. But there was a menu of many other American and international bottled beers available.
Punchliner Comedy Club
Punchliner is the start of a new partnership with comedian George Lopez, who’s signing up name acts as well as rising stars for Carnival Cruise Lines’ shows. The huge room where the comedy shows are staged on Liberty is not actually a dedicated comedy club room. Some nights, the same stage shares show times with karaoke or game shows. On elegant dress evenings, two comedians trade off doing sets of half an hour each that start on the hour and end on the half hour.
You’re advised to get in early, as the previous set is letting out, to stake out a table close to the stage — otherwise you’ll be in the back of the vast room that unfortunately wasn’t designed to be called “sight-liners.” There are big pillars that become even more obstructive because they have big flatscreen TVs sticking out from them that block a view of the stage from many angles. Why the TVs are there eludes me, because all they broadcast is the logo of the club rather than the comedians’ routines, which would at least give us a hint at what the guy — and on this cruise they were all guys — look like. That becomes doubly important with comedy, when you try to imagine the facial expressions and physical gyrations that are part of the gag for many stand-ups.
George Lopez knows how to tap an under-recognized market of comedy talent. Of the four comedians who performed on my week-long cruise out of Miami to Mexico, Belize, Honduras and Grand Cayman, two were Latino and they did extended hilarious riffs off their heritage. Be warned that after the early family-friendly shows the fare gets progressively raunchy as the evening progresses. But judging from the packed houses even after midnight, that’s what keeps passengers coming back for more.
Another notable change is on the menus in the dining rooms, which have been recently revamped:
Comfort food. Some of the old reliable menu regulars like shrimp cocktail have been retired on Carnival’s new menu. Instead, there’s a new feature called “Didjaever?” offering a more exotic appetizer each night, including the chance for people who seldom put on the Ritz to sample escargots, frogs legs, or oysters Rockefeller.
I found the nightly special entrees inventive and well prepared. For the price, Carnival remains a remarkable culinary value. A couple of the chef’s dishes have even won awards in restaurant competition. However, there seem to be fewer innovative choices than I’ve seen on Carnival menus in the past, because more items on the menu are aimed at a crowd that feels more at home with carry-out. Fried chicken was offered every night as a “comfort food” selection and other evenings there were also mac and cheese or turkey with stuffing. One regular option that I found comforting was the Indian vegetarian selection of the day.
Many of the chefs in the galley come from India and they did inventive sets of three dishes served along with a separate big plate of rice, chutney and papadams. Long time fans of Carnival will still find their favorite chocolate melting cake along with other daily dessert specials on the menu each night and its a rich as ever. As my waiter said as he delivered it: “num, num.”