I've sailed on many Royal Caribbean ships, and visited many international ports, but this was my first time on a Freedom class ship and visiting these two ports on the itinerary. I had heard mixed reviews about Liberty of the Seas but was keeping an open mind as we were sailing with a larger group of family and friends on the March 12, 2012 sailing (I might have opted for a different date to avoid Spring Break but the group was accommodating those with a fixed schedule). It was a 5-night western Caribbean itinerary with ports of Labadee and Falmouth, Jamaica. I was not excited about either port but knew we had a long excursion for Jamaica (Bobsleds) and could just have a relaxing beach day or ship day for Labadee. I won't make this a long drawn out day by day account of the pre-cruise/cruise/post-cruise but rather points about the cruise/ports/questions people never seem to get enough answers to on the message boards. Here goes...
- Boarding was super easy and quick through the Platinum C&A line. We got to the port around 10:45 or 11 and were on board eating lunch in Windjammer before 11:30am. Windjammer was quite busy at this time BUT make sure you go all the way around to the back where the buffet repeats again and it is less crowded and a few more food and seating options back there.
- Our friends got held up at check-in with security checking the case of water bottles they were carrying aboard. Before the cruise, they tried to be sneaky and filled three of the 18 water bottles with clear liquor and then put them back in the middle of the plastic sealed package and sealed the package back up with a hot air gun, seriously, it looked like the package came straight from the supermarket. But they got caught and three bottles were "set aside" for confiscation. Security will check each and every bottle of liquid you bring with you on the ship to see if it is alcohol even before you get to check in for your SeaPass. When our friends finally got to their cabin and took the remaining water bottles out of the plastic they realized that those "set aside" bottles were put back in their package and three plain waters were taken instead -- even though security knew which ones were alcohol. Someone was smiling upon them that day. Eventually they boarded and met up with us for lunch at Windjammer.
- First night was 70's Disco Street Party night. Our entire group (18) dressed up for the night and went to dinner dressed then straight to the disco party on the promenade. It was a lot of fun.
- We found it difficult to find a decent pool chair anywhere in the vicinity of the pool on sea days, and yes, there were chair hogs, but "Deck Patrol" was quite good about picking up and moving things on chairs that had no occupant for 30+ minutes, especially in the Solarium. "Deck Patrol" was also very good about making children leave the Solarium area. On sea days, we had to either get a chair and plant ourselves early OR sit at the very front of the ship where it was quite windy and no action going on. Though bar servers do make runs through the out of the way areas for drink orders.
- We had a balcony cabin on the bump, 8338, and it was very nice. It was the usual D8 long skinny cabin. I find that walking around the bed is tight in these cabins but otherwise plenty of space. There was a constantly wet spot on our floor outside our bathroom but we just learned to avoid it. Our attendant was rarely around and his service was adequate, nothing to write home about. Oh yeah, they don't put ice service in cabins anymore, you have to request it now. I thought the location of this cabin was ideal for getting to anywhere in the ship easily. We were near stairs and elevator and close to dinner (below us a few decks). The only annoying thing was the kids running up and down hallways, thump thump thump.
- Main Dining Room -- we had dinner each night in the MDR. I found the food to be just adequate, nothing spectacular. I found the menus to be kind of stale, some nights I had a hard time finding anything that sounded good. The offerings were either too "foo foo" for me or just too plain and boring. Also our waiter was just adequate. He didn't start really amping his service up until the end of the cruise when he knew gratuities were due soon. They never did learn our names or preferences, but on a 5-nighter during Spring break maybe that's the norm. I felt service was sub-par compared to the many other RC cruises I had been on. And bar service at our table? Hello...hello... echo... We barely ever saw the guy and by the time he came around with after dinner shots we were already leaving. We just learned to take a drink with us every night.
- Entertainment -- we saw Saturday Night Fever and it was excellent! There is a White Party on the 4th night that we were too tired to attend but had brought attire for, others in our party went and dressed for it. They said about half the people wore white and it was a lot of fun. We played slots in the casino a bit and tried some black jack. Black jack didn't last long but we played slots for a while and came out even.
- Photos -- we found the photographers on this ship to be kind of jerks. We wanted to do the white background casual poses and the photographer insisted we did his poses which we did not find very fun or our style. This same photographer was also the one who came around at dinner and he was very rude and abrupt with everyone at the table regarding poses. Other photographers seemed very lackadaisical.
- Drinks -- in general everywhere had liberal pours. Average price for our drinks (vodka/cranberry, rum/coke, etc.) was about $5.75 and then we usually tipped $1 or so on top when we ordered two drinks at the same time. We tried several different bars and lounges but never got that personal feeling from bartenders or waiters we do on other ships. We never found it hard to get a drink at the pool, but again, no personal service feeling. There are some cool souvenir cups out there now, those plastic tumblers with screw on lid and plastic straw (we got 2), new flashy cups that are more tumbler shaped, tall sippy cups with flex straw in different styles and designs. I finally started asking for drinks in non-souvenir cups.
- Liquor -- yes, rumrunners got through just fine on this sailing, one in each suitcase. One hidden among shoes in one suitcase and one hidden among snorkel gear in the other suitcase. It was nice to have a stash in the room and enjoy a drink on the balcony, which is our sole purpose for bringing some with us. We still had a $600 bar tab at the end of the cruise, so we do our fair share of spending in the bars too; we just want to have a drink in the room and not wait or run out for it. And regarding purchasing liquor in ports -- they will return it to you the day you debark, it's waiting for you in one of the lounges and you go pick it up. This may be trouble for those flying right after a cruise as they have to repack everything after picking up luggage. We were staying a night in Fort Lauderdale and boarding Allure the next day so it wasn't an issue for us.
- Labadee -- I could have truly done without this port. I felt it was like a canned amusement park. I know some love this port but I did not care for it. And I felt like everywhere you turned there was a hand out for a tip. We did not know to bring cash to tip everyone left and right, we just wanted to hang out at the beach. We went to Columbus beach and if you get there early you will get a decent seat. But the guy putting chairs out wanted a tip. All the people playing music wanted tips, and then the people at the market wanted to put trinkets right in your hand. We made the mistake of taking the mapped path to the beach and took us right through the market, ICK! Avoid it at all costs. They are very pushy and will put things in your hand or bag and all try to cajole you into their stall. There is a rocky path along the water from the dock to Columbus beach that you can take to avoid all this. We had the buffet lunch on shore and it was just ok. We laid on the beach and rented rafts ($14 for the two of us, on your SeaPass). We didn't stay long and went back to the ship to enjoy the pool there. I would never bother with this port again.
- Falmouth, Jamaica -- the port is complete and looks very nice and it is clean. There are lots of shops and cart vendors. They don't bug you to buy stuff but also don't really give you the time of day. We did make a large purchase at the Tortuga stand. We had an excursion that lasted all day and we went to Mystic Mountain to ride the chairlift up to the top of the mountain and then take the bobsled ride. It was a LOT OF FUN! The chairlift ride gave you nice views of Ocho Rios and the bobsled ride was an adrenaline rush. We had lunch at the top of the mountain and selected something off the locals menu and it was delicious but spicy! After our bobsleds we went to Dunns River Falls to climb the falls. This was included in the excursion but I was not super excited about it. You go in a human chain of like 100 people and for the most part the human chain works because you need support on the up and down side in areas that are slippery or the water is rushing so fast. It's another "canned" tour where everyone has to say things while you are being filmed and pose at certain times, etc. It can be dangerous but just be careful and know your own strength if you want to do the difficult or easier climb. I can say I did it but would not bother with it again. There is a market at the exit but our excellent tour guide took us around it so we didn't have to deal with harassing vendors like those in Labadee. All in all I felt like the Falls were a huge cattle call.
- Service and fellow passengers -- I felt the service overall was sub-par compared to other RC cruises I've completed. It just did not seem personal and some crew we encountered just seemed to not care at all. Though the ship was always clean and orderly, it just didn't seem that the crew was personable anywhere we went. It was hard to pick out someone to give our WOW cards to. Fellow passengers seemed to be mainly Americans and Canadians. Being spring break, there were a LOT of families with young children but they were mostly behaved. There were also a LOT of college kids on spring break. They were mostly well behaved but traveled in large groups together so if you got behind them in a photo line it could take a long time until your photo turn. And they would take up large blocks of seating at the pool or shows, etc. Sometimes they were obnoxious but not too much.
- Debarkation -- what a nightmare. I would say this was just about the worst debarkation I have experienced. It took us 1.5 hours from waiting in our departure area to getting a taxi to go to our hotel. We were due to debark at 9:20am but did not leave our departure area until after 10am. Then waiting in line to get off the ship was long and hot and crowded, and winding through the port to get luggage was another fiasco with people wandering everywhere and the line for immigration extending into where luggage was held. Fortunately we got a good porter who loaded our luggage up and pushed through the single line that was actually two lines and we got to the immigration line quickly. Those porters are worth every dollar you tip them.
Overall impression/experience -- so-so. I felt that this cruise would be placed toward the bottom of my cruise experiences. I probably would not sail this ship again, and definitely not this itinerary again.