This was our second crossing with RCCL, our first being on the Navigator in April last year, again in a Grand Suite. We thought we would try the Liberty (having previously cruised on the Independence, Voyager, and Navigator). We flew from London Heathrow and had 2 nights pre cruise at the Hilton Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale, using Larry's Limos for the transfer. We will make quite a few comparisons to the Navigator in the review.
Why Liberty / Transatlantic:
We enjoy transatlantic crossings - a good mix of sea days and some interesting ports. We like the feeling of being in the middle of the Atlantic with nothing for thousands of miles around. Of the ports of call (Bahamas, Tenerife, Cadiz, Malaga, Valencia, Barcelona, we had only previously visited Tenerife and Barcelona. We also wanted to experience the recent enhancements - Dreamworks, outdoor big screen, 3D cinema etc. In addition we love sitting in the sun watching the flow rider (although we have never tried it).
Larry's Limos were excellent -- Stan was waiting for us in arrivals and took us straight to the hotel in Fort Lauderdale, for $92 inc tip etc. This was nearly $100 cheaper than our transfer to the Epic in Miami last year (hotel arranged transport).
The Hilton Beach Resort was great, with quick check in, very spacious room (studio suite -- the smallest of the rooms), and a very nice breakfast service. The hotel is just across the road from the beach which was nice, and a 15 min walk from a range of eateries and shops.
We took the shuttle to Port Everglades ($8 each).
We arrived at Port Everglades at around 12:45, and were greeted with a huge queue as boarding had not commenced. We were suite guests so had priority boarding, but were told by a very rude and arrogant lady to go to the back of the queue. So much for priority boarding. Turns out that ALL Crown and Anchor members get some kind of priority boarding, and since more than 50% of passengers were C&A members, this made a mockery out of the 'perk'.
Once check in started, the queue moved quickly and the line then split between C&A member and non members. Levels of priority for check in was then allocated based on membership tier - Gold being furthest from the ship (and a long line) moving to Suite and Pinnacle which was closest to the ship, and a shorter line.
The lady at the check in desk was very friendly, welcomed us back (something that was never said to us on the Navigator last year), gave us our Gold suite sea pass cards, and we proceeded to board. We were in our suite within 1 hour of the queue starting to move (around 1,000 people in front of us).
Boarding the ship, no one put a muster tag on our little girl's wrist (this was corrected the moment we stepped foot in the Adventure Ocean area). This is mandatory for every child. We were soon in our suite.
The Suite / Lifeboat Drill:
Identical to that of the Navigator with the exception of the balcony which was far deeper than the Navigator. Having sailed now on 2 Voyager and 2 Freedom class ships in GS and D1 grades, I am safe in saying that balconies are much bigger in the Freedom Class ships (deeper) which is great.
The GS is spacious with a marble bathroom, 40 inch tv, Bose system (but this did not work - we were told that it was to do with compatibility issues with new tv's). There are loads of photos online of the GS cabin so I wont go into any more detail.
The lifeboat drill was very well managed and was all over in under 15 min. On the Navigator, we were stood on deck for well over 30 minutes in the heat. The crew scanned everyone's sea pass cards, which is a welcome advance.
What we liked:
1)Open bar in 'Olive or Twist' bar on deck 14.
This was a perk for Suite's, Diamond Plus and Pinnacle guests. We were told that due to the large volume of such guests, we needed to use this room. It was open from 5pm until 8:30pm and you could have more or less whatever you wanted. Unlike last year children were allowed in (good for us). There were no badly behaved children (there were only c40 on board). There was a fantastic atmosphere in this lounge and this was in no small part down to the fantastic staff in the bar -- Ray, Sarah and others who really made sure everyone had a great time. All of the guests seemed to be a really nice crowd . Indeed, this was my general impression throughout the ship. Loads of people made a fuss of our little girl, everyone was polite -- no pushing or shoving around lifts or in the windjammer - so a happy bunch of guests.
The staff in the Aquanauts were fantastic and our girl did not want to leave! On a few days, they took her to lunch or dinner, they had a great range of activities from games to craft work, making hats, colouring, face painting, parades, an excellent puppet show, even a tour of the bridge! The staff were always friendly, professional and I cannot praise them enough -- patience of saints!!!
This was the lunch service in the main restaurant (only open on sea days). They had a fantastic salad bar set up which complimented a really good lunch menu .
We tried this on the voyager and did not like it, so did not go back on our last 2 cruises, but decided to try it again this time as we did not like the MDR dinner service (see What we did not like). The burgers were great (just the basic burger with cheese -- the others were too big), Fabulous milkshakes, and the best apple pie we have ever eaten! The only downside is that, on 2 visits, there was no dancing. This is a USP of this product, and our little girl was looking forward to it, so we were disappointed. That being said, the food was excellent
There were loads of appearance by the characters, included a character breakfast (free of charge), 2 parades, a dedicated film channel in the room, and excellent quality 3D monies (with great sound) in the main theatre. 10/10, really good!
6)In Suite Dining / Room Service.
As a suite guest, we could order off the MDR menu for room service. We did this on 2 evenings and for breakfast on 3 occasions. The food always arrived on time (breakfast), or within 15 minutes or ordering (dinner) and was always at the right temperature, well presented, and delivered by a happy, courteous and professional waiter.
Really nice food, great service. Indeed, I had the best Cesar Salad I have ever eaten, and the seafood 'kebab' was excellent. This was also $10 cheaper than Chops, and in my opinion, superior. My wife had a really nice steak in Portofino, which she loved.
Yum! Enough said.
What was 'So So':
A high ticket price ($30/head). Food was fine, but did not have the wow factor. The menu states the freshest seafood, but the oysters were clearly defrosted.
We have met James before on the Independence. He had a very good entertainment manager (Ken Jones), but we felt that James was a little full of himself and not that approachable. That being said, he did an excellent progressive trivia.
What we did not like:
1)My Time Dining.
This did not suit us. To such an extent, we only ate in the MDR 3 times (a first in 11 cruises). One thing that we love about Royal Caribbean is that the waiters make a real fuss over us (especially our little girl), and we can built a rapport with them. We found that the waiters had far too many tables to look after and as such they did not make attempt to develop any relationship or fuss over us. Service was also very slow and we ended up walking out before coffee one night as we got fed up of waiting. We mentioned this to the Matre Di who did not seem interested at all. This is NOT Gold Anchor service! Next time we will revert back to set time dining. On the positive side, this did mean that we tried every dining venue on the ship.
2)Staff to Passenger Ratio / Customer Service.
It felt that staff numbers had been cut back. Examples of this were in the Windjammer. On the Independence and Navigator there were staff offering to find tables, carry plates, plenty of waiters bringing round lemonade etc (free drinks). It felt like there were far fewer on the Liberty. We enjoyed the food, but the variety also seemed to be restricted when compared to the Navigator. Also, on the Navigator, on one day during the crossing, the Head Chef instructed his staff to set up a BBQ on deck -- plenty of opportunities on the Liberty, but this never happened. The Navigator seemed to be much more on top of putting the passenger first, you just did not get this feeling on the Liberty.
As a suite guest, you receive the services of a concierge. Again, the service seemed very prescriptive -- on the Navigator, we received a Bridge Tour but when I asked about a Galley Tour but was told very politely that the tour was full and received an apology. On the Liberty, the Bridge Tour was again offered, but when I asked about the Galley Tour, I was told a frank 'no', you are not entitled to that. As I said, too prescriptive and the feeling that the passenger was a slight inconvenience -- not what we are used to from Royal Caribbean.
Again, as a suite guest, you get the use of reserved seating on deck and at the theatre. On the Navigator, the deck seating had towels laid out for guests. On the Liberty, no towles and the area was mainly closed. In the theatre area on the Navigator, the reserved section was manned and you were greeted with a smile and a welcome to the theatre -- on the Liberty it was hardly ever manned and no greeting.
We did meet some excellent staff, but not nearly as many as our previous cruises with RCI.
Weather / Cabin selection (Port v Starboard):
The sea was smooth throughout the crossing. We had a Port cabin, having previously had a Starboard cabin for our last east bound crossing. We prefer the port side of the ship -- great experience leaving Fort Lauderdale, and (possibly luck), we always seemed to berth with the best views on the Port side.
The crossing was blustery though, but there were sheltered areas giving people the opportunity to sunbathe.
We loved the Bahamas -- we took the exclusion to Blue Lagoon Bay and really enjoyed it. Tenerife was ok, Loro Park is excellent, but we did that last time so just pottered aroun d the town. The other ports -- Cadiz / Malaga / Valencia were fine, but nothing to write home about, but we usually prefer to stay on / near the ship -- we are definitely people who feel the ship is more of a holiday than the ports.
Seamless and very well organised. Again, the passengers all seemed to be a very nice bunch so no pushing or shoving, no queue jumping and everyone seemed to respect their disembarkation times - so it all worked well.
We did enjoy the holiday and we will certainly travel with Royal Caribbean again. We like the features of the Liberty, but will probably not travel on her again -- it just did not feel like a ship where the passenger comes first and the culture of the ship reflected that. It seemed that crew numbers were insufficient and that reflected on customer service / experience. The Navigator may not have all of the bells and whistles of the Liberty, but it is a happier ship and a happy ship makes for a happy holiday!