We had cruised with P&O (Atlantic) before but although we found the formal dining experience superb, in our mid to late 50s we felt we were about 30 years too young for them. In Royal Caribbean we found a cruiseline that works for the young and the young-at-heart. The shows were truly spectacular. Words like "brilliant", "fabulous" and "fantastic" are over-used nowadays, but they really do apply to the shows on offer on Liberty of the Seas. The Cruise Director, James, was visible and approachable at all times and set the tone for a crew which always set out to respond to the hopes and dreams of their customers.
The food was exceptional. True,the best dining room was Rembrandt and we only managed to eat lunch once there. We were allocated to Michaelangelo, but asked for a table for two and were re-assigned to the Botticelli dining room. The waiters were attentive and our assistant waiter, Ashroff, was always anxious to please. I suppose the fact that they are paid a pittance and rely on tips for their income has something to do with it (sorry, a little cynical perhaps!). Buying wine is expensive (up to five times what you would pay in a British supermarket) but they have to make their money somewhere.
The excursions were a mixed bag. We visited Monaco and Monte Carlo (full day) and out tour guide was knowledgable and worthy, though perhaps not very inspiring. Our tour guide for Florence (full day) was exceptional - she was from "Discover Tuscany". She was sensitive to the needs of individuals and the group, was at times really amusing, at others truly inspiring and gave everyone the most amazing experience of a "Taste of Florence" despite the fact that the weather was not very kind to us. She also knew when to be quiet and allow us to look, appreciate, ask questions, etc. She was one of the best tour guides we have ever experienced - worth double what we paid! The final excursion - "A Taste of Rome" was turgid and boring. The guide did her best, and it's hard to be critical of anyone who does their best, but it has to be said! There was a "Christian Rome" excursion and that's NOT what we booked, but most of our time was spent in churches or queueing outside! We all would have liked time to explore The Colliseum and the many land marks around that area but instead after a very brief walk around the outside were left queueing again and were taken off to The Vatican where we spent most of out time. True we could have hired taxis to go back to the Colliseum but after spending 30-40 minutes in a long queue outside the Vatican we lost the will! The local restaurants were a total rip-off as were the shops. Out turgid tour guide kept talking about buildings we couldn't actually see as we hadn't reached them or they were obscured by other buildings like blocks of flats or factories. She told us over and over again totally uniteresting piffle (e.g. the length of St. Peter's) until many of us just took the commentary earpice out! At one point we were without water or food for over six hours - not an experience to be repeated.
I hope all of this is accurate and fair. The experience on board Liberty OTS was great. James, the Cruise Director, is worth every penny they pay him. For anyone to be that good on his own is impossible, so he must have a superb team behind him. I think he should choose one team member to sort out the excursions and seek to bring them up to the standard of the rest of the RCCI experience. When they have finished this task they can sort out the partner airlines on the fly-cruise. This is why!
We flew from Gatwick with Monarch. Everything went fine on the flight out to Barcelona. We booked in using the voucher supplied in the Guest Booklet and all seemed OK. We had been told by Iglu (cruise travel agent) that we would hand in our Sea Pass paperwork at the sea port. In fact we were taken from one airport terminal to another airport terminal and were marshalled by Spaniards with very little English which was confusing but OK I suppose.
But the true debacle happened on the way home! On reaching the airport we moved quickly to book in using a similar voucher to the one used for the outgoing flight so that we could choose our seats. We found though, that our names were not on the manifest!!! Nor were the names of three other couples. We were initially told by the Iberia representatives we would have to go and book (and pay seperately for) seats with another airline as the scheduled flight would be full. We were not happy with this and were shunted to one side while an Iberia representative went off to talk with someone in the Monarch office. No Monarch representative appeared and we were left in limbo for between 30 and 40 mintues while everyone else was processed. At the end of that time we were told that there were seats and we would have to go wherever there was space. At least this meant we could get home and our onward train and ferry tickets could be used so we had to accept it. I think this probably reflects what you can expect from an airline like Monarch. At no time was any apology offered to any of the eight people they had left off the manifest as a result of their incompetence. They clearly think that such a way of operating is acceptable but all eight of us would disagree. The fact that their employees didn't even make an appearance when there was a problem nor offer any apology was in my view disgraceful. I think James's apprentice should spend time finding different airlines to deal with.
Just one extra point - this isn't the first time I've experienced problems with Monarch. The last time I flew with them they left London and got over the French coast before they realised they had taken off without any of our luggage and had to return, bouncing down the runway because they couldn't estimate the weight of the plane. The time before they lost my suitcase for a week. Well done, Monarch, three in a row makes you worthy of a booby prize! Please RCCI abandon this disgraceful excuse for a partner airline!!!