Having been on four previous cruises, indeed one with MSC with our kids only two months earlier, our cruise on the Liberty of the Seas, was overall a superb week's break and a holiday I have recommended to many of my "cruise-doubting" friends.
We had already done an Eastern Caribbean cruise on "Freedom" so were reasonably well acquainted with the ship. This was however our first time in a Junior Suite, (probably because we did not have our entourage of five kids with us), and unfortunately, having now been spoilt, all our future cruises, (we have already got two, (the Allure at Christmas and the Azamara Quest), booked), are going to cost me a fortune!!!
Interestingly, having done the MSC Divina only two months earlier, although Liberty is bigger by weight, she seemed smaller than Divina - but that will be the subject of another review!
So to Liberty, like so many others have said, RCI seem to have the truly mastered the em- and disembarkation process. No hassle at all.
If you can afford them, you just gotta have a Junior Suite at the minimum. My wife was delirious with her walk-in wardrobe, (so much so she wants to turn the box-room that adjoins our master bedroom at home in to one!!!). I just loved the bath, (or tub for our American cousins), as there is nothing like a long soak following some of our expeditions!!! The cabin is very spacious, bright and has numerous amenities, including oodles of power-points, (I read in some-else's critic that they could not find their's!). Our balcony was large as it was in the bulge and had two loungers as well as a table and chairs. As to our Trinidadian cabin steward, Irwin, nothing was too much trouble for a man who still loved working with RCI after EIGHT years, all of which as a cabin attendant!!! He was an absolute delight and well worthy of the commendation we gave him in our cruise survey upon departure.
Now I am not a slight man, loving, as I do, my food. Firstly, the main restaurant. Here to, we had the most wonderful senior Nicaraguan waitress, (I feel so bad I cannot remember her name), for whom absolutely nothing was too much trouble. Within a couple of nights she virtually knew what we would order, ensured what we normally drank was on our table before we arrived and had even arranged a little birthday cake for me the last night of our cruise and the eve of my 50th birthday, WITHOUT my wife having to ask her!!! That sort of personal touch and dedication is rare and I hope RCI really treasure and look after her.
Overall, the food in the main restaurant was good - I think we had maybe one bad dish each, but in fairness, this was more down to our menu choice - anyway, both dishes were changed without fuss. We ate in Chops Grill one of the nights and I was a little disappointed with Fillet, too fatty, (which definitely should not be the case), for my liking. Against this, the service was excellent and very friendly - even allowing for the fact their till system broke down that night and we had to come back to sign our bill the following morning!
The Windjammer was as it says on the tin - it is a cafe that churns out thousands of meals a day and overall, not bad. At least, unlike when on Divina a couple of months earlier, the food was hot. However, the staff were rude, very unfriendly and it came across as though we were asking the impossible when either my wife or I, (we both had drinks packages), asked for a diet coke with our meal. Also, finding a seat at breakfast was difficult, but then I guess we could have ordered room-service at no extra cost. I found the two cafe's on the Promenade average at best - here too the staff could have been a little more friendly.
The Entertainment on-board really was first rate!!! My wife and I regularly frequent West-End theatre and the production of Saturday Night Fever was right up there - incredible for a ship-based show, (of which we have seen quite a few!). The Ice Show, "Encore" was so good, we went two nights running, it being just as awe-inspiring the second evening. We did not think much of the on-board or resident band - it doesn't help when you have a lead who shouts out of tune!!! They did have the most wonderful pianist, Aussie Paul O'Shea, who engaged his crowd at one of the bars each evening and had one of the longest repertoires I have ever seen. Really good, easy listening voice too - somewhere we ended up every evening to listen to before going to bed. Being probably a little too old now, we watched the kids and indeed some more older gents, (who should have known better), take their turns on the Flow-rider - this was great fun and a huge attraction given the inclement weather that week. We loved the mini-golf, the wife and I agreeing to quit with the score at 4 wins each! They organised a great "pool party" one evening, just a pity it was so cold and about the band!!! Only one down side for me with the Entertainment part - I was so impressed with Saturday Night Fever, I waited to catch our Cruise Director, a Mr Papa, to congratulate him and the cast only to be very rudely brushed aside - Mr Papa, I know you are a busy man, bit would stopping to talk to a guest for 30 seconds have killed you?
So, to the other couple of issues I would like to see RCI address:-
The whole Guest Relations piece is a disaaaaster darling, (apologies to those who do not watch Craig Revel-Horwood on a Saturday night on BBC 1). I tried to meet with them on a number of occasions at various different times of the day and the wait was never much less than 10/15 minutes - sorry guys, I am not the most patient of people. There is a very simple solution - either allow interactive communication through the TV system in the cabins or allow a voice-messaging inquiry system.
The drinks and indeed drinks packages on-board are very expensive. I know there are all-inclusive cruises, but it would be nice if RCI had a reasonably priced alcoholic drinks package, more akin to all-inclusive hotels or indeed the package purchased on Divina for about Â£20 a day. Build an allowance into the cost of the cabins and reduce drink costs to say $1 a coke, $2 for a larger or short and say $3 for a cocktail - you still make a profit but it will not break your guest's pockets.
My second gripe - why are the excursions so expensive. With a little research, many can be booked at a fraction of the price - it is the one area, even more so than the cost of drinks, that is a real rip off. People can find their way to ports at the start of a trip, so why scare them in to "well if you do not book with us, there is a good chance you will not make it back to the ship on-time and we will leave without you". One example - cost of excursion to Pompeii - $129 each for my wife and I. We paid â‚¬4.20 in a taxi to the train station, (you have got to catch a cab outside the port else they will charge you â‚¬10/â‚¬15 or even â‚¬20 for the 2 mile journey to the train station, where a RETURN ticket to the train station right outside the main entrance to the ruins cost â‚¬6 each and we paid a guide â‚¬30 which included our entry tickets and his taking 10 of us around. We had to haggle with the taxi driver once we got back to Naples, but even then I only paid â‚¬6 to get back to the port - so all in all â‚¬52.20 or about $70 compared to $258 with RCI - need I say more. Just plan and you'll be back far quicker than some of the coaches and in PLENTY OF TIME.
My final gripe, and this is more of a personal thing - when on vacation, I like to read or watch a movie on my iPad in the afternoons. Divina had numerous places I could go and sit peacefully. Other than the library, which was occasionally over-run with exuberant teenagers, other than my balcony, there were very few places aboard the Freedom just to chill in peace and quite.
As I said at the outset, Liberty is the most wonderful ship. It is vibrant, has tremendous atmosphere, there is tons to do and RCI manages to cater for all ages with ease. We had a brilliant holiday, were superbly looked after by two absolute treasures in our cabin attendant and our main waitress and have since booked two more cruises - both with RCI. Just please, try to address a couple of obvious little niggles I cannot be the only guest to highlight.
Oh and one final word - unfortunately I do not remember his name, but the Captain who joined us half way through was one of the most memorable Ship's Master characters I have ever met. We got regular updates, along with frequent insights and a daily joke - another RCI treasure.