Here's a review of our 12/31/12 5-day Liberty of the Seas cruise. This was our 8th cruise, our 5th on Royal Caribbean. We turned platinum C&A members one day into the cruise (not that it makes any difference). We are a married couple cruising with our teenage sons.
We live in Florida so we drove to the ship and arrived at Port Everglades about 11:30am and had no problem getting to the pier since the traffic was light. After dropping off the bags, parking the car, and checking in we were in the Windjammer by 12:15. The lines moved quickly and the staff was efficient. The Windjammer was busy but not packed when we arrive but by the time we were done they were begging people to leave the tables and go somewhere else to wait for the staterooms to open. We had been on the Independence of the Seas a few years ago so we were familiar with the layout of the ship and didn't need to do much exploring. The only updates I noticed were the big screen tv by the pool and the interactive screens around the ship, both of which I thought were really great.
We went to our cabins after they opened at 1pm. We had two Promenade cabins on deck 6 next to each other but not adjoining. We booked this cruise only a few weeks before departure and didn't have much choice on cabins. This was our first inside cabin and while it felt more like being in a hotel then being an inside cabin on a cruise ship I don't think we would do it again. First, both cabins were very noisy and not just from the Promenade. The only Promenade noise you get is from the parties and usually those are at decent hours. However, if you are an early-to-bed person you definitely don't want to be in one of these cabins because the music is loud. New Year's Eve the party lasted until almost 1am and the 70's Disco party lasted until almost midnight. My kids had a cabin with a persistent squeak that kept them up the first night. They finally put some towels under the bed which muffled it but it never went away. The worst part was the noise from cabins on either side. We were lucky and only had girls partying until 2am the last night of the cruise but my kids had two young men on the other side of them who played music loud every night (one night my son had to go knock on their door at 4am and ask them to turn it off). These young men were part of a larger group on board and had a knock-down fight with their mom on the last night so loud that my kids could recount every detail of the family history and my younger son said he had no idea there were so many creative ways to use the "f" word. We have never had so much noise from surrounding cabins on any cruise we have taken.
Our cabin attendant was great and was always there when needed but never in the way. One afternoon our drain in the shower overflowed and we needed more towels. There was no answer in housekeeping so we called him directly on the number on his card and he came up with more towels during his off time. We gave him a WOW card for that.
Because it was New Year's Eve they moved formal night to the first night which was a pain because you barely had time to get your bags and then get dressed. We were waiting for two of our bags and finally got a message at 4pm that they were being held in security. I went down and they had me open the bag and they confiscated my travel iron. I have cruised several times with this iron but they were being particular and I did not mind giving it up. I got a receipt to pick it up at the end of the cruise. I saw my husband's bag and they said he had knife in his bag but they wouldn't let me open his bag because he was officially booked in the other cabin (our kids are under 18). It turns out he had a toiletries kit with a nail clipper took that resembled a knife and they confiscated that too. We went up to the 3rd deck Rembrandt dining room for early seating. We never have good luck with our table locations and this time we were right at the bottom of the stairs to one side. The good news was we could hear Pedro the guitarist really well but the bad news was we were once again right next to the service area. We had a table for 8 and were joined by a nice family with younger kids and really enjoyed getting to know them. Our waitress was good, not the best we have ever had, but the assistant waiter was very good and he earned a WOW card by the end of the cruise. There was a special menu for New Year's Eve featuring beef tenderloin. The food in the dining room overall was very good but there are a lot fewer selections than we have had on past cruises. I would have liked a little more variety with soups and salads for appetizers and as others have commented the desserts were nothing special. But the meats, fish and pastas were very good.
We watched the New Year's Eve party on the promenade from our cabin and it looked like a lot of fun. I liked the cruise director, he was very entertaining, but I did not see him around as much as I have other cruise directors on other ships.
The second day was at sea. I found a lounge in the solarium and was very impressed by how quiet it was in there compared to the pool area on the other side of the wall. The pool area was mobbed most of the time as there were lots of children on the cruise. I don't know if they actually enforced the no saving chairs rule but I know they didn't enforce the smoking issue. I have to say that there was less smoking on this cruise than on any other one I have taken, but the people who did smoke seemed to do it anywhere they pleased. I had two guys light up near me in the non-smoking area of the Solarium and just flick their ashes on the deck. One night we were watching a bowl game by the pool on the big tv and they were smoking cigars and cigarettes in the non-smoking area. We had to move. There were always lots of the normal activities during the week. We don't play bingo or go to the art auctions but it seemed like there was always a bingo game or an auction event. There were activities on the sports deck run by the staff and they were well attended. I saw the cupcake class one day and the table was so long it was spilling out into the Promenade. There were movies in the Screening Room (not a very quiet venue) and in the theater in 3D. The casino was nearly empty almost the whole cruise, even on the last night. They had music trivia between the dinner seatings and regular trivia before the first seating. They also had a Sudoku challenge.
My husband had massage in the Spa and said it was really good. Our tablemates were shocked at the prices, however. They are from a big city and said the prices were double what they normally pay. Both my husband and the tablemates were also annoyed by the sales pitch for the expensive products at the end.
The second night at dinner, which should have been formal night on a regular cruise, was lobster and prime rib night. I found both to be mediocre (I ordered two entrees so I could sample both). Our head waiter dropped by that night and that was the only night we ever saw him. The bar service was slow and one night she forgot to come back with the check but caught us the next night.
We saw Up in the Air that night in the theater. The acrobats were very good, the costumes were nice. The singers were fair and basically there isn't any real plot so don't expect to figure out what it is all about. We did enjoy it and I would recommend it.
We had a great experience with the Explorations desk. We had no idea what we wanted to do in Jamaica but Geoffrey at the Explorations desk took the time to listen to our needs and recommended a great excursion. He was right on the money with this one. We took a catamaran snorkeling expedition out of Montego Bay. It was about a 20 minute drive from Falmouth to the beach where we got the catamaran. The crew on the boat was great. It was very crowded on the ship. They took us to a marine sanctuary for snorkeling and there were lots of fish and great coral reefs. After that they took us to a bay where they dove in and got some starfish and sea cucumbers for us to look at and then we sailed for a while which was really fun. The only down side of the trip was that they had an open bar and were not checking IDs at all. We had a couple of young girls, who could not have even been 18, get very drunk.
We went to Portofino for dinner that night. Our waitress was excellent but the food choices were disappointing. I enjoy fine dining and the food was prepared well but my kids did not find much to choose from. That is my fault for not investigating the menu before I made the reservation.
The next day was Labadee. We decided not to do any excursions and my kids didn't want to do the zip line or the coaster. We walked to Columbus Cove because of the shade and found a nice place. The attendant set up four lounges for us but didn't have change for a $20 and was a little annoyed we didn't have tip money (rightly so). My husband had to walk all the way back to the information center to get change and we were able to finally get the attendant his money. We sat around for a couple of hours and then went to get lunch. We were seated at the back of the eating area and I saw movement in the hill behind the wall and the fence. It was a group of men all holding plates and begging for food. They would get down when security would walk or drive by and then pop up again. Needless to say we felt incredibly guilty sitting there with our plates full of food. There was no way we could get them food even if we wanted to but it was hard to see. We walked around the whole area before going back to the ship. It's a nice place but I don't like it as much as Coco Cay.
That night after dinner we went to the "interactive" comedy show. The comedian had a silent "baggy pants" style act where he juggled, did tricks, and got audience members up on the stage to help him. Parts of the show were very funny but it was uneven and the pacing wasn't very good. Because it was in between seatings a lot of people got up and left during the show. I felt bad for the comedian.
We ate in the Windjammer a few times for breakfast and lunch. The food there is not very good. The Jade area had some interesting dishes, but mostly they featured uninspired steam-table buffet type foods. They do have a chef carving meat every day for lunch -- some days beef and some pork or turkey. They always featured the normal awful scrambled eggs for breakfast but you could get omelets or eggs made to order if you wanted to wait. There were plenty of breakfast meats, a variety of cereals, fruit, yogurt, breads and bagels, etc. Overall I found less selection than I have in the past and the quality not nearly as good. It was usually really crowded. The service in the Windjammer was awful. We never got a waiter who actually brought us anything to drink or even offered to get us refills. They seemed to only be there to clear the tables. The day we were in Labadee they closed the dining room for breakfast at 10 so it was mobbed in the Windjammer and there was literally nowhere to sit.
We ate breakfast and lunch in the dining room the last sea day. For both breakfast and lunch they have a buffet with the same items as in the Windjammer but you can get made-to-order eggs and other things not on the buffet for breakfast and there are a lot of other options for lunch. We should have eaten there more. My kids ate pizza at Sorrento's every day, including the day an officer was yelling at the chef for the bad quality of the pizza. I had a salad there one day which was nice and the cookies and tira misu were great. We also snacked a few times at the Cafe. We ate lunch the first sea day in Johnny Rockets. Our hamburgers were good and the French fries and onion rings were very good. The singing and dancing waiters were great.
The last day we had reservations for the ice show. I thought it was much better than the one we saw on the Indy. They were very good, even the comedian, and we all enjoyed it. That night was Saturday Night Fever. We were all disappointed by the show. It felt like a high school musical with better dancing and sets. The actors/singers who played Tony and Stephanie were especially weak. I didn't think it lived up to the hype.
Because it was bowl game week we spent several nights watching games by the pool. The weather was great and it was a fun experience, but I think Royal Caribbean should have gone the extra step and offered appetizers or some kind of snack instead of just selling drinks. Our tablemates in the dining room also expressed that they would love to have been able to get appetizers to go with their drinks in the bar and said they would have bought a lot more to drink if they could have had food too.
I know people complain about disembarkation but we had no trouble at all. We were carrying our bags off the ship and left our cabin at 7:15 to go to On Air to wait, but the ship had already cleared Customs and the line was moving. We were through Customs and at our car in the parking garage, even after stopping to get our confiscated items, by 8:15.
Overall we had a great cruise. I felt the service on this cruise was not as good as when we were on the Indy several years ago and it had nothing to do with the crowd since that was a spring break cruise with similar numbers of kids and a full ship. Our section of the deck 6 had the toilets all stop working one night and they didn't bother to even come fix them until the next morning. A crew member stopped by our cabin that afternoon to make sure our toilet was working ok and we explained the toilet worked but the shower didn't drain but he didn't care -- apparently his only goal was to make sure the toilet worked. I think we are ready to go back to Celebrity where we found the service to be a notch better, but this cruise was inexpensive, convenient, and served its purpose as a quick family vacation.