We made the cruise reservation about two weeks before departure, so we were not sure how this cruise would go. We were unable to get confirmed dinner reservations, and were surprised to see that Liberty now asks that you make reservations for a couple of the shows in advance much like the Oasis and the Allure. We had sailed on Liberty of the Seas before, so other than the directive to make show reservations, we kind of knew what to expect. Here are our experiences on this cruise.
We arrived at the dock around 12:30 and dropped our luggage curbside, as is the norm. We parked in the four-story garage, as we were directed to do -- it is about two city blocks walking distance from the Liberty pier, though. There was plenty of available parking.
Once inside the building used for boarding, we went through the security scans and then to the check-in area. As a general rule, the cruise lines usually handle this area pretty well, but on this particular day the lines were quite long. Since we had cruised frequently on RCL, we have achieved what they call 'Diamond' status (about half-way up their frequent cruiser club ladder). 'Diamond' guests have a special line near the entrance door, and so we took advantage of this perk, and were shown immediately to the check-in desk, ahead of the long lines. The check-in was therefore handled quickly for us -- not so much for a lot of the other passengers.
After checking in, we went to the standard boarding photo area. They now have an opt-out line if you want to avoid having your picture taken, but we went ahead and had the picture -- it helps us remember when we cruised to have the dated photo! We then went on board with no delays, and directly to our room. Our travel agent, Ray at Lighthouse Travel, had secured a junior suite for us at a favorable rate -- first time we ever had that type of room. It was much nicer than we expected, with a full bathtub, a walk-in closet and a large balcony. The room was noticeably wider than the standard balcony room we were more accustomed to. The room had a couch and a comfortable chair and footstool as well as the standard desk with a built-in hair dryer (which I think is now the norm on all RCL cruises -- at least we have always had one). The bedding is advertised as convertible from King Size to two twin beds, but the new beds on RCL have a curved foot, and I seriously doubt that you can split the bed into two twins. It may be possible -- but I would be surprised.
I use a CPAP machine, and when our room steward came into the room to introduce himself, he noticed the machine sitting on the nightstand. He offered to get some distilled water for me, and an extension cord as well, as the Freedom-class ships do not have an electrical outlet anywhere near the bed (a odd design oversight on an otherwise amazingly well-designed ship). The Oasis Class ships have an outlet hidden under the bed, but not the four Freedom-class ships, unfortunately. If you have an electric appliance to use at night, you have to have an extension cord, and plug the cord in at the desk located across the room from the foot of the bed. Since the Junior Suite is extra-wide, the extension cord I carry for just this purpose was not quite long enough. I was pleased that he took the initiative to help me.
The cabin was close to the elevators, and the elevators seemed to come very quickly on this ship as a general rule - wait for elevators, except at the busiest hours, was minimal, and the proximity of the elevator to the room was a real convenience.
We had lunch at the Windjammer (on Deck 11 -- I kept thinking Lido deck, but on this ship the decks are numbered, not named). When we got back to the room, the steward had brought the distilled water and installed the extension cord. He had even crawled under the bed to connect my machine for me and put the outlets out of sight, a service very much appreciated.
Next, being used to the lines on the Allure and Oasis, we went to ice rink to sign up for the shows, only to find the sign-up area was on the Promenade (oops -- Deck 5 -- no names on these decks), rather than in the ice rink, as was the norm on the Oasis class ships. We were told upon signing up for the shows to not be concerned - that it really was not necessary, as there would be plenty of available seating, which turned out to be true. Although we did make the reservation, when we attended the shows, no one checked for reservations, so the whole reservation process was not needed at all, even though the on-line pre-cruise list said they were needed. A tip -- don't bother.
After lunch and a brief walk through the ship, we had the lifeboat drill. This was handled pretty well -- there was plenty of seating in the Sphinx lounge where our muster station was located. A young lady with a hand-held device scanned your badge to check you in. The announcements were short and clear, and then we were dismissed. Thankfully, we no longer have to put on the life jackets during the drill, and unlike the Allure (where our muster station was in the small Comedy Club), the meeting room was large enough for all to be comfortable while listening to the announcements.
After the ship pulled out to the customary sound of the island music band on deck, we had some more time to spare, (we were not hungry so soon after lunch), so we decided to watch a movie. The Liberty of the Seas has a huge outdoor screen above one of the pool areas, and the screen is clearly visible even in bright sunlight -- a technological marvel of itself. We watched a couple of movies there -- light and entertaining -- a good way to pass some time if you do not want to read, shop or go into the casino during your free time. They also had some 3-D movies in the main theater, and even more movies in their small 'screening room' on deck 2. I have heard people say that watching a movie on a cruise ship is kind of silly, since the cruise experience is something to enjoy of itself, and you can always see a movie at home. I used to agree, but these days I rarely have time to see a first-run movie, and with a few extra hours available on the cruise ship and at no extra charge, it was a pleasant diversion.
After that, we were ready for dinner. We thought we would try something different on this cruise. Since we did not have set-time dinner reservations, rather than use the 'My-Time' dining option, we decided to eat all of our meals in the Windjammer buffet. That option worked well for us, and the food was quite good. As a side note, on our last trip on the Liberty, we had put on our comment card that they should add some more items to the salad bar in the Windjammer (such as hard-boiled eggs, etc.). We were pleasantly surprised to see that they had done exactly that! All the items we had suggested were now on the Salad Bar.
We followed through with our plan, and had all of our meals there, and we noted that the Windjammer was never crowded -- always fairly busy, but never felt fully packed, and there was never a line (except a very short line for fresh made-to-order omelets in the morning -- three or four people ahead of us). We liked being able to eat our meals without the inherent delay of the standard restaurants for a change, and the view from the Windjammer windows (located on deck 11) is always stunning. Plus we did not have to listen to the waiters sing -- that was fun on our first cruises, but after a while it is a bit much.
As a side note, several other people that we met had taken advantage of the 'My-Time' dining option, and said that the maitre d' would always seat them with their favorite wait team and at a table size that suited them on request -- so perhaps we will try that next time.
The ship has free soft-serve ice cream at a station they call 'Sprinkles' by the pool. Unfortunately there is only one soft-serve station on this ship, and its hours are limited. I think it opened around 11 AM and closed at 7 pm. It would have been nice to have access to soft-serve cone in the evenings. There was a per-pay Ben and Jerry's shop on the Promenade (deck 5) though, as well as 24 hour pizza.
The ship as three per-pay restaurants, and Italian Restaurant, a steakhouse, and a Johnny Rockets 50's style hamburger place. We did not use any of these on this trip. It always seemed kind of silly to me to pay extra for food, when food is served at no extra cost in abundance only a few feet away. But each to their own, of course.
The first evening the entertainment was a pretty good comedian. The next day, the first day at sea, the major entertainment started with the ice show, 'Encore' in the afternoon. We want you to know (if you do not already know) that the ice shows on all the RCL ships are very good, but the 'Encore' ice show on the Liberty is one of the best. The talented skaters, especially the duo from Russia, were awesome, and the costuming was delightful. The show was very well paced, unlike the slow moving 'Monopoly' ice show on the Allure, which we saw on our most recent cruise. All the RCL ice shows feature a guest entertainer mid-show (probably to give the skaters a few moments to rest). On this ship, the ice-guest entertainer we had seen before, but she was also very entertaining -- a girl that worked about a dozen large hula-hoops while skating on ice.
In the evening, the featured show was the RCL spectacular 'In-the-Air' singing, dancing and acrobatics show. We had seen this show a few times before, and we both felt that the show had been trimmed a bit and was really more entertaining and faster paced now. This show has Cirque du Soleil acrobatics as well as a live band (with a powerful high-range lead trumpet player ala the late Maynard Ferguson). This show and the fine live band (along with the ice show) were really the entertainment highlights of the cruise.
Scheduling of shows and activities on this trip was a bit suspect. We still wonder why two of their major feature shows, the In-the-Air show AND the Encore, the professional ice show, were both scheduled on the same day.
Other shows included the cruise-line standards of 'The Love and Marriage Show,' the 'Battle of the Sexes', and the 'Sea Quest.' Headline entertainers included the comedian mentioned earlier, a du-wop Detroit-style singing group, and a comedic-magician - all very entertaining.
The disappointment was the final featured show of the cruise, their feature show, Saturday Night Fever. The dancing and singing were great, especially in the opening sequence, but it went downhill from there. The talent level was outstanding, and the scenery design was a technical wonder, but the basic show simply was not very good. The show writer tried to cram too many story lines into a 90 minute presentation, and as a result none were really developed and of course, none were resolved. There was a lead character, (ala John Travolta) who was preparing to compete in a dance contest, two girlfriends who wanted to dance with him (neither of whom ended up with the guy), his brother who was a Catholic priest who left the Church mid-show, thus disappointing his parents, a secondary male lead who fell off a bridge and died near the end of the show because no one would pay attention to him, a West Side Story-like gang of Puerto Ricans who had a gang fight with the lead guy's friends for no reason at all, etc. All of this set was to rather tuneless music. You get the picture. The talent was outstanding -- the show was less than outstanding. Kudos to the performers and to the set designers, but not to the writers. Too bad.
I should also mention that the cruise had the mandatory Bingo games going on frequently, as well as the Art Auction. The Art Auction has started up again -- I think it had been cancelled for a while after the original group was found to be selling fakes. They did announce these events, but they were not particularly intrusive with the announcements, thankfully.
The Casino was large, and the table games always seemed to have some seats available. The minimum at most of the low-dollar Blackjack tables was $6, an unusually low minimum at so many tables (usually there are only one or two tables at the low dollar minimums). As a result, I was tempted and I did manage to come out ahead at the end of the cruise -- but not by very much. The casino personnel were very outgoing and pleasant -- I enjoyed playing there.
Later in the cruise, there was a Captain's reception for frequent cruisers. The Captain mentioned the next two ships coming out, one in 2014 (Tentative inaugural cruise in October) and one in 2015. I understand they will be smaller than the Oasis class ships, as I had read a few weeks ago. One thing I had not read that he mentioned was that RCL had a contract to build a third Oasis class ship, and that it was planned for production in 2016. This was a surprise to me -- I thought they were planning to stop building the Oasis class ships. RCL seems to be doing very well, and in my view, their ships are light-years ahead of their competition because they offer so many unique experiences on board, including the Flow-Rider, rock-climbing wall, ice rink, and of course the unique zip line and high-diving exhibitions on the Oasis class ships.
All ships these days seem to have really nice exercise facilities and well-run Spas (subcontracted to Steiner of London -- the employees are often called 'Steiners'). The Spa and Exercise facility on the Freedom class ships is two stories tall and has a lot of Life-Fitness Brand exercise machines and equipment -- even a boxing ring. Not my kind of thing, but there is one on board. My wife visited the spa, and said her massage has excellent. The Spa is always a little pricey, and they do push a bit for you to buy their high-profit creams and lotions, but if you say you are not interested, the 'Steiners' won't pressure you. I know for sure -- my daughter was a 'Steiner' on another ship a few years back.
On this five-day loop, the Liberty of the Seas made two stops -- the first one at the RCL section of Haiti called Labadee. This is a beautifully maintained beach area with a lot of water sports, wave runners, a long and impressive zip line, a roller coaster, and mosquitoes. There is a charge for everything but the mosquitoes -- they are free. This is a really nice stop if you like to lay on the beach or take part in the activities, but for us it is nothing new. We stayed on board the ship.
The second stop was Falmouth Jamaica. Falmouth was once a shipping port for sugar cane (we learned), and had deep water and well-built docks installed for shipping. Once the sugar cane business slowed, Falmouth was almost deserted. It was purchased by the Cruise Lines, and became a regular stop for at least two lines, Norwegian and RCL we were told. A shopping area was built, and Falmouth came back to life.
We were a little reluctant to disembark at Falmouth, as prior experiences in Jamaica had not been very pleasant -- very pushy merchants, and a lot of pick-pockets and drugs. However this time we saw a totally different side of Jamaica. The people were quite friendly, and we enjoyed the visit very much. We chose to go tubing (a ships tour, also available on-line independently, but for about the same money). When tubing, they take you by bus on a 20 minute drive to the Rio Bueno River. There you can choose to go down the river (including the slight level 2 rapids) either by inner tube, rubber raft, boogie board, or by two-man rubber kayaks. We chose the tubes (we did not know we could make the choice there -- we thought you had to make the choice when you signed up, and the ship only lists a couple of the options).
The tubes are probably the best choice for most people. The boogie boards were for the most adventurous, but since this was the dry season, the river was fairly shallow, and most of those who chose the individual boogie-boards got a few scrapes and scratches from the stones in the rapids areas. The raft would have been fine, and may be best if you have little ones. The two-man kayaks looked good too (they added a third person -- a guide -- on the ones we saw), but the tubes were about perfect. The water was cool but not cold, and made for a refreshing excursion on a warm day. We went in groups of four, and you sit one person per inner tub, and each person is asked to hold onto the handles of another's inner tube. The guide went along with the group of four. He was using a boogie board and he steered us clear of the major hurdles. It was great fun, and the rapids added a touch of excitement, but no serious danger at all. When we arrived at the end of the tour, a boat came and towed us to a nearby beach, where we could swim for an hour. I could have skipped that portion of the trip, but some of the others seemed to enjoy the swim. We then took the bus back to the boat.
We had just one complaint here -- RCL did a really poor job of getting us off the boat and onto the ship's tour(s). All the tours met in the large ship's theater (which is common on many cruise ships), but once there, we just had to sit and wait. The ship's tour people did not group us by tour in the theater. Instead, after listening to a rather shrill-voiced young lady lecture us repeatedly about being quiet and listening for announcements (there were none to listen to), she suddenly had us all get up and disembark en-masse. There were about 500-700 people on the tours, I would guess, and we were herded ashore like cattle. When we got ashore, there were no guides from the ship in sight, and no informational signs. We followed the crowd through the shopping village, and then finally found an RCL uniformed person just outside the village who directed the passengers to specific areas for their tour buses. This could have been handled so much better, and on other ships we have taken, it was handled better. Once we found our way through the shopping area and into the open section where the buses came, the Jamaicans took over -- and they were quite nice and better organized than the ship's people. We were very favorably impressed in every way with the Jamaican people we met on this brief visit ashore.
Back on board, as you might expect, activities were plentiful. All the normal cruise activities, and one odd thing -- they had a 'Dress in White' night on Valentine's Day -- I think almost all the guests, including us, had clothes with red trim or red dresses for this holiday. Perhaps they do the 'Dress in White' night every week, and the planner forgot to make an adjustment for Valentine's Day. If there was a weakness in the total ship's offerings, it was their planning and management of activities, from their management of the on-ship games (a young lady with a Mohawk haircut ran some of the games, and did not even explain them to the participants -- just passed out sheets of paper and then made herself scarce), to the scheduling of activities (some odd overlaps making it impossible to participate in some activities that would have been of interest to us due to timing conflicts), and as mentioned already, handling of the disembarking for shore tours (and later for disembarking when returning to the home port). And the scheduling of events was complicated slightly by their daily compass newspaper. Although the timing shown for activities was accurate, the paper was full of spelling errors, and some of the incidental information was wrong as well (for example, it said dress was 'informal' on 'formal' night). The staff of the Liberty could do well to find someone else to prepare this document.
Seas were smooth the entire cruise, fortunately. We arrived back in port on time, and were somewhat surprised to see five other Cruise Ships there as well, including two other RCL ships -- the Oasis and the Independence. Disembarking at Port Everglades was unusually slow this time. At least RCL now allows you to wait in your room (as does Carnival), or in a departure lounge with plenty of seating, as does Carnival. This is a big improvement for sure over asking you to clear the rooms and find a place to sit in the hallways, etc., as had been common a few years ago.
Again with poor planning being the order of the day, the disembarking announcer called large groups of numbers at the same time, rather than one tag number at a time, which resulted in full elevators and a long line getting off the ship and into the luggage area, and then an equally long line to get through customs. RCL could have sent the people down to get their luggage in smaller groups by calling only one number at a time in order to minimize the wait time, and on other ships that is exactly what is done. The staff on the Liberty was just not very good at getting people off the boat, both at ports and at the final disembarking.
All-in-all, with a couple of very minor exceptions, we had a very favorable experience on the Liberty of the Seas. The ship was full, we were told, but it never felt crowded, and there were quite a few things to do on board, despite the overlaps mentioned previously. The technology of the touch-screens throughout the ship showing event locations and directions, and the amazing technology of the outdoor theater screen are worth seeing. The staff and crew are well trained, and seem to 'reach out' to the passengers as a whole. All in all, the Liberty of the Seas remains one of our favorite ships.