Background: This is the 6th cruise for my wife and I (3x on Carnival, 1x on Disney, and this was our 2x on Royal Caribbean). Our kids had joined us before, but were mostly too young to remember much. We LOVED our last cruise on Disney, but simply couldn't afford their premium prices, so we went with Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas for a 4-night cruise and couldn't have been happier!
Checking In: The ship terminal in Ft. Lauderdale isn't pretty (more on that in a bit). I was accustomed to arriving and checking-in through a nice, well-lit building. Instead, the check-in area seemed to be a (hopefully) temporary, warehouse-like facility. We parked our rental car at Park 'N Go at 1101 Eller Drive, which was convenient, close-by and very affordable. The transfer shuttle brought us right up to the front of the terminal, where a very friendly porter helped with our bags. NOTE: They don't have staplers, so if you aren't able to tape/staple your printed paper luggage tags, they'll make new ones up for you. Once inside, the lines moved quickly however we had a very slow agent - not sure if she was new, or just slow.
Stateroom: We typically book an outside-view balcony room, but since we booked relatively late, there weren't any available. Since it was only a 4-night cruise, we decided an ocean-view only room (i.e. porthole window) would be fine - as we wanted to spend as little time in our room as possible. I thought the room was fine, however the lack of a wide-view and fresh air seemed to make my wife a bit dizzy when looking out the window. NOTE: This is our 6th cruise, so I expect a small, tight room - especially for two adults and two kids. If you're new to cruising, don't expect a large room (unless you want to pay extra for it!).
Ship Info: The Liberty of the Seas is BEAUTIFUL. I can't say enough about how much I loved this ship. Royal Caribbean has really done a great job with the ship layout. Where to start?? First off, the ship is pristine. Everything was super clean and shiny. Although this at one point was the largest ship in the world (and the largest we've sailed on), it didn't seem like we had far to walk to get where we wanted to. If you haven't sailed on Royal Caribbean, you're in for a treat with their Royal Promenade - which is basically resembles the inside of an open air shopping mall. Here you can get a bite to eat, shop in a number of different stores, people-watch or just go for a stroll. My favorite part of the ship (I think) was the pool deck. There are three primary sections: one for adults-only, one for everyone, and one for kids. Our kids are 9 and 11 and LOVED the "H2O Zone" water park. They would've spent all day everyday there (if it wasn't for the AWESOME kids club - called Adventure Ocean - more on that in a bit). I could go on and on, but bottom-line: this ship was phenomenal. Every deck was unique, and it was easy to get around. Although there were thousands on board, the only crowds were to be found during the "rush hours" of breakfast and lunch in the WindJammer buffet. We typically eat early, and therefore avoided most of the congestion. FYI - there is a heavy emphasis on hand-washing/cleanliness, with Purell dispensers located at the entrance to all dining areas and at certain areas on and off the boat. Definitely appreciated.
Dining: I think Royal Caribbean has done a nice job of offering a wide selection of good food included in the price of the cruise, with the ability to pay extra for premium choices (such as Chops steakhouse, Portofino Italian restaurant, and Starbucks coffee). We knew these other options existed, but never felt pressured or "sold to". There really is a wide selection of food, so you'll definitely find some things you'll enjoy and others that you won't. Believe it or not, but one of the best items was the tater tots in the morning and French fries during lunch/dinner. They were highly addictive, and all of us couldn't stop eating them! The pizza at Sorrento's on the Royal Promenade was also delicious. Dinner in the Boticelli dining room was very enjoyable. Our waiter and assistant waiter were very friendly and accommodating. There is a guitarist named Pedro who plays during the first hour of dinner and sounded GREAT. The best part of the all-inclusive pricing (regardless of which meal), is that if you don't like something, you can just get something else. Or if you want two appetizers - go ahead and order two! We didn't use room service, since we were rarely in the room on this short cruise. Our prior experiences have been good, as you can basically order anything and as much as you want delivered right to your stateroom.
Activities: Our kids LOVED the Adventure Ocean kids club. Located at the back of the ship, very close to the pool deck and Windjammer buffet, the whole back of one deck is dedicated to kids. They have separate areas, and therefore activities, based upon age groupings. Our kids were together in the 9-11yr old group and had a blast. We love being with our kids and they love being with us, but I think my wife started to get a bit jealous when our kids kept asking to go back time and again. :) For most of the age groups, you check your kids in and then come back to check them out. There was the option of allowing kids to self-check in/out for 9-11yr olds, but we weren't comfortable doing that. I believe the 12-17yr old group is only self check in/out. First thing the kids do upon entering their room is take off their shoes and wash their hands. There was a great variety and schedule of activities - something different every day and night. One of the highlights was the kids-only dance party that was held in the Catacombs nightclub. Parents were not allowed, but were permitted to observe from the balcony above. Too cute! The staff members were really great - friendly and playful most of the time, but in control when needed. We really couldn't have been happier. If it wasn't for the fact that there were several staff members that our kids were with, we DEFINITELY would have given tipped them as a special thank-you. Rather, we wrote up a glowing review in our cruise survey at the end of the trip. My wife said she still prefers Disney as they had many "family activities", whereas on Royal Caribbean it was mostly adult activities and kids activities. I honestly can't remember anything extra special about Disney (other than the characters), but perhaps I'm just having a senior moment. :)
Entertainment: The entertainment was good, for the most part. The "Encore!" ice dancing show is not to be missed. There was a small parade in the Royal Promenade with the cast of DreamWorks' movies (e.g. Shrek, Puss in Boots), which was decent. It certainly doesn't compare to the parades we're used to at Disneyworld, but it's definitely better than nothing. Our only real disappointment was the "In the Air" evening show. Perhaps it was too "artsy-fartsy" for our tastes, but it was one of those shows where you're scratching your head trying to understand what the heck they're doing. There are a myriad of other activities that we didn't partake in (e.g. casino, piano bar, adult comedy), but there's definitely something for everyone.
Port: We enjoy just sitting on a beach, and didn't do an excursion. They seem to be VERY pricey, which was too much for us. My wife read that Paradise Beach was a good destination, so we went there. It was PERFECT. It's a $14 cab ride from the seaport, just about a 10min ride. It's a great destination that has everything accessible (pool, beach, watersports, restrooms, bar, restaurant, changing rooms). Ridiculously low $2 per person to use all of the facilities, including lounges and an umbrella. We paid an additional $12 for each of the two kids so they could use the watersports equipment - which included several blow-up slides, a trampoline, kayaks, and snorkel equipment. We had two "waiters" who provided us with reasonably priced drinks and food delivered right to our lounges, and answered any of our questions. If you're looking for an affordable, relaxing beach destination in Cozumel - we highly recommend Paradise Beach.
Disembarkation: Ok, here's the only real complaint of our trip (and it doesn't really have anything to do with Royal Caribbean or the Liberty of the Seas). The terminal in Fort Lauderdale is a DUMP. I believe and HOPE it's only temporary, because disembarking was a very unpleasant experience. As mentioned before, the facility is essentially a warehouse with a concrete floor. You'll have to walk endlessly in loops just to traverse what is otherwise a couple hundred feet from ship to shuttles/buses/cabs. We decided to "self carry" rather than put our luggage out the night before for pick-up and retrieval. Had we left the ship right at 7:30am when we were first allowed to, perhaps our experience would have been smoother. After a relaxing trip, which unfortunately included sunburned shoulders in Cozumel, lugging all of our stuff all over the seaport wasn't what we had in mind. It's been a number of years since we sailed out of Miami or Port Canaveral, so I can't guarantee a better experience elsewhere - but I would just say that if you have to sail out of Ft. Lauderdale, be prepared for a long disembarkation experience. Fortunately for my wife and kids, I'm the "mule" and carried the heavy stuff. :)
Summary: I highly recommend Liberty of the Seas and Royal Caribbean in general. We got excellent value for the money. If you have kids and can afford premium pricing, you should probably do at least one Disney cruise while they're young. If you're single and looking to party, you'd probably be best served on a Carnival cruise (although there was plenty of adult activities on this cruise). We will definitely sail Royal Caribbean again. Their newest Oasis and Allure of the Seas look like ships to at least experience once in our lifetimes. The good news is that Royal Caribbean is actively upgrading their ships to include many of the "Oasis-class" features. Happy Sailing!