A little background info:
My husband and I are experienced cruisers who have cruised almost exclusively on Princess for the past 8 years. We thought we would conduct a little experiment (while having a wonderful three weeks at sea) and do a back to back to back on three different ships. We have been to the Caribbean many times, so we are not focused on the destinations and don't usually do shore excursions to places we've already been many times. We are 62 and 63 years old and like many baby boomers, we enjoy an active but refined cruise experience. We like the production shows and other entertainment in the theater as well as interesting activities during the day. We do social ballroom dancing so we are very interested in the live music on the ship and the dancing venues. We also enjoy fine dining - that includes good food as well as good service from waiters with whom you can develop a rapport. We also appreciate a ship with many sitting or lounging areas -- around the pool, quiet shaded areas, different lounges at night, etc.
For this experiment, we started out on Liberty of the Seas (Royal Caribbean for a 5 day Eastern Caribbean Feb. 11, 2013), then moved to the Caribbean Princess for a 7 day Western Caribbean (Feb. 16, 2013) and finished with a 7 day Eastern Caribbean on Holland America's Eurodam (Feb. 23, 2013). I've written reviews of each of them and you can find them under my id: lovetocruisenow. It was very interesting to compare the three different cruise lines and ships in such close proximity. Here's the Liberty of the Seas review.
My husband and I had not sailed on Royal Caribbean in 7 years and we've never sailed on a ship that holds 4500 passengers. The average age of the passengers (on this 5 day Eastern Caribbean) was fairly young -- probably around 40. Here's the good and bad from the cruise:
EMBARKATION AND MUSTER: Embarkation went well. We arrived at the terminal around 11:45 am and moved through the check-in line quickly. We are only gold level members on Royal Caribbean but we had our own check in line and moved quickly through the process :) We got onboard around 12:30 pm and received our luggage after the muster (around 5:30 pm).
Muster started at 3:45 pm and took place outside at our actual lifeboat station. Cruise cards were scanned for roll call but there was a lot of chaos with many, many first time cruisers onboard. You did not need to bring your life jacket with you for muster. After everyone finally got into place, the captain made an announcement about safety and general ship information. Several of the statements related to acceptable and unacceptable behavior onboard. All of this took about 45 minutes and then the mass of people -- remember this ships holds 4500 passengers -- tried to make their way down the promenade and in through the doors. This took quite a while.
Just when we thought we could enter the doors and make our way to our room we were pulled aside by a card checker because we were scheduled for "My Time" dining. We were told that we would need to designate our time for dinner that night (in other words, make a reservation). We were behind a group of four and another group of six who took quite a while deciding. None of us were aware this would happen. As it turned out "My Time" isn't really my time, in fact, you needed to make a reservation each day. We've never had anytime dining done this way before and I really feel it made things harder than it should have been. By the time we got to the schedulers, all that was left was either 5:30 or 8:30 pm for a table for two. We ended up with the 5:30 pm slot (a little early) and stayed with that slot and waiter the rest of the cruise in order to make it simple. Kind of sounds like traditional assigned time dining doesn't it? We had to rush to our room and freshen up and then head to the restaurant.
THE SHIP: Liberty of the Seas is huge! I know she's not as large as her big sisters, but she's plenty big. Liberty is not just big, it's set up a little strangely because of the Royal Promenade cutting through the middle of the ship. We ran into many passengers who spent the majority of their cruise trying to find their way around. I would strongly advise anyone sailing on this ship to have a look at the different areas on this ship as well as the deck plans. You need to at least know if something is Aft or Forward and what deck it's on. It will make life much simpler.
Liberty is a very technologically savvy ship. There are kiosks around the ship to help you find out where you are and how to get to where you want to go. Of course you have to find the kiosk in order to use it. You can also pull up a copy of the day's program to see what activities are going on and find out information about dining and ports. This is a very nice touch. There's more technology in the cabin with an interactive TV that lets you order room service, check your account, and do many more things right in your own room.
One of the neat features of Liberty is the Royal Promenade. A piazza of sorts that is 4 stories high and runs about half the length of the ship. All kinds of shops, restaurants, and bars are located on the ground floor of the Royal Promenade. Looking up at the next three decks, you will see bay windows of Promenade cabins opening to the Royal Promenade. It really feels like you're in a cozy downtown area with mixed use shops and housing. Very nice. All kinds of activities take place in the Royal Promenade including daily parades with the Dream Works characters, the Captain's Welcome Reception, nightly DJ music, and other events.
Another part of the ship worth mentioning is the children's water park, the H2O Zone. It is very large and features everything a child would want to play with (with the exception of a water slide) including a small lazy river pool. Children stayed in the H2O Zone from the time it opened until it closed for the night. Other "action" activities available included an ice rink, rock wall, flowrider, as well as a room dedicated to karaoke and several 3D movies shown on the big screen.
DINING: Food in the dining room was very good to exceptional and service was excellent. By luck, we were seated at table 650 in the "My Time" dining room, where we met Gabriel and Elvis, two of the best waiters we've ever had. We loved them so much, we asked for the same table and time each night.
Food at the Windjammer buffet was good but the set up of the buffet made getting food and finding a table difficult. The buffet is large, but then there are 4500 passengers on the Liberty so it needs to be large. The negative thing is the buffet is mostly in one very long cafeteria style line so if you get behind people who want to try some of everything, the line backs up and slows to a crawl. We found out if you skip over the first part of the line and go directly to the part at the center of the room, you could avoid a lot of this. Service at the Windjammer was just about non-existent. Staff frequently got together in groups of 2 or 3 and chit-chatted and if you needed silverware or something to drink, you could forget it or go get it yourself.
CABIN: We chose a Promenade category interior room for this cruise. It was located on the 7th floor and although it was classified as an interior room it had a wonderful bay window that gave you a view of the Royal Promenade. The window had a window seat and there was also a small love seat in the sitting area. Our room was on the 7th floor so we didn't have any problems with noise from activities taking place on the 5th floor but you still had a wonderful view of everything going on. It was a great room and a very good value for the money. Our cabin steward was okay but not great.
ENTERTAINMENT: The two production shows we saw in the theater were unlike anything we've seen on other cruise ships. The first, In the Air, was a combination production show and circus act -- kind of like Cirque du Soleil meets Broadway. It was very good. The singers and dancers were good and the aerial people were great. The second production show was Saturday Night Fever. The music and singers and dancers were good but the show was presented like a play with a lot of dialog and music in between. It really dragged and the acting was pretty bad.
Another surprise show was Encore the ice show presented in the ice rink on deck 2. The skaters were great and it was a very good show.
One disappointment was the lack of live music around the ship. There was some live music around the pool and at sail aways but most live music didn't start until 10:00 pm. The Latin band in the Boleros Lounge played one set from 7:45-8:30pm and that was it until 10:00 pm or later. Most lounges had canned music on low volume. There were a dozen plus bars and lounges with every theme imaginable, all getting started around 10:00 pm, but very little live music.
ACTIVITIES: There were the usual cruise activities everyday -- trivia (done several times a day, several different ways), spa seminars, travel seminars, food demonstrations, towel folding, dance lessons, etc. There were lots of activities related to the ice rink, rock wall, and flowrider -- sometimes open to all and sometimes by age.
Liberty of the Seas has the most state of the art fitness center I've ever seen on a cruise ship. The fitness center is very large and filled with a wide variety of equipment in addition to the usual stuff. In addition to the equipment, staff members offered many fitness opportunities including Yoga, Pilates, Spin classes, boot camp, etc. Some classes were free, some had additional fees. The spa offered everything you would want in a spa at sea including acupuncture and cosmetic treatments.
There were also lots of "sales", photography studio, Bingo (at least twice a day and done inside and outside around the pool), and other activities some people look for on a cruise. Many of these events were accompanied by a lot of noise and activity. You heard "Bingo, Bingo, Bingo" over the loudspeaker several times a day. There were many, many shore excursion available for both ports including their private island, Labadee.
DISSEMBARKATION: I was really surprised, given the high number of first time cruisers on this cruise, that passengers received very little advance information about disembarkation. The only disembarkation information you received was sent to your cabin in the middle of the last day. There were long, long lines at the passenger service desk with bewildered first time passengers trying to find out what they needed to do to get off the ship and to the airport. A little advance information would have saved the passenger service folks a lot of problems.
Falmouth, Jamaica -- The weather was nice here (mostly sunny and around 80 degrees) and most passengers opted for adventure excursions -- snorkeling, Dunn's River Falls trips, etc.
Labadee, Haiti -- We hadn't been to Labadee in about 10 years and were really surprised by the changes. First big change was the dock. You no longer have to tender at Labadee. What a treat to just walk off without having to wait through the tender process. There were many other changes on the island, most notable was that the area is about double in size from what it was. There are many, many more activities there including a zip line, a coaster ride, a waterslide park, an onsite spa, and lots more. The general feeling on the island was a little frenzied as passengers tried to do it all. Labadee has lost the lay back and beach-it feel you find on most cruise ship private islands but Royal Caribbean was making a lot of money the day we were there because people had singed up for 2, 3, or even 4 different activities.
We enjoyed the uniqueness of this cruise, although it was really not a good match for us. I would recommend it to people who want a lot of action, want a lot going on all the time and also "night" people who like the fact that things don't get going until 10:00 pm. It was a nice ship with some wonderful amenities. Our grandchildren would love the H2O Zone. I think it's a great match for young singles and young families.