Us: 41 y.o. single dad (low-carb eater/obsessive planner/ highly active/ regular exerciser/mma fighter)
14 y.o. teen girl (loves volleyball, makeup, nails, fashion and all other girly stuff)
I wanted to write this review to return the karma b/c Cruise Critic was ESSENTIAL in making this cruise (the most expensive vacation I have ever done) also the most enjoyable one my daughter and I have ever taken in our lives. Also I'm writing from the perspective of a single parent whose interest is in being active and healthy vs going on a cruise to drink, gorge and sunburn on a lounge chair, which seems what many cruisers are after.
Neither of us had ever cruised before and my curiosity and desire to try something new led me to choose a cruise for my daughter's spring break which we always spend together. There were about a dozen cruises that would have worked for the dates we needed, most of them Carnival, but RCI's Liberty of the Seas quickly stood out among the pack as the lead contender (coincidentally the Triumph debacle occurred the week before I booked and that was the nail in the coffin for them).
The main appeal of Royal Caribbean and the Liberty were: the size and newness of the ship, the overall positive Cruise Critic reviews, the reputation of RCI of emphasizing activities vs partying, availability of volleyball (my daughter is a junkie), the boxing ring/gym facilities (I am a junkie), the cupcake shop (sugar, ugh, but my girl is an aspiring cupcake artist, so...)
The Liberty cruise was more expensive than all the other cruises I looked at except Disney, but my instincts told me this was the one we wanted and when I found a deal with an online travel agent, I pulled the trigger. The ship and all its amenities have been extensively covered elsewhere, so I'm not going to describe them here - just give my opinions and any tips I can share.
First the day-by-day review.
Friday: Flew in from Atlanta on Spirit Air to Fort Lauderdale. Never flew with them before and was hesitant b/c I heard they upcharge for everything, but they had the best fare by far, so went with them. Any worries here for nothing b/c flight went smoothly - they are very efficient. My daughter and I were seated together even though I didn't pay extra for assigned seats. The only hassle was the 40 lb limit for the checked bag we shared - had to shuffle stuff to our "personal items". A 50 lb limit would have made packing a bit easier but it wasn't a huge deal.
Upon arrival called for our shuttle to the Holiday Inn Express Cruiseport which took us to Comfort Suites instead? It turns out they are both under the same ownership and moved our reservation from one to the other (they overbooked?). They gave us a really nice suite w/ a great view on the top floor and were very nice and helpful so I didn't make an issue of it even though it would have been nice to know they were going to do that ahead of time. The tradeoff, we discovered later, was that we were now a bit farther from the beach and our feet were very sore from walking there. We played volleyball with some spring breakers and then took a cab back. I had planned on dinner at Bimini Boatyard but it would have been another hike, so just went to Pollo Tropical across the street from the hotel - cheap and good.
Saturday: Took the shuttle from the hotel (very reasonable @ $6/person) to the pier. Got there around 11AM and saw masses of people and luggage but was amazed at how orderly and efficiently check-in and boarding was. First impression of RCI was very good. We were among the first group on the boat and entered on the Promenade level. Wow! Emma and I were dazzled. It is just freaking beautiful. I know the promenade has been described as a mall but it is way fancier than any mall I have ever seen. We had a big breakfast that morning so made a decision on the spot to skip the Windjammer where I knew everyone would be going to pig out and instead go explore the ship until our cabin was ready. A solid decision b/c it felt like we had the ship mostly to ourselves! We started from the chapel at the top and worked our way back down to the promenade. Emma was thrilled w/ everything we saw and the glamour of it all. I was impressed with the overall design, layout and cleanliness of the ship. Hunger pangs finally kicked in so we went to the Windjammer but by that time it was a mob (and that, I would find, was usually always the case whenever we were there). So we went to the Promenade Cafe and found they had prosciutto sandwiches there (yummy) and no crowd. Then off to our cabin. Oceanview Superior on Deck 6 and the farthest forward on starboard side which provided extra balcony space and the best view. Cabin was clean, comfortable and plenty roomy for the two of us. After settling in we went to the cupcake shop and I signed Emma up for a class the next day. Then off to the pool to enjoy the rest of daylight before we disembarked. We were assigned 8:30 dinner seating (at first I regretted not doing MTD, but it all worked out as I'll describe later). 8:30 is just too late to eat dinner IMHO so I tried to see if we could change to 6:30 or MTD but no luck, at least on that first night, so we went to Windjammer. Sometime during dinner the ship disembarked but it was so smooth I didn't even notice we left port ( a little "aw crap" feeling though - would have liked to watch it from the upper decks). After dinner we watched the Dreamworks parade (cute) and watched "The Avengers" in this cool little movie theater they call the Screening Room. Great movie BTW.
Sunday: Woke up early to discover the Easter Bunny must have swam his way on the ship to make a delivery - and he remembered I prefer my chocolate dark, too! Went to the jogging track on Deck 12 to do my 2 mile run (8 laps) that I would repeat every morning for the rest of the cruise. This ended up being one of my favorite things on the whole cruise: wake up pre-dawn and grab ipod, tiptoe out while Emma sleeps, walk through an empty Promenade still lit up in all its glory, hoof the stairs to Deck 12 and run. Just me, a couple employees setting up lounge chairs, and a couple other early risers while the rest of the ship sleeps. Do my run as I watch the sun come up - breathtaking! Then go to the very top gold level deck to do my stretching (I'm not a gold level member but at 6AM no one cares haha). THAT is how to start a day! Or I suppose you could stay up til 2AM drinking and then sleep in til 11 if that works for you I guess - not for me. Back at the room roused Emm and took in her delight at the Easter Bunny visit - she definitely wasn't expecting that. After a healthy filling breakfast @ Windjammer we made a beeline for the sports deck and were the first in line when they opened rock climbing. We had never tried this before and it was fun! I made it to the top my first try, and Emm after a struggle made it on her second attempt (I was so proud of her for not giving up). They had 2 ropes going while we were doing it so 2 people could go at once and later in the cruise I saw they had 4 ropes going at one time. Next up was volleyball - the main sports activity for us. I participated in the adult competitive tournament while Emma kept climbing. Out of four teams our team got the gold and were presented with a RCI gold logo medal - priceless! Then it was open volleyball and Emm and I played for a couple hours with other cruisers young and older of various skill levels - it was very relaxed and a lot of fun. The bad news was we lost 2 balls overboard (winds were strong) and apparently there is a sea law that requires them to stop the action for the day if that happens (at least that's what they told us) so no more v.b. that day. Emma went to her cupcake class and made a cute little pooch cupcake(that was to look at only, not to eat she warned me haha). Meanwhile I went to the Solarium pool and did mini laps and water treading to keep warm and burn cals (water was on the cool side and I was the only one who stayed in for more than a few minutes). Today I again tried to change our dinner time and this time success! Moral of story: don't give up. MTD was full but they switched us to 6:30 seating and that still left us time to catch the ice show. Here's my brief review of that: DO NOT MISS IT - it's that good! At dinner (which was supposed to be formal but I didn't bring a tux or suit and only saw a few people in one) we met a very pleasant family w/ 2 teen girls about Emma's age. RCI specifically put us at this table for that reason and I am very appreciative b/c Emm is a little on the shy side. The girls took an immediate liking to each other and went to hang out after dinner.
Monday: Belize. Our ship arrived about an hour later than they said it would and I don't know why. People who had a non-RCI excursion like we had planned (cave tubing w/ VIV- awesome! Will write a separate review on Trip Advisor) were worried about missing their tours. Tendering went fairly smooth although there was a good sized line. If you have read a sample of reviews of Belize, you know it is a very poor country - we're talking 3rd world here. This was one of the MAIN reasons I wanted my daughter to see it. American kids need to see how good they have it to appreciate what they have. In that regard, while we were waiting in the park to do our cave tube tour, we met a very nice Belize woman and her daughter who looked to be about Emma's age. They were sitting at a picnic table next to us and overheard us practicing our poor spanish and we began chatting. I thought at first they were tourists like us but it turned out they worked at the park cleaning bathrooms and were just taking a break. Anyway the girl was very curious and seemed enamored of Emma who must have looked like some kind of movie star to her (Emma is very fashion conscious - too much for my taste). The jaw drop happened when Emma stated her age as 14 and the girl said that's how old she had been when she got married! She was now 18 and had a child even though she looked no older than Emma. She wasn't saying it as if she wanted sympathy, more as a matter-of-fact kind of thing. The impression that statement made on my daughter was worth the trip to Belize alone. Later after finishing with tubing, Emma ran into her in the bathroom and she gave Emma a ring made of beads Emma had admired before. How about that! She didn't even ask for any money. I scolded Emma a little for taking it and sent her back with money to give to the girl. That experience was worth way more to a father than watching their child surf on a freakin Flowrider. We made it back to the ship in the nick of time and after dinner went ice skating. I was tired and wasn't feeling it so instead I just watched Emma. I tell you, watching in her in her little hoodie whizzing around with the other kids, she looked like my little angel again. It was a happy feeling that reminded me of when she was a young chickadee but it also was sad because I knew her childhood innocence was disappearing and would never come back.
Tuesday: Cozumel. After yesterday's adventure, today was going to be about relaxing at the beach. Knowing I was going to be a bum today, I did my 2 mile run and then hit the gym after for bodyweight exercises and to see how much use I could get out of the boxing ring and heavy bag (I packed my mma gloves for the trip). Boxing ring: sad is the best way to describe it. Ropes were sagging and loose and the platform creaked loudly. I couldn't do any bouncing off the ropes and had to settle for jumping jacks in the one spot that didn't creak. Couldn't even find any jumping ropes anywhere. Heavy bag: very good quality leather and firmness - not too hard or soft. Used this a lot. Good for punches, elbows, knees and kicks. Since they went to the trouble of putting in a boxing ring, I has hoped they would have at least one speed bag, but no go. My impression was that the ring was more to impress than actually use. Anyway, we slid into port right next to sister ship Mariner of the Seas. Docking was really cool as it was kind of like looking in a mirror - the ships seemed virtually identical. Getting off was very easy and we got in the cab line to take us to Chankanaab Park. We watched some dolphin action for a bit and parked our butts under the last available palapas at the very end of the park, right next to the hammocks. We were in relaxed heaven in the hammocks under the palm trees. Didn't seem like it could get any better than that. Warning: I neglected sunscreen on myself and Emma since we were in the shade and only exposed ourselves to the sun when we walked to the bathrooms and restaurant, but just with that minimal exposure we still both got burned. That tropical sun is no joke. We made our way back to the ship for the open v.b. that was scheduled for later that pm but were disappointed to find the sports staff had made a mistake and told us no v.b. that day. We were planning our next move when they came on the loudspeaker w/ "oops. Our bad, there is v.b. after all". So they set up the net, cleared the court of the ever-present teenage b.ballers and we got in an hour of good play. That night we went to see the comedian/juggler and he was hilarious. I looked over at my daughter during the show and she was in stitches every time.
Wednesday: Last cruise day. We played even more volleyball for a couple hours and now it was finally time to try the Flowrider. I had hoped waiting til the end of the cruise would mean shorter lines since other cruisers had had their fill of it, but no luck. It was worth the waiting though and watching others was quite entertaining. Emma tried it - and didn't like it. At all. She was blinded the whole time and when she wrecked it almost took her bikini off (apparently losing swimwear is a common occurrence on that thing). We went to our seated dinner for the second time on that cruise and the nice family was there with their girls. It was the mom's birthday and we were all laughing and in good spirits - a very nice time. The cruise had done its job and we were all in relaxed vacation mode. After dinner Emma went with the other girls to "hang" and I took a long walk around the ship to see if there was anything I had missed. Found two - the Olive Twist Bar is a nice quiet place to go if you want to drink and chat and also found how to get to the very front of the ship where the helipad is (off Deck 5 I think). It was too dark to see anything though.
Thursday: We woke up in Ft Lauderdale. I was still amazed that a ship so big moved so quietly and gently. After a last Windjammer break-feast we got our bags and disembarked. We were in no hurry since we had a later flight. Going through customs and getting a cab was fairly painless and lines moved steadily and efficiently - no complaints there.
So overall: Very impressed with RCI and their people. The ship was clean, well-kept and efficient. Their staff were professional, often very friendly and never less than polite - an amazing task considering the masses of people they are constantly having to deal with. The biggest downside to cruising does seem to be the crowds but I felt it was worth the tradeoff to be on a ship with so much to do (and it was only for 5 nights). Liberty of the Seas during spring break was not inexpensive, but I felt I more than got my money's worth. Happy cruising!