The ship, the ship; what to write about THE SHIP?
The statistics are overwhelming. Bigger than an aircraft carrier and not quite the biggest in the world (Oasis of the seas and 5,400 passengers), but immense just the same. 1,112 feet long, 185 feet wide, 160,000 tons and 4,400 passengers and 1,360 crew. Whew! That's big. But too big for me.
Lots of activities for the teens and pre-teens and lots of activities for the adults, as well.
We chose this ship as a result of what we felt our needs were. Something for everybody including our 10 year old G-son and our 16 year old G-daughter. All told, there were eight of us on this cruise.
The cabins. The cabins for our group were on Deck 7 and right near the aft elevator banks. My wife and I were a bit forward of the elevators and our children and their families were a bit aft of the elevators. Deck 7 turned out to be very quiet and gave us quick and easy access either up or down. We used the elevators if our destination was three or four decks away and the stairs if only a couple of decks.
Near to the elevators and the stairs was the ship's library, which was rarely used by the passengers but worked almost as an extension of our cabins. I generally am awake several hours before my wife so the Library was a perfect spot for me whenever I was using those early morning hours to get some work done. It was also a great meeting spot for us all before leaving the ship on any tours or meeting for dinner.
The cabins were spacious enough for three and the adjoining cabins of our son and daughter's families made a great end-of-the-day meeting place since the verandahs were expandable by sliding the wall back against the bulkhead and making one large verandah with room enough for all. As for my wife and I, our verandah cabin was more than adequate with sufficient storage to squirrel-away all of our belongings. Nothing spectacular, but it all worked out.
Ship's staff. Cabin attendant was courteous and friendly and certainly did a good job. The rooms were clean and bathrooms spotless. Reaching around under the beds for the luggage or other items we'd stored there raised a cloud of dust mites. Seems that part of the cleaning check-list needs a bit more attention with the vac. Although we didn't use it all that often, Room Service was fast and accurate with the order. Ice and glasses whenever needed
Front desk, not much interaction with that staff other than a discussion with the tour desk about our disappointment with the one and only tour we booked with the ship, the "Scenic French Riviera". A huge dose of condescension from that group, sprinkled with a bit of arrogance. Our tour bus was totally unacceptable, with dirty windows and an edict from the driver to not to eat in his bus. Too bad if you brought an apple or two to stave off a hunger pain.
The tour desk clerk wanted to know why I was so concerned with dirty windows. When I explained that picture taking was impossible under those conditions, he got up on his very high perch to explain to me, way down on the stupid scale, that you can't take pictures from a bus anyway. Hmmm; I guess the pictures I've taken over the years aren't any good. I guess I'll have to discard them.
Food - well I was puzzled how they were going to feed 4,400 people, and very quickly the puzzle was solved. It's an easy task using the "buffet" concept. Breakfast - the dining room was out unless you could make it before 8:30 am. Otherwise, see you in the Windjammer Buffet where all of the little "kiddies" had to test the rolls, fruit, etc. with their dirty fingers before selecting one or none of what they touched. Admittedly, this is a parental or adult responsibility to deal with the issue since children do what children do unless corrected. Therefore, if we were having breakfast after 8:30 a.m., my solution was to take items high up on the buffet counter where the small ones couldn't reach.
Lunch - no dining room service; see you back at the Windjammer Buffet Lines. There were a few other lunch venues scattered about the ship, primarily on the pool deck and various places in the Royal Promenade, some of which were for additional cost. I won't comment on any of those since they didn't look all that appetizing.
For dinner we chose the "My Time Dining" option, which allowed for booking a reservation anytime between 6:00 & 9:30 pm. We chose "dinner at eight for eight". Your other choices would be main seating at 6:30 or 9:00 pm., neither of which would have worked for us. Another feature of the "My Time Dining" was the ability to change to a different time, if necessary. Dinner was in the Botticelli Dining Room.
The one time we were able to get to a dining room breakfast, was during the "at sea" day when the breakfast times were a more civilized 8 am to 10 am. However, we still couldn't escape the buffet concept because there also were buffet tables set-up in the Rembrandt Dining Room for breakfast. I knew there was trouble ahead when one of the servers indicated that the serve-yourself buffet would be faster than ordering by menu. Now there's a way to cut down on service requirements!
The quality of the food was mediocre, at best; and at its worst just plain awful! It was always a struggle to get a piece of rare beef. The "Prime Rib" (?), we were told, was always medium or well. Only one time did our waiter find something that was near the temperature we were looking for. After several days of trying, several days of complaining and several days of receiving the same result, it pretty much was as good as it was going to get. Almost any selection that you could make from the menu, was prepared long before and waiting somewhere on a warming table, ready for the next unknowing soul to have it served up to them. Hamburgers were always well done to over done, and it would be a fool's errand to try and find different. I tried the fish a couple of times and that too was served over cooked and dry, including the Salmon.
There were a couple of bright spots. Some of the pork selections were done with a bit of flair and succulence. There was some extra attention paid to one in our party who required gluten free selections and they seemed to respond to that situation well. If you wanted vegetables, there was an overabundance available and generally not cooked to mush. The few bright spots in the menu did pull up the overall score into the O.K. category. The deserts were a hit with the youngsters in our group and a few of the oldsters as well.
The Dining Room Staff - RCL may claim that they train their staffs, but it has nothing to do with knowledge of the food, menus or with customer service. Everything seemed to be a "bother" when it didn't fit the mold. They always seemed to be in a hurry and most certainly would tell you why that was - they were busy!
I don't remember a single time in the entire week that our table conversations weren't interrupted by one of the servers, who obviously had more important things to say to the group than anything we were discussing at the time. It was rude and impertinent, and what's worse, I don't believe that they had a clue that they were doing anything impolite.
That being said, there were a few bright spots and exceptions to the normal poor service. There were specific standouts such as the person in charge of the non-wine drinks in the area of our table. She was very energetic, helpful, polite and efficient. Nothing was too much to ask of her. Another one of the wait staff came by to ask if we needed anything when he saw us looking around for our waiter. He sprang into action and found what we'd needed. I'm sorry I didn't get their names because these people should be promoted immediately to handle the staff training. These were the Eastern Europeans who were the stars of the staff. Unfortunately, we had none of them assigned to our table. It was easy to see that they were happy to be there and they certainly enjoyed what they were doing, with a prime objective to see that the passengers enjoyed themselves, as well. RCL really needs to foster more of that kind of attitude.
We didn't feel the need to sample any of the surcharge restaurants, even though the food probably (hopefully!) would have been better than the mediocrity that we were served in the other venues. Besides, while the $20 per person upcharge for Portofino's, and the $30 upcharge per person for Chop's Grill would have taken a bigger bite out of our travel budget than we could handle. Oh, and one other restaurant had a cover charge - Johnny Rockets; $4.95 a person. I would only hope that there you might have been able to get a medium rare burger.
While smoking is not permitted in the cabins, smoking IS permitted out on the verandahs. Good luck with trying to enjoy an evening on your verandah with the wafting cigarette smoke blowing in from who knows where. The other big issue with the smoke occurs when strolling past any of the smoking bars (Boleros or Hoof & Claw, for example). Maybe the exhaust system wasn't working properly when we were on board, but it seemed Hoof and Claw polluted the Promenade sufficiently that some people had to leave the area. That was too bad, because The Promenade is an area that RCL touts to the little ones to come and see all of the cartoon characters.
There are designated non-smoking areas in the Casino, but the best you could hope for in those areas would be not to have a smoker at an adjoining slot machine. Since the "smoke" couldn't read, it wafted in and out of ALL areas indiscriminately.
One final comment is about the so-called "Alcohol" policy. Since most every place you'd care to go for entertainment has begun emulating the airlines by instituting baggage scanning and invasive personal searches (all for your own protection of course), it's now quite easy for the cruise lines to prevent anyone from bringing along any of their own liquid refreshments. As a matter of fact, RCL could and did prevent passengers from taking any food (lunch or snacks) off the ship nor would you be allowed to bring anything of the "food" category back with you when re-boarding.
But, back to the booze! We never were able to find out the official policy but we understood that you were allowed two bottles of wine per cabin. This was only at the port of departure and not at subsequent ports. Then we heard they'd changed the policy, so -- Caveat Emptor, I don't know what the situation is now. In our case we picked up some wine in Barcelona and put it into our carry-on and had no problem. Obviously that'd be a plus if the policy still stands. You can try it, but they do have the "booze police" at the scanners when you re-board so you can have it embargoed. You'll get it back at the end of the cruise, but I don't know what you'd do with it on a flight back to the U.S. When we were in Sorrento we got a bottle of Limoncello as a gift from a friend. When the guy at the scanner saw it I thought he was going to have a stroke! He yelled at the top of his voice "Limoncello, Limoncello here", but nobody came. We were holding up the line at the scanner and those behind us kept pushing to get through, so we kept moving right onto the elevator. In that case we had some added refreshment for the rest of the cruise.
In summary, I had no illusions of what to expect, since cruises of today are a far cry from what you might remember from the past. I just didn't think that it would be quite that bad. We chose the Liberty of the Seas because we believed that it would fit the needs of our family in transporting us between the various cities of the Mediterranean and would have sufficient on-board activities to keep us interested as we moved from place to place. Barcelona, Aix-en-Provence & Cassis, the Riviera, Rome, Pompeii and the Sorrento Peninsula, were the real objectives of the cruise and they were all fantastic ports-of-call. They were what we came to see and experience.
On the other hand, considering the cost of passage, I definitely would rank this at the low end of the "value for price paid" scale. There is no excuse for rudeness, incompetence, poor quality and lack of adequate training of the staff. It's a money-making, capitalistic venture, folks, and our ship was full! I guess that's testimony that whatever they're doing works.