Liberty of the Seas Cruise Review by Quem_Fala: Good transportation and good hotel between ports
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Good transportation and good hotel between ports
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 More 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. Less
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Cabin review: G7628 Oceanview Stateroom
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
Port and Shore Excursions
We spent 2 1/2 days, pre-cruise, in Barcelona. Although we'd been there before, our children and their families had not. It was a fantastic "hit" with everybody. We have a 10 year old who was just overwhelmed with what he saw, loved everything especially the soccer stadium where Lionel Messi plays. Our 16-year old G-Daughter was enthralled and overwhelmed with the "eye-candy" of the city. My wife and I had lived in BCL over twenty-years ago and I was surprised that my wife picked Barcelona as the best port of the trip. The family loved it, our Daughter, who is a fantastic "foody", would give it an A++.
I would say that each of us would re-visit, but next time spend a week not two days, especially our son's family having come from Southern California and a 24-hour flight to get there.
RCL canceled Livorno and substituted LaSpezia for the jumping off port for Pisa and Florence. Livorno wasn't much; we'd been there three times and each time it rained, but at least it was a town that you could walk to from the ship and it had a bit more character and history.
The ship's daily Cruise Compass boasted about La Spezia that in the 1800's Napoleon first planned to develop La Spezia into a major naval base. It has since become one of Italy's main military and commercial harbors. It also serves as gateway to Florence, Pisa and the rest of the beautiful Tuscan and Ligurian countryside.
U-m-mm! Not a lot written there about the city of La Spezia? That should have been a clue! What we saw of it was a bit old and worn out, it appeared that it lacked the T.L.C. we'd seen in our previous stops. Maybe we stopped here because RCL wanted to help spread a little cash into the local economy. The town wasn't warm or inviting in any way. I would say that if you en up there and don't plan to take any tours (Florence, Pisa or Cinque Terre), just stay on the ship.
One of the downsides to cruising on a mega-ship like the Liberty of the Seas is that its immense size (approx..30 foot draft) forces the ship to use only the larger commercial ports on its itinerary, totally missing some of the smaller and more picturesque spots along the way. Consequently, the ship's port mates were more of the working-vessel variety, such as container ships, oil tankers, car ferries and sometimes even naval vessels. Not a great choice for the view.
Toulon was just such a place. Although the ship's daily info sheet (Cruise Compass) touted Toulon as being "nestled between mountainous terrain and the azure waters of the Mediterranean, the seafaring town of Toulon boasts one of the most beautiful harbors in Europe. . . .and is home to the premier French naval base." Well, I don't know about that! Where we docked the only thing we were "nestled between" were some car ferries, a broken down aircraft carrier that needed a lot of paint and bunch of cargo ships off-loading cargo.
This is the first stop in our week of cruising and we were anxious to get out and see the countryside. For our shore tour we settled on Transferts Services and its owner Delphine Segret. They came highly recommended by Cruise Critic Members. Contacting them and getting confirmation of our booking was fast, easy and complete. All by e-mail. We had to make a couple of changes as the months passed due to changes to the ship's arrival and departure times, but that too was handles seamlessly. Our driver and guide's name was Johan. And our first stop of the day was Aix-en-Provence, about an hour's drive Northwest of Toulon
Pick up at the port was very prompt, had our names correct and new precisely where we were going and what we wanted to see. Driver/guide was very polite and considerate of all of us. He was knowledgeable about the areas we visited and made us feel welcome everywhere we went.
The home of Cezane and a lot of French poets. There is lots of history and plenty of photo opportunities here. It's a wonderful city to walk through and sample the sweets and pastries in the many shops along the way. We ended our short visit walking down the Cours Mirabeau; what a street! We were told that Cours Mirabeau was the street that you mentioned whenever you were going to meet someone in Aix; like "I'll see you on the Cours Mirabeau"!
Cassis Walking Tour
Cassis is about 32 miles SE of AIX, just about mid-way back to Toulon, and both are in the region called Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, and part of an area called Bouches-du-Rhone. Cassis is on the southern coast of France, just east of Marseilles. It's in the Bandol (?) wine region and is famous for its white and rose wines, some of which we tried while we were there. It's an absolutely gorgeous town, tucked in between two notable sites, the Calanques and the Cap Canaille Mountain, the highest sea-cliff in Europe. The best I can describe what a "Calanque" is would be that it's an inlet or a bay of the Mediterranean flanked by the local chalk-white cliffs.
Cassis was a picturesque and scenic town and well worth the effort to go there. If it weren't for the ever present crowds it would be like a step back in time. Very clean and just brimming with interesting restaurants, bakeries and candy shops just waiting for you to try their wares. It's on the Bay of Cassis, quite compact in area, and snuggled right up to the shore line of the Bay. It appeared to us that nearly every square inch of space is taken up by some kind of a shop, Patisserie or restaurant. Originally we were going to book a boat tour from the harbor, which would have taken us out on the bay to view the white cliffs and the town of Cassis. However, although it was an absolutely spectacular day, warm and crystal clear, the wind was blowing in from the Mediterranean, with enough force to play havoc with a couple of the restaurants by blowing down some of the signage and cleaning off the tops of the outdoor tables. It's the "Mistral", we were told. It comes and goes depending upon the temperature of the Mediterranean, but when it comes its winds can reach 60 to 70 miles an hour. I don't think we saw anything like that during our stay there, but it was strong enough to keep us off the boats
Pompeii Walking Tour
When we booked our tour with Rome in Limo Tours, they suggested that we hire a Pompeii-specific guide to walk us through the ruins and explain what we were seeing. While not absolutely necessary, it was a good decision to do it that way. Armed with the proper guide books, I think doing it yourself is possible, but certainly would take more time than we'd allocated.
Our guide was waiting for us when we arrived at the parking area just outside of the entry gates to the Pompeii ruins. He rounded us all up, explained how we were going to progress through the venue and off we went. We saved a couple of Euros on entry tickets as he took our Grand-children ahead of us and through a different gate where they didn't have to pay. As the day progressed I realized the guide was worth every Euro cent that he cost. Very knowledgeable, sincere and patient with our questions, he made the experience pleasant, fun and educational. I'm sure he'd done the same dance hundreds of times before, but he never seemed to be bored with our incessant questioning. Also, knowing our limited time frame he steered us to the most important of the sites and those with the most interesting stories.
It's amazing how vast these digs are! I think the size of the original town was somewhere around 150 acres. The idea is to envision what it must have been like 2000 year ago! You are walking the same cobble-stoned streets and walking into the shops and homes of the people who lived there, all those many years ago. The House of Lucius Caecillus Jucundus, the House of the Faun, the Forum Baths, or the Temple of Jupiter. There's the Theatre, the Municipal Office, the Market Place, and the Gladiator's barracks. And, so many more. It's a bit eerie but fascinating at the same time.
Positano Walking Tour
If it were up to us to judge, Positano's specialty was the scenery. The town just clings to the cliffs that rise hundreds of feet from the Bay and is a photographer's delight. Hours could be spent just walking and shooting pictures. Earlier we talked about "Limoncello", a liqueur bought, served and sampled all over this part of Italy. The Amalfi Coast is especially known for its version of this Italian favorite. The area is a large producer of lemons, known as sfusato amalfitano, so it makes sense that an off-shoot of the many lemon groves would be a substantial amount of Limoncello produced in the region.
We spent our time in Positano on Piazza dei Mulini which was a very busy shopping street, the end of which led to the beach. I saw why we parked as soon as we entered town. If it wasn't a Vespa, it wasn't moving, let alone able to find a spot to park a car or van on the street. The end of the street was connected to a narrow downhill path and some occasional flights of steps that lead to the beach, below. The youngsters in our group split up their time between shopping on Piazza dei Mulini and getting down to the beach, while my wife and I just hung around the shops checking out what was being offered; shops selling ceramics, lemons, shoes, fashion clothing, shoes, and more shoes.
We came across the Sorrento Peninsula, over the mountains and approached Sorrento on the road alternately called "Via Nastro Azzuro" and "Via Nastro Verde". As we crested the final hill and turned onto the "Via Capo" we had the whole valley, the Bay and the city of Sorrento laid out in front of us in spectacular fashion. Not only did we have the great views of the city, but during the last 4 or 5 miles of the drive into town, we were surrounded by grape vines and lemons. Not so much lemon "groves", but more like lemon trees planted by everybody who had a spot to plant one. No wonder we were overwhelmed by the availability of Limoncello. It was the local "White Lightning"! Every country in the world must have some kind of a local brew made from whatever is available. Brasil has their cacha?a or pinga, we have White Lightning and I guess the Italians have Limoncello!It was pretty and picturesque from a distance and didn't disappoint when we arrived. While it is in close proximity to Naples, it's as different from Naples as night and day. Although we only passed through Naples on our departure from the ship, the ever-present graffiti and trash littered streets which were "paved" with potholes, wasn't what we saw in Sorrento. It's as though there was an invisible fence of some sort that separated Sorrento from its surroundings and welcomed visitors in a much friendlier fashion. It seemed very evident that tourism was king and the locals intended to make the most of it with as inviting experience as they could.
Don't bother. A lot of people sitting on an outdoor flight of steps. However, if you want to do some serious shopping, this is the place. Every known brand name in the world must have a shop here.
St. Peter's Basilica
Too much to see in one day. We booked a private tour with driver and English speaking guide for the Vatican and several noted landmarks, such as the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. Because we insisted upon having a good Italian lunch, we did cut short on our sight-seeing schedule, but lunch was such fun we didn't think we'd missed much. Kidding aside, pick one of two things to see and "see" them well. There are many more knowledgeable people who could give you better "tips" about Rome. Mine would only be to have a good guide and if you're going to the Vatican get the pre-paid admissions.Oh, and come back and spend a week there!
Our tour company was O.K., although I expected a full-time English speaking guide. Ours only joined us once we were at the Vatican and left us at the Spanish Steps. He knew his stuff, but we were looking for more. a fun fact, our driver looked just like Marcello Mastroianni, so we never did remember his name, it was always "Marcello". I asked him to get into the Trevi Fountain but my Italian wasn't good enough for him to get the "joke".
Take some coins and go. Try to find an empty spot to sit along the rim of the fountain and have your picture taken while you throw in your coins. Everybody does it!
Wonderful experience, learned a lot. This where our English-speaking guide really shined. Pointing out little known facts and helping us through by selecting only the best highlights in our limited time. Would go again.
This tour was a bust! It was a way to kill a few hours, but the bus was hot, the windows were filthy (couldn't get a decent picture through the foggy glass), and the driver was more concerned about people eating on his bus than showing us a good time. The tour narrator was somewhat knowledgeable, but tiring in her attempt be entertaining instead of instructive. We made a couple of "picture" stops along the Corniche. Next on the tour was the walled city of Eze. The problem was we had very little time to see anything. By the time you fought your way through the tourist to the top of the hill, it was near time to return to the bus. However, We should have done more research on this little town (Villefranche sur Merbefore) we arrived. Had we done that, I'm sure we would have foregone the bus trip to Monaco and Nice, and spend our time right there. The little we were able to see, Villefranche looked to be a perfect place to while away a lazy afternoon. There were enough interesting looking bistros and small restaurants, right along the Quai de la Cordiere, which overlooked water and just seemed to be inviting the thirsty and hungry tourist to come in for a couple of cocktails, a few snacks, and to pass the afternoon watching the world go by.
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