Before this trip, I poured over reviews on this cruise line/ship and would like to pay it back with this review of our recent Liberty of the Seas cruise out of Barcelona on Oct 13-20. This was a 7 night cruise with 5 ports of call: Toulon, Villefranche, La Spezia, Rome, and Naples. We are a family of 4 from the US (My husband and I are 40 yrs old and 2 daughters, ages 11 and 10). This was only our second cruise. Our first being the Disney cruise 7 years ago.
Embarkation: Very easy. We booked a Jr Suite (9626) and embarkation took probably 20 min. I was very surprised by this. We were probably on board by 1pm. One note about bringing wine on board. I read (and devoured information) that we were allowed 2 bottles of wine per cabin on embarkation day. So hubby and I each packed 1 bottle of wine each in each of our carry-on and got through security with no questions asked. We also had some bottles of water but surprisingly, security didn't question one thing. After going through security, you enter a duty-free shop. What?! Why is this AFTER security? Believe me, I was pretty happy but then thought, maybe we have to got through security again? No, not the case. The lady in the wine shop told me that we were allowed TWO bottles of wine PER PERSON. WHAT!? I think she had her facts wrong but thought we could blame it on her if we were stopped. So, we bought two additional bottles of wine and had a total of 4 bottles of wine to enjoy on the cruise. There was no additional security after Duty-Free. Truth be told, we were pathetic and couldn't even drink all 4 bottles and ended up giving 1 bottle to our attendant at the end of cruise, lol!
Ship: I was a bit underwhelmed with the ship when we first boarded and toured around. The Promenade was not as impressive or grand as I thought it would be. I have to say, as the days went on, the ship grew on me. I don't have much to compare it to as we are not experienced cruisers but I would describe the ship as average to above average. There are some lounges, bars and public spaces that are very pretty indeed. Nice ship just no "wow" factor.
Cabin: Our Jr Suite (9626) was quite big! I was very surprised by this. The cabin was bigger than a lot of hotel rooms. Also, the closet is ginormous! Walk-in closet with more than enough room for the 4 of us. Plenty of closet and drawer space too. We even had drawers that went unused. The bathroom was just okay. Ours had a funny, mildewy smell but we got used to it. The shower had really good pressure, no complaints there. The balcony was a good size but we actually didn't use it as much as I thought we would. Our attendant was phenomenal, very helpful and respectful of making up the room when we weren't there. Halfway through the trip, we took advantage of the $25 laundry bag special. Stuff underwear, socks, T-shirts, etc in the bag, all for $25.
Food: After all the reviews I read, I had very low expectations for the food and I have to say my expectations were met. Too bad they weren't exceeded!! We had buffet breakfast in the Windjammer the first morning and never went back. It was truly awful and so crowded!! The breakfast in Rembrandt was better the next day but honestly, we just had muesli and fresh fruit and that served us well. You could order off a menu but they had a buffet that you could just get most hot foods yourself. The buffet did not look good so we pretty much stuck to muesli and cereal for the kids. Too bad. The next 3 days in the Italian ports were busy days so we ordered room service on those days. It was always delivered on the latter end of the time window (which was fine). Choices weren't plentiful, just cereal, breads, juice, coffee. Honestly, it was fine. For dinner, we chose My Time Dining and I'm so glad we did! Can't believe I analyzed that decision for more than a minute. We were very grateful not to be stuck to a time. 6pm would've been too early for those busy port days and 8:30 too late for a lot of the shows. With MTD, we just showed up in Botticelli (this is where they put MTD's, it's the exact same as Michaelangelo's one floor up. We only ate here 3 nights and all 3 nights were seated immediately. I had made a reservation for these nights but I never adhered to it and showed up sometimes 30 minutes later. They didn't seem to care. Two of the 3 nights, we had the same server. The food in Botticelli's was just okay. Some good, some not so good. The starters seemed to be better than the main courses.
Specialty restaurants - We ate at Chops Grille on the first night and it was awesome! Truly top notch food, well-worth the surcharge. We also ate at Portofino's. After eating there one night, we loved it so much we came back for another dinner. Steak and seafood that is out of this world. As good as any 5 star restaurant you've ever been to. Finally, we ate at Johnny Rockets for one dinner. I don't even like Johnny Rockets in the States but the kids really wanted to eat here and honestly, a burger sounded kind of good. The location of Johnny Rockets is weird. It's up on the pool deck, out of the way of everything. Even our server said she didn't like working there because it's so removed. The food was good, not the best burger you will have by a stretch, but pretty decent. For $5 surcharge/per person this was worth it to change it up. But why didn't they put Johnny Rockets in the Promenade? That would make more sense. They should really get rid of Ben & Jerry's (so 1990's also who wants to Ben & Jerry's on an Italian cruise when you've got the world's best gelato at every port?) and also the Cupcake Cupboard. This place is a joke! As a treat one night, we all came here for cupcakes and they were the worst cupcakes I've ever had, no joke. Very dry, I think they were made on the previous cruise. Of course, we would never do the cupcake decorating class as that seems like such a waste of money when there are so many other things to spend money on. Finally, we ate a late lunch at Sorrento's Pizza (also in the Promenade) on embarkation day. I had read that people thought this was the best pizza they'd ever had. Huh? They obviously, didn't get off the boat and grab a pizza in Naples. But seriously, the pizza was about on par with school lunch pizza. Truly, it was that average. I don't mean to gripe so much about the food as we always found things to eat, but it took a little work (and extra $ at the specialty restaurants) to do so.
Drink: We did not get the alcohol or wine package as we knew we wouldn't be on the ship that much with so many ports of call. Just a heads up for those of you wondering about prices, the first time we went up to the bar, we saw the menu that said beers were $4.25. We thought "hey, that's not so bad!". Well, that $4.25 when you are all said and done with the 10% Spanish VAT and 20% gratuity is actually $7.55. Yikes! Now, THAT is a lot IMHO. So, we enjoyed our wine that we brought on board in our room before dinner and all had Arnold Palmer's for dinner, LOL! No really, we had drinks here and there but certainly kept our bar bill in check. For the kids we got one soda package to share and I'm glad we did. Yes, you heard that right, the kids shared the soda package and I'm not ashamed one bit! At $45 for soda for 7 days, and having spent nearly $5000 with RC, I think they should've included soda. Disney does this. We weren't on the ship very much and probably had one coke/day. I think RC made money off our one $45 soda package so don't judge us, just do it yourself:)
Kids Club: Our cruise apparently had only 200 kids onboard so kids club was so quiet that they had to combine the 6-8 year olds with the 9-11 year olds. Our 10 and 11 year old were not thrilled with this. They went to kids club on the "at sea" day and did not like being grouped with the younger kids. However, they LOVED the arcade and I think they spent most of our shipboard credit here:) They also met some other girls their age at the pool and arcade that they hung out with throughout the week. Tip: twice during the week, in our nightly compass newsletter, they announced the next day would be 50% off arcade games. Keep this in mind and maybe have your kids hold off for spending all your money on these days:)
Shows: Really good! We saw Up in the Air, Saturday Night Fever, and the ice show. All were very entertaining and worth it to try to get to. Saturday Night Fever was so professionally done, could've been something we saw on Broadway. The set design was that good. My kids loved all the shows as well, very family friendly.
Activities: We didn't participate in many activities but let me tell you, you will not be bored on this ship! Take a look at the cruise compass when you get onboard and you'll see what I mean. There is something for everyone. Since this particular cruise was so port-intensive, we just didn't have time to sample many of the activities but wish we could have. Also, I have to mention, I booked this cruise because of all the great kid amenities, i.e. climbing wall, flow rider, ice skating rink, mini golf, etc. Guess how many my kids got to sample? My kids only went ice skating once and that was it! They thought the flow rider looked too dangerous (btw, I wouldn't do it either. Looked fun but kind of hard), and they just ran out of time for all of the other activities!!
Service: The service on the ship was wonderful. We met so many friendly people and they really went out of their way to help us. These are people who are away from their families for 10 months at a time and many of them have young children/babies back home. Take a moment to get to know these wonderful people. We did and met some great people!
Ports of Call:
Toulon - really nothing special. I don't know why RC stops here. Do yourself a favor and take it easy as the next few days are insanely hectic. It was a hassle to get into the town of Toulon and all the the various means cost $. We walked about 15 min to a water taxi, had to wait for over 30 min and pay $20 euros total to take us into town. Once in town, wasn't much to do as market wasn't open. Just walked around and went back to boat.
Villefranche - we really enjoyed this port and no reason to do an expensive RC tour here. Tender boats take you to the port and this was easy and free. 5 min walk to train station and then 20 min ride to Monaco. We had a great day in Monaco. Went up to the Botanical Gardens for a great view of the city and sea and then took bus to the palace. Really recommend visiting the palace. Included audio guide which was very informative and interesting. Casino was also nice to see although kids weren't allowed inside.
La Spezia - We booked a tour with RomeInLimo to see Pisa and Florence. Wow, jam packed day! Pisa was more impressive than I thought it would be although we were very rushed. Florence, of course, is amazing. This was my 3rd visit to this city, so everything we saw was really for the kids benefit.
Rome - Booked another tour with RomeInLimo. Highly recommend this company! Look them up on Tripadvisor. I would not have wanted to be on one of those RC bus tours - yuck! With RIL, we had our own tour guide and van. He was able to take us to all the spots in the city that a bus would not be able to get to.
Naples - Booked a tour of Sorrento, Positano, and Pompeii with SeeAmalfiCoast.com. We liked our tour guides better with RomeInLimo but these sites were truly beautiful and I'd never been to the Amalfi Coast before so I really enjoyed it. Weather was spectacular in all these ports too!
One note about re-boarding the boat after ports. I was under the impression that you were beholden to RC for bottles of water but we always bought water in ports and brought them back on ship with us. They never questioned or stopped us once. I did see they snagged some larger bottles of alcohol from folks and had them marked for storage (will return when cruise is complete) but I wonder if you bought smaller bottles of alcohol, if they would stop you. I say this because we bought a smaller, irregular shaped bottle of limoncello as a gift, along with several small bottles of olive oil, and once again, never stopped us or questioned us. I think they are looking for just the big wine bottles?
Debarkation: We decided to carry our luggage off ourselves and so glad we did. We could leave when we wanted to and not have to wait in some lounge to have our names called and then go find our luggage. We got off the boat pretty quickly but the taxi line was HUGE!! It was over an hour wait until we got a taxi. If you are scrambling to go to the airport, I think they have transfer options that would be better for you. We were going into the city for one more day of sightseeing before our flight home the following day, so taxi line it was!
Summary: We had a really fabulous vacation and made great memories with our kids that will last a lifetime. Would we sail on this particular ship again? Probably not. Will we go on another cruise again? Probably, but not for a couple of years, only because there are so many other kinds of vacations that we enjoy (beach, adventure, skiing, etc). Would we recommend this cruise and ports of call? I actually would. I think it's a great way to visit all of these destinations without having to pack and unpack your bags. It was the perfect vacation for the kids because they got to enjoy all of the shipboard amenities which my husband and I were able to give them a little freedom and enjoy some time by ourselves too. Was the cruise a good value? NO!! I think overall, the cruise is pretty expensive in relation to what is actually included and what is extra $. For our family of 4, airfare to Barcelona, 4 nights in hotel in Barcelona, 7 night cruise, excursions, food, etc, we probably spent $15k. Yikes! Really great vacation but don't be fooled into thinking this is a great value.