Kidless couple aboard the Liberty of the Seas 12/12 sailing
We just returned from an awesome cruise on the Liberty of Seas. It was our first cruise without our kids since we became parents (Yay!) It was long overdue and we had sooooo much fun. I think we were like kids at Christmas time. We were so excited to be able to take part in activities that we don’t always get to enjoy when we have our kids with us. This was my 22nd cruise. I've sailed on NCL, Carnival, RCL, Princess, HAL, Celebrity, MSC, Norwegian and Disney.
Embarkation- We flew in from Atlanta the morning of the cruise. We reserved a car through Alamo for the day we disembarked. Before we left the airport I wanted to inquire about the return shuttle pick up. While I was there I also asked whether the shuttle would take us to the pier even though our rental was scheduled for the return. The guy didn’t know and told us to show our confirmation to the shuttle driver and see what happened. The driver was fine with it. Yay! We got roundtrip transportation to the pier. Note to self- book with Alamo again.
I was determined to get to the pier early because of all the reported troubles with embarkation. We arrived at the pier around 10:15. The porters weren’t even out yet. We kept our luggage with us. We waited outside for the security screening to begin. Around 11am security opened the doors and the check-in process started. There were only about 30 people in front of us. So we sailed right on through. After we got our paperwork we were sent upstairs to the “holding room”. Around noon we began to board. It was probably the longest I’d waited ever to board and we were at the front of the line. My husband went to get snacks from the vending machine about 11:30 and said the line had gotten really long. Also, later that day at the muster drill we came across some agitated cruisers who were complaining about how long it took them to board. I guess arriving early had an advantage.
Cabins- Staterooms were not ready when we boarded. We proceeded to the Windjammer which was also not crowded yet. (Another perk of arriving earlyïŠ). Our cabin was nice. We booked category PR- Promenade 7615. It was my second time in a Promenade cabin. Everything was clean and in working order. It would have been nice to have a few more drawers but it was adequate especially for a short cruise. I liked having two loveseats. We had plenty of seating. The interesting thing is that we thought we might hear noise from the mall area late at night. We didn’t really. Instead we heard our neighbor’s television. I think they slept with it on or just stayed up really late. We heard it several times throughout the night. We had an adjoining cabin. If you are sensitive about noise, I’d avoid the adjoining cabin. Another small gripe, the window was scummy. It made it really difficult to see clearly. Our Promenade view was covered in haze.
Food- We had My Time Dining. We ate our dinners in the Botticelli. We usually went in the 5:30-6:30 timeframe. We never experienced any significant wait times. I would say that food was on par with most lines. Some dishes were better than others. I had a few really good soups and some terrific appetizers. I don’t know what it is about cruise ships and desserts but I couldn’t find one worth mentioning. Including the dry cupcake I had at the Cupcake Cupboard. The presentation always looked so good and then the taste never lived up to the appearance. We ate breakfasts and lunches in the Windjammer and I never really waited in any long line. RCL has mastered this. Our last cruise on the Carnival Breeze had horrible wait times to eat.
We ate in Chops one night also. When we first called about a reservation they said they were booked for the entire cruise. I found that hard to believe so I told my husband we should just stop by in person. When we did they gave us a 5:30 time slot. When we first arrived there were only 4 other people there. By the time we were leaving (7:00) about 30% of the tables were full. I don’t know how they define “booked solid” but it wasn’t the same as my definition. Even taking into account they wanted fewer tables per server for better service. They still appeared to have the capacity for more. Lesson learned either book Chops early or be persistent. ïŠ
Service- I found service to be great on this cruise, whether it was the bar staff or the Cruise Director. We were greeted with genuine smiling faces that seemed willing to help.
Entertainment/Shows- This is where RCL really excels in my eyes. We rock climbed, surfed took salsa dance lessons. Although I don’t think what I did qualifies as surfing. I wiped out over and over again. I had fun trying though. The variety of entertainment available surpasses most other lines IMO. The Ice Show was great. I really loved the show On Air. It was more of Cirque de Soleil type show. We also played The Quest. My husband and I were captains of Team 3. We had a blast the entire way through this cruise.
Cruise Critic Party- There wasn’t an official one since this was a 4 night cruise. I didn’t get to the Pool Bar to meet the unofficial party we organized on our own. I did get to meet malariamom and her husband the first night of the cruise. I think we ran into each other 5 times a day thereafter. A very sweet couple we enjoyed spending time with.
Kid's Club – Since our kids weren’t with us this cruise, we have no firsthand experience with the club. I did tour the facilities and looked at the daily activities.
Disembarkation - This process was fairly smooth too. We chose self-embarkation. The times for those who chose to self- disembark were 7:30 and 10:00. We missed the 7:30 (too early) but didn’t want to wait around until 10 either. Instead we left about 8:30 and we were at the airport shortly past 9:00. We basically walked straight off. Then we experienced a few winding lines (though constantly moving) to get through customs. I see why it took so long to board the ship though. The last color wasn’t scheduled to be called until almost 11. We walked over to the shuttle pick up area and within 10 minutes we were on the Alamo shuttle headed for the airport.
Port - Cozumel Rio Secreto on our own!
We have been to Cozumel many times before. We have already done most of the excursions that held some appeal to us. We were looking for something a little different and decided to go to Rio Secreto. http://www.riosecreto.com/ The reviews on Trip Advisor and CC were so favorable that this became a must do for us. RCL does offer this excursion on some sailings as the Amazing Secret River and Cavern. For some reason, they changed course and decided not to offer it for our particular sailing. We still really wanted to go, so I begin to research doing this excursion on our own. I knew the time schedule would be tight but thanks to daylight savings time. I felt it was doable.
We had hoped to catch the 7am ferry to Playa (8am ship time) however, we were just approaching to pier at 7:30. By the time we cleared customs and were able to debark (the Liberty docks at the International Pier) it was 7:50. We didn’t have to wait for a cab ($8 per cab) but it was still about 8:05 (ship time) by the time we reached the ferry to Playa. The ferry must have been punctual because we couldn’t even see it in the distance. So, we waited for the next ferry 9am (ship time). This was great because most of the ferry schedules posted online showed no 9am ferry (ship time). There was in fact one that day. The ferry ride ($13pp each way) lasted about 40 minutes. Cabs were plentiful around the Playa pier. We made the mistake of getting a van to take us ($20 per cab) we later found out that we paid a premium for the van ride. An ordinary cab was ($13 per cab). We were pulling up at Rio around 10am (ship time). We booked the 10am tour (Cozumel time) however, we were glad to see that that was flexible. There were two tours about to depart when we arrived and we were able to join in with the 9am tour (Cozumel time).
The tour started with a brief video about the caves. Then we boarded another van which took us closer to the entrance. The van ride was very bumpy. I think every pothole in Playa must have been on this route. Anyway about 10 long minutes later we arrived. Along the way there were signs warning about wildlife, snakes, jaguars and coyotes etc. I’m thinking jaguars??? Do they like caves?
Our tour guide – Alfredo was there to greet us. He ushered us to the lockers to store all our belongings. Warning to all camera junkies (myself included) no cameras are permitted. They do have a photographer that follows you the entire time and takes your pictures. They are available for $$$ at the end of the tour. Then we donned their wetsuits, water shoes, life vests and helmets. A short 5-10 minute walk later we were descending into the cave.
I’m a bit of a chicken when it comes to some things. I don’t like to swim when fish are around me (snorkeling is out of the question. I don’t even swim in the ocean.) You know how people say the animals are more afraid of you then you are of them? Not true in my case. I’m more afraid of them then they are of me. Also, I describe myself as having claustrophobic tendencies. I am fine with elevators and things like that, but if I had to crawl through a 3ft by 3ft tunnel. I’d have a problem. So you might be wondering why in the world I would even be on a tour like this? So was I the second we took our first step down into the cave. Seriously though, some of my best experiences have occurred when I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone. So, I try and do that from time to time. I also discovered that the darkness of the cave exacerbated my fears. I began to think maybe I had seen Alien v/s Predator and the Cave too many times to complete this tour. All these fears joined together and stopped me dead in my tracks.
Alfredo noticed the sheer look of terror on my face and tried to calm me down. For a brief minute I considered returning to the lockers to wait for the tour to end. The beautiful, well lit, shots that you see on Secreto’s website….all flash photography. There is NO light down there! It’s a cave so I knew there would be limited lighting, however this was total darkness. Other than the flashlight our guide was carrying and the lights mounted to our helmets we were in total darkness. At one point when we turned off all of our lights we literally could not see our hands in front of our faces. I’ll admit the first 15 minutes or so I didn’t notice any of the caves beauty. I was just scared and cold. After I got used to it though, the cave was really amazing. All of the stalactites and stalagmites, the crystal clear water. It was definitely an amazing sight. I was glad we didn’t have our 6yr old with us though. I think she would have been too scared to make it through the tour. There was a lady who couldn’t swim on the tour. Swimming isn’t necessary. The life vests are all you need to float your way through the tour.
We were exiting the cave 2 hours later, about 11:30(Cozumel time). This is where there is also some flexibility for cruise travelers. They advertise the tour length as 3 ½ hours. However, the next part of the tour was the Mexican lunch, viewing the photos, liquor tasting and browsing souvenirs. It was easy to speed up this part of the tour to save time. We were more concerned about making the return ferry than participating in any of this stuff. So, we grabbed a quick bite, got a CD of the photos taken ($69) and headed for the return shuttle van. Once we were back at the entrance, they called a cab for us ($13) and we were on our way back. It was a 10-15 minute drive back to the ferry. We were able to catch the 1:00(Cozumel time) ferry. Once we made it back to Cozumel we walked to Punta Langosta pier and shops. We did a little shopping and then grabbed a cab back to the International Pier. I worried for nothing we made it back to the ship with over an hour to spare. Rio Secreto was an awesome experience definitely an excursion worth doing. In the end I was glad I conquered my fear. It was a once in a lifetime experience. I have never done anything like that before.
Post cruise FLL- Since our plane didn’t leave until 7:30pm. We planned to rent a car and explore the Everglades. We chose Alamo because they were among the few rental companies that shuttled you from the pier to the airport. You could tell they were accustomed to rapid turnover. Once we reached the airport, we checked in at a kiosk and were driving off fifteen minutes later. Our first stop was the Shark Valley Tram tour ($22pp). http://www.sharkvalleytramtours.com/ It took us about an hour to get there. I wanted to do this one because it was about two hours long. We wanted to make sure we got to see wildlife and I figured a longer tour would increase our odds. It turned out really nice. We saw many alligators and various birds. It was really nice. Warning there is no food there. Make sure you eat before you come.
When we left we headed to Everglades Safari Park. http://www.evergladessafaripark.com/ It was about 10 minutes away from Shark Valley. They were advertising a really cheap Groupon prior to the cruise. It was irresistible so we decided to stop here also. It was about a 30 minute airboat tour where we saw more alligators, turtles and various species of birds. It gave a different vantage point being on the water and we were glad we did both. I did agonize over which airboat tour to take. A read reviews of Cooperstown, Holiday Park etc. Other than the length of time on the boat I truly think we would have seen the same things on any of the airboat tours. I do think that Everglades Safari was very concerned about the care and treatment of the wildlife. They don’t do alligator wrestling…it shortens their lifespan. They seem to have a great respect and concern for the wildlife. If things like this are important to you, it is another distinction between the parks.
Again it was a great cruise. I missed my little princesses and thought of them often. However, it was great to get away and have some time alone with my husband. RCL’s maiden voyage of the Quantum is next up for us, if I can wait that long to cruise again.