DAY 1 - ARRIVAL The anticipation of sailing on a brand new ship, the largest in the world no less, for a two-night pre-inaugural sailing was exciting to say the least. I've never had the opportunity to be one of the first to sail on a brand new ship so this was doubly exciting for me.
I sailed with several Cruise Critic staff (LauraS, Host Karen and our Publisher, Kathleen) along with Host Karen's wonderful husband, Ed and a variety of Cruise Critic members. I'm very grateful to Cruise Critic and Royal Caribbean for their warm hospitality in providing an unforgettable two night stay onboard Liberty of the Seas.
I arrived on the east coast on Sunday afternoon and spent the night with family in eastern Pennsylvania. Early on Monday morning, my sister-in-law was kind enough to drive me over to Newark airport where I met RCI personnel to catch a shuttle to the ship. I arrived at 9:30 AM and the shuttles began running promptly at 10:00 AM. After picking up additional passengers at all the terminals, we made our way to Port Liberty in Bayonne. It was a short 15 minute bus ride. It's always fun to watch folks get on the shuttle with huge smiles on their face. After all, we were about to embark on a brand new beautiful ship. How could we be anything but ecstatic? I had the pleasure of sitting next to a crew member on the shuttle - Dexter who is one of the sports staff that runs the rock climbing wall. Right off the bat, it was great to chat with a crew member getting ready for their first contract on Liberty. Dexter hailed from Trinidad and was ready to help passengers have a great time on Liberty.
Once at the port, we went through security (no more than a five minute wait) and entered the terminal. We quickly (less than five minutes) had our cabin keys and then worked our way over to the spot where they were taking your security photo. We then were asked to have a seat until they began allowing passengers to board. Cookies and refreshments (water & lemonade, I think) were available. Because the ship docks quite a ways from the terminal, small shuttles were provided to take us to the ship. We were given shuttle numbers that were called in order.
In less than 30 minutes, our number was called and we were on our way to board Liberty.
As there were no porters to take luggage on this cruise, all passengers had to hand carry luggage on and off the ship. That meant taking the elevator up to deck nine where we'd be residing. We were told that cabins wouldn't be ready until 1:30 so we left luggage in the hallway and went up two more decks to the Windjammer.
WINDJAMMER I like the way the Windjammer is laid out in different stations. You have to learn what is at what station but once you've got if figured out, it's pretty easy. There's a salad station as you enter the restaurant, followed by a hot entrEe and pasta area. Further back, a carving station with breads, more hot entrEe choices, along with a grill station. In the morning, the back grill station is where you can get eggs and omelets cooked to order.
You'll find plenty of seating around the Windjammer. We enjoy sitting at the very back of the ship where you can watch the wake from your table. Lunch was outstanding. Honey stung chicken, which is always available in the Windjammer on Sailaway, is one of my favorite dishes they offer. I had a side of pasta and my first meal on Liberty was a big hit. Coffee, water, ice tea and lemonade stations were found back in this area as well.
NOTE: All staff encountered to this point in time were extremely pleasant and seemed happy to be on Liberty.
CABIN Following lunch, we made our way back to our cabin and unpacked. I think the Freedom class ships have the best standard cabins and balconies at sea. They are somewhat wider than normal, allowing for people to actually pass each other in the cabin without someone climbing over something. There is lots of storage, a flat screen TV, new comfy pillow top beds and an standard balcony that also is slightly larger than you'll find on other ships. Our cabin was close to mid ship so it was a bit of a walk to a set of stairs/elevators. It's a really long way from the front of Liberty to the rear.
CRUISE CRITIC GATHERING After packing, it was time to head down to the Champagne bar where we planned an informal, "unofficial" meet and mingle with the Cruise Critic Members on board. Nearly 40 people showed up and as always, it's great to put faces with the names we chat with frequently on Cruise Critic.
Our Cruise Critic gathering was barely over and it was time for muster drill. It was a pretty typical drill that lasted about 30 minutes. There is a new type of life jacket that has what I'd term a "neck ring" around the padding behind your head. As another Cruise Critic member mentioned, it's very uncomfortable and for those of us who are claustrophobic (I am slightly), it feels very restrictive around you neck. I also wish RCI would not ask folks to put their life jackets on before heading down the stairs. It's very dangerous to walk down the stairs with life jackets on and with the new neck ring, it makes it even more difficult to see where you are going. It never made sense to me to make you wear the life jacket down the stairs and then after they line you up outside, they demonstrate how to put your life jacket on. Muster drill was conducted outside and it was a bit chilly so I was glad I grabbed a sweatshirt before I left the cabin.
SAILAWAY RECEPTION Immediately after the drill, it was time for Sailaway. RCI had invited their internet partners (that included our Cruise Critic members) to a reception in the Olive or Twist section of the Viking Crown lounge. While I typically enjoy Sailaway on the open deck, this was a perfect Sailaway to be indoors as it was pretty cold by the time the ship started moving. Adam Goldstein, president of Royal Caribbean attended the reception and took time to speak individually with those present. Captain Zini did a FANTASTIC job for Sailaway and actually took us up river to sail past the Statue of Liberty. He did a 360 degree turn in front of her before heading out to see. For me, this was one of the highlights of the cruise. Liberty sailing in from of Liberty! It was awesome!!!! Thanks, Captain Zini!
MAIN DINING ROOM As we had less than 48 hours on board, the pace of activities was pretty hectic. Immediately after the reception, we headed to dinner. We had been assigned Main Dining (6:30 PM). While there were no table assignments, they did pre-assign main or late dining times. We were a few minutes late arriving due to the reception and ended up on the lowest floor (deck 3) of the dining room. This is a spectacular room if you haven't had the chance to see it on Freedom.
It's three stories, has a marvelous chandelier, and had a sweeping staircase at the rear of the dining room where musical entertainment performs. We has a special treat as we unexpectedly randomly had a WONDERFUL waiter (Hakan from Turkey) whom Host Karen had on a previous cruise on Brilliance. One of the things that is special about cruising is the wonderful crew you meet and see again on a later cruise. Hakan made our dining experience a lot of fun. The food in the dining room was very good, particularly the beef filet on the second night. I skipped desserts but everyone said they were very good. ICE SHOW After dinner we decided to take in the ice show. Always a popular attraction on RCI Voyager and Freedom class ships, I'm continued to be amazed at what these skaters can do on such a small sheet of ice. This was by far the best ice show I've seen on an RCI ship (I think I've seen five others). The skaters were extremely talented, the show had a great theme, the music and skating were fantastic and probably most importantly, you could tell the skaters were having a great time. I love when you can tell people enjoy what they are doing. It definitely came across in this show. Don't miss it.
ONCE UPON A TIME PRODUCTION SHOW You'll see a theme here....we'd go from one venue to the next because we wanted to take it all in. The production show with the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers took place after the ice show (it was 11:00 PM). I think we were all getting tired and while the performers were quite talented, the show itself didn't have the wow factor that the ice show did. We headed back to our cabins about half way through the show to get some much needed sleep.
DAY 2 - AT SEA While the sun was shining when we got up on Tuesday morning, it was rather cold outside. No chair hogs on this cruise. You could have had your pick of any chair at any pool. We started the day with breakfast in the Windjammer. I opted for the omelet station which was a great choice. Any time you can get something made to order, it's usually good. Coffee and a croissant completed my meal. A great start to the day.
EXPLORING We spent the next couple of hours exploring and taking photos. We had been on Freedom so we wanted to see what was different and what was the same. We started at the top and worked our way down the ship. The Diamond Club Lounge up next to the Viking Crown Lounge was absolutely beautiful (it was not open for use on this cruise but we were allowed in to snap a few photos. Large glass walls that allow views of the sea. Beautiful furniture, a bar and buffet area and two desktop computers. Access is by your room key if you are Diamond or above in the RCI Crown and Anchor program.
We checked out the wedding chapel (very nice), the Cyber Cafe, Library and Business Center (not sure what goes on in the business center...they were busy so we didn't stop to ask). By this time it was time to move on to our next activity.
TRAVEL AGENT SESSION I'd say the greater majority of folks on this sailing were travel agents. RCI hosted a session that everyone could attend where they reviewed the future of the Royal Caribbean brand and introduced new tools for travel agents when booking cruises with Royal Caribbean. Many will benefit the cruise passenger as well. For example, in the near future we were told you can go onto Royal Caribbean's website, select your cruise, cabin, etc, hit the button to make your reservation and the reservation will automatically be transferred to your travel agent of record if you have completed a profile on line with Royal Caribbean's website. You'll also be able to book onboard, obtain your onboard credit for a future cruise and have your booking transferred to a group cruise if you'd like. There were lots of little innovations introduced that should assist travel agents in making your Royal Caribbean cruise terrific.
SORRENTO'S PIZZA Following the session for travel agents, we headed to Sorrento's for pizza for lunch. I must say, Royal Caribbean has improved its pizza significantly in the past couple of years. This was the best pizza I've had on an RCI ship. You had three choices - cheese, pepperoni and the pizza of the day. Sorrento's also dishes up fresh salads that you can choose your own ingredients (items like sun-dried tomatoes, olives, etc....a little different from the Windjammer), sandwiches and a variety of desserts. It's a great little place.
CABIN TOUR From Noon - 2:00 PM, select cabins were open to the public for touring. We visited a variety of suites - Presidential, Grand, Royal, Royal Family, Jr., Family Promenade, Disabled, Ben & Jerry's, Inside and probably a couple more. There are a wide variety of configurations and quite honestly, too many for me to easily describe. All were very nice. The Jr. Suite is a great size for those wanting a little more room and I actually like the Grand Suite as much as anything else .... OK, perhaps the Presidential is a tad nicer ;-) but I thought the Grand was terrific. I took lots of photos but it could be a bit of a challenge remembering which is which!
BEN & JERRYS Of course there is everyone's favorite spot, Ben & Jerry's! No charge on this cruise for ice cream so it was an extremely popular spot. I think they have six or seven flavors available (maybe more - I didn't have any).
PROMENADE CAFE Right across from Ben & Jerry's is the Promenade Cafe where you can get coffee, specialty coffee drinks, pastries and sandwiches. This was a very popular spot on this cruise (as it was on our Freedom cruise). The future cruise desk is adjacent to the Cafe and you can actually sit and wait in the cafe for you future cruise appointment or wait for a consultant to be free. Great idea. FUTURE CRUISE Speaking of the Future Cruise Consultant, it seemed silly NOT to place a deposit for a future cruise. Now you can choose what they are calling the "NEXT CRUISE" deposit, where you place a $100 deposit per person with them, but you don't select a sailing. The deposit is non-refundable but it guarantees you an onboard credit between $50 - $200 on your next RCI cruise. There is no date by when you have to book your next cruise. When you book, your $100 per person deposit is applied to your booking along with your applicable on-board credit. Of course, you can still book a "real" cruise if you know when and which ship you want to sail on. Many cruise lines are offering this now and it's a better way to secure an onboard credit. While some folks may know what cruise they want to book next, many don't. Nice touch!
AFTERNOON TEA Since we were going to be dining later this evening, Laura and I decided to trek up to the Windjammer for a snack. The Compass listed it as "Afternoon Tea." In reality, it was way beyond tea. Lots and lots of food available (everything from waffles with strawberries to burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, salads, nachos, spring rolls and more). A quick bite was all we needed to tide us over until dinner. It was very quiet in the Windjammer around 4:00 PM.
SURFRIDER Having sailed Freedom, we were very familiar with SurfRider. Since it was a pretty chilly day, it seemed like not many were participating but there were a fair amount of spectators watching those who were giving it a try. I heard from others that not everyone who wanted to got to try it. It was way too cold for me! We stayed for a short time so Laura could snap some photos for her son and then we were off to the promenade for a bit of shopping. I purchased one item for my daughter in the Get Out There Shop and Laura picked up a couple of items as well in the General Store. We also browsed through the jewelry store where there were plenty of beautiful pieces (didn't check out any prices, though) and the Clothing Boutique where they had higher end items such as Tommy Bahama, Roxy, Quick Silver, etc.
FORMAL NIGHT We spent the next hour just chatting before meeting up with some friends for a drink in the Champagne Bar. We dressed for dinner around 7:00 PM and caught up with Karen and Ed back in the Champagne Bar just before dinner. The dress for the evening was formal attire and the majority of second seating were dressed appropriately. However, to my surprise there were several different folks we saw dressed in jeans, t-shirts and gym shoes. I was quite surprised by this. I realize that many don't adhere to the requested dress on regular cruises, but considering who was on this cruise, I thought there were far too many dressed outside the requested attire and honestly, they looked very much out of place. We were told that there were quite a few folks at main seating not dressed as requested. It doesn't normally bother me what people wear but I did feel that these pre-inaugural cruises were a bit special and the least we could do was to dress as RCI requested.
Dinner was very, very good. I started with the shrimp cocktail. It was what you'd expect and tasted very good. I chose the beef filet for dinner which came sliced in three pieces a little more than ¼" thick each. It was cooked perfectly for me (medium rare) and tasted delicious with a peppercorn sauce. There was a Grand Marnier soufflE on the dessert menu but I resisted. I had no complaints in the food or service category in the dining room. Both were outstanding.
AFTER DINNER As I mentioned earlier, the Captain of Liberty is Captain Zini from Argentina. He was dining at late seating and Ed was kind enough to stop him as he was leaving to ask if he would pose for a photo with the ladies at our table. He graciously obliged and it made it the perfect end to a wonderful dinner. We sat and chatted for a while longer and decided we'd better leave the dining room once the turned the lights all the way up so the crew could clean. It wasn't the first time we were the last to leave the dining room!
MATT YEE From there, we walked down to the Schooner Bar to take in a bit of Matt Yee, the piano player. I had read about him here on the boards and wanted to check him out. Oh my goodness...it was chaos! I've never seen such a crowd for a piano singer on any ship. Everyone was singing and doing the crazy things he told them to do. It was a sight to behold. It was standing room only.
We headed back to the Champagne bar since there wasn't any place to sit in the Schooner and spent some time just reliving the fun we had the past two days. How quickly they passed!
ANY NEGATIVES? Don't laugh but the only negative we could come up with were the new comforters on the beds. They were very "stiff" and unless they were perfectly balanced on the bed, they tended to slip right off and onto the floor. A pretty minor item in the grand scheme of things.
OTHER FUN THINGS The art, as always, was subjective. The theme is "Illusion vs Reality." Some interesting items; some way out there things. Lots were fun. A nice art book describing the collection was in our cabin.
Club Ocean has these funky, fun round cutout chairs that sit low to the ground and rock...I want one!
The furniture throughout the ship was comfy, colorful and modern.
There is a BIG RED DOG that stands at one of the Promenade overlooks next to the elevators. He's huge! We want to name him. What do you think we should call him?
Liberty has "Henry's" and Laura and I made sure we said "hello" to him when we saw him!
The Godmother who will christen Liberty is a travel agent from Toronto.
The "ribbons" of artwork that adorn the Promenade are made of Corian and were termed "Ribbons of Love" by the artist.
THE CREW I was very pleased to see on more than one occasion that the crew of Liberty was recognized by RCI management. President Adam Goldstein noted that Liberty may be a beautiful vessel but it's her outstanding crew that makes her truly grand. He encouraged us to get to know the crew as best we could on our short stay. I couldn't agree more that the crew works extremely hard and they make any ship and cruise experience exceptional. The crew of Liberty of the Seas ensured that we had a terrific two day sneak peek and I can't wait to be back for a longer stay before too long!
Thanks again to Cruise Critic and Royal Caribbean for such an unforgettable experience!