I just came off the Liberty of the Seas sailing her on her maiden voyage to the Eastern Caribbean. This was the second sailing of the Liberty with her just completing her Western Caribbean maiden voyage the week before.
The first impression of the Liberty as we arrived at the pier was "wow". Her size and appearance is overwhelming. She appeared much larger than the Voyager class of ship.
We arrived at the Port of Miami around 12:30 and found there was already lots of passengers at the terminal. After parking the car at the indoor parking garage we proceeded to the terminal and was immediately processed through security and went upstairs to check-in. As we are Diamond level with RCCL we moved immediately to the Diamond check-in. I did notice RCCL had lots of agents on duty and did not see any major delays in processing all category of passenger. Once checked-in we were allowed to proceed onboard and it was now around 1:00 PM.
As you boarded the Liberty her size and magnitude first experience at street level became real. THe ships length and beam are overwhelming at first but soon we found that the layout was very friendly and easy to navigate.
FIRST DAY ONBOARD:
This was the Liberty's first sail to the Eastern Caribbean visiting San Juan, St. Maarten and Labadee, Haiti. The day we left Miami was an overcast day with winds and some on and off rain. The seas were a bit rough but the Liberty sailed very well holding her own very well in the rough seas.
The first day out was at sea. Lots of planned activities on board. From the FlowRider to rock climbing to golf and the onboard art auction. There also was the Royal Promenade where lots of passengers congregated and enjoyed the numerous shops and cafes. It appeared all were having lots of fun and enjoying the onboard amenities.
There were times I felt the ship was very crowded in the public areas such as the Promenade and absolutely at the elevator banks. Long waits were common with the elevators but if you are up to it walks up or down the stairs were fairly common among the passengers.
The three tiered dinning room was magnificent. Great design and colors made you feel welcomed. Service was lacking the first day or two but as the week progressed service improved markedly. I attributed the service level issue to the crew being new and still working out service issues with setup and flow in the dinning room. The food very good with good selection each evening. Overall I would rate the dinning room experience as very good.
The second day out was San Juan, our first port of call. With the Liberty making her first call to San Juan the locals came out in force to welcome her. Lots of sightseers and music and dancers. Processing of passengers on and off the ship went well. Some lines but overall I felt the crew did a good joy to manage the crowds and to get you to your day in San Juan quickly.
Unfortunately this day was also the day the Captain announced that there was an outbreak of norovirus on board. We were told that a "few" cases were reported and that the passengers were quarantined to their cabins for three days. The most obvious signs of the problem was the crew stationed around the ship with sanitizing wipes for all passengers coming back on board and entering all food service areas.
We did not see much change beyond this the first day of the norovirus....but this changed as the week progressed.
DAY 4: St Maarten
St. Maarten is one of my most favorite places in the Caribbean to visit. I always feel welcomed by the locals and feel like they appreciate my business. On this visited my group and I traveled via taxi from Philipsburg on the Dutch side to Marigol, on the French side. One noticeable change we saw was the amount of traffic. What use to take 20 - 30 minutes not took an hour plus. Even with the increase in traffic and time we felt the sights along the drive was well worth the time. St Maarten is a beautiful island with wonderful food and some good buys especially in Phillipsburg.
On this trip my wife was looking for a special table cloth set. She found one store offering a set with twelve napkins for $20.00 versus the $135 asking price. I unfortunately did not find such a bargain on camera equipment. Looking for a lens for my camera I priced it out at three stores. I was told they beat the major US company "B&H Photo". I choose not to purchase the lens feeling the price was not very good. This was confirmed when I returned home and checked B&H Photos price to find it was the same.
When we returned back to the ship we found that more cases of norovirus was reported and not the ship went to a higher level of response. Ships crew was mandated not to shake hands or touch the passengers (hugs, etc). The sanitary wipes became common place around the ship and we began to see changes in the Windjammer and other self serve restaurants . No longer were the passengers allowed to serve themselves but rather crew were stationed wearing surgical gloves and serving all items including sugar, milk and all food.
Other changes we noticed was the closing of select restaurants on the Promenade so those crew members could be redeployed to the Windjammer. We also saw a marked increased in cleaning. As passengers got up from their tables immediately crew would come and spray the tables with bleach and the chairs with a microbio agent on the chairs.
It was now apparent that there was a serious problem on board. Other changes we saw was all public areas were sprayed and not wiped clean like elevator areas, handrails, inside the elevators, etc. Also we started to see little bags like you see on airplanes being deployed around the ship for passengers who take ill while in the public areas.
DAY 5: AT SEA
We are heading towards Labadee. Today is an onboard day with lots of activities being available to the passengers. The FlowRider is a very hot item along with the rock climbing wall. Inside lots of passengers are walking the Royal Promenade enjoying the shops and coffee shop. (This is perhaps the most popular location on the Promenade).
By now signs of the norovirus problem are everywhere. Every food service area have crew stationed with the special handwipes. Every food, utensils, condiment and cup or glass has to be dispense by a glove wearing crew member. One observation made was the lines seemed to be quicker as passengers were not milling over the food picking through it looking for that one special item they wanted. This I thought was a plus.
This is one of my favorite private beaches. beautiful trees providing lots of shade, wonderful music from locals also dancing tradition dances, a great B-B-Q and some of the best water activities going. The Liberty crew again shined in managing the tendering of passengers to the island. Using two disembarkation points on the ships I felt movement of passengers to the island was excellent.
At this point I think it is important to note that I and most passengers I spoke with felt the crew and officers of the Liberty did a superb job of managing the norovirus problem. Yes there were changes to passenger expectations and service levels but the focus was on containment of the problem with minimal change in service and activities for the passengers.
Crew members were working extended hours and yet the smiled and made the passengers feel welcomed. The ships captain gave daily reports over the public address which helped the passengers feel they were knowledgeable about what was going on and what changes to expect. All passengers were invited to a complimentary medical eval if they felt they were coming down with the illness.
If there was a negative to what could have been a very serious problem was the way some of the affected passengers mismanaged their personal illness trying to play doctor. Leave this to those handled the problem. d the RN's who know what they are doing.
The Liberty of the Seas is a wonderful new addition to RCCL's fleet. She is a magnificent ship with lots to do to please any category of passenger from newby to the experienced cruiser.
Having over 40 cruises to date and 20 on RCCL this was my first experience with the norovirus problem. I felt the officers and crew of the Liberty deserve a "round of applause" on how they handled the problem.
Bravo to the Liberty, it's crew and officers and especially to its captain for a job done well under the most trying of times.