We just got off the Liberty of the Seas, while it was chartered by Atlantis Events; I am reviewing those aspects of the cruise that pertain to Royal Caribbean and the ship itself. I will be reviewing the entire experience in the Gay & Lesbian Cruise section of the boards.
First a bit of background on us, we are two males (legally married in Massachusetts) in our early 40's, our first cruise was last year aboard the Serenade of Seas (again chartered by Atlantis) We tend to travel to different countries in Europe at least once a year and enjoy better accommodations and good food.
Overall, we once again had a fantastic vacation and love Royal Caribbean.
We flew into Miami a day early and stayed at the Hyatt Regency in downtown. The hotel was in the business district (and very close to the port). We really enjoyed this hotel and we were a bit concerned since it's gotten a bad rap on some other websites. We stayed on the 22nd floor. I asked for a late check-out and got one with no problem until 1:30 PM, additionally, they gave us vouchers for two free breakfast buffets in the morning. Super.
At the Port we checked our luggage with the porters right outside the terminal and proceeded to the check-in desks. We had already filled out and printed our information online so check-in was a breeze. We left the hotel at about 1:25 and we were in our stateroom around 2 PM. They informed you at check-in that all the cabins were non-smoking.
We were visiting Grand Turk, St. Thomas and Labadee.
The ship is huge. After we dropped off our carry-on bags we went to tour the ship. We toured the different decks, getting to see the different dining rooms, casino, theatre, gym, everything. When we got back to our stateroom at around 3:00 our bags were already delivered. Our room steward Wendy knocked on our door and greeted and told us if we needed anything to contact her (she kept our room clean and tidy and we never needed to ask her for anything)
We went to the Windjammer and had a lovely lunch, we're not fond of buffets but this one was well stocked and very clean. We like to scan all the food first instead of just piling on the food as soon as you enter. They had an assortment of all kinds of foods and offered water, lemonade, iced tea and cranberry juice as beverages. Unlike the Serenade, Liberty does not have an outside dinning area at the Windjammer which we missed. On this day they had the whole area open however on many of the other days they only had half of the dinning area open (most of the people on our cruise are pretty health conscious and not over eaters like the typical cruises, which many of the Liberty staff commented on)
The weather for the most part was very good, there were some days when the wind on the pool deck was really strong and a few droplets. I also felt the ship move much more than the Serenade. I don't know if it is because of the size of the ship or the motion of the ocean but I heard that many people were queasy from the rocking. My husband, who usually gets seasick on smaller boats took a Rx Dramamine before he got on and never had to take one again. The only "tilting" feeling I had was when we go to our first island and I was ashore and I felt like I was still moving.
Stateroom: We were on Deck 7 with a balcony just past the elevators in the back of the ship. We really liked being on the 7th deck since the Promenade was two decks below and the pool was only a few decks higher. We used the stairs a lot. Our balcony had two chairs and a small table on it. The room was small by most hotel standards but a good size by cabin standards. The bathroom likewise was tiny but very adequate for us. Being 6' I liked the high toilets but my husband's feet didn't touch the floor if he sat on it. Likewise, the shower, which had a sliding door, was quite roomy enough even for me who is tall and has big shoulders (wide).
We brought one of the shoe organizers and hung it on the bathroom door however, I think we could have gotten away without using it since the cabin had many shelves and nooks and crannies that could have stored all of our stuff. In our cabin we had a full size couch which I really didn't find myself sitting on too much.
There was one small waste barrel in the cabin which fit under the table. We took the extra pillows out of the closet and had more than enough room for all our clothes and costumes (about half of which we never even used).
We never sat on the balcony for long periods of time since we were hardly ever in the room for any extended period. The balcony was wonderful in the evenings since we left the door open while we were sleeping (my husband really enjoyed falling asleep to the sounds of the ocean.) There were times though when having the balcony door open created a vacuum in the room and there was a loud air sound near the stateroom door. We noticed this more at the beginning of the cruise than later on in the week.
I tried to connect some audio cables to the flat screen TV so we could listen to music from my mp3 player but I couldn't get it to work (the remote didn't switch to video)
Entertainment: The only shows we saw which was part of Royal Caribbean ship was the "Ever After" stage show and the Encore Ice Show. While the performers were very talented, the shows were very kitschy, but it was fun. Because we saw the shows during the 10:30 timeframe we frequently dozed off. I wondered if this was why RCI makes the theatre seats so big and comfy so you can just sit back and nap.
Dining: It was open seating at night in the dining room. You could show up anytime from 6 to 10 and get a seat. If you wanted to be seated at a smaller table and it was available you could, otherwise I think they sat people at the larger tables and filled in the empty seats with singles and couples. On this ship there appeared to be many more smaller tables than usual. The upper dinning rooms didn't have the large tables that the main floor had. On the top floor I think the largest table seated 8.
We thought the food in the dinning room ranged from very good to excellent. A few times the portions were a bit small so we opted for double entrees. The desserts were excellent too. On the second to last night I had a banana cream pie that was absolutely delicious and would love to have again.
We stuck to the Windjammer for lunch and breakfasts. Because so few of the passengers were up in the early morning they only opened one side of the Windjammer and Jade which made it a bit more crowded.
The food seemed to be the same every day in the Windjammer but I was happy they offered scrammed egg whites (and egg beater omelets) and turkey sausage for people trying to eat healthy. They also offered lots of salad stuff and grilled chicken for lunches. Because so many people were eating salads the vegetables were often low. We had the sushi one day and it was ok, I don't think RC is know for it's sushi.
The first night we were disappointed to learn that the Windjammer closed at 10:30 and didn't reopen until 1am. This left us and a number of other passengers scrambling for a snack (we hadn't eaten very much at dinner)so we ended up at Sorrento's in the Promenade. While the pizza there smells really good, it was terrible, very greasy and doughy, but it was the only thing open. Cafe Promenade was open but they only had high calorie sugar desserts.
We ate at the Johnny Rockets a few times. We were told that it was the most underused restaurant onboard. By the end of the week there were more people eating here but you could always get a seat. The C&A coupon book gave you a free meal here. I especially loved the Oreo Cookie Sundae (if you're going to eat high fat/high calorie this was the way to do it.) The onion rings were really good too especially if you have a hangover. We didn't try the Ben and Jerry's however, I would have rather had a sundae at Johnny Rockets then pay for it at B&J's. I thought the prices for the B&J's was a bit high too when you could get a whole meal with dessert at Johnny Rockets for less.
Friends we had met on board invited us to Chops on the last day at sea. The whole meal was delicious and well worth the $25.00 extra per person. (apparently it's gone up from $20.00) Our server said it had been a vacation for her on this cruise because apparently on the typical cruises there are a lot of complaining passengers (we heard this comment quite a lot from different crew members around the ship). Everything in the restaurant is more upscale than the regular dining room and quite tasty.
They also offered soft ice cream on the pool deck in the afternoon. You could take your own cone and have either vanilla or chocolate or twist.
Gym: We went to the gym almost everyday during the trip. Typically we were there around 6:30 to 7am and it was already crowded although treadmills were always available. My husband loved being able to jog around the track which was much easier to do at 7 than it was at noon when everyone was lounging and blocking the jogging track. The weight area was kind of small and always full of the people. The boxing ring takes up most the space in the center of the gym and I never saw anyone using it.
FlowRider: We both tried the flow rider once in the latter half of the week and for our cruise it was never that crowded just 4 to 5 people in line. One person kind of hogged the waves for about 5 minutes even to the point where he was body surfing which is not allowed. We did end up with some friction burns from either rubbing our hands and fingers against the side of rider area or jumping on the board.
Spa: We got the couples massage on Labadee at 9am. The masseurs were very good and very strong. If you wanted a more firm massage they could do it. We were on the first tender off the ship and there was no one on it which I heard is unusual for a regular cruise.
Promenade: This is the area of the ship where all the stores were located and RCI outfitted one of the apparel stores just for our cruise. We really didn't shop at any of the stores except to buy some peanuts to snack on. The Hoof and Claw Pub was nice and we had a drink here on the first day, however, many of the smokers who couldn't smoke in the wine bar or Champagne Bar would come in here for a puff so it was a bit smoky.
The parades also took place in the Promenade and were a little hokey. They were basically the same parade with a different costumes and flags. It was a nice diversion but you shouldn't fret if you missed them.
Shore Excursions: I did one "official" shore excursion in Turks. I went on a 2 tank dive. It wasn't a far boat ride and the water was very calm. There were about 20 people on our dive, they divided the group into two 10 people tours. Luckily I rented a wetsuit from the cruise ship because it was pretty cold after being down there for 40 minutes. During both dives we unfortunately did not see a lot of sea life. A couple of fish and one stingray was all we saw. The coral was nice though, except it is not as colorful as you might expect. The boat did offer a wetsuit rental and they took you back to their "hut" where you could have drinks and burgers if you wished. Remember to bring tip money for the tour operators.
We did visit St. Thomas. Since we got there at 2:00 (and we were detained by customs for another hour and a half) we couldn't get off until almost 4 and the shops close at 5. We opted for the $4.00 cab ride which they offered once you got off the ship however, the traffic back to the ship was awful and we ended up walking most of the way back. The stores were all the same that you've experienced on every other island in the Caribbean. US customs made everyone on the ship, whether you were going off the ship or not, wait in line to go through customs, with 4000 people it took a long time.
We thought Labadee was beautiful. Our tenders were not crowded at all and the island didn't fill up until about 2 in the afternoon. We got a space near the beach by the zip line and just laid out and relaxed. The beach was rocky except in those areas that were dredged and even then it was wasn't sandy farther out. I didn't have a Labadoosy, but my husband said they were very good. The merchants here were very aggressive but understandable with all the poverty going on in Haiti.
Children: There were no children on board and it was heaven. It was so nice to lay out by the Water zone without any screaming children or parents yelling at them. We saw some kids at Turks from another ship that was docked and of course they were crying. We were happy we had chosen this tour, adults only. I think we would only take a regular cruise if children were banned (do they even offer adult only cruises on the regular cruises?) The crew told us that on any given week there are always at least 500 kids aboard even when there is no school vacation. The ship staff who deals with the children got a vacation for the week.
Service: The crew was always smiling, cleaning and generally helping out all the time. Everyone we met was excellent. Some bartenders made better drinks than others (you learn that quickly) so you stick to those bars. Nadia in the Champagne Bar knew what you were drinking the second time you went to her bar, she was great and even offered us some appetizers.
One issue I was very concerned with before be sailed was the smoking on the ship. We are both non smokers. We didn't want to make a big deal about it because we were on vacation and figured we'd just have to deal with it. The only place that it was even remotely smoky on the ship was the casino. Unlike the Serenade, it didn't seem like there was a non-smoking side of the public decks. People were lighting up everywhere.
Disembarkation: We did the Valet check in with RCI. It cost $20.00 each and when you put your luggage outside on Friday night you didn't see it again until you were in your home airport. Additionally, they printed out boarding passes for you so you didn't even have to check in at the airport you just went right to the gate. They also offered speedy disembarkation at 7:15 with this service so you just went through customs and were on your way to the airport. Since we were early didn't opt for the bus (which left at 9 AM) and got a cab which cost us $28.00 with tip.
Summary: While we really enjoyed this trip, we booked the Celebrity Solstice for next year (yes, it's another Atlantis Chartered cruise) because it has less passengers and appears to be a bit more sedate. Everything about Royal Caribbean was wonderful, however; we would only go back if it is chartered again and on a smaller ship. We really liked the extras the charter company brought on board and enjoyed all the extra activities and entertainment they provided.