We are mid-40's adults that travelled with two 18year old girls (our daughter and her best friend)for a spring break vacation. This trip was a combination graduation/christmas/birthday gift for the girls so we wanted them to have a fun,carefree,safe vacation in the sun. Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas was the perfect choice for us.
Embarking/Disembarking: a painful but necessary and unavoidable process. Getting 4000 folks on and off the ship was as streamlined as humanly possible, but patience is required. We tendered only one time but that proved to be an extremely efficient method too.
Ports of Call: our ports were San Juan, St Martin's, and Labadee. We did not arrive in San Juan until 3pm and darkness fell around 5:30 so only had time for a quick stroll around town before dinner back on the ship. St Martin's was an excellent stop! Girls got their hair-braided and we shopped a bit before heading to Orient Beach for the afternoon. The island holds a combination of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The "good" being that my husband happily found a t-shirt shop that seemed to cater to the men too. Two t-shirts for $10 and a free beer. He was a happy man as he's not a shopper. The "bad" would have to be the money charged to the girls to have their hair braided. They were charged $95 for one and $90 for the other! ALWAYS ask the price BEFORE purchasing!! And as for the "ugly", that would have to be some of the patrons of the nude section of Orient Beach. 'nuff said except that none of us should be afraid to shed our clothes there! We chose to chance finding our own way around the island instead of purchasing one of the escorted excursions. It would have cost us $60 each ($240 in all) but instead, we paid $120 for a private cab tour of the island and about $15 for lunch on the beach. Peter, our cab driver, was informative and even came back to the beach later in the afternoon to take us back to the ship. Great service! Labadee was the stop that we didn't know what to expect from but we all agreed it was our best stop. We enjoyed some snorkeling (what a great time!!) and the girls tried out parasailing. The beach was to die for. White sand, warm water, great service from the happiest bartenders I have ever seen, and great beach music from the local bands. One note: the men in the bands were trying to sell their home-made cd's to earn a little money and alot of the cruise folks just ignored them or waved them away. These musicians were neither pushy or aggressive but they ARE poor! As I witnessed the actions of these rude people, I felt embarrassed to be in their company. We are so lucky and rich beyond measure compared to the Haitians. Come on people-- its $10 to help their family more than we will ever know. And if you want to see (and purchase) some local artwork, visit the flea market, a 5-min walk from the beach. I took $40 and got some great stuff!!
Meals on Board: we chose to have the buffet breakfast in the windjammer each morning. Lots to choose from, kind of "organized chaos" but we never had any problems finding nourishment or a seat with a view. The kids went to our dining room for breakfast a few mornings and enjoyed that too. We ate in our assigned dining room each evening and enjoyed it very much. We saw no reason to go to the cover charge dining rooms when service and meals were so great (and included) already. The menus were varied and always delicious. We enjoyed a wine package for the week and, through the fantastic service and cuisine, truly felt like we were royalty on vacation.
Tipping: A bit of confusion on our part here (and some others too). I assumed that the tips amount would automatically be added to our room bill account at the end of the week, but apparently we had to fill out a form and deliver it to the service desk. A bit inconvenient but we withdrew the money from the on-site bank machine (therefore incurring some fees) and delivered the cash in the appropriately marked envelopes to the waiter etc. on the last day. Kind of an odd way to do handle the tips but it in no way ruined the trip. The service we received was truly outstanding in every way.
Summary: Well, they say a cruise is an all-inclusive and economical way to travel but don't believe it. Lots of extras come up and can add up during the week. We were very conservative about buying drinks, playing the casino (only $20), internet use (.55/min),and only a few souvenirs purchased. Even with those considerations our bill was still $1000 (incl tips) at the end of the week. Another extra (which we didn't purchase any of) were the photos. We were having our picture taken at every turn all week and then they were offered for sale at the end of the week. An 8x10 was $19.95! Some people's bill must have been way over the top the way they drank, visited the specialty restaurants, played casino, and purchased photos all week. All in all, a great trip, especially for the girls who love to lay in the sun. Only drawback there is the saving of lounge chairs with towels, books, or whatever. I felt like throwing those items right overboard when there were no chairs available for people like us who actually wanted to sit down and not just hang around the bar/pool all afternoon. We walked around and around trying to find a couple of chairs and there were many many empties but "held" with books or whatever. Yet, when I got to the theater earlier than my husband and kids one evening, an rich looking pair of snobs tore a strip off me for "saving seats"!! Despite these rude people, our trip was great.