First a little background on us so that you can get a better feel for this review. There were 7 of us traveling together on this cruise. My wife, 18 year old daughter and I stayed in a Grand Suite. My mother stayed in a handicapped cabin with one of my other daughters (27 years old). My other daughter also 27 and yes they are twins stayed with her boyfriend in a promenade view inside cabin. My wife and I were on our 10th cruise and were also celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. Our youngest daughter was celebrating her graduation from high school. Our previous three cruises were on NCL including twice on the Star and most recently on the Pearl over last Thanksgiving. There are some comparisons between the two lines through this review.
Embarkation We live in Fort Lauderdale so we did not have to fly anywhere. I had arranged for a Hummer limo to pick the seven of us up at my house. The others did not know about the limo, they thought we were just getting picked up in a passenger van. I brought a reggae CD with me with some champagne and OJ and we made some mimosas on the way down while enjoying the music. We arrived at the port around 11:15 AM. Since we had priority embarkation with our suite I figured we would be on board by noon. Wow, was I wrong. We did get right in and checked in quickly, however we went up the escalator to a holding room where we stood for about an hour and a half. We were told there were some problems with the computers. We did not get on the ship until after 1:00 PM. There were many behind us and I cannot imagine the hectic mess that they had to go through to get on. Out of the ten cruises we have been on this was the worst experience we ever had getting on a ship.
Cabin We had cabin 1578 which was a Grand Suite about mid ship. If some of you are wondering if the extra money is worth it for a Grand Suite, well it is. The cabin was better than many hotel rooms we have stayed in. It was spacious and comfortable. Originally we were going to book a Jr. Suite, but I decided to spend the extra money for the Grand. I am so glad we did. The bathroom was huge with two sinks, a large tub/shower and plenty of room. The balcony was huge also. We had a table and chairs with a couple of extra chairs. We had asked the concierge to arrange for us to get a lounge chair and before we could walk back to our cabin there were two of them out there. The bedding was very comfortable. My wife wanted me to find out what kind of mattress they used as she wants to buy one for us at home! The perks that come with the suite are nice too, especially the use of the concierge lounge and having the concierge services. Our concierge was Juan Diego. He was excellent! Any problems we had we would just tell him and he would take care of it. He emailed me a few days before our cruise to see if I wanted to book Chops or Portofino's. I emailed him back and told him we did want to eat at both places and he made the reservations for us even before we were on the ship. He also booked our excursions for us after answering all our questions about the ones we were interested in going on. The concierge lounge was great and we very much enjoyed meeting in there a half hour or so before dinner to enjoy a couple of drinks and snacks. The bar attendant in the lounge would have my beer poured for me before I had taken two steps into the lounge. I am one that does not like crowds and this lounge was never crowded. I loved it in there.
Food Let me first start off by saying that we are not big food people. We enjoy a good meal, but my impression of a good meal is different than many others. To me the food was ok. Not great, but plenty of it and passable. We tried to avoid the Windjammer as we do not like buffets. Breakfast in the dining room was pretty good. One morning we slept late and had to eat breakfast at the buffet. It was disgusting. I could not eat it. I did not see a fresh egg station or omelet station. If they had one I am not sure where it was. They had omelets but they were pre-cooked and piled into a serving tray. They did not look appetizing. For dinner we ate in the dining room five nights and ate in Chops and Portofino's. I thought the specialty restaurants were well worth the extra money, however it did take longer to eat in them. The dining room was pretty good for dinner on the other nights. Some nights were better than others. The service was great. The desserts were nothing special. One or two were pretty good. I have to say that the desserts on NCL were better. The food overall may have been better on NCL as well. That being said, even with the better food I did not like the so called Freestyle dining on NCL. Unless they change the way you have to make dinner reservations I would prefer RCI overall for dining. NCL has some bugs to work out of that system of theirs. The service on the LOS blew away the service on the Pearl. We ate lunch in Johnny Rockets one day after returning from a port and enjoyed that. We also ate one day at the pizza restaurant for lunch and one day at the coffee shop. Both were ok. The cookies at the coffee shop were good and best of all were not an additional cost.
Ports of Call We planned excursion through the ship in Montego Bay and Cozumel. We did not plan anything on Labadee or Cayman. In Montego Bay we did the river tubing. It was very nice and we had a great time. Only problem was that we got stuck in the rain waiting for the transportation to pick us up at the end of the trail to take us back to the bus. We waited about a half hour in heavy rain with no place to hide. When the vehicle picked us up it was one of those safari vehicles but this one had no roof. We continued to get rained on while the driver flew to the bus over a twisty rocky road. Last passenger was due on the ship at 5:00 PM and here we were about 5:30 first going back to the bus with about a 45 minute ride back to the ship. By the time we got back to the ship it was about 6:30 PM. Passengers where on their balconies cheering us as we got back to the port and started boarding the ship. Some were not as nice. It was not our fault that we returned back so late and since we were on an excursion booked through the ship they had to wait for us. We also planned an excursion in Cozumel. We did the speed boats. It was great. We enjoyed it very much. After we had the taxi driver drop us off downtown for some shopping and drinks at Carlos & Charlies. Overall a very enjoyable day. In Labadee we did not plan any excursions. We just enjoyed the beach to relax. Very nice beaches and the employees on the beach work on the ship. The biggest disappointment was on Grand Cayman. We had been there 10 years ago and enjoyed it. Since then it is now very commercialized. There were about 4 or 5 ships in port and the island was crowded. We found a local tour for $20 per person. They were supposed to take us to several places including the 7 mile beach. I asked the sales person if we would be able to take some nice photos and she said we would be going to beautiful places. Well, she lied. All they did was take us to t-shirt shops. We went to Hell, literally. There actually is a city on the island called Hell. After unloading us on two t-shirt shops the next stop was supposed to be a turtle farm. After inquiring a bit about what was there, it just sounded like more t-shirts, so we asked the driver to take us to the beach instead and let us spend the time there. He refused and said he could not do that. It was a waste of money. It was $120 for the six of us that went. They also piled in five other passengers with us. Yes the ship excursions are more money, but do yourself a favor and stick with them.
Entertainment The best thing I can say about the entertainment on the Liberty is that there was plenty of it. One of the biggest complaints I had about NCL was that there was not much to do. The ship closed down by 10:30 PM every night. That was certainly not the case this time. Tons of things to do and until all hours of the night. We enjoyed Studio B for the karaoke, Rock Hero, etc. We did not go to all the shows in the theatre, but the ones we did go to were pretty good. One night they had an adult comedian come on at 12:15 AM.. He was excellent. There was a nice deck party one late evening with food and dance. Our 18 year old daughter loved Catacombs the nightly dance club. Live music and fun was to be found all over and pretty late. This is where I give the largest advantage to RCI over NCL. The outdoor activities such as the flow rider, golf and rock climbing wall are a great asset as well.
The Ship What can I say that has not been said already? This ship is magnificent. I thought the Pearl was nice, but this ship makes the Pearl look like a rust bucket. Every detail of this ship was a work of art. I sailed on the Voyager of the Seas a few years ago and was expecting to see similar surroundings. I was wrong. This ship is much nicer than the Voyager. I can only imagine what the new ships that RCI are coming out with are going to look like. Everything from the dining rooms to the sports deck were beautiful and well designed. RCI spared no expense in designing this ship. The fitness center was the best I have ever seen at sea.
Summary In the times that we are going through now all companies have made budget cuts. The cruise industry is no exception to this. After sailing on the NCL pearl and seeing all the budget cuts there I was expecting to see much of the same this time. The biggest difference between the NCL Pearl and the Liberty of the Seas was that the budget cuts to the passengers was not as apparent. I am sure RCI has made cuts, but for all the cuts they have had to make, they still make sure that all of their passengers have a great time. I did not get that on NCL. The impression I came off of the Pearl with is that NCL was making cuts and they did not care if the passengers liked them or not. They just expected us as passengers to accept their cuts such as not having entertainment after 10 PM or no lobster tails in the dining room for dinner. Well guess what NCL, you are wrong. We as passengers do care. I really felt that RCI gets it. Yes the quality of the food is not what it used to be, but the fun and great cruise experience is still there. Kudos to RCI for keeping things together through these tough times. The staff was friendly and worked very hard. Everyone involved went out of their way for us and all the passengers. I can easily say that I will never sail NCL again. In fact I did say that after writing my review on the Pearl. The Liberty of the Seas exceeded my expectations. I have to say that is enough to get my future business. We had seven people in our group from 18 to 77 years old and we all had a great time. What more can you ask for?