Amazing hardware Massive and mass-market with class, Liberty of the Seas is an absolute marvel of marine engineering and is structurally impressive from the inside out. At the time of this review, Liberty of the Seas at 160,000 tons is one of three sister ships that is among the largest cruise ships in the world, soon to be surpassed by a vessel even more massive, which will be called the Oasis of the Seas at 210,000 tons (currently under construction). Liberty of the Seas towers over her pier in Miami and it's hard to miss her as she truly adds to the Miami skyline. This ship is so big that it seems more like a place rather than a ship, but there is no mistaking her as a ship as she pulls away from the pier and moves through the channel and out to sea. The Liberty of the Seas towers 17 stories above the ocean and stretches over one thousand feet in length, and what is truly amazing is that this giant can press ahead through the sea at 22 knots with ease. I was looking forward to cruising the Caribbean aboard this huge vessel, however, I had to walk out on deck and look over the side of the ship to remind myself I was actually at sea, because I felt nearly no movement at all. Liberty of the Seas is a beautiful ship, and actually looks like a ship as opposed to many newly built cruise ships these days, which look more like floating boxes or apartment blocks. The designers were able to make this massive ship look sleek...no small task if you ask me.
Inside the ship is an impressive four-story-tall, football field long boulevard called the Royal Promenade that truly gives you the impression you're in a mall rather than a cruise ship at sea. The Royal Promenade sets the Liberty of the Seas apart from most other cruise ships in the marketplace, outside of Royal Caribbean that is. I wasn't sure how I would like this Royal Promenade, since I tend to lean more traditional when it comes to the cruising experience; however, I was impressed and I enjoyed the space. It's a great place for people watching, shopping, or grabbing a bite to eat. It creates a unique community feel when strolling this area, and it is easy to forget you're at sea cruising from port to port. Inside this Royal Promenade is an interesting piece of hardware called the fly-bridge which lowers down from the ceiling just above the main floor area creating a bridge, or stage where entertainers and musicians can perform for those strolling the promenade. On each end of the Royal Promenade is an atrium with elevator bays that whisk passengers to other parts of the ship, including the passenger staterooms and the upper decks.
The ice skating rink is another amazing piece of hardware added to this ship. Leisurely cruising from port to port in the warm Caribbean sunshine, the last thing you would expect to be able to do is go ice skating, and yet there it is, an actual ice rink for passengers to skate on during certain hours, or you may even see a world-class ice skating show during your cruise. There are many innovative features aboard the Liberty of the Seas that all add up to a fabulous resort experience.
Attentive crew There are over 60 nationalities represented among the crew and staff alone, so Liberty of the Seas is a virtual United Nations-like community with one purpose to their job at sea; to create a resort, vacation, pleasant environment for passengers aboard the ship. With about 1,300 crew and staff, all with specific duties and skills to make sure Liberty of the Seas is a well-run, well-oiled machine. This mini-United Nations is a testament to how people from all walks of life and from all nationalities can truly coexist and get along in a utopian community. Without the attentive crew and staff performing their specific duties, the magnificent Liberty of the Seas would be just another building that happens to float. The ship is maintained to spotless and nearly sterile cleanliness thanks to the crew. Passengers can count on receiving the kind of service they would expect from a classy resort. Truly the lifeblood of the ship is it's crew, and Royal Caribbean deserves a round of applause for making sure the ship's crew and staff offer the best possible customers service. From your cabin steward to the Cruise Director and even the Captain, passengers can expect professionalism, and a courteous-nature among all those who live & work onboard the ship. During our cruise, I interviewed two couples, one couple was celebrating their one hundredth cruise and the other was celebrating their hundred and fiftieth cruise with Royal Caribbean. The one element that these two couples had in-common, and the reason they said they kept coming back time and time again with Royal Caribbean was not necessarily the wonderful ships, rather it was the crew and staff who always treated them like royalty.
Efficiency If people could see the incredible complexity of a ship the size and scope of the Liberty of the Seas, I think more people would think the ship should be considered as a wonder of the world. It really is amazing how such a complex machine and structure like Liberty of the Seas can run so smoothly and efficiently, and to have the ability to float and move from place to place with seemingly effortless grace and style. Again it's the crew and staff that deserve the accolades for maintaining this marvel of a machine at sea, however, from the very beginning when the ship was on the drawing board to the finished product, a monumental and ongoing effort to fine-tune and perfect the Liberty of the Seas is evident when you look behind the scenes of this ship. If passengers only knew the steps it took to get just one dinner made by the chefs and to their table, I think more passengers would stand up and cheer. Considering the complexities of the ship as a whole, it truly is a monumental accomplishment to offer such an efficient environment.
Photo services When is the last time you've had a family portrait made? Now when you go on vacation, you're already in the mood, everyone's happy and having a great time, so the smiles are already there. It makes sense to get your family portrait or even a great portrait of just the two of you under these conditions, so Royal Caribbean has a team of photographers to not only take your picture at the gangway when boarding, you can now have freestyle portraits taken right before dinner when you're all dressed up. As a photographer, I was impressed with the high-tech photography equipment onboard the Liberty of the Seas…these guys have state-of-the-art lighting and digital cameras that would make any land-based photographer envious. In the old days the ship's photographers would take your picture at the gangway, for example, along with hundreds of other passengers, develop the film, print nearly every photo, and display the thousands of photos in a huge photo gallery for passengers to look through to find their picture. And if the passenger didn't like the picture, it would be discarded and the photo paper would be recycled. Can you imagine trying to find your picture out of thousands and thousands of photos, and then many of those pictures were never actually purchased so there was a tremendous amount of waste, and time spent searching for you photos. All that is in the past now, and we have moved into the future of digital photography. I'm sure many passengers have no idea the level of technology used in the photo department onboard the Liberty of the Seas. Finding your photos taken at the gangway in all the ports, at dinner, or by the pool is real easy…you simply go to a photo kiosk, slide-in your SeaPass card, and the computer searches the entire database of thousands and thousands of photos of your fellow passengers, using facial recognition software, and locates all your photos and displays them on a monitor. Even the fancy portraits can be seen on this kiosk at your leisure. Once you find your photos, select the ones you want, hit submit and your photos will be printed and available for pick-up at the photo department later that day. Your selected portraits are charged to your SeaPass account and you're a happy customer! This facial recognition software is what is so cool! Think about it, there's less waste, less time spent searching for your photos, it's very efficient and convenient. When you first board the Liberty of the Seas, the ship's photographer takes your picture and also swipes your SeaPass card into the system and attaches that gangway photo of you to your SeaPass account. Then here's where the facial recognition software kicks-in. Next time a photographer takes your picture but doesn't swipe your SeaPass card, the computer already has your face in it's system, and groups your images together, so when you visit the kiosk to look at your photos, the computer has rounded them all up and posts them to your account. Of course you only pay for the pictures you want or none at all.
Entertainment Entertainment was nothing short of WOW and spectacular....and I'm saying that as a former entertainer on Royal Caribbean. The shows in the main showlounge were incredible. There was a lot of use of the flying, hanging, wire acts where the dancers connect to a harness and are suspended all over the stage. Singers and dancers were the best I've seen on a cruise ship. The cruise staff did a fine job and I was impressed with the Cruise Director who had not worked aboard a Freedom or Voyage-class ship before...this was his first week....as he was just filling in for the normal CD. The ICE SHOW was spectacular with some Russian skaters that could do some pretty amazing things on ice. One of the headliners was Kenny James, who was on Star Search many years ago. He was very up-beat to say the least and got the sometimes sleepy audience a little more bubbly with excitement than normal. The reason I suggest the "sleepy audience", is because the big show is often after dinner and everyone has enjoy a huge meal, and speaking as a former entertainer on the ships, there are often passengers that fall asleep in the shows, particularly the more elderly passengers. Not to miss on the Liberty of the Seas is the parade through the Royal Promenade. Only these Voyager-class and Freedom-class ships have the Royal Promenade and it's the perfect venue for having a parade, because this promenade is very much like a street that stretches the length of a football field. The only thing I can relate it to was New Years Eve on Times Square meets New Orleans and Mardigras. There are so many things to do on the Liberty of the Seas it'll make your head spin. With the ice skating rink, the rock climbing wall, the flow rider, the H2O Zone, the mini-golf area and basket ball court, Studio B and the Quest game, and there was a special lounge and stage just for karaoke....there's just so much to do and so little time.
Dining Dining on the Liberty of the Seas was decent...I enjoyed a window seat in the Windjammer aft looking over the wake. Windjammer did tend to get crowds and it wasn't always easy getting a window seat. The food prep was ok and their was plenty of variety. Main Dining room is a magnificent three story room with an incredible chandelier. Each level in the main dining room had a different color scheme, however, I prefer the Rembrandt dining room on Deck Three with it's darker wood paneling. Service was good, but not as quick and polished as I remember from the Song of America days. I think there is something lost when dining in a giant dining room like the one aboard the Liberty of the Seas...the feeling was less personable, less community feel, and more like eating in a big stadium. Food was good but not amazing. Dining in the specialty restaurant Chops, on the other hand was truly an upscale dining experience. There was an attendant handing out sanitary wipes to each person entering the dining areas throughout the whole cruise. Cruise lines are doing their part to avoid already sick passengers spreading their illness around the ship, which has caused headlines in the news occasionally.
Kids programs We utilized the childcare for our son...and we checked him into Ocean Adventure, which he seemed to enjoy. They attach a special electronic tracking device to each kid when you check them in....so if by chance they snuck out of the area, the staff could find the child. This truly is a state-of-the-art tracking system, and fortunately they haven't had to use the device to try and locate a child, because the counselors seem to have a good handle on the kids. My son enjoyed the science experiments and crafts in Ocean Adventure. You can even register your kids to have dinner at Johnny Rockets while you enjoy a quiet, romantic dinner with your spouse. The child care extends to late night as well, however, there is a charge of $5.00 per hour per child if the kids are left there after hours. The Ocean Adventure area has a ton of fun things for the kids to do and play with. I could see that the computers were well used by the kids to play games, and the counselors of course have fun group activities to keep the kids busy.
Ship's security Since the horrific event on 9/11, 2001 the cruise industry has beefed up it's onboard security procedures. I've also noticed cameras everywhere onboard. I use to enjoy exploring the below decks and crew areas, but because of all the cameras, I didn't take part this time around in exploring the unauthorized areas, besides…I was so busy exploring all the normal passenger areas, I had no time to go below decks. When you first check-in at the terminal in Miami before boarding the Liberty of the Seas for the first time, every single passenger goes through a security station where you are photographed and your image is attached to your SeaPass card electronically. Your SeaPass card truly becomes an important element to your identity during your cruise. That SeaPass card is your stateroom key, it's your onboard purchasing card and your ID card for when you leave the ship and for when you return to the ship. The security personnel even ask you to remove your sun glasses so they can be sure you are who you are suppose to be based on your photo electronically tagged to your ID. Every time you leave the ship and return, you also must go through a metal detector and send all your bags through a scanner. These ships today, like the Liberty of the Seas is secured like Fort Knox…no one who is not suppose to be onboard will be able to gain access. This high-level of security should make passengers and the cruise line feel confident that their ship is secure.
Eastern Caribbean The May 10th departure out of Miami, a seven night cruise aboard the Liberty of the Seas, took us to the Eastern Caribbean itinerary, including the ports of San Juan, St Maarten and Royal Caribbean's private beach area in Haiti called Labadee. Liberty of the Seas, however, is nearly a destination in itself, but it was certainly fun to visit these ports. We had nearly four days at sea, which was no sweat because there is so much to do onboard the ship. San Juan was our first port of call, and I was particularly excited to show my wife and son around town. I wanted to visit the forts, but we ended up walking way more than we are use to and were a bit sore that night and even the next day. I took some great photos of the forts and we did have fun. Our next port was St Maarten. I hadn't been to St Maarten since I worked aboard the Zenith in 1992, so this was the first time I saw the new docks. In the past we had to tender into St Maarten. It looks like the local government is going through a pier expansion project to allow even more ships to dock. In St Maarten we went to the beach to relax and swim in the ocean. The weather was perfect and the temperature of the ocean was soothing. My son had a blast playing in the surf. After our beach time, we went back to the ship and then embarked on a special shore excursion where we would use Segways on the boardwalk. These Segways are really cool devices with two wheels and a small platform to stand on. A small group of us from the ship ended up zooming around the boardwalk for a couple of hours on these Segways…we even went onto the sand with these things. I was impressed and enjoyed these things…it would sure beat walking for miles and miles, and it was fun. One big tip when cruising on Liberty of the Seas is to book any shore excursions online weeks before the cruise or immediately when you get onboard, and even then, you may not get to go on the shore excursion of your choice because they get booked up almost the moment you board the ship in Miami. With four thousand passengers onboard and only so many spaces available on some of these excursions, space really is limited. The ship left Miami on Saturday, and on Sunday morning while we were at sea, many of the most popular excursions were already sold out.
Labadee The last time I was in Labadee was in 1989 when I was working aboard the Song of America. I was amazed at how built-up Labadee had become. There was a new pier added and trams available to shuttle passengers around the beach. The spot where the tenders use to dock was still there, but now used to store tenders, and there was a new water park area with a number of floaty things in the water for people to climb on and jump into the water from. I couldn't manage to climb onto anything, however. As hard as I tried, I just could get up onto the big trampoline or the floating iceberg things. My son had no trouble though. The shopping area where the locals sell their crafts and things was expanded a bit. These locals were very aggressive as they tried their hardest to sell you something….anything they could. If you enjoy a good barter process or haggling, you would enjoy the shopping experience. I also noticed several new bars and an expanded eating area for hot dogs and hamburgers. A water park was added for the kids to play in and one of the latest, greatest attractions was the rip cord experience where you are taken up the hill in a big Jeep and with a harness, you are hooked-up to a wire that is several thousand feet long that zips out over the beach to the other side of Labadee. If you like free-falling on a wire several hundred feet above the ground, you would probably enjoy this new adventure. I wanted to go parasailing and jetskiing, but all these tours were sold out on the first day of the cruise. NOTE: Purchase your shore excursions online before your cruise…then you shouldn't have issues trying to get the excursion of your choice.
Nickel & dime Prepare to spend money on your cruise. With the ships getting larger, the cruise lines have truly mastered the art of extracting money from you while you are onboard. This really isn't a negative thing…you just have to be prepared to spend money during your cruise. Your SeaPass card of course is like your onboard credit card and because there is no cash transaction, it's easier to buy stuff. Of course the old standards like alcohol and sodas are charged to your card, but I was amazed at all the revenue generating activities and items that could really add up. Here's a short list of other ways the cruise line has implemented to get you to part with your money: Arcade games, diner at Johnny Rockets (a small fee), shore excursions, photos, portraits, art auctions, Ben & Jerry's ice cream in the Royal Promenade, a hair cut, Spa services like massages…in our case a body fat analysis costing the two of us $50 bucks, also after hours fees for the Ocean Adventure childcare, drinks and candy in your stocked stateroom refrigerator, of course the alternate dining rooms had a fee, don't forget the internet usage fees to check your email….you can even charge your gratuities on your SeaPass account which is very convenient. As long as you know upfront that the ship is a revenue-producing environment for the cruise line, and you're prepared to spend some extra money during your cruise, there should be no surprises.
Stateroom Our stateroom was very nice, plenty of space, our luggage stowed easily under the bed and there was enough closet and drawer space. Bathroom was efficient and I enjoyed the shower....I'm a big guy and there was plenty of room even for me. The balcony was truly a pleasure to have access to. There's nothing better than relaxing out on your own balcony while the ship is at sea. The flat screen TV's had CNN and Fox news playing as well as numerous other stations. My son enjoyed the cartoon channels…he was able to watch his favorite cartoon, Ben Ten in Spanish. You could look up your SeaPass account balance from your TV....that was nice. Our stateroom attendant didn't quite attend to our room as effectively as I would have expected, however, he was always within reach if we had a question and he was very pleasant. The beds were very comfortable, but not as comfortable as Holland America's beds. The room was very quiet, we couldn't hear hardly anything happening outside our stateroom. To relax after a busy day, our stateroom aboard the Liberty of the Seas was like a little oasis of comfort. My wife and I both have sleep apnia and had no problems hooking up our machines, but if you do use a C-pap machine, be sure to bring an extension cord and maybe even a power strip. I also have medications that need to be refrigerated so it was nice having a fridge in the stateroom.
Conclusion The mix of passengers was impressive. There were passengers from Brazil and Spain, and Portugal, and all over Europe, it truly was an international affair. I did notice many Florida residents onboard too. Unfortunately on the last day...as we were disembarking the ship we met a real nice couple that we bonded with. If only we had met them earlier during the cruise. Liberty of the Seas is an amazing ship with incredible facilities onboard. For the sun worshippers out there, don't sweat because there is a vast amount of deck space to find a place to catch some rays. There's no shortage of activities and things to do, so you won't be bored. You'll never go hungry with all the eating venues throughout the ship. I particularly enjoyed the ice cream machine on deck by the pools…the ice cream here was free by the way…a nice way to cool off with a refreshing ice cream cone. The enormous size of the Liberty of the Seas can be somewhat overwhelming, so be prepared to do a lot of walking just to get to diner or go up on deck. The ship is a clean, nearly sterile environment, but cozy at the same time. There are a lot of people on the ship, however, there are still numerous ways to experience personalized service from a crew and staff ready and willing to treat you like royalty. I give the Liberty of the Seas a HUGE thumbs-up!