My wife and I cruised the Liberty on the July 5th Eastern Caribbean itinerary. We had an absolutely fantastic time, and I will provide a brief summary of our Liberty impressions should you not want to read the more detailed version which follows.
The Liberty is a beautiful ship with a fantastic crew. Anyone would have a great time on board, but the ship definitely caters to the young, active, family crowd. Service is extremely good, especially in the dining areas. The ports of call were, for the most part, great experiences, and there was plenty to do on board during sea days. The stateroom was very comfortable and was a great escape from all of the on board activity. The pool area is top-notch, and the evening's activities were pretty good. The overall quality of the food was marginal, but that did not detract from the great cruise that we enjoyed.
We flew into Ft. Lauderdale Friday afternoon and arranged for the hotel driver to meet us at the airport. The driver was waiting for us at that baggage carrousel and 25 minutes later we were at the JW Marriott downtown. The hotel is very comfortable, and the staff is extremely accommodating. I highly recommend both the hotel and use of their transportation service. We made our way to Bayside (very overrated) where we met up with 4 others who we had met through the roll call. We had a very nice dinner at Bubba Gump's where we hung out until it started to pour.
Overall, this is a gorgeous ship with a crew extremely committed to providing the highest level of customer satisfaction. Everywhere we encountered the ship's staff, we were greeted with smiles and pleasantries. It was not uncommon to find crew going above and beyond to insure that we were having "the vacation of a lifetime." We were so impressed with how efficient the staff operated given that there were over 3,500 passengers on board. I've heard some people in the Cruise Critic forum area express concerns that with a ship this large service will suffer. Not only was this not the case, but I never felt like I was on a ship loaded with 3,500 passengers.
We were in stateroom 9382 and particularly enjoyed the balcony and spacious amenities that the cabin provided. 9382 is a D1 category stateroom, which I believe is approximately 200 square feet. We had three large suitcases which were stowed in the closet and under the bed. Once the luggage was stowed the cabin offered a good deal of comfort for 2 people. Aside from sleeping, most of the time that I spent in the cabin was on the full length couch or out on the balcony. Most mornings we took advantage of room service and ordered coffee, juice, and some pastries which we consumed on the balcony while enjoying the view. Storage in the stateroom is very well thought out, and the in cabin safe was used extensively. The 27" plasma screen was also a definite give away that Royal Caribbean did not skimp in providing the most contemporary features for its guests.
One of the biggest surprises was how comfortable the bathroom was. Make no mistake, the area is small. However, Royal Caribbean did a masterful job of designing every inch of that space to provide comfort for its users. The vanity area offers an extensive amount of storage behind the side mirrors, the towel racks are high and out of the way, and the sink area was more than adequate for our daily preparation. The shower was fantastic! The shower doors open in a semi circle where they reveal an adjustable hand-held shower wand, and lots of storage for your personal shampoo, soap, etc. The water pressure was exceptional and the range on the temperature preferences was quite wide. The only time I had an issue with the shower was when I dropped the soap. In order to pick it up, I did have to open the shower doors to bend over. No water got out, and it probably sounds like a bigger inconvenience than it actually was. I should also point out that I am a big guy, and I never felt confined moving around in the bathroom/shower area.
Our stateroom attendant, Arlene, did a very nice job of making sure that our room was always clean and the mini bar stocked with Diet Coke and water (nominal fee for both). Each evening we were greeted with the customary towel animal, turn down service, and chocolates on the pillow. Though Arlene did provide good service, there was not a lot of the personal interaction that made some of the relationships with other crew on board so meaningful.
Dining and Pool
Most of our time onboard was spent on Deck 11. This area comprises the 3 pool areas, and three restaurants: Windjammer/Jade, Portofino, and Chops. Since we were located in the aft of the ship, we would be first confronted with the H2o zone. Though we didn't spend much time in the H2o zone, the area is tailor made for any kids' maximum enjoyment. Families can, and do, stay in the H2o Zone all day running through sprinklers, jumping in the pool, squirting each other with spray guns, or even going in the kid size Jacuzzi. The H2o Zone alone should qualify the Liberty (and any RCI ship similarly equipped) as an immediate cruise candidate for those looking for a family destination. In fact, we cruised the Disney Wonder 2 years ago and the kids water area on that ship paled in comparison. The general pool area was large and open, consisting of two identical pools on the starboard and port side of the ship with matching Jacuzzis. This is where the majority of the sun worshippers on the ship congregated. Royal Caribbean also designed a very clever multi-tiered area where sun bathers could overlook the main pool.
We spent the majority of our pool time in the solarium. This adults only area is absolutely fantastic and features a large pool, a very comfortable lounging area, and two huge Jacuzzis that extend over the starboard and port side of the ship. The pool in the solarium is well appointed and bathers are greeted with a walk in area made of black slate or granite. The pool is 7 feet deep and also has a great sitting area under a bridge that goes over the pool. The lounging area has ample oversized, cushy seating that is great to relax and read in, take a nap, or just watch the ocean go by. The Jacuzzis are so unique that I'll just say they have to be sat in to be believed. Kudos to Royal Caribbean for designing this feature. The visionary who concocted this design element must have known how special it would be to hang over the ocean at 200 feet in a Jacuzzi and all that goes with it. There were a few instances where kids would enter the Jacuzzis and thus ignore the "adults only" aspect, but for the most part, the rule was observed. A common complaint that I've encountered in the Cruise Critic forums is that lounge chairs were hard to find as a result of people saving seats. I've seen where some people recommend getting to the pool in the early AM, claiming chairs and coming back to them later. I'm not sure if this occurred on our cruise or not, but by the time we got to the pool the seating selection was modestly challenging. If you're not picky about where you sit; whether it's in the sun or shade; close to the pool or far from the pool, you should have little trouble finding a couple of lounge chairs together. I never got to the pool and felt frustrated that we spent any significant amount of time looking for chairs.
Windjammers, Portofino, and Chops is where Royal Caribbean's hospitality really sparkled. We ate breakfast and lunch in Windjammers and were greeted by staff who had taken the time to learn our names, where we were from, our beverage preferences, seating preferences, etc. We were never made to feel as if any of our requests were putting someone out or unreasonable. Often, the staff would find a table for us and carry our food to our table. If I sat down first, the staff would find my wife and escort her to our table. We grew accustomed to the same level of service at Portofino. The manager, Hakan Akca, insured that everything was exceeding our expectations, and that we were happy with our seating arrangement. During our visits Hakan spent a good deal of time talking with us and getting to know us. Our wait staff team of Sigit and Maitin were perfectly accommodating, and they displayed a warmth towards us that was more typical for old friends. It did not go unnoticed how hard this entire crew works, and the fact that they show the same level of hospitality to an entire ship full of guests is remarkable. We found the Liberty wait staff to be so good that they could write an industry handbook on what exceptional service entails.
Interestingly enough, we found the food on the Liberty to be so-so at best. My wife cared for the food slightly more than me. I found the food in Windjammer and the dining room to be very "institutional." However, I also recognize that feeding 3,500+ people is not an easy task. Chops was "OK." The shrimp cocktail was good, but the lobster bisque was absent the featured lobster and was otherwise boring. The feature salad was nothing special, and our side dishes were overly salty. The Chops version of the Mississippi Mud Pie is a real treat for the most devout of chocolate lovers. Our real preference was Portofino where we dined on 3 evenings and found our meals to be exceptional. Of particular note, the calamari was tender and not overcooked, the wild mushroom pasta was perfect, and the filet (ordered with sauce on the side) was cooked to perfection. The seafood skewer is a sight to behold, though I thought the flavors were mediocre. The tiramisu was a great way to end the meal, and the desert sampler is a nice way to get a taste of everything.
Entertainment on board was hit or miss. Among the hits were the ice show and Love and Marriage. The ice show is conducted on a very small ice surface (something like 54'x 42'), but the level and energy of the performance is truly impressive. I'm not a big fan of ice skating, but every minute of this show held my attention. Prior to the cruise I saw a number of people had recommended not missing this show. I now understand why. Love and Marriage is very reminiscent of the old Newlywed game. How entertaining the show is depends on who volunteers to participate in it. Thankfully for our sailing Rhoda and Merrill were in the audience. These two were on board celebrating their 50th anniversary and completely made the show. Merrill and Rhoda provided one of the funniest moments I've ever seen in any show, anywhere - literally. You'll have to trust me on this, but it was fantastic. The comedian/juggler show on the last evening was time very well spent, and my wife also enjoyed the open skating, the 80's dance party, and the parade in the promenade on the first evening. The Air Tonight show (loosely based on Cirque de Solei) was rather bad. We spent very little time in the casino, but it seemed that people were having a good time and the amenities seemed very modern.
Ports of Call and Excursions
Since our cruise was the Eastern Caribbean itinerary we made ports of call in San Juan, St. Maarten, and Labadee. When we got to San Juan, the disembarkation process from the ship was relatively smooth, and we made our way to the line for the walking tour of old San Juan. This was a beautiful tour and our guide, Ramon, was awesome! The walking tour lasted about 2.5-3 hours and there is a lot of walking. Those who have difficulty walking, or families with young children may want to rethink this tour. This tour is perfect for history buffs or those who like to explore by foot.
We selected the Island bus tour for St. Maarten and were really disappointed. The tour navigated the Island and seemed to highlight the distinct poverty of St. Maarten. Prior to our cruise I had read about how beautiful St. Maarten was and was so surprised to find the extreme poverty prevalent on the majority of the island. In addition, our tour guide seemed very disinterested and simply went through the motions. Had we to do over again we would have spent the day snorkeling or at the beach. Our tour was completed by 1 PM, and we headed to the solarium for an enjoyable afternoon of swimming in the rain. Really, it was a lot of fun! Some people from our roll call had taken a tour from "Bernard's" and seemed very happy with their choice.
Labadee was our final port of call and was a true ocean side paradise. The tender process was very smooth and the staff got people on and off the ship with minimum inconvenience. We spent the morning at the lagoon side swimming and sun bathing. After lunch we transitioned to the ocean side where the waves are a little more aggressive. We chose not to do any excursions, and just take the day to relax. This was a great choice for us, but others were also enjoying wave runners, the dragon zip line, kayaking, etc. We had contemplated staying on the ship and enjoying the relative silence, but are so glad we chose to go ashore.
The only real disappointment that we had was the main dining room. We were located in Rembrandt, level 3, at a table that was in a small room off to the side of the main dining room. The ambiance of the room could not match what was supposed to be the elegance of the main dining room. As it turns out, we only ate in the dining room on 2 evenings, one of which was the first formal night. It was also disconcerting to see what some of the people find as proper attire for the dining room. Having our table changed would have been easy enough, however, since we were dining in Portofino and Chops we decided not to bother.