Our departure port was the Port of Miami and we arrived at about 11am after spending the night at Lago Mar Hotel and Resort, Fort Lauderdale. This is a beautiful beach resort with very nice grounds, private beach and excellent pool area. It would be ideal for pre or post cruise at Port Everglades for any of the ships leaving from there. Our drive time (on Saturday) to Miami taking a partial scenic drive along A1A was about 45 minutes. I proceeded to drop off the other members of my party at the dock first with the luggage before returning the rental car at Hertz which was about a 2 minute shuttle ride to the pier. At this time of day, the pier was busy because of both passengers embarking and disembarking. There were a lot of taxis, buses, shuttles around not unlike a busy airport, but plenty of porters who would take your bags and deal with them for you as long as they were properly tagged with the labels provided by RCL. I had the misfortune of leaving my wallet onboard the Hertz shuttle which was fortunately found by another passenger travelling also to the Liberty who then returned it to the Hertz driver who I was able to flag down later on to recover my wallet. Whew! Thank God for good people out there whom I later met onboard at Windjammers for the embarkation lunch but didn't manage to bump into for the whole rest of the cruise just to give you an idea of the size of this ship. A side note...to the lady with the blue cowboy hat! You're a lifesaver; I hope you enjoyed your cruise!
Embarkation involved entering the port where a short line to examine your seapass and passport then directed you to the security line similar to an airport. That took about 5 minutes max. Up the escalator to the different lines to check you in depending on which deck you are on and whether you are a diamond member or in a suite. Check in didn't take long if you already had your seapass printed online, your passports and the credit card for onboard charges. The final lineup to scan your newly acquired seapasscard took 5 minutes and then it was up the escalator to board the ship. Boarding the ship involved less fanfare than aboard the Disney ships, a precruise photo taken on the deck and then onto the ship (deck 4).
CABINS as usual were not ready until 1 pm giving you time to explore the ship or have lunch up on Deck 11 at the Windjammers cafe. The rooms were ready promptly although I didn't actually meet our cabin steward until later than night. Wilma on deck 6 was wonderful! The bags would come up sporadically over the next 4-5 hours so if you have kids who want to go swim, best to take with you a handheld luggage with all the things you would need right away and not check those in.The cabin was fairly standard at least compared to the only other cruise I've been on which is the Disney Wonder in the same balcony stateroom. There is only a shower however in the 1 piece bathroom unlike the Disney ships where there was a separate bath which makes it easier when there are more than 2 people in the cabin. There was a queen bed next to the balcony and a queen sofabed which was opened at night. THe flat panel TV had limited channels but could swivel, the curtain dividing the 2 areas only closed halfway. The balcony was fair size with 2 chairs and a small table. Opaque glass doors which were usually locked separated the cabin balconies. Toiletries included bar soap only, the shower had a shampoo/conditioner dispenser. The stateroom attendant was wonderful, leaving different towel animals nightly as the room was attended to twice a day. She was very accommodating to requests (i.e removing stuff from mini fridge so that we could store water bottles, etc. that we brought onboard, etc.)Everything else was pretty standard (no iron, safe in closet, ample room under bed for storing suitcases, hairdryer hidden in drawer at the table with mirror. The hallways were pretty spacious, at least compared to the Disney Wonder, there was ample space to move even when there were obstructions in the hall.FOOD was pretty good. You had choices ranging from the buffet restaurant, Windjammers where the fare was pretty mainstream, although there were some Asian themed dishes available also. Drinks that were complimentary included Iced Tea (unsweetened), lemonade and fruit punch, regular coffee, hot chocolate and tea. Coke and soft drinks were available, but at a charge. THe first day, they offered the Coke pass ($6-7/day/pp which included a refillable cup that will allow you to have unlimited softdrinks through the cruise either at meals or at the bars. You do not always have to bring the refillable mug however to use the pass, it's a sticker on your seapass card which technically cannot be shared. There are other places to eat as well. On deck 12 at the back of the ship, there is a Johnny Rockets restaurant; there is a small surcharge for eating there, however, the food is much like the land version of the restaurant with the milkshakes, burgers, onion rings, etc. On deck 5 (the Royal Promenade) there is Sorrento's pizzeria which also serves paninis, and assorted deserts and cookies. THe pizza was wonderful and the kids loved it for their afternoon snack. On the other end of the promenade is the Promenade Cafe which has doughnuts, danishes, muffins in the mornings, sandwiches and cakes afterwards. You can get Seattle's Best Coffee expresso based drinks and iced drinks here for a charge, but at the back there are self serve coffee machines and hot water for hot chocolate and tea which were complimentary and quite good all day long. I actually managed to avoid my normal lattes and cappucinos all cruise long save one iced latte on a really hot day. The Ben and Jerry's is also found there and available with an extra charge, there is a soft serve ice cream machine on deck 11 around the pool, Sprinkles which is complimentary and often with long line ups. The main dining room spans 3 levels named after 3 different Italian masters. Your dining level is indicated on your seapass card which indicates your dining table number, the first number indicating the level 3,4 or 5. With our party of six, we thought we would have a private table, but it turns out we were seated with 2 other families for a total of 11. That turned out to be wonderful because the families we met were wonderful, including a fellow cruise critic member. Our dining room team was fantastic. Shouts go out to Richard from Jamaica and Themila from India who were pretty much bending over backwards to accommodate our every request. Our children loved them and ate with us every night there with one note that depending on your children, the second dinner seating is at 8:30pm with some of the show happening after dinner at 11pm. That was a little too late for our children who on a couple of occasions became really tired. The food was pretty good considering you are feeding 4000 people. The serving sizes were small, but that allowed you to try multiple items. It's not five-star gourmet dining, but that wasn't expected really; good variety and choices though. Portofino's and Chops Grill on deck 11 were good for that. We only had one dinner at Portofino's were we had an excellent anniversary dinner with wonderful service. Our table mates who went to Chops Grill commented equally good food and service there as well. The two formal dinners were nice as well, most people dressed up, not as many tuxedos that you might expect which was good for the majority who were not wearing them. THe ladies were very elegantly dressed for the most part, young and old.
KIDS have a blast on the ship. There is so much for them to do. The crowds were not as bad as expected for most things like the rock climbing, flowrider, mini-golf. All activities require a signed waiver that you have to fill out once. The activities staff were wonderful at all venues. My kids did not go to the Adventure Ocean clubs as they didn't want to be separated, and preferred to hang out with us so I can't comment on them. From what Erin at our table said though, they were a blast too with lots of activities to keep them occupied. Rock climbing was fantastic, Flowrider for those inclined was great. mini-golf was a little disappointing with the quality of the course not being up to caliber as the other activities. Skating (Deck 3) was interesting, very small surface , LONG PANTS required; skate, helmet, pads rental (complimentary) was available. Shuffleboard (deck 4) and Table Tennis (Deck 14)was available also. There was a golf simulator too which I believe you had to book appointments for and pay a surcharge to use. The H2O waterpark is really a splash area, there is a very small deep area under the waterfall, but the majority are sprinklers for the kids. THe circular current pool was interesting; the kids really like that. Maybe they could've used a slide here but who's complaining. A PADI dive shop on deck 11 was also available for snorkeling gear, info, etc. TOWELS are available on Deck 11 but are linked to your seapass card (2 per card) You have to return the towels to avoid a $20 charge per towel, you can exchange them as often as you want however, and you are advised to take them for excursions, etc. Remember to return the towels before 6pm the last day or you will have to wait in a very long guest relations lineup to do the same.
THE SPA was not used by us but I hear is really nice. The adults only solarium included the two hangin whirlpools on either side. The fitness centre was pretty nice with boxing ring. When I ditch the kids, and go just the 2 of us, I'll comment more on this.
The SHOWS were pretty good, the ones that I saw; a couple were pretty late so the kids missed those. The singers were quite excellent. Don't miss the Ice show as that was spectacular...like seeing a regular ice show on land, but included in your cruise. They really did a wonderful job there. We had a juggler onboard, who was really quite funny; a guest comedian who was also not bad but I think that changes every so often. The music through the ages show, I missed, but I heard it was awesome.Boy, writing these things can get very longwinded. I do apologize, but then you could just close the window and move on if you like.
PORTS OF CALL.
We were quite adventurous being first and second time cruisers. We got off at every port of call to do something.
Tenders. We got off the ship on one of the first tenders (8am or so) and that wasn't very busy. BRING YOUR TOWELS FROM THE SHIP. I forgot to and having to go back to the ship, get the towels and return took about 90 minutes. Lineups were very long here later on and that is important if you have early waverunner or other activities booked. I can't wait until they build a dock here to accommodate the Oasis class ships. Labadee is a scenic beach area. There are multiple beach areas and a dedicated beach area for the waverunners, water play, etc. We went to barefoot beach where we some modest snorkeling sights to the right; didn't get to explore much else because of the towel problem and waverunner excursion. They have snorkel set rentals here and you are required to wear a snorkel vest if you venture out past where you can touch bottom. Waverunner experience was essentially a 8 minute video presentation, then a guided run with 4 stops around the bay. One stop included a sale of merchandise from 'locals' on kayaks/canoes which you were able to pay for once you returned to port. Not much to see; you go over some very shallow reefs at points, depending on your waverunner guide you might get to do some S turns, etc. but you're not on your own to do as you please. Lasted about 50 minutes. It was great for us as we were first timers. Those with previous experience might want to wait until the other ports to Jet Ski. Lineup back to the ship was 30 minutes + in 35deg+ heat. Food / BBQ lunch was so-so.
Docked. We didn't go on a RCL excursion for Jamaica, despite some of the comments that have been made about Jamaica. We decided to spend the day at Doctor's Cave Beach on our own. Left the ship pretty easily, the taxi stand was a little crazy but with help, you can find yourself in a cab to take us there. $5/pp each way + tips. Make sure you avoid the sometime suggested tour of the city by cab, unless you want to do that. We just wanted the beach so they took us directly there, 15 minutes or so. Entrance was $5 pp, Umbrellas and chairs ($5 each a must)+tip. Hair Braiding was available, but off in the women's washroom. The only people selling things that we encountered the whole day were the waitresses from the Groovy Grouper asking if drinks or food were desired. Otherwise, no other vendors at all. They had 3 water trampolines which were a hit with the kids. Excellent snorkeling out near the boundaries, but well within swimming distance. They had snorkel rentals as well, but we had our own. Some of the corals almost reach the surface, saw many types of fish, and even squids. Excellent off beach snorkeling, especially for beginners. Back to the ship by cab pretty uneventful and boarding was quick.
Georgetown, Cayman Islands.
Tenders. This port was busy with both the Freedom and the Seas and us along with the Carnival Imagination lined up offshore. Quite a sight seeing the two largest ships side by side...We're 2 inches longer was the running joke here aboard the Liberty. All excursions meet in the theatre first, then aboard the tender to the pier. After reaching the pier, all excursion passengers are separated into their respective excursions...not very well organized however, but we managed fairly easily. We took the Stingray City , Barrier Reef and Seven Mile Beach Resort Lunch excursion. Herded onto an old school bus with a crazy driver for about a 15 minute drive to the ship that would take us out. On board, we were given a snorkel vest for safety and snorkel equipment which en route to Stingray City. Our Stingray City was in 10 - 15 feet of water out in open water. There, once in the water, you can peer down at the stingray swimming below you, you can deflate the vest to dive down to pet them, but they will occasionally surface to get food. Much too crowded as 100 or so people in a small confined place looking at 20 or so stingrays. More often than not, got a fin or flipper in the face or stomach and only got to interact with the stingray for about 1 minute. They give you squid to feed the stingray. (This is different from another Stingray City excursion where you are on a shallow sand bar in waist deep water where the stingrays swim around you. Note the excursion description.) Next stop was a barrier reef with some nice coral reefs to see; about 20 - 30 minutes there until you go back on board to the dock where you started. Our excursion then put us on the same bus to some Beach Resort for lunch and time on seven mile beach. Welcome drink is fruit punch from a cooler; lunch is hamburger OR hotdog and some BBQ chicken. Same utensils for raw and cooked chicken had me forgo the chicken and most of the food altogether. Wasn't very appetizing. snorkeling here was very limited at this beach. I didn't even bother getting my equipment. Preset time to take bus back to pier was poorly organized...some were actually convinced to take a taxi back to the port (at our expense) instead of waiting for our included transportation, and even that was not very clearly marked. In general, the excursions at Cayman were in my opinion, very poorly organized (the ones through RCL that is; can't say about the independent ones) Lineup to tender at Cayman Pier was about 30 minutes.
Docked. One important point. Cozumel is an island off the Mayan Riviera. A ferry ride of about 1 hour which can get quite choppy in a poorly ventilated ferry is required to and from if you do any excursions not on the island of Cozumel. We booked an excursion to Xcaret through RCL. I don't recall seeing the dolphin swim at Xcaret as an option online prior to sailing, but it was offered on the ship. I subsequently book the dolphin swim separately, Just managed to make the time, although I had it changed later to match the passengers who would do the Xcaret with Dolphin excursion. The excursions were numerous after, but well labelled and organized. Xcaret was very beautiful...the whole trip there including ferry, walk, bus ride was about 1.5 hours. Basically it is a very large park. If you book a dolphin swim, that's about all you will be able to do other than the underground river (basically a river in a cave with no vegetation or wildlife that runs for about 30 minutes.) Any clothing, valuables you don't take into the water can be left in a locked bag which is transported to the end of the underground river for you to pick up when you exit the river. Pretty much anyone on an excursion will do this first; then after that, you have the dolphin swim or 2.5 hours to explore, snorkel, beach, etc. Dolphin swim was good, probably not as interactive as some other programs...no grabbing the fins, or 'swimming' with the dolphins per se. Lots of photo ops, Very expensive...$229USD for 11 pictures each person in your group and DVD video of experience. Kids loved it as this was their first experience, so there. I would like to return when actually staying at a resort on the Mayan Riviera and not be so rushed, otherwise you miss a lot of Xcaret. Trip back was delayed, but they had to hold the ferry and cruiseship for us because this was a RCL excursion. But that was really a long, tiring day. Our shipmates who stayed onboard had a much more relaxing time with a nearly empty ship.
You are given a form with selections for disembarking the ship. The quickest way is if you take all your luggage with you and leave between 645am and 730am. You just walk off the ship to customs. Otherwise, there is the luggage valet service which I can speak for since I didn't use it. We didn't have a flight to catch so we selected a slightly later departure time, after breakfast at Windjammers. Our departure time was 830 to 945 but we were let off the ship closer to 10am. Customs was about 15min wait , our bags (9 of them) took about 30 minutes to all come out. Again, all of the same porters that were waiting to greet you when you embark are there to help you disembark. With my car rental at Hertz again, we left Miami driving towards Orlando at about 12:30pm or so.
All in all, we had a great time. For our kids 10 and 7 respectively, they just loved it and there are some things they didn't even try yet. We'll save that for our next cruise which we booked onboard. The only benefit of doing so is an onboard credit (amount varies according to length of cruise)for that cruise. It is non-refundable, but you can change the reservation to whatever suits you in the future as long as you don't cancel the reservation.