After reading a myriad of reviews leading up to the planning of my cruise, I felt inclined to leave my two cents on mine and my girl's time aboard the Liberty of the Seas.
Background: This was our first cruise, so we were hoping to do something fun. After consulting friends and family, we knew RC was the way to go. We decided on the Caribbean since it offered the most options, and we didn't want to go to the Bahamas or Mexico. Finally, when I saw that we had the opportunity to sail on the largest ship in the world (by weight I think), I jumped on it. Also, the prices seemed reasonable, in fact, cheaper on the week we wanted to go (3rd week in August). The one major drag was having to fly down to Miami from New York. Not only did it add the extra expense, we are not crazy about flying, and it can take a lot out of you. Not to focus on the pre-cruise details, but we flew into Miami a day ahead of time, and stayed at the Richmond in South Beach. Never been to the city before, and honestly I wasn't impressed. It was not as nice as I had imagined it to be. Oh well, we were here for a cruise and not to sight see in southern Florida.
After checking out of the hotel on Saturday, we were torn as to what to do- go to the port early or hang around and wait out the crowds. We came to the conclusion that we were too anxious to get on board, so at 11, we hopped a cab to the port. Embarkation: MUCH faster than I had imagined. After reading mixed reviews on CC, I was bracing for long lines in the hot sun. We got there, and dropped our bags with a clerk waiting curbside. We only checked 2 bags. However, the gentleman who took them forcibly said that we had to tip him now since we weren't going to see him on the ship. I was a bit put off by this, and when I reached into my pocket to grab something to give him, I only had large bills. He ended up walking away with a 20 dollar tip from me. I was a little annoyed, but I put it out of my mind, since I was starting my vacation.
After waiting on a short line to check tickets (I printed mine ahead of time, which made it a little faster, I think), we went up past security. This was a little hectic, but we went right through in less than 10 minutes. Finally, we got to the check in, almost no line, or waiting. There was even water and lemonade for people, I thought that was nice. Our sea pass cards were already printed and ready to go. After that, a short walk and we were on board.
Stateroom: We were warned that our room may not be ready when we got on, but it was- a pleasant surprise. We got in, dropped our carry ons, and looked around. We had an interior room overlooking the promenade, which ended up being a great deal. You cannot hear anything from downstairs whatsoever. It was a little small, but there was plenty of closet space for 2 people for a week (how many clothes could you possibly bring?). Drawers were tiny, but they fit a few things. There were lots of shelves in the closet, and our suitcases, which were at the room within a few hours, were easily stored under the bed. We found the space in the bathroom behind the mirror was ample for our toiletries, and the storage behind the mirror in the sleeping area fit all of her makeup and miscellaneous items. The shower was fine I found, not really as small as other people complained about. The water pressure and temperature were great. But if you are picky about hair care, bring your own shampoo/ conditioner, the ships stuff wasn't great. The bed was large and comfortable, and the TV was very nice. We had a seat near the window, and another "love seat" in the room. We almost never used these, as we were either in bed, or not in the room. All in all, this was a great money saver, and would probably use a room like this again. The main feature of outward facing rooms were the balconies, however, there was so much room to sunbathe on the upper decks, I don't really see the point in this. Similarly, a window facing outward was almost always showing the same thing (lots and lots of water) which is nice, but, unnecessary in my opinion, as it can be seen anywhere.
Dining: The two main dinning options were the main dinning room and the windjammer cafe. First, the windjammer was our main breakfast and lunch spot. It was large and open, with great views of the water. The food was OK, hit or miss really we found. There was a lot of different things to eat, however, breakfast was repetitive. There was basically the same food every day, with minor changes such as pancake flavors, or toppings. The Omelet bar was a nice touch, however, how many times can you eat eggs in one week? There were enough options to eat something different almost every day. Biscuits with gravy, muffins, and Muesli were all great options, a little different from every day food at home. There was plenty of fruit and yogurt as well. Lunch was nice, there were always hot dogs, hamburgers, turkey burgers, fries and pizza. Other options were ok, nothing really stood out. There was always vegan options, some were good, others not really. It would be of note that on a cruise like this, vegetarian options are probably limited. Let it be said that the wait staff in the windjammer were very nice, more than I expected. They were always circulating around, cleaning tables, and asking if we needed anything. They insisted to get our drinks constantly, which was very nice. There is a lot of food here, and you can always go here for a quick bite, no matter what you are wearing. More than once we came in right from the pool, since it is on the same deck. I would say that you need to wear a shirt, which is probably a good idea. The main dinning room is where we ate every night. Here we met a great table of people who became our friends for the week. In addition, our waitress, Margaret and assistant Sandy were awesome. We had so much fun with them, they did a great job. The food in here is good, a bit better than the Windjammer, but it is also, hit or miss. By the second night, everyone at the table was comfortable enough with each other to start ordering multiple things off the menu. Sometimes, since the portions were so small, you had to, other times, we just didn't like what the food tasted like. Margaret was more than happy to get us whatever we wanted, as long as it wasn't low fat or sugar free! I don't want to give you the wrong impression, not all the food was small, or bad, but some dishes just weren't on point. The atmosphere in the dinning room was very nice, not too loud or too quiet. The room is huge and very impressive. We should mention that we ate at the second seating, which, I am assuming had fewer children attending. Which probably meant less noise. All in all, I think the food was OK, about what we expected, considering that there were thousands of dishes being prepared . Other dining options on the Liberty included Sorrento's, a pizzeria on the promenade open till 3. The pizza wasn't bad- especially at 2am leaving the bar! They always had plain and pepperoni, and some pizza of the day. There was also salad, and Panini, as well as dessert options. The cafe down the promenade was also open all day and night, they offered small sandwiches and desserts. All of which were good. The cafe, among other places, offered extras for a fee. You could buy cappuccino, or espresso here, as well as other specialty drinks for a price on your sea pass. Other pay-places included Ben and Jerry's which didn't have much of a selection of "specialty flavors". Johnny Rockets, which was also quite good, although the service left something to be desired. The 2 dinner options, Chops and Portofino, we didn't try either.
Bars and Clubs: There were a ton of places to get a drink on board. We tried just about every one, and I am not ashamed to admit it! The Schooner bar was nice, nothing special. Although the bartender there, Hugh, was a real nice guy who made good drinks. The Hoof and claw was probably the most unique pub on the ship, it had a nice dEcor. This is a place to grab a beer, not cocktails. I should mention that nearly every place had basically the same drinks, some just made them better than others. Boleros was nice, it had some salsa type music playing there, and found that lots of Latinos congregated here. It also had the most ornate decorations, specifically, glass sculptures around the walls. The champagne bar was near the dinning room, we were pleasantly surprised when we received canapE's with our pre dinner drinks. The Catacombs was very impressive, as it was more of a club, with a respectable sized dance floor, and 2 levels of bars. Here we met Perla, who helped me celebrate my birthday. She was awesome. Other smaller bars are scatted around the ship, including the Sky bar, Pool bar and Solarium bar, which were all outdoors. You didn't really need to go up to these bars, since waiters circulated around offering drink service from your deck chair. The On air Club had a small bar inside, but it didn't seem to be open unless something was going on on stage. One other bar existed in the Sphinx, a room that seemed underused, and forgotten, except for bingo.
Entertainment: There were a lot of things to do on board, especially at night. However, we found the shows to be just OK at best (and lousy at worst). We did not see the ice show, which we heard was the best on the ship. However someone in our group mentioned they nearly fell asleep watching it. The Platinum Theater is huge, and the stage has lots of lighting and special effects. The seats are comfortable, and drink service is available as well. We found that the shows were more like random songs thrown together, rather than an actual storyline. The comedian was OK, and the impressionist was, well, not very good at all (to be nice). There is also an acrobatic type show that was ok. We skipped the last night's performances. In addition to the productions in the theater, there is also an abundance of performers/ piano players in the various bars, and on deck. I found them all to be fairly good, however, they didn't play for very long. Some went on break after a handful of songs. All in all, it was a nice touch to have so many performers throughout the ship. The other main entertainment, were the game shows that were prevalent. We were sorry to miss the love and marriage game show, however we caught it on TV, several times. The Quest was very fun to watch, but difficult to participate in if you get there late, as we learned. Bingo was entertaining, at least for a little while. We missed battle of the sexes, but heard it was fun.
Activities: First, there were the everyday activities available on board. The rock climbing wall was very nice, not the most difficult I have ever used, which made it good for almost everybody. I found I only waited about 10 minutes to get on. The ice skating was closed for a couple of days for the skaters to practice (supposedly), but we got on the ice in studio B. The arcade was respectable in size, and while populated mostly by kids, I found it easy to get onto a machine if I wanted to. There was Karaoke several nights, but it was full of a lot of people. However, for those passionate about singing, there were pay booths for anyone to sing at any time, and make a DVD. There were all sorts of games taking place on the sports deck court, such as basketball, dodge ball, and volley ball tournaments. And just behind that, was the always popular/crowded flow rider. This was a lot of fun, and we were there several times. There are a fair amount of kids, except the one night it was opened for adults only. Finally, the casino, a respectable size, was very nice. Lots of slot machines, many were open all the time, several tables, that didn't seem too crowded. The one bad thing, only one hold'em table, and it was electronic. Come on, it's the most popular game now a days, why do it this way? There was a tournament to enter if you wanted to, although I declined.
The pools are obviously the main attraction on board, and luckily there are plenty of them. First, the 2 main family pools are fairly large, and have lots of chair real estate, however, it fills quick especially on sea days. If you are willing to walk up one deck, there are plenty of chairs just a staircase away, which we ended up settling for once or twice. We ended up spending most of our time in the Solarium/ Adult pool area, which had one smaller pool, ironically with stools and a bar, that we couldn't bring drinks onto (unless you hide them from deck hands!) and a very very small sun bathing area. There really should have been a connection to the upper deck here, but there wasn't. This results in a tiny area for adults to lay out and leave their belongings while in the pool. In addition to the pools, there were about 6 hot tubs, the two in the solarium, hung off the edge of the ship, which was very nice. These were generally not too crowded, we didn't have any desire to use any of the other ones. For kids, there is the H2O zone, which is a large "water park" further down deck. I loved it, since it kept most of the younger kids away from the pools. This was something that everyone benefited from.
Other things on board included shopping. I was a little irritated that so much space on the promenade was dedicated to selling merchandise. There were several stores specializing in different things, liquor, jewelry, RC-wear, perfumes, etc. I understand the need to do this, but it's a little put-offish that the main area of the ship, and arguably the most attractive interior space, had so much retail space. Why not put the computer room here, or move the arcade down? We found that at times we just avoided the area altogether, which is less difficult than some who have posted make it seem. On top of all of these activities, there are daily trivia games, name that tune, demonstrations and various other random events that changed day to day. The compass newsletter that you get the night before summarizes everything that is going on the next day, so we could plan out things we wanted to do ahead of time.
Shore Excursions: We only stopped in 3 places, which seemed scant for a 7 night cruise. First, San Juan, which we didn't get to until 4pm, was ok. We didn't go on any excursions here, although heard the horseback riding was well worth it. We walked to the fort, which closed by the time we got there. Some of the stores, were very touristy. Not much to do in the city itself, and not enough time to go very far and still get back to the ship in time. Next time, I would do a planned excursion here.
Second, St. Maarten, was also beautiful. Didn't do an RC excursion here either, but I planned on doing a tour of the island, which we did with the tour company right off the port. After joining up with another family, we got a nice rate on an full island tour for 3 hours. We made some stops all around the island, and got to go for lunch, go to the beach, and shopping at the free market. This was well worth it. If you go with a group, they would take you wherever you want to, and stop wherever you want. I think this was probably much more flexible than Royal's tour. The beaches there are great, and all over the place. Didn't go shopping there, but there is plenty to buy, so if you are interested, remember to bring some cash.
Last stop Labadee, which was our favorite. It is great to just lay out and relax. Here we did the Dragon's flight line, which was awesome. The tenders ran fast, and since there is no passport check or anything like that, it was very easy to get off and back on. There is also the water park, with large inflatables floating in the water, and a water slide, for a price. There is a lot to do here all in all, which was great. We probably could have done several excursions here if we wanted to. My biggest problem is the great abundance of islanders that are all over the island looking for a buck. First, the markets were disgusting. We were being harassed by 3 and 4 people at a time trying to sell their wares. Now, as someone used to walking through Chinatown in Manhattan, I wasn't fazed by this, but it's a vacation! Why do I need to put up with this on a tropical island? After walking away, we tried to grab a chair and lay out on the beach. Upon approaching the chairs, a man came up to me, and told me not to take them. He carried 2 chairs barely 20 feet to a tree. He had the nerve to stand there and adjust the seat backs for a minute waiting for a tip, which I reluctantly gave. To top it all off, at the lunch BBQ, there was a band playing strategically on the walkway between the buffet and the picnic area. Not only were they asking for tips, but they were trying to hock CDs and jewelry over and over again. COME ON! We are trying to relax and eat, and we need to be bothered by this? I can see if we were in a public port, but this is a private Island, Royal needs to rethink this, as it is just wrong. I understand the plight of these people, but if people wanted to buy something they can go to the market area.
Service: All in all the people on the ship were impeccable. The cruise director and activities director really earn their keep. They were great guys who genuinely love their jobs. In fact, all of the "uppers" on the ship were great. They ran most of the major activities like bingo, trivia, and the belly flop contest. But, at even the lowest levels, all the personnel were great. Everyone on board was looking for ways to help and make the trip better. Our favorite bartenders, Hugh and Perla, our waiters, Margaret and Sandy, and cabin attendant, Evelyn, really went above and beyond. I really don't recall anyone giving us a hard time, or even a second look at any request we had.
Disembarkation: Leaving the ship was easy and simple. We didn't want to get up at 6 for the express walk off or whatever that was. We were in no rush, so the night before I went to guest relations to settle my bill, which I paid without issue. I told the person there that I didn't want to leave the ship until I had to (since I couldn't check into my hotel until 2 anyway). She gave me pink tags, for my bags, which allowed us to stay on board until 10. We didn't have to get up early, we were able to take our time packing our carry ons. We met up with our friends for one last breakfast at the windjammer, and relaxed for a bit in the Schooner bar, one last time. After waiting on line for about 15 minutes to get through customs, we were off. It was far easier than I expected. RC did a good job at moving people, and I think I would recommend to anyone that has the time, to relax and enjoy the last morning on board. Summary: This vacation met, all of the expectations we had, and exceeded some. My main gripe is all the extra costs you need to pay, especially on board for random things, that I feel should have been included. Maybe that is why the upfront cost is relatively low. I really don't think I would change anything about this trip, including the ship, the promenade room, or excursions. They really do a great job at having a program run smooth. All in all, a vacation aboard Liberty is what you make of it.