We did the Halloween 7-night Easter Caribbean run aboard the Liberty of the Seas - reputedly the largest ship of its class by a few inches. Does size matter? It's a question I pondered...
Boarding at Port of Miami was easy enough. The line moved so quickly we hardly stopped walking until we were at the sign-in desk. From curb to ship took fifteen minutes.
The Liberty is a giant - bigger than an aircraft carrier that easily dwarfed the two other cruise ships in port. She carried over 4000 passengers on our little voyage. First impression upon boarding is that the multitude was not going to be fun.
Liberty's interior is stunning. It seems even "bigger" once inside. The fifth deck promenade is amazing. The Platinum Theatre, Studio B ice arena, and the multi-deck dining room were sights to behold for this Midwestern boy. If you're a casino aficionado, you'll have plenty of gaming room, too.
According to its promotional film, RCCL is "competing" with Las Vegas, Disney World and Hawaii for your business - hence "Like no vacation on earth." The Vegas influence is obvious with the bright garish lights, the expanded casino and even the evening shows. The Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers (and acrobats and skaters) have clearly put more color and bigger production into their various shows. One show, "In the Air," is a poor man's Cirque du Soleil, a bit of avant garde.
The Disney influence is most obvious in the Promenade parades and the H2O kiddie water park. RCCL is clearly targeting the family trade with such features. From the smiles I saw on the kids, and their parents, they succeeded.
The Hawaii/beach vacation is reflected in the pool areas, especially the Solarium. It is an open area (no roof) with tropical accents, like mosaic toucan statues and faux palm trees. It has a bar and the usual deck chairs. Along its outer edge are more substantial patio furniture seating, even a few porch swings. (WARNING: Several folks complained of motion sickness after swinging on them.) I liked the convenient mobile beer vendors around the main pool and Solarium areas.
There were many physical activities, from the Vitality fitness program to competitive sports tournaments. The Vitality program was well run, with many opportunities to earn chits for later exchange for t-shirts and other stuff. There was the rock wall, mini-golf and the open sports court. My son-in-law (age 23) participated in nearly all the sports court events. His teams won medals in dodge ball and volleyball. In both events it was a pick-up group of Americans versus internationals in the finals. If you don't think that aspect is important...well, grab a seat!
I enjoyed the challenge of the mini-golf. It is not your usual through-the-windmill course. First, the course layout demands more finesse than power. Then the 30-plus mph winds and ship movement challenge the best stroke. It was like playing the links in Scotland! Take the family golf challenge for a fun experience.
Of course, the Flowrider is the recreational centerpiece. The water isn't as wild as it looks, and wiping out doesn't hurt. From personal experience, get out and try it. Tremendous fun. My mid-seventies father-in-law did the boogie board and came off smiling after several runs. It reminded me of sledding as a kid. First timers generally earn a round of applause from the crowd, and any trick attempt is a crowdpleaser. Wait times were about 15 minutes between turns when two runs were operating.
We were a family group of ten. Several were first-time cruisers. Luckily we checked our dining arrangements because one couple was left off our table, and a "strange" couple assigned instead. Easily fixed, but the lesson applies - check early when such errors are fixable.
Our inside cabin was located on Deck 9. The convenience was major being just two decks below pool and Windjammer level - no elevator frustration, which could be major at peak demand times. Size-wise, our cabin was fine for the two of us, easily enough closet and drawer space. Our suitcases stowed under the bed. The bedding is excellent, very fancy without being frilly. We appreciated the RCTV system, which allowed us to check our charges and order room service. One suggestion: Move the phone to the dressing table/desk. Clambering over the bed to make or answer a call got old quickly.
The Windjammer is the best - there were almost always tables available, even at peak times. There were many larger tables seating six or eight. With the many internationals, table sharing was common. Americans, please note! The food and service were also excellent. Food selection was fine. Breakfast eggs are ordered at the fried egg station, or at the omelette station.
Room service was responsive. The chocolate chip cookies are the tops! And the pizza considered by some better than Sorrentos, which is itself pretty good.
Our dining room table service was excellent. Nacibe and Fayona were an excellent team. They were efficient, friendly, and responsive. Food ranged from good to excellent. I again tried to stick with the menu's Chef's Selections and found each of them excellent. The picks included the prime rib, the herb encrusted Atlantic cod, and the beef filet. Those who had the lamb shank all raved. (Lobster was on the menu. No $14 steaks listed on our menus.) One of our party is a restaurant owner and was impressed by the quality and value of the offerings, the quality of the service, and the logistical challenge of serving thousands of plated meals each evening.
Dining room dress most nights was smart casual - which was indeed casual. Formal nights were well attended at our main seating, with many more suits than tuxes in evidence. The ladies, of course, all looked their best.
Evening shows were mainly the "Singers and Dancers." It's something to do, but not my idea of an hour. Truth is, I was falling asleep. The "celebrity showtime" presentations didn't induce yawns. I understand tight budgets and all that. Here's an idea: The ship's band is one of its best assets. On other cruises the band was showcased on "big band", jazz and other theme nights. Except for the last night, when part of the band played in the Olive or Twist, there was none of it. Support the band on stage with some appropriate dance numbers and a few song renditions, maybe a house comic - the old variety show format.
A further nitpick was raised by one of our group, who observed the dance music offered largely left out the "boomer crowd," unless disco is your thing. Boleros offered Salsa music and was overflowing most nights. The Hoof and Claw Pub on the promenade was also a great late venue featuring sing along - it also had overflow crowds.
The mix of passengers was different, younger than our previous cruises. Many families with children, including teens. Kids were no problem and appeared to enjoy themselves. Liberty offers plenty to keep them occupied - from the adventure camps to various other events, including Wii and "Guitar Hero" competitions, throughout the day.
Many of the passengers were non-US. I've lived overseas and know some of the "quirks", but others were mightily irritated when some pushed to the front rather than stand in a line, or exhibited similar "rude" behavior. That's just the way it is done "back home" and no offense is intended.
The itinerary is familiar to many here: St. Maarten, San Juan and Labadee. The San Juan stop was too short. Enough to run up to the fort El Morro. If you take the free green shuttle, pay attention to the overhead destination marquee. There are three shuttle routes - not all go where you're headed. You can also walk up there through "Old Town," a pleasant experience. Remember, you're in the USA, so don't be surprised at all the "Gee, we have one of these at home" moments. Labadee was undergoing some expansion construction, nothing to degrade your experience. We enjoyed the easy day there, although it rained most of the morning and remained mostly cloudy.
We were off the ship in Miami after breakfast. From deciding to leave the ship to the curb was 45 minutes, most spent waiting for our luggage at the carousel.
So, did size matter? Yes, both ways. I appreciated all the extra stuff the large ship offers. The Windjammer and other amenities worked well with the crowd. But, I didn't appreciate the long, indirect walks to get from place to place. Elevators were awful most of the evening, either jammed with people or not making the upper decks.
I'm not convinced one way or the other. It was better than I expected in the early crush. There are still areas I haven't explored. And I really haven't found my "favorite spot." Still, I'd gladly give it another shot.