Background Information: We are a married couple in their 30's on our 11th cruise, 2nd on board Royal Caribbean. We are normally Celebrity or HAL cruisers, but decided this would be a good opportunity to try the big RCCL ship, Liberty of the Seas. After we booked and paid for our vacation, we had some difficult economic changes, but decided still to enjoy our cruise. A major priority was enjoying ourselves without spending too much money on activities, excursions, or other temptations. I was expecting lots of activities and a fun younger crowd, which is what we got. I was not expecting high quality personal service, delicious food, or quiet places to relax, so I was surprised when I got that too!
Travel Arrangements: We did the cruise line air and flew out of South Bend, through Detroit, to Fort Lauderdale on Northwest. Because of the cruise air, we did not have to pay for our checked bags (cha ching - a savings of $50). We took a cruise line transfer bus from FLL to MIA. Unfortunately had to wait almost 2 hours for this bus, but we made it to the ship on-time. Note to others - have your transfer paperwork out and ready. We did E-docs, but thankfully I printed the entire E-doc package. They made us give them that piece of paper to confirm our transfer arrangements, on other cruises they had our names on a list, no need to show the transfer vouchers.
Embarkation: There was a short line (maybe 20 minutes) at the pier. We went through security and baggage screening first and then got checked in. Priority check in line for suites and Platinum/Diamond members. We used that and were in and out in 5 minutes. I was traveling with a passport card and they acted like they had never seen one before. After some delay I just decided to give them my paper passport which they scanned and we were on our way to the ship.
Our stateroom: Number one tip for Liberty - bring a deck layout with you. There are none available on board except the ones by the elevators. You'll need the ship layout!
We chose a Promenade Family stateroom (I know, we only have two people in the room) but RCCL let us book the room and I am glad we had the extra space. It was like having a suite without the extra expense. What I didn't like was there was only one switch which controlled all the cabin lights. There were reading lamps at the bed, but otherwise it was either pitch dark or surface of the sun bright. The view from the 8th floor of the promenade was awesome. We looked out on the ben and jerry's, the floating bridge (where all the entertainment happens), but we could see the entire length of the promenade. Good for scoping out lines or just for people watching. Speaking of people watching - if you stay in a promenade room you MUST close your blinds. Everything you do in the room, the whole room, can be seen by your neighbors. I can't count the number of times in seven days that we saw things that should be kept private.
Upon entering the room there is a large bathroom with single sink and bathtub/shower combo. My husband and I are both big boned and we had no problems using the tub. It was long and deep, but not too wide. Soap bar (yuk) and Shampoo dispenser (good quality stuff) were provided. Shower was nice and tall, no ducking to get under the showerhead (Yay!). I recommend you bring your own soap and hair conditioner.
Just off the entry hall was a small bedroom with wardrobe, nightstand, and two bunk beds. This room also held the overhead announcement speaker. The room would be great for extra guests, even adults. Reading lamps AND overhead lamps provided, a curtain serves as the door.
A large living room with double wardrobe, sofa (pullout bed), chair, and window seat came next. A nice LCD TV was provided. It had hookups for video input, but no ability to change the channels except for pre-programmed channels, so we could not use the TV to view movies or play video games. TV was typical cruise fair - TNT, AMC, CNN, music channels, movie channels, and kids channels. In-Room movies were available for $10.95. Room service also available through the TV, most items for free. A small mini bar was under the TV - no alcohol, pop and snacks only. There was also a desk with lots of drawers and shelves (nice hair dryer in the center desk drawer), but not too much room to sit in the chair without running into the bed. Small vanities and lights provided, but no magnifying or makeup mirror.
The bed was an oversized queen with nightstands and reading lamps on each side. The bed was super comfortable! There is also another window seat on this side of the cabin. A curtain divides the bed area from the sofa area and TV can be turned to either side. Nice surprise-when the announcement channel is not being used for, well, announcements, a nice Jazz mix plays on that channel.
We also had a WALK IN CLOSET! Every girl's dream. This Promenade family room was HUGE. So I'm sure you're wondering, can you hear the noise from parades and such? The answer is YES, and it's very loud, and the lights are bright, and parades happen after 11pm, but they are over within 30 minutes, so you'll get over it and go back to bed. I loved the room, but another little note was there was no clock on the phone. If you must know the time, wear a watch with glow in the dark hands or bring a lighted travel clock. They have a wake-up call service, otherwise we would have slept until noon.
Activities: There is so much to do, you can't possibly get bored. There were over 1000 kids on the ship and I swear, we never saw them. You can have a completely adult experience on board, or enjoy family activities. My big tip for you is to go to the activity as soon as it starts - if you are there a few minutes before it begins, you'll have no problems with lines. Here's what we did to make the cruise enjoyable: Martinis (20% each day in a different bar); Wine Tasting at Vintages (Coupons for discounts and BOGO from the Crown & Anchor); Reading on promenade deck - if you go around AFT of the restaurant it is really quiet. The library was well-stocked and underused; Hanging in the Solarium and cantilevered whirlpools; Casino slot machines and $1 minimum table games; Trivia and other misc. activities staff; Working out in the gym - the equipment is top notch and gym was not crowded before dinner (5-7pm time); Ice Show - you MUST go to the ice show. It was better than CATS. I wanted to see it again and again and again. Tickets are distributed days in advance. If you go early to the ticket distribution, you'll have no problems. Get to the rink 30 min before the show and sit facing the "stage" near the floor for the best seats at the ice show; Production Shows-comedians, theater song and dance shows; Hanging in the lounges - there was a great guitarist on board; Thanksgiving NFL football games - on the stateroom TV and On-Air Club; Ice Skating - I would recommend saving all your extreme activities (skating, climbing, flowrider) for the last day. It wasn't busy and you don't want to ruin your vacation with a broken body part! MANY people were in casts or splints by the end of the vacation. We also tried the "twenty" late night dance club in the Solarium. It was all crew with a bad DJ, so not worth staying up late for. It could have been really cool, but just didn't work.
Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle - we received some small free gifts, had some fun intros to other members, and RCCL gave away three prize packs.
Service Our cabin steward, Alberto, was Awesome! If you put the white card in your door when you leave for breakfast, it will be clean and fresh before you come back. Same with evening turndown service. Alberto always had a friendly greeting for us and remembered our names. They were very respectful of the DND blue card in the door.
Our dining room table was changed on the second day, thankfully! Not only did we have great new tablemates, the servers, Nacibe and Jovenito, were great. Very attentive and personal. Not too much explanation about the food, no wine recommendations as they are also your sommelier, but an enjoyable dinner. Personal preferences were remembered. It took us a while to find a bar we liked. We enjoy a bit of elegance or at least a personable bar server. We found it in Garrett at the Casino bar. The smallest bar on the ship, but he made us feel special! Vintages was also nice. The servers had wine recommendations and always brought canapes with the wine.
Wines were around $40 with gratuity. Peligrino and Evian are also available for purchase.
Shore Excursions We did our own thing, not through RCCL.
Ship was late into San Juan due to rough seas, so we didn't get off.
St. Maarten we took a taxi to Dawn beach. The taxi's try to get a full load of passengers, so flash a good tip ($5) and they will take off right away. Dawn beach we got chairs and umbrella for $10. Snorkeling gear was $10 (excellent snorkeling). Beautiful clean beach was not too crowded. $.75 Carib beers and great lunch $10-$20 made for a great day. Taxi ride was $15 each way.
Labadee was Beautiful. We started at Dragon's Breath Beach. It was rocky and water was dirty, but we had some nice shade under a tree. The sand was full of shells and I found a few nice treasures to bring home (including a full size conch). There were very few vendors other than RCCL "labadoozie" pushers. The drink was very tasty, but for $6.95, I only had one. We moved in the afternoon to Barefoot Beach - very small, but much nicer for swimming and walking. Lunch on Labadee was typical cookout fare. Bathrooms were nice and clean. The area workers were kind of rude, but it's Haiti and things have been bad there, so I can hardly blame a bit of attitude toward us tourists. A UN helicopter flew over the beach and reminded me of the difficulty they had after the hurricanes. I also heard reports of kids begging at the Labadee gate for food or coins.
Dining Our C&A coupons included a free Johnny Rockets experience. The food was great, service was awesome. We sat outside in a booth facing the sea. I enjoyed the Boca burger and the onion rings. We had malts too which were delicious and worth the $4.95 each.
We ate at Portofino, $20 each. The food was delicious, but nothing "special". Same food was served at dinner or lunch in the dining room. What was special was celebrating our anniversary overlooking the San Juan night skyline as we departed (I timed it just right so that we started eating as we pulled away from San Juan and finished as we left the island behind). Reservation was for 9:15 for you fellow hopeless romantics. The desert at Portofino was soooo good. Save room.
We tried everything for breakfast and lunch: room service, dining room, Jade (just part of the regular buffet), and Windjammer. If you like curry, which we do, it's available at breakfast and lunch in the windjammer and at dinner each night in the dining room. The quality of the food was outstanding, much better than I expected. You can find pastries and coffee/tea all day in the Promenade Cafe (chocolate croissants were delicious. Pizza, antipasti, desserts and panini are found in Sorrento's all day. One thing I missed was fresh made waffles for breakfast and fresh made sandwiches for lunch. Neither was available anywhere on the ship. We also like sprinkles, the low fat yogurt by the kids H20 zone pool. The cookies (room service) were also delightful.
Dinner was very good. Thanksgiving dinner was standard fare on Thursday. Other days there were two beef, two fish, two vegetarian, and two other meat dishes. Veggie meals were curry and/or Italian. Soup, Salad, and Appetizer were all very good. Breads were delicious. Coffee/Tea after dinner with desert was very good. No baked alaska parade, but some meaningful presentations of the chefs and the wait staff that were memorable.
The water on the ship tasted like chemicals, so I was glad for tea and lemonade.
Disembarkation Was remarkably smooth. The ship got in to MIA at about 3am. They want you out of your room no later than 8am. You wait in a lounge for your color (6:15-9am debarkation). They give you times associated with each color and all color tags were available if you wanted to switch to an earlier/later time. Full breakfast was available on debarkation day, just not room service. Once color is called you go down and off the ship. Then you pick your luggage off an airport style conveyor, go through customs, and you are done. The longest part was finding the luggage. No lines anywhere else. We got on a transfer bus (again-make sure you have your paper voucher) and headed to FLL.
Overall impressions: You can definitely tell that the ship was designed by marketing people, not by mariners. There are very few views of the sea and even the outside decks are designed to draw you back into the ship for spending and shopping. There were lots of things to do for free, but it sure felt like all the "fun" stuff was stuff you had to pay for. It was a really big ship, and it's not laid out so that you can get from place to place without an effort. I commented that it would be good to decide what you want to do first, then find out how to get there. With only two staircases and two sets of elevators, it can get a bit confusing. RCCL is a great line for all kinds of people. I saw all ages, races, and backgrounds of people. You can find your niche and do your thing on the Liberty of the Seas. It's an affordable way to enjoy a cruise vacation. Although there were some things I didn't care for, there is not a thing I would do differently. It was a great ship, with great food and great service. Made for a great vacation.