Us: Professional couple in our 50's traveling by ourselves. This was our 10th cruise and first as Platinum on RCL. We've also sailed on Princess and Celebrity. First time on a Freedom class ship.
Booking: We usually book a cruise way in advance (our last cruise was a 2 week Canal on Serenade that was booked a year ahead). This cruise was arranged on short notice. We booked on Jan 3 with our internet TA for a balcony guarantee on the Feb 7 sailing. Three days after booking we noticed at the RCL website that the assigned cabin was a hump junior suite (our 1st), 9344 courtesy of the upgrade fairy. What a surprise!
Hotel/Air: The air was luckily obtained thru AA frequent flyer miles flying from our home airport in San Francisco to Miami. Flying out left at 9:30AM to Dallas for a 45 minute wait & then on to Miami arriving around 7:30PM. Flight home had us nervous as latest available was 10:40 AM departure from Miami to Dallas, 2 1/2 hr layover in Dallas & then on to SF arriving around 5:45 PM. Hotel was a bust. We use Priceline for booking precruise hotels and got too aggressive in bidding and were rewarded with the Holiday Inn Miami Airport West (Doral). It was a 15 minute drive from the airport and the kiss of death was the 1 hr wait for the complimentary shuttle to the hotel.
Embarkation: We took the complimentary hotel shuttle back to the airport and then a $24 cab ride to the port. We arrived at the Port around 11:10AM & were whisked thru priority registration since we were now RCL Platinum cruisers and suite dwellers. We were on the ship within 25 minutes. Only holdup seemed to be several weddings that were taking place on the ship in port. RCL allows up to 50 guests on the ship for the ceremony. We were amazed at the size and beauty of the ship.
Stateroom: We wandered the ship for a while and had lunch in Windjammer before gaining access to our stateroom at 1:00. Our last 2 cruises have been in category E-1 or E-2 balconies and that has been comfortable for us. The upgrade to a junior suite really spoiled us. It is so much roomier and luxurious. The walk in closet provides ample storage space. The bathroom with bathtub is fabulous. The balcony is 150% of the size of a standard balcony and came equipped with 2 chairs, small table and 2 reclining chairs. We ordered a small early room service breakfast of coffee, fruit & pastry to enjoy with the sunrise on the balcony. We think the hump junior suite was around 15 sq ft larger then a regular junior suite because of it projecting outward. Our cabin attendant was Daniel and he was capable. Our request for down pillows and bathrobes was immediately granted and after a request we started receiving pillow chocolates and towel animals nightly.
Ship: The ship is impressive and gorgeous. That being said we both agreed we prefer a smaller ship. We've now sailed RCL Radiance class (Serenade), Voyager class (Adventure of the Seas) and Freedom class (Liberty). The Serenade is our favorite. It is all of the glass incorporated into the ship and so many public sitting areas (lounges & bars) that provide views. The weather on our cruise was just okay. Partly sunny and breezy for most of the trip. Friday was total sun. We found that if we were not in our cabin and it was uncomfortably breezy on deck there were verrry few public sitting areas on the ship. We also realized we don't use many of the family amenities of Liberty such as the Flowrider, rock climbing wall, basketball court or putting green. The gym was quite large and very nicely equipped but also warm on the treadmill as it was humid and inadequate AC. The ship also needs more elevators for it's size. We were verry lucky our stateroom was located right near a bank of elevators.
Dining: We were main seating for dinner (6PM). There was a hiccup here as we usually prefer a large table for 8 but on boarding found that we were assigned to a table for 4. We immediately went to the maitre'd and were changed to a table for 6 on deck 5. The food at dinner was okay. Both formal night meals were excellent and I only found on Tues & Thurs there was no main course I liked & reverted back to the always available grilled chicken. Service from our waiter was perfect, the asst waiter was a little slow. On Friday we had previously booked a reservation for Portofino's, the specialty restaurant. The dinner there was fantastic as always. Their mushroom pasta (appetizer) and fillet for dinner was superb. The dessert sampler is spectacular and the service is impeccable. Well worth the $20pp cover charge. As previously discussed we would start our day early with a light room service breakfast on the balcony and then move on to Windjammer for a buffet breakfast or the main dining room on deck 3 for a more leisurely breakfast. In Windjammer it was frequently challenging to obtain a table. The breakfast foods were okay. Good oatmeal & pastries, okay french toast, marginal eggs. The main dining room seemed better for breakfast except for the thinnest toast in the entire world. How do you slice bread 1/16"? The eggs benedict and omelets were good. We would usually do Windjammer for lunch & it was okay. We had one lunch as Johnny Rockets and that was really good. Great design your own burger and the onion rings are awesome. The waiter show was fun also. The international food buffet for lunch on Friday did not work. the food was not great and the promenade does not serve 4000 people at the same time very well. Sorrentos on the promenade had good pizza and pastries.
Entertainment: The ice show was terrific. It is worthwhile getting there a little early & getting good seats down near the ice. The Drifters were the main act on the sailing and gave a good concert. The Platinum theater is a very nice venue. We had a difficult time finding dancing music. We don't stay up late (after 10PM) and couldn't find comfortable dancing music except for the Crown & Anchor reception.
Shore excursions/Ports: Labadee/Haiti was our first stop. This is RCL's private stop. We had a laidback day and just grabbed a couple of lounges right on the first beach we came to. It was a partly sunny day and great for taking pics of the ship sitting in the idyllic cove. Lunch was a bbq nearby and then we watched a native dancing and fire eating show. The market sellers were extremely aggressive but we did get some shell chokers for the girl neighbors at home.
Next up was Montego Bay Jamaica. We decided to do a short day in Jamaica and took a shuttle bus downtown ($15pp) to a ubiquitous jewelry store so DW could score a modest pendant.
Georgetown, Grand Cayman. We had booked a private excursion with Native Ways for their 5 hour boat trip to Swim with the Stingrays, snorkel and lunch & sun at Rum Point. It was a great excursion. The water was an amazing turquoise green. The snorkeling was just okay as the water was pretty choppy, but very clear. The swimming with the Stingrays was amazing. One of our guides held a ray as we petted it & took pics with it. We also got to feed them. Rum Point was pretty and the lunch was good.
Cozumel was our last port. We booked a ship sponsored snorkel excursion to 2 stops at Palancar Reef. It was a long hour each way boat trip to the snorkeling site and then 1 hr of snorkeling at a beautiful reef. There is also a brief snorkeling experience over a 3000 ft dropoff.
Debarkation: We used the new express walk off service (carry your own luggage) in Miami and it was great. We had breakfast in Windjammer at 6AM, returned to the room at 6:30 and grabbed our bags. We were off the ship in 20 minutes, in a cab and at Miami airport by 7:20. Couldn't have been easier.
A great vacation. High points for us on this one were swimming with the rays and the luxurious junior suite experience. A nice cruise and good ship.