This review covers our back-to-back cruise on Liberty of the Seas October 17, 2009 through November 1, 2009. My focus will be only the ship & cruise product; I will not cover the ports of call. Where appropriate, I will compare our RCI experience with cruises on Celebrity, Holland America, Princess, and Carnival that we completed within the last two years.
About us: We are both in our early 50's with no children. This is our 13th cruise and our first on Royal Caribbean, although we had Diamond C&A privileges due to Elite status in Celebrity's Captains Club. DW has MS; due to her increasing difficulty walking this is our first cruise using a mobility scooter.
Embarkation: We arrived at the Port of Miami at approximately 11:30 AM on October 17. We had intended to arrive at 11:00, but Downtown traffic was a nightmare due to a "Race for the Cure" event that had closed several waterfront streets. It took over 30 minutes to hail a cab and travel the short distance between the Intercontinental Hotel and the bridge to the Port. Disembarking traffic was backed up all the way over the bridge. Note to Miami authorities - There must be other suitable venues for this event that are farther away from a Port where four large cruise ships are disembarking/embarking! Once at the terminal we were checked in and on the ship in less than thirty minutes.
The ship: Liberty of the Seas is in great condition with officers and crew dedicated to keeping her that way. For example, when we first entered our cabin we noted that one of the sheers had a tear. Our cabin steward had apparently noted this also, as within ten minutes of our entering the cabin a maintenance person arrived to replace the sheer. Our toilet seat was similarly replaced during the cruise without our taking any action. Finally, while we were at Cafe Promenade early one morning we noted the Hotel Director himself conducting a "white glove" inspection of the Promenade. Before we were done with our coffee the maintenance teams had started to address the defects that he had flagged. This was quite impressive and indicates Management's zeal for keeping the ship immaculate. We have not observed such attention to detail on any of our other cruises.
As for the ship itself, there are no two ways about it - this boat is BIG. Beautiful, but big. While relaxing in a lounger on the port side of the Solarium, it amazed me how far away the starboard side was. And that's just the width. It's also a very long ship, and tall as well with 13 passenger decks counting from Deck 2 (lowest passenger deck) up to the Viking Crown. Good thing that we invested in the scooter; it was invaluable on a ship this large! All the space is put to good use though, as there are myriad places to explore and have fun.
From the ice rink low in the ship to the rock climbing wall that goes most of the way up the funnel there is something for everyone. With (by my count) eight different food venues plus room service there is a place to eat that will meet nearly everyone's taste. The Royal Promenade has plentiful shops. The bars are too numerous for me to accurately count.
Yet for all her size, choke points on Liberty remain. Quite frankly, elevator capacity is a joke. On sea days it was necessary to get on the first one with any available space, regardless of the direction in which it was going. And, just finding an elevator with any room on it often required waiting several minutes. Elevators take up space that can otherwise be used to increase passenger capacity and/or revenue producing area, so I understand why RCI made the decision to install fewer of them. It was not the right decision though, IMO.
Other design decisions that some might question include both the pool and sky decks (one deck above the pools). These are thoroughly mobbed on sea days, despite two large main pools, the H2O zone for children and the adults-only Solarium. There are some peaceful places to spread one's towel, such as the "St. Tropez" area forward, but sunbathing anywhere within sight of one of the pools is an activity one partakes of with over 1,000 of one's "best friends" in very close proximity.
The Windjammer is also overcrowded during peak periods, so much so that a breakfast buffet has been set up in the main dining room (MDR) to relieve some of the pressure upstairs. Best advice for those seeking less hubbub is to avoid the Windjammer for breakfasts and sea-day lunches. Use Cafe Promenade, Sorrento's, Johnny Rocket's, or the MDR for these meals instead.
In contrast to the elevators, pool areas, and Windjammer, other areas of the ship handle large crowds very well. The MDR contains great acoustic baffling in the ceilings so that it's easy to hear your waiter and dining partners even in the midst of a bustling dinner seating. Tables are well spaced and the entire dining experience is very enjoyable. The main theater is well laid out and has ample seating. The casino is huge, but densely packed with slots and tables. There is also sufficient room in all of the lounges we visited (and we hit a number of them) and, except during one of RCI's famous parades, on the Royal Promenade. Thus, with the exception of Deck 11, this ship handles its large passenger carry well.
Much has already been said about the Royal Promenade. I will add only that here the designers did themselves credit. The mix of shops, eateries, and bars allows the Promenade to function exactly as intended - as the focal point of the ship. It succeeds brilliantly.
DEcor on this ship is not especially memorable, although the enormous Murano chandelier in the MDR is a showstopper. A larger than life, bright red dog overlooks one end of the Royal Promenade while a metallic bull terrier, approximately life size, resides on the Promenade itself. A large Egyptian-style obelisk stands at one end of the Promenade outside The Sphinx, the ship's cabaret venue. Metallic palm trees and tropical bird statues adorn the Solarium. By and large though, if art and dEcor are of particular interest you will find Celebrity, Holland America, and even Carnival ships more memorable, each in their unique styles.
Cabin: We booked well in advance of sailing date and were thus fortunate enough to obtain D1 cabin 1400 for both weeks of our cruise. This cabin is on deck 10 at the extreme rear corner of the ship, starboard side. Due to its corner location, the cabin itself is at least 35% larger than a normal category D, similar in size to a Junior Suite but with a standard bathroom & shower. The balcony on this cabin is also oversized. The view at the rail is diagonal so we were able to see the views both astern and to starboard, although you cannot see the side of the ship itself. The balcony was furnished with two loungers, three chairs and a small side table. It is completely covered by the overhang of the Windjammer one deck above, thus stays dry and, for well over half the day, shady. The folks in the cabin next door could look around the partition into this balcony if they desired, but it is completely private in all other respects. There are a couple of structural pillars to navigate around but this was not a major issue.
The cabin was quiet, with plenty of storage. Almost no noise from the Windjammer one deck up, although we could hear pre-teens from a nearby cabin running around in the hall. The safe is positioned relatively high, which is my preference. There were plenty of hangers. The bed is comfortable, although the pillows run somewhat firmer than we prefer. Lighting and climate control were very good. 100% of the lighting was functional, which is more the exception than the rule based on our previous cruises. There are two electrical outlets. Unlike the tiny night tables on Celebrity's Solstice-class ships, night tables on Liberty have a drawer and are of sufficient size to hold several incidental items. The bed lamps have integrated reading lights, a nice touch.
The bathroom was small but adequate. RCI provides bar soap and shampoo in a dispenser, nothing more. There is no outlet for a nightlight which would have been helpful. The shower is the smallest I have experienced on a cruise ship but was workable. Towels were fine. Not a luxury bathroom by any stretch but more than adequate for our needs.
Food: Although this is not a cruise line for gourmets, Royal Caribbean does a good job serving food that is, for the most part, tasty if unspectacular. Overall the food was good to very good, and somewhat better than the food we were served on a Carnival cruise in June. Hot entrEes were served hot, which is not always the case on cruises. Prime rib was very good to excellent and, like sister line Celebrity, pastas were consistently served al dente and were all very good. There were some items that fell a bit short. Also like Celebrity, Royal Caribbean seems to struggle with fish. I had an unnamed whitefish entrEe in the MDR and a halibut dish at Portofino, neither of which were good. Other MDR choices were fine, if not particularly memorable. I did enjoy having the option of a vegetarian Indian selection each night, though as it turned out I never ordered one.
My Time Dining worked very well. We never had to wait for a table and were able to request Catalin as our waiter (who we greatly enjoyed) on all but two of the nights that we ate in the MDR. As I've mentioned in other posts and reviews, we will never go back to traditional dining.
We recommend Portofino for its veal saltimbocca entrEe which was stellar. The eggplant/ricotta cheese, shrimp risotto, and Beef Carpaccio appetizers were also excellent. However, after dining at one of Carnival's Supper Clubs I cannot recommend Chops. The meat was clearly inferior to the USDA Prime steaks served on CCL ships. Sauces were also not as well executed. Not at all worth the cover charge, closer to what I used to expect in the MDR.
In contrast, Johnny Rockets is great fun and well worth the cover charge. It is a very close replica of a 1950's style diner. Although it's life size, it's tucked away in a somewhat out of the way part of Deck 12. That alone gives one some perspective on just how large this ship is. It's worth every penny of the extra charge. Be sure to stay for at least one dance performance by the crew. And don't miss the apple pie a la mode, the best apple pie on the high seas IMO.
Sorrento's is an authentic looking 1960's - 1970's neighborhood pizzeria on the Promenade. Black and white photos of famous 20th century Italians and Italian-Americans adorn the faux-brick walls. Red vinyl booths and bentwood chairs provide seating. The pizza itself is good. Better than Carnival and Celebrity, about equal to Holland America, but not as good as Princess. They also serve a Panini du jour that is worth checking out.
One of our favorite spots on the ship was Cafe Promenade which serves extra cost espresso drinks and alcoholic coffee beverages along with free pastries, cookies, and small sandwiches. Free coffee (Seattle's Best) is also available. We watched many children come in (alone) and leave with plates of 6-10 cookies. I wonder if their parents knew? This is a great place for a lighter breakfast or lunch as all of the food offered here is quite good. It's also a great place to people watch on the Royal Promenade.
Entertainment: Generally above average for cruise ships. The ice show was wonderful - a highlight of the trip. Come early, as there are only four performances per cruise and seating is limited. Lounge musicians were uniformly good. One concern with the lounge entertainment is that on most nights of the cruise there is only one early evening performer. The rest don't get rolling until 10 PM or later. As we become more "mature" our bedtime creeps earlier, so it's been a bit difficult to enjoy the musicians for more than a short while.
Unfortunately the floor shows do not live up to the rest of the entertainment. One of them began promisingly with paintings coming to life. Unfortunately it quickly deteriorated into cast members in 18th century period costume dancing to disco music. What were they thinking??? We ran for the exits before the next scene, along with many others.
Service: There are several definitions for excellent cruise service. One is a crew that caters to your every whim and fulfills your every need before you even knew you needed anything. Think butlers in your suite, silently serving endless champagne and caviar at the same time they are pressing your tuxedo and ball gown for formal night and cleaning the bathroom for the twelfth time since lunch. That is not the type of service you will find on RCI.
However, another definition of excellent service is a team that delivers its product in an upbeat, professional manner. It may be coffee and cake instead of champagne and caviar, but if it's served by a happy crew that's eager to please then that too constitutes great service IMO. In this respect, the service on Liberty is outstanding. Only Celebrity's service comes anywhere close - HAL, Princess and Carnival are all fine, but fall short of this standard. The crew seems almost eager to go out of their way for you. To call them "helpful" does not do them justice. Better, this seems like a happy ship. Lots of smiles, lots of little jokes, a waiter that sings softly as he serves. Everyone appears sincere. We've never experienced that on our other cruises. If sommeliers in the MDR and butlers in the suites are important to you then Celebrity will meet your needs better. Otherwise: Great service, happy crew. What could be better?
Fellow passengers: Really no uniform way to describe them except as diverse. All ages, races, at least ten nationalities (most likely many more) including an especially large number from the UK. Many non-English speakers. All very accommodating of DW's disability; we never ran into anything that we would consider rude. The high degree of diversity in both passengers and activities leads to somewhat less bonding with fellow pax than is the case on smaller ships with a more homogeneous passenger group.
Conclusion: There is some truth to the old axiom that the best cruise is the one you're currently on. It is also true that every cruise has its high points. Having said all that, this is a very good product, better than we expected it to be given some of the Cruise Critic posts/reviews over the past few months. We will definitely be back. Liberty offers all the important (to us) aspects of the top notch service available on Celebrity ships with more to see and do and without the need to bring formal wear. Activities and entertainment also exceed anything we've seen on Celebrity (or Holland America). While some areas of the ship, especially Deck 11, are more crowded than we would like, that issue is offset by great service, good food, and lots of entertainment choices. We're already planning a reprise (on Freedom of the Seas) for next autumn.