Background: 12 cruises total (7 RCCL, 3 HAL, 1 Carnival). Booked this via Royal Carib as an interior guarantee for a great deal somewhat last-minute; decided to book their CruiseCare insurance as well, which was a good thing indeed -- see below.
Embarkation -- we flew into FLL and hired SAS Transportation to take us to the pier on a shared van. Communications were not good -- we were, on more than one occaision, told that they were 'four minutes away', only to be kept waiting for over 45 minutes. At the port, check in took longer than we've ever experienced, and this is arriving at 1:30 pm. It seemed to take forever to get on the ship -- a good ninety minutes, at least, and this is with the SetSail Pass ready to go.
Cabin: 8401 -- an interior stateroom with a great location, tucked starboard aft beside a row of balcony cabins; perfectly situated to walk up/down to most of the ship. The room had the usual RCCL configuration, with a flat screen tv and a minifridge. I really wish they could figure out a way to design the cabin without leaving three inches between the fridge/sofa and the bed – I ended up with way too many bruises trying to get through at night when half-asleep.
A couple of choices left us puzzled. The concept of a hair dryer hard-wired into a desk drawer with a heavy power button that must be held down to work is ridiculous. What – did they have problems with people leaving the hair dryers running? And why have a ‘announcement channel’ volume button when the channel doesn’t broadcast the actual announcements?
Cabin steward – Gregory from St. Vincent (I believe). I loved him, though DH was a bit disappointed that he wasn't the typical perky-perky steward; however, he was exceedingly fabulous at what he did and what we needed. We felt very well taken care of.
Ship – pretty but BIG. Liberty is not too hard to learn the layout despite its gargantuan size. However, the elevators are SLOOOOOOW. We got a lot of exercise walking up and down the stairs. Crowds, crowds crowds, especially during the most popular things (parades, etc in the Royal Promenade; pool deck during sunny sea days) – many of whom never learned the concept of stand on the right, pass on the left. It was also difficult to get to the ‘extras (FlowRider, skating) unless done when in port (and then not always an option: the flowrider was closed during our stop in Cozumel). Overall, the ship is kept in great shape given the crowds.
Oh, and the internet service is the worst we've ever experienced on any ship in any fleet, hands down. Consistent problems with pages 'timing out' before loading or getting 'proxy error' pages. Truly, we'd pay more for the service, if it actually WORKED.
Dining -- late seating, Michaelangelo. At a 'window' table, relatively close to the entrance, which meant not being able to see the 'special' stuff going on the three-story staircase. Meals were something of a disappointment; unremarkable in taste, and entrees seemed to be undercooked more often than not (prime rib way more rare than medium rare, lobster not cooked to complete firmness). However, it was all edible and we never went hungry. Service was a bit spotty; our assistant waiter, in particular, seemed to struggle to keep on top of all her duties. I still don't know what we tipped the head waiter for doing.
Entertainment – we can only speak to the ice show, which was impressive. Usual stuff on the in-room tvs, along with PPV first-on-DVD movies and ‘adult entertainment.’ If they were showing the Love and Marriage show on the tv, we didn’t see it.
Ports: Costa Maya – always one of our favorite ports. we hung out in Majahual; walked up and down the boardwalk checking out all the vendors, ate a great lunch, rented waverunners for $25 for the most exhilarating and terrifying half-hour ever (the seas were very rough).
Belize – DH hired our favorite guide to hike off the beaten path to caves and the jungle. I visited the Rotary Club of Belize. Don’t miss the Kolbe Foundation shop in the ‘new’ shops court across from the street entrance to the pier (it’s tucked away at the very end of one side), which has wonderful hand-carved mahogany pieces (including chairs and doors!), and the Belize Humane Society tent at the pier (near the NCL tender station) for a different kind of souvenir.
Cozumel – we took the water taxi to Playa Del Carmen and spent the day wandering the shops. Corazol and Los Milagros are two of our favorites – carry hand-made crafts of all prices, including great carved and painted pieces.
Also had a VERY unpleasant experience with one of the jewelry vendors inside the international pier. We purchased a set of earrings and got them to the ship only to discover (as we were setting sail) that either the earrings had been swapped with those of a different color/stone or that the lights in the shop were ‘adding’ color that was not visible in other light (flourescent, halogen, etc). Very disappointing, as I had purchased them to go with a pair of rings I owned.
Medical center - we had the unfortunate experience of spending most of the last day at sea there for what turned out to be a case of pneumonia in DH that came on very suddenly. I think some work on communicating with loved ones as to what tests/treatments are being done and why would be helpful -- had I not sneaked a peek at the treatment protocol sitting by my husband's bedside, I wouldn't have known what was going on for almost four hours. The doctor was very hard to understand, but the Chief Nurse, Nona (sp?) from South Africa, was stellar. They had DH come back at 10 pm and 6 am for additional treatments before we disembarked, which she administered.
As you might imagine, such treatments were not cheap at all (think four digits). However, the Guest Services staff arranged for us to enter a promissory note for the medical expenses so that we could go home and work with insurance for the costs. And, because of the CruiseCare insurance we purchased, we'll be reimbursed for anything not covered by our insurance carrier. (At least, we hope we will.)
Disembarkation: disaster. A major holdup with Customs put things behind by 90 minutes by the time we got to the curb, at 10:45 am -- as passengers for the next week were arriving! We were told our shuttle was on its way; then, that it was 'caught behind traffic' at the port; and then, nothing at all, as our calls could not get through. As we had a 12:55 pm flight to FLL to catch, we and another FLL-bound couple piled into a cab at 11:35 am and got to the airport in 30 minutes. SAS' contact called us as we were pulling onto the interstate at 11:45 am, wondering where we were (ironic, as we'd left a message telling the dispatcher what we'd decided to do).
It wasn't the worst vacation we've ever experienced, but it certainly wasn't the best. We'll probably sail with RCCL again, but probably not on such a big ship.
Pros: all the things that RCCL does well – lots of things to entertain yourselves, friendly staff, pretty ships.
Cons: the internet service; embarkation/disembarkation; food.