Before I talk about the cruise itself, let me touch up on what appears to be cost-cutting measures that are slowly creeping into the cruise experience. A few people have broached the subject in these reviews. I just thought I would add my take on things. Here we go.
Last year on the Freedom (March 09), there were always a small tray of little sweets and munchies available at the cigar lounge. That was not the case on the Liberty in Dec. 09, or on this trip. I don't really care because I don't eat those things, but Claude enjoys them. When we asked about this, we were told: not on this ship.
On previous cruises, each stateroom was equipped with a binder listing all the ship's services, a pen, a writing pad and 2 postcards of the ship. That's gone. We`ll discuss postcards later on.
There is now a $3.95 charge for room service between midnight and 9:00AM. The little chocolates on the pillows are a thing of the past. Come on... how much did it cost to put a little sweet on my pillow at night? Think about it: one can go to the buffet and have ¾ pound of bacon at breakfast but there are definite savings in cutting out 2 miniature chocolates per stateroom per night? That little gesture endeared a lot of people and it cost almost nothing.
Crown and Anchor members used to receive a free embroidered baseball cap at the beginning of each voyage: not anymore. And don't even try to find a postcard of the ship anywhere onboard. This actually became a kind of treasure hunt activity for us. The staff at the General Store apologized profusely and sent us to the Photo Gallery. They have pictures of the ship at the Photo Gallery, but they're not postcards. They were too busy to apologize and sent us to the Guests Relations desk. At the Guests Relations desk, we were told we would find them at the General Store. And then, this feeling of dEjà vu settled in and we gave up, for some reason.
There used to be a time when a bartender would give you a bowl of nuts, popcorn, or chips to graze on while you enjoyed your drink. Not anymore. The insufferable Martha Stewart will tell you that it is the height of bad manners to serve alcohol without a little amuse-gueule but she doesn't work for RCCL, does she?
Do any of you remember a huge bowl of mints available as you left the dining room at night? Well, that's a thing of the past. Don't talk about it, you'll just show your advanced age. If you want a mint after dinner, bring your own.
Something I never noticed before: you can't purchase a lighter or booklet of matches anywhere on the ship. Heaven forbid you should lose your lighter because you'll be relying on the kindness of others until you can buy one during the next port of call. When asked why those items were not on sale, we were told it was a matter of ship's security: preposterous! I had my cigar kit's torch lighter with me and I didn't feel threatened or threatening to anyone.
Please don't get me wrong. We had a wonderful cruise in spite of the few items I have mentioned above. Someone at RCCL probably realized that they could do away with the Crown & Anchor giveaways, the mints, munchies, service directories, postcards and the customer would still be happy with his cruise. It's just old cruisers like me that mourn the passing of a kinder, gentler, more pampered cruise experience. The newer crowd can't miss what they never knew.
THE CRUISE ITSELF: Sunday, Dec. 7, 2010: Miami Harbor. We arrived by car at 10:00AM. We left our 2 suitcases with baggage handlers and parked the car in parking garage G. From there, we crossed the street and entered RCCL's terminal. Our passports were checked and we were granted access to the terminal. We went upstairs where we waited for the security station (metal detector and X-ray of carry-on luggage) to start admitting arriving passengers into the terminal. We were told that Immigration officers were working onboard the ship, which delayed boarding a bit. We boarded the ship at 11:30AM. The embarkation process, as a whole, was painless.
We were in the Windjammer at 11:40AM. If you wish to use My Time Dining during your cruise, please make sure you book it through RCCL's web site as soon as your reservation is shown on said web site. I always booked My Time Dining as soon as I boarded the ship and never had any problem. I'll know better next time. A dining room manager named Habib told us in no uncertain terms that he could do nothing for us, except place our names and cabin number on a waiting list. He dutifully noted our info on a piece of rumpled scrap paper he found in his desk. It didn't look very official, or promising. We never heard about this issue again. I am guessing we were just 2 names on a piece of scrap paper that ended up in the garbage as soon as we had left the My Time Dining registration desk. We didn't know where we'd have dinner that night but it wouldn't be at 6:00PM, as assigned by RCCL. Neither Claude, nor I can have dinner that early, best suited for the elderly and couples with small children. At any rate, we were not very happy, but we didn't allow that to ruin our cruise.
Cabin: We were in Cabin number 6263, Category PR, with a view on the Royal Promenade. As with most run-of-the-mill cruise ship cabins, it was a slightly cramped, efficient and utilitarian cabin with lots of storage space, drawers and shelves. The cabin had a king-size bed that could not be separated into 2 individual beds, 2 small sofas, one of which is positioned in front of the bay window that overlooks the Royal Promenade. The bathroom is only slightly bigger than a phone booth used to be, but not by much. It also has a desk, a mini refrigerator, a flat screen TV and a hair dryer. That cabin has an adjoining door into the next cabin. On embarkation day, someone next door tried three times to open our adjoining cabin's door until I knocked on their front door and explained that if they tried again, I would call security: end of problem. I strongly believe in clear rules of engagement.
The cabin's location makes it easy to see the activity on the Royal Promenade, one deck below ours. However, the windows were so dirty, we could hardly see outside. Our cabin attendant (Camelia) introduced herself promptly after we arrived. We discussed the dirty window situation. She assured us that the window was clean on the inside. We knew that. She also pointed out she could do nothing about the outside. We agreed with her on that point. She also told us that over time, a haze had developed between the two window panes. Nothing could be done about that. We agreed with that. However, she promised to report the problem to maintenance. I asked about obtaining a safety container for my used insulin syringes. It arrived the following morning. So far, so good.
We attended the mandatory emergency lifeboat drill. One does not have to wear their life jacket anymore during that drill and that's a good thing. Slackers and stragglers beware: attendance is taken at that drill and absent passengers are rounded up the next day for a make-up drill. All told, it was over in 15 minutes, at which point the captain dismissed us. Our cruise holiday could start in earnest. We watched Miami slip by as the ship made her way to the ocean, along McArthur causeway.
Our dining predicament was eventually fixed by Andrie, a dining room manager, who arranged for us to have dinner at 8:30PM in the main dining room, table 352 for 2 guests, on deck 3. The arrangement was acceptable and we settled into what seemed to be an honest, workable compromise. Had it not been for his beneficial intervention, we might still be walking the decks, wondering where we might find a decent sit-down dinner. We met our waitress, Senecia from Trinidad and her assistant Amiel from Columbia. Dinner itself was very pleasant. Following dinner, the evening's activities were split between listening to a Phillipino classical guitar player in Boleros (deck 4). The Soka parade on the Royal Promenade was next and the evening concluded with a fine cigar at the Connoisseur cigar club on deck 5, where Brenda took very good care of us. We retired around 1:30AM.
Monday, Feb. 8, 2010: at sea. The day was spent reading by the Solarium's pool. By the way, that Solarium pool is ice-cold, much like on my Dec. 13th cruise on that very same ship. Hello... RCCL, I know you read this: what happened to heated pools? Although no thermometer was at hand, I can seriously tell you, without getting into too much details, that based on shrinkage, that water was no more than 74 degrees F, if that! The rest of the day was spent buying a few trinkets to bring back home and a few drinks at the Hoof and Claw pub. This was the first formal night. We both hate formal nights. I spend my workdays in a suit and tie; I won't start dressing up on my holidays. My friend and I don't do formal nights. We do not advocate showing up at the dining room in ripped jeans and a tuxedo-print T-shirt, far from that. They'll get 2 guys in freshly pressed dress pants, dress shirts with no ties and fashionable freshly polished genuine leather shoes. What you see is what you get, as Flip Wilson's character Geraldine used to say.
After dinner, we stopped for formal portraits. Claude and I stood in front of a Liberty of the Seas backdrop. We had to laugh when the photographer asked us: "Just Friends or partners?". Their open-mindedness is reassuring. We chose the "Just Friends" option. I'm such a clown, the couples waiting in line were in stitches as the photographers posed us. She was laughing, too.
Then came a genuine deception. We made our way to the Connoisseur cigar club only to find it occupied by a luxury watch presentation hosted by a representative of a Big Box Jewelry Store, whom I shall not disclose in this review, lest they get publicity from it. These people were talking about buying 5-figure watches as if they were contemplating the purchase of a candy bar. I was thoroughly incensed. Imagine: Royal Caribbean allowed Big Box Jewelry Store to turn our cigar club into a den of bling sellers and pretentious posers and gawkers! That room is the only place on the ship you can savor a cigar in peace. Why didn't they hold that 3rd party presentation in one of the ship's conference rooms? It's just not right. And please, don't even contemplate contacting me if you are against cigar smokers in the cigar room. I finally retired around 2:00AM. My friend called it quits around midnight.
Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010: docked at Costa Maya. We arrived at the dock in Costa Maya around 9:00AM. The Norwegian Spirit arrived around 10:00AM directly across from us, on the other side of the dock. We went ashore and looked around. We didn't buy anything, save for a few postcards and a refrigerator magnet. Costa Maya is really and truly nothing more than an open-air mall. It gets you off the ship, but you quickly return on board if there is no inner shopper in you.
Before we disembarked, I stopped at the Purser's desk to tell them about the dirty window situation. Within 45 minutes, a team of maintenance workers was maneuvering a hydraulic lifting apparatus and a crewman cleaned all our windows, on both sides of the Royal Promenade. What a relief; we can now see outside. Now, that's service. We took the time to go down there and thank the workers personally.
We returned to the ship around 1:30PM and spent the rest of the afternoon working on this log and reading in the shade on deck 11's Solarium. The returning guests' party was held in the Sphinx lounge (deck 5). It covered the usual topics: welcome and thank you all, new ships, new itineraries, who in this room has the most cruises aside from Super Mario who has 263 cruises and currently lives on the ship, etc. We sat at the bar, at the back of the room. It gave us a good view of the proceedings. The room was not filled to capacity. The complimentary drinks were few and far between. So were the little appetizers usually served at these functions. More cost cutting? One can only guess. As soon as the last word was spoken on the stage, the head waiter signaled with a hand gesture across his throat and all service stopped dead in its tracks.
We then headed for dinner, followed by the Dancing In The Street party on the Royal Promenade, which is always very enjoyable. Cigars at the cigar lounge concluded the evening's proceedings.
Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010: anchored off Belize City. It's a very overcast, gray day but it didn't rain. The sea's water was milky, indicating that a storm may have preceded us here. Usually, you can see the bottom in this anchorage area; not that day. As usual, I did not go ashore in Belize City. Claude did. He was not impressed but he did get himself a cigarette lighter with "Belize City" printed on it. All in all, he spent 3 hours off the ship, including the return trip by tender. Meanwhile, I had breakfast at the Windjammer, read by the Solarium's pool, spoke with fellow cruisers. Amazingly, a member of CruiseCritic.com had read my previous December review of the Liberty of the Seas. I may also have snoozed for 30 minutes.
Before dinner, we stopped at the Photo Gallery, where we purchased 2 great 8X10 pictures. We also purchased 2 book-type frames, each containing an 8x10 of the ship and an opening for the photos we had just purchased. The pictures and the frames were on the pricey side but you only live once. I scanned the pictures when I returned home so we each have a set. Hint: Costco does great enlargements at very affordable prices.
We had dinner in the dining room with our delightful waitress, Senecia and her non-descript, monosyllabic assistant. He didn't talk to us: he grunted. At best, he will mumble one word. For example: "Row" meant "Would you like a roll?". Also, "Hmmm" means "Would you like more water?". And, of course, "HMPHRX" means: "Are you done with that?". He had us conversing fluently in his system by the time we disembarked. Thankfully, Senecia was charming and always made time to come chat with us at the end of the meal. I wanted to take her home with me when I left. After dinner, we headed for the cigar lounge where conversation with our fellow stogie fanatics kept us up until 1:30AM.
Thursday, February 11, 2010: at the dock in Cozumel. The sun is shining and the temperature was very hot all day. We had both been to Cozumel a host of times. We did not go ashore. The day was spent reading somewhere on deck in the shade, mostly in the Solarium area. Interestingly, the Solarium area is off limits to kids and the staff enforces the rule quite firmly. After dinner, we headed to the cigar lounge for stogies and lively conversation with the friends we had made in there. We retired around 1:30AM.
Friday, February 12, 2010: at anchor off Georgetown, Grand Cayman. We arrived at the anchorage around 10:00AM. We went ashore for a leisurely walk in the streets of Georgetown. The place is impeccably clean. One can only feel secure wandering the streets here. We stopped for a beer, watched the day go by and returned to the ship around 3:00PM. Tendering was efficient, both ways.
As a Crown and Anchor Society Platinum member, I had been invited to the Platinum, Diamond and Diamond Plus party at 7:45PM in the Sphynx lounge on deck 5. Claude tagged along. What a difference with the Crown & Anchor Society's event! Waiters actually asked what you'd like to drink and ordered it from the bar: no weak rum punch here. Platters of hot and cold appetizers were passed around just about every minute: no need to ambush a waiter. The cruise director acted as MC, headlining for the director of onboard reservations and the captain. Both speakers were interesting. We were then treated to a few words from Super Mario who boasts 263 cruises on RCCL. It was over quickly and we headed for dinner. The evening was concluded in the cigar room and we retired well after 1AM.
The ship had been extremely stable until now but we did feel a bit of motion during the night and all day Saturday, as we sailed back to Miami. Someone suggested that it was a commie plot by Fidel Castro, who had purchased a wave machine to bother American cruisers off Cuba's shores. We laughed. One could feel a bit of motion but nothing strong enough to stop the hordes of last minute shoppers from scrounging through the stores and last minute displays for something to bring back home with them. Who can blame them? The temperature outside was windy and noticeably cooler than in Grand Cayman. The cruise staff organized lots of activities and shopping is always in order on a cruise ship. For us, the day was spent reading indoors on deck 4, having breakfast and dinner in the dining room, packing the suitcases after dinner and repairing to the cigar lounge for one last evening with our cigar-smoking friends. We retired around 11:30PM.
Since we were returning home by our own means, we had chosen Express Debarkation. The process could not have been simpler. Skipping coffee and breakfast entirely, we were on deck 4's promenade at 6:15AM with our luggage. The line started moving around 6:20AM. We had our keycard swiped one last time and got off the ship. We cleared U.S. Customs and Immigration in record time. We exited the terminal, crossed the street and packed the luggage into the car. We were leaving the harbor around 6:45AM. We had breakfast with my wife by 8:00AM.
I hope this review helps you somehow. Please do not hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, leaving the 148 out of my email address. I get less junk mail that way. May the seas always be calm when you're sailing.
Respectfully submitted, Sylvain.