Pre cruise: Sat, March 6, 2010: Nice, smooth flight from PHL to MIA. Plane left exactly on time and it took just a bit over 2 hours to arrive. Very clear day and a hint of things to come. A $22 taxi ride from MIA to Port of Miami Holiday Inn. Very nice room overlooking Bayside Market, right across the street. Could easily see a few Carnival ships at the port on Saturday . Sunday morning could see Liberty of the Seas berthed, just waiting for us, from our hotel window on the 5th floor. Visited Bayside Market Saturday night. It is a touristy kind of place but interesting nonetheless. Had dinner at "The Knife," an Argentinian steak house. They had a price fixe menu where you could have as much steak/meat and salad as you wished. The salad bar, alone, was one of the best I've ever seen. There were easily 50 choices of things to chose to build a salad. The price also included a bottle of their house wine which was very good, too. Highly recommend this place and we left feeling very full. The Holiday Inn was a great place to stay pre-cruise. The rooms were clean, employees pleasant and helpful, and they had a great breakfast buffet for $12/pp. Ironically, when checking in they had a sign at front desk apologizing for the chilly weather and advising the guests there's no heating system. I left the AC off on the night of 3/6 and it was quite comfortable. Previous Cruise Critic reviews of this hotel mentioned slow elevators. Not so on my visit. Both worked fine, and were surprisingly quick.
Sunday: March 7 Getting to the pier was quick and easy from the Holiday Inn. We arrived at the terminal at about 11:15 and there was a RCCL porter right there who took our baggage immediately. After the initial security check, went to the special Platinum member check in desk and were given our Sea Pass cards in all of about 2 minutes. From there, we followed the crowd to the waiting area to wait for the boarding announcement. Within 10 minutes, they started boarding, so the wait was minimal. Another perk of being Platinum was that we were allowed to board first which was very nice. I think that Diamond and above have a separate area set aside just for them. Ah, to be a Diamond member some day! Although our cabin wasn't ready, we got permission to drop off our carry on stuff before heading to the Windjammer for a bite. Being among the first to board, there were no lines and ample places to sit. The view of Miami, during sail away is always beautiful! Seeing the beach and Miami's skyline as you head out to sea will never stop impressing me. After eating, we checked out our Main Dining Room table and then made our reservations at Portifino for two nights. I was so impressed by the wine pairing dinner last year, on the Navigator, I vowed to do it again on this cruise. Our cabin was ready at exactly 1 PM and found the bottle of wine there which I ordered previously online. It was chilling on ice as I wrote some notes for this review and was just about perfect in 15 minutes. A bit of wine and cheese before muster drill seems very nice : ) Other reviewers mentioned that the muster drill was held at various lounges/venues within the ship while seated. On this cruise, we had to report to the actual muster stations but w/o life jackets. It took about 15-20 minutes from start to finish.
Day 2: Sea Day. Sailing due south, the weather began warming up nicely. This was a sold out cruise so naturally most of the deck chairs were taken beginning at about 10 AM. Since everyone liked to gravitate towards the pool area, there were chairs to be found towards the bow of the ship. Later arrivals to the upper decks started to fill those chairs, too. After a bit of tanning, I explored the ship and noticed how beautiful she looked. This was my first cruise on a Freedom class ship and it wowed me a lot compared to the Voyager class ships. My DW and I had our first meal at Portifino for their five course wine pairing dinner. Remembering the same type dinner from last year, could hardly wait to see the menu. When I noticed one course consisting of pan seared scallops and lobster made my mouth water! Dinner took over two hours and the attention to detail, pampering, and friendliness from the staff was well worth the extra charge. Everyone should try this experience at least once. You'll be a Portifino fan, like me, forever!
Day 3: Costa Maya: Spent the day at the highly rated Pez Quadro beach resort. The place was very nice with great service and a beautiful white beach. Price per person was $35 which included chairs, umbrellas, open bar, and a snack. A meal from their menu was about $12/pp more. Last year, we went to Tequila Beach and it's my opinion they compared favorably to each other. The thing I like most about Costa Maya is that the beach area is an easy drive from the pier, isn't too big nor too small, and the people are very friendly and not pushy.
Day 4: Beliez: A great place if you go snorkeling or SCUBA diving because the world's 2nd largest reef is here. However, there's little, or nothing to do in town unless you're an avid shopper or want to sample the local food and beer. It's a five mile tender ride to the pier due to the shallow water. There were five cruise ships in port and was utter chaos with wall-to-wall people at the pier area as the tenders discharged their passengers. We took an inexpensive taxi tour around town and enjoyed our driver explain the history, etc. The sad part about this place is that there's 45% unemployment (according to our driver) and is practically a 3rd world country. Even thought there are perhaps two nice hotels outside of town, I can't see staying here for a vacation.
Day 5: Cozumel: Left the ship about 9 AM to visit the beach club Nachi Cocom. I reserved a day at this beautiful place based on reviews I've read about it online about a month prior to the cruise. On a scale from 1 to 10, I'd rate this beach club a 10++! The beach was pristine, food excellent, and their service way beyond any other places we've visited on this cruise. I would recommend this place to anyone without hesitation!
Day 6: Grand Cayman: The captain came on the PA this morning with bad news. He had to cancel our stop to Grand Cayman due to rough seas. The authorities closed the port for the day since it was just too dangerous for the tenders and of course the passengers. From a crew member I learned that waves were actually washing over the dock! So far, the voyage was picture perfect and stuff does happen, so I wasn't the end of the world. Luckily, I had nothing major planned for Georgetown. Tonight was our 2nd night at Portifino's and that made up for today's bad luck. The Portifino staff remembered us from Monday's visit and greeted us by name like we were family. Such a nice touch!
Day 7: Sea day #2: Bright and sunny as we headed back towards Miami. There was activity everywhere as people worked on tans, relaxed, used the FlowRider, and other activities. You could sense the sadness as you realized a wonderful, restful week was coming to an end. It was especially painful to pack and place the luggage outside the cabin door knowing it's your final night of a great vacation. Debarkation: In a word, quick and painless. No long lines, just about 5 minutes to breeze through customs and walk down the gangway from the ship. Luggage was found immediately on the carousel when we got there. A porter helped us with our bags and we were in a taxi, headed for MIA right after getting our luggage. This was the least painless debarkation I've experienced. Random thoughts: A lot of reviewers lamented the lack of chocolates on the pillows at night. The chocolates were a nice touch and I don't think Royal saves much money from this cost cutting measure. However, I must say that they compensated for this little detail by providing the best, friendliest, and most wonderful service far exceeding my highest expectations. I cannot think of any instance where I could find fault or a complaint. I became a big fan of eating breakfast in the Rembrandt Dining Room on deck 3. It just seemed so much more 'civilized' than the Windjammer. Additionally, it gave the opportunity to meet and talk with others each day. We ate at the Windjammer most days for lunch and the food, although buffet, was very, very good. They seemed to have a larger variety than before in addition to their standard fare. It was good to see the hand sanitizing stations at the entrance of the food venues. We brought our own but it wasn't necessary to break it out. Royal places a lot of emphasis on cruisers filling out the customer service surveys at the end of the cruise. I do believe they read each and every one of them and follow the suggestions, if possible. Based on what people wrote on their surveys, Liberty of the Seas has the best dining experience rating in the fleet! Also, all Royal employees have to be on top of their game based on how cruisers rate their experiences in various areas. Naturally, things can go wrong on a cruise (or anywhere else), but Royal always seemed to do their best to rectify things. This was our sixth Royal cruise and I will continue to remain loyal to them. Out of all the cruises, this one was my favorite and can't wait to sail on the Liberty again. If anyone wishes more information or has any questions, feel free to email me at: mystyou at (@)comcast.net.