This was our third cruise and first ever on RCCL. The previous trips were on Holland America and Celebrity. This is a very detailed review and hope is helpful to all CC readers.
Liberty of Seas - March 21-28, 2010 My Wife and I decide to splurge and take a big family Spring Break vacation this year with our teenagers. Our children are 16 and 14; so needless to say, they were very excited for this outing. After much research, we settled on RCCL and Liberty of the Seas for our Spring Break trip. The Western Caribbean itinerary was very appealing as we tend to like active water activities and we wanted to see lots of sun after our gloomy PNW winter. We arrived in Miami on schedule and after about 40 minutes, our entire luggage arrived on the carousel. Yeah! First major milestone was completed without incident. We piled in a minivan and headed over to our hotel. We selected Spring Hill Suites for our hotel as I am a frequent business traveler and have many Marriott points from all my stays. It was nice to have a freebie room for this trip. We tend to like the larger suite format when we have the whole family and this location also offered free shuttle service as well as complimentary breakfast. The hotel itself is nice and newer, clean as advertised. HOWEVER, it is located in a rather inconvenient area of town next to a very marginal neighborhood. In addition, there are no restaurants within walking distance and very limited shopping nearby if you are in need of any last minute goodies or onboard treats. The other real hassle about the location was that you needed to take a cab everywhere and they are VERY hard to find in Miami. We wanted to try a local place in little Havana and settled on a Mexican place called Mi Riconcita. Wow, great choice. The food, service and prices were exceptional. Dinner in Little Havana was great, but again the hassle to get a cab back to the hotel put a damper on the long day. We actually had to wait for nearly an hour to find one. We would NOT recommend this location for folks taking a cruise out of Miami. My son and I went on a field trip, walking to Winn Dixie (several blocks) and then 30 minutes (!) to a liquor store On Sunday morning, embarkation was smooth and in about 35 minutes we were onboard. The ship is truly amazing. The first impressions are really spectacular. We walked through the Promenade and looked around in some other areas before heading to our cabin.
Our cabin, an E1 balcony, was great. It felt nice and roomy. The luggage arrived in about 2 hours. We met our room attendant, Heather, who was very friendly and welcoming. A few gripes: no bathrobes! Maybe this is noted somewhere, but we missed it in any case. Having bathrobes to slip on is nice in this small space; we always have had them on our previous Holland America and Celebrity cruises. We would have packed lightweight robes had we been aware. Also, my wife was not pleased at all with the hair dryer - you have to hold down a button while using it. There was a slight sewage odor in the hallway and stair areas for the first couple of days, but then it seemed to disappear or we didn't care anymore! Coffee onboard did not thrill us. We met the restaurant manager over dinner one evening (lovely gentleman) and he explained that all coffee on board is the same from Seattle's Best. We mentioned to him that we thought some restaurants/areas had better tasting coffee than others. He explained that although the coffee is the same everywhere on board, each area/restaurant has a different machine/brewing process. The bottom line is that the best coffee onboard is the Cafe that is open 24 hours and comes from this really high tech machine that grinds that beans and brews each cup fresh. We really did prefer this over the MDR and Room Service coffee. Can you tell we like our coffee and are from Portland?
First port was Costa Maya. We had booked a day for the family at Maya Chan Beach Resort based on some comments and reviews from both Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor. Wow, did this exceed our expectations. Maya Chan is a small resort located about 30 minutes from the cruise port. We were met and greeted by a lovely young lady in the exact location we had been instructed. She promptly guided us to a taxi and off we went. Maya Chan was recently built and opened in October 2009. Maya Chan is all inclusive and includes all your food and drinks for the day. Just show up with your sunscreen and towel. It is owned and operated by an American family from San Diego. After many years of cruising and visiting resorts all over the Caribbean, they decided that they wanted to build and operate their own resort based on the things they liked from their own travels and personal experiences. They keep daily guests to 40 max per day and really offer amazing personal service. Focus is on couples and families. No wild or loud spring break crowds and no beach vendors to constantly hassle you to buy something. We were impressed by the whole staff, the great lunch and activities (biking, kayaks, snorkeling) included. Transportation to and from your ship is also included. We didn't have a great weather day (very windy and some clouds) so snorkeling didn't happen, but we had no regrets. My family LOVED it! Should our travels ever bring us back to Costa Maya, we will definitely have this on our list. These guys felt like family by the end of the day and we had a big smile on our face all the way back home. We arrived back at the cruise port with enough time to purchase a couple of trinkets and make our departure time. Highly recommended!
Second port was Belize. Tenders were getting started shortly after 8AM. After gathering up all of our gear and making sure we had everything, we made our way downstairs for the tender at about 8:30AM. We hit a dead stop on the third floor and crawled for the next 45 minutes to the tenders. The lines and crowds were HUGE. The crowd (myself included) was getting a bit unruly when several passengers decided that they didn't want to wait on the stairs any longer and took the elevator the first floor and "hole shot" all of us waiting patiently in the stairwells. They were greeted with a hearty boo, but didn't seem to care as no RCCL staff stopped them or to direct traffic. Apparently they felt that their shore excursions were more important than ours. This episode kind of made me pissy first thing in the AM. This was one of those experiences where you go "wow, there are a lot of people on this ship". We hadn't really felt this way since the first afternoon on the Windjammer. Once on the tender, we arrived in Belize City at about 9:30AM. The pier area was NUTS. There were four cruise ships arriving nearly simultaneously and it was tough to move around on the pier area from all the tender traffic and the various shore excursions getting lined up. We had booked in advance with Explorebelizecaves.com to go both cave tubing and zip lining. We were greeted by Dennis and his staff in the exact location he told us to walk and were promptly escorted to our shuttle van. The drive to the park where the cave tubing happens is a full one hour each way and takes you right through town. In our case, we were fighting rush hour and school traffic and this made for a long AM. The cave tubing experience was a BLAST and very enjoyable for the family. The river and caves are very beautiful and should not be missed if you are an active/outdoors person. It is a good 45 minute walk through the rain forest on a dirt path and stairs before you enter the water. You don't need to be a world class athlete, but certainly could not imagine taking elderly parents or grandparents along on this day. The staff/guides do an excellent job of keeping things lively and showing sights along the route. The zip lining was a real blast as well. It is located very close to the cave tubing area. There were a total of 5 platforms from 75 to 400 feet in length. My family loved it! We had a minor hassle as we needed to move vehicles and "swap" with some other cruisers from another ship. Some on both vans were tubing only and need to consolidate to one vehicle to head back to port while those of us zip lining got into another rig. We had a misunderstanding regarding our booking/price paid and needed to settle that with Gilbert and Dave before moving on to the zip line. Fortunately I had printed out all my e-mails and documents and was able show the guides what we signed up for and was promised in my booking. No bad feelings or ill will and everything were professionally handled by Dennis and his staff.
My suggestions and comments from the day. • Try to group people in vans based on activities for the day. I realize that this may not be possible based on arrival times, but would avoid lots of hassle for the guests. • Cave tubing was great fun, but wow was it crowded. Spring break! • Some of the other operators seem to have better equipment (tubes, lights and vests). Not sure if they paid more, but as a "gear geek" I must admit that I was a little jealous. • The staff was GREAT and will bend over backwards to ensure your safety and good time. This in my opinion wins out every time. I appreciated their service even when we had an issue to resolve. • Last suggestion. Eat a big breakfast and pack some snacks/water with you. We did not get a chance to eat until we got back to Belize City at 4PM. Wow, were we hungry. First time all week?
Johnny Rockets - Given our high level of hunger when we arrived back on the ship about 5PM, we decided that a visit to Johnny Rockets was in order. The staff and food was excellent. We really enjoyed the view from the 12th deck and watching the sun start to set as we departed Belize. I don't really like the extra charges ($4.95 PP) for these specialty restaurants as I'm in the camp that would rather pay a little more upfront and be done with extra fees while onboard. Oh well, it was a great meal and we left very satisfied.
Third Port Cozumel - We had booked our shore excursion with Leo's Spearfishing. You can read all about Leo on Trip Advisor. He is a Dutch guy that moved to Cozumel two years ago for a change of pace in his life. He was introduced to free diving and spearfishing when he arrived in Cozumel and has turned it into a nice way of life and career. We arranged for my son and me to spearfish and my wife and daughter to snorkel from the same boat. Note for those of you that travel on Spring Break: the US and Mexico change to daylight savings time about 4 weeks apart each year. As a result of the ship's time, local time in Cozumel was 2 hours earlier. This only occurs in this 4 week "gap period" each year. As a result, Leo and I had a miscommunication regarding what time to meet to start our adventure. Fortunately, we were one hour early. I don't fault Leo; this was just a simple miscommunication on both of our parts. Leo is a REAL PRO. He began by spending about 15 minutes explaining the proper protocol and procedures for the day. It's clear that he takes safety seriously and wants to ensure that all guests have a great time and understand the "rules of engagement" for the day. Obviously, it's impossible to communicate while in the water, so this was appreciated. We hopped around several different reefs and got a few shots off at fish, but it was a tough day. Both my son and I missed nice barracuda and Leo only got one small tiger fish. The water was very clear and visibility was pretty good, but the wind and waves made for tough swimming in the current as well as nausea for all of my family. One everlasting memory will be my son saying to me in the water, "Hey Dad, can you take my spear gun, I need to puke". He then proceeded to hurl up a nice stream of orange (from his soda) into the ocean while treading water. I'll give him credit; he was having so much fun spearfishing that he refused to get out and into the boat. Five minutes later he was great and back into the hunt! Even though we didn't have a successful day spearfishing, we had a blast. Leo is a consummate professional and very gentle human being. He has a great demeanor and was a real joy to have as our guide for the day. He worked very hard for some fish for us, and to watch him free dive to depths of 50+ feet is just amazing. He can free dive and hold his breath like few other humans I've ever seen. We had a water proof camera along and he would dive deep and take pictures and video of my son and me in the water as well as of the beautiful scenery. All in all, we had a great time and loved the experience. I would not hesitate to recommend Leo to anyone looking for a great adventure and amazing personal service in Cozumel. I will definitely do this again if/when we are in Cozumel.
Final Port - Grand Cayman: We had made plans to join some fellow cruisers we met via the Cruise Critic boards on a private boat charter to Stingray City. This turned out to be a really great day. We all met right on the pier after a short tender ride and boarded our own bus to the marina. We had a great boat and crew that was reserved with Native Way Water sports. Stingray City is far and away the most popular attraction in Grand Cayman. As a result, the cruise ships book dozen of excursions on the tour boats. All of these boats are absolutely jam packed with 40-60 people per boat. This may not seem like a big deal, but each person has to get in and out of the water via the ladder at the rear of the boat. As a result, we had much more time in the water with the stingrays and much more personal attention from our boat guides. Our boat also had its own photographer on board. He took a lot of photos of each family/group and they were VERY impressive. I think each family actually bought all photos from JC (photographer) and had them immediately burned on a CD for us to take home. Stingray City was a really amazing experience. Coupled with some snorkeling stops, this was truly an outstanding day that we will never forget as a family. We got some amazing photos and videos of the day. A big thanks to Joe for arranging the private charter! Ice Show - We secured tickets for the show on Thursday night. It is important to note that these tickets are only handed out on Monday afternoon for the whole cruise. Get in line early if you want to go to Monday PM show. I think that Monday night tickets were gone in about 10 minutes. The show itself was FANTSATIC and is not to be missed. The costumes, music and choreography were top notch. The skaters are great athletes and were very impressive to watch perform on this tiny little ice rink (compared to a standard version). We thought this was the show of the cruise.
Food/Restaurant Comments: Windjammer: We ate there several times, mainly for breakfast and 2 times for lunch. It is fine, nothing particularly great or poor about the food. Just a pretty typical large cruise ship buffet. My family was a little negative about some of the food choices and was hoping for a few other options like they had experienced on our last Celebrity cruise. Cafe - Best coffee (in our opinion) onboard. They are open 24 hours and also have a nice assortment of mini sandwiches/desserts available. Sorrento's - This is a small Italian speciality restaurant that serves Pizza, Salad and Desserts in the promenade. We enjoyed the two meals we had there and really loved the made to order salads. Pizza was always hot, fresh, and really good. My time dining and MDR Staff: Like most cruisers, we debated about a fixed seating time or the My Mime dining (MTD) option. We opted for My Time and couldn't have been happier. I've also read about plenty of folks that really had a bad time/experience with the process. I guess that it really depends on your own needs. Here is what worked for us. As we boarded the ship in Miami, we saw a staff table for My Time Dining and made a reservation for about 8PM that first night. Since we were getting onboard about 1PM and headed to the Windjammer for lunch this just made good sense. We loved the wait staff we had that very first night and then proceeded to make our reservations for the same time/table for the remainder of the week. The 8PM time is smack in the middle of first and second MDR seating's. As a result, it is not so crowded and you can really have a nice table and personal service from the staff. The MTD reservation staff knew our names and room numbers after the first night and always made it a point to try and accommodate or desires. We LOVED our wait staff. Waiters were Leo, Cemil and Lorinda. Each of them was a delight! The food in the MDR was generally very good. I would not call it outstanding, but very enjoyable. Each evening there were several selections of meat, chicken, fish, pasta etc. There were plenty of choices for everyone and the food was good, however we all agreed it wasn't quite as good as the food on Celebrity. We did make the splurge for a night out at Portofino's on Friday. This was really an excellent meal. The quality of the food is a truly 5 star quality. You will not leave there hungry! It makes for a long evening as total time is close to three hours for dinner at Portofino's, thus plan accordingly if you are trying to make a show or your kids have "plans" for the night with their new-found ship friends. Event Staff/Cruise Director The event staff was very solid. We went to many bingo/trivia events throughout the week and were never disappointed. Leigh the activities manager is very engaging and made bingo a great time for all. We are not regular bingo players by any mean but found ourselves always trying to make the next event since it was so much fun. My wife won the $500 jackpot on day one, so perhaps we got hooked because of this good fortune ? Our Cruise Director was James Andrews from Australia. He is very high energy, charismatic and humorous. He is a real pro and made all the shows/events a real hoot. He was very personable and engaging throughout the cruise. RCCL has made a great hire in this guy. I'm not a cruise expert by any means, but he seems to be the perfect fit for the job. My teenagers were very active in the teenager program and made lots of new friends. They enjoyed the dances/planned activities. Of course, they loved the freedom of the ship and running all over the place. However they did often have complaints about the quality of the teen staff. Production Shows/Entertainment We attended the first production show "Ever After". Both my wife and I were not impressed and thought it was rather "cheesy". The second show that included the costume changing magicians and comedian were much better. The aerial/acrobatic show was very good and is worth seeing for sure. There is a piano player named David Curtis in the Schooner Bar on the 4th floor. He is an amazing talent and an absolute riot. He gets the crowd engaged and singing along with all his songs. For those brave and talented souls, he asks them to step up to the mic and sing songs as while he plays. We really loved watching/listening to David and would make it point to go see him again if he was on our ship. Karaoke was hysterical. They have their own karaoke bar on deck 3, and our whole family just loved watching. Some of the best memories of nights on the ship are from karaoke. The promenade parades and music were a lot of fun and very high energy. Cons for us Our stateroom was directly midship. This made for a very long walk to the stairs in fore or aft of each day. The bigger size just means you are going to be doing a lot more walking up/down and all around. This of course has a nice health and fitness benefit, but is a less convenient. Next time we would try and book a "hump" stateroom. Tender days. The crowds getting off the ship in Belize and Grand Cayman were HUGE. There is not much you can do about this, but there is no doubt that trying to get almost 4000 people off a boat in tenders is slower and more inconvenient that a smaller ship. Temporary Tattoos -My kids wanted one all week but decided to wait till last night of cruise so that they could have them to show off at home when they got back to school (they were advertised to last a week or more). Unfortunately, they washed off in the shower at our hotel in Miami. I am sure that RCCL would have redone them for my kids on the ship, but were out of luck now. Disembarkation Nice smooth process for a large ship. Just choose your time wisely to try and get off as quickly as possible to avoid the large crowds for immigration and luggage pickup. Start to finish was about 30 minutes for us. Transportation in Miami was a real negative experience for us on this entire trip. As previously mentioned, we couldn't find a taxi in Miami when we went out for dinner pre-cruise and leaving the ship the following Sunday, the taxi line was massive. We finally got in a shuttle van with one guy, then he stopped to pick up more passengers, then we got transferred to another shuttle and had to re-load all luggage. What a mess! The people/shuttle management were extremely rude and had zero customer service orientation. Lesson learned; arrange ground transportation in advance with big reputable companies if you are going to cruise out of Miami. There are a lot of small fly-by-night operations that seem to exploit the cruise industry. Our previous experiences in Fort Lauderdale were much better.
Summary Overall, we had a terrific time, a great cruise and wonderful, memorable family vacation. My teenagers thought this was the "greatest family vacation ever". We were really busy and active at each port and loved each of our excursions. We were very glad that we had planned and booked all of these activities and outings well in advance of the trip. It made for a less hectic week (and much more cost effective) as the ship was filled to capacity for Spring Break with people from all over the world. We selected this RCCL ship for the 4 ports (had never been to any of them) and the huge amount of sports activities available for the teens. The Rock wall, Flowrider, Mini Golf - we really thought these were some good reasons to book this particular ship. Interestingly, we hardly made use of any of these things onboard! This ship is SO BIG and there is SO MUCH to do and see it is nearly impossible to do it all in a week. We were off the ship at each port first thing in the morning and always back on at the end of the day. Thus, we had only the two sea days to really enjoy/explore the ship with this itinerary. If we were to come back on this ship, we would likely stay on the ship for one or two of the port days to take advantage of all the activities and resources we missed this time! The Liberty is a beautiful ship and as mentioned above has no shortage of onboard activities and recreation. The staff and service are first rate. I can't imagine how much larger the Oasis and Allure would feel in comparison. So is bigger better or worse? This is of course a much debated topic in cruise circles and message boards. In our opinion, there are pros and cons to all ships and sizes. We had no regrets and many wonderful memories!