Background: We are a family of 4, two daughters, ages 15 & 11. This is my 6th RCCL cruise and 10th overall. The girls have cruised 8 times, this being their 5th on RCCL. We have sailed on NCL, Princess, and Celebrity, all of which we have enjoyed, but we keep coming back to RCCL for their consistent family cruise experience. This is our first cruise on the Freedom Class ships.
Pre-Cruise: We stayed at the JW Marriott for 2 nights in downtown Miami. The staff were absolutely one the best we have experienced in a long time. The rooms were large enough for the 4 of us and the bathrooms very nice. There is a fabulous gym and pool to enjoy on the roof of the 6th floor. The JW is convenient to a lot of nice eateries that are about 2 blocks away. It was a $5 cab ride to Bayside, where we enjoyed walking the outside mall and seeing all the visitors shopping. We had a fun, delicious and bountiful lunch at Bubba Gumps. The cab fare to the cruise port was $10 with tip. Regular rates for the JW seem to be all over the map based on my conversations with other guests, anywhere from $117 for a military discount to $350, as posted on the web. We paid $140, including tax and fees, through Priceline, so I feel like we got a good value; however, many folks on our roll call were scoring other hotels for about $60 a night, and those hotels were located near Bayside. Should we cruise out of Miami again, we'll try Bayside just because we like being closer to the action.
Embarkation: We left the JW around 10:50AM and we were on the Liberty by 11:30AM. When we arrived at the Cruise Port, our baggage was taken and we entered the terminal. Our check in was immediate and our wait time until they starting boarding was less than 5 minutes. Kudos to RCCL for a smooth and quick process.
Liberty Overview: We cruised Adventure of the Seas last April, and, in reality, the Freedom class ships are laid out about the same, but, obviously, they are bigger, and have the Flow Rider and more pools. The ship is absolutely beautiful. One design item I like is the different pool areas, which seem to make the pool deck very manageable in terms of crowds. The water park seemed to attract a lot of the families with very young children. The mid-pool and hot-tub area seemed to attract the middle age crowd and families with older children. The Solarium pool area was beautiful and very, very quiet. Some people joked that it was the retirement home portion of the ship, but I saw it as a great place for people who wanted to stay away from the crowds and associated noise. The over-hanging hot-tubs in the Solarium were quite cool. On this deck you also find the fitness center. Plenty big enough and never seemed too crowded. Nice equipment and well maintained. I used the steam room everyday as a way of managing a chronic health condition, and this is very helpful in navigating each day on the ship. We used 2 rooms—a balcony and a promenade room, both on deck 8. Typical RCCL rooms with plenty of space and very comfortable beds. Room steward, Basil, was excellent!
Liberty Food: The Windjammer offered the usual buffet fare. I can't get real excited about food served on a large ship buffet as I think it is the same quality across the industry. I would like to see RCCL offer some different breakfast and lunch items each day as I thought the menu was almost the same each day. The food was certainly hot enough and there was plenty. What separates the Liberty from most of our recent cruise experiences is the quality of the food served in the Main Dining Room. We felt like RCCL has reached back to the former days and is, once again, offering up high quality entrees and desserts. We were pleasantly surprised by this, given the size of the ship, so congratulations to the cooking staff for pulling this off. The wait staff in all areas of the ship were outstanding. Serving our dinners were Paulene and Paul, both of whom we enjoyed very, very much. We hope our paths cross again. Come to think of it, we have always had great service from our RCCL wait staff!
Ports of Call
Costa Maya, Mexico: I had learned about a new day-resort that opened in Costa Maya last Fall. The Maya Chan Beach Resort was getting rave reviews, so we decided to splurge and book our day here. Using our Cruise Critic Roll Call, I was able to get enough folks signed up so that we each received $10 pp discounts. Maya Chan only allows 40 people to visit each day, and 38 of these people were from our Roll Call. Let me tell you now, this is one place you will not want to miss if enjoying the beach is one of your goals. After walking through the Costa Maya port, there was a gentleman who told us where to wait because he had our names on a list. A very comfortable, air conditioned bus, took us to the resort, which was about a 25 minute drive on a mostly dirt, bumpy road. We were greeted at Maya Chan by David and Zach, who were our hosts for the day. David's family is who started the resort. What fabulous hosts they were. Zach gave us a brief tour and then they showed each family to a certain area of the beach that is assigned to them. Our area had a day couch, a hammock, and some chairs, and all were under a thatched roof. Zach served rum or fruit punch and fresh fruit right away. There are kayaks, floating chairs, and snorkel equipment to use at the resort. I participated in a beautiful dive, which was arranged through Maya Chan. While I was gone with 7 other divers from the larger group, food and drink were served, and Zach took those interested on a bike tour of the area. I was sorry to have missed the bike tour. When I got back from my one-tank dive, Zach was serving drinks out in the ocean! Lunch was a deliciously fresh Mexican buffet with chicken and fish tacos, gauc, and all the fixins. Any kind of drink was at your disposable, though I just drink soda. David was the bartender and he was working hard to keep people happy. Zach also took people on snorkeling tours by using the kayaks. Part of the Maya Chan price includes transportation, so you just let the staff know when you want to leave and a taxi will be there for you. Besides David & Zach, there were some other staff members who were just superb! Remember this place! We were one of the first to leave so the girls could shop back in port. I don't do this, so I went back to the ship to enjoy the pool area. There are lots of shops in the port area and there are plenty of beaches to enjoy. I would recommend researching where to go as some beaches seemed very dirty. For us, going back to Costa Maya would be fine, mainly because the Maya Chan Beach Resort is one of the best day excursions we have experienced.
Belize: Very interesting. As you probably know, all boats have to tender here, and it is a long tender process; however, as you tender into Belize City, you start to experience the Belizian way of life. The port area is busy with shops and roadside stands, etc. We had booked a cave tubing excursion through cave-tubing.com and were quickly escorted to the bus, which was old and very smelly. The bus ride to the cave tubing is about an hour, and the tour guide talked the entire hour. While she was humorous and informative, I had a hard time focusing on her the entire hour. The actual cave tubing experience is awesome, with the cave being about 1/2-3/4 mile in length. You walk about 25 minutes along a jungle path to get to the river, but the walk is easy and beautiful. The caves are stunning, and the jungle is incredible. I felt like we were part of a Jurassic Park movie. My wife saw a Toucan but I could only hear the many different birds and wildlife. The river water was clean and refreshing. We tubed as chains of people, and we moved very slowly. My wife enjoyed the pace, while my kids and I were looking for a quicker ride. None the less, this excursion will prove to be one that is remembered for a lifetime. The beauty of the jungle is special, very special. Again, after this excursion and the long drive back, the girls went shopping and I went back to the ship. They found some local stands with good values in the jewelry arena. Belize City, itself, is very unique. There are nice areas and homes and other areas that seem very poor. It is a developing country and they are trying very hard to protect their natural resources while developing. We saw many school children heading off to classes in their uniforms.
Cozumel: We have been here several times, so we knew our plan of attack. I would go diving while the rest of the family went to this small public beach known for its snorkeling (DzaHul - or something like that), which is an $8 cab ride from the ship. There is a restaurant there and nice chairs and hammocks. The food and drink are good and the prices are right. There is a hotel being built at this beach, so the scene will be changing. The next time we head back to Cozumel, we'll try one of the beaches that have all the toys like water trampoline, etc. I dove with Alison, from scubawithalison.com. She is a very safety conscious and fun dive instructor. Orlando was her dive master. Very good as well. My 2 dives were outstanding. I got to see my first sea horse and the reefs were magnificent. I first dove in Cozumel 23 years ago, when there were 2 or 3 dive shops. There were well over 100 dive boats just in the marina where I met Alison. Amazing shift. There were 8 in our dive boat, and I found this just perfect. Maria and Al from the Liberty were on this dive trip as well. They took some awesome pics. It looks like I'll be back in Cozumel next year, and I will assuredly book with Alison, besides I left my dive certification cards and log books with her!
Grand Cayman: Our second tender stop of the trip. I was one of the first people in line for a tender ticket, but if you have a later excursion or no excursion at all, I would not worry about a tender ticket. Just let the masses tender off first and enjoy the ship. Even though we swam with the stingrays last year, we enjoyed it so much, we had to go back. We pre-booked with Santos tours. They were waiting for us as we got off the ship. We had time to check out the port and then we boarded a mini-bus to our boat, which we then boarded for the 25 minute ride out to Sting Ray City. It was not as crowded as last time and there were plenty of sting ray to feed. The girls loved doing this again. We then went snorkeling on a nearby reef, and the girls really enjoyed this. I have no problem recommending Santos tours, and I will also say that their prices were the best I could see when I researched this excursion. Once again, the girls went shopping afterwards while I headed back to the Ship.
At Sea Days: I am always one of the first awake on a cruise so securing chairs near the pool are easy. The weather was perfect and the poolside action was fun to watch. I worked out every day, did the steam room every day, and then really enjoyed the pool area. I did go rock climbing for the first time, even though this was my 6th RCCL cruise. I made it to the top! None of us tried the Flow Rider - maybe next time. I usually participate in the sports activities, but not this time. Met lots of nice people, including many folks from our Roll Call. The girls found friends quickly on this cruise so we barely saw them during the time on the ship. The youngest did not use the Ocean Adventure Program so I don't have much to report there. The ice cream machine was not working until mid-cruise, so the girls were bummed about this, but that was really the only blip on the screen.
Entertainment: Top Notch. The ice show was really cool. Make sure you see it. The guest comedian and juggler were good, and the singing group, Mosaic, was outstanding. The RCCL singers and dancers were excellent, with the aerial show being phenomenal. Several standing ovations were given during the evening shows. James was the Cruise Director. He was very positive, funny, and outgoing, and could manage a crowd quite well. I was slightly disappointed by the small number of activities on the pool deck. I am used to seeing more action. The musicians on the pool deck were outstanding once they got past their warm-up tunes. Lots of Reggae, which is always key for me.
Meet & Mingle: I think about 35 people showed up for our M&M. The raffle prizes were pretty cool, but I got shut out again. We had fun mixing and mingling and we did get a group shot at the end. Our Roll Call was very fun up to the cruise, so I really enjoyed meeting with these folks during the cruise, diving with them, and just talking it up with them. Thanks to everyone who helped make this a very special cruise.
Disembarkation: Well organized but a little slow due to immigration, which was a result of having visited Belize. We were off the ship at about 11:00AM because we were in no rush. Next time we're leaving late, we'll keep our suits and enjoy the pool in the AM. Taxi ride to the airport was $24.
Overall: My girls rank this cruise as their most favorite. Let me first say that every cruise we have been on has been quite good. Like someone reminded me, "even a bad day on a cruise is better than a good day at home." For me, each cruise has been fantastic and special in its own way. The Liberty is no different. I found some new friends, I experienced some new ports, I ate some delicious food, I was watched excellent shows at night, I worked out, I relaxed, and I did all of this while on one of the most beautiful cruise ships in the world.
What more can I ask for?
Oh yea, another cruise.
So......... we are booked on the Freedom for the same week next year! (Liberty will be in Europe and I have no desire to try the mega ships at this time).
Fantastic cruise with fantastic staff and passengers. Thanks everyone!