Liberty of the Seas April 25, 2010-May 2, 2010
Just returned from our voyage (our fifth RCI, our seventh total), and here are our thoughts.
Flew into Fort Lauderdale (because we flew Southwest) the night before and took the free shuttle to The Hilton Garden Inn. The hotel was very nice and very busy. There is a shuttle to take you to the shopping area across the street where there is a Kmart for last minute pickups, and where you can find some dining options. The shuttle will also take you to other restaurants. We chose to stay in and eat at the hotel. Standard hotel fare, but I have had worse. Crystal, the bartender, was great.
Used " John's Car Service" www.johnscarservice.com the next day to get to Miami. He picked us up at the hotel and drove us right up to a waiting porter at the cruise terminal. He was very personable and it was much better than the hassle of renting a car, or piling into a crowded shuttle. We arrived at the port around 10:45 AM.
We waited for a short time ( 10 minutes, maybe) outside security waiting for them to open up. There they group you by Crown and Anchor level. Once they did, it was very smooth. RCI employees allowed diamond , platinum and suite passengers to check in first. and then all other passengers were directed to a check in counter. Again, at that hour in the morning, it was at most another ten minutes. They took our SeaPass picture at this point, so now there is no back up when you are boarding the ship. We then moved on to the next area and were assigned a boarding number. You are then seated in an area corresponding to your number. The ship was still awaiting customs clearance so we waited another half hour. RCI made sure everyone had a seat and that we were arranged for an orderly embarkation. We were in the Windjammer around noon and had lunch. After lunch, we stopped at our stateroom to drop our backpack, meet our attendant Balfour, and went off to explore the ship.
The ship is big, and it was great to have this uncrowded, unhurried time to acclimate ourselves. We started at the top and worked our way down. Even venues not technically open were available to gawk at, such as Catacombs, Sphinx, FlowRider, etc. Muster was easy now that you do not need to wear your life vest. We reserved My Time Dining. Our table for two, was very badly placed. (Next to a busing area and practically in a major thourofare for the whole dining room.) We were told all the tables were assigned and we could not be moved. When the maitre d' came by, we remarked we were unhappy with the placement and our subsequent nights were at a much better location. Next went on to the Welcome Aboard Show (so-so), Bingo (not as much fun with the hand held electronic automatic display unit), and the Soca-licious Parade (lots of fun)
DAY TWO-AT SEA
We found a comfortable place by the main pool on deck 11 around 10am. Since we were seeking a shaded spot there were many options. Those seeking full sun will need to get there early. We DID NOT put something on our seats to hold them and then disappear for hours. This is inconsiderate. The only time we left our area was to get lunch, which we brought back to our spot, or to use the pool. By lunchtime, all chairs by the pool were taken. There were plenty of chairs ship wide, but the three pools are at a premium. We picked up our ice show tickets on the Promenade at 11:00am There was a line dance class and a belly flop contest poolside. We went to the 5pm ice show. The visiting Russian duo in the ice show were excellent. Warning-get to the ice show early. There are seats for every ticket, but many have obscured views and it was log jammed close to show time. Dinner at Portofino's was excellent.
This is the most crowded day in the Windjammer for breakfast. Labadee is beautiful. Lots of beach, plenty of chairs, although shade is a premium. We had preordered tickets to the Dragon Tail Coaster. This operation does not appear to be run by RCI and it shows. It doesn't matter if you have an allotted time slot for your ride. You will wait in line with everyone else (even those who have yet to pay), you will fill out release forms and get back in line to hand them in, and you will then get on another line to ride. If a hundred people walk up for the same time you pre-ordered your ride, they would just sell them a ticket too. The staff was unapproachable and indifferent. The boarding process is very slow, and it took an hour to enjoy the three minute ride. The track was very pretty though.
Our particular day on Labadee was in the nineties, with very high humidity, and absolutely no breeze whatsoever. Considering these conditions, we decided to get back on board and enjoyed a very peaceful time at the Solarium pool, which it seems many others did also. We also watched the ship off load building materials for Haiti relief. The evening show "Mosaic" was very good. These group of gentlemen mimic all the instruments and have great voices for the vocals. They were contracted to appear and are better than the standard RCI produced show.
DAY FOUR-OCHO RIOS
This port has one of the best shore excursion organization I have ever seen. From the time we stepped off the gangplank to the time we boarded our bus was no more than ten minutes, and that includes the five minute pier walk. We chose to try the Aerial Explorer up Mystic Mountain. This is a ski lift that takes you 700 hundred feet up the mountain. Once up there, you will find a bobsled coaster (similar, but better looking than the Dragon's Tail on Labadee), a restaurant, a museum, and an infinity pool. Unfortunately, we were unprepared since they do not accept American Express, and found ourselves without enough cash to enjoy all it had to offer. The tower has a great view of the ship. After exploring we went down the aerial ride and immediately boarded a bus back to the ship. Not being shoppers, we skipped the stores on got back on board where we watched the crew performing a life boat drill.
DAY FIVE-GRAND CAYMAN
As we have previously swam with the stingrays, we chose the 4X4 Jeep Adventure. We were told to meet in Studio B (ice rink) and the crew called us by excursion and we were escorted to the tender, via the crew area. This allowed for easy boarding, with no backups on the stairs. Once on Grand Cayman, we were again called by excursion number and led to our bus. We were driven to the beach club that we will ultimately return to later for sand and surf time. Jeeps were primitive, but serviceable. I guess rear view mirrors aren't all that important. Four to a Jeep, we drove to North Sound, Barker's National Park, the Mangroves, a "Rum Factory" (a tacky gift shop with rum and rum cake samples), the town of Hell (an even tackier gift shop) and then back to the beach club for surf time. No turtle farm as advertised. David, our guide, was very good. Then back to the ship.
Had dinner at Chops. Excellent, best meal of the cruise. Saw the Broadway tribute evening show (so-so).
Unbelievable wind. So much that the ship took an extra 45 minutes docking because the wind was fighting it. You could barely walk down the pier. We had booked a two person speed boat adventure, but after speaking to the guide on shore he confirmed my fears. The water would be very choppy. I knew I would be miserable so we saw the RCI excursion representative on shore and she easily cancelled and refunded our trip. Many snorkelers were doing the same thing because the wind was stiff. Shopped the port a while and then got on board and relaxed by the pool. Our cabin wasn't on the windy side so we read on our balcony also. The evening show "In the Air" is another contracted show and better than the RCI produced shows.
DAY SEVEN-AT SEA
Small snafu. Although we had a late afternoon flight home the next day, we were given an early disembarkation time. We had to wait until 2:30 to try for something later, only to be told the last time slot was all taken. We got a disembarkation time of a half hour later, but the crew member handling the situation offered no sympathy. We spent the day doing ship activities. Towel folding, family talent show, watched pool volleyball. The Best of Best FlowRider and the Flow Show are not to be missed. Get there early if you want to sit. Packed, went to the Farewell show (good comedian), dinner, came back to put out the bags. Then went back for the adult late night comedy show which was even better than his earlier show.
DINING: My Time Dining worked well. A mistake on my part was to have different dining hours every night. We were always consulting our notes to remember which night was what. (I did this because on days we have land excursions, I like to see the main show first, then eat, otherwise the fatigue sets in. After the first night and we were moved to a quieter table the main dining room got better. Our most frequent servers, Lorinda and Chimel were great. Asked about home, family, pets. Rohann, the beverage waiter was exceptional. (Our dining room staff on our last experience, on the Serenade in January 2009, was almost awful and we were nervous) Our next trip will be with a large group and I don't think we will do My Time for that. It will be better to book the second seating so everyone will always be on the same page. The food was better than our last trip, but I wish they would slow it down. We chose MY Time because we planned to have the time. Always cooked to order and hot. Memorable? Not exactly, but fine. Portofino's and Chop's were exceptional. Perfectly crusted, perfectly rare lamb chops, well executed osso bucco, and perfect filet mignons. I have long subscribed to the theory that the main dining room has suffered due to RCI's desire for you to seek alternative ($$$) dining venues. Portofino's and Chop's were both virtually empty on our nights there and the ship was full. The Windjammer was the same as usual. Some people complain that it is the same food every day, but there is still plenty of variety to be able to withstand a week of breakfast and lunch. Sandwiches and pastries at the Promenade cafe were actually quite good. Sorrento's pizza was just okay (I am a New Yorker), too doughy for my tastes. Never ate at Johnny Rocket's. Never felt we could handle a pile of french fries and onion rings before even ordering.
Stateroom: Cabin 6386. We have never had a balcony cabin this low before and we were a little nervous but it worked out perfect. The ship was full because all the Europeans booked for the previous week's sailing had to reschedule because they could not fly to Florida due to the volcanic ash problem. With the exception of the pool deck, most activities are on decks 4 and 5, We avoided very crowded elevators with our easy walk. Our stateroom was always made up in a timely fashion and our attendant Balfour kept ice in the wine and champagne buckets. The room was remarkable clean.
Entertainment: James Andrews, the Cruise Director was great. He brought energy and enthusiasm to everything he did. The ice show was okay. I was nervous when it first started because the opening was the same as I saw on The Adventurer three years ago, but the rest was different. The visiting Russian duo defied time with their frequent costume changes. She didn't look like she had on twenty layers of clothing. Again, get there early as the good seats fill up fast (prime seating is reserved for concierge and Diamond level). Honestly, our seats were perfect. Just to the left, at the top, on stools against an eight inch bar rail. Perfect view. "Mosaic" was very good, and as I wrote earlier, it is a contracted show. They have appeared on "America's Got Talent". Regular main shows were okay. Nothing more than I have experienced or expected on prior sailings. We played trivia in the Schooner Bar every day. (won three, came in second a lot) You usually see the same faces and it is a fun rivalry. The prizes are really lame (really, a highlighter?), but that is not the point. We didn't do any of the musical lounge acts so we can't comment. Quest was the usual fun. It was nice to see the cruise director make people who brought in bags of props remove them. It is just supposed to be fun, why stack the deck? James Andrews, and the couple from New Hampshire, made "Love & Marriage" a lot of fun.
Lounges: Hoof & Claw would have been a great place to hang out in, but alas, it is a designated smoking area, so we ended up calling it the Hack & Cough. They should designate a non beverage service lounge for smoking as many of the people seated there were merely smoking and not embracing the pub atmosphere. We visited the Viking Lounge before dinner each night. At that time it was pretty empty and mellow. Schooner bar staff were great and remembered us each day at trivia. Order something at the Champagne bar (they have a full bar) and they will bring you a plate of hors d'oeuvre. Platinum Theater bar staff was exceptional. Our server offered to bring refills and returned with perfect timing.
Pool Deck: We didn't use the Kid Zone, but it appeared to be quite popular. To its credit, there are not just shallow pools, but deep pools and two hot tubs. It appeared very interactive for families. The Solarium pool was beautiful, and the chairs of better quality. The canterlevered hot tubs were very large compared to the main pool, and far less rowdy. The snacks that were advertised never appeared. In fact, the two food stations in the Solarium remained empty all week. The bar has a more restrictive schedule than the main pool, although beverage servers came by. The main pool is fun for the energy. The blue carpet is showing its age however and could use replacing. The new towel policy is a bit of a pain. If you don't go early, expect to wait in line to sign out towels, and if you don't leave early, expect to wait in line to return them. We were on a full ship, yet RCI only saw fit to have one towel station.
Overall: Did we have a good time-yes. Are the RCI cutbacks apparent-absolutely. A frequent gripe among Crown & Anchor members is that unless you book a suite, RCI doesn't go out of their way for you.