As First time cruisers, we were very happy with our vacation on the Liberty. My wife and I have been to many resorts and vacation spots across Mexico and the Caribbean, a few with our young children in tow and didn't know what to expect from the cruise.
Got to Miami on Friday noon and stayed at the Four Points on Collins ave. I had used points for the hotel and had a free day rental from National so we took the car from the airport to the hotel for the overnight. National has an office directly across from the hotel so we dropped the car there the next day. They do offer a shuttle to the Port but it doesn't run regularly (depends on what ships are in/out and what customers they have to transport). We planned on taking the free shuttle but the timing wasn't good so we cabbed it from the hotel ($28).
We got to the terminal about 1:10, gave the bags to the porter and went inside right away. Boat was set to sail at 4:00 ( or maybe 4:30?) We had to wait a bit to go through security, then another 20 minutes to get your sail pass etc, but we were on the ship within an hour.
I have to give full credit to Royal Caribbean and the crew of the Liberty of the Seas because we had a fantastic time. My son is 7 and daughter 4 and our biggest concern was keeping them busy so that my wife and I could feel like we were on vacation too. There was so much to do on the ship and we barely scratched the surface.
My kids are not what you would call low maintenance but my son took to the adventure ocean activities right away. My daughter needed a little more coaxing, but she ended up going on the 3 "sailing days." We left my son at Adventure Ocean on the 3 sailing days and on the Puerto Rico stop as we figured he would prefer that to walking around San Juan.
Service on the ship was excellent from start to finish. Always a smile and eager to help with anything. Our Stateroom attendant was efficient and fast and all the staff in general were super polite and quick to engage the children ( they all referred to my daughter as princess - a common practice it seems - but she liked it).
It took us a little bit of time to figure out the My Time Dining, as we didn't really know when we wanted to eat. Once we settled into a routine, it was easier. I have to say Lonel and the other host (can't remember her name - she was from Mexico city) were super helpful.
As I mentioned, we barely did anything as my kids go to bed fairly early ( and wake early!). I think all the sea air and running around knocked them out. We didn't go to any shows, but we played mini golf, video games and air hockey in the arcade and just ran around in the H2O zone in general.
We went to the Dreamworks breakfast once (they do them on all the "at sea" days). You have to reserve and the space is limited so do it as soon as you can. They basically have 2 or 3 characters come out and take pictures with everyone.
Don't miss the Dreamworks parade. 5:30 and 11:15 pm. It was pretty neat! (can't remember the day)
The staff in the dining room were always happy to see you and the kids always got something to colour and some pens or crayons to keep them occupied.
Overall, the onboard experience was really good. A bit crowded on sea days around the adult pools (it was really windy the first 2 days at sea and the adult pools seemed to have less wind - but seats were always taken).
*** disembarkation note for Canadians***
I don't know if this is just what happened to us, but here is how the process went. On advice from many postings and even my travel agent, we were advised not to book a flight home from MIA before 2pm.
On the morning of departure you are given a Tag number and a time frame (30 min) during which you will be called to leave the ship. Our ship docked at 6am. Our tag was 8:00- 8:30. We were called at 8:06 am. We got up and slowly started to disembark. We took our time as our flight was not until 3:35 pm. There were 11:45, 12:45 flights to Toronto but we were advised not to book so early just in case.
Being leisurely and taking our time, we got through US customs (about 20 seconds once we had our bags) and found ourselves getting into a cab at 8:45am. Most of the time was spent waiting for our bags and doing a little repacking before the airport. No word of a lie, we were standing at the Air Canada check in at 9:01am. We couldn't rebook on an earlier flight as I had used points to fly and it would have cost an arm and a leg.
My advice, and again, this is just our experience of returning on a Sunday morning... book yourself an earlier flight - we had to sit in the airport for 6 and a half hours. We couldn't even check our bags until close to noon. So if you don't want to drag your kids and all your luggage around the airport, check on your ships arrival back in port and plan accordingly. If you are a U.S. citizen, I think the customs clearing part is much longer - there was a very long line. I think non- U.S. citizens basically get a free pass (unless you have goods that are remaining in the U.S.)
I hope this info is useful for anyone planning their first cruise or needing more specifics on the ship and/or this particular itinerary.
San Juan was a shorter stop so no beach visit. We took our daughter with us ( left our son at Adventure ocean program on the ship).
San Juan was clean and nice. We walked up the hill to the Fort and paid $3 each to enter ( personally they should charge more). The Fort is about 600 years old ( there are actually 2 of them about a mile apart) and was quite interesting. We spent about an hour walking around the fort and spent the rest of the time walking the cobblstone streets of San Juan.
Shopping was good. Some good prices (apparently not on electronics though) but I think for shopping, St Maarten was the best.
Back on the ship by 2 pm - but a nice visit to San Juan.
Once again, we disembarked first thing and hopped in a taxi. We had been to St Maarten before ( my wife and I 12 years ago) and we knew we wanted to go back to Orient Bay ( on the french side). Cab ride was $6 per person and we got to the beach nice and early. We paid for beach chairs ( $10 for 2 + umbrella) although we hardly sat in them. We pretty much grabbed the first ones we saw and regretted slightly as a short walk down the beach $7 per chair got you a free drink as well + access to a bathroom. Not a great loss in any case. I spent much of the time building sand castles and jumping the waves with my kids who discovered a new fondness for the water. I couldn' t get them out of the ocean.
A few things to know about Orient Bay. It is usually pretty windy and the waves pretty rough . The sand and ocean floor is soft and powdery - no rocks. There is great kite surfing and parasailing on the beach as well as many restaurants where you can get a pizza or burger and beer for reasonable prices.
As it is on the French side, there is a clothing optional section of the beach, although the boundaries aren't policed so you may well see nudity just about anywhere ( mostly just topless women). I think the real optional clothing section is "fully optional" and the rest of the beach you see occasional toplessness. My kids didn't comment or react at all ( we are pretty open minded).
After lunch, we headed back to town ( $6 cab ride per person). Cabs are always trolling around looking for fares so it is never hard to find your way back to the ship.
Shopping in town - good prices on everything from booze to jewellery. Very clean and nice.
First POC was Charlotte Amalie in St Thomas. I took the recommendations of many of the members and avoided any excursions on the trip booked through the ship. We simply got off the ship, walked to the taxi's and went to Magen's Bay. The beach and water were beautiful. It cost $32 (each way) for the 4 of us in the taxi + $4 each for my wife and I to enter the beach( kids were free). I recommend a visit if you like beautiful calm, crystal clear water. The fish started swimming around my feet as I just stood in knee high water. I started talking to some others from the ship that bought the excursion from RCI. It was $40 or $50 per person, and only gave them a couple of hours at the beach before taking them to town. We did the whole round trip for $80 for the 4 of us and could stay as long as we wanted. The other family we talked to regretted being on the schedule as they wanted to stay longer.
If you go, go right when you get off the ship. There were only 2 ships in port when we were there and the beach filled up fast! I can't imagine how full it would be with more ships in Port.
We stayed at the beach until after lunch and then headed to town for shopping. Prices were good but I think still higher than St Maarten (our stop the next day).
Unfortunately, the town portion was not as nice as I was hoping. Phillipsburg in St Marrten is much cleaner and nicer.