I just returned with my family on Liberty of the Seas from the 6-night Western Caribbean itinerary. It was a great trip and the ship and staff exceeded expectations across the board. My wife has cruised several times and I had been on one other cruise but we (two daughters 3 & 8) have never taken a family cruise before and this was our first experience with RCCI. This turned into a long review but I wanted to return the favor to all of those who have posted detailed reviews in the past.
First of all, many thanks to those who posted input, reviews, comments, and past cruise compasses that have been posted here - it made our trip all the better and I knew exactly what to expect. I am not an experienced cruiser but I do, however, love to research and plan meticulously with all of the resources available. Before setting foot on Liberty, I had a pretty good idea what to look for and what I wanted to do. We were cruising during peak spring break season so, as expected; there were a ton of other families with school-aged kids - infants, toddlers, grade school and high school. We certainly felt like we were in the right place and RCCI really does a nice job to appeal to all ages of cruisers.
And now the good, the bad, the ugly...
Honestly, there was no Ugly. There was certainly an overwhelming amount of Good, if not great, and, in my opinion, only a few items I would classify as Bad that I would love to see improved.
Embarkation - Smooth as could be. We stayed in Miami the night before and arrived at the pier via taxi at 10:30 am. Once inside the terminal, our documents were checked and we were pointed up the stairs to await check-in. We were among the first in the terminal and we could see the front of a quickly growing line. We ended up waiting about 30 mins for check-in to start and once the line moved we were on board by 11:30. Because of our early arrival and boarding, we were literally among the first 40 people on board. Priority 1 for us was to go immediately to Guest Services to make babysitter reservations. Based on info I received from researching CC on this cruise we wanted to make sure we could get a sitter so my wife and I could enjoy some of the later-evening activities during the week. There was no one else in line at GS and we had our babysitter reservation requests within minutes and then headed up to the Windjammer for lunch. Once we fed at the proverbial trough that is the Windjammer, the crowds were starting to build so we set off to get the girls registered at Adventure Ocean (Kids Club). The bulk of the rest of the afternoon was spent exploring this floating wonderland, and getting settled in for the week to come
Food: I realize that food is the most "in your face" aspect of cruising and among the most hotly debated topics among cruise fans. My expectations were rather low after reading much of the feedback on declining food quality on RCCP. Generally speaking, we found the food and the overall dining experience to be wonderful. We used My Time Dining and our dinner reservation was linked with another family that made our total party as many as nine people (4 adults / 5 kids). Throughout the week were able to make reservations or walk up when we wanted as a group of 9 or even smaller parties of 2, 4, etc. We used the Main Dining Room for every dinner except one when we went to Portofinos (sans kids). Dinner in the MDR was typically good (food quality - good to excellent, selection - average to good, service - good to excellent). The meal never seemed slow or did we ever find ourselves waiting for the next course. The staff was very friendly. They got to know our names, including the kids, and they made our dinner feel like it was a meal in their own home. I was impressed and we were all very well taken care of. Dinner at Portofino's was also very nice - great food and a very diverse selection. It is a nice departure from the big main dining room and has an intimate, small restaurant feel - certainly worth the $20 up charge. The hardest part was deciding what to have. Typically when we are torn between dinner choices when cruising, one of us will order two entrees. In the MDR, this is a non-issue, however, in Portofino's an extra entrEe comes with a $10 additional charge - surprised, yes, deterred, no. The waiter also put a hard sell on a unique type of wine decanter that I had not seen before - I thought the approach was a bit tacky and pushy but, OK, I know RCCI is in the business to make money, just let me enjoy dinner without being shaken down to buy more stuff. That said, the meal was fantastic and was on par with any I have had at many other decent Italian restaurants around the states.
Windjammer / Jade - there has been plenty posted about this and I have no new revelations. It is your typical buffet restaurant at sea. Plenty of options of varying quality and, at peak times, limited places to sit. While I understand there is probably no way to please everyone when trying to feed 3000+ people in an economical, efficient, and safe way, I found myself avoiding the WJ if I could. I can't go all negative on Windjammer, because the staff was great, very helpful in any way they could (finding seats, keeping tables clear, entertaining the kids, always good every time I was there). I think the bad rap that the WJ gets is less about the actual food but more about the people. A lot of hungry people trying to eat different things from different stations - Some areas with lines, some without, some people cutting and reaching in front of others, some grazing to find the perfect olive or piece of crispy bacon from a huge pan of food - Different styles, appetites, cultures, manners, speeds, and ages all trying to service the basic need to eat. Good news is with all of the other great options on the ship, the WJ is not the only game in town so you can find alternatives. We did the MDR for breakfast every morning and found it to be a nice quiet and low key place to start the day. We even did the Dreamworks character breakfast there on one morning my kids loved it. Good character time and photo opportunities. FYI - I found that you can actually make reservations for this online in advance, look under Specialty Dining for options under your online cruise planner. One tip - be there at or before the 8am start time. Arrive any later and they may give your reservation away - space is limited.
My one complaint about dining is the wine selection for both the MDR and Portofino's. For a ship that size, I would have expected a more diverse wine selection in the dining rooms. While there was a nice mix of California wines, the selection of French and Italian wines was very limited. The same was true with only a few Australian wines and virtually nothing from Spain or South America. That said, the bottles we did have were very good and I found the bottle pricing to be quite reasonable.
Cabin: We had an interior stateroom with a 2-pullman bed configuration to accommodate the four of us. Space is very efficiently used. Beds and bedding were surprisingly comfortable. The AC was silent and the room was mostly quiet to outside noise. The bathroom space is decent and the shower uses an efficient set of circular sliding doors Our cabin was on deck 7 near the aft elevators. I think decks 7,8,& 9 are great choices because they are essentially between the main areas on deck 11 and above (pool, windjammer, sports deck, health club/spa) and deck 5 and below (promenade, lounges, casino, theater) and can easily reach those areas via stairwell. Yes the elevators can be crowded and slow. Peak times seemed to be between 5-10pm when everyone was shuffling between afternoon and evening activities, meals, etc. Staying on decks 7-9 makes, for most people, taking the stairs a very easy alternative to get anywhere on the ship.
Royal Promenade: The Promenade is the backbone of the ship. Truly like a main street in a small town. Bookended by The Promenade Cafe at one end and Sorrento's at the other, the Royal Promenade is really cool destination no matter the time of day. The Cafe is so nice and convenient - like a Starbucks, comfy, reasonably quiet, never seemed overly crowded and always something to satisfy from doughnuts and other breakfast treats in the morning to small, tasty sandwiches and cookies the rest of the day. Seattle's Best Coffee is among my faves, so this made it even better. At the other end, Sorrento's was a great go-to stop for a nice lunch alternative or a late-night pizza fix. The pizza was pretty good, especially when they had daily specials beyond the typical pepperoni and cheese options. I would highly recommend some great salad fixings - the olives and sundried tomatoes were fantastic and the ameretto cookies were a tasty treat. The atmosphere and theme here is a nice departure from the typical generic pizza options on most cruise ships. It was not uncommon to see a group of teens too young for the lounges who wanted to hang out with new friends to socialize over pizza and snacks - not unlike any other local pizza place back home. Other Promenade highlights were the Cupcake Cupboard and Ben and Jerry's - both very quaint and the sweet smells coming from each are irresistible. My daughters loved stopping into the Cupcake Cupboard each day to see the daily selection. While they had several of the same flavors every day, there were usually 2-3 daily specials that changed from day to day. Vintages and The Hoof and Claw Pub are also prominent spots on the promenade that I will discuss in the Bars/Lounges section. The promenade was also the location of the Captain's Reception, the Dreamworks Parade, some Adventure Ocean events (Circus and Pirate Parade) as well as the 70's disco party - All of which were very well done and seemed to easily accommodate anyone who wanted to attend. On the Formal Nights, it was nice to stroll as a family down and back on the promenade before and after dinner to enjoy the atmosphere and take in everyone else dressed up and showing off their finery. For most, an evening stroll is an experience that has been lost to busy family schedules and the migration to the suburbs, but it is nice to be able to do that on such a large cruise ship. We had our girls dressed in similar outfits and received many flattering comments on their appearance and behavior.
Pool / H20 Zone: On our two at sea days, the pool deck was crowded but not impossible. On day 2, our first at sea day, it was extremely windy and probably cut the day by the pool short for many of us. While it was sunny and warm, it was very windy and hard to keep towels, hats, books, etc. from blowing away. Day 6, out second at sea day was nearly perfect and, as expected, the pool deck was packed. We were lucky enough to get a spot early because by 11, there were few, if any, open chairs. Yes there are chair hogs who put towels on chairs at some ungodly early hour expecting to hold that location while they are gone for hours at a time but I did see the deck patrol actively collecting towels from unattended chairs. On the days in port, the pool was virtually empty until later in the afternoon when many were returning from excursions. The deck staff is a great mix of waiters retrieving drink orders while others were clearing empty glasses and bottles. While the deck space is crowded with chairs it was rarely cluttered with garbage. The self-serve frozen yogurt bar was a popular spot and in the event of a spilled cone, the deck staff was on the spot with a mop to have that area clean in a matter of seconds - I was impressed. With all the bare feet and kids packed into crowded spots with glass and food I never saw any significant issues with food messes, broken glass, etc. The big-screen TV is a great addition but totally underutilized. Only once during the 6-night cruise did they offer a movie (Mama Mia, at midnight?!) and the rest of the time it showed landscape scenes, the same 20 trivia questions, and the same stream of music videos. Fortunately, our first day was also the regional finals for the NCAA men's basketball championships and they did show the games which was really cool. Pool, beer, sunshine, and sports - what's not to love?
Adventure Ocean / Kids Club: We found this to be a great option for the kids. The facility is nice, clean, organized, and spacious and I found the staff to be very professional and great with the kids. Whenever we my girls went to the Kids Club, they enjoyed every minute of it and many times didn't want to leave. My oldest participated in the Adventure Ocean circus which is a cute show the kids do on the Promenade (simple costumes, face paint, and corny skits but they get to be in a show and the staff really make it fun). Both girls did the Pirate Parade (face paint, decorated bandannas) which they are led by the staff up and down the promenade singing clever pirate songs and dances - very cute for the 3 to 8 crowd and their respective parents. They typically only went to the kids club in the evenings and we never did the adventure ocean meal option so I can't comment on that. The Adventure Ocean is on the same deck as the Arcade. A decent variety of games, but VERY expensive - $0.75- $1.75 per play. Three air hockey tables but no foosball or I would have loved that old bubble hockey game - ok, I'm old school. Even Ms Pac Man was $0.75 (It is a 30 year old game, $ 0.75, Really?!) To play, you charge credits on a sea-pass card that can be pre-loaded on machines in the arcade.
Bars / Lounges: There are plenty of options around the ship and I was lucky to visit just about all of them at least once. The Schooner bar and Boleros book-end deck 4 with the Casino in the middle. The Schooner was nice and comfortable and only really got busy late in the evening when the piano entertainment was going on. He was great by the way, very talented and did a nice job playing old favorites and getting the crowd to have some sing-along fun. It was also the location for daily trivia contests which we found to be a fun, cool escape from the hot sun during the day. Boleros was highlighted by Latin music and dancing. There was typically a lively band which attracted some great dancing in the evenings. The On Air Lounge on deck 3 is the sports bar location during the day and the karaoke bar at night. Many TV monitors with ESPN on during the day - rarely crowded, and plenty of spots to sit and watch sports. Within the On Air Club are these two very clever do it yourself CD / DVD karaoke booths that allow you to pick a song and make your own video singing it. The On Air lounge was also the location of Family Wii tournaments (bowling, etc.) which were fun to do on a big screen with a group of other passengers. Vintages on the Promenade is a very nice wine bar. The self service option is easy and convenient however the selection is a bit varied - some reasonably priced wines by the glass that you can purchase and serve yourself in 1, 3 or 5 oz servings. There were some very pricy options as well - Opus 1 for $120 per glass and a Lafite Bordeaux for $250 per glass?! Despite that, the atmosphere is nice. I attended an excellent Martini tasting / mixing class that was informative, engaging, and very tasty. There were usually different types of wine tastings each afternoon / evening that I did not attend but heard great things about. Hoof and Claw Pub on the Promenade has a great atmosphere and theming in the spirit of a British pub (dark, nice features in the woodwork and dEcor). My issues with the H&C are with the limited draft beer selection (only Murphy's Stout and Heineken). They have a nice selection of cans and bottles but nothing more exotic than Bass, Harp, or Boddington's This location seems to attract the smokers and has a reputation as being too smoky. It never bothered me but it also never got that crowded. The guitar entertainment was OK but it never seemed as fun or entertaining as musicians in so many Irish pubs I have visited in my travels. Connoisseur's Club - if you are a cigar smoker, this place is an oasis - I loved it - quiet, very comfortable and a good selection of cigars (sorry no Cuban's) and whiskey's / cordials / after dinner drinks. Soft club chairs, sofa's and plenty of places to sit and enjoy a cigar and chat with old friends and new acquaintances. While is it open as a cigar smoking room 24/7, the bar is only open from 8pm until late. It was never crowded and was well decorated with some nice atmospheric touches (nice ash trays, cigar aficionado magazines, informative menu / cigar information sheet, decent ventilation). The Catacombs - I was only there one night - typical cruise ship nightclub, good bar, decent DJ, plenty of dance and sitting space. It was not too dark as to not see anything and not too loud as to not be able to have a conversation. Olive or Twist (Viking Crown Lounge) - Great location, on deck 14 with a panoramic view above the ship and the pool deck. Quiet and comfortable during the day with good music options at night (DJ or even live music). They had some great jazz on the last night that I enjoyed very much. Good staff, attentive and a nice big bar with plenty of places to sit.
Shows / Entertainment: I read many mixed reviews about "In the Air" and the "Encore" Ice show and had low expectations. WOW - Both shows were fantastic. We were really blown away by both. The talent of the featured performers in "In the Air" was truly amazing and I really liked the mix of music, visuals, and aerobatics in the show. I admit, I thought it started a bit weird but it really got going and I found myself enjoying it - great level of entertainment for a cruise ship. Encore, the Ice Show was amazing on so many levels. First, the size of the ice and being on a moving ship has to make it that much more difficult. We saw no falls, no slips, and only perfect execution. I enjoyed the theatrical theme and the Las Vegas, Rock n Roll Finish was very cool. The thought of an Ice Show on a ship in the middle of the ocean is just amazing. On the last night, the featured dance couple and featured male acrobat from "In the Air" each came back to do a bit in the Farewell show that was equally impressive. I was so glad we got to see that. I didn't see either the comedian or the juggler (guest headliner). There was another guest headliner who did a vegas-style variety show that I heard was fantastic but never got a chance to see.
Activities / Events: My biggest accolades from our Liberty cruise are for Gordon, the Cruise Director, and his staff. They really put on some fun events that had appeal for the whole family. During the day, they were everywhere - From the daily trivia contests (Harry Potter, Sports, Places, 80s Music - great themes and the staff kept these little contests funny and fun) to family Wii events to the pool side activities (Belly Flop contest, line dance lessons), they had something for everyone. They were friendly, engaging, and very funny. The highlights that we enjoyed were the 70s Disco party on the promenade - the DJ was first rate and the Cruise Director and his Staff led the dancing / show dressing as familiar 70s music acts and leading the party - great fun. A few nights later was the 80's dance party where the staff dressed as various 80s music video icons and led the dance party from the stage at Studio B while also going into the crowd to welcome participation from all. Another fun event was the Dreamwork's Move it Move it Parade - a Disney-style theme park parade on a ship - just awesome. Great music, a lot of participants and plenty of space to get to see everything - the kids really loved it. We also did the open ice skating at Studio B one afternoon (it was only offered on two occasions - once for a Disco skating party on 70s night and again in the afternoon of our last at sea day). It was run by the cast of the Ice Show and it was cool to see them up close helping out by handing our skates and helmets for the skaters to use. They really are very talented and my daughter thought it was so cool to see them off the ice.
My only issue with some of the activities were the late start times. Many events didn't start until after 10pm and some not until after 11 which made seeing and doing many of the more fun events prohibitive to those who are early risers or those who don't have babysittiing (my kids like to be up early and at the pool, breakfast, etc.)
Casino - Very big with plenty of gaming variety - slots, video poker and plenty of table games with reasonable minimums / limits. There was always space to play and only the craps table ever seemed crowded. Dealers were usually very friendly and always asked about our day, what we did, what we should do the next day, etc. I actually found that level of engagement with all of the on board staff - very nice touch. They genuinely seemed interested in our experience and were quick to offer recommendations. The slots played tighter than anywhere I have ever been so don't expect to win there. Roulette was fun with many tables available also plenty of blackjack (both 8-deck shoe and single deck) with $6 minimum tables. 3 card poker as well (never played that game so I cannot comment).
Sports Deck: My kids are a too young for Flowrider and the Climbing Wall but we did watch for a bit and it was very well run and cool to watch, especially the Flowrider - great fun to see those start and stand for a few seconds before wiping out. It definitely got cheers from the people watching. The mini-golf was very nice, never crowded and it had both normal sized putters and smaller ones for kids. A great way to have fun and enjoy the view from the top of the ship. There were usually games constantly going on the sports court (basketball , volleyball, dodgeball, etc.). A lot of adults and teens out there all day and night. They even had is set aside to be used by the Adventure Ocean kids on a few evenings.
Shopping: Like food, shopping seems to be another "in your face" aspect to cruising. At least half of the Royal Promenade space is devoted to shopping - typically high-end merchandise (perfume, jewelry, activewear, formal clothing and accessories, and liquor - in a duty free forum). There is also a Royal Caribbean logo and ship-specific merchandise shop. In addition, there were usually daily sales on tables set up in the middle of the Promenade with one or more product types (watches, earrings, etc.) in a sidewalk sale-type promotion. Aside from the onboard stores, there were daily printed shopping guides and port maps, lectures, and on-board TV shows dedicated to pointing passengers to RCCI-approved vendors in each of the ports of call (Diamonds International, etc.). One flyer that was distributed with the Daily Cruise Compass packet for the day we were in Cozumel was issued like a warning. It advised passengers that it was "an imperative" for passengers to "allow a minimum of three hours" of time to explore the shopping opportunities Cozumel had to offer ( I am paraphrasing but they did use those terms). Our group found humor in extreme nature of the message and we all shared a laugh talking about it at breakfast that morning. Anyway, if duty-free shopping is your thing, you will love it.
Ports of Call: My kids are a bit too young for adventure-type excursions and I could not get them interested in visiting Mayan ruins. They would rather go to the beach or hang out near the port to shop and get back to the pool on board or the kids club so I cannot comment on any of the excursions.
Belize - The appeal of Belize is lost on me. I know the reef there is among the best in the Western Hemisphere but Belize City is rather modest and without doing an excursion, it is hard to justify more than an hour there. We didn't find anything unique or a particularly good value about the shopping and the food there near the pier was not very good. I did like the local Belikin beer and the chance to visit Belize but beyond that, this port didn't do much for me.
Costa Maya - Costa Maya is a made-for cruise ships destination equipped with a user friendly shopping area at the pier with a big pool and swim up bar and a nearby small fishing village / beach and a variety of snorkeling /diving or Mayan ruin excursions. Again, nothing unique in the shopping beyond the typical Mexican-type souvenirs and the usual duty free and collection of jewelry stores.
Cozumel - A lot of excursion options from beach to snorkeling / diving to adventures and Mayan ruins along with shopping and eating in some of the fun spots in downtown Cozumel. We like going into town and looking in the shops while enjoying some local flavor at Pancho's Backyard. For us it was a mostly a low key day allowing us to get back on the ship and enjoy the pool area without the crowds.
Staff: Overall, the staff was fantastic. Everyone was very nice, courteous, helpful and seemed to enjoy their jobs. The Cruise Director and Activities staff were really first rate - fun, always on, and everywhere on the ship. Gordon and Marvin and their staff really made the onboard activities a lot of fun for all ages. I cannot say enough about how much we enjoyed everything.
Babysitting: Or Lack of Babysitting - This was my major issue with our cruise. After being among the first on board and presumably among the first to make any type of Babysitter requests we were not able to get ANY of the five nights we requested babysitter for. We were told that it was first come / first served and there were none available. I practically lost it with Guest Services telling them I was one of the first people on board and went immediately to guest services with my request - no satisfaction. I thought this was completely unacceptable and it really prevented my wife and I from fully enjoying the later in the evening activities together. Our kids are not the late night types and we did not want to leave them awake in the Kids Club later than 10pm. The lack of available babysitter issue will be the one thing that will keep me from returning to a RC cruise with my family any time soon. It really was a disappointment. When we were asked if/when we would cruise again by one of the staff I was very clear that the Babysitter issue will keep my family from RCCI until my girls are old enough to not need their services.
Overall, the Liberty of the Seas experience was fantastic and I would highly recommend to anyone, and despite the babysitter issue, we made the most of everything and we could.