My husband and I recently got back from our first cruise: Royal Caribbean - Liberty of the Seas Eastern Caribbean on March 19, 2011 (8 days). We purchased the cruise through Costco Travel and received a nice onboard credit. We had 4 stops in St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, and Labadee, Haiti (RC private port in Haiti). Since this was a first cruise for us both, we really didn't know what to expect.
Our first day we got to the port early and waited in line to board, the process was simple and pretty quick after waiting in the long line. The bags took some time to get to the room( so if you want to go for a swim as soon as you get on the ship, either carry your swim suit on with you or wear it because you may be waiting a while!) Our room was an outside cabin with a large window. The size was fine for us two with a lot of storage space to unpack and not be cramped. The bed was comfortable; the sheets were soft and clean. We loved having the window to look out in the moring and see land or on sea days to be able to see the ocean and have some light, when we got to San Juan we even saw a dolphin swimming right outside our window! Anyway, after we checked out the room we went to the dining room to make sure our seating request of a table for 2 was noted. They had us set for a 4-top, but after we asked for a 2 were able to accommodate us with no problem. We then made our way around the ship, just getting lost and seeing where everything was.
The Windjammer Cafe (the buffet) was not the best, they had pre made burger patties and turkey patties with buns and condiments, they had hot bars with items like mashed potatoes, pasta, rice, meat, etc., desserts, salad, pizza, sandwiches. The night of the midnight buffet (which started at 11pm!) it was supposed to be outside but it drizzled so they moved it into the buffet, there were 2 ice sculptures we saw and there were fruit animals that were nice. But again the food was so so. The main dining room food was also a little dissapointing; the salmon for instance was fishy and dry. The chicken and steak were good, but the prime rib was like ham. Our main server and assistant server were THE BEST though, Sigrid and Channel. I really don't know how they remember everyone's name, but like the commercials say, they do just after one interaction. At the end of the trip, they were like family to us. We also got really close to the family sitting next to us, which got me to change my mind about sitting alone. I would try sitting with other passengers next time around. It was nice to sit next to different people and hear what they did during the day. Plus it's nice to get tips from people who have cruised many times before.
There was a huge pool area on Liberty, a kid's area with water coming spouting out so the kids could run around, a lazy river and some Jacuzzis and a pool with a waterfall. The main pool area was roomy too, but of course the chairs fill up FAST. There was a TV screen near the main pool where they featured movies as well. There were a few more jacuzzis totalling what I tought to be 6 or 8! Then there was a more quiet pool towards the back which was a bit smaller. The captain said there was a storm on our route the first 2 days we were at sea, which caused 40 mph winds and it was chilly, so we didn't use the pool until the 3rd day, and then everyday after that! They had an ice cream machine near the pool too everyday.
The ship itself was very large, clean, and beautiful! The staff really made it for us though, our Cruise Director Gordon was great, very funny. There was a 70's dance party, a white nights party (the night of the midnight buffet), the shows were really great also. Being from Vegas, they actually had shows from Vegas, The Scintas and Earl Turner! Earl Turner was so entertaining I would see his show again if he is still in Vegas!!! We eventaully got into a routine, Breakfast was best in the main dining room, then pool or off to port in the day (or both), a little nap if we had time, a show in the evening, dinner later, and then walking around or listening to karaoke... it was our home on the sea.
I heard the Eastern Caribbean is better then the Western which is why I chose it. St. Thomas was our first stop; we bought an excursion 2 days before on the ship, St. Thomas Snuba (ST07). I would NOT recommend this to anyone; it was the worst part of the trip. We drove in a truck to the other side of the island on a non-scenic route. The instructor was not friendly and she was giving us instructions in the open air truck on the way to the beach, so if you were sitting in the back and couldn't hear her, which I couldn't, then too bad I guess. We got to a small beach with seaweed all over the place. She told us to put our stuff by a tree on the sand, and her assistant would watch it. The assistant was also selling water for $1 and pushing T Shirts for $10. The instructor got us into our gear, did a little "practice" when we first got into the water, like put your head under water for 100 seconds to see if your equipment works and that's it. The description said we would go 20 feet below, swim with fish and see them up close, see coral formations etc... we saw BROWN grass, 3 BROWN fish, and a sunken "Ship" - a tiny dingy boat. And we were in the water a total of 10 minutes because she had 3 other groups to get too. Then they gave us (old) snorkel equipment to snorkel with while we waited. $68 per person down the drain!!! After we were dropped off back at the ship, we changed and walked around. The shops that are near the port are not the same as downtown (Snuba Sally old us they would be). If you have comfy shoes and are used to walking, you can walk downtown, but a taxi is cheap, quick and easy to pick up. We ate at a great little place called Gloria's. Gloria was singing behind the counter to Frank Sinatra and it was friendly and clean with homemade hot sauces for purchase.
San Juan was probably our favorite stop; it was very hot and humid so we decided to take a last minute bus tour. A lot of other passengers were lined up for the tours provided by the cruise line (which were around $39 per person). But there were quite a few locals trying to push passengers without a tour booked to go with them. We eventually agreed and it was $20, I am glad we did this because we had an air conditioned bus and our guide was a local, from Puerto Rico. He was very informative and made many stops for us to take photos. We learned about history and also tips on places not good for us to go! He also stopped for about 45 minutes at one of the forts so we could tour that then dropped us off in Old San Juan and it was about a 7 minute walk to the pier. We ate in a Spanish restaurant The Parrot Club. Very good food, clean and friendly!
St. Maarten had the best beaches from all the places we were. We took a water taxi to Great Bay Beach (a couple of minutes away). It was early and pretty empty in the town and on the beach so we took 2 beach chairs and an umbrella. The ship told us the chairs, umbrella and 2 beers would be $10, but when we got to the beach they were selling for $20 with 5 beers. We bargained and got them for $10 in the end. We stayed on that beach for 5 hours, it was so relaxing and the water was beautiful. We got a ton of seashells! The town wasn't much; we just got burgers to eat on the beach. Next time I would take a tour to Orient Bay or maybe go to the French Side for Crepes!
Labadee was our final stop, which is Royal Caribbean's private part of Haiti. Usually when you get off the ship, they are inside selling you bottles of water for $3.95, but there were always locals selling the water for $1. However in Labadee, since this was an extension of the ship, those prices were the same. There was a BBQ provided by the ship on the beach (complimentary) which was better than the buffet on the ship. Ribs, hot dogs, corn, salads and a lot of other things. You can go to the sitting area and get cups of water for free. There are a few different beaches; one was sun bathing only as the water was full of rocks, this was the first beach you come across. They had lounge chairs and hammocks. The next beach we saw was the one we stopped at, we thought this was the one they recommended for swimming. There were no rocks, but grass and fish and coral. (More to see under this water than that excursion in St Thomas!) We rented rafts for the day for $12 per raft. The beach chairs and covers are complimentary and you have to bring towels from the ship. We had goggles (they also rent or sell snorkel gear but its expensive) so we used our goggles to look at the fish in the water as we lay on our rafts. After all day on that beach we walked to the market and bought souvenirs and we found the swimming beach, it was beautiful with more rafts, and a water park in the water!!
We got towel animals with our sunglasses on them almost every night for turndown! All in all our entire trip was very good. I would be Royal Caribbean again next time and I can't wait to book my cruise for next year!! The Eastern Caribbean was beautiful! Hope this helps!