Firstly, let me say, I never liked the thought of a cruise - probably as a result of impressions gained when growing up as a child (i.e. cruises were for pensioners, full of unbearable overdressing, social climbers & nouveau riche etc.. whom you'd be forced to talk to due to lack of escape routes :) )
I have to say happily that view is not at all how modern cruising is. It's actually a top class easy going hotel with all amenities and entertainment conveniently a short distance from your door (well at least it was on the Liberty!). You can overdress or hang around in shorts.. interact or not...you can eat nearly any way you like .. (burgers or lobster & all in between) .....your choice.
....that brings me to the main joy of cruising for us - we can all do what we want when on board, & meet up for common interests.
We were traveling as a party of 3 (15yr old teenage daughter, husband and myself) I'll try and organize this review into sections. This was our first ever cruise. We'll be going on more! In particular this was a HUGE hit with my 15 year old daughter, as we could give her the freedom to practice being an adult! In port we could communicate with our cell phones, but at sea - you need other options if you're the fretful type. We kept bumping into our daughter with groups of teens around the ship, so no worries. Generally saw her every 3 or 4 hours in the room anyway (getting changed etc.)
The ship never felt crowded. I've read many reviews about the two bigger ships (Allure and Oasis) and it appears that the facilities are not large enough to cater for the volume of people these ships carry at capacity. Liberty is not like that, there's always room, and you can always get in to see the shows or eat in your restaurant of choice. The standard of decor is pretty good, nothing seemed shabby. There was always staff cleaning wherever you went. The hygiene seems high. Lots of facilities on board to suit all tastes. I was never bored with the ship or facilities, I didn't use them all, but between us, we pretty much used everything. I suspect a 12 day cruise would be about right, as by then you would have exhausted all options. 7 days seemed a little short. There were elevator issues/crowding on embarkation after a days out, and also at heavy use times (dinner, breakfast). It appeared the logic of the lifts could get confused and suddenly decide to cancel all pressed buttons and go down instead of up or vice-versa! However, I simply used the stairs at this time, which was probably required exercise after all the food overindulgence.
I have no complaints about the staff at all. They all tried very hard. Exceptional service by our cabin attendant, Portofino and Chops staff, even generally in the main dining room. The only issue is in the Windjammer restaurant, where I think some staff were showing signs of flagging & disinterest towards the end of the cruise. I suspect this is an issue with the tipping system. More about that later. Even the security staff that patrol the ship at night to hoosh all the teenagers back to their rooms at 1:00am are pretty nice. I had to locate my daughter at 1:40am (she was back every evening by about 1:15/1:30!) They told me they were trying their best to get the kids back to their rooms, but no sooner had they got them out of one area, than they went off to another. Not surprising really - difficult on a ship of this size to find out where all the teenagers are hiding ...in the most obscure places (I know the sky chapel was one of them by the way!)
GRATUITIES: RCI .. you need to change your system. We prepaid and went on my time dining. RCI give vouchers in the end of cruise for you to give to your head waiter, assistant waiter, cabin attendant of your choice as I recall. This doesn't work at all well for the my time dining option, as we never had the same waiter. Also, the Windjammer staff get nothing. This isn't good for moral. A more generic voucher system would be better... (i.e. a voucher value which we could give to the all the Windjammer staff)
We gave extra to people we thought deserved it anyway.
THE FOOD OVERALL:
Right, I've read a lot of complaints about the food in the Windjammer. I found it absolutely fine. It's a buffet, not a gourmet meal. If you want gourmet go to Portofino or Chops. We ate at the Windjammer a number of times. I often made forays up to get a plate of cheese, breads and fruit and take it down to our room with their free lemonade (which I really liked!) All the food on the boat was over the pass mark.
WINDJAMMER: I think it's very churlish of people to moan about the food here. It had a good selection each day catering for all sorts of tastes. Breakfast had a wide variety of choices. Whilst I didn't personally like the bacon(too salty), scrambled eggs(too dry) or sausages(used to UK/Ire sausages.. which these were not) I did find the corned beef hash, mushrooms and omelette to be perfectly acceptable. All types of bread, waffles, french toast, cereals, cakes, fruit, porridge, cheese, hams etc. Surely anyone can find something they like in the huge array of food? During lunch or dinner, there seemed an acceptable choice, from burgers, pizzas to curries, chicken concoctions, salads etc, and the 'Jade' part always had various asian dishes on offer. One big complaint. They were selling small single bottles of Alice Wine .. very nice.. but very very difficult for the staff to obtain as they were kept under lock and key by the restaurant manager. Each time you requested a bottle, they obviously had to get the manager to open up the magic box and get the drink. Absurd. Are the staff stealing the bottles or something that you can't trust them to get a bottle from the bar?!!! Generally you ended up getting the wine sometime after you'd finished your meal. Not the staffs fault, The system is wrong.
PORTOFINO: Absolutely fine. Food top quality. I had two fish choices for my meal. Both were well cooked and well presented. Can't recall what husband had, but he was happy. Staff excellent. Memish the manager, ensures that nothing is too much trouble. I would advise Portofino to adopt the vegetable selection style they have in Chops however.
CHOPS: Whilst slightly lower key than Portofinio, I have to say the food seemed even better. Odd considering a lot of folks have said it's not as good. Perhaps they've had a change of chef. We both had the Onion/Cheese soup .. wonderful, followed by steaks. The selection of vegetables was better than Portofino (you can choose the veg you want), and my husbands fillet mignon was out of this world, I had opted for a different type of steak, not as good, but still fine.
JOHNNY ROCKETS: Good. Exactly as I'd expect. nothing more, nothing less. Burger bar. Burgers are fine. Fries are fine. Service a little slow and not quite as on the ball as the rest of the ship, but still acceptable.
SORRENTOS: Daughter loved this. Thought the pizzas were wonderful. I didn't eat there as I don't like pizza!
CAFE PROMENADE: Perfect for that very late night munch of various sandwiches/cakes and tea!! They need to keep the water fresh & hot in the water machines for tea making though, else it gets that 'lack of oxygen' taste in the coffee/tea which isn't nice.
OTHERS: I don't do cup cakes or ben and jerrys... I'm sure they're fine, dd loved the ice cream.
All seemed fine. The only issue I have is that we purchased a 'wine package' of 7 bottles. That's one for each night between my husband and I. I only discovered on day 2 when I didn't order the bottle of wine in the main dining area, but decided to have it later on in one of the bars (olive & twist I think), that I couldn't do so. Apparently wine package bottles can only be ordered in the main eateries. I had to make a dash down to Portofino just as they were closing for the night, where Memish kindly retrieved an nice bottle of Shiraz for me. Bit silly really, you should be able to have your wine where you want.
Good. We went to all shows except the Ice show (which daughter went to, and she thought it was pretty good). The production quality was very high. The singing at times a little so so, but then I'm very picky in that department. We used the casino. That was ok. They do operate a double zero on the roulette table which means your odds are not as good. Husband attended a 'craps' lesson. He was happy. Parades seemed good, but I only looked down on them from a deck up, as it looked a little packed for my liking, and I've seen enough Disney Parades to last me a lifetime anyway! Saturday Night Fever was good, wonderful set. The lead was a little weak though (being too short and not enough presence for the character of Tony). Enjoyed the 'In The Air' show. I had prebooked online all shows, but it didn't seem necessary in the end.
We used the Spa - I had Ionitherme (like slendertone) and a facial :) Both were super, staff very pleasant. Daughter had a teenage Spa (pedicure etc..) & her hair done. Very good. Very expensive though. There is some 'sales' attempts at products, but your fine if you just accept you're not buying.. it's not over pushy blurb. Husband & I used the Gym. Very good. Loved the fact you could use the treadmill looking forward out to sea (I note that this isn't the case in the new bigger ships! silly RCI .. should have kept that!) The gym has a wonderful view. Flowrider, ice skating, rock climbing etc.. daughter used. No complaints. Seemed to enjoy it. There were lots of other things to do. Salsa classes, belly flop competitions, karaoke, bingo etc.. we didn't do these. For teens : Fuel, The Living Room and the video arcade were well attended - everyone seemed happy from what I could see. Make sure your child/teen attends the first day meet. VERY important. DD made lots of friends and is still in touch with quite a few through FB now.
The jacuzzis hanging over the side were ok.... occasionally got a bit packed, so you had to pick your time. The pools looked like ditto, but I don't like pools and didn't use them. Daughter seemed to have a good time in them though. The free ice cream is pretty good, considering it's frozen yoghurt!
Didn't do any official ones, but made our own way. Easy enough to do. The cost of the excursions looked excessive to me.
TOULON: Didn't get off (can't see that in the port reviews list either!)
Phew!! Think that's all!
Thanks RCI for a very, very good first cruise. Now.. where to next year!