After about a year and a half of watching the thread on this cruise here on CC, we finally departed for our first transatlantic cruise. We booked the flights and a pre-cruise package in Barcelona from Royal Caribbean though our travel agent. We flew coach from Dulles to Heathrow then on to Barcelona. We stayed at the Condes de Barcelona Hotel in the historic district, a good tourist hotel with included breakfast and a nice rooftop bar with great views at night. After a couple of the "hop on, hop off" bus tours to get a feel for the city, we went discovering it by foot. More Catalan than Spanish, Barcelona has a lot of fascinating architecture, but what we took away from it was the food. We had more fun trying different tapas than anything else we did.
RCCL contacted us and told us our bags would be picked up from our rooms and when we were to be downstairs for the shuttle to the ship. Very smooth. Short lines at the pier too. Nice operation.
We had a balcony cabin on deck seven. Nice size, adequate storage, everything worked. The Freedom class ship is only somewhat larger than the Voyager class, but didn't really handle crowd control as well as Oasis. The lines going into the theater and the crowds coming out were a mess. Bad crowd management was especially evident in the organization of the shore excursions. They used one venue, like the theater, for a staging area for a few thousand people. The line was one long bottleneck through the doors and all the way down to the stage where folks got bus assignments. Then they sit til they are called to head down the stairs to the gangway on deck one. One day the "bong bong" machines went down and more and more folks were stacked on the airless stairs with nowhere to go for forty-five minutes. It reminded me of the marching band being led down a blind alley in the film ANIMAL HOUSE. Not a good situation for several seniors who can't stand for a long period. If there had been an emergency, it would have been a shambles.
The service on this ship from the cabin stewards and the dining room wait staff to the bartenders in the various venues was first class. However the dining room and buffet fare was "hit or miss" at best. The curries were fantastic and I found myself passing up the chops and roasts for a simple but very well executed curry. This is the second year for the current menu so maybe RCCL will make some improvements here. A more minor issue were shortages during the seven sea days. Fresh fruit and juices began to disappear, then certain meats and fresh vegs. Seems like there was poor planning at the last ports for provisioning.
Since this was a 14 day cruise we tried Chops Grill the first week and Portofino's the next. Chops was great, good aged steaks served just as you ordered them. Huge desserts, we couldn't finish them. Portofino's was good too, just lacked the drama of all the grilled protein. Both were worth the upcharge.
The thing that brought the most joy and the most irritation, as usual, were our fellow passengers. We met many new friends and very fine folks. We also endured some of the most self-involved people with towering senses of entitlement. No one really cares how much you spent on your suite, honey. Stop whining about how other people dress and stand in line like everybody else.
The ports were Cartagena, Malaga, Cadiz, Tenerife, and La Palma. We had planned to do the Segway tour in Cartagena but found every single excursion there totally booked, we assume since this was the first port. We walked up to the university and the old bull ring and then down into town and ate at a bustling little outdoor cafÃ©. Very impressed with the food and wine in Spain.
In Malaga we passed on the trip to Grenada and the Alhambra. It was a nine hour tour and half of that was bus ride. We wanted something more interactive. We opted for a tour of the local Al Cabeza, a Moorish fort, and a walk through town with stops at three cafes for wine and tapas. Good choice.
In Cadiz we visited the Tradicion sherry and brandy cellars in Jerez for wine tastings and tapas. Hmm, there seems to be a pattern here... We took an island tour in Tenerife, the first of the two Canary Islands we would visit, which included a bodega for wine and tapas and a wine museum stop. The bodega Albero was the highlight of our trip. We were brought to a tasting room with full bottles of red, white, rose, and a sweet wine on each table. The host then came around and opened a bottle of sparkling wine for each table as well. And then they served tapas; cheese, hot little potatoes, this really great red pepper sauce, and ham, sausage, a spiced rolled ham, and olives. This was a feast! At the wine museum we were to see a short movie, but about twenty of us opted for the tasting room and we bought more glasses of wine and some tapas there as well. Excellent excursion, I highly recommend it!
On La Palma we did the volcano and wine tour, the volcano being the most dramatic thing we saw, walking around the crater at the top in a strong wind. Great views up there of the whole island. At the winery we got a nice tour of the cave where the barrels are stored but the wine there was unimpressive.
Liberty provided excellent quality entertainment. We saw a couple of really good acts as well as the ice show, a high wire production show, and Saturday Night Fever, a Broadway-type road show.
We had our kids (both twenty-somethings) with us and being a 14 day cruise, the passengers were mostly retired folks. They met up with a few younger folks and partied into the night with the entertainment staff. Something for everyone. This was actually a big reason for this cruise, a chance to enjoy a family vacation together. Now that our sons have gotten older and moved away, these will be rare.
It was mostly warm on the crossing so we really didn't miss not having an indoor or at least a covered pool. Liberty has a big screen TV near the pool. They screened movies and music videos there, not too many live bands and we missed that.
There weren't as many activities as we have seen on past cruises; I worry that this is a trend across the fleet. There were no morning trivia games in the Schooner Bar and some of the later ones were scheduled against other events. There was always something going on somewhere, so I couldn't see anyone being bored. The cruise director was amusing, but somewhat sedate compared to others that we have seen.
Disembarkation was a disaster. More a customs thing than RCCL. Customs in Ft. Lauderdale didn't clear the ship til nine and by then all the self disembarkers and the first few groups were backed up all over the stairs and elevators. Then once off, the port building was nowhere large enough to handle all the passengers. FUBAR describes it nicely. Eventually we caught a shuttle to the airport for our flight home. All in all a good cruise and a great experience crossing the ocean by ship for the first time.