Travelled on Liberty December 19-24th with our four children ages 8,6,4 and 9 months. We brought along the grandparents and my sister-in-law. We chose Liberty of the Seas specifically for the variety of activities for our children and for the adults. We felt Disney was too geared towards the kids and the adults would be 'overpaying' for a cruise experience. What I think we have learned is... cruising with children, no matter what you think, is ALL about the kids. There were some 'adult' moments of quiet dinners or time to workout while the kids were at the kids club... but at the end of the day, we probably should have chosen a Disney type ship for our crowd. We needed a more 'kid friendly' environment and better kids programs to really be able to relax as adults.
Here are some tips/cautions if you do decide to try Liberty with children/family. (For comparison, when we travel we stay at Marriott Vacation Club's and places like that. I am a high maintenance traveler and kind of a hotel snob... I like my Ritz Carlton's when I am traveling sans kids... so take this all with that in mind!)
Ft Lauderdale is a crazy port that seems more like an industrial port than a cruise ship port. The area for unloading is completely NOT family friendly. When you are unloading multiple bags, strollers and all of that stuff you need a few extra minutes. We parked our car at the nearby hotel so we had to wait for my husband to return on the hotel shuttle. I couldn't enter the port with the children and go through security without my husband. There were no benches or waiting areas, and the bathrooms were through the security area! It was a bit frustrating, and something that I think RC could improve. Luckily we were Crown & Anchor and were able to enter a faster line for check-in, but I think RC should have some 'family lines' with an activity area for the kids to play while parents check-in. It was alot of standing in lines for our children.
We stayed in a Family Ocean View cabin, #6500. It is at the front of the ship. We did feel quite a bit of movement at the front but my children did not mind... I was the only one taking Dramamine at night! The room had a small 'closet' with two bunks that had a curtain that divided it from the room, a pull out sofa (that would be way to small for anyone over the age of 10), and a king bed. There was an area between the wardrobe and the window that fit our pac n'play perfectly. As far as cruise ship cabins go, it was spacious, but by the end of the stay it was definitely feeling small! We would have appreciated a tub in a Family Cabin for the baby. We booked through Costco and received over $200 in shipboard credit with our cabin. That was nice to have. We ordered the water package for our cabin online so I would have filtered water for the babies bottles and I am very glad we did. It's hard to find water bottles to buy onboard that are small.
We had 6:00pm dining and it was great for the kids. Some nights the kids were not interested in coming to the DR but the kids club did not open until 7pm! We would have liked to feed them at 5:30 in windjammer and dropped them at the kids club... RC needs to look at that and tweak the kids club hours. We dined at Chops our last night and it was hands down our best meal of the cruise. Highly Recommend it. No children allowed... so book for 7pm or later when kids club is open! We did try Johnny Rockets and that was fun for an afternoon lunch up by the pool deck. Cupcake cupboard and ben and jerry's were fun for after dinner treats. And I can't even count how many ice cream cones my children ate from Sprinkles on the pool deck- it was unlimited serve yourself soft serve. They were in heaven! We utilized room service on the mornings in port so we could get ready and let the kids eat a pancake and watch a cartoon before heading off the boat. That worked out very well. (P.S. you can always write in extra things on your room service card... for instance they didn't have oatmeal as an option but I had seen it in the windjammer and I wanted it for the baby- so I wrote it in and they brought it.)
Kids Club/Aqua Baby Nursery:
When we boarded the ship I didn't get to go up to the AquaBaby open house b/c my children wanted to eat and I had to nap the baby (note: bring your own pac n play! The ship said they would provide one and it was NOT in my room until 6pm that night! I was glad I had brought my own just in case for naps.) When I arrived at the open house that evening to book some times to bring my 9 month old they said they didn't have any space left! I was a bit upset and they finally worked me in for two hours each night while we ate dinner. I wish they would allow reservations online for the baby nursery hours. But, regardless, make sure you run up to the nursery when you board and sign up for your hours!
The AquaBaby nursery and staff were fantastic. It's very clean, they are organized and give you a phone if they need to reach you. They limit the # of kids and always had plenty of staff. I was surprised how late they were open! Til midnight! We only used it from 6-8pm each night, but they will let you leave your baby to sleep in their cribs and stay late. One thing I loved is that they let you check out a bag of toys during your stay. They have several options for all ages. Don't bring along too much- they have so many things you can borrow.
The other kids programs were not as well organized. The check in was CHAOS at the open house with parents and kids everywhere and staff handing us papers to fill out by hand. Very frustrating when all their other things are done online such as waivers, check in etc... The kids really preferred to be with us on the ship (there is alot to do, I will give the Liberty points for that!) and we only used the Kids Club when we had to go to dinner or an adult outing like the gym/spa.When I dropped my 4,6 and 8 year old they did not give me a phone, pager or anything. I wasn't sure how they were going to get ahold of us in an emergency or if my child wanted to leave. I was not thrilled about that. My kids also didn't love the activities- there needed to be more 'hands on' things. We would look at the compass and some nights were better than others, the pirate night was fun, as was the 'dance disco' night. They mixed all the 6 and up kids with the older 9,10,11 year olds and I didn't like that. I thought it was kind of crazy and chaotic most times I peeked in and really only let my kids go for about an hour or two. Many kids were misbehaving and the staff didn't seem to have a way to call their parents or do anything about it! I think RC has a ways to go to be competitive with Disney in this department.
The rock wall, waterpark, splash park, mini golf were all big hits. They were 'policing' the waterpark pretty seriously when it came to babies in swim diapers. I was appreciative, but there as one area with about an inch of water that they wouldn't let the babies go in which I thought would have been the perfect 'crawl around' splash area for my little girl. Instead they made the babies go in an area that was too deep. That was frustrating. Ice Skating was a HUGE disappointment. It was only open a few hours and only on certain days and they did not take reservations so you had to go stand in a LONG line very early and they only took about 40 kids each session. We arrived 20 minutes before a session and they were already booking a few hours ahead and you had to WAIT for your turn and could not leave. My kids were very upset and I was not happy that we couldn't book ahead of time. RC should improve this. We never got to skate! Such a disappointment. We did see an ice show and that was very good and family friendly. The 3-D movie theater rarely played movies when we actually needed them! Would have been nice for them to show one each evening so families could go to the movies. Instead they had shows like 'Saturday Night FEver' that we had to WALK OUT of with our 6 and 8 year old b/c the language was terrible and they had already made about five drinking references in the first two minutes. 'Up in the Air' was a great show for the kids- very magical and cool stunts/tricks. So entertainment was hit or miss. Again, this is why we think the Disney type cruise would have been better- you aren't covering your kids eyes at shows or walking quickly past a smoke-filled casino on a Disney cruise. Just something to consider. They did have a character breakfast with Shrek and some parades but we never saw those. Our kids slept past the 8am breakfast reservation and we enjoyed the outdoor activities most days and didn't see the parade. I would have liked more character dining, maybe a dinner one night or a kids dessert party etc...
We stopped in Labadee and Falmouth. Perfect ports if you have small children! Very easy embarkation and no tendering. Great big dock to walk out on. Great for a stroller. We were very lucky and I contacted the concierge when I got onboard that oversees the Cabana reservations on Labadee in 'Barefoot Beach'. I had read about them on this site and though we were not in a 'suite' we were in a Family cabin and they told me they would call the night before if they had one open. The did! We paid $150 and we brought the grandparents and the kids and enjoyed the most lovely day of our whole cruise. Barefoot beach is the BEST way to enjoy Labadee. Beautiful cabanas, fantastic service ( you have your own food buffet and butler bringing drinks, chairs, mats beach toys etc..) towels, bottled water and beach mats included which normally you have to pay for. They have a golf cart that they are happy to shuttle you around on if you want to go see the market or check out the water park. We mainly stayed at the cabana and enjoyed floating on our mats in the water, the kids digging in the sand and a lovely lunch.
In Falmouth we booked through resortforaday.com and went to the HIlton Rose Hall Resort that had a fantastic waterpark and lazy river with a zero entry area and a small beach (rough surf) that was still fun for the kids. Lunch was included and was nice as were drinks. The kids enjoyed all the smoothies and even got a ride on a hobbie cat out in the ocean. The transport picked us up in Falmouth and brought us back at 3pm in time to shop and board the ship. There were only two other people on our ship who went to the resort with us. It was a great way to 'escape the cruise crowds'. Falmouth port is VERY clean and very nicely layed out. I am glad we enjoyed time at the beach with the kids... the other excursions sounded very far away and not very kid friendly from what I heard.
Getting off the ship was a huge pain. We waited until 9am so our kids were fed and we would be sure our luggage was off and waiting for us. We probably waited for an hour in lines. And RC did not have any 'family friendly or handicapped friendly' lines of any kind. And forget about being Crown and Anchor. .... it was miserable. We then had to get our luggage, AND our kids, stroller and hold the baby and try to keep moving along the line. We finally hired a porter to help us the rest of the way. It was NOT what I had envisioned. The port was once again chaos and I wished we had hired a car to pick us up. We were at the mercy of a hotel shuttle that was nowhere to be found. Four other cruise ships had arrived and my children and I sat on a curb for over an hour. My husband finally just took a cab to go get our car. What a mess! If you have children, best to hire a driver or car service to drop you and pick you up. There is nowhere to wait and RC does not have any family friendly areas with bathrooms or anything at the port. So you do not want to be stuck there very long.
I hope this was helpful. I appreciate all the tips I received before going. We may cruise RC again when our kids are a bit older and can make their way around the ship without our supervision. There is alot to do and entertain them. RC needs to tweak some of their family services in my eyes if they want to keep families like ours spending money with them.