When the TA ran a special on cruises on their web site, I said to my boyfriend, "You've always wanted to go on a cruise, and I've found one that leaves in a month to Haiti and Jamaica, and it's on one of the highest rated ships in the world, do you want to go?" A short while later, we were booked onto the Liberty of the Seas for their January 16 sailing from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
As someone who frequently has motion sickness, I was very concerned about being seasick. I brought plenty of Bonine and booked an inside cabin in the exact middle of the ship. But the first night, it was windy and the sea was rough; I was so seasick that even with the Bonine I went to bed early. Inside cabin didn't make any difference, and the walk from the elevators through those long hallways really made the seasickness worse.
The good news is, by Tuesday afternoon, I was fine. I hardly noticed any movement at all. The bottom line is, it didn't matter where our stateroom was.
LIBERTY OF THE SEAS
The ship itself is beautiful. It is well-designed, well-laid out, with beautiful artwork on the walls and very clean, classic interior design. Royal Caribbean is pretty paranoid about norovirus outbreaks, as they ought to be, so it was wonderful to see anti-bacterial Purell stations outside every public area. And we became addicted to using them, too. We also saw personnel cleaning railings and elevators all the time, which made us feel a lot better about cleanliness of the public areas.
I've heard mixed reviews about the food, but my boyfriend and I are complete food snobs, so we were not impressed with the food on the Liberty of the Seas. If you're a person who would rather go to TGI Friday's than out for a gourmet meal, then you'll be fine here. But we found the food mediocre at best; it could have been fresher and hotter. The choices were many, but it was definitely cafeteria-style food, and even in the main dining room the food was pretty bland. We ate at both Chops Grille and Portofino, and they are priced and decorated to be five-star restaurants, but we would have rated the food at three stars. It just wasn't awesome, but there was no way we were starving during our time onboard.
The entertainment aboard is a mixed bag. We had fun in the casino, but there was no clear division between smoking and non-smoking areas, so people were smoking in the non-smoking areas. There were plenty of slot machines and the table games were very affordable. We enjoyed the trivia games. The bingo was not real bingo, the numbers were called too slowly and they gave you machines which took the fun out of bingo entirely. No markers! The parties on board were definitely well-done, no expenses spared there. Saturday Night Fever was a let-down - the actors did well, the sets and costumes were beautiful, but the story just did not translate to theater. The comedian (I've forgotten his name) was not really funny at all, we ended up walking out. The one thing we both enjoyed was the last show - Chris Peachock, the juggler from America's Got Talent, was really entertaining.
The pools and jacuzzis were amazing, especially the Solarium jacuzzis. We played basketball on the full basketball court, and that was fun. Ping-pong was a challenge on the ship with all the wind, but was still fun. And we did enjoy playing shuffleboard, even though we only had three of the four pucks each. The game room had plenty of games, but no paper to write scores down, which was a little disappointing, and the game room itself was not cleaned up when we used it, with used coffee cups and plates left on some tables.
RCI has made a decent attempt at providing shops on board that suit every taste. Every taste except mine, that is. I found the prices to be extraordinarily high, except for the duty-free items. Things like sunglasses, scarves, clothing and bags were at least 15-25% higher than in normal stores. If you are desperate for something, it's there if you need it, but you'll be better off buying a pair of earrings or a watch at Macy's.
This is where RCI makes their money, I understand. But $11 for a glass of wine? The cheapest bottle of wine at Chops Grille is $40 (no joke, we ordered a bottle which cost $39 when we had purchased that very same bottle in a liquor store for $8). Beer is on average $6 for 12 oz. Mixed drinks run from about $7 to 10. And you can't bring wine or beer on board. If you want to get drunk on your cruise, be prepared to shell out the big bucks, or find yourself a different cruise line.
The staff aboard the Liberty of the Seas is fantastic. Our stateroom attendant was really nice, helpful, and did a wonderful job of cleaning our room - twice a day! The guest services representatives were really friendly and helpful, and our wait staff was always attentive. Everywhere we went, the staff said hello to us. And the cruise director Mike and the activities director Rich were very entertaining. We enjoyed watching any program they put on.
OVERALL CRUISING EXPERIENCE
We wanted to see if crusing is for us. If you like having an all-inclusive vacation where you can visit many different places without having to move your stuff from hotel to hotel, and activities are planned for you, then cruising is for you. We decided that cruising was really not for us. We like the opportunity to stay longer in places we like (like Jamaica). We don't like to be tied to one place the entire time, and we like to explore places on our own and make our own activities.
Our first port of call was Labadee, Haiti. We planned the snorkeling trip, but unfortunately it was canceled due to wind. Actually, any water-based excursions were canceled due to rough waters. We were left in Labadee with little to do; we were not interested in the zip line as we are both afraid of heights. The beaches were clean, and the staff friendly. The water on Nellie's Beach was warm and clean and lovely. The water on Barefoot Beach was rough, and the bottom of the ocean floor was coral, so swimming we sustained minor injuries. But Labadee was not a real Haitian experience. My boyfriend said it reminded him of camp. The lunch was ship food, not locally prepared. The vendors were rather pushy and a little bit sad, they were begging people to buy things. And at one point when we were sitting near Columbus Beach, my boyfriend saw people on the other side of the barbed wire fence begging for money and food for their starving families. It was beautiful and well-kept, but really the entire experience was a little sad.