So, let me preface this by saying that I travel A LOT, and I am an incredibly independent traveler. I love seeing exotic places, seeing REAL places (not just tourist ports), and being able to see and do what I want, when I want. So, I knew that cruising may not be the best trip for me...but I decided I wanted to try it nonetheless. So, my girlfriend and I decided to take a 5 night cruise on Royal Caribbean to Labadee and Falmouth aboard Liberty of the Seas. What I experienced both surprised me...and didn't.
THE SHIP: Lovely, clean, and kept in tip-top shape. It feels almost brand new...almost. It has a ton of stuff to do, or nothing to do at all, depending on your preferences.
THE CREW: Mostly very good, but not always. Our stateroom attendant, Clement, was fantastic...the guy was an absolute gem. Another crew member I adored was Jose at Johnny Rockets. Finally, Stephanie at the Olive or Twist bar was a sweetheart. Beyond these three great people, everyone else was nice, but nothing memorable.
THE STATEROOM: Quite nice. It was slightly larger than I expected, but my girlfriend had the opposite reaction. Seeing as both of us like to just relax in our room and read, relax, etc. we definitely wouldn't settle for anything below a balcony room. To me, there just wasn't enough to do on the ship to be able to suffer through an interior room...but more on the "activities" later. The room was always kept very clean by Clement, and the balcony was definitely larger than I expected.
THE FOOD: Really, really not good at all. By far the worst part of the cruise...by far. I read a previous review saying something like "If you like TGI Fridays, you'll like the food here". I can agree with that, and amend it - if you think flavor should mostly come from oil, butter or salt...you'll love it here. Let's break it down into subsets:
MAIN DINING ROOM: Went here twice, and the food was just...bad. Really, bad. The first night, I had seabass and my girlfriend had prime rib. My seabass was a bit dry, but really lacked its own flavor. The veggies it came with were just drenched in a sauce that I didn't enjoy too much. My girlfriends prime rib was flavorless and had an awful texture, with veggies that were also beyond bad. Service, however, was friendly and quick. The second night we went, the food was slightly better, but the service was beyond slow - 1.5 hours and we ended up just leaving when we had to wait 15+ minutes to get a desert order taken.
WINDJAMMER/JADE: Horrible, horrible food that makes the MDR seem gourmet. Breakfast was the exact same stuff day in and day out, as was lunch. And none of it was beyond "meh", with a good chunk of it being nearly inedible.
JOHNNY ROCKETS: The shining light...we went here for dinner twice. The food was good, the service was awesome, and it was oh so worth the $5/per person to avoid the disgusting "included" food.
CHOPS: Went here for Valentines Day, and it was good. The service was very slow...our waitress decided to spend 10 minutes setting up the table next to us (i.e. new linens, dishes, etc.) before even taking our drink order...not good. The starters - salad and oysters - were awesome. The sides were good. The steaks were average at best, but not cooked well...both ours were undercooked, while the table next to us had theirs overcooked. The deserts were absolutely fantastic.
SORRENTOS: Not very good pizza and the worst service on the ship. Is this where the crew goes to die?
CUPCAKE CUPBOARD: Awesome service, good price. The cupcakes are OK...a bit dry, but tasty nonetheless.
THE ACTIVITIES: Disappointing...50% of the stuff was just designed to sell you stuff (like most things on the ship it seems), 40% of the stuff was boring, and 10% actually seemed interesting. We didn't come across Mike, the CD, very often, but he seemed friendly...however, if he planned the activities on the boat, I'm a bit disappointed. We never did any shows, so I cannot comment on them...none seemed interested to either of us.
THE BARS: Generally enjoyable, with rather strong drinks that were not as expensive as I imagined. Hoof & Claw was OK, with an adequate beer list, but I wish the Guinness had been on tap. Boleros was bad...strong drinks, but terrible atmosphere. Olive or Twist was our favorite - nice views of the boat and sea, friendly service, strong drinks. The pool bars were typical pool bars.
LABADEE, HAITI: Fantastic place. There were two boats there, so I expected the worst, but the beaches weren't as busy as I expected. The beach we went too was a bit rocky at first (10 feet or so), but got better. We skipped lunch, but had an excursion - "Sandbar Island Adult Getaway". Without a doubt, the highlight of our whole trip. Beautiful little island, clear waters, friendly crew, and cheap beer/rum punch. I do wish we could have see Cap Haitien or some part of real Haiti, too, but I know I'm in the minority on that. The group is small, so for $49 it's great.
FALMOUTH, JAMAICA: Royal Caribbean's admission that they don't care about your enjoyment but only about making money. This port was awful...nothing to do at the port itself except spend money on junk that have nothing to do with Jamaica itself. To see anything, you have to pay. So, we did the "Chukka Beach Break and Lunch", which was a bus ride through Falmouth town and out to Chukka Beach. The town looked neat...I wish I had done a walking tour of it. It's run down, but was much more "real Jamaica" than any beach you'll see. The beach was a let down...first, it was much busier that I expected. The day before, $49 got us a deserted island, boat ride, and small group...in Falmouth, $49 got a bus ride, packed beach, and average lunch of jerk chicken. In addition, the people selling stuff on the beach were relentless. I wouldn't recommend this trip at all. Falmouth was a joke...shame on you, Royal Caribbean.
PORT EVERGLADES: A terrible place that I wouldn't wish upon my worst friends. You would think that after all their experiences, RC would get embarkation and disembarkation right...well, they don't. Not even close. When US Customs and Border Protection are, by far, the most well oiled machine...that's not good. Not to mention that Ft. Lauderdale itself is a boring city, and the airport is terrible. I've never been to any airport as bad as this cruise port, and I've been through a LOT of airports (including places like JFK and LAX at rush hour with just as many passengers).
So, would I cruise again? Maybe...probably, down the road. I can't imagine ever being addicted to it though. I would cruise Liberty of the Seas again, but I will have lower expectations of most things. In reality, I'd rather find a more high-end cruise line with better food and better activities if I were to cruise again. However, I don't see any reason why I would choose a cruise over a more traditional beach vacation.