Liberty of the Seas Entertainment
Beyond the cruise industry standard offerings -- R-rated comedians, the Love and Marriage Game Show, mind-numbing amounts of bingo and karaoke -- Freedom- and Voyager-class vessels feature cruising's only ice rinks, known as Studio B. Passengers can watch a group of earnest skaters making the best of the small, choppy ice surface, balancing admirably at the mercy of the ship's potential for random shudders. Given the circumstances, I found myself rooting for the skaters not to fall and encouraging them when they did. Ice show tickets are free, but they need to be obtained in advance; check your Compass for details on your sailing.
The Platinum Theater features the ship's nightly production spectacles, including "In the Air," a Cirque de Soleil-style offering where little of the action takes place on the stage. In early 2011, the West End production "Saturday Night Fever: The Musical" debuted in the theater. This celebration of all things 1970's went over very well. A slightly abridged version had the audience dancing in the aisles.
During the day, cruisers have any number of typical activity options -- sexy legs contests, trivia, family pool games, seminars on teeth-whitening and attaining flawless skin, wine-tasting -- the majority of which are based around the open-deck pool areas, the spa and the Deck 13 aft sports area, which houses the rock-climbing wall, FlowRider, sports court and mini-golf course. But, a ship with such endless choices couldn't possibly limit itself to simply the status quo. One of the more unique offerings is the D.J. class hosted by Scratch DJ Academy. Check your Compass for times.
Casino Royale makes no claim to be the largest at sea, but its 308 slots and 19 tables provide more than enough real estate for gamblers. Common favorites like blackjack, Caribbean stud poker and roulette were always well attended, even in the early morning hours. And, following a relatively popular onshore trend, the casino featured a Texas Hold'em tournament with a $5,000 prize pool for finalists.
On our particular sailing from Miami, there were a lot of Spanish-speaking passengers. There was more high-energy evening dancing in Boleros -- to a poblano-pepper-hot Latin group, Sol y Arena -- than I've ever experienced on a cruise. And, although the Cruise Compass listed the closing hour as 1 a.m., the band certainly went well beyond that, catering to the desires of the clientele.
Note: In Boleros, one side (the side with the dancing and band) is designated for smoking, while the other side is nonsmoking.
Located on the Promenade, The Hoof & Claw is ideal for your casual afternoon cocktail. Its black walls, dark-brown leather seating and romantic images of eloquent English gentry -- see a wealthy paleface holding court, a rider stroking his mare's mane, or an enormous mastiff with sausage links balanced on his nose -- aim for a vibe of sleepy refinement. I found the staff there to be particularly congenial, engaging passengers on a first-name basis in easy conversation. If you're hungry, you can ask for some peanuts to accompany your Murphy's stout (Yank choices also available) or "James Bond" martini. At night, guitar-man Jimmy Blakemore takes your requests.
There is a range of other bars to choose from throughout the ship, including Deck 4's nautical-themed Schooner Bar, Vintage's Wine Bar -- this has been given an elegant refit -- the Champagne Bar, a cigar club for decidedly masculine choices (scotch) and, of course, the popular Olive or Twist (Liberty's iteration of RCI's Viking Crown Lounge), perched atop the ship. The Schooner Bar was a huge hit on our cruise, where the large contingency of Irish folks onboard enjoyed pelting out traditional Celtic numbers led by Darren, the entertaining piano player. A rather bizarre incident occurred one night when Darren chose to take a short break and offered the floor to one Brit who gave us a full rendition of that, um, U.K. classic "Ernie the Milkman," which was met by the sound of tumbleweeds rolling through the piano bar.
Of course, watching the active sporting pursuits going on around the clock make for excellent entertainment, as well. The FlowRider has seats for viewing potential wipeouts and clothing mishaps -- there were, in fact, reports circulating about a woman with tiny bikini top who was warned to put a T-shirt on, insisted on not doing so, and summarily lost her top.
Liberty of the Seas Public Rooms
Royal Caribbean has ingeniously created a two-level promenade that you'll walk through many, many times per day. Along with the well-attended Casino Royale on Deck 4, the Deck 5 promenade, four stories in height, spans much of the length of the ship. Looking as if it has been carefully excised from an American mall, there are a cluster of shops on both sides, including stores for logo items, perfume, duty-free alcohol and jewelry, as well as Vintages Wine Bar, the Hoof & Claw British pub, Cafe Promenade coffee shop and the Cupcake Cupboard.
On Deck 7 aft is the modest library, and though it wasn't teeming with readers, the space had a few passengers engaged with books each time I passed en route to or from my nearby cabin.
One deck directly above the library is Royal Caribbean Online (connected by a staircase), the ship's Internet cafe. There are 19 terminals, and at least half were often in use. Connection speeds are pretty quick when in port, but be warned that once you're at sea, they slow and sometimes freeze up, meaning they eat up your money. The flat rate is 65 cents a minute, but if you buy packages, the rate can decrease to as low as 30 cents a minute (with a 500-minute package). The same rates apply to Wi-Fi, which is available in cabins and in various public area hot spots.
A new addition to Liberty of the Seas is a series of interactive touch-screen ship maps, located at the base of the port and starboard stairs (aft), near the elevators on all decks. They are excellent for finding my way around the ship, meeting people and getting back to my cabin late at night.
One of Liberty's finest public features is the artwork on display in the ship's three stairwells. A new collection was introduced in 2011 where the theme was "everyday life," created by merging photographs and paintings. At the aft end of the ship, many of these works have been influenced by famous artists. There was a group of Hockney-style pictures, as well as some Munch-influenced paintings by Kenneth Blom. At the forward end, everyday images were given a magical approach, based on fairy tales and Aesop's fables. My favorite was a bird-butterfly-man riding a bike by Maggie Taylor.
At the top of the ship, Cloud Nine, which is next to the Seven Hearts card and game room (adjacent to the Viking Crown Lounge), can be used for private meetings or parties. There are a few Ping-Pong tables just outside the game room. The Skylight Chapel, one deck up, is the spot for onboard weddings.
With such an enormous vessel, it stands to reason that Royal Caribbean would introduce some sort of audio tour to help guests navigate Liberty of the Seas. And, sure enough, there's a tour led by the voice of journalist, editor and author Tina Brown. It's in the testing stages, but it's not yet available to the public, and there's no date of release. Hopefully, the final tour will include some comments on the ship's art collection.
Liberty of the Seas Spa & Fitness
The Lido area features two main pools, with one for swimming and one for sports, as well as three hot tubs. The H20 Zone, with its kids-only pool, waterfall and abstract colorful sculpture fountains, easily garners the most attention. Though adults are not technically supposed to be playing in this pool area, I did run through it myself to test out the product. It was enjoyable and an outstanding way to lower your body temperature on a blistering Caribbean day. In the adults-only Solarium pool area, located farther forward, you'll see swinging chairs (surprisingly, usually unoccupied) and two cantilevered hot tubs, which jut out over the side of the ship and provide fantastic views through clear glass panels. (They hang 100 feet above the ocean's surface.)
A problem noted by a few passengers was the fact that you had to queue to obtain (and deposit) a pool towel on Deck 11, and during peak times -- early morning for collection and late afternoon for dropping off -- the area became very congested. With a fine of $25 for a towel not returned, there is obviously a problem with these towels disappearing, but perhaps a simpler system could be devised. Maybe towels could be put in the staterooms and collected the night before disembarkation to avoid guests "accidentally" running off with them.
As part of the 2011 dry-dock renovations, an 18.5-foot video screen was installed in the main pool area, showing movies in the evenings and entertainment programs throughout the cruise.
For your workout, you can head to the ShipShape Fitness Center, the finest gym on a cruise ship, with a large variety of equipment -- a long row of sea-facing Lifestyle treadmills, plenty of bikes, a large separate room for Yoga, Pilates and stretching classes, weight machines that focus on every individual muscle in your body, free weights in every weight. This facility mirrors the overall size and offerings of the ship.
Whether your goal is to correct a prematurely hunched posture or to improve your skin in the pore-destroying climate of the Caribbean, there are several morning and afternoon fitness seminars offered for free (with the aim of selling those products or services, of course). But frankly, I found the seminars more confusing than beneficial -- restructuring years of bad diet and lifestyle habits in 30 minutes is a bit of a stretch -- and the amount of information on nutrition, metabolic function, water retention, glycemic index levels, fat deposits, Chinese herbs, etc. requires an indefatigable will to focus.
With chocolate sauce ringing the corners of my mouth and a modest-sized brown stain on my shirt, I was relieved that I would be able to sweat out some of my consumption via the various programs available. And perhaps that's the idea -- creating a cycle of food gorging, slight guilt, activity, food gorging, guilt, activity. You may pick up some ice cream at Ben & Jerry's, stuff your face with a burger at Johnny Rockets and then attend a biking class in the afternoon.
Liberty of the Seas has just introduced acupuncture, something that sister line Celebrity has been offering. I attended a seminar on acupuncture, and the acupuncturist noted that it typically takes three or four treatments to notice a visible effect. The main potential side effect of acupuncture is bruising -- if the capillaries right on the skin are irritated -- and bruising is not something that a cruiser would want if they were wearing a backless dress on formal night. My suggestion: If you're interested, try it on land, where you won't pay cruise spa prices and where more and more insurance companies are actually covering the procedure.
The basketball court featured constant, nearly daylong pickup games, organized tournaments and amusingly violent organized soccer games (pleading RCI staff: "Guys! Guys! Please, keep it clean! Guys!").
We have to mention the FlowRider, the popular surf simulator that's found on all three Freedom-class ships. Surfing is free and open to everyone (check hours), but if you really want to master it, try booking a one-on-one private FlowRider lesson for $75 per person, per hour (up to 8 people per session). Individuals or groups looking to "free-surf" without an instructor can book the FlowRider for $350 per hour, with no limit to the total number of participants. (A 50 percent no-show fee will be charged if you don't cancel at least 24 hours in advance.)
People aiming to take advantage of all the fitness offerings should augment their T-shirt, underwear and socks allocations -- or be prepared to do some laundry. In the muggy 90-degree Caribbean clime, you will sweat through your clothes.