Liberty of the Seas Dining
A three-deck-high dining room accommodates nearly 4,000 passengers per night. Passengers choose between assigned early or late dining and RCI's My Time Dining program, in which you pick a preferred mealtime (anytime between 6 and 9:30 p.m.) but can change your reservations on a daily basis or simply walk in when you're hungry. (Note: Those opting for My Time Dining will need to prepay gratuities.)
Each floor is named after a Renaissance master -- Michelangelo, Botticelli and Rembrandt -- and an enormous crystal chandelier towers over the space. On one particular night on Liberty's Caribbean sailing, the dramatic two-deck stairway was used by several girls in debutante dresses celebrating their Quinceanera, a Latin celebration much like a Sweet 16 in the U.S. If you're going to have an important teenage birthday celebration on a cruise ship, and you want to impress your friends, a Freedom-class vessel will do nicely.
Meals were generally satisfactory, and that's commendable with the number of mouths to feed. There's always a "Chef's Signature Selection," and the Thai BBQ Chicken Breast with coconut-lemongrass jasmine rice was particular noteworthy. Not surprisingly, just about everyone orders at least one "Fisherman's Plate," which is Liberty's version of lobster. (Here, it's lobster tail, buttery garlic shrimp and vegetables.) A special mention goes to the crab cakes, which I opted for on more than one occasion. However, desserts were a disappointment, managing to be rather bland and offering little choice for the chocoholics.
There is a separate Vitality menu for the calorie-conscious, which equaled the rest of the menu in taste and size. Vegetarian options like Asian fried tofu with red curry sauce are sprinkled throughout the menu. Standards such as salmon, chicken and sirloin steak are also always available.
Staff were above and beyond courteous, and when a tablemate had two waiters clash behind him spilling food on his jacket, our waitress removed the item and had it sent to be dry cleaned before he ever really noticed. Apologies came in abundance, and the next day, both head and assistant waitresses checked with him to be sure that the jacket had been cleaned and returned to his cabin.
Breakfast and lunch in the dining room, renamed Brasserie 30 for the casual nondinner hours, are open seating and include the expected breakfast offerings -- Eggs Benedict, omelets, Belgian waffles -- and lunch choices that range from grilled New York strip loin open sandwiches to tempura catfish fillets.
With the Windjammer buffet complex, I found the logistical setup far more impressive than the food offerings; all the grub is centrally accessible with the seating encircling the perimeter of the space. You could easily make your way around, hit up the salad bar and pick through Jade's Asian choices (sweet and sour chicken, fried rice, rice crackers) before moving to the outsides to find a seat around the spacious, window-heavy arrangements. Even during heavy lunching periods, the crowds were never really an issue.
Regarding the food in Windjammer, mediocrity -- and fair amounts of it -- is the order of the day. There are, however, a salad bar, several very tasty sandwich and wrap choices -- such as chicken salad in spinach tortillas -- and some above-average French fries. The Asian-themed night, with its added lantern candles, chopsticks and special partitioned plates with receptacles for soy and other sauces, couldn't quite make up for the overly greasy fried rice, wilted bok choy and mildly globular stir-fried pork, as well as the disappointingly bland sushi.
Breakfast choices included eggs, premade omelets, hash browns, fruit, yogurt and cereal. Lunch options ranged from soups, sandwiches and the ubiquitous salad bar to hot dishes like meatloaf, chicken and vegetable stir-fries, carved meats and French fries.
During midday sunning hours, there's a poolside grill serving burgers, hot dogs and grilled chicken. As an alternative to the for-fee Ben & Jerry's, the gratis Sprinkles is a self-service ice cream machine that's open on the Lido from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. There's also a juice bar, Squeeze, where you can purchase energy shakes, smoothies and fresh juices. On one post-gym morning visit, I enjoyed a delightful mixture of apple, carrot and pineapple juices.
Although the main dining room and buffet venue experiences were adequate and a bit unmemorable, the food in the two specialty restaurants, Italian bistro Portofino and Chops Grille, made a more lasting impression. Portofino's Italian menu includes appetizers like mozzarella, grape tomatoes and pesto dressing; entrees like tender grilled tiger shrimp over spinach, asparagus and squash; and a dressed-up version of tiramisu for dessert, complete with an after-dinner shot of Kahlua and cream. The 10-ounce filet mignon in Chops Grille was velvet, as were the choices of sauces -- peppercorn, bearnaise, wine reduction. The communal vegetable plates, with asparagus and a surprisingly pungent, spicy corn dish, offered two of the memorable options. Portofino's cover charge is $20 per person, while Chops Grille carries a slightly higher fee of $30. Both offer four-course meals.
Johnny Rockets (Deck 12, aft) serves 50's Americana grub like burgers, grilled sandwiches, fries, onion rings and malts. I dined there at 4:30 p.m., between an early lunch and late-seating dinner. In seconds, I was seated at the counter, a plate of onion rings and fries placed in front of me. Without hesitation, my St. Louis burger -- with melted Swiss, pickles, fried onions, bacon and special sauce -- was the best meal I had onboard. There are little Jukeboxes set up at the counter and at tables with classic songs from the 50's and 60's -- Wild Thing (The Troggs), Walk Like a Man (Four Seasons), tunes by the talented Buddy Holly and the less-talented Big Bopper. A $4.95 cover charge applies for dine-in or takeout; you must pay for drinks (milkshakes, malts, floats, sodas) separately.
If you arrive at a busy time and have to wait to be seated, you'll be given a pager that buzzes when your table is ready. With the nearby arcade and sports area, you can wait while dumping money into the pricey video games or watching people play pickup basketball or rock-climb.
On the ship's indoor promenade, the self-titled Cafe Promenade, with its standard brown leather coffee-shop couches, is open around the clock for free Seattle's Best coffee, brownies (double chocolate peanut butter fudge), cookies (coconut, oatmeal raisin), cakes, little sandwiches (ricotta, black olive tapanade, red pepper on poppy seed bun) and for-fee specialty coffee drinks, with and without booze.
Also on the promenade, Sorrento's is the popular 1950's Little Italy-themed pizza spot. Beyond offering four kinds of pizza -- plain, pepperoni and daily specials (like potato and chicken or spinach, chorizo and tomato) -- it also features several antipasti selections, including zucchini frittatas, marinated mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, olives, slices of prosciutto and desserts like biscotti, macaroons, fat-free key lime mousse and fruit cups. With the exception of alcohol that's also sold on the premises, everything is free.
Sorrento's proved a popular eatery. However, after ports of call in Italy, where many of the guests opted for the real thing on day-excursions, numbers dwindled. New York City memorabilia -- including vintage-looking Italian film posters and photos of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Mariano Lanza, Dick Contino and, of course, Frank Sinatra -- add a hint of character to the setting.
In place of A Clean Shave, the ship's former barber shop, the line added the Cupcake Cupboard, a Promenade-situated 1940's-style bakery that doles out everyone's favorite confection for $2.50 a pop. Along with a regular assortment, there were a couple of daily specials. At certain times of the day, it even offers cupcake-decorating classes, which proved popular with adults and children alike. Costs are $22 and $15 respectively, and of course you get to eat your creations.
Liberty of the Seas' Ben & Jerry's is a miniature version of what you'd see ashore with only slightly augmented prices. There are 11 ice cream flavors to choose from, two nonfat frozen yogurt selections and a couple of sorbet choices. Current prices come in at $4.75 for a waffle cone, $5.25 for a hot fudge sundae and $4 for a milkshake. (These are subject to change.)
Round-the-clock room service allows you to select from a few different appetizers (Caesar salad, soup), sandwiches (grilled vegetable panini), entrees (burgers, pizza), desserts (cakes, cookies) and beverages. Food is free between 5 a.m. and midnight; late-night orders incur a $3.95 surcharge. The first time I ordered via the interactive TV screen, nothing ever arrived. My next effort was made through my room phone, and the food -- chili chorizo dip with chips -- came within the advertised 30- to 45-minute time frame. On days in port where an early start is desired, you can leave a breakfast request -- a selection of Continental items (croissants, bagels), eggs, sides (like bacon) and juices -- hanging on your door before 3 a.m.