Liberty of the Seas Family
Like sister ship Freedom, Liberty of the Seas is easily one of the best ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet for families. And, if the phenomenal number of kids onboard during my summer cruise (nearly 1,300, or 30 percent of the population) is any indication, the fleet is aiming to rival even family stalwart Disney. It will be interesting to see how the family market evolves when Disney's fleet officially doubles by 2012.
New to 2011 cruises is the DreamWorks Experience, with activities and shows including a DreamWorks parade down the Royal Promenade and character breakfasts in the Rembrandt Dining Room, where children can meet all the studio characters. On my cruise, the parade took place at 11 p.m., so be prepared to let the children stay up late. It was packed with people elbowing to get a good view. The breakfast was also very busy, and one Dad I spoke to said he was glad he had reserved a table online before the cruise, as his two girls were chuffed to pieces to meet Shrek and his friends.
Children are broken into five separate age groups with their own activities and private rooms. Each room has its own activities area, and Internet consoles line at least one wall. There are Aquanauts (3 - 5) (I admired a "Look What I Did Today!" board displaying chaotic art pieces), Explorers (6 - 8), Voyagers (9 - 11), Navigators (12 - 14) and older teens (15 - 17). Another dynamite option for kids of ages 12 to 17 is the chance to attend several free D.J. classes through RCI's agreement with the Scratch DJ Academy. There, you can learn the basics of being a D.J. while using the latest equipment.
As part of the 2011 dry dock, the ship gained the ImaginOcean family theater show, which debuted on Oasis of the Seas. The combination puppet show and musical was created by Tony Award-nominated actor John Tartaglia, whose credits include several appearances on "Sesame Street" and a starring role in Broadway's "Avenue Q."
Also on Liberty of the Seas are cool teens-only hangouts Fuel (a mini-club with dance floor, soda bar and Internet terminals) and the Living Room (a lounge that often bustles with activity).
There were also quite a few kids, and especially those in the more awkward teenage phase, who were perfectly content hanging out in packs. I stumbled into Catacombs, the adults-only nightclub (hosting one "teens take over" night), where about 15 teenagers were holding court, touching the gargoyles, snapping photos, etc. As I was leaving the scene before being detected, one particularly saucy teenybopper casually remarked, "Guys, we're playing truth or dare. You know you want to kiss us."
For younger children, from RCI offers a Royal Babies and Tots nursery (catering to those from 6 - 36 months),where parents can leave their under-3's in a safe and fun place with trained staff -- two children to every one caregiver. Various activities have been developed exclusively for RCI by Fisher-Price and Crayola. It costs $8 per hour, and it is advisable to request your times as soon as you board since it only has space for 12 kids. Check your compass for times this service is available, as they vary on different cruises.
Note: I noticed a grandma returning supplies -- paper, glue, scissors, tape -- to the Adventure Oceans area. If you're looking for a little constructive one-on-one time with your baby or your baby's baby, inquire about borrowing the goods. The staff is quite accommodating to any ideas you may have.
Without a doubt, the Challenger's Video Arcade (located adjacent to the Adventure Ocean rooms) is the best arcade at sea, with a fittingly huge number of games. Prices, however, are a bit excessive -- cheapest game is 75 cents, most is $1.45 per play -- and it would be easy to amass hundreds of dollars in charges per kid by week's end.
Youths can play bingo (with a parent or guardian) for free -- and they can win, too, with only a parent's signature required at the Explorations desk to collect the cash. On our cruise, a young'un won the final jackpot, nearly $6,300. I'm not sure if his parents, who had every right to do so, snapped that up. ("See Mildred, I told you he'd amount to something.")