We are a family of 4 from Edmonton, Alberta. This was our children's first cruise (they are 10 year old twins). I've been on about 5 other cruises, as a guest, my husband 1 other. We are past crew members (12+ ... Read More
We are a family of 4 from Edmonton, Alberta. This was our children's first cruise (they are 10 year old twins). I've been on about 5 other cruises, as a guest, my husband 1 other. We are past crew members (12+ years ago) so our perspective on the cruise may be a little different than others.
We chose this cruise because I had flight credits with an airline and wanted a somewhat lateral cost and the flight from Edmonton to Houston didn't cost us more than the change fee. I picked the Liberty because I wanted a decent price on a larger ship, to some ports I had not yet been to (Roatan and Costa Maya). I took advantage of the kids sail free and a few other promos. With the CAD dollar exchange I still got a great deal on an aft spacious balcony cabin.
We flew in to Houston Bush airport on the Friday prior to sailing with the intent of relaxing at the hotel the Saturday (we are sabbath keepers so didn't want to travel on the Saturday). I picked the Hampton Inn & Suites Houston-Bush Intercontinental Aprt because I could get a decent corporate rate through my company. The hotel looks like it was recently renovated, but the decor is unfortunate in the rooms (they will regret this in about 5 years lol). It had about everything we could need though, except the AC stopped working the second night and it got really hot, plus I was irritated with the tiny bitty ants that I found in the bathroom. The location is convenient to the hotel (airplanes flying overhead though), and is only a block and a half up the street from a few fast few restaurants (Papa Tony's kitchen is a must try for anyone who doesn't eat pork, all their pizza toppings are pork free... this was heaven to me, as in Canada it's almost impossible to find beef pepperoni!), a liquor store (bottles of wine to bring on board), and convenience stores to pick up something you might need (i needed cold medicine). Despite the good price, and excellent warm chocolate chip cookies upon arriving, I don't think I'd recommend this hotel, unless you're on a budget.
Wow what a difference so many years makes. All the "internet of things" with apps and "pre" everything made embarkation a breeze. We were there by 1030, checked in with no line at that point (super efficient!) and had to wait in the holding room for about 30 minutes until we could board. On board by 1115 or so. We decided to give Windjammer a try despite the crowds for lunch. Rooms were ready by 115pm. We even found our luggage in the hallway to be delivered no later than 3pm, before the muster drill!
Liberty is clean, she's been refurbished in some areas, and is a lovely ship. I can't quite figure out why they didn't invest in some of the cheaper upgrades to make the ship seem less tired though. Yes, there are new revenue and fun generating features, but would it be too hard to replace tired/worn looking toilet seats throughout the ship and carpets in the cabins? Or to change the chipped mirrors and leaky shower heads? It's these details that people notice. It didn't affect our level of fun or anything lol, but it was noticeable!
The freedom class was released just after I quit ships (I worked the Voyager classes). Navigating the ship was super easy as we were familiar with the layout and it's only slightly different than the smaller ones. For us, though, it was funny to have to take all the passenger ways and not take the crew shortcuts! LOL. Waiting for the elevators was typically annoying. The kids would race up the stairs from 1-10, and wait for us to take the elevator..... The large areas for smoking certainly affected how often I traveled on the Port side of the ship, that's for sure!
I chose 1700 which is on the fully aft of deck 10. It is spacious like a Junior Suite, but has a support pole in the room that obstructs the view of the tv from one side of the bed ( no biggie, there wasn't anything to watch anyway lol). The balcony is HUGE (enough room for 2 chairs, 2 loungers and 2 tables) with a section sheltered from the sun/wind. This sheltered area was PERFECT for using our towel clips to hang things up to dry. Lots of things.
The bed was blissful to sleep in, but I love harder beds. Best nights sleep in a long time! The room is directly under the Windjammer.... but we never heard a thing. The carpets were worn, with some old stains, and pilled. The decor is the old decor from the original take out. It missed the refurbishment, obviously..... Chipped mirror in the bathroom, sticky drawers, a shower head that leaked and sprayed in different directions.... But the stateroom attendant Elizabeth kept everything as clean and tidy as ever. She was great. Oh, the room "cooler" doesn't keep anything cool per se.... It's a bit like using your camping cooler. I don't even think it was a plug in style... Ask for lots of ice and don't expect to keep things cold for long. Otherwise, the room had plenty of storage and the location was quiet, although quite the trek from the front of the ship!
We did the My Time dining. I'm a traditionalist... but the set dining times are much different now than 10 plus years ago. It used to be 6 and 830. Now it's 515 for the early seating. That's just too early. My time dining was okay. We went only 4 nights. The service was really great. Friendly. But the food was often lukewarm, not a whole lot of flavor. We have some dietary restrictions, but the variety offered was good enough that we could navigate it without too much issue. We were not WOWed at all with the food though.
The Windjammer had good variety and was plentiful. Food that contained pork was often labeled if it wasn't obvious. Bread items left under the warmer too long tended to be hard in spots. We only ate dinner there once. My kids said the hotdogs were "second to none" LOL. Sometimes it took a few minutes to find a seat on busy days, but we didn't have too much issue. The staff were friendly and helpful.
Chops was wonderful. The food was fantastic and even my 10 year old kids loved it! It was special for them. Plus their behaviour was complimented by some other guests it made them feel really good!
Giovannis: In all fairness, I didn't read the menu before booking, I just expected that pasta options would be available. And while there were, our dietary restrictions (no pork or any shellfish) prevented us from having much to pick from. The service was great and the dessert was awesome. But we could have saved our money on this option and just gone to the main dining room.
Johnny Rockets: This was my biggest disappointment. I love JR. I loved it as a crew member. I was looking forward to bringing my kids, which I did. By the 7.95 charge per table of yesteryear has been replaced by an almost $12 per person charge, with no kids fee. Add in the separate charge for the coveted milkshakes, and I was gobsmacked at the pricing that deters people from using this venue! It was half empty on a sea day lunch! That is an astronomical increase from previous years! Additionally, I was told that my Refreshment package includes the JR milkshakes..... but that's only if you pay the $12 charge to sit down. You can't order to go and it be included! If you want it to go, you have to pay the milkshake charge.
Halloween: This was the halloween cruise. We don't celebrate so there wasn't much for us to do that evening as all events and functions seemed to be geared towards that. But the pool deck was deserted! So we had fun there that night.
Entertainment: The welcome aboard show was nice. We liked the clean comedy that night. My husband saw the late night comedy with the same guy, and felt that it was less funny, just crude.
ENCORE ice show: this was really well done. Pretty high energy and engaging all the way through.
Saturday Night Fever: Over the years of working ships, my husband and I have seen LOTS of production shows. Lots! Multiple times. I'm not sure about this direction of using more "Broadway style" plays as choice entertainment now, however. The acting was decent, I guess. The dancing and singing was skilled. But the actual script and story telling.....? BORING. We were not impressed... it was "blah".
Headliner: We saw the variety performer from Vegas. This was like a street performer/comedy show. There wasn't much to this, but we LOVED it! We went to the later show, due to meal times, so my kids were too tired to see it, which was unfortunate, but we were thoroughly entertained!
Headliner Comedian: It was labeled "family friendly". LOL. well, if a show of endless poop jokes is considered "family friendly".... okay.... My 10 year olds thought it was hilarious... me, not so much LOL
In the Air: This was an aerial acrobatic style production show. More musical-based and the visuals were very well done. It was obvious they were using dancers for this, and not people highly skilled in it as the maneuvers were not particularly difficult. There was two parts where they had a latin dancing couple that was amazing! and another duo doing the aerial performance that you know they've been training their lives doing this! We enjoyed this show much more than the SNF.
Pool side movies: most of the early ones for kids got bumped for the World Series and other sports....
There was only 398 kids on this cruise. Mine are 10 (almost 11), which would put them in the higher part of Voyagers age group. But because there was so few kids, they combined the Voyagers and the Explorers so they could get the numbers needed to do certain activities. My kids didn't like this, regretfully. (They are at the age where they are super conscious of what they call "baby" stuff). They are too old to be grouped with 6 year olds. They need to have different options for activities when the numbers are low that can be done with the smaller groups. Also, if video games are available for older kids, then they should have this option for the younger groups, if the parents permit.
I purchased arcade credits prior to the cruise for each of my kids. Once we figured out how to use them, we noticed that very high cost of the games. 2.50-3 bucks a game! For less than 30 seconds of play! I understand that the arcade is a revenue generating attraction, but the arcade was pretty well empty almost the entire cruise. If their per game cost came down to less than a dollar, that place would be really busy! Even my 10 year old thought it was a complete rip off.
Pool: Due to the lower kid numbers we never seemed to have an issue finding a pool chair on a sea day. RCCL now employs lifeguards... this is a nice addition! The pool area seemed to always be clean, and never too crowded. I appreciated the life jackets for the kids too.
Bar Service: This is one of my more annoyed observations about RCCL in general, not this ship in particular. Ever since the drink packages were implemented, floor coverage for bar service sucks. In days gone by servers used to be hawking drinks all over the place. Now you have to go approach the bar, usually 3 people deep and around people seated there, to ask for a drink (even for a coke refill). After paying for a drink package, they don't seem to want it too convenient to get one, and you can't get one for you and your spouse without both cards. Mixed drinks also tend to be rather weak. I'm not a fan of the drink package option since it's affected the service coverage goals of the bar department. The incentive for service and "sales" isn't there anymore, since they already have your money. I'd rather say "no thank you" to plentiful servers selling drinks than deal with the lack of general service when I actually WANT a drink!
Ports: All of our excursions were booked through 3rd party vendors.
Roatan, Honduras: we booked the Monkey Snorkeling excursion for $55 pp directly through the Daniel Johnson Monkey and Sloth Park website. Cash paid when we got there. We met our driver directly outside the security gate. Jeff was our driver for the day in a comfortable SUV with air conditioning, in good working order. He took us to the park, with a ton of information about the island. He waited until after our tour and snorkeling was done to take us back. When we got the park, we had another guide have us hold sloths (it was so cute and made my daughter's day!), get in the monkey cages to have them jump all over us, then we got to hold the different parrots! so much fun. After, we were shown to the snorkeling group. They fitted us with good equipment. Other than me, my family doesn't swim, nor have snorkeled. The operators were very helpful and even though my husband and son decided not to snorkel after some false starts, my daughter was game. She couldn't figure out the breathing, so the guide had her hold onto a life ring and just told her to hold her breath and use the mask to look down occasionally. He proceeded to tug her around the entire reef with the group so she could see what I was able to see. I can't recommend these guys enough! The snorkeling was AMAZING. We saw tons of tropical fish, all sorts and colours, a bunch of huge lobsters and even got to hold a white sea urchin! After snorkeling at this spot they offered to take us back or do another spot. We elected to go back, and the others went on to the next spot. Our driver said we had a lot of time so offered to take us to the Chocolate factory, which made my son's visit! Doing this tour provided economy and more variety than other tours out there. I HIGHLY recommend them.
Costa Maya: we booked an all inclusive beach break at Barefoot Beach. I would say this was a 50/50 win/loss. The beach was crowded. We got four loungers in the shade. Lunch was included and was nice, along with the free drinks. They provided snorkel gear. There wasn't anything to see, but the calm water allowed my family the chance to learn how to snorkel, which is worth its weight. There is only one shower inside, and the ladies bathrooms have no toilet seats or wash basins to wash hands. There were a LOT of passing vendors. My husband got asked if he wanted to buy cigars no less than 8 times LOL. He still bought some, but also paid an extra $15 duty when the cruise ended. We did purchase some things, to support the community more than anything. Regardless, it was worth the cost and we enjoyed our day. Oh! the Costa Maya port shopping area is huge! Tons of shopping and a bar or something with a pool right in the center. It takes forever to walk from the taxis to the ship, so plan accordingly!
Cozumel: I've been to Cozumel so many times. I booked a pass to Chankanaab that included shaded palapa, snorkeling gear, and buffet lunch with drinks. We just had to take a taxi ($12 each way). There were many ships in port, the taxi line up was long in the baking sun. Bring a hat and water! When we got there, we were given a coupon for the lunch and the snorkeling gear. The hut with the gear had decent equipment and even had a guide offered (for tip, no problem) to show us where to snorkel. He tugged my non-swimming floating family around to see the sights now that they knew how to snorkel, and it was great! the fish were everywhere and really used to the people. They would swim right up! we spent a few hours there, had a really nice lunch with a few drinks and enjoyed the day. We were back to the ship by 3pm, enough time for a short nap.
We had a REALLY late flight that day. So we dawdled. We sent down all of our luggage except a few backpacks, the night before. We were out of the room by 730am and went for breakfast in the dining room for our last leisurely meal. Menu ordering only, no buffet. After that we took a last stroll along the deserted pool deck, then slowly made our way to Studio B where we waited until our number was called. Made our way with our group at about 945ish to immigration... Super easy! even for a Canadian. I was like, "that's it?" LOL. My husband had to go to customs to declare the cigars and alcohol he bought... then regretted having bought them. $20 for the cigars, $15 in duty. LOL. beware of that.
Would have really appreciated an available excursion/tour that would handle luggage, show us the town, then drop us off at the airport.... but this doesn't seem to be an option anymore, sadly.
Lyft: Though this has nothing to do with RCCL or the cruise, transportation from Galveston to the airports (especially Bush) is a topic of conversation. I chose to venture out of my comfort zone and gave Lyft a try, based on recommendations from others on Cruise Critic. From close to the hotel to the port it cost us about 63USD for four of us in a basic lyft. Lyft doesn't state what amount of luggage you can have, and for the first two drivers this wasn't an issue. From the hotel the port on embarkation day, we had a great driver that told us all about Houston, had a clean, new car (SUV) and I had utmost confidence in his driving. When we disembarked, we thought to take a Lyft to the airport and check in our luggage early then venture off to visit a friend. We had a total of 1 large luggage and four carry on size pieces. The pick up at the port was driving a sedan. No problem with the luggage. It was an enjoyable ride, with good conversation, and I felt safe in the car. But our airline Westjet was closed until 3pm (oops) so we could not check in our luggage.... disappointing. Oh well. We decided to call another Lyft and have it take us to one of my husband's friend's places to hang out for a few hours. This driver was a jerk. First, he didn't read/listen to directions on where to pick up (we told him we were on the departures level), so he couldn't find us, then proceeded to imply the correction of pick up locations was "burning more gas". The car was a smallish SUV, and he complained about the amount of luggage (too much, we should have hired an XL at twice the price apparently) but there was more than enough room. And drive was miserable. I was almost sea sick by the end. It was in disrepair, with an engine light on, and did a 45 minute drive on what I could see what less than a quarter tank of gas. And he kept implying I should tip him extra for taking one extra luggage. So! word to the wise.... Lyft can be great! but sometimes you get a jerk. I will be reviewing them later on their site.
Overall: We had a great vacation! My kids really liked cruising. We are booked on the Harmony in Dec of next year and hope to enjoy that one even more! I hope this review doesn't sound too pessimistic. I love optimistic cruise reviews when getting hyped up, but I also like to provide constructive, realistic feedback as well. I want this to be helpful in managing expectations to avoid undue disappointment for others. We did not leave disappointed in much that's for sure! Read Less