We’ve sailed four times with Royal Caribbean, but always on older, smaller ships — Grandeur of The Seas, Enchantment of the Seas and Majesty of The Seas — and were itching for a chance to try larger ships. This summer, we opted for a ... Read More
We’ve sailed four times with Royal Caribbean, but always on older, smaller ships — Grandeur of The Seas, Enchantment of the Seas and Majesty of The Seas — and were itching for a chance to try larger ships. This summer, we opted for a cruise on Liberty to celebrate the high school graduation of our son and daughter. Later in the summer, we will be on Anthem of the Seas for a just the two of us cruise, to get the company’s more current take on a similar-sized ship.
If you haven’t been on the bigger ships in RCI’s stable, Liberty is, well, big and yet, oddly familiar. Many of the classic styling cues from the last three decades are everywhere on the ship, so it's both familiar and new.
One thing that was clearly new — and I’ll have a lot more to say about it down below — is The Key, RCI’s new program to give Suite-like perks to us mere mortal cruisers.
One thing not new, based on reading here and elsewhere: Liberty of the Seas has a main dining room management issue, which I’ll also address below.
General impressions of the ship: well cared for, but not quite as well as we’ve seen with other RCI “vintage” ships. Obviously, it’s a big ship and it gets hard use, but there are a lot of small details that seem to be overlooked in terms of maintenance — the hallway carpets in the cabin areas were so worn, as an example, to look like they were wet or stained in the high traffic areas. A small detail, to be sure, but one that is telling.
As the Freedom-class Liberty has been in service for more than a decade, I won’t belabor the layout and facilities — most of which are excellent — or the elevator placement (just two banks on either side of the ship, which leads to a lot of crowding at certain times). It’s a nice ship with a lot to do — we didn’t even come close to trying everything available on one trip.
A couple of general impressions: it feels like you’re either alone or in a very crowded situation onboard, depending on the venue. The Promenade is an interesting, mall-like feature, that can get a bit tight at times, especially when the center of it is filled with promotional sales tables. I find it interesting that in its Quantum-Class ships — similarly sized — RCI went to a totally different layout, with less mass gathering areas and more nooks and crannies. We look forward to be able to compare/contrast that in July.
What I will say is that Liberty seems best suited for family trips, with more and better kid-friendly facilities than we’ve seen on other RCI ships. It might not be ideal for a romantic getaway for two, though.
One frustration: the ship had multiple meet ups for 18-20 year olds at One Air, the Karaoke bar (which is generally pretty great, but oversubscribed for some of its uses), right as over crowded events were to begin — making it impossible for people to gather and meet and talk. This is poor planning -- an earlier time, like before dinner when things are quiet might work better in this place — or an alternate location should be used.
In terms of the staff: all were nice, friendly and very helpful (and some went above and beyond). A few seemed to have suffered for incomplete training — the ability of a bartender to follow a specific order, for example, to use a specific rum (or just use a dark rum versus light) varied wildly from bar to bar.
Some of this training issue extends to The Key, RCI’s new upgrade program. In short, you get a embarkation day lunch at a premium venue (and the ability to drop off carryon luggage), premium seats for shows and access to special exclusive times for attractions, special debarkation for ports, breakfast and special debarkation for the final day of the cruise, plus one Voom Surf & Stream for each person in the cabin.
We bought this for ourselves and our kids — for both cabins. We would have purchased Voom, anyway, and the price was only incrementally higher (we jumped in early before the price doubled).
What worked: Voom, mostly (more on that below). The welcome lunch at Chops was nice, although probably a bit much for a first day lunch. The check-in was OK, but not a massive boost beyond what we normally would have seen as Crown & Anchor Platinum members.
What didn’t: the “exclusive” times for Wave Runner was one hour the entire cruise, 9 am the first morning, not ideal for those who stayed up late the first night of the cruise. I’ll note my kids had little trouble getting on, picking strategic times to ride. The ice skating window, again, just one hour for the entire cruise, came on day one, and as it required long pants to skate, virtually no one had their luggage and the ability to change to use this perk.
We observed no Key departures on port days. Nada. Nothing.
VIP seating was extremely uneven. We were able to use it for the Ice Show — but we had to ask around. For other shows, like the alleged comedian, there seemed to be none, despite the fact that we showed up 30 minutes before show time.
The choice debarkation was, in short, a mess. We did get a hot breakfast (a mixed blessing to be sure, based on the issues with the main dining room), but then got cattle called into leaving with one of the normal departure groups (although two different staffers argued about how we should be handled).
In short, The Key has both a staff training problem and a value problem. First, staff needs to be fully trained on the program and its perks, to properly assist passengers. Second, there needs to be more in the way of exclusives. With the $600 plus it cost us (for four), there are clearly times it would be smarter to upgrade to a Junior Suite and get most of the perks and a nicer cabin.
As a prime perk of The Key, Voom continues to over promise and under deliver, in part at least, due to poor WiFi signal throughout the ship. While better performing than on the smaller, older ships built before the advent of WiFI, Liberty’s wireless net still has issues. Surf and Stream is only half true: you can surf (read the Web or get email), but streaming video is extremely unlikely unless you do so in the middle of the night. RCi needs to focus less on selling ‘Net service to every passenger and more on being able to support those who do buy.
Okay, moving on to what was maybe the biggest disappointment: the food in the main dining room.
I’ll note this is our fifth RCI cruise — and prior to this one, I’ve generally been pleased to delighted with the main dining room food. I don’t expect Michelin star food, but merely decent, well prepared meals.
Unfortunately, I can’t say that for Liberty of the Seas. The food was routinely dried out, seemingly left under heat lights too long — I had one decent meal at dinner time, but the others were not even Applebees’ quality (which is saying something, something not good). Breakfast, too, was a disappointment. The hollandaise sauce for for the Eggs Benedict (an RCI dining room staple) was messed up — and unwanted spinach was added to my meal. Similarly, I was unpleased with poorly cooked (overcooked) omelets and scrambled eggs. The low quality of the dining room was fairly shocking to me, as it has previously been a go-to for food on previous cruises.
On the bright side: the ship had the best Windjammer we’ve ever experienced. The food quality was higher (they, unlike the dining room, made a very solid hollandaise sauce and did not over cook the eggs). While a loud, crowded, chaotic atmosphere goes with the food (it’s the nature of cruise ship buffets) this may have been the best we’ve seen on any cruise ship.
Additionally, the specially restaurants, Chops, Sabor and Giovanni’s (we used all three when it became evident the main dining room was an issue) were excellent as usual, albeit at a higher cost. The same is true with Johnny Rockets — an upcharge, but the secret place to get exceptional french fries.
Lastly, Sorrentos continues its steady improvement, with better pizza crust. The sauce still needs a bit of love, but overall the pizza on this line (once a sort spot, like the still undrinkable coffee) is vastly improved.
Moving onto entertainment, there was a great deal of it around the ship, some of which we only caught snippets of — and most was excellent. While we don’t have names — the guitarist in the English Pub was exceptional as was the band that played in the Deck 5 night club — generally speaking all of the music was outstanding.
We did not see the Saturday Night Fever show — in part because of schedule, in part due the failure of The Key program — so I can’t comment.
We did see an alleged comic.
Imagine yourself trapped in a bad version of Grossingers, and your cranky aunt has thrown back a few too many adult beverages and starts riffing obscene Henny Youngman material.
That, in a nutshell, is the work of Michele Balan, who appears to be phoning in the same tired routine since the Bush Administration. Starting out with a Donald Trump-like “See how awesome I am self-tribute video” her act goes down hill from there. Avoid at all costs.
The Jolly Roger Snorkel Trip, Roatan, Honduras: We’ve been on four or five of these type excursions, but this one was by far the best. The crew and ship were great — super friendly and fun. The snorkel equipment was the best we’ve seen on such a trip — it makes a big difference. Additionally, the reef area used was beautiful and the water was very calm and full of wildlife. Additionally, they had great food and drink following the snorkeling — a nice surprise.
The ATV Jungle Adventure, Costa Maya, Mexico: The ATV trek through the jungle and beach roads was great — be ready for a 30-minute ride in a troop truck to get there, though. Post ride, we were delivered to a “resort” where we were pestered constantly by local merchants selling trinkets and “Cuban” cigars. After that, we bailed, and returned to port for lunch — and picked The Mojito Bar, much to our regret. While it had a great view of our ship, the food was bad (and completely wrong), the bill was $220 for lunch for four — and they didn’t take credit cards. Avoid at all costs.
The Jose Cuervo Tequila Tasting Tour, Cozumel, Mexico: Well done throughout, very informative and entertaining. We learned a lot about tequila, how it is made and how to distinguish various grades and styles. Additionally, there was really good local food provided as well as native arial rain ceremony. In all, well worth the cost. Read Less