My wife and I sailed on the Liberty of the Seas (LOTS) from Bayonne, NJ on October 3. This was supposed to be a 5 night cruise to Bermuda, but due to Hurricane Joaquin our itinerary was changed at the last moment and we were diverted to ... Read More
My wife and I sailed on the Liberty of the Seas (LOTS) from Bayonne, NJ on October 3. This was supposed to be a 5 night cruise to Bermuda, but due to Hurricane Joaquin our itinerary was changed at the last moment and we were diverted to St. John, Canada instead. We have cruised many times in the past, including trips to both Bermuda and St. John, so for us this change was no issue. Our vacation was more about the voyage than the destination, as we were celebrating some milestones in our life.
We are big fans of Norwegian Cruise Lines. Our only prior experience with Royal Caribbean was on the debacle known as the Quantum of the Seas. That ship, and that cruise, was so awful that we were reluctant to ever cruise on RCI again. But the convenience of leaving from Bayonne rather than Manhattan gave us pause to reconsider and give Royal Caribbean a second chance. All in all, we were happy with that decision.
DEPARTURE: Driving to the Port Liberty Cruise Terminal from our home in western New Jersey takes only an hour. Parking in the lot on the pier is extremely convenient. The cost is $19/day, which comes out to $95 for a 5 night cruise. There are cheaper parking lots in the vicinity, but they all require use of a shuttle to get to and from the terminal. The added convenience of being able to walk a few hundred yards from the car to the ship without waiting for the bus to show up is worth the extra cost. The parking lot is safe and secure from what we can tell, and flooding is not an issue other than if there is a huge storm surge from a tropical storm pounding NJ. And if that is the case, you have bigger issues with which to contend.
Embarkation was slow, painfully slow. I believe this was exacerbated by the fact that the LOTS arrived late from its previous voyage and was still disembarking the last of its passengers when we arrived at 11 AM. Dropping off luggage was a breeze, but it took over an hour standing in line waiting to check-in before we had our Set Sail cards in hands and were walking up the gangway.
ITINERARY CHANGE: As previously noted, this cruise was intended for Bermuda. For several days leading up to the Saturday departure it was becoming more and more apparent that Hurricane Joaquin was going to impact the cruise in some form. Either we would have to divert our course to sail around her to reach Bermuda (and experience rough seas), or change to another port. As late as Friday afternoon, after calling Royal Caribbean to inquire about any itinerary changes and waiting on hold for 30 minutes, representatives were still saying that the cruise ship was going to go to Bermuda. This made no sense at all, as anyone following the weather closely could see by then that the hurricane and the ship were both heading to the same location at the same time. Finally, about 8 PM, we received a call, a text and an email from RCI informing us about the change. It gave us time to repack with more appropriate attire.
The next morning at 8 AM we received yet another round of calls, texts and emails announcing that departure had been moved up by 2 hours. Again, no issue for us. But apparently a number of fellow passengers were never notified of either change – showing up at the pier only to be notified then of the itinerary change.
This is the one area where I fault Royal Caribbean. Granted, they wanted to try to get us to the original destination, and waited as long as they felt that they could before calling it. And the decision to change from Bermuda to Canada was absolutely the right one to make. Anyone who has ever sailed before knows that. But in my opinion they were too slow in pulling the trigger. It was obvious by Friday morning that there would be a problem heading into the path of Joaquin. RCI should have started notification much earlier in the day.
I do commend RCI, however, for providing a refundable credit to all cabins. For us, this was a $500 refund for the stateroom, plus another $65 refund for the Bermuda port fees. By comparison, the Carnival Sunshine also had to cancel its visit to Bermuda because of Joaquin but only offered its passengers a 25% credit towards their next Carnival cruise. Granted, RCI probably intended for most passengers to spend this credit onboard, in the form of more drinks, specialty dining, spa treatments, and so forth. For the 2 sea days on the way back from Canada we were barely moving at only 9 knots, so there certainly was ample time to spend it. For us, however, that money got refunded back to our credit card the day we got back and will go towards a down payment on our next cruise.
STATEROOM: For this cruise, we booked an inside cabin (Room 1277) on deck 10. Our assumption was that we would not be spending much time in the room, so did not need a balcony. It was a wise decision. The room was small, but had more than sufficient storage and enough space for two adults to move around without tripping over each other. The closet held our two suitcases, with enough shelves and hanger space for all of our clothes. It also had a room safe significantly larger than the one aboard the Quantum. In addition there were a half dozen drawers in the desk in the room, plus additional storage for incidentals in small drawers in night stands on either side of the bed and alongside the mirror. Built in night lights on both sides of the bed were a nice touch, as inside cabins are otherwise totally dark, even at midday.
The bathroom was also small, but well maintained. During the voyage a maintenance crew came in to replace one of the shower stall panels which apparently was cracked, though we never even noticed. Our stateroom steward, Jeff O., did a great job keeping the room cleaned, our ice bucket filled, our champagne chilled, and providing some hilarious towel animals – including Halloween themed bats and a “towel man” sitting on the sofa watching TV with the remote in his hand. Nice touch.
THE SHIP: The Liberty of the Seas is not a new ship, but has the most intuitive layout of any cruise ship we have been on so far. Getting around is easy. Both deck 4 and deck 5 provide a straight path from the theatre in the bow to the dining rooms in the stern. Large, open elevator atriums both fore and aft give the ship an impressive grandeur that is missing on new ships like the Norwegian Breakaway. Night clubs are kept out of site, thus reducing the amount of noise for other passengers. There are even little details everywhere if you stop to notice, such as the rug inserts in all of the elevators being changed every night to indicate the day of the week (e.g., Sunday, Monday, etc.).
There was no problem with chair-hogs around the pool, as far as I could see, but then this was a cruise to Canada in October, so the pool deck did not receive that much play. In fact, all outside decks were locked down for about the first 24 hours of the cruise as we had 15’ seas and winds across the deck in excess of 70 mph while sailing east into a full gale. When they finally did open up the outside, the most amazing sight was the height of the waves IN the pools and hot tubs, with these emptying themselves all over the deck.
Perhaps my favorite feature of the LOTS was that a person could go outside on deck 4 and walk the full perimeter of the ship, from the stern to the very tip of the bow. This is the first and only ship I have been on so far that actually allowed passengers up on the bow, with benches provided around the helipad to sit and enjoy the view. Very cool.
If there was one disappointment on the ship, it was that the Solarium is not enclosed. There is no retractable roof as on some vessels, and no glassed in area. On warm weather trips this is probably not necessary, but on voyages to cool weather climates it would be nice to have an area that is warm and sheltered from the elements.
Some previous reviews have indicated that passengers could detect the smell of raw sewage while onboard. I did find this on a several occasions, always in the vicinity of where maintenance was working on repairing something. Was it pleasant? No. But it was always confined to the immediate area and always dissipated shortly after the workers finished what they were doing.
DINING: Dining aboard the LOTS was good, though a little hit or miss. Windjammer and Jade both offered an acceptable selection of food throughout the day, even if there was nothing spectacular. Breakfast and Lunch in the main dining room was a step up from the buffet both in terms of quality and selection. Service was slow at times, and a few times our orders were in error. But overall these meals were fine, too.
Dinner was very good. We had a 5:30 seating and were always served promptly. The menu selection was excellent and the food ranged from good to excellent. Our meals were always the right temperature and generally were quite tasty. Some plates were a little salty, but such occurrences were few.
Commendations go to our waiter, Tomislav, and assistant waiter, Elez. Both gentlemen were always prompt, courteous, and made us feel like special guests. Tom frequently made spot-on recommendations for the evening. When dessert came, he often brought us an additional item other than what we ordered for my wife and I to sample and share. Elez was quick to learn our preferences for rolls (the pumpkin seed rolls are outrageous) and tea after dinner – bringing us our favorites each night without even having to ask. That is what I consider to be great service.
One disappointment with the main dining room is that lobster is no longer served on formal night. Instead, lobster is available every night in the main dining room, but for an additional fee. For $29.95 you can order a whole 1 ¼ - 1 ½ pound Maine lobster. And for $34.95 you can order a surf-n-turf plate consisting of a 6 ounce broiled lobster tail and a grilled 9 ounce filet mignon. And ordering these meals also means a 18% additional gratuity will be added to your onboard charges. Really? Charging for a meal in the main dining room? This seems like a significant reduction in the overall dining experience, especially for seasoned passengers who have come to expect 1 night with lobster tails on the regular, complimentary menu.
Unlike many cruise lines that are pushing specialty restaurants for a fee, the LOTS only has 2 such restaurants – Portofino and Chops. Both of these are located adjacent to Windjammer on deck 11. There is also a Johnny Rockets, with a $6.95 cover charge per person, that does not include a milk shake drink. From what I saw through the windows while passing by, the food at Johnny Rockets was not significantly different from the hamburgers, hot dogs and fries in Windjammer and just not worth the additional cost. But everyone has different tastes and opinions.
One additional note, we especially enjoyed the Café Promenade on the Royal Promenade, deck 5, as a place to get a midnight cup of tea in a travel cup to take out on deck. This was a nice touch that we have found to be missing on many other ships.
ENTERTAINMENT: The entertainment aboard the LOTS was all enjoyable if not memorable. It was typical cruise ship song-and-dance lasting an hour, including introductions and conclusions by the cruise director. The main show on the cruise, “Saturday Night Fever – The Musical”, was good, and had some impressive props considering the venue. But in my own opinion, the disco craze and 70s fashions were short lived for a reason and a revival really is not needed, even if it is only 82 minutes in length.
Other nightly shows included an a Capella boys group called the Cats Pajamas. They were OK, nothing special. There was an aerial act that was totally forgettable, a comedian who was funny but needs some new material, and a comic/juggler who was definitely enjoyable and perhaps the best of the main theatre shows. The best show of the entire cruise, and the only one worth seeing more than once, is the matinee ice show, Encore, in the On-Air ice rink.
One form of entertainment that we stumbled upon by accident was the Dreamworks Move it! Move it! welcome parade the first night. This was on the Royal Promenade. Although it featured Dreamworks characters, such as Shrek, and probably was geared more towards kids, even as an adult it was fun to watch. And the energy level was infectious.
Another form of “free” entertainment I would recommend is to visit the FlowRider in the stern to just sit and watch fellow passengers wiping out.
PORTS OF CALL: What can I say about St John? It is a small, clean Canadian Maritime community. The emphasis is on the word small. One can easily walk around and see all of the main points of interest in a few hours. Having sailed here twice before, my wife and I took it as an opportunity to visit the shops, sit along the waterfront, talk with some of the locals, and most importantly purchase several tins of ice wine tea. This, and maple products, are the two best items that I would certainly recommend.
DISEMBARKATION: While getting on the ship was slow, getting off of the ship was FAST. After one final breakfast in Windjammer, we gathered up our luggage and got on self-disembarkation line about 7:15. We stood around waiting for about a half an hour, but I do not count this in the time it took to get off as it was an opportunity to watch sunrise over the harbor and marvel at a container vessel heading out to sea right next to us, assisted by tugs. Once the ship was cleared by customs and the line started moving, we went from the ship, to the gangway, down the escalator, through the terminal, through customs, out of the building, across the street, and were in our car in 14 minutes flat. You cannot do that in Manhattan.
OVERALL CONCLUSION: Was this our best cruise ever? Probably not. Was it enjoyable? Definitely. Is the Liberty of the Seas a great ship? Yes. Did Royal Caribbean redeem itself from our previous experience with the Quantum of the Seas? Absolutely. Will I consider booking my next cruise on the Anthem of the Seas to get back to Bermuda? The jury is still out on that one, but it is worth at least considering. Too bad NCL does not leave from New Jersey. Read Less