With each passing year it seems that cruise ships become increasingly large. I’m sure that given enough time they’ll eventually have Formula One racetracks, regulation size soccer fields and 50 acre horse farms on board. But for now the current giants of the seas are content with such “compact” amenities as ice rinks, rock climbing walls and wave riding pools. Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas is just such a ship, and I recently had the chance to sample some of these over-the-top experiences while at sea, plus many more. Here’s a rundown on the good, the bad, and everything in between.
The first pro for me was a convenient departure port. Living in Houston meant that in just a little over an hour’s drive I could be down in Galveston, ready to board. Though fog had closed the port until the time of our intended departure, the staff did their best to get us processed and in our staterooms in the timeliest way possible considering the circumstances. Which brings me to the next pro…
With so much homogeny among cruise lines, its the little things that set them apart. I had to say that I was very pleased with not only the friendliness of the staff, but the sincere effort to be of help that they exuded. Normally I don’t pay all that much attention to such things, only noticing when something isn’t right. But I give them credit – all those guests and they still had a smile that didn’t appear to be just a mask hiding the raging desire to throw any and all tourists overboard.
Another pro was the ship itself. These days, the massive behemoths plying the cruise circuit are intended to be a destination unto themselves, and the Liberty is no exception. The top decks are literally overflowing with attractions – from a pair of waterslides, to rock climbing walls just perfect for public embarrassment, to a simulated surf pool where bleacher seating guarantees your public embarrassment. There are ample pools, both for kids and just for adults, plus two hot tubs extending out over the side of the ship for some vertigo to go along with your soaking.
In the interior of the ship there’s a long promenade that not only serves as an effective conduit and point of reference, but also hosts a variety of shops and specialty restaurants (more on that later). The gym is sufficient and there’s a dedicated walking/running track outside just in case you didn’t work up enough sweat exercising in the air conditioning. I’m not a gambler, so I can’t really comment on the casino’s merits, but it seems ample and rather (in)conveniently placed when traversing the ship. I should also mention that despite the large amount of passengers onboard, there are lots of quiet places tucked away throughout the ship where you can find some peace and even (gasp) some solitude.
Lastly, I should also mention that RC is consistently at the lower price range on their cruises, making it a great value for the money. With that in mind, we have a better context for the cons.
Honestly, there wasn’t a whole lot to complain about, but since I’ve already dedicated a section to doing so, I might as well do my griping now.
My first observation upon entering the ship – other than awe at the cavernous space I was standing in – is that there were a good number of ‘attractions’ that weren’t included. In fact, during a stroll down the promenade there are numerous little restaurants and shops that incurred additional fees, like anything other than regular (weak) coffee or a treat from the cupcake shop. There’s a Johnny Rockets onboard, where you could really pig out for a flat fee, but if I’m going to consume my entire daily caloric intake in one meal, I want to do it for free – know what I’m saying?
Of course, there are several specialty restaurants which require additional fees, and I think that I’ve already made myself clear on how I feel about that. Considering that the main dining rooms – artfully tiered over several decks at the stern – offered better than average fare, I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to try them unless you see something on one of the menus that you’ve really got a hankering for.
I know that cruise lines make a good portion of their profit from onboard sales, but these days many cruise lines, much like the airlines, now give the vibe that they see you as a ripe cash cow just waiting to be milked. Cocktails were unnecessarily pricey – which is expected – but what annoyed me the most was the blatant markup of even basic products in their store. When my wife came down with a cold, I nearly got sick myself when I had to pay $17 for a small bottle of Day-quil. Naturally, I still got it for her, but come on guys – is that really necessary? Are you somehow associated with the company that makes Epi-Pens?
The only other minor complaint would be with the general communication with the guests. When we had some unexpected delays, they weren’t all that quick to convey this, resulting in lines at the Purser’s Desk and confusion regarding shore excursions. Not that this ruined anything, but when it turns out that I didn’t have to get up until an hour later than what was originally said, I got a little cranky (FYI- not a morning person).
Lastly, and I really can’t say it is a con in and of itself, the itinerary – Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica – is rather pedestrian. Those places are nice to be sure, but are so cliché to anyone who has cruised more than once, that I feel at least one port beyond the ordinary would do much to make the destinations as appealing as the ship.
A Great Not So Secret Deal – The Chef’s Table
Remember when I implied that it felt like guests were being viewed as a bunch of sunburned dollar signs? Well, this actually worked out well to our advantage on at least one occasion. While munching on lunch in the Windjammer Café that every ship seems to have, a waiter approached us with an interesting proposition. For about $85 per person, our group (adults only) could have a very special dining experience in a select, secret location. Intrigued, and feeling a little cheap that we didn’t splurge on any of the specialty restaurants, we all decided it was a good idea (especially when Dad decided to treat everyone!) and as a result I had one of the top two best meals of my life. The other was on the Italian island of Ponza, but that’s another story…
To start we were asked to meet at Vintages – a wine bar on the promenade, where we were given a glass of champagne (all alcohol in this package was included). Once sufficiently ‘relaxed’ we followed our host to the stern, where on the top tier of the dining venues, right at the balcony overlooking it all that I earlier had said ‘wouldn’t it be cool to eat at that table’, we were seated around a private table screened off from the riff-raff of our fellow guests. The head chef came out and told us about how he personally was preparing this meal, what we could expect, and how much we were going to enjoy it.
At first I was a little skeptical, especially when they brought out our appetizer of scallops that were so finely sliced I thought it was just a film on our tiny little dishes. They were tasty, but if we were going to be in for some weirdo kind of dining experience where the food came in spray form or a beam of light, I wouldn’t be having any of it. But when the soup came out – tomatoes roasted for 6 hours and poured hot into a bowl with soft cheese – all fears dissipated. In fact, it was so tasty I just wanted to stand up and punch somebody.
This was followed by a main course of filet mignon so tender I could use it as a spread, plus a shared order of truffle ravioli so delicious I wanted to cry. We finished off with some fantastic dessert, and I should also mention, finished off another round of wine. Each course came with a specifically (and sometimes expensive) paired wine, which left us feeling beyond full, yet very happy. It wasn’t cheap, but I’m sure it beat any specialty restaurant out there.
Odds and Ends
The entertainment on board ranged between ‘that’s pretty cool/funny/nice’ and ‘meh’. The shows were usually packed, so unless you get there early you might be forced to stand – that is if you can, after dinner. The ice show was definitely worth seeing, and really what’s not to like about watching pretty girls being flung around, often inches from the ice? I’m a bit too old and married to be hitting the clubs, but even in the evening it didn’t seem much like a party ship – whether that’s a pro or con depends on you.
Weighing the pros and cons, I’d definitely have to give it to the pros. Sailing on the Liberty of the Seas was a great value and a good time despite the run-of-the-mill itinerary. Sure it’s big, and yeah, just about every point on the ship is about half a mile from your cabin. But in a sea of giants, with bigger giants on the way, this one was gentle enough to be worth the walk.
Have you cruised on the Liberty of the Seas? Tell us about it by leaving a comment below.