December 2014 - Liberty of the Seas to Caribbean - Western
Royal Caribbean is a great organization, for sure. They offer excellent value and, if the weather is on your side, you can all have a great time if your expectations are grounded in reality. Read some blogs and cruise-related websites that are NOT sponsored by the cruise lines to get really valuable information and insight from veteran cruise aficionados. Some cruise lines are for younger party people with a need to party party party. Some are lower cost and your fellow cruisers will fit a certain demographic that is not to your taste or sensibilities. Some are higher end and are not in any way family oriented. If you want a great family cruise on a clean, well maintained ship with good food, lots of entertainment options, in the company of other nice families out to have a great vacation in the sun and on the sea, then this is a really fine option.
At the last minute, we decided to upgrade (for about $100 per night) to an ocean view room. this was a great upgrade! Our 20-something sons had an interior promenade view, which they were fine with. It was really nice to have a private terrace with some chairs out on the sea.
The entertainment was way better than I expected. The Saturday Night Fever Show, the ice extravaganza, the "cirque" style show, the song-and-dance man, and one of the comedians were very professional and really entertaining. the venues were top notch. The theater was really Broadway quality. One of the comedians was awful. The lounge acts were not to my taste generally. The salsa act was two guys singing along with canned backing tracks. Voytek the guitar player was very good. Too bad some yahoos thought it was acceptable to yack it up throughout his entire set. The piano lounge act was like a self-parody. The big shows are well produced in fine venues with really talented performers. Do not expect Vegas, expect Disney. this is a family cruise.
In Belize we went tubing and that was great. What we later found out is that all tubing tours go to the exact same place and do the exact same thing. That being said, go to Yelp and pick a top rated tour. We went with a well rated independent excursion, but the tour operator never showed up and passed us off to another independent, who luckily was great. We will be blasting the tubing operator that did not show up in Yelp, but not here. There is definitely a benefit to using ship-sponsored excursions - they are well organized and efficient.
In Cozumel we snorkeled on a ship-sponsored excursion. It was low cost and really great. My wife and one of my sons were very reluctant snorkelers, but they absolutely loved the experience.
the food was, as expected, plentiful but generally not ever exceptional. If you want 4 star gourmet food, there are other cruises for that, and you will pay accordingly. What do you expect when they are making dinner for 3,000? The dinner did get way better as the cruise proceeded. We ate in Botticelli and did not do any of the "pay extra" premium restaurants. My advice: ask how the particular dish you are interested in is prepared (one seafood special was actually deep fried from frozen, like a TV dinner.) And do not be ashamed about ordering something else, or several appetizers, an extra salad, getting a different main course if you don't like what you have. We opted for the "dine anytime" plan, as on prior cruises we learned that you can get stuck at a table with people you really don't need to say every night. We had freedom and variety of company. The wait staff was very classy and professional
Drinks were reasonably priced. Expect to pay $6 - $8 for top shelf liquor. Drinks of the day are less expensive. We were surprised when we ordered cappuccino and espresso off the menu after dinner and were met with extra charges. about $2.50 per coffee drink, but really, these should be part of the package. Maybe I've been spoiled by other "all included" vacations. They offered expensive drink packages, which are fine if you drink a lot of booze. we don't so we ordered our one or two drinks and paid far less than the plans. Some folks definitely will get their money's worth by going with a booze package. We don't guzzle soft drinks, so that plan didn't work for us.
The ship itself is great and the staff were likewise super professional and helpful. The rooms were cleaned and straightened constantly. And who doesn't like a towel animal?
The Windjammer was a great option for breakfast and lunch. Unfortunately, they did not really promote the omelet station at breakfast and we did not discover the one guy making custom omelettes until half way through the cruise. He is tucked away between other offerings and you would never know he is there.
To some in my party, the promenade of shops was just a shopping mall at sea.
There was a great diversity of families from different cultures and places, which was really nice. Everybody was nice.
On a sea day, if the weather is nice, good luck getting your family a bunch of deck chairs. People must go out under cover of darkness to put a towel on every chair available. The staff should really anticipate the need to accommodate people on the deck and by the pool when the sun is out. While they have a "rule" that you should not reserve chairs, there is zero enforcement.
The casino was very active. My son discovered that the casino bar had some very good prices on premium drinks. You do not need to gamble to get some good cheap booze! It was disturbing to have so much smoking going on in the casino. But I just really dislike other people's smoke generally.
We generally refused to have our picture taken by staff photographers, as the cost of the pictures ($25 for a family photo) was pretty steep. It was like Sears on the sea - they sell some expensive photo packages. We ended up buying one nice, expensive, family portrait. Do yourself a favor, give your camera to another cruise guest, they will take your family picture gladly. As I said, everyone was really nice and fiendly.
Finding your way around a huge ship was made very easy. there are touch screen guides all over the place that let you know where you are, how to get somewhere else, and what is going on. The ship's TV channels that has the entertainment guide is great. There are many ship channels that are just basically infomercials.
There is a big push to get you to part with your money. Shop in the on-board stores! Buy Duty free! Shop in Belize. Shop in Cozumel. Go to the auditoreum and learn how to shop for the best deals on jewelry and watches. The cruise TV infomercial channels feed the need you never knew you had. Caveat Emptor! Duty free booze is clearly a great deal. but keep in mind you have to carry that stuff back home with you. Have you ever had a bottle break in your luggage? we have. In my opinion, if you factor in the value of your shlepping heavy liquor bottles from your room, through customs, to the airport, from the airport, etc., then the money you save is made up in your own labor. You cannot drink that stuff onboard, so what's the point? Liquor bottles in your luggage will put you over your air carrier's weight limit, too!
The internet access is expensive! Be forewarned.
Hope this helps!