Surely a cruise on board a ship with 4,600 passengers has to be a crazy idea for a party of new-to cruisers, premium ship lovers and hardened cruise specialists who’ve paid full fare? That was the first question asked before 6 of us set sail on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas in October 2013. But, the 7 day Mediterranean cruise from Barcelona was a great success loved by everyone in our party. Royal Caribbean has upped their game again and the entertainment, crew and overall experience were great highlights for my party.
We started ahead – we booked early to take advantage of the Royal Caribbean ‘flights for £59’ promotion (I clocked that even some Royal Caribbean staff were looking to take advantage of this). Whilst on-board, we met guests who had booked later and had paid another £300 per person – mostly in the cost of arranging their own flights. This £59 covered not just flights, but transfers to and from the ship. Add to this we found another advantage when we arrived at Barcelona when we discovered that we could check in for the cruise within the airport terminal – avoiding the thousands of guests who check in at the port – great for the lady with slight mobility challenges in our party.
Well done to Royal Caribbean for this early booking offer – the cruise lines frequently state they wish to reward and incentivise early bookings – this could not have been better start. The itinerary is a great one for a quick break in the sun, or a quick introduction to cruising. We had flights from Gatwick and Belfast, and within hours, everyone was settling into the Windjammer – considering they serve more meals than any restaurant on the Med, and it was hugely busy, the standard of food was good – warm, wide ranging and always managed to find a table. The staterooms were D1 balcony rooms – definitely worth a little extra to get the slightly larger size room, and of course, another benefit of early booking was we could have everyone exactly were they wished to be – adjacent staterooms, towards the middle of the ship. All en-suite with TV, telephone and hair-dryer!
From the start, two of my ‘new to cruise’ guests adored the entertainment. The signature ‘Saturday Night Fever’ show was longer than normal – 80 minutes of high octane energy. This success was matched by the stunning ‘Ice Show’ – ‘can you really have an ice skating rink on-board a ship?’ asked one of our guests. The audience gasped and clapped and applauded for ages. One guest’s favourite show was the ‘In the Air’ show with some great acrobatics. They reckoned they had seen over £300 worth of shows in their first 3 days! A tip for new guests – try planning an outline for the week – there is a knack; we met a number of guests who missed some of the shows they wished to attend.
The rest of the entertainment complemented this, and it was striking how much guests liked the ‘DreamWorks’ tie-up. I was struck by how many appearances there were from Shrek, Kung Fu Panda Fiona and Puss in Boots – and they were remarkably at ease with guests taking their own photos, not insisting on exclusive use of the ship’s photographers.
Kids facilities were great – starting with the swimming pools and H2O water zone, with interactive water cannon. The hot tubs were popular throughout the day into the evening. And, of course, Flow Rider and the Climbing Wall proved to be popular throughout. Some guests seemed addicted to Flow Rider – the World’s first onboard surf simulator, and skill levels ranged from expert to dodo!! The Adventure Ocean Youth programme attracted a lot of activity – and it was striking that every time you walked past any event, the kids were loving it – laughing, playing – just happy.
There was always something to do – The Royal Promenade always takes your breath away on first sight – 445 feet of shopping, street entertainment, dining and fun!
We’re British, and we need our ‘cup of tea’ or coffee. Passengers often resent having to purchase each cup of tea, and the good news is that in the Promenade café, you can grab a free tea or coffee at most times, or buy a specialist illy coffee. Opposite the café is the famous Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlour – the cows on the awning have their backsides facing one of the staterooms, and this room is often one of the first to be booked!
Feeling peckish? Not eaten on board for at least 20 minutes? Then there is always the pizza café and takeaway further down the Promenade. And the, in case of food emergency, there’s always the 24 hours room service!!
Our guests loved the great range of bars and lounges available to relax in; from the English pub, the Hoof and Claw, to the Schooners Bar, where individual musicians played requests at very close quarters. They really liked the Olive or Twist at night for a great view, and listening to live music whilst enjoying a relaxing drink. The Casino was extensive, and I could see there many expert players.
For Adults only, there is the Solarium on deck – amazing really, that it is sited next to the Main pool and Sports pool, but is stunningly quiet! Even better are the 2 whirlpools which extend 12 feet out from the side of the ship, and are 112ft above the Med. The spa was well used, and the steam rooms and sauna were free to use by anyone.
Dining offers some very good choices. We were at a set time in one of the three Main Dining rooms. I noticed that the My Time dining is proving ever popular – pre-pay your gratuities and you can dine at any time between certain set times in the evening. This seems to give more flexibility in balancing dining with shore excursions and theatre shows. The specialist restaurants – Portofino (Italian) and Chops Grille (steak) received very good comments from passengers we met, and I was surprised at how busy Johnny Rockets was on the top deck for 50’s style burgers.
One highlight was the superb warmth of the crew. Royal Caribbean’s motto is ‘we treat you Royally’, and we were all struck by the super standard of interaction with the crew. This wasn’t just when you would normally expect it, for example on a few occasions, different crew members caught us looking for things or seemingly a little lost, and each time they went out of their way to help. This wasn’t just an artificial ‘everyone does things the same way’ approach; there was a very individual and personal approach by each crew member. It made the holiday for some of our guests.
The itinerary was a very good one especially for first time cruisers – just gives a flavour of cruising, and a flavour of port stops. Disembarkation was ruthlessly efficient, and as we left our guests, one said ‘I wish I could stay on board Liberty for the next cruise’ and another saying ‘I would like to try a 30 day cruise, or possibly a Transatlantic crossing’ on board a Royal Caribbean ship. One of our guests was highly anxious about her likely sea sickness. The modern design of the ship, along with the stabilizers meant that she felt absolutely no effects throughout her cruise – even though the winds hit a speed of around 60 knots on the last day, and waves were as high as 10 feet.
All of our guests said the Royal Caribbean cruise experience had exceeded their hopes and expectations at every turn. For them their highlights were the ship itself, the fantastic crew and the superb entertainment. Sometimes you can forget just how good Royal Caribbean are, so it was a delight to experience them again and see them through the eyes of new passengers.
Well done Royal Caribbean – you have a handful of passionate ambassadors for future cruising!!