I decided to treat myself with a Caribbean cruise for my 40th birthday. While we’ve cruised several times, this would be the first with the baby. We eventually decided on taking Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas from Galveston. Similar to Omar’s review of the Park Hyatt St. Kitts, a cruise review is far too much information for one post. Thus, I plan to break this up into several segments:
- Introduction: Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas, Galveston to Western Caribbean
- Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas: Ship and Activities
- RCCL Liberty of the Seas: Stateroom and Dining
- RCCL Liberty of the Seas: Ports of Call
- Tips for Cruising with a Toddler
Why We Chose Royal Caribbean from Galveston
Though most cruises from the US depart out of Florida, a handful of cruises operate out of Galveston. These include Carnival, Disney, and Royal Caribbean, all operating to Mexico and the Caribbean. I first ruled out Carnival; the “Fun Ships” booze cruises just aren’t my thing. We looked closely at Disney Cruises, but prices ran almost double those of RCCL. So process of elimination left Royal Caribbean. Not that that’s a bad thing, necessarily. I’ve cruised RCCL a few times in the past, and generally enjoyed the experience.
So why did we decide to cruise out of Galveston? Simply put, convenience. Just 45 miles outside Houston, getting to Galveston meant just a 6 hour drive, even allowing for baby delays. While I enjoy driving, I didn’t feel like a 2 1/2 day drive to Florida this time (we don’t fly with Ashok). Galveston-based cruises also offer some minor discounts for Texas residents, always a plus. My son approved of the beach, anyway.
Our cruise made a round trip from Galveston to Jamaica and back. The entire cruise ran one week – November 26 through December 3 – with 3 days at sea.
I actually preferred a different itinerary that included Roatan, Honduras. That would have marked one more country off the list. This was the only sailing that included my actual birthday, though, so we “settled”. RCCL included a 50% discount on the second guest, 25% on the third, and pre-paid gratuities for two on this sailing. That brought the total price for our balcony stateroom to ~$2,900 for three, including taxes. Cruise fares tend to run a little high between Thanksgiving and year end, so we found this a fair price.
While you can get balcony staterooms for less, we splurged on a somewhat fancier one. What made it fancy? A rear-facing cabin with an oversized balcony overlooking the ship’s wake. You do pay for the view when cruising, but at least we got a nice one.
We did spend one night at the Four Points by Sheraton Galveston pre-cruise, which is a decent pre-cruise hotel.
As for our ports, we planned to take things pretty easy. We needed “baby friendly” tours in Cozumel and Grand Cayman, which meant keeping the days short. My mom graciously offered to babysit for us on our Jamaica day, so my wife and I took a longer tour.
How We Booked This Cruise
I booked this cruise the same way I’ve booked all my cruises since 2012 – cruise.com. Think of them like an OTA for cruises. Cruises are one form of travel where it makes sense to use a travel agent, as they can often get you goodies you can’t get on your own. For example, on-board credits, welcome amenities, etc. We received a $50 credit, plus a few coupons like discounts on wine by the glass. Yes, I realize a brick-and-mortar agent could have done better. But I like to reward good customer service with loyalty. Cruise.com has given us that over the years.
Note that if you have the Amex Platinum card, it offers the Cruise Privileges Program. The program offers on-board credits of $100-300, depending on the cruise line and stateroom type. You also receive double Membership Rewards points on the cruise fare, and “exclusive amenities”. Keep in mind, however, that the Plat lacks comprehensive travel insurance like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Citi Prestige. You really don’t want to risk flushing cruise fare, so I highly recommend travel insurance. When using Cruise Privileges, do the math and see if the extra goodies makes up for having to buy insurance.
I’ll save the details for the actual posts, but in general, I found this cruise a mixed bag. There were some good things, some not so great, and cruising with a 16-month old brought some challenges. We expected most, but were surprised by a few. Anyway, I will say we enjoyed this cruise more than James appears to enjoy his. I expect to knock this series out over the next few weeks. so stay tuned for the good stuff.