This post kicks off my review of our cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas. Because of the large volume of information needed to review a week-long cruise, I decided to break this up into several pieces. In this first installment, I take an in-depth look at the ship and on-board activities. Also, I’ll briefly cover the experience boarding and disembarking the ship in Galveston. Please click here for the introductory post and index.
Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas – The Basics
Make no mistake. The Liberty of the Seas is huge. Just take a look at the ship in the waters off of Grand Cayman.
While the “Freedom Class” Liberty holds a maximum of 4,960 passengers, it isn’t the largest in Royal Caribbean’s collection. That title belongs to the Oasis Class ships, which can carry an astounding 6,296 passengers and crew. Also, the Liberty is a fairly new ship. It entered service in May, 2007. For now, the Liberty sails exclusively out of Galveston
As for the ship’s layout, it features 15 decks, though only 14 (2-15) are open to the public. You only see Deck 1 when embarking and disembarking the ship. Decks 2 and 3, 6-10, and 12 include passenger cabins, while the rest contain public areas. Detailing every single public area on the ship would take too much time. So, I’ll only focus on the most important.
The ship’s scheduled departure time was 4:30, with check-in closing at 3. For those new to cruising, all passengers must attend a disaster drill prior to sailaway. Thus, all passengers must check-in 90 minutes prior to sailing. Though boarding usually starts between 10:30 and 11, I usually try to avoid getting there too early. Check-in lines are usually terrible, as everyone tries to rush the buffet to get the party started. Kind of like hyenas on a kill.
We made it to the port around 1:30 to find only short lines. A porter quickly met us to take our luggage, and we headed inside to clear security, check-in and collect our stateroom keys. Security mostly looks for contraband, i.e. liquor. Beware, though, that they tend to bark at people to hurry up if you wait too long to move to the check-in area. RCCL does provide priority check-in lines for frequent cruisers and suite guests. However, with only a handful of people in line, it only took a few minutes either way. We made it onboard in less than 30 minutes, even with baby making it slow going. Time to get the party started!
Good news – it appeared baby approved of the ship.
Before getting into ship highlights, I confess I did far less on board than I usually do. One, having the baby made things more challenging, even with help from mom. But more than that, I really just wanted to veg out on this cruise. That meant a lot of time sitting on our balcony. So I apologize if I skipped something you hoped to read about.
The Royal Promenade
I’ll start the ship tour with its showcase feature – The Royal Promenade on Deck 5. Also, remember your seafaring terms to locate things on the ship: forward (front), aft (rear), port (left, when facing forward) and starboard (right).
Pretty much every cruise ship has something similar to the Royal Promenade. Think of a giant atrium filled with shops.
In addition to the collection of (overpriced) shops, the Promenade featured a giant Texas flag. Talk about playing up to the home crowd! If the buffet or dining room fare don’t appeal to you, there are also several eateries here, such as a coffee shop and pizza parlor. Note that additional charges may apply. Pizza, ice cream, and pastries are free; Starbucks drinks and adult beverages cost extra.
At the aft end of the Promenade, with Christmas approaching, RCCL put up a large Christmas tree. Also note the model ship with a directory of what’s on each deck. You can find these at the stairs and elevator banks of each deck, in case you get lost.
At the forward end, don’t miss the grand spiral staircase, which stretches from Deck 3 to Deck 5. If you need to visit Guest Services, you’ll find it next to the staircase.
Our son had a love-hate relationship with the Promenade. On the one hand, he loved the lights and the Christmas tree, so we spent a lot of time here. On the other hand, it gets really crowded. Like mass of humanity crowded. So that freaked him out a little.
The Platinum Theater
The ship’s main entertainment venue, the massive Platinum Theater occupies three decks (2 through 4) at the forward end. Guests access the theater from Decks 3 and 4. However, the deck 3 entrance often closes when the ice rink is in use. The theater hosts many events, including evening shows, port talks, etc. Some shore excursions also meet here before departing the ship.
“Studio B” Ice Rink
I wish I’d gotten a photo of this, but unfortunately I forgot. The Liberty of the Seas has a real ice rink on Deck 3 forward, a feature found on several RCCL ships. On sea days, you can actually try your luck at ice skating – and it’s free! Maximum capacity is 50 passengers at a time, and the ship offers 50-minute sessions roughly every 2 hours. RCCL also showcased two figure skating performances during our sailing, and my mom and I checked it out one evening. No, it’s not Olympic quality, but a neat extra unique to Royal Caribbean.
Cheesy name, yes, but “Casino Royale” is the name of the ship’s on-board casino, Deck 4 mid-ship. I managed to not spend a single minute playing at the casino. Guess having a kid makes you old and washed up really quick. Anyway, the casino has a variety of slots and table games, with reasonable minimums at the tables. They even have a few interesting games like single-deck blackjack. Just remember to bring enough cash, lest you enjoy getting fleeced by the ship’s ATM.
The Art Gallery
While hardly an art expert, I do enjoy looking at it sometimes. Like many cruise ships, the Liberty has an on-board art gallery where you can both browse and buy. More importantly, its location right outside the dining room on Deck 3 aft made it a good spot to distract Ashok when he got unruly at dinner.
One particular painting (a cat, fittingly) caught my son’s eye. I briefly thought about buying it – but the gallery staff had a lot trouble answering questions about it. They promised to send some information to my stateroom, but never did. I passed, and buyer beware if you consider purchasing something.
Bars and Lounges
A cruise ship isn’t a cruise ship without way too many bars and lounges. The Liberty is no different, with several spots of varying sizes. You can try the Boleros Lounge on Deck 4 aft, by the dining room.
Or perhaps the R Bar on Deck 5, just off the Promenade.
I thought the Schooner Bar, just forward of the casino on Deck 4, featured the most interesting design. As the name suggests, it’s rigged up like a sailboat.
Meanwhile, on Deck 5 forward is the Star Lounge, the largest of the ship’s lounges. In addition to a place to grab a drink, several on-board talks occur here. This includes the “crew meet and great” I walked in on.
Way up on Deck 14 forward, “Olive or Twist” doubles as a lounge during the day, and the ship’s nightclub at night. (Yes, they move the chairs.)
The Outdoor Promenade Deck
One of my favorite activities on a cruise ship is walking around the outdoor “promenade deck”. On the Liberty, the promenade is on Deck 4, except for a short step up to Deck 5 at the forward end of the ship. The promenade deck is fully covered, with lounge chairs throughout. If you want to relax, but want something quieter than the pool area, this is the place for you.
A walking path extends the entire way around the ship, with one lap measuring about 1/3 mile if I recall. There are a few shuffleboard stations throughout; take care not to mess up someone’s game if walking or jogging. You and the family can enjoy gazing out at the sea along the way.
The Pool Deck
Of course, no cruise ship can exist without a massive pool deck. The Liberty of the Seas doesn’t disappoint. The ship provides separate pool areas for kids and adults, both on Deck 11. At the aft is the kiddie pool and splash park. There are even separate hot tubs for the parents to relax while the kids burn off energy on the slides. Note: these hot tubs close at 7 pm.
Forward is the adults pool area. The pool is on Deck 11, but the seating area extends up to Deck 12, where I took these photos. You’ll find three more hut tubs in this area. At the center of the pool is a giant TV. RCCL wisely uses this to broadcast movies and sporting events throughout the day. I have to say, I really enjoyed relaxing in one of the tubs while catching football on the big screen. And of course, enjoy more booze (for a fee) at the pool bar.
As the second photo shows, the hot tubs do get crowded. If you don’t mind a late soak, things usually start clearing out about 9:30 pm. Or, get there really early. The tubs typically open at 7 am, I believe. In general, I have to say the pool seems kind of small for a ship that holds nearly 5,000 people. Cool weather kept the crowds manageable, but I can imagine the overcrowding on a sunny day.
Not interested in getting wet? The ship has more deck chairs up on Deck 12 for plain-old Vitamin Sea. Or, take a stroll along the walking/jogging track, which circles the deck.
The Sports Deck
The sports deck takes up both of the disjointed ends of Deck 13. The forward end features the mini golf course. I REALLY wished I’d paid attention and known about this, because I probably would have spent lots of time here. Oh well. The aft end includes the two big Royal Caribbean “adventure” attractions. These are the rock climbing wall, and the “Flowrider” surfing simulator. I took these photos on a rainy afternoon, though a couple of brave folks wanted to climb the wall. Both seem like good fun, not to mention free. (I took this photo from the sports court, where you can play basketball, volleyball, etc.)
Don’t feel like getting active, but want to get out of your stateroom? Check out the arcade on Deck 12 aft! Enjoy a variety of old-style arcade games, as well as midway games like Skee Ball. Unfortunately, you do have to pay for the privilege.
Next to the arcade is Johnny Rockets, if you fancy a burger or a milkshake (fee applies). As the arcade suggests, this area also houses the kids’ daycare. Should you want to spend some time kid free, you can drop your kids here for a few hours, or all day. Various activities are provided.
Thanks to my “Gold” status with Royal Caribbean, we received priority disembarkation, with our departure scheduled for 9 am. (To avoid a mass of humanity, cruise ships deboard in groups over about a 2 hour period.) Nicely, the process went ahead of schedule, and our group was called about 10 minutes early. Since my son traveled on a birth certificate rather than a passport, I braced for some hassle. But ICE at the Port of Galveston was – dare I say – friendly and helpful. We made it back to our shuttle to the parking lot before 9:30. About as painless as I could ask for.
One thing to be aware of. The state of Texas levies a state liquor tax on all imported booze, even if purchased federal duty free. And the TABC means business. They have officers stationed outside customs to collect. The tax is something like $3.50 a bottle. Don’t even think about not paying.
Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas – Ship and Activities Final Thoughts
Purely in terms of the ship, the “Freedom Class” Liberty is a nice boat. RCCL does a pretty good job with unique activities, like the rock wall, skating rink, surfing simulation, etc. The one show I attended, the figure skating show, was nicely done as well. On the other hand – the ship’s just too darned big. Number one, it’s difficult to actually sample everything the ship offers. But also, some of the common areas get really crowded. The Promenade always seemed to be packed, and the pool, though manageable due to cool weather, seems small for the ship’s capacity. In general, I think I prefer a slightly smaller ship, like the Nowegian Dawn. Or even RCCL’s own Enchantment of the Seas.
Next, I take a look at our stateroom, our dining experience, and service aboard the ship.