Before we get going, I want to start things off by introducing myself...
I'm Jim Zimmerlin (everyone calls me Jim Zim) and I always cruise with my wife, Kellyn. (Pronunciation tip: it rhymes with Helen.) We're from Grover Beach, California... a little beach town on the California coast about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. We've been cruising since 1996, and this was our 36th cruise overall... and our fifth with Royal Caribbean.
As a hobby, I shoot videos for YouTube and several of them have gone viral. My two most-watched YouTube videos have been about cruise ship water slides (nearly 90 million views between the two!) so when I heard that Royal Caribbean would be adding a unique new type of waterslide to Liberty Of The Seas, I knew I had to check it out and shoot some video of it.
The Tidal Wave Waterslide
This amazing new water slide is unlike any other water slide you'll find on a cruise ship. Norwegian and Carnival are big on waterslides, but they've got nothing like this! It's interesting that Royal Caribbean never showed any interest in waterslides until just recently. None of their ships have ever had water slides until just in the last year or so. But now, their newest ships feature waterslides... and they're even going back and retrofitting some of their older ships with them. With the installation of this very unusual type of water slide during a dry dock in January of 2016, Royal Caribbean has really raised the bar in the competition to have the best water slides at sea.
The Tidal Wave is a 2-person rafting ride that starts gentle, but features big thrills
Still pictures of the Tidal Wave water slide don't really do it justice.
For me to really show you what's so special about this slide, you're going to need to watch this video:
To get to the start of the ride, you and your partner carry the yellow raft with you
and climb a circular staircase within the tower you see in the center of this photo:
The silver flume on the right side of the picture is the Tidal Wave water slide. The orange and green tubes on the left are the Cyclone and Typhoon water slides... which are traditional spiral-type waterslides like other cruise ships have had for many years. None of these three slides existed on Liberty Of The Seas until the ship was refurbished in January of 2016.
Here's a picture I took in Cozumel of Liberty Of The Seas (on the right) docked next to her sister ship, Freedom Of The Seas. Notice how Freedom Of The Seas does not have waterslides. Although these two sisters were nearly identical when originally built, Liberty Of The Seas is quite a bit different now after the recent refurbishments.
As you saw in the video, the Tidal Wave slide is very different from a traditional water slide... with a steep drop that allows you to build up a lot of speed before you go up a steep incline section. As you near the top of the incline, gravity finally wins and you fall backwards to to a landing area where your raft finally runs out of speed and comes to a gentle stop. It's a quick ride, but very thrilling!
A few things to point out about the Tidal Wave slide:
It tends to be less busy before noon, and more busy after noon. There can be a fairly large line for a fairly short ride in the afternoons. I suggest you ride in the mornings.
It is a two-person ride. You can not ride all by yourself. If you don't have someone to ride with you, a good technique is to stand near the ride exit and ask couples who are exiting the ride if either one of them wants to ride again. If you explain that you need someone to ride with, it's usually not that hard to find someone willing to ride with you.
There is no charge to ride on the Tidal Wave (or the Cyclone & Typhoon water slides, for that matter).
There are some weight and height restrictions, as indicated on this sign posted at the ride entrance:
As I mentioned in the video, there were some unexpected challenges when Royal Caribbean installed the slide in January of 2016. After installation, they started to do some testing and realized that there were some safety issues. Riders that weighed too little were not getting enough speed on the downhill section to successfully make it over to the landing area at the end of the ride. Riders that weighed too much were getting so much speed going that they were bumping in to the metal barrier at the top of the uphill section. This is when Royal Caribbean and the ride's designers started to realize that they were going to have to impose weight restrictions on the riders. As you can see in the photo above, the original signage that was installed in January did not have anything on it about weight restrictions. That information was pasted on to the sign later.
It took Royal Caribbean about five months after the initial installation of the Tidal Wave slide to make everything right so that passengers could safely use the slide. I think that much of that time was due to the need to make a physical modification to the slide itself in the landing area. They had to re-design a portion of the landing area, have the metal fabricated, have the new piece transported to the ship, and then they had to install it and do testing. That's how they ended up with a five-month delay from the original installation until the ride actually opened for passenger use. Our cruise on Liberty Of The Seas was approximately three weeks after the slide finally opened for use.
Liberty Of The Seas is currently the only cruise ship in the entire world with this type of water slide! There are, of course, water parks on land that have this type of water slide... but no one has ever put one on a cruise ship until now. Disney's "Aqua Duck" water ride uses a two-person raft like the Tidal Wave does, but the Aqua Duck is basically a flat ride without any big downhill or uphill sections. It's very tame compared to the Tidal Wave. The Tidal Wave is a serious thrill ride... right up there with Carnival's Green Thunder waterslide and Norwegian's Free Fall slides in the competition for the most thrilling waterslide at sea!
Of course, water slides aren't the only fun attraction onboard Liberty Of The Seas. Another fun feature of the ship is the Flowrider surfing simulator...
All the newest Royal Caribbean ships have Flowriders... but you won't find them on any other cruise line. I'm too old and out of shape for the Flowrider, but I do enjoy watching other people trying to learn the technique. There are always some very spectacular fails!
The Flowrider and the three water slides are located together at the aft end of the ship, on deck 13. In the center of the ship, on deck 11, you'll find another fun area: the always-popular main swimming pool. Two main swimming pools, actually, plus three Jacuzzis... open to passengers of all ages.
Notice the big TV screen by the main pools. When I shot that photo they had sports on the big screen. The content varies throughout the day. At night, they play full-length movies. Most of the time, it's very crowded out here. This shot was taken fairly late in the afternoon, after the crowds had started to thin out.
Not too far from the main pool area is a new children's water play area that was added to the ship during the January 2016 dry dock. Kids in the under-10 age group seem to really love this.
Royal Caribbean made a really smart design choice when they created this area. Look on the left side of the photo, just beyond the kids: you can barely see a Jacuzzi there in the kid's water play area. (There's actually a second Jacuzzi just out of view of the photo, too.) This was such a great idea! Parents are able to relax in those two Jacuzzis while they supervise their children playing in the water park. Also, notice a Royal Caribbean employee (in black clothing) who was also watching over the area.
At the top right of that previous photo you can see the big glass windows of the "Olive Or Twist" lounge, which has a great view of this area from above. Here's a night shot from inside the "Olive Or Twist" lounge:
Back to swimming pools...
In the children's aqua park, there's a shallow swimming pool that's perfect for younger kids...
It's been a LONG time since I was a kid, so my favorite pool is the adults-only "Solarium" pool. It's nowhere near as awesome as the Solarium on Royal Caribbean's Quantum-class ships... but it's a nice pool with a much more peaceful atmosphere than the two main pools with all the kids and the party music. Notice the bar stools under the bridge... a nice shady conversation spot.
One very strange design choice was that they made the Solarium swimming pool so deep... nearly 7 feet! This makes it VERY tricky to spend any time in the center of the pool... as you can only tread water for so long before you get tired. Notice how people congregate at the bar stools or around the edges of the pool. They would have been much smarter to make this pool about 5 feet deep, so people could stand anywhere in the pool and still have their heads above water.
Nonetheless, the Solarium pool was my favorite hangout on a hot day...
Another place I really enjoy spending time on this class of ships (and on the Oasis class, too) is in the two adults-only Jacuzzis that are on either side of the Solarium pool...
As you can see in the next photo, these Jacuzzis are cantilevered over the sides of the ship... which gives them a spectacular view out those glass windows.
These adults-only Jacuzzis, as well as the adults-only Solarium pool (as well as all the other pools and Jacuzzis, for that matter) get very crowded during the afternoon. VERY crowded! My best piece of advice for you, after 36 cruises, is to Zig when everyone else Zags. Everyone is at the pool and in the Jacuzzis at 2 PM. You need to find something else to do at 2 PM. Take a nap. Have sex in your cabin. Read a book on your balcony.... anything but try to be out on the main deck with all the other passengers. During the first few sea days, people are getting tired of being in the sun by 5 PM and the pools and Jacuzzis really start to empty out. Later in the week, it starts to thin out about 4 PM. THAT'S when you should go use the pool or Jacuzzi. Or very early in the morning. Whatever everybody else is doing right now, do that some other time. Zig when they Zag. It will really help you not go crazy when you're on a mega cruise ship with thousands of other passengers.
Our Cabin: 7658
We've stayed in all sorts of different cabins during our 36 cruises... everything from the cheapest interior cabins to some very expensive suites. Royal Caribbean suites are VERY pricey, so for this cruise we elected to stay in a regular balcony cabin. Our stateroom number was 7658.
I chose this particular cabin because:
It is near the rear elevators, but not so close that we would hear noises from them.
The deck above is passengers cabins, as is the deck below. There are passenger cabins across the hallway, too. Therefore, it isn't a very noisy location.
It is an easy walk down two flights of stairs to the Royal Promenade, and an easy elevator ride up to the Windjammer buffet restaurant or to the water slides.
Here's a look at the desk area...
There are two 110-volt AC outlets at the desk.
A refrigerator is hidden in the cabinet under the ice bucket.
This particular cabin had a very generously-sized balcony.
I doubt that all the balconies on Liberty Of The Seas are that large... but I don't really know. Maybe they are. Compared to a standard balcony on Carnival, this definitely had some extra room. On Carnival, you'd have to book what they call an "extended balcony" to get this much space on the balcony.
Here's a look at the bathroom:
A few things to point out in this picture:
The mirror on the right side opens up to reveal some hidden storage space behind it. Also, in the reflection in that right side mirror, note the towel hanging from the door. I really like that Royal Caribbean has little towel hooks sewn in to each of their bath towels so you can easily hang them on the bathroom door rather than putting a wet towel on a towel rack next to your dry towels. Also, notice that there is some storage space under the sink.
Here's the shower...
Notice a trick I use when I cruise: I bring along a mirror with suction cups on the back so I can stick it on to the wall of the shower. It makes it easy to shave in the shower. Those mirrors with suction cups on the back are available at WalMart, near where bath towels are sold.
Also notice that the shower head is on a vertical rail so that the height of the shower head can be easily adjusted. This is great when a six-foot-tall guy shares a cabin with a five-foot-tall woman. It's easy for each of them to adjust the height of the shower head to their preference.
Speaking of sharing...
These showers are fairly small, but not as uncomfortably small as the showers we've experienced on our three Princess cruises. In our Princess cabins, the shower was really too small for even one adult. In our Liberty Of The Seas bathroom, my wife and I were actually able to share a shower one day. It was tight, but it was do-able. I like that this shower has a glass shower door, rather than using a shower curtain like a lot of cruise ship showers do.
Sabor, the new Mexican Restaurant
On our very first night onboard, we had dinner at "Sabor"... the new Mexican restaurant that was added as part of the January 2016 refurbishment. I've noticed that they've been adding Sabor to a lot of the ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet, and this was our first chance to try one out.
The first thing they bring to you is nice freshly-made chips:
After that I had some Tortilla Soup:
I've had tortilla soup at quite a few different Mexican restaurants over the years.
This was tasty, but totally different than the tortilla soup I've had at other restaurants.
It makes me curious what the nationality of the cooks at Sabor is.
I'd have to guess that they are probably not from Mexico.
Here's the entrée that Kellyn ordered:
And here is the dessert tray they brought out at the end:
Since I had never been to Sabor before, I didn't know what to expect... and I made a bad assumption about something. I assumed that I should go fairly easy on the appetizers and the soup so that I had plenty of room for a nice big entrée. But it turned out that the entrées were fairly small. We ended up going back to Sabor for a second meal later in the week (lunch this time, rather than dinner) and it worked out better because I knew the entrée would be somewhat small so I didn't hold back on the appetizers this time.
I liked Sabor at lunch better than at dinner time, for two reasons. First, it's cheaper at lunch. $50 per couple seemed like an awful lot to pay for dinner at Sabor, considering that the price of feeding us for 7 days was already built in to the base price of the cruise. It's only $40 per couple for lunch. Second, I preferred the lunch menu over the dinner menu. There's a Chimichanga available on the lunch menu, but not on the dinner menu... and I like Chimichangas a lot.
Be aware that your waiter will gladly bring you seconds of anything you want, even your main entrée. So, if there's any item that you especially like, feel free to ask for seconds.
Here's a photo of the entrance to Sabor...
The colorful exterior of Sabor and the playful nature of the pinatas hanging from the ceiling are totally at odds with the dark earth tones and the quiet atmosphere inside the restaurant. Inside it's quiet and classy. The outside screams "fun party inside!" to me.
On Achieving Platinum Status with RCI...
Prior to this cruise, we had spent 33 days at sea with Royal Caribbean, and that meant that beginning with this cruise we would be at the Platinum level in their loyalty program.
If nothing else, I can now brag that I've cruised so much that I'm Platinum with two different cruise lines!
There's really not a whole lot of (worthwhile) perks that come with Royal Caribbean's Platinum status... you have to achieve Diamond status to get the really good perks... but there are two Platinum perks that are valuable to me. The first one is priority boarding... and there was good news and bad news for us about this as we boarded the ship in Galveston.
The bad news was that although the folks at Royal Caribbean headquarters knew I had achieved Platinum status (it correctly shows me as Platinum when I log in to RoyalCarribean.com) my boarding pass incorrectly showed me as being in the lowest level of their loyalty program. So, we didn't get priority boarding... one of only two Platinum perks that were worth anything to me. But the good news is that the boarding process in Galveston was very smooth and we got on the ship fairly quickly even without priority boarding. We arrived at the cruise terminal at 10:30 and got through the entire check-in process fairly quickly and easily... and were onboard the ship somewhere pretty close to 11 AM.
The other Platinum-level perk that's worth something to me is an invitation to what Royal Caribbean calls their "top-tier" event. (What Carnival would call their "VIFP Party".) Luckily, we got our Platinum status sorted out with the staff onboard the ship by the time the Top Tier event rolled around... so we did indeed get an invitation to the party. This is basically a party for just a few hundred passengers on the ship... the most "loyal to Royal"... the ones who had sailed with Royal Caribbean more than a few times before. You have to have had at least 30 previous days at sea with Royal Caribbean to score an invitation to the party.
The Top Tier event features free drinks, some nice entertainment, and speeches from some of the ship's upper-management, including the Captain...
Captain James MacDonald
The Captain of the Liberty Of The Seas is an interesting guy. Since I've cruised a lot with Carnival, where almost every Captain is Italian, it was a treat for me to have a Captain whose hometown is Tampa, Florida. He's very accessible... I actually ran in to him one day out by the swimming pools and chatted with him for a few minutes... and since he's from Florida, he's easy to understand as he speaks with no accent. At least, to my ears, there was no accent! Someone from outside the U.S. would have a different point of view.
The ship's band played at the Top Tier party, and they brought in two extremely talented vocalists from the ship's big production shows... who did a darned good job of keeping us entertained with what I would describe as a "lounge act". I liked it.
I'll pass along one tip to anyone who may someday attend a Top Tier party...
While the wait staff walks around the room offering free champagne, wine, and rum punch to the guests, feel free to ask for the drink of your choice rather than just accepting what they happen to have on their tray already. Since we had never been at a top tier event before, my wife and I weren't sure what they'd say if we asked them to bring us something special... but the wait staff was totally willing to fulfill our special request for drinks.
So, all in all, the Top Tier event was a big hit for us. Nicely done, Royal Caribbean... and thank you for recognizing our loyalty.
Royal Caribbean's Freedom-Class
The Freedom-class of ships in Royal Caribbean's fleet... Freedom Of The Seas, Liberty Of The Seas, and Independence Of The Seas... made their debut about ten years ago, and at that time they were the largest cruise ships in the world. Of course, since then Royal Caribbean has come out with the Oasis class and the Quantum class... but there's still a lot to like about the Freedom class, and Royal Caribbean has been good about maintaining and renovating these ships.
One of the things I really like about the Freedom class is that passengers have access to the area at the front of the ship. On most cruise ships, this would be a crew-only area... but on the Freedom-class ships, passengers have full access. It's an especially great place to be when the ship is pulling in to a port. Great view!
This next picture gives you a slightly different view of that area at the front of the ship
where you can literally stand at the very tip of the bow and do the "I'm the king of the world!" thing.
Notice the "bulbous bow"... the blue thing under the water. The bulbous bow modifies the way the water flows around the hull, reducing drag and thus increasing speed, range, fuel efficiency, and stability. Another interesting thing that's visible in that last photo is the mooring deck. That's a crew-only area where those blue mooring lines are stored when the ship is not tied up to the dock. Let's take a closer look in to that open hatch and see what we can see inside the mooring deck...
I find that photo interesting! I didn't really realize that the forward mooring deck doubled as a crew break room. I guess that shouldn't have surprised me because I did know that in years past, the rear mooring decks were often used by the crew as a place to smoke cigarettes. In fact, there have been several bad cruise ship fires that started in the aft mooring decks... quite possibly as a result of discarded cigarette butts. For example, the 2013 Grandeur Of The Seas fire and the 1998 Carnival Ecstasy fire. I doubt they allow smoking in the mooring decks any more!
Moving on to happier things...
A nice feature of many Royal Caribbean ships, including all three in the Freedom-class, is the Royal Promenade... which is kind of like a shopping mall running down the central interior of the ship. This is where you find several bars, restaurants, and shops. My favorite Royal Promenade tenant on the Liberty Of the Seas is Ben & Jerry's ice cream!
Notice that looking out on to the Royal Promenade are quite a few Promenade-facing staterooms. I'd personally never book one of those cabins... I prefer a balcony that looks out on to the ocean... but to each his own.
One of the things that would worry me about a cabin with a window facing the Promenade is that it can get a little noisy in the Promenade at times. For example, they do a big party in the Promenade that's called "Dancin' In The Streets"... featuring a stream of 70's disco music. I would think that would be a little noisy in those Promenade-facing cabins. But I guess the trick is to get out and join the party, not try to go to bed early on that particular night!
In that photo above, the performer on the left, in the orange shirt, was one of the crew working the Tidal Wave slide during the daytime hours. I didn't catch his name, but he was very friendly and accommodating to me as I hung around the Tidal Wave slide each day, shooting video. I appreciated the kindness of all the crew working the Tidal Wave... they gave me full access, which I appreciated.
I mentioned the shops within the Royal Promenade. Here's a tip for you: don't purchase any merchandise until the last sea-day of the cruise. That's when the bargains happen.
To be completely truthful, after 36 cruises, my wife is starting to lose her enthusiasm for cruising. I'm not! But it's getting harder and harder to talk her in to letting me book a cruise. One of the issues is that when we're away from home, she misses her Cocker Spaniel, whose name is Morgan. You can see the delight on her face when we walked through the Royal Promenade on the first day of our cruise and found out that the Liberty Of The Seas has their own Morgan!
Speaking of dogs, each of the Royal Caribbean ships we've sailed on has had a whimsical piece of animal artwork onboard. On Anthem Of The Seas it was a giant giraffe named Gigi. On Allure Of The Seas it was a series of wooden merry-go-round horses. And on Independence Of The Seas it was a big red dog looking out over the Royal Promenade. I was surprised to see that they had the same big red dog on Liberty Of The Seas. I would have expected them to come up with something unique for each of the Freedom-class sister ships. I guess not.
The big red dog was actually very helpful to us. It's very easy to get turned around and to lose your sense of direction on a cruise ship. Sometimes you have trouble knowing whether you're heading to the front or the back of the ship, or whether you're on the left or the right side of the ship. Our cabin was on the left side of the ship, and the big red dog was near the glass elevators on the left side of the ship... so we used him as a reference point. As we rode the elevators towards our floor, we would look out and find the big red dog to help us visualize which side of the ship to walk towards.
Our cruise was during the week of the 4th of July... and we had a sea-day on the actual 4th. Storing fireworks on a cruise ship is very risky... and only one cruise line does it anymore: Disney. Norwegian used to do it, but they eventually stopped out of safety concerns. Royal Caribbean has never done fireworks onboard their ships, as far as I know. So, it was the only 4th of July I can remember where I didn't see or hear fireworks of some kind. They did have a gigantic flag cake, though!
Seeing that cake actually made me laugh because several years ago I was on the Norwegian Getaway and I thought it was so great that they had made a big sheet cake with an American flag on it. That flag sheet cake on the Getaway was probably about 18 inches wide. Royal Caribbean really outdid them with this one!
Another cool feature of the Freedom-class ships is a venue called "Studio B". It's a multi-purpose arena with an area in the middle that can either be an ice skating rink, or a stage. All around the outside is comfortable seating all sloping up from the floor... so just about every seat has a good view. Some days "Studio B" is configured for ice skating... either passenger ice skating, or a professional ice skating show. On other days, "Studio B" makes a great venue for audience-participation game shows such as Quest or the Battle Of The Sexes.
I laughed because one night the Cruise Director did a big long promotional announcement about the Battle Of The Sexes and he basically said that the women ALWAYS win the game... yet the night I attended, the men pretty much dominated the whole thing. Perhaps his announcement is just a way to boost the attendance and get both genders fired up for it... but on this particular night the men won the Battle Of The Sexes with a pretty comfortable margin.
I had never actually seen the Battle Of The Sexes game show on any of my previous cruises... so it was kind of a treat to discover something new on my 36th cruise. That doesn't happen very often anymore!
Jim Zim's Standard Cruise Ship Breakfast
I guess this is as good a place as any for me to talk about my favorite meal of the day: breakfast!
Kellyn is sweet and gets up early with me every day (4:30 AM!) to grill up a full breakfast for me. It gets my day off to a good start. On a cruise, it's her week off. Here's my typical cruise ship breakfast...
Note the Lawry's seasoned salt. I bring that from home. It makes eggs and potatoes taste so much better!
On Allure Of The Seas a few years ago, I had trouble getting a good breakfast. I tried every different breakfast venue on Allure that offered omelets, and not one of them could put together a perfect combination of omelet, potatoes, croissant, bacon, and orange juice. Some venues had good omelets but lousy potatoes, some had good potatoes but lousy omelets. I never did get a perfect breakfast on that ship! I'm pleased to report, however, that I had no such problem on Liberty Of The Seas. In fact, I was pleased with my breakfasts on all seven days. My compliments to whoever is the food & beverage manager on Liberty Of The Seas.
Saturday Night Fever
The big production show on Liberty Of The Seas was "Saturday Night Fever". I was a DJ during the 1970s and still listen to disco music to this day... so I thought I would really like this show. However, it was no Mama Mia.
Mama Mia, as you may know, was a hugely successful Broadway show which spawned a very successful movie... all based on the music of 70s SuperGroup, ABBA. I am a huge Mama Mia fan, and can't wait to see the stage version on Allure Of The Seas next year. I totally loved the movie... which is probably a weird thing to hear from a guy, since Mama Mia is practically the poster child for "chick flicks". But remember, I was a DJ in the 70s... so I totally love all the music from that era.
Anyway, the thing about Mama Mia is that the stage show (and the movie) were very faithful to the original songs from the 70s. The music is done in exactly the same style, in a very faithful re-creation. If you loved those ABBA songs from the 70s, you loved the movie and the stage show.
My problem with the stage version of Saturday Night Fever (based on the hugely successful album by the Bee Gees) was that they were not always faithful to the original songs. In fact, they did some of the songs as ballads! It wasn't a bad way to spend an hour, but I wasn't totally thrilled by Saturday Night Fever, the stage show... which I anticipated I would love.
Our first port of call was the island of Roatan, which is part of Honduras. A funny thing happened shortly after we docked at Roatan!
We booked a shore excursion to an all-inclusive beach resort, but it didn't start until a few hours after the ship docked. So, on that particular morning I was sitting at the desk in our cabin, working on my computer, and we had the door to the balcony open to let some warm air in. As I was sitting there at the computer, all of a sudden I heard a whole bunch of people screaming a terrifying scream. It reminded me of the screaming at the end of the movie Titanic, when the ship has capsized and all the people are adrift in freezing cold water.
Hearing screams like that coming in from outside was certainly unusual, so I headed over to the balcony to see what was going on outside. On the dock, people had been gathering to meet up for their shore excursions and all of a sudden a thunderstorm rolled in and it had started to pour! No one had anticipated the rain since it had been 90 degrees and sunny just about every day of the cruise so far... so almost no one had any rain gear with them. And it wasn't just raining a little... it was POURING! All they had to protect themselves from the rain was beach towels.
Kellyn and I watched this with some amusement from the comfort of our balcony, and with the knowledge that we ALWAYS bring an umbrella along on shore excursions... because you just never know when one of those Caribbean thunderstorms is going to roll through. As the morning went on, skies started to clear up a bit... and it looked like Kellyn and I wouldn't get rained on when we had to meet up on the pier for our shore excursion.
On this particular morning, though, Kellyn had some irrational fear that we were going to be late in meeting up with our group for our shore excursion. Maybe it wasn't so irrational, actually... there was an incident several cruises ago where we were confused about our meeting time and we actually totally missed a shore excursion we had paid for. So on this particular day, she very strongly insisted that we leave our cabin super-early in case we got delayed by long lines getting off the ship. (There was a cruise a year or two ago where the disembarkation at one port was completely fouled up and we had to wait in a giant line for what seemed like 20 minutes to get off the ship.)
Our excursion was scheduled for 11 AM, but they asked us to meet on the pier at 10:45 AM. About 10:15, Kellyn started insisting that we leave immediately, and I was only able to fend her off until about 10:25. At that point, we headed out of our cabin and breezed right off the ship in a matter of about two minutes. And as soon as we set foot on the pier, the rain clouds opened up once again! I'm a patient guy and I don't explode in those kinds of situations, so I didn't say a whole lot to Kellyn about the fact that if I had been calling the shots, we would have still been sitting in the comfort of our cabin for about 15 more minutes. And of course, 15 minutes later, the clouds went away and it went on to become a beautiful day, as you can see from this shot I took a little later when we finally reached our destination for the day: the Mayan Princess all-inclusive resort.
We had a nice day with perfect weather and warm ocean water to swim in. They had a buffet lunch, and an open bar. It was a pretty great way to spend the day.
One cool thing I got to see on the beach that day in Roatan was this guy and his magical water-jet shoes:
I'm not sure what those things are really called. I'm sticking with "water jet shoes". It was fun to watch the guy try to stay upright. He had to fight hard to stay balanced. It looked really unstable! In case you're wondering, the jet action of the water was provided by a long hose connected to that jet ski over on the left. A few people have also asked me about that thing the three kids are sitting on in the foreground of the picture. That's just a floating platform that you can swim out to.
Kellyn and I have been to Belize many times before, and it's actually one of our least-favorite places in the Caribbean. So, we decided to stay onboard the ship for most of the day, except for a brief trip ashore for lunch. There's a big barrier reef that prevents cruise ships from being able to dock in Belize, so they have to anchor off shore and then tender the passengers ashore. We waited several hours to avoid the early rush for the tenders, and then headed ashore for lunch at one of the restaurants right there at the pier where the tenders drop the passengers.
There were two restaurants there at the tender pier. We checked out the menus at both of them, and opted to eat at the one called "Wet Lizard". We both ordered cocktails... and I ordered a plate of nachos and Kellyn ordered fish tacos. They made the nachos right away and brought them out to me, without the fish tacos. We assumed that fish tacos were just going to take a few extra moments to put together, and that they would show up soon. I began munching at the nachos. We waited and waited for Kellyn's fish tacos and by the time I finished the entire plate of nachos, the fish tacos still had not shown up! We asked for the check, and the waitress was kind enough to strike the fish tacos off the bill.
The nachos were delicious, and I totally enjoyed them, but it sure would have been nice if they had brought the damn fish tacos at the same time! I tried not to let it ruin my day... but that was easy for me, since I had a belly full of nachos. It was a little more difficult for Kellyn, who declined to eat any of the nachos since she anticipated those fish tacos were going to show up at any minute!
We weren't really fans of Belize before this cruise. It's going to be really hard to convince Kellyn to ever go back there now!
Unlike Belize, Cozumel is one of our favorite destinations in the entire world. So, we were pretty sure that our day in Cozumel would be pretty great... and we were right. We scheduled a snorkeling excursion.
There was a funny incident on our snorkeling excursion, though! I have to start with the back story...
I've been snorkeling on just about every one of our 36 cruises and I would rate my snorkeling skill level as "advanced". One of the things I've learned on all those snorkeling excursions is that a good trick to attract the fish is to take a handful of small Milk Bone brand dog biscuits and place them in the pockets of my swim suit. Over time, the ocean water breaks up those hard dog biscuits and turns them in to little bits of fish food. If you just leave them in your pockets, they soften up and slowly release little bits in to the water as you snorkel. Pretty soon, you have hundreds of little fish all around you. It's a good trick, and it has worked for me on many previous snorkeling excursions. This time, however, things didn't go quite as planned!
It turns out that the fish at this particular snorkeling location in Cozumel were very large, and very aggressive! A few minutes after jumping in to the water, those dog biscuits started disintegrating and the little bits started to leak out of my pockets. Before long, those big fish noticed what was happening, and they were all over me. They even started nipping at me! And as you can see from this picture that Kellyn shot from the boat, we were all snorkeling in a big group together.
It wasn't long before those fish whipped themselves in to a frenzy and started nipping at the other snorkelers in the group. Pretty soon I heard screaming, just like in that water scene towards the end of Titanic! Again! That's twice in one cruise!
I decided that the best thing to do was to swim back towards the boat and to empty my pockets on to the deck of the boat. It would have been suicide to empty my pockets in the water! Unfortunately, when the crew members saw me start to break away from the pack and head back towards the boat, they got worried that I was having some kind of problem. I told them I was fine. They started yelling at me to go back with the group then. They didn't want me swimming off on my own. I didn't want to explain to them that I was the reason the entire group was screaming and being attacked by fish... so I had to come up with a quick "plan B". I stuffed those dog biscuits down as deeply in to my pockets as I could, and tried to hold the pockets closed with my hands. I stuck with the group for the remainder of the snorkeling... which seemed like an awfully long time as I desperately tried not to let any food leak out of my pockets and whip the fish in to another frenzy!
Eventually, when the feeding frenzy started to calm down, I grabbed my waterproof camera and shot this video so you could see the size of the fish that were all around me...
It's too bad I didn't have the camera recording when the fish were in a full feeding frenzy. But I was too distracted by the fish onslaught to grab my camera at that point. The video would have been a lot more dramatic if I had been recording during the height of the frenzy. Unfortunately, I didn't get the camera out until after they had all calmed down. But the video does give you an idea of the size of the fish we were dealing with. I'm definitely going to be a LOT more careful about feeding fish during any future snorkeling excursions!
Later that same day, on that same excursion, another interesting thing happened... and again, we have to start with the back story.
Cruises are great for large family groups to vacation together. On our cruise, there was a very large extended family all cruising together. I don't know how many of them were on the cruise, but let's just say that the teenage girls in the family decided to go on an excursion without the men and boys in the family... and this group of teenage sisters and cousins numbered about 30 from what I could see. So, if there were that many teenage females in the group, imagine how big the group was when you counted all the adults and all the boys!
So these 30 teenage girls all went on the snorkeling excursion that we were on. (And thanks to me, all got attacked by a crazed school of fish!) As our excursion neared the end and our snorkeling boat headed back to the cruise ship dock, the crew turned on some music and encouraged people to come up to the front of the boat and dance. So, 30 teenage girls in bikinis all ran up to the front of the boat and started dancing the Macarena! It was quite a sight to see!
A still photo really doesn't do it justice, though. You need to watch this video I shot:
They were actually dancing to the Macarena... but due to copyright restrictions, I had to replace the Macarena with a royalty-free song on the video. Imagine it with the Macarena!
On a Caribbean cruise, you can always count on some beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Since this was a cruise in July, the sun came up pretty early in the morning and I have to admit that I slept through most of the sunrises! But here are a couple of good sunset photos I snapped...
And here's a photo I snapped of Kellyn at sunset...
Photography tip: the key to getting a photo like that (of a person's face, with the sunset behind them) is to manually turn your camera's flash ON. If you just try to take the photo with your camera's automatic settings, it won't work. The camera will expose for the bright sun, and the person's face will appear too dark in the photo. To get the shot, you have to force your camera's flash on.
I was hoping that Liberty Of The Seas would have the same excellent high-speed Internet access I experienced earlier this year on Anthem Of The Seas. Unfortunately, no such luck. Download speeds were about 30 times faster on Anthem Of The Seas than they were for me on Liberty Of The Seas! Upload speeds were about 10 times faster on Anthem Of The Seas than I experienced on Liberty Of The Seas. I uploaded a short video (366 megabytes) to YouTube during my cruise and it literally took HOURS for it to upload.
The Daily Cruise Compass Newsletter
And Other Interesting Things to Download
Liberty of the Seas' daily newsletter, delivered to your cabin each evening, is called the "cruise compass". Inside each edition of the cruise compass is a summary of everything happening on the ship, which Royal Caribbean calls the "daily planner". Kellyn and I don't think that's a catchy enough name, so we came up with our own name for it. Since that's where you get the scoop on everything happening throughout the ship, Kellyn and I call it "The Scooper"... a joking reference to a pooper scooper from two former Cocker Spaniel breeders.
I saved all the Scoopers from each day of the cruise, and scanned them in to one big PDF file for anyone interested in taking a look at them. It gives you a pretty good idea of exactly what happens throughout the week, when and where it happens, and it also shows all the operating hours for the various dining options. I also scanned two other documents that I thought might interest people. Click these links to view or download them:
Cruise Compass for the entire week (a.k.a. "the scooper")
Benefits for Platinum-level passengers
Shore Excursion List
One thing I'd like to point out about the Cruise Compass:
I noticed that the operating times listed for the Tidal Wave water slide were usually wrong in the Cruise Compass. Rather than going by the times listed in the cruise compass, I'd suggest you walk up to the Tidal Wave slide and look at the hours listed on a sign there. Those seemed to be the hours that the staff actually went by, not what was listed in the Cruise Compass.
Before The Cruise
Our cruise on Liberty Of The Seas began and ended in Galveston, Texas. We had cruised out of Galveston once before, and for that cruise we stayed at a hotel in Houston and then hired a driver to take us to Galveston the morning of the cruise. During that cruise out of Galveston, I noticed that there was a hotel called the Harbor House that was located right next to the cruise ship pier. I made a mental note to stay at the Harbor House hotel if we ever cruised out of Galveston again. So, this time we did.
The Harbor House hotel, located right next to the cruise ship pier in Galveston, Texas
With the cruise ships in the background, the pier in front of the Harbor
House made a great location
for me to shoot a piece of my YouTube video about the Tidal Wave water slide...
We arrived at the Harbor House on a Friday night and immediately headed to the restaurant next door for some food and drink. It was a beautiful night for an outdoor meal, and we had a nice view of the harbor.
There are at least five decent restaurants within easy walking distance of the Harbor House hotel. Just be aware that this is a prime tourist zone and nothing is inexpensive here! The next morning, I was surprised to discover that none of the restaurants near the Harbor House are open for breakfast! Lunch and dinner, only. The Harbor House serves a fairly crappy continental breakfast, and I require a much better meal than that to start the day... so Kellyn and I decided to walk to the other side of Galveston island where they had a Dennys and an IHOP. It was a 1.6 mile walk... but I didn't care. I had the whole day free, and I could certainly use the exercise. So, we headed across town. On the way, we had a little look at the old downtown section of Galveston.
The New Orleans inspired architecture of this particular Tex-Mex cantina caught my eye. The buildings in the background were more typical for the area, though.
We had a nice walk across the island to the side that faces the ocean, and enjoyed a nice breakfast at Dennys. At that hour of the morning, it was about 84 degrees outside, and very humid. By the time we got to Dennys, their air conditioning felt pretty darned good to me!
Later in the day, we made the trip over to that side of the island one more time in order to check out Galveston's "Pleasure Pier" and to have dinner over there. For our second trip across Galveston island, we cheated and used the hotel's free shuttle service. One 3+ mile round-trip walk in warm temperatures and high humidity was enough for me!
The "Pleasure Pier" on Galveston island
We're from California, so we thought Galveston's Pleasure Pier would probably be pretty similar to the Santa Monica pier that we're familiar with. There turned out to be an important difference! We were shocked to find that they wanted $10 per person just to be allowed on to the pier... and that didn't even include the cost of riding any of the rides, which were priced at amusement park prices. There's a lot to do in Galveston, so we elected not to pay the steep cover charge to visit the pier. It seemed excessive to me.
In that photo above, note the wildflowers in the foreground. I snapped a close-up photo of some of them...
That was certainly something I didn't expect to see in Galveston!
One great thing about staying at the Harbor House hotel was that -- if you woke up early enough -- you could watch the ships arrive in the morning. Or, if you didn't wake up early enough, you could at least stare at them tied up at the pier all day and then watch them sail away in the late afternoon. We actually spent two nights at the Harbor House, so I got to see the Carnival Liberty and the Carnival Freedom arrive and depart on Saturday... and then on Sunday I got to see "my ship" arrive!
As if watching the Liberty Of The Seas arrive wasn't enough, I also got to see an old friend arrive a few minutes later... the Carnival Breeze.
I've done four cruises on the Carnival Breeze for a total of 28 days onboard, so I definitely consider her an old friend. It was especially delightful to see her on this particular day because her Cruise Director, Jaime Deitsch, has become a personal friend of mine. Jaime and I were Facebook friends for quite a while and then I finally got to meet Jaime in person during a cruise on the Carnival Sunshine, where she was the Cruise Director for quite a long time. She's so delightful that I've stayed in touch with her ever since then, and I'm looking forward to sailing with her again next year when she'll be coming to California to be the Cruise Director on the Carnival Miracle. So, it was very cool to see the Carnival Breeze in Galveston, and to know that my friend Jaime was onboard and in charge of the entertainment staff.
A few last thoughts about our experience at the Harbor House hotel in Galveston...
I thought it would be super-convenient on embarkation day to just roll our suitcases out of our hotel and over to the cruise ship pier a short distance away. What I had not accounted for was that Royal Caribbean uses Terminal #2 and Carnival is in Terminal #1, closest to the hotel. If we had been sailing on the Carnival Breeze that day, it would have been super-easy to just roll our suitcases over to Carnival's terminal. But Royal Caribbean's terminal is just enough farther that it was too much of a walk for Kellyn with her suitcase and carry-ons.
So, if I cruise out of Galveston again, I think I'll probably stay at one of the hotels on the south side of the island and just take the hotel shuttle over to the cruise ship terminal on embarkation day. Staying on the south side of the island will solve the breakfast problem, too.
For someone flying in to Houston and cruising out of Galveston, the hard
part is figuring out the best way to get from Houston to Galveston and back again. May I make a suggestion? Both of the
times we've cruised out of Galveston we've used Sam's Limousines to drive us
from the airport to Galveston. If you're not in a hurry on the way back, you can take Royal Carribean's shuttle bus on
the way back. Or if you do have an early flight, use Sam's Limousines again for
the trip back... so you don't have to wait for Royal Caribbean's bus to fill up before it can leave.
We've had an excellent experience each of the times we've used Sam's Limousines... and you can choose from a wide range of vehicles to suit your needs... anywhere from a town car sedan which is about right for a couple like us, to a full stretch limo, to a gigantic bus if you've got a big group.
A one way trip for my wife and I in a sedan between Houston and Galveston cost us $150 + tip.
The coolest part was getting off the plane in Houston and walking down to the baggage claim to find a limo driver (dressed like a limo driver) holding up a sign with my name on it. I wish I had gotten a picture of that! It's a fun little life experience.
The Disembarkation Process in Galveston
Trying to get thousands of passengers off the ship and through customs in a short period of time is difficult for the staff of every mega cruise ship. It seemed to be a particular challenge for the staff of the Liberty Of The Seas. This was a slow disembarkation, requiring a LOT of patience. It seems to me that they expect all the passengers to read the printed information that is given to each passenger about the disembarkation process, and that they assume everyone will follow the process as written. They didn't make a whole lot of public address announcements with disembarkation instructions... and the announcements they did make were only to the public areas of the ship, not directly to the cabins. I think they were trying to be polite and not interrupt people inside their cabins with announcements. But the disembarkation was a bit of a mess, so it seems to me that at disembarkation they need to make sure that all announcements go ship-wide, including to inside the cabins.
The disembarkation process they've designed would probably have worked just fine if the passengers followed it verbatim. But the passengers did not. The staff needed to take a much stronger level of command and control... starting with those announcements of who should be disembarking right now and who should not.
The way they've designed the disembarkation process is for things to start off at 7:45 AM with self-carry disembarkation. That's where passengers carry all of their luggage off with them. An hour later, they are scheduled to conclude self-carry disembarkation and move on to disembarkation by luggage tag number for the passengers who have left their luggage in the hallway the night before and want to pick it up in the terminal.
The problems with the disembarkation process began long before 7:45 AM, the scheduled start time. Long before then, people were heading to the exits with their luggage, which clogged up the exit area. When the first people started showing up at the exits, long before 7:45 AM, the Cruise Director should have immediately gone on to the public address system and announced ship-wide (including inside the cabins) that disembarkation had NOT yet begun and that no one should be heading to the exits yet.
We headed out of our cabin and down to the exits a few minutes before 7:45 AM and by the time we got there, there was a GIGANTIC line that had already formed. I overheard a passenger complaining to a crew member and the crew member's response was that they can't control when people decide to break the rules. I don't believe that's correct. Taking some positive control by way of assertive public address announcements ship-wide would have gone a long way towards alleviating the disembarkation problems that day.
There is one thing that you can do to speed up the disembarkation process in Galveston. This may very well be the most useful tip I'll pass along to you in this entire cruise review! Once you do finally get through all the lines on the ship and make it to the gangway that takes you off the ship, you will go down a series of ramps until you finally reach ground level and enter the U.S. customs facility. At this point you will see a whole bunch of porters with wheeled carts who offer to assist you with your bags. My strong suggestion if you want to speed things up is to use the porters, even if you are normally a carry-my-own luggage kind of guy. If you give your luggage to the porters, they skip almost the entire line at the customs facility, and you get to skip the line along with them! It's like a speed pass! Now you do have to tip the porters at the end of the process, but that doesn't have to be a very big tip. I'd say $5 would be fine. Considering the overall cost of the cruise, and the gigantic line at the customs facility, it seems to me that this would be the best $5 you would spend during the entire week!
Need A Travel Agent?
Booking a cruise can be confusing, especially if you haven't been on many cruises before. There are lots of first-time cruiser mistakes that a travel agent can keep you from making.
If you're interested in booking a cruise with any cruise line... please feel free to use the services of my travel agent, Caitlin Gallagher. She's extremely pleasant to deal with, easy to talk to since she lives in the United States and speaks without any kind of an accent, and quite experienced and knowledgeable about different types of cruising. Caitlin is the owner of Ambren Travel. Visit her web site, check out the Ambren Travel Facebook page, or contact her using the information below.
A Funny Story About Our Flight Home
After the cruise, we flew from Houston to Los Angeles on United Airlines. For this particular flight, we were fortunate enough to have seats in first class. As we were settling in to our seats, it occurred to me that if ever there was a flight where we might actually see a celebrity, it would probably be a flight to Los Angeles in first class. So, I popped my head up and took a quick look around at the other passengers in first class. I didn't recognize anyone... except my wife, of course, who was sitting in the aisle seat next to me.
Three hours goes by, and the plane lands in Los Angeles. When it gets to the gate and the Captain turns off the seatbelt sign, all the passengers stand up. Only then did I notice that just across the aisle from my wife... literally two seats away from me... was Actor/Director/Producer Rob Reiner.
photo by “Neil Grabowsky / Montclair Film Festival”
Rob Reiner! Co-founder of Castle Rock entertainment...
Director of When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men, The American President, The Princess Bride, The Bucket List, and many
more... not to mention having played the unforgettable son-in-law of Archie Bunker!
He's kind of a big deal... and he was traveling solo. No entourage... no assistant... no wife. I resisted the urge to say anything to him. In retrospect, I probably should have told him how much I admired all he had accomplished in life.
What Camera Do I Use?
Whenever I post these cruise reviews, I always get questions about what camera I used to take the photos. I'm loyal to Canon, and am currently using the Canon EOS 80D. I usually sell whatever camera I'm using about every year or two, and upgrade to the latest model. I stepped up to the 80D when it first hit the market in March of 2016.
All the still photos and videos you saw on this page were shot with that new Canon EOS 80D. (Except the Rob Reiner photo, which wasn't mine.)
If you're in the market for a high quality digital SLR camera, the truth is that the Canon EOS 80D is probably too much camera for most amateur photographers... so the one I actually recommend for most people is the Canon Digital Rebel T6i. If you get one, make sure you get the T6i with the 135mm lens, not the cheap version with the 55mm lens.
I also like to have a Canon EF-S 10-18mm lens with me when I'm on a cruise ship. This is a wide angle lens, which is extremely useful when trying to shoot in small spaces (for example, those pictures I shot of the bathroom in our cabin) or when shooting something very large (like a cruise ship, when you're standing on the pier next to it.)
I also bring along a tripod with me, to allow me to shoot long-exposure shots in low-light situations. It's also handy to have for shooting "selfies". I've got a tripod that is just the right size to fit inside my big suitcase but which is heavy duty enough to be stable. It also has a fluid head, which is something that's very important to look for in a tripod if you intend to use it when shooting video.
Normally I shoot all my still photos in RAW format and then convert "the keepers" to JPG format for sharing in my reviews... but for this cruise I decided to try to simplify the process and just use JPG format all along.
The Cruise Ships We've Been On
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