Floating fun paradise Liberty of the Seas offers the ultimate holiday experience that will suit everyone's tastes
Published 15/07/2013 | 13:01
At last, a resolution to the annual holiday squabble.
The perfect break to suit all tastes, ages and family sizes.
Whether you prefer the beach and pool, adventure and activities, exploration and culture or simply the opportunity to leave the children at a kids' club all day -- with a Royal Caribbean cruise on Liberty of the Seas, you can have it all. It is the ultimate holiday experience.
The gigantic Liberty of the Seas, which cruises around the Mediterranean during summer months, is a floating fun paradise.
Set sail from Barcelona on Sunday evening, after a direct flight from Belfast with easyJet, and by early Monday morning you could be sunbathing on St Tropez's famous golden beach.
The following day brings you around the French Riveria to Nice, Eze and Monaco while by Wednesday you'll have reached Italian shores and Michelangelo's city of Florence is yearning to be explored.
Come Thursday morning, Liberty of the Seas will have docked in Civitavecchia and the magnificent city of Rome is only a short train/bus journey away. Dawn on Friday brings you to Naples, where a hike up Mount Vesuvius is just steps from where the ship docks.
Then, on Saturday it's the return journey to Barcelona, and the joys of sunbathing on the top deck at open sea.
Yet while the sights and delights ashore were a joy -- especially a pizza and Chianti Classico led lunch in Florence -- it was the cuisine, drinks, entertainment, decor and stunning facilities on Liberty of the Seas that left me completely overwhelmed.
Within 30 minutes of stepping onboard -- having received my SeaPass which would act as my currency for the week and room key -- I knew I was going to be in holiday heaven.
Think Las Vegas, Miami and the magic of Broadway on one fantastic ship.
However, unlike these expensive cities, the value is outstanding -- your food and entertainment is included in the price. All you have to pay extra for are your drinks, which are probably cheaper than Belfast prices and include tips, any speciality restaurants you may choose to frequent, spa treatments and off shore excursions.
Liberty of the Seas has 15 passenger decks in total, 14 glass panelled elevators, is 1112 feet long and can cater for an amazing 3,634 passengers (double occupancy) with 1,360 crew.
It has everything you could ever want from a cruise ship.
The Platinum Theatre, where you can watch an incredible production of the Bee Gees' smash hit musical 'Saturday Night Fever' or take part in the ship's own version of 'Mr and Mrs', has a capacity for 1,320 guests, which in terms of size is a couple hundred more than what the Grand Opera House in Belfast can hold.
Then there is the indoor ice rink Studio B, available to guests during the day, while at night it transforms into a stage for a spellbinding ice show with a host of international professional skaters. Studio B also doubles as a 3D theatre due to the plethora of TV screens on offer and at evening kids can meet the Dreamworks characters on the Royal Promenade.
The ship houses a Las Vegas-style Casino Royale, about 10 bars, a two-level nightclub called Catacombs, a spa, an On Air music Club, two Karaoke booths, the Sphinx Rooms where a hilarious adult game of Quest (Scavenger Hunt) is played on Wednesday nights, and a spacious state of the art gym which includes a full-size boxing ring.
There are three swimming pools on the ship, one adult only, and six outdoor jacuzzis. If you decide to stay on board during the day, there are hundreds of sun loungers available so you can sit back, read a book and relax with a cocktail from one of the three pool bars.
For the kids, there is an H2O waterpark while for the those brave children of a certain height and adults who are young at heart, the FlowRider simulator is fantastic fun as you try to either surf or boogie board with intense water rushing at you.
For the even more adventurous, you have the chance to scale the heights on the open seas with a rock climbing wall but if you prefer ball sports, there is a basketball outdoor arena which can also be converted into a five-a-side football pitch or volleyball court.
Along with an indoor golf simulator, table tennis, video and board games room, there is a nine-hole crazy golf course and for those who like to run outside rather than on a treadmill, the ship offers a running track.
Liberty of the Seas is family-friendly and offers a range of kids clubs depending on age. Even the teenagers closing in on adulthood are catered for.
When it comes to food, it's not a case of deciding when to eat, it's all about having the self-discipline to decide when NOT to eat.
The Windjammer Cafe and Asian-style Jade are buffet restaurants which provide breakfast, lunch and dinner in an informal setting. Magnificent choice and the sumptuous breakfast really sets you up for the day. You could go back at lunch or instead, like my wife Kate and I, enjoy a self-service ice cream on Deck 11.
If you'd rather have something a little bit more filling, then Sorrento's on the Royal Promenade offer pizza slices or the Cafe, open 24 hours a day, allows you to enjoy cookies and cake along with tea or coffee.
At night, MyTime dining gives you the option of first (7pm) or second (9pm) sitting in one of the three ultra-impressive dining rooms.
Once seated, you can select a three-course meal with the menu changing each night.
Twice during the week the ship will host a formal evening where the gentlemen are expected to wear tuxes or suits with ladies in evening dresses.
If you prefer to splash out on fine dining then Liberty of the Seas offers steakhouse Chops and Italian Portofino.
Chops promises the finest steaks on the high seas and from what I could tell, it certainly lives up to the promise.
After a starter of breaded oysters, I was presented with a 10oz filet mignon and choice of sauces that were cooked to perfection. Every bite was mouth-watering and along with the excellent service from waiter Edwin, this made for a very enjoyable dining experience.
Well worth the extra money.
As is Portofino where I enjoyed a delicious veal and risotto main, while Kate was served an exquisite seafood combination. When dinner is over, that's when the proper entertainment kicks in with directors Rich and Jerome, the larger than life duo leading proceedings throughout the ship.
Carnivals and parties often take place on the resplendent Royal Promenade and out at the pool.
But it's down at Schooner Bar on Deck Four where the musical genius of the ship resides.
Every night, bar Friday, resident pianist, singer and all round funny guy David Curtis has his captive audience in equal roars of laughter and applause for his wonderful talent and wit.
With no music or lyrics in front of him, Curtis, who has been working for Royal Caribbean for over 25 years, is able to perform thousands of songs from memory.
And in fact, some may argue he sings Elton John's greatest hits better than the man himself. Extrovert Curtis from Miami, Florida deserves his own television show -- he really is that good. After a night out, it's time to head back to the cabin -- just an elevator ride away.
Each evening waiting for you in your stateroom is a four-page Cruise Compass with details of the weather, activities, shows and drinks promotions for the day ahead.
And indeed, there was so much to do, that in my Stateroom, which was surprisingly comfortable, with balcony and sofa along with queen-sized bed, never once did I feel compelled to turn on the big plasma TV and check out the news on CNN.
For years a friend had told me he wouldn't entertain the notion of any other holiday after going on a Royal Caribbean cruise. I thought he was nuts.
After my Liberty of the Seas experience, I can now totally understand why.
Now, where's that brochure for the Caribbean in February?