Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas - Epic Fail

It's the end of an era...and I say that with a sad heart and a disgruntled stomach. We recently traveled on Royal Caribbean, one of my favorite cruise lines, on a voyage through the warm waters of the Mar Caribe. Royal Caribbean has been a favorite of mine for many years, and as such, I am a member of their Crown Anchor Society, the loyalty program they extend to frequent cruisers.

Let me back track before I continue. A couple of years ago, we went on their impressive Allure of the Seas. While the itinerary was nothing out of this world, the ship was breathtaking. If you've cruised on it, or its sister ship, the Oasis of the Seas, then you know what I'm talking about. The food was spectacular, the service was stellar, and we were cast in its spell long after the voyage ended.

Unfortunately, this was not the case at all this time around on the Liberty of the Seas, and after doing some research and speaking to other cruisers both on and off the ship, apparently their recent mediocre performance is nothing new. Why, Royal Caribbean, why? You were right up there as an amazing cruise line that provided memorable vacations to its guests.   Now it seems, in the opinion of many, you have become an over priced, nickel and diming disappointment.  All I heard while on the cruise, and quite frankly agreed with, was that while Carnival Cruise Lines was previously known as the less expensive alternative to cruising, with amenities to match, they are now far exceeding expectations.  From what I have experienced first hand, Carnival Cruise Lines is running circles around Royal Caribbean's food, dining options, customer service and overall cruising experience. This just proves it isn't good to get comfortable..kind of like the Tortoise and the Hare.

You're probably wondering what happened that made this cruise so unacceptable so I decided to give you a run down from start to finish so that you can see for yourself how much it lacked in customer service and product right from the beginning and throughout the cruise.


We're excited. We're booking a cruise. It's Royal Caribbean so the girls are ready to ice-skate, we're ready to pig out with some beautifully prepared dishes and we can't wait to take silly pictures with our towel animals in the cabin. We start by booking online, but quickly realize that although we are booking quite in advance (a couple of months), both dining times are sold out. As a result, Royal Caribbean wants to force their My Time Dining option, which imposes a non-optional gratuity ahead of time.  Hold up...we just went on two Carnival Cruises last year and we didn't have to pay more to not have a specific dining time. Besides, I rather have the same server every night because I just love when they refer to me by name, and make me feel special. You mean we have to pay because you can't accommodate us?  We called their toll free number and explained the situation, and they said we'd have to wait a few days to see if anything "opened up" during either of the two designated dining times. We said we hoped it did because we really didn't want to be forced to pay gratuity ahead of time .  It was really far ahead, and if it didn't become available, then we rather not book. We called a couple of days later, and voila, we were booked on the late seating. We ended up paying over $2,700 for five people on a 4 day cruise. A bit steep, I know but it's Royal Caribbean.

Oh oh... The Early Bird Gets The Most Expensive Worm's about a month until our cruise and we pull it up online. We decide to look and see how much someone who waited until the last minute to book a cruise was going to have to pay. After all, we were diligent and responsible and booked ours ahead of time. Wait...what?  Something was wrong. The price for the very same cruise was now $500 cheaper for the five passengers. ('s only a four day cruise). We checked everything, and yes, the price was now way lower. We called Royal Caribbean in an attempt to right this wrong and long story short, after speaking to several departments, and hearing a lot of excuses, we got nothing. A couple of them were feisty and not very nice, one even asking if we had ever heard of "the law of supply and demand". I didn't want to tell her that we did know it, and it appeared they weren't in demand, had a lot of supply and that's why their prices had dropped.  They gave us an option to upgrade the rooms to the next category, but they would be on a lower deck and far from one another. No thanks. We asked for on board credit to cover the difference; we asked for shore excursions, but everything we suggested was declined.  Turns out it's not a good idea to book early with Royal Caribbean because you may end up paying a lot more.

Oh no...Not The Toe

Murphy's gotta love it. I'm in heels, I miss a step, I break my toe. And I'm supposed to be sipping a Pina Colada on board the Liberty of the Seas in just 4 days, (wearing very cute sandals I may add). What am I going to do? After x-rays, crutches and pain killers, we call Royal Caribbean. I won't be able to hop all over the ship so we are going to need a wheelchair and an accessible room. Their response: sorry, we don't have any wheelchair accessible rooms available at this time and if you need a wheelchair, here's the number of a few companies you can rent them from. They don't provide any. Wow. So, with just a couple of days to go, we secure a wheelchair for me from elsewhere and wonder how cozy we're going to have to get now that we're parking a wheelchair in the already tiny space.

Roll me Onboard, I'm Ready To Cruise

Ok, so there were a lot of mishaps prior to the cruise but it would all get better, right? Wrong. It would probably take a few pages to thoroughly describe how badly things went or were handled by their customer service team, so I'll just give you a synopsis.

We left the port approximately eight hours late due to "maintenance" issues.  To their credit, while this was going on, a bunch of BSO officers were questioning a couple of passengers on the room next to ours, which were subsequently removed from the ship, why I'm not sure.  I know...things happen but it was the preamble to what was to come.

Off to The Windjammer, the main buffet restaurant on the ship.   Found it was seriously understaffed. They were trying to do what they could, but there was rarely anyone around to wipe a table or bring a glass of water.  What we did enjoy was their sushi offerings around dinner time, and their Indian food.

Guess not too many people knew they were allowing guests to ice skate.
Some were turned away when they went, with employees stating
the rink was closed until the last evening due to technical issues.

The ship features an Ice Skating Rink which provides a show, and guests can ice-skate during certain times. It's one of the amenities on the ship and one of their selling points online. The kids were really excited about that. They went there on the second day and were basically told to leave. When we found out, we called the customer service desk to inquire about the hours the rink would be open. The person told us it would only be open at 7 pm the day before we got back home because they were having technical issues. Mind you, our dinner time was 8:30 pm. There went the ice-skating, and you know how much teenagers love change.  By chance, we happened to walk by the location of the ice skating rink the following day (I rolled) and noticed there were people ice skating at that point. I guess they resolved the technical issues, but just failed to inform us.

Food and Service

Eggplant Parmigiana Entree I Ordered at the Main
Dining Room. No Bueno
The service at the main restaurant was good, and our servers were friendly, helpful and on point, but the food was generally disappointing. I have been on several Royal Caribbean Cruises and this was one of their outstanding areas. However, this time around, the choices were limited and the quality of the ingredients was lacking. I rarely send anything back, and I found myself having to change my order more than once because when the dishes arrived, they were horrible. On the topic of wine, we really missed having a sommelier give us suggestions on the wines we should pair with our dinner. There wasn't one around on any of the nights. All I can think is that perhaps some corporate decisions are being made that are severely affecting the quality of the food and service on-board . I'll tell you this though. They had a little section on the side of the menu where if you wanted better food, you had to pay for it.  They would sell you filet mignon, lobster and other dishes for an additional fee. And it wasn't at a specialty restaurant.  It was right there at the main dining room which used to give you a nice Lobster night.   We ordered the optional filet mignon a few times, ... not impressed.   It's not cool to nickle and dime guests that have paid close to $600 each for a 4 day cruise.

Escargot Appetizer - Tasted even worse than it looks..

Definitely Not The Fun Ship

Traveling with three teenagers, we wanted to fill up our time with nice on-board activities. I mean the cruise only had one stop in Cozumel, so we were out at sea the rest of the days. If you weren't adventurous enough to climb the Rock Wall or take a nose dive on the Flowrider, your options were limited. When we cruised on Carnival Cruises last year, both ships had a slew of planned activities going on all day - from trivia games to a Thrill Theatre.  Sometimes, we had to choose between one and another because they were happening at the same time. While there were a few games and dance classes on the Liberty of the Seas, the level of entertainment and fun was significantly lower. However, they did offer other activities at a price, which got kind of old. We spent enough money in the arcade, thank you.

Night Time Entertainment

This area scored better in contrast to other cruise ships. Their main show - Saturday Night Fever was pretty impressive. The set was Broadway-esque and the singing and dancing were exceptionally cast. There was also a comedy show at night which was very humorous and had the audience in incessant laughter. While the Ice-Skating show was entertaining, there was an obvious downgrade in the performance.  One evening, they had a 70s themed night in the Promenade showcasing music from the era that really riled up the guests. Right after that, there was an All-White Party on the pool deck with live music and entertainment. I couldn't enjoy it cause my toe was throbbing but I'm sure it was fun.

Crown & Anchor Society Who?

I told you I've been traveling on Royal Caribbean for years, so we are members of the Crown & Anchor Society. Apparently, since I traveled on the Allure of the Seas a couple of years ago, much has changed. There was nothing special provided for the members - not a welcome cocktail like in years past or anything nice sitting in our room when we got there. When I called and asked what happened, I was simply told it was removed from the program. I could however, receive 10% off art work or framing, and other similar discounts on purchases. Come to think of it, there really wasn't anything to make the experience stand out for the Crown & Anchor members. Oh wait...I did receive 90 cents off of a wine bill. Guess loyalty doesn't pay much.

Customer Service? That's Been Removed Too

Needless to say, we were already quite upset on the second day, so we went to speak to Customer Service. The person at the desk took notes, made a lot of promises, seemed outraged and said that because it was a short cruise, we would be hearing back from him that very same evening. Well, we've been on land for over two weeks already, and we're still waiting. We're also still waiting for the "little something" the main dining room manager said she'd be sending to the cabin because of the bad experiences with the food at dinner. If you're reading this Royal Caribbean, just wanted to let you know we're not in the cabin anymore and we never received anything.

The main thing I can tell you was reminiscent of Royal Caribbean's glory days was the actual ship, which is still beautiful,  The Promenade is majestic and unique, and demands that the service and amenities offered match its splendor. On the final evening, through no fault of Royal Caribbean, the cruise ended sadly, when all guests had to hurry to their staterooms for a head count because a passenger had gone overboard.

Royal Caribbean, I really wanted to "Get out There" with you but you let us down. I would've liked to think it was a one-time slip, but after getting back and reading reviews, I see you've changed.  We also heard similar comments from others who have experienced the recent decline first hand.  I hope you realize the error of your ways because there is plenty of competition out there.  In the meantime, we'll miss you.

In closing..

Beautiful ship, nice helpful folks, very noticeable decrease in food quality, service, and loyalty program benefits, about half of the activities are trying to sell you something, up charges at every turn.

No comments:

Post a Comment