27 June 2011

Liberty of the Seas - Salivalicious

When planning a vacation, the rigueur du jour is concerting the transportation, accomodation, attractions, and salivations quartet into a harmonic travel experience. For land tours, there are more options. If one hotel isn't right, we can always change another. If some place is not fun, we have the choice to get out and go somewhere else. If the food at a restaurant sucks, there's always Mc D, KFC or Burger King to fall back on.

That's not the case with a cruise holiday. If we boarded a bad cruiseliner, there's no where to run. There's no different hotel to change to, no escape to greener entertainment pastures, and we are at the mercy of the nautical kitchen. If a cruise is bad, that's it. It'll be a floating torture chamber for days. So choose your cruise operator wisely!

Having experienced 2 cruises with Royal Caribbean, I would say this company would be your best bet. But of course, I haven't been on other cruise ships to draw comparisons. However, considering the standards set by RC, it will be very tough to match.

I've shared about the ship's beautiful interior, exciting activities onboard and fabulous nightly shows in my previous post so in this entry, I shall show you the good food that went into my tummy during those 6 days 5 nights.

Windjammer Café - All Day Buffet

Located on Deck 11, Windjammer Café serves up an international buffet spread in a casual dining atmosphere for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is open from 7am to 9pm. A major section of it closes at around 4 pm for the restaurant to refresh itself for dinner but a small portion remains open to serve snacks.

You can design your own burger or sandwich with meat patties, a selection of hams and cheeses, and smoked salmon. Or perhaps plate a personal fusion of tastes that could be Eastern, Western and everything in-between with Japanese sushis, Chinese dumpling noodles, Cantonese congee, English meat steaks, Turkish kebabs, Spanish paella, American potato dishes, etc.

It can get quite crowded during peak meal hours but there are a lot of seats around. I didn't have any problem getting a table during those times as the turnover is pretty fast. The great thing about eating here is the oceanic view!

I had the mixed paella (chicken and seafood) at Windjammer and surprisingly, it's better than the many I had in Barcelona. It's hard to believe that a ship's kitchen turned up a better paella than the restaurants in Barcelona but in my opinion, that's the way it was. My parents agreed the paella here was tastier too.

The roast beef was also amazingly tender and sweet. Meats usually have this dowdy effect (jer lat) after one too many servings but this roast beef made me hungrier the more I ate!

I love sushi so my ears pricked up when our waiter at Windjammer mentioned that it's being served during dinner. As the nightly dinners were a fine-dining affair at the Rembrandt Dining Room (see below), I made a special trip to Windjammer prior to one of our evening meals to have sushi.

It was disappointing though. The rice wasn't sour enough to provide a contrast that compliments the savoury to fruity fillings. But that's my personal preference to have a stronger vinegary hint.

My friends always say I have a huge grudge against prawns and crabs. Because whenever they are available in a buffet, I'll do serious damage to their population. So imagine my thrill when I saw skewered prawns in Windjammer's spread! And they're peeled with the black intestinal thread removed some more. Best!

However, the prawns here were probably of the supermarket frozen variety as their glassy texture, paler colour and taste were unlike the fierce vermillion and rubbery feel redolent of fresh catch. So I held back and gave the prawn population a break. The other thing I didn't do damage on were the herring and olive rings as I only saw them after a full stomach. But they do look pretty appetising.

On top of all the savouries, there is the quinessential dessert spread of cakes, sweet breads, cookies, mousse, jello and other sweet creations.

Rembrandt Dining Room - A La Carte Fine Dining

When it comes to dinner, you have 2 options. You can either have buffet at Windjammer, or sit down for a fine dining experience at one of the many dining rooms assigned to each passenger. Eating at both the Windjammer and dining rooms are free.

We were assigned the Rembrandt Dining Room on Deck 3 and our seating was 7pm. There are 2 seatings every night, 7pm and 9.30pm. The other dining rooms (Michelangelo on Deck 4 and Botticelli on Deck 5) have seatings at 6:30pm and 9pm. To dine at these places, smart casual attire is required and no singlet, shorts and slippers are allowed. On captain's night, formal dressing is recommended.

Not sure how the other 2 dining rooms look like but Rembrandt is grand and b.e.a.u.t.i.f.u.l.! The central table is where the captain will sit when he dines with selected guests on Captain's Night. You can check the Cruise Compass, a daily programme sheet, for the indication of the formal dining occasion.

The best time to shoot the dining room is on the first day after you come onboard. That's when the place is practically empty. The photos above of my parents, with our waiters and the family who shared our table were taken during Captain's Night, which fell on the second night of our cruise.

A nice family portrait at Rembrandt Dining Room although the ship rated me with a 'F'. Is it 'F' for Fabulous / Fantastic or 'F' for Fail / Fat Face? Hmm...

Other than the ambience, the great thing about eating here is the tip-top service... Attentive, Affable, Axcellent, Axceptional... how many aces are there? :o)

The next best thing about eating here is that you can repeat your orders! The dinner consists of a 3-course meal (appetiser, main, dessert) and the menu changes every night. You can order more than one of anything and even seconds or thirds of the same thing!

I ordered sceonds for the baked escargot for it just goes so well with the breads freshly basked onboard and one night, I had 2 main courses so it's like an a la carte buffet. One of the interesting things to try here is the watermelon cold soup. Not to be missed are the Chinese dumplings, grilled prawns with rice and this...

... the gorgeous, gorgeous lamb shank! The meat just wears the bone and can be taken off with a whisk of the fork while in the mouth, it disintegrates like a ballet on the tongue. You can still taste the baa-baa (say it sounding like a sheep) without the overpowering gamey mutton musk. Baa-rific!

While the menu changes every night, some of the items were ported over from Windjammer, just decorated differently. Just like the prawn skewer in the above photo, I've seen it at the buffet but at Rembrandt, it's jazzed up with a sauce topping and came dolled up.

Another must-try is the appetiser pictured above. Cannot recall its name and the photo of the menu came out blur because of low light condition and I didn't check as I was too eager to try it. Anything with garlic is a magnet for me. It consisted of a slice of ham with mushrooms and other stuff that don't just work as decorations, but taste good when combined on the palate.

Accompanying the appetisers and main courses, we finished off dinner with desserts.Of the many I tried in the few nights, my favourite was this cherry pie pictured below. It didn't feel too heavy after a sumptuous meal and the cream sauce lent just a right touch of egg-vanilla aroma.

If you're stumped what to order from the menu, no sweat. The waiters serving your table are always ready with recommendations. Anyway, you can order as many items as you like so basically, you are only limited by your appetite.

During dinner on the third and last night, Rembrandt's waitering team even sang for us! It's really quite a sight having all of them fill up the rotunda's stage. I think this just goes to show the trouble and effort in adding a personal touch for the guests. They sure ended on a high note!

Chops Grille - A Cut Above the Rest

If you fancy a meal that's more private and exquisite, do check out the 2 reservations-only restaurants onboard - Chops Grille (steak house) and Portofino (Italian fine dine). Meals here are chargeable. We booked a dinner at Chops Grille and it costs about S$34 per person.

Located on Deck 11 (to the side of Windjammer Café's entrance), Chops Grille offers a 3-course menu that starts with a selection of appetisers, main courses with choice of side dishes, and desserts. You can place unlimited orders for appetisers, side dishes and desserts, but only one order of the main course. Additional order of main courses incurs a charge.

Again, service at Chops Grille is nothing short of excellent with our waitress appearing and disappearing at all the right moments to serve and clear up. Very intuitive. Bravo!

Our meal at Chops Grille was also the only rare time that my family and I got to catch up with Yee Leong, also a winner of the Royal Caibbean blog contest. Even though we stayed on the same ship just a few doors away from each other, we hardly had the time to spend time together as each of us had different plans to enjoy the vacation.

So it was really nice catching up with him over dinner and exchange experiences on the ship and the land tours we took. All-in-all, we were mostly gushing about the facilities and the shows onboard. It was also a chance for me to admire Yee Leong's photos. This guy has a great eye for photography. Check out his photos of the various restaurants here.

A French loaf with specialty dippings started off our dinner with a blurred photo of this delightfully creamy Forest Mushroom Soup. I finally decided to invest in a flash for photographing food after seeing the large percentage of out-of-focus or grainy photos due to low light and high ISO.

There's a long list of appetisers to choose from and we pretty much went wild. I ordered 2 - Oyster Duet and Shrimp Cocktail. Baked in the dual condiments of Rockefeller and Kilaptrick style, I ordered seconds. As for the Shrimp Cocktail, now, this is what prawns should look and taste like! The size was hwah! and succulently fresh.

For the main course, we ordered a mixture of seafood and what Chops Grille is famous for - steak. I had the Herb-Crusted Jumbo Shrimp (did I menion I'm a prawn king?) while mum ordered the Broiled Veal Chop.

Dad and Yee Leong ordered the Chops-Style Mixed Grill which was the best dinner choice with a combination of grilled lamb chop, apple-chicken sausage, veal tournedos, and bacon. It's a whole lot of meat that're big on taste!

We can accompany our main courses with a choice from 8 side dishes. We particularly liked the Steamed Asparagus as the vegetable provided a balance to all that meat. But mostly because we've not seen such gigantic asparagus stalks! Yet they taste so tender and not fibrous at all.

By now, I'm sure you know what comes next to complete any meal... desserts! I don't really have a sweet tooth but I had so much cakes and sweet what-nots onboard. The portraits of these desserts are still hung on my waistline till this day.

Here's the droolsome Chocolate Mud Pie and the Passionberry Duo which is a circle of delight with a layer of berry gelatin sitting on a mousse of tropical passion fruit.

The highlight was the Crème brûlée with the burning of the sugar crust done at our table! I'm no dessert expert so I'll just say they all provided a sweet ending. Yah, that saying is cheesy... I know!

If you ever cruise with Liberty of the Seas, my advice is to diet before the trip. Eat less 1 week prior to sailing because once you're onboard, you will be overeating for the next 6 days 5 nights. So by eating less 1 week and overeating the next, your total caloric intake for the 2 weeks evens out!

The F&B experience isn't limited to these 3 eating joints but include a few other free and paid eateries such as Sorrento's Pizza, Café Promenade (24-hour free snacks), Cupcake Cupboard, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream (all on Deck 5), and Johnny Rockets (Deck 12).

Oh, here's another piece of advice... leave the tight-fitting clothes at home! Have fun going on a gourmet exploration! :o)

24 June 2011

Royal Caribbean - Liberty of the Seas

What's the perfect vacation you can think of? An island paradise escapade where the deep blue soaks your troubles away while the winds set the spirit free?

Or endless fun in a vibrant city where attractions, cuisines, entertainment and shopping await your discovery at every corner?

Or a journey of timelessness amongst majestic, awe-inspiring ancient monuments that turn streets, town squares and districts into richly textured, outdoor living museums of culture and heritage?

How about all of the above? And more!

In many ways, I feel that a cruise getaway is a holiday within a holiday because getting to the destinations is as much fun (if not more fun) as the destinations themselves!
Play is immediate. While getting from one location to the next, the ship provides a whole host of possibilities to customise one’s enjoyment all in one hull. And when we arrive at a port of call, a new wave of adventure washes over us.

I haven't gone on many cruises so I don't know about the rest but I think the Royal Caribbean fleet kicks ass. After the amazing experience onboard Legend of the Seas, I figured that that's about as good as a cruise trip can get. But having returned from the Western-Mediterranean fly-cruise onboard Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas, my cruise experience has been risen by another notch. It's a WOW WOW feeling throughout the trip!

My parents and I arrived at Terminal B of the Moll D' Adossat port in Barcelona to board Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas. The ship is the 3rd largest cruise ship in the world! Check-in time is from 11 am - 3 pm. To hasten the physical check-in process, use the Online Check-in facility up to 3 days prior to the set sail date. It saves a lot more time when you're at the port.
At 154,407 tons with 15 decks, Liberty is more than twice the size of Legend (70,000 tons). Double the size, triple the fun! On top of the facilities found on Legend, Liberty included these extras - full-szie sports court, surfing pool, ice skating rink, chapel, Dreamworks Experience, etc. Click here for a full listing of Liberty's info and facilities.

View of Barcelona's harbour and waterfront area from Liberty's buffet-style restaurant, Windjammer Café. Starting from Barcelona (Spain), our voyage brought us to Cannes (France), Pisa (Italy) and Rome (Italy).
While I travelled for free for winning the Royal Caribbean blog contest, my parents paid the full price for this fly-cruise. For a holiday like this, how much do you expect to pay? I budgeted S$10,000 to bring my family but the actual cost was lower!

View of Barcelona city on Liberty's sports deck (Deck 15). The church with the green crane is the Barcelona Cathedral and the one with the yellow crane is the world-famous masterpiece by Gaudi Antoni, Sagrada Familia.
Cost of Cruise : The cruise itself including return tickets on Lufthansa for 2 cost S$5,936. That's only S$2,968 per person for a 6D4N European cruise holiday! The price also includes all gratuities (tips) that must be paid onboard. But the price doesn't include the shore excursions in Nice, Pisa and Rome.

There are many shore excursions to choose from at each port-of-call to suit different preferences and budgets so your total cost for this portion may vary. For my parents, I paid a total of S$846 for land tours at the 3 ports-of-call. That's S$423 per person. I also paid S$34 per parent for a specialty dinner at Chops Grille (a reservation-only steak restaurant). Total cost per person : S$3,425 (all prices after conversion from USD).

Although I came on this cruise for free, I'm not obligated to say nice things about it because I won it as a prize. But frankly, the experience is pretty darn great! Except for 2 crew members who sulked rather than smiled, the rest of the staff were just super in friendliness, warmth and service standards.

Above good service, what made the whole cruise vacation so wonderful for my parents and I were also the quality of food onboard, the jaw-dropping shows, the comfortable stateroom, and the full range of activities!

Here are some highlights about the ship and the things one can do onboard. It is not possible to cover every aspect because there are just too many possibilities but this should represent about 70% of the ship's potential...

Outdoor Play Arena

I used to think going on a cruise means being couped up indoors all the time but not any more. There are no lack of outdoor adventures one can go on while sailing on Liberty! Let's feel the winds of freedom blowing on the open decks...

The open decks on level 12 and 13 houses a whole lot of sports and fun facilities for people of all ages. The full-sized sports court was used for dodgeball sessions and friendly basketball and football matches.

Join a team and get to make new friends! But I avoided the games here because the ang mohs who play are so much bigger than me!

The water theme park is a kids magnet and also bound to bring out the child in every adult.

Why not rock climb, play golf, have a game of table tennis or even go surfing onboard? I don't have a chance to do all these while on land but here, I could do them all!

My fave was the Flowrider. First time I've ever tried surfing and it's really fun! Very challenging to keep balance and my session was over in 5 seconds... after I queued for about 30 minutes to try it. The Flowrider is a hot favourite with passengers but it's worth the wait.

Before you go on the rock climbing wall, Flowrider or go ice-skating, you need to sign an indemnity form on the sports deck. Once that is signed, a wrist tag will be issued and that's your passport to these exciting 'destinations' on Liberty.

Indoor Fun House

Having seen the open decks, let's move indoors to the beautiful interior that feels like a floating city on sea. The ship is served by 2 lift access to the various decks and they are linked by a grand-looking promenade flanked by shops and F&B outlets.

Called the Royal Promenade, this horizontal axis forms the ship's colourful spine that connects both ends of the ship internally. Located on Deck 5, it is one of the most gorgeous part within Liberty.

The promenade feels like a walk down an urban street that's decidedly Western in flavour with a wine bar, live music open pub, cupcake confectionery, retail shops, and many more.

NOT TO BE MISSED! The Dreamworks street parade took place on the first night onboard Liberty of the Seas. It's an energetic and cheery spectacle with the chance to meet some of the most endearing animated characters from movies such as Kungfu Panda, Shrek, and Madagascar... a carnival welcome to the ship!

The casino is situated below the Royal Promenade. Not into gambling but it sure was a delight walking through the hyper flashing lights of jackpot machines and seductive colour of money.

If you would like some respite, a great place to be would be the library on Deck 7 that overlooks the Royal Promenade. You can surf the net or read a book here while observing the hustle and bustle below.

Internet connection doesn't come cheap though as access is via satellite. An hour of access costs US$35.00.

Work . Pray . Rest

Liberty of the Seas comes with private and secluded function rooms for business events and meetings. I think it would be a great arrangement to have a company retreat onboard as the ship sure puts the pleasure in business.

One of the most interesting finds was a chapel on the ship! It's very simple with a few rows of curved benches and a muted skylight but imagine how special this place will be for those getting married in it. And after the couple exchanged vows and they can kiss and start their honeymoon right away!

Possibly the best place to start a life together would be the bedroom. I'm still hoping to share my bed with someone special but for the meantime, waking up alone in the Stateroom with Oceanic View isn't such a sad affair. Well, I'm practising cold comfort here.

Because it's so bloody romantic waking up to a view of the open seas, past loves came back to memory and I imagined what would it be like if we are still together and share a vacation like this. Well, at least my parents in the next room can enjoy that feeling. I hope they still have romance going on. Heh.

My stateroom was very well-maintained, neat and clean. The bed can be joint or split. Other than the apparent comfort of the beddings, the best thing was getting up and catching the sunrise over an open stretch of horizon. A different city each morning.

Isn't it enchanting to have the golden disc peer into your room with the ocean just outside your window?
Grow 3 Stomachs

Now we come to everybody's favourite subject... food. Liberty of the Seas has no lack of places to eat, be it all-day buffets, fine dining or specialty cuisines. I shall talk about the food in another post but here are some photos of the deliciously decorated Rembrandt Dining Room on Deck 3. It is located just next to the entrance to the corridor that leads to my stateroom!
Opulently Baroque with frieze floral motifs, chandeliers and heavy-wooded finishings.

We shared our table with a lovely family of South African origin. Only their son, Juan, speaks English but it's so interesting that the parents also tried talking to us even though we don't speak the same language. There's a sense of passion and warmth talking to them, like they're really interested in what you have to say.

If it's another Asian family, I have a feeling we would just be tucking our heads down into the food and feeling the awkwardness of having no topic to talk about. Then again, I could be wrong. But I really enjoyed dining with these 'strangers'.

Rembrandt Dining Room's elegant rotunda is a photographic must-do while onboard. More Liberty of the Seas food pictures and reviews to come so stay tuned!

Sweat in Style

With so much good food around, overeating is almost always guaranteed. The solution? Find some time to gym... if one could drag oneself away from the food table that is. But there's good reason to do so. If keeping that waistline trim isn't motivation enough, the view from the gym should.

I took the gym photos at night so you can't see the view in front of the treadmills but I had a workout during one of the evenings and the euphoria that adrenalin brings is heightened by the panoramic sea view.

The gym is very spacious and well equipped. It even has a full-sized boxing ring and it's a great place to spot some of the cast members from the nightly musicals and shows.

Group exercise sessions such as yoga, aerobics and spinning are conducted everyday. Some of the classes are freen while some comes with a fee.

No Excuse to Sleep Early

As the sun sets, Liberty of the Seas lights up for another set of fun - world-class entertainment acts, open deck pool parties, clubbing and pubbing. There are really no reasons to sleep early!

It's a very refreshing feeling to drink and dance in the open air especially with the cool Mediterranean temperature. Every night, there's a different program planned.

The first night we participated in the Dreamworks parade at the the promenade, the second night there was a retro street party also at the promenade, and the third night we were given a treat at the open deck with live band and party food.

Alcohol is not expensive too, only US$8.95 (S$12.95) for a huge glass of Tequila Sunrise and you get to keep the acrylic glass with chasing blue lights. Very disco! I managed to friend-friend one of the Jamaican bartenders and he poured me a double shot of Tequila. Woohoo!

There's really no time to feel bored onboard. If the day activities haven't yet drained you, be sure to catch the great live entertainment every night. We were lucky to catch the premiere of the Saturday Night Fever musical, the first time this show was ever put on a Royal Caribbean cruise, and the show pretty much blew me away!

Upon boarding on the first day, listen out for annoucements about booking your seats for the shows as they are on a first-come-first-serve basis. Book all of them! The shows are visual treats of high production standards and artistry.

Heart stopping stunts and performances during the ice show left the audience cheering and wanting more. During the day, this area is converted into an ice-skating rink. Do not attempt what the performers do! :o)
Having seen some of the facilities, shows and key attractions on Liberty of the Seas, I hope this post has given you an idea of things to expect. This is just the tip of the iceberg. More posts will be coming up about the food and shore excursions.

To wrap up this entry, here's a video that captured people in action at the Flowrider and ice-skating rink, as well as the energy of the nightly parties. Set sail and explore!

Related post :

An Epic Travel Adventure - Summary of the entire Liberty of the Seas fly-cruise trip including pre and post cruise extensions in Barcelona.
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