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Liberty OTS Photo Review

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Last month, my better half Pauline and I were on one of Liberty's last European trips, and with Allure replacing her on the Western Mediterranean route next year, we don't know if we'll see her back in Europe again.


We sailed from Barcelona, and visited Marseilles, Villefranche, La Spezia, Cicitavecchia and Naples. For regular podcast listeners, I previewed this cruise with Matt before we left, and will be reviewing it in the coming days.


With this in mind, the review will be "photo heavy", with an emphasis on the ports. In September, JasonD wrote a very good Liberty review, but as an Italian resident he didn't get off in a number of the ports because he lives in Italy. This will be slightly different!


We flew from Belfast (the closest international airport to our home) to Barcelona on the Friday, and spent two days in the city before sailing on the Sunday.


We stayed in Hotel Continental, with a balcony room overlooking La Ramblas. very noisy at night, but a superb location.


On the Saturday, after visiting La Sagrada Familia (be sure to book online, the line to get in was quarter of a mile long by the time we were leaving), we did a boat tour of the harbour. Pullmantour's 'Sovereign' was in port, a ship Royal Caribbean veterans may well recognise!




That night, 20 of us who had participated on a roll call on Cruise Critic met up for dinner in a local restaurant, and the next day, we took a taxi  to the port to board Liberty of the Seas.


The boarding process was seamless (apart from the fact that I left my phone behind at security, but managed to get it when I went back down two hours later!), and we were soon exploring the ship with some of our new Cruise Critic friends.




That's me in the black t-shirt at the end.


We were on MyTime dining, so we booked a meal in the MDR for 9.15 and went to the early show in the theatre. Luke Arrowsmith was CD, who was seen all over the ship, frequently with activities manager Cici acting as a Spanish translator. The show itself was grand, an aerial act and a juggler. One feature of European cruises is that because they tend to be more multilingual, there are very few comedians, with far more emphasis on visual arts and music.


After an enjoyable show and a great meal, it was on to the Royal Promenade for the salsa parade, and then to bed. France's second biggest city was waiting for us.


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The next morning, we met up with Mike and Kim, two of our new 'Cruise Critic' friends and had breakfast in the MDR before heading to the Old Port area of Marseille.  There was a water taxi shuttle on offer at $20 pp, but we would have had to wait over an hour, so we got a conventional taxi into town. It cost about €20 ($25), so with taxis each way, we saved $30 between the four of us. Once at the Old Port, we caught the Petit Train to Notre Dame De La Garde, a basillica which overlooks the city. The views from there were breathtaking.






This shot of the church is taken from the Visit Provence website -




Then, we queued for the train again, and made out way back to the old port where we strolled around a bit and then headed back to the ship.




That night, as we waited for sailaway on the helipad, the Ibero Cruceros ship "Grand Holiday" sailed into the sunset ahead of us. It made for a nice shot.




Tonight was formal night, so we dressed in our finery, but before heading for the Botocelli Dining Room, we went to the theatre for the production show "In The Air". Previously, I would have said "Once Upon a Time" on Freedom was the best production show I've seen. Not any more. This was simply superb!



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Day three brought us to Villefranche, a port which will not be visited by Allure next year as it is a tender port. Instead, Allure will visit Palma on the island of Majorca on Day 2, and then visit Marseille on Day 3 (assuming that Barcelona is the departure port, as Jason pointed out in his Liberty review, Civitavecchia is also a departure port on this cruise).


After tendering in to Villefranche (a quick and seamless process), we met our driver for the day from Provence Riveria Tours. The tour was organised by Rodney from Texas, one of the many wonderful people we met on this cruise. Eight of us took part in what was to be a highlight of the week. Unfortunately, there was a bit of rain that morning, and while it eased quickly, it was cloudy and overcast as we made our way to the hilltop village of Eze. Walking through narrow, winding streets, we passed a selection of craft shops and restaurants displaying some frankly ridiculous prices, before reaching the Jardin Exotique (exotic garden), featuring a huge range of cacti and some of the best views of the French Riviera you will get.








The vista from Eze is simply stunning, featuring prominently in many cruise brochures, and even a dull, overcast sky couldn't detract from the majesty of the scene. The ship is still clearly visible from five miles away, travelling on roads which pass some of the most exclusive and expensive real estate on the planet, not to mention feature in numerous films.




 Over the course of the day, our driver delighted in pointing out where, among others, Bono and Microsoft founder Paul Allen have their holiday homes. The Riviera is indeed the "millionaires' playground", and that is nowhere more evident than in our next stop, Monaco.


We arrived at the Rock of Monaco, visiting the cathedral to see the tomb of Princess Grace and the Changing of the Guard at the Palace there. The views over Monte Carlo were excellent, and as a Formula 1 enthusiast, knowing I would soon be traveling on the iconic Monaco Grand Prix circuit was a thrilling prospect. Looking down, I immediately noticed a landmark that’s referenced in one of the corner names – the swimming pool.







After a quick bite to eat at a roadside café overlooking the palace, we then headed down into Monte Carlo and prepared to drive a lap of the circuit. I was delighted to see the grid markings are still visible on the road.



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Then on to Casino Square, where we stopped to see the outside of the casino and gaze on the numerous supercars and limos, before heading back on to the circuit and entering the famous tunnel.






Lap driven, we left Monaco and headed back along the Lower Corniche to Nice.


Before we went in to the city, our driver / guide brought us to a great viewing point from where the city unfolded in front of us.




We had 90 minutes to explore the city before heading back to the ship.




Then, before we knew it, we were back in Villefranche, on a tender and heading back to Liberty.




That night, Pauline and I went to the ice show "Encore", followed by dinner in Johnny Rockets (MMmmmmmmm Milk Shake nom nom nom nom) and music from Sister Twist, an all girl Beatles tribute with some wonderful harmonies. And so, the final credits rolled on 'The French Connection', next on the projector - "The Italian Job" 

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Thanks guys. As I said, Villefranche will not be an option on Allure because of the need to tender, but it will be a port next year on longer Vision itineraries out of Barcelona and Anthem and Adventure cruises out of Southampton. 

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And suddenly, it's Wednesday morning and we're docking in Italy. As is my habit, I went for my early morning walk at around 6.30am. I usually walk 10km a day at home, so on the ship I would walk down the stairs to Deck 1, up to Deck 14, then down to Deck 4, three or four laps of Deck 4 (including the helipad), then up the stairs to Deck 12 and a few laps of the jogging track. Watching the sun come up as we sailed past one of Italy's biggest naval bases into La Spezia was great fun, before I made a quick circuit of some weights in the gym, visited the steam room and cantilevered whirlpool and then headed down to the MDR for my favourite onboard breakfast - Eggs Benedict.


As far as I know, La Spezia is a relatively new port for Royal ; Livorno would previously have been the main port of call in Tuscany for Florence and Pisa. Previously,we had visited Livorno on Navigator, and didn't relish the idea of a 2 hour bus or train ride into Florence, so we had another option in mind. The Cinque Terre. 


Five villages perched precariously on a range of cliffs overlooking the Ligurian Sea, recently named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Linked by walkways, rail and a ferry, there is no access into these villages for cars.


We caught the shuttle to the port entrance, then walked to La Spezia station, where we caught the 10.50 to the furthest of the villages - Monterosso.






Then, we started working our way back, visiting the next of the villages, Vernazza. From the top of an observation tower there, you could see the vineyards above the village which are crucial to its economy. It was also mudslides down those hills which caused millions or euro worth of damage, as well as some fatalities in 2011. The area is still recovering from that disaster, and some walkways still have not reopened.




From there, you could look over and see the next village, Corniglia.




Corniglia itself is the only one of the villages not on the water, and so, from the train station there, there are 365 steps up to the village. We debated whether or not to stop there, and decided to do it, so we could say we had visited all five villages in one day. Three of us ended up climbing the steps and then coming straight back down again, with no time to do Corniglia any justice. We will definitely return there. Again, from Corniglia, you can look over and see the next village, Manarola.





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Manarola is the second smallest of the five villages, but arguably one of the most photographed. We started walking along the path back towards Corniglia, just the first few hundred yards at which point we stopped for a coffee in a strategically placed cafe beside the point where most panoramic shots of Manarola are taken. It's a vista I've seen in quite a few cruise brochures and other travel orientated sites.




From the path, we could clearly look back towards Corniglia, a fairly straightforward and easy walk by all accounts, but the 365 steps lurk ominously at the end!




Then, it was back onto the train for the last of the villages, Riomaggiore. Now, graffiti is an issue in some parts of Italy, but judging by what I saw written over the tunnel at Riomaggiore station, the village must experience some Crazy, Crazy Nights!



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One thing we noticed in Riomaggiore was that while these look like idyllic pictures from paradise from a distance, when you look up close, these people live a hard life. Facilities are minimal, and by the looks of the buildings, people can have very little personal space. Apart from tourism income and what little is made from wine and food production, there's not much more to the local economy by the looks of things, and while places like this always look stunning in videos shot at the height of summer, it can be a different story on an overcast day in October. 






Then, after a day which has made us determined to return to this region, we headed back to La Spezia. Once on board, we slipped on our dancing shoes and headed down to the Platinum theatre to see Saturday Night Fever. As an amateur actor myself who specialises in stage musicals, I was very impressed with the production. The 'stars' were clearly chosen primarily for their dancing and musical prowess rather than their acting skills, but put on a very good show which really got us in the mood for the 70s Disco Party on the Royal Promenade that night.


Between the two, we headed down to the MDR for another excellent meal. (I really should have taken pics of menus and noted what I had, but was too busy eating and enjoying it!) During dinner, my beloved expressed her belief that the background music was on CD. I told her it was live, she disputed my assertion. I grabbed the camera I wasn't using to photograph my dinner, and came back three minutes later with this!




It isn't very often I get one over her....in fact, it's extremely rare....so I enjoyed that little victory! Then, after a night of music and reminiscence, we hit the sack. Liberty was Civitavecchia bound, and the next leg of our Italian adventure awaited.

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On Thursday morning, we pulled into Civitavecchia, with most people rushing into Rome, either on pre-arranged tours or by train. Both Pauline and I have been to Rome a number of times before, so we decided to stay in Cicitavecchia and explore the town itself.


A lot of work has obviously gone on around the waterfront and fort area to boost the visitor retention rate in the town, and given the evident difference since we were last there in July 2008, it certainly impressed us.


I will say that the train connection to Rome is excellent, with the station easily accessible on foot and the BIRG ticket costing around 11 euro, including metro and bus services in Rome itself. I did notice that as a result of the aforementioned work, the shuttle from the ship stops in a different area, which means a longer journey on the bus, and then a longer walk to the station. I can't say how long, because we were 'strolling' rather than walking, but I would say it was at least an extra 12 minutes walking. 


After my walk I grabbed some fruit and an orange juice, and following a leisurely steam and whirlpool session, we had a leisurely breakfast in Windjammer, which was relatively quiet at 9.45. We caught the shuttle into town, and strolled around. The area around the fort has been very nicely developed, as has the waterfront area beside it. I was surprised that there was no access from the landscaped area around the fort to the adjacent pier, which struck me as strange, but perhaps there are jurisdictional issues. Here's a few pics of the area.








I then took a stroll through town while my beloved sat by the sea to read.





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The area on the waterfront heading for the railway station has been very nicely developed, particularly Il Pirgo, a recreation of the traditional tourist pier leading out to the water. One disconcerting thing was the amount of graffiti around the pier area. Not the kind of 'artistic' graffiti which can be seen in many areas, just "I Woz Here" type scrawling with black markers. 








I met a very nice couple from Canada who were cruising on Oceania's "Rivieria", which followed us around most of the week. I took a few photographs for them with their camera, and seeing as my better half chose to sit and read rather than do the waterfront walk, they did the honours for me.




Then it was back to the ship for lunch in Windjammer and a round of minigolf before I tried something I've threatened to so on our four previous cruises, but only now mustered up the courage to try - The Wall!

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Up to the beginning of last year, I was very overweight, but managed to shed a few stone through an initiative here called "Operation Transformation". Hence, my penchant for early morning walks. Up to now, the idea of trying the wall would have been anathema to me, but encouraged by my beloved, I plucked up the courage and approached the counter. I had filled out the online waiver before leaving home, so the idea was there.


It transpired my clothes were too damp (they must be bone dry), so a quick change later and I was strapped in and ready to go.


I'm happy to say that while I didn't get the full way up, I rang the first bell, and was half way from there to the top when my arms just gave out, and I couldn't go any further. This is still one of my favourite pics from the cruise though!







Then, as the sun set over Civitavecchia, we headed in to celebrate the achievement by winning the Classic Rock trivia, before eating at Jade (me) and Windjammer (Pauline) and then heading out on deck to watch 'Edge of Tomorrow' on the big screen.


After that, bed, beckoned. Friday's visit to Naples was to be the busiest day of the cruise, the day I would get to realise a dream I've had for many years. Finally, I was going to visit Pompeii.

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Friday morning saw me out walking the decks for an hour or so at 6am, no need for a major session, plenty of walking would be done today! Back to the cabin for breakfast, which was delivered by room service bang on 7 o'clock. Ablutions completed and bellys satiated, we headed out to the cruise terminal entrance to meet our driver and guide. Arranged through Romeinlimo, Ashley

from Nashville, who had been married the previous Friday, had booked the driver and guide for 16 of us.


RIL usually provide a driver only, and a guide is an optional extra, which in this instance, was costing approximately €20 extra each. Arguably, it was the best €20 we spent all week. The guide (to my shame, I can't remember her name) was knowledgeable, knew the area inside out and was always there to answer questions. We thought we just had her for Pompeii, she stayed with us for the day.


In 79ad, a massive eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii, burying the city under tonnes of pumice and ash, up to 20 feet in places. In 1599, part of it was uncovered, and excavations began in earnest 150 years later. They continue to this day, with the site balancing archaeological priorities and needs against the tourism revenues of 2.5 million visitors a year.






At the centre of Pompeii is the forum and Temple of Jupiter, with Vesuvius in the background. Appropriately, given Pink Floyd's links with Pompeii, the summit of the volcano (which is still active) remained 'obscured by clouds' all day!




The reason everything is so well preserved is that when the lava, ash and pumice solidified, they acted as a preservative, ensuring that artifacts and even murals remain intact after nearly 2000 years. There was one exception to this - human bodies. Human remains decomposed into nothing, but their shape was maintained within the solidified detritus of the eruption. Archaeologists then used that empty space as moulds, with several casts of bodies kept on site. This is one of two examples in the baths.




This is the large theatre, not to be confused with the amphitheatre, in which Pink Floyd played in the 1970s. Sadly, I didn't get to visit the amphitheatre and sing a verse or two of Echoes, but I did get to sing a snippet from Showboat on the singer's spot in the smaller theatre next door to this one.




One of the most visited of the preserved buildings in Pompeii is the brothel, which has a very striking 'sign' sticking out from the wall, and fascinating indicators on nearby streets pointing the way. A number of the stone beds are preserved, as are murals and wall paintings which can only be described as a menu!




Obviously, the wooden supports are new!

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Two other fascinating ruins on the site related to food. A bakery, in which an over can be clearly seen which is practically identical to a traditional pizza oven seen in many restaurants and pizzerias today, and this one, what our guide playfully called the MacDonalds of its day. Urns full of hot stews and other delicacies were placed in the holes and kept warm, allowing people buy food at the counter and take it away. Several such ruins were found all over the site.




To be honest, I could have stayed in Pompeii all day, and will go back again some day. However, that was only the first part of the day's delights. On our CC roll call, at least half of the discussion focussed on what people were doing in Naples, and we were enjoying the most popular combination. Next stop - Positano!


We headed from Pompeii for Positano, a drive of roughly an hour or so. To get to Positano, we had to pass through the edges of Sorrento, to where we would return for the final leg of the tour. For now though, a stop at one of many viewing sites would be enough to whet the appetite.




After Sorrento, we were poised to experience one of the most spectacular and scenic car journies in Europe - the Amalfi coast. Our guide said it was a 'Mama Mia' drive. Passengers exclaim Mama Mia as the beautiful vista unfolds in front of them, drives exclaim the same thing as they negotiate blind bends with a sheer drop into the sea on one side of the car. To be honest, I only took two or three shots, before I put the camera away and just looked. To borrow Royal's favourite marketing word - WOW!




That's the fishing village on Priano on the horizon, Positano is hidden in behind the cliffs in the middle of the pic. Positano is similar to the villages of the Cinque Terre insofar as it features terraced housing built into the cliffs, but it seems much more affluent.







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After wandering around Positano for a while, it was back up the Amalfi Coast to Sorrento where we had lunch. Most of us had pizza, a must really when you're in the region it was invented. To be honest, our tablemate Padraig had a seafood risotto which looked amazing, but we were happy. Then, a complimentary shot of the local liqueur limencello, and it was off for some free time around Sorrento.






Then, a short hour (and some excellent gelato) later, we were back in the minibus and heading back to port. We didn't get to see much of Naples, save for what I photographed from the ship, but to repeat the most oft used phrase in this review, we'll be back!





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That night was the second formal night, and Pauline and I hooked up with our friends from Limerick ; Padraig, his wife and two adult children. All of us were on MTD, so we arranged a table for six and had a wonderful meal, including a Strawberry Napoleon which was hands down the best dessert of the week. However, I was a little disappointed not to see Fisherman's Plate on the menu for

either of the formal nights. The only lobster offered was the 'pay extra' option on the fringe of the menu.


I decided to cheat on formal night - I packed black trousers, white shirt and black bow tie, but left the jacket at home. Inevitably, I find I take the jacket off at the first opportunity, so I decided this would be a perfectly acceptable look.




Then, down to the theatre for Soul Sensation, a very good soul foursome with backing from the Liberty of the Seas orchestra. After that, a drink in Boleros before heading out on deck for the poolside White Nights Party.






There was a buffet, but to be honest, after the feed at dinner earlier, none of us could touch anything! All too soon, bed beckoned. Tomorrow was our last day, and we were determined it would be a sea day to remember.

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I awoke bright and early, and took my iPad with me on my walk to take some shots around the ship. In particular, I'm a sci-fi and fantasy fan, and to my delight, that is the theme of the artwork in the corridors of Deck 6. I'll post a selection of the best shots a little later. I was a bit apprehensive taking the iPad out onto a windy Deck 4, but I was anxious to get a shot of the early morning wake.









One of the things I was eager to experience was going through the Strait of Bonifacio, which separates the French island of Corsica to the north, and the Italian island of Sardinia to the south. The strait itself is just a few miles, and this wonderful map which was mounted on an easel in the Royal Promenade showed us going through at 9am on the Saturday morning. It was accurate to within 10 minutes!





This is Pauline and I on the helipad on a windy Saturday morning at 9am, you can see Sardina on my left, and the bare tip of Corsica on Pauline's right!




After that, we went to Windjammer for breakfast, and then I went down to Ben and Jerry's for "Coffee with the Captain" - Captain Teo came down, chatted to the 15 or so people who gathered there and we had a very enlightening and enjoyable 30 minutes with him.




Then, up to Deck 11 for what has become a cruise tradition for us, and one I hope to maintain for a long time to come - the Walk for Wishes. We have quite a few of the shirts now, and it's one I'll always be proud to wear. 



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After enjoying the sightseeing, the captain's conversation and the walks, it was time for some Terry Pratchett and sun. We got adjoining lounge chairs on Deck 12, close to the Sky Bar, and read and relaxed, while belly flops and volleyball games went on behind us. We stayed there for several hours, with a very tasty poolside barbecue and occasional dips in the pools and jacuzzis the only distractions from the latest dispatches from Discworld!




We were also blessed by the fact that this was the sunniest day of the week! Impeccable timing indeed.


At 5.15, we got up, and went to head down to the Royal Promenade for the Dreamworks parade. We never got there.


As we were heading in to the deck, Pauline pointed to a woman who had just walked past us and exclaimed "That's Irene!" Irene, who is in her 50s with a grown up family, remarried in August. Pauline and I were at her wedding. She had mentioned previously that she was interested in cruising, and we gave her some advice. We hadn't seen her since the wedding, and so weren't privy to her plans.


"Are you sure?" I asked. Pauline's response was to run after them, and tap the woman on the shoulder. Sure enough, after marrying in August, Irene and her new husband were honeymooning in October. Obviously, it's a big ship, with several floors and cabin options. We were in a Promenade Room... so were they. We were on Deck 6.....so were they. We established they were 10 doors away from us! We headed to the Sky Bar for a drink and a chat, and then down to Cafe Promenade for our evening ritual of hot chocolate and cookies. A huge surprise indeed on the last evening of the cruise. Shrek and co. will just have to wait! 


Later that night we watched a magic show in the theatre, and then the final dinner in the MDR, before we and our Limerick friends hit the On-Air for Karaoke. I got up to sing 'Sweet Caroline', and as I looked out into the audience, Irene and her husband were right in front of me. What a headwrecker it would have been if we hadn't met them earlier!




And so, our week on Liberty drew to a close. A wonderful week, during which we saw some fantastic sights, ate some wonderful food, and most importantly of all, met some great people. It copperfastened my belief that cruising is the best form of holiday, and we're now deep in discussion about which Caribbean itinerary we'll do next year. The current favourite is following in Matt's footsteps on Jewel, but I'm looking at Allure's Eastern run and thinking mmmmmmmm! However, I was 50 this year, next year is my better half's turn, so what she wants...she gets!


There were so few negatives on this cruise they barely warrant a mention. Some plumbing issues were speedily addressed after I alerted our Stateroom Attendant 'Big D', some of the fod options were limited (no Fisherman's Plate, no honey stung chicken on day 1), and the Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle was scheduled at 5.15 on the day we were in Villefranche with a 6.30 all aboard time, so quite a few people never made it. However, these are minor irritations, and barely put in dent in our enjoyment.


The biggest downer of all was walking off the ship on Sunday morning, hearing that 'bing' for the last time, and getting into that taxi bound for the airport. By lunchtime, we were back in Belfast. Needless to say, it was raining!



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Folks, thanks for reading these ramblings. For those contemplating a European cruise, I would heartily recommend it. With Allure on this route next year (excluding Villefranche), I predict another great season for Royal Caribbean on the Western Med.


Liberty herself is also a beautiful ship, and as promised, I'll leave you with a few random shots I took around the ship. If you have the pleasure of sailing on her in the future, I can only wish you as good a cruise as we had. 














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