Although COVID-19 isn’t completely out of our lives, there’s no doubt that travel is back.
I’ve traveled to several international destinations this year, mostly for weddings or major life milestones, but I decided that for my 35th birthday I would try something different. A western Caribbean cruise on Royal Cruise Lines.
Let me preface this article by saying that we were invited as guests of the cruise line, and as so, they gave us the VIP treatment. They certainly made me feel special on by birthday trip, but we also spoke to other travelers to see what kind of experience they had had on their trip. Below is everything you need to know about taking a Royal Caribbean Cruise out of Galveston.
Austin is only about 3 ½ hours away from the Galveston port, which is exactly why I chose the 7 day cruise on the Liberty of the Seas. My sister joined me on the trip and we drove down to the Galveston area the day before and stayed at a friend’s house overnight. Many of the people we spoke to said they also arrived the night before and stayed in hotels since they had previously missed their cruises due to issues with canceled flights.
On embarkation day we chose to board around 1 p.m. since the ship departed at 4pm, and we parked our car at the Galveston Pier lot. Royal Caribbean allows you to check your luggage, which is then delivered to your cabin. This can take hours, so we each packed a backpack with a bathing suit and some of our essential items so we could have time to enjoy the cruise before our bags were delivered.
The cruise line set us up in a balcony room which included a patio set, a couch, a vanity space and a sizeable closet. My sister and I had previously been on cruises when we were teenagers and our parents didn’t spring for the balcony cabin, and let me tell you, I’ll never go back to an internal room. It was so great to be able to step outside and just stare out into the ocean on sea days. The ship makes natural crashing waves sounds as it advances and we definitely fell asleep out there on multiple occasions. The room itself was clean and spacious but the ship was built in 2007, so the rooms could use some sprucing up.
Food & Fare
At Austin Food Magazine, food is very important to us, not just in everyday life, but also during travel.
Although the Western Caribbean cruise is 7 days, you spend about 4 days at sea. I had friends who said they thought they would feel trapped or claustrophobic, but the ship is so large and has so much to do that never felt that way. Since we’ve been on cruises before, we knew the buffet would be our last option for meals. Certain food and drink options are included with your basic cruise fare. That includes the buffet, a pizza restaurant and the formal dining in the main dining room. You’re allowed to choose the time you would like to have dinner every night at the formal dining room but lunch and breakfast are first come first serve. Most people opt for the buffet for breakfast, especially if they have children.
Let me say that the main dining room is the way to go. The dining experience was elevated, including amazing wait staff that truly wanted you to have the best experience. We had fantastic waiters that would ask us about our day and what we were planning on doing at the ports of call. They’re from all over the world, which makes for some amazing conversation.
The main dining rooms also have some great food choices that you won’t see at the buffet. We dined on ribeye steak, French onion soup, crème brulee, escargot, chicken parmesan and beef stroganoff to name a few. The beauty of the main dining room is that you can order an appetizer, a starter, a main dish and a dessert if your little heart desires.
As I mentioned above, the price of your cruise includes your dining at specific places, but Royal Caribbean wanted us to experience their many culinary options and made reservations for us at 3 of their specialty restaurants that you have to pay an additional fee for. The first one we chose was their Chef’s Table.
This experience is just as it sounds. You’re at a special table where the chef curates a special meal that is brought out in 6 courses which include 6 wine and cocktail parings. Our dinner included scallop carpaccio, smoked tomato soup, Maine lobster salad, roasted branzino, filet mignon and a truly decadent dessert that had a peanut butter ganache, chocolate mouse and salted caramel gelato inside a chocolate egg that was melted with hot caramel.
Aside from the amazing dishes, our chef came out before every course and explained in detail how every dish was made and his thought process creating it.
We also had the chance to try out two other specialty restaurants on the ship, Chops Grille and Giovanni’s Table. Both had amazing menus with elevated dishes and a great attention to detail.
One thing I will recommend to anyone that enjoys having some cocktails is the deluxe drinks package. This made it super easy to enjoy a drink without having to worry about the cost and gave us the ability to really customize what kind of drinking experience we wanted to have that day.
The pool bars were really amazing about coming up some with some delicious tropical drinks that didn’t feel overly sweet and really made you feel like you were on vacation. We tried so many different ones until we found our favorite, the “Pretty in Pink”. I had no clue that they made strawberry gin, but when you added guava syrup, lime juice and pineapple juice, it was the perfect refreshing drink.
The ship also had an indoor promenade area with multiple places to get a drink, like a British pub, a wine bar and a Latin salsa bar. We enjoyed a wine tasting at on a sea day and loved listening to the guitarist at the pub at night. The salsa bar also had amazing music and definitely had a crowd of dancers every night.
Aside from the places I just mentioned on the promenade, there were plenty of fun things to do on the ship. Let’s start with all the pools and fun that can be had on deck during the day. They have a main pool where they host daily entertainment like belly flop and sexiest man contests. Servers are constantly walking around the pool and will bring you any cocktail you wish, as long as you have your room card. There’s also a kids only splash pad and an adults-only area, which came in very handy for us.
The back of the ship has some great water rides too. They have a surf rider area where you can learn to surf, as well as three waterslides. If sports are your thing, you can also join in on some friendly competitions like basketball, volleyball and some rock climbing.
For night time fun I recommend the casino. They had all the typical games you would expect and even hosted fun tournaments. I’m a slot machine person, so I had to sign up for the slot machine tournament. If you’re wondering what that is, you basically just keep hitting the spin button as fast as you can and hope to get the highest score after 2 minutes. My sister and I made it to the finals but fell short of the top prize.
I also really enjoyed checking out the piano bar and requesting random Britney Spears and 90s R&B songs for the piano man to play. Plenty of lovely cocktails were had at this bar.
The ship also has a full line up of comedians, musicals and even ice skating shows throughout the week. If you plan on attending these, I recommend setting up your dinner time a little earlier since these start around 8 pm. Even with all these things to do, one of our favorite things was the silent disco. My sister had never tried it before but after all the silent discos I’ve attended at ACL Festival, I knew she would love it if she just tried it. We made some awesome friends who were just as care-free and danced the night away.
Ports of Call
Now to the reason that you take a cruise, to explore different countries in one trip. Liberty of the Seas stops in Cozumel; Georgetown, Grand Cayman and Falmouth, Jamaica.
Since we had previously been on cruises, we knew that there would be people selling excursions when we got to the different ports. This worked wonderfully in Cozumel and Grand Cayman (Not so much in Jamaica, but I’ll get to that).
We decided to go take a taxi and head to an adventure park in Cozumel called Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park. They had snorkeling, a beach area, restaurants, dolphin encounters and something I’ve always wanted to do, swimming with manatees. This is really unique because manatees were endangered for a long time but this group is working to educate tourists about these awesome animals and supporting causes that works to increase the manatee population in Mexico. We learned so much about manatees and even got a special kiss from one. We wrapped up the day with massages on the beach and some tacos and micheladas overlooking the ocean.
For our stop in Grand Cayman we decided that we would just get a simple tour of the island. The weather called for thunderstorms and even though swimming with the stingrays is a big draw, being in the middle of the ocean during a storm would be pretty terrible. We got on a bus and immediately it started to pour but we didn’t mind because the driver was telling us so many interesting things about the islands. We saw the Governor’s Mansion, stopped by a dolphin encounter, made a pit stop at the Tortuga Rum store, and eventually made it to Hell. Yes, there’s a specific part of the Cayman Islands called Hell, where Satan himself will stamp your passport. It’s basically a very creepy looking area with some sharp rock formations and a store where you can send postcards from Hell.
We ended the day on a local beach where we picked up some amazing fried mahi-mahi and breadfruit from a food truck called Murph’s Kitchen. We found the perfect spot on the sand and saw some locals selling rum punch and beers so we hopped over there for the full experience. After eating this spicy and amazing food, we hopped in the water and marveled at the clear warm water as a thunderstorm was heading our way.
Now, let’s get to Jamaica. Again, the popular stop for many tourists are the Dunn’s River Waterfalls. We had previously been there so we decided we wanted to check out something else. We didn’t book a tour ahead of time, since purchasing them at the port had worked great before, but that was a mistake.
We were not aware that the port at Falmouth is owned and operated by Royal Caribbean. That meant that when we got off the ship we had to search for the tours that were still available and there were only two left. We decided to go to the Good Hope Estate, which they explained was an old sugar cane farm and included a tour of Appleton Rum. When we finally got to the estate, it was green and beautiful, but we were soon incredibly disappointed.
The tour only included a very small area of the estate, and not the actual estate which is still standing. The tour guide told us the history of the area and about the old sugar mill, which only has a few remaining walls. We probably walked about 3 blocks and were then led to a room where we were shown several videos from the rum factory, which is not on the estate, and were given some rum tastings.
We were under the impression that there would be a full rum factory tour and that this would be a much more immersive tour, which it was not. We were then told we had 45 minutes to enjoy the pool and then it was back to the bus. We made the most of it, eventually finding a vendor and purchasing some meat pies and jerk chicken, which was very tasty. I washed it all down with some Red Stripe but left supremely disappointed in our tour, which was terrible since we had both been looking forward to our day in Jamaica.
One thing you’ll remember about your time on a Royal Caribbean cruise is the level of attention you received from their staff. They were super friendly and had some amazing insight to what was going on at the ports of call and on the ship. We loved our servers and even exchanged social media handles with one of them to stay in touch.
We also met some really nice fellow travelers who we connected with from the start at the Chef’s Table. They were from Louisiana and were super friendly and met up with us several times during the week. It may seem counter-intuitive to make cruise friends, but many of them are constant cruisers with Facebook pages that are set up prior to each cruise. People who love cruises are happy to share their tips and tricks and it only takes a quick hello to see what activity is worth your time.
Yes, the average age on the cruise was quite a bit older than us, but there were plenty of people there in their 20s and 30s celebrating birthdays and bachelorette parties. I think that Royal Caribbean does a great job of creating special experiences for all ages.
Overall we had an amazing time on our trip. We hadn’t been on a cruise since we were teenagers and this was a nice experience as an adult with more freedom to explore everything the ship had to offer.
Since my trip, I’ve had friends who saw my social media coverage ask whether I truly had a good time or if I just made it seem that way. I can honestly say that we had a great time. We had some ups and downs but we made the most of it and I was able to spend some time with my sister and reconnect on this special trip. We saw some beautiful sunsets and sunrises, ate awesome food, had all the cocktails and made memories to last a life time.
When we got back to Galveston we didn’t want the good times to end, so we opted for one last brunch at the Hotel Galvez. If you’ve never been there, I highly recommend it as a wonderful bookend to the trip. We’re talking crab legs, oysters, omelette and pasta bars, and all the amazing deserts you could ever think of.
Royal Caribbean has several cruises that leave from Galveston and they actually have a brand new terminal in Galveston. They also have the a new route on their Allure of the Seas ship that is offering a 7 day western Caribbean cruise that stops in the Costa Maya, Cozumel and in Roatan, Honduras. The Allure of the Seas is the largest ship that Royal Caribbean has so that may be the next cruise on my list.
If you have any questions about cruises feel free to message me on Instagram at @thetaniaortega and happy travels.
More information about traveling with Royal Caribbean from Galveston can be found at this link.