The first of the larger "Freedom-class' ships - just upgraded with Dreamworks, new entertainment and eateriesBest For People Who Want
A bigger-than-life cruise experience with nearly unlimited activities; the feeling of being in a city-at-sea; family members of many ages to have a grand time; non-stop nightlifeShould Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
A small ship with lots of quiet; large inside/outside standard cabins; single, open seating or intimate dining; a close-to-the-sea cruise.Onboard Experience
Freedom of the Seas, at 160,000-ton, was the biggest cruise ship in the world before 220,000-ton Oasis arrived. She is an expanded, though nearly identical version, of RCI's popular Voyager-class ships, but with more happening on the top sports and pool decks.
One of the first differences you will notice is the H20 Zone, a children's water park with enormous, brightly colored figurines spouting sprays of water. The adults-only pool area has two cantilevered whirlpools extending out from the side of the ship. Each holds at least a dozen people plus four hammocks. The next attraction is the "FlowRider" a water wave generating machine that send a constant curl down a hill that an expert surfer can (supposedly) ride until the power runs out. The rock climbing wall is taller than on the earlier ships, with more toe-holds.
At 445 feet long, the Freedom Royal Promenade is a bit longer and a bit wider than the little sister ships. Here you'll find the boutiques found on the Voyager class vessels, including a Ben and Jerry's ice cream stand ($2.50 per cone); a wine bar; Seattle's Finest Coffee ($2.50 per cappuccino) but pleanty of delicious free pastry and sandwiches; the Book Nook, with best sellers and guidebooks for sale; and A Close Shave, charging an outrageous $72 for a shave. The English-style Bull and Bear is for beer lovers, it features a live acoustic guitarist playing favorites, and Sorrento is a pizzeria.
This is a real people-watching ship; even those who can't do all of what the Freedom offers seem to enjoy watching those who can. The 40-foot-high rock-climbing walls are busy all day. There is an ice-skating rink for recreational skating as well as for Ice Capades-type shows. There's a three-story dining room, one of among the biggest casinos at sea, and a 9-hole miniature golf course.
There are a full three miles of public corridors, but the hallways are occasionally "jiggered" so you don't get a sense of the full distance, plus excellent signage precludes anyone getting too grievously lost. However, after a simple "let's go see the ship!" comment leads you out the door, by the time you return to your cabin you will feel like Marco Polo. The 500-foot-long, over three-lanes-wide four-deck-high Royal Promenade is all too evocative of an onshore mall. The promenade is lined with the Cork & Kettle English Pub, a 24-hour cafe for pizza and pastries; a champagne bar; and shops displaying their ship's logo items outside to designer merchandise by Versace, Bulgari, and Lladro inside.
There is a $4.25-per-scoop Ben & Jerry's. Pay-per-view in-cabin movies are $11.95, and there's actually an admission charge to Johnny Rockets (although the burgers are free, and worth every cent). There's a $20 surcharge for each of two alternative restaurants Portofino's and Chops Grill. There is a clubby cigar lounge; the nautical-inspired Schooner Bar; a well-stocked library; the Card Room; the Champagne Bar; and the Skylight Wedding Chapel (at the highest point on the ship, on Deck 15). An Internet Center, royalcaribbeanonline, is open 24 hours. (basic charge is 50 cents a minute). There is no self-service launderette.Decor
Clean, simple and tasteful, featuring a lot of Art Nouveau influence, seems just right for a ship this size. The atrium boasts modern sculpture based on your typical red, yellow and green traffic signals at one end and a more abstract display at the other. Glass elevators in the verticle atriums at each end of the promendae make for breathtaking views of the interior of the ship.Public Rooms
The breathtaking Royal Promenade -- four decks high, longer than a football field, wider than three lanes of traffic -- has no windows to the outside, but several windows to inside (promenade view) staterooms. Those windows are almost always shuttered however, so people on the outside cannot see what is happening on the inside (picture). The mall is always dazzlingly illuminated, unless the lighting effects are turned on for the Mardi Gras-style parades complete with stilt walkers, a swaying inflatable dancer, streamers and confetti.
Video: Promenade Parade
The enormous Casino Royale, through which passengers must pass on deck four to get to the main show lounge, is gilded to within an inch of its life, with nearly 300 slots and tables for blackjack, craps, roulette and Caribbean Stud Poker. The "Crypt" which is an '80s style gothic disco pulses into the wee hours. The well-stocked library, which feels like an urban bookshop, provides seating along its glass wall for an overview of the Royal Promenade. The Viking Crown Lounge is perched 14 decks above the ocean. You can get married in port in the ship's Wedding Chapel, bringing up to 60 of your closest friends and families.
The gorgeous La Scala Theater, a state-of-the-art 1,350-seat show lounge, features such decorative elements as a Murano glass chandelier and a jewel-bedecked velvet stage curtain.
That ice rink you hear so much about is a two decks below the atrium and right in the middle of the ship, which means some fancy footwork is sometimes required to get to other public areas. In fact, the great and spacious interior of the ship is almost completely surrounded by private cabins, so to get any look at the ocean at all you'll have to head for the cluster of lounges on the upper decks or outside on the decks themselves.
Video: Freedom.com Ice Show
Amply decked out with recliners, the pool areas bustle with activity and also are the staging area for fashion shows and planned games. The real action takes place on the sports deck, where fitness fans work up a sweat playing ping-pong or basketball or rock-climbing. Families flock to the open-air 9-hole miniature golf course
The best spots for being alone with a book during days at sea are the sea view Seven of Hearts card room and Cloud Nine Lounge on Deck 14. Serious misanthropes can retreat all the way up the curving stairway to Deck 15's Skylight Chapel, where no one ever ventures, and where no music is piped in.Cuisine
Mouthwatering descriptions on the menus notwithstanding, you just won't hear people raving about the food. In fact, some of the menu names can be downright deceiving, for example a chocolate fondue came out looking and tasting much more like a vanilla mousse. However, the service is surprisingly efficient for a ship this size.Restaurants
The ship's elegant main restaurant features a crystal chandelier a grand, three deck staircase. The three decks it spans are separately named for famous operas; Carmen, La Boheme and the Magic Flute. The ship's second most popular dining venue (though it is more of a lunching venue) is Johnny Rockets, which now carries a $3.95 service charge, and in which you might have to wait to be seated. The vast Lido deck restaurant for casual buffet-style meals is cleverly designed to look like two individual eateries, minimizing the sense of size and crowds. Portofino, the alternative Italian restaurant, is a lovely intimately-lit venue, though you might, if you're not attentive, realize you've got your fork in an adjacent diner's salad; the tables are that close together. The other alternative dining venue, Chop's, is for grilled entrees and large lavish desserts. Well worth the service fee.Service
It's obvious that the multinational staff and crew enjoy watching their passengers enjoy themselves. They're uniformly cheerful, knowledgeable, and eager to help. The wait staff in every restaurant is noticeably solicitous and conscientious.
Cabin service staff is efficient but unobtrusive. The purser's desk is notably responsive, especially in view of how much troubleshooting they must have to do on a ship this size. Room service was surprisingly efficient, usually telling us delievery would be a lot later than it actually was. Be prepared to tip on delivery even though there is nothing to sign.Tipping
Royal Caribbean suggests a per person per day gratuity of $3.50 for the stateroom attendant ($5.75 if sailing in a suite); $3.50 for the waiter; $2.50 for the Assistant Waiter; .75 Head Waiter. These gratuities may be paid in cash or charged to your onboard account. For children sailing as third or fourth passenger in the stateroom, tipping is at the parents' discretion.
A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage tabs. Gratuities for room service, spa, casino and other staff are at your discretion.Entertainment
The main showroom has stage shows but surprisingly Royal Caribbean chose not to add a "Broadway"-book show with the upgrade because the shows on the ship were already popular enough.
Freedom also now has the DreamWork Experience - an agreement with the maker of such animated hits as Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Megamind and others. There is a full 3D movie theater onboard to show these movies in their original format. The movie's star characters also make appearances during the Grand Promendae parades and at certain functions for the kids.
Aside from those options you have nighttime Karaoke, a comedy club, and a funnier solo singer/guitarist in the Pub on the Royal Promenade.Cabins
Royal Caribbean is known for small cabins, inside cabins are just about big enough to turn around in. Hats off to Royal Caribbean, though, for not skimping on balcony cabins. Actually, cabins are roomier than elsewhere in RCI's fleet. Inside cabins do measure a stingy 160 sq. ft; but outside cabins range from 180 to 265 sq. ft. and suites from 610 to 1188 sq. ft. Moreover, there's lots of storage, especially nice for a ship that is essentially a destination unto itself. Standard amenities include flat panel color TV with CNN and movies; a safe; individual temperature controls for the air conditioning; and RCI's first hair dryers. There are tubs only in the highest category staterooms' bathrooms; most have just showers (though unexpectedly large ones.
Some of the more interesting cabins are the inside promenade cabins with (non-opening) windows looking down upon the interior promenade. During the day these add plenty of space to the room, although you have to sit on the couch to look out at the action. The probems occur at night when the light in your stateroom become brighter than what;s outside, essentially making your cabin a fishbowl for the world to watch.Fitness/Spa
The most noticable thing is the boxing ring, a first on a cruise ship with sister ship Freedom. There was actually an staff boxing instructor during our cruise. The ship's well-equipped gym still draws serious fitness buffs with its full range of state-of-the-art machines. The two-level Steiner Spa, with its winding staircase, looks more like the lobby of a boutique hotel, albeit with a Greek motif. It houses a small attractive thalassotherapy-like pool in an airy glass-enclosed but private semi-circular room. The Solarium's serene outdoor pool area nestles behind the spa; you're surrounded there by fountains, foliage, and statues, with a retractable glass ceiling overhead. A obvious addition to this class of ships are the cantilevered jacuzzi spas that actually hang over the sides of the ship. They look most dramatic from the outside than the inside, still, its an interesting novelty.Children's Facilities
Royal Caribbean has made a number of improvements to youth and teen programming. One new program is Adventure Theater, developed by Camp Broadway in New York City to give kids an immersion into the performing arts. On each RCI sailing, teens and kids can learn acting fundamentals, vocalization, and dance techniques during a series of three 45-minute Adventure Theater sessions.
Another innovative program is Scratch DJ101 classes, which are available to all ages, along with special two-hour sessions just for teens on Liberty of the Seas. After their lessons, teens can showcase their music mixing knowledge in a graduation performance that friends and family can attend.
RCI has added new activities for those three to five years old in conjunction with Fisher-Price. Some of the new themes include Chefs on Deck, which involves role playing for pre-schoolers; Dino Adventure; and Train-O-Mania.
Lastly, RCI unveiled a Youth Loyalty Program this summer. Children and teens can now also enjoy Crown & Anchor Society repeat passenger benefits. Rewards for youngsters on their second or more RCI cruise include Crayola Twistable crayons or a Royal Caribbean bag. All repeating youth receive a Youth Ultimate Value Booklet with coloring pages, games and discounts for onboard amenities such as Ben & Jerry's, Airbrush Tattoo, and arcade games. Parents can enroll their children (if they have already cruised with RCI) via the line's website: www.royalcaribbean.com/youth.
A new program for infants and toddlers 6 months to 3 years, in partnership with toy maker Fisher-Price, offers 45-minute playgroups for children accompanied by an adult, involving storytelling, creative arts, music and a variety of Fisher-Price learning toys and games.
Private babysitting is offered from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., provided sitters are available, for children from one year old. The rate is usually between $8.00 and $10 per per hour depending on the number of children in the family. Cash payment is made directly to the sitter. Arrange through Guest Services at least 24 hours in advance.Attire
There are two formal nights per cruise. Maybe it's this ship's particularly festive reputation that induced most men onboard our sailing to don actual tuxedos for formal nights. A dark suit is just as appropriate. In fact, you will feel slightly out of place if you are not dressed appropriately n formal night. In general, though, this ship offers so much to do onboard that passengers don't all dress alike.
My wife, Ginny , and I enjoyed our fifth cruise on the Freedom of the Seas. The ship is very well maintained so it looks pretty much like it did during its introductory year. That’s an excellent testament to the cruise line management and staff! A new menu, being introduced on the Freedom, deserves a special note for this cruise! It was very good.
Embarkation: We live about 40 minutes from Port Canaveral so getting to the port is easy. Parking at the port is very convenient but a little pricey at $120 for the week. The multistory parking garage is across the street from terminal 10 which means a 5 minutes or less walk to the terminal. There are three entrances, one for platinum level and above members and two for all other passengers. Entries are covered which is nice. We arrived about 11:15 am and were on the ship and in the Windjammer café in 20 minutes. There was some construction outside the terminal which caused some confusion.
We were in our cabin at 1:00 pm, and our bags arrived later before the safety drill.
Dining: We use "My Time" diningwhen we travel by ourselves. The dining room opens at 5:30 pm which works for us early birds. The menu was a special attraction on this cruise because it was new. Apparently it is being debuted on the Freedom. The choices were different from those we experienced previously and those we tried were excellent. The previous menu items were also excellent, by the way.
The main courses we tried included seafood spaghetti, horseradish crushed filet of salmon, pan fried filet of barramundi, filet of beef tenderloin, shrimp gyoza, pan seared filet of sole, tiger shrimp, grilled t-bone steak, lobster (larger than previous) & shrimp, Thai chicken breast, cod filet, chicken cordon bleu, and roasted turkey. There were a dozen or so selections for every main course that included meat, fish and pasta.
Desserts seemed to be especially nice and included frozen strawberry soufflé, cherries jubilee, pies, cakes and ice cream. Soups included the chilled fruit soups which are among our favorites. Watermelon pudding was new and tasty!
The Windjammer food for breakfast was excellent as always. They present a large selection of eggs, bread, meat, fruit and pastries. Lunch had a selection just as good. We always enjoy the Brasserie 30 lunch on cruising/sea days which is served in the dining room. Selecting your own ingredients for a large salad is a treat.
Ports: We did the Eastern Caribbean which includes Coco Cay, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten. St Thomas and St. Maarten both have shopping at the pier as well as downtown. We sail to the Caribbean principally for the ship experience, having been to the ports before and tried several of the excursions.
Staff and Crew: Excellent! Everyone was very accommodative, pleasant and seemed to be enjoying themselves even though many of them, including the room stewards, waiters and waitresses work very long hours every day seven days of the week.
Disembarkation: Getting off the Freedom was as easy as getting on. We signed up to get off at 7:30 am, received our green 3 bag tags, and put our bags in the hallway Saturday evening. We went to our waiting room (the dining room) and our number three was called about 7:30 am. We were in our car at 7:50 am and home before 8:30 am. That is pretty normal for disembarkation from a Royal Caribbean ship.
I just sailed on my eighth cruise. I've been on Royal Caribbean, Disney, Carnival, and Norwegian. My best experience was on RC and now my worst experience was on RC Freedom of the Seas. I expected excellent service from this company especially since it was from a freedom class ship. I was very disappointed when I went to the dining room and received the mediocre service. The service was slow and had a lack of a personal touch. I felt like another mouth being fed and not a valuable customer. I heard from others on the ship that felt the same. I hope this was just a bad experience and not the new norm for Royal Caribbean.
We are a family of 4. DH and I are in our early forties and we have a daughter who is 5 and a son who is 4.
I'll try to position this as a critical review of the Royal FOTS with (where applicable) comparisons to recent sailings on Carnival Dream and HAL Eurodam.
Obviously this is based on my personal experience ... your mileage may vary and probably will.
Activities There were an abundance of activities on board ~ almost too many. Granted you don't have to do everything, but we found ourselves rushing from activity to activity and had to miss some due to scheduling conflicts between dinner and night shows. I would not say that it was a relaxing holiday but it was an enjoyable one.
I was happy to see that Royal had some family activities (family disco, family karaoke, family wii etc.). I would have been nice if those activities were also printed in the Adventure ocean compass too.
If I had to make any recommendations to Royal it would be to give more thought to scheduling of events and how those conflict with dinner times and kid's clubtimes.
They can't please everyone though, and I recognize this.
Adventure Ocean My kids were in the 3 to 5 AO club. This was the BIGGEST disappointment of the whole trip.
Perhaps my kids are just mature, but I found the kid's club to be very juvenile. I was really disappointed with the counsellors who appeared to be more babysitters than anything else. They mostly had very heavy accents which my kids found difficult to understand. Not one of them appeared to be enthusiastic, happy, or to love their jobs. On more than one occasion, I appeared to pick up/drop off my kids only to find a counsellor yelling at a child (fortunately not my child!). Despite the events that were posted in the compass, almost every time I arrived, the counsellors were reading a book and children were being lectured to sit quietly and listen. Now, I will admit that my kids came home with small crafts/coloured items, so they were definitely doing other things, but reading a book seemed to be the most frequent activity.
My kids did not LOVE the kid's club and I do not blame them one bit. In comparison to other kid's clubs (Club HAL and Camp Carnival), I found the general decor of the kids clubs to be depressing and not happy or stimulating. My kids went reluctantly only on the assurance that we were not going to leave them for a long time. I felt guilty every time I dropped my kids off. I will note that the counsellors (Chop Suey for example) in the next age group were much better.
In comparison, earlier this year we sailed HAL, and based on our experience, Club HAL was way better, which is surprising for a cruiseline that does not target young families. The counsellors were happy and energetic and very obviously loved their jobs. By day 2, they were greeting children and parents by first name. Yes, it is a smaller ship with fewer young families, but I would guess that they had about 40 kids participating in kid's club.
Most of the parents I spoke to in the waiting area seemed to share my sentiments about Adventure Ocean.
I'll also comment on the "Fisher Price" loot bag the kids received at the end of the cruise. OMG, my kids (4 and 6) outgrew Fisher Price a long time ago. Granted it was better than nothing, but I found the loot bag way too juvenile. When the kids left Club HAL, they received yellow nylon backbag bags, filled with all their crafts, chocolates, pencils, and lots of HAL giveaways. HAL was waaaayyyyy more generous with the give aways at every event and not just the final lootbag.
Service Service was surprisingly good. We had the best Head Waiter we've ever had on a ship. We usually gripe about tipping the Head Waiter, but we actually tipped this guy a little extra. He came to speak with us every night to make sure we were happy and was really good at facilitating our character breakfasts and other requests. Our server (Colleen) was excellent. DH thought she was the best server we'd ever had (my vote goes to Yunis on Eurodam). However, with open seating for breakfast and dinner, the service was less than stellar. The breakfast and lunch waitstaff generally seemed grumpy. On one occasion, we had a breakfast waiter who was always grumpy when dealing with us (and no – we are not grumpy people) .... yet he had one of his dinner families seated right next to us ... and as he turned to deal with them, he would always put on his happy face/voice. IT was clear to us, that his gratuity was not based on how he dealt with us ... and so he certainly was not giving his best efforts for us. We give the overall edge for service to HAL. We had great service on HAL, everywhere by everyone.
Nut Allergies Like most ships, Royal does a horrible job with allergies, specifically peanut allergies. For example, last year when we sailed on Grandeur,, I had an allergic reaction to the Apple Parcels which are offered on a sea day lunch menu. I alerted the wait staff on Grandeur and followed up with a complaint to Royal to advise them that the description on the menu should indicate the presence of nuts in the dessert. No action was taken and the Apple parcels still appear on the menu with no flag as to the item containing almonds. DH ordered one for our son for dessert, and fortunately, I stopped him. My son has tree nut and peanut allergies.
The entire chocolate breakfast (served at both character breakfasts) was OFF LIMITS for him. When the waiter dropped the plate of baked goods on the table, he said, "not for anyone with nut allergies" and then I called him back to elaborate. He then sent the Head Wait who explained that Royal Chocolate product has "may contain nuts" on the label, so they consider EVERY chocolate item to contain nuts. If that is the case, this should be stated on the menu. Also, on the first night after we advised both our waiter and the Head waiter of my son's nut allergies, neither advised us of this "all chocolates contain nuts" warning. I know it is just Royal protecting their own butt. It would have been nice if I knew the entire chocolate menu contained or could contain nuts, and then I would not have read those items to him. Unfortunately, it was only after I got my son all excited about the chocolate banana bread, that I had to tell him that he could not have it. My little guy is a TROUPER though and does an amazing job of being told that he can't eat something because of his peanut allergies. Now, we generally, don't follow the "may contain" as my son has a consumption allergy so we generally just specifically avoid anything that expressly contains nuts. Nevertheless, we erred on the side of caution. I offer this as a "heads up" for any families sailing with Nut Allergic children. Next time, I'm bringing chocolate chips from home so my son can enjoy chocolate chip pancakes. But I would think it would not be toooo much effort for Royal to source and reserve some nut-free chocolate for those patrons that specifically request it.
Characters The kids loved the parades and the characters. I wish there were more though. From Shrek, we had Shrek, Fiona and Puss N Boots. From Madagascar, we had Alex, Gloria, and King Julian. My kids LOVE the penguins, and sadly they were not there (except in the video shown at the sail away party OR the inflatable ones in the dreamworks parade). (Despite seeing them on the FOTS videos on you tube). After booking the Kung Fu Panda package (more on this later).... we were surprised to see only 1 character – Po. That was a bit of a letdown. I know some of the characters were small (but I can't help but think Disney would have found a way to do it). I would think that they could have at least had Tigress. We were also looking forward to seeing Hiccup and Astrid from How to Train Your Dragon, but they had just left for Oasis. I told my daughter that Hiccup and Astrid got married and they went on another cruise on their honeymoon, and she was happy with this explanation ;-)
I can't understand why they don't have all costumes on all ships. The only other thing was that we saw a photo op with Shrek and stood in line to meet him. Just as we got to the front of the line, they subbed out Shrek with Puss n Boots. My kids were really disappointed especially my son who was scared of Puss n Boots.
Kung Fu Panda Package (Pandamonium) I think we were on the last sailing of the Pandamonium Package ... but I will offer this for anyone who buys a similar package in the future. Our package was to contain 2 soda packages, 2 cupcakes, 1 photo, and 1 exclusive meet and greet, and 1 pets at sea stuffed animal. Having asked here about people who'd booked the Pandamonium Package, I had read about others who had trouble getting Royal to follow-through on the package; some waiting as long as mid-cruise before it was sorted out. So, I was determined to act quickly, and started asking about my coupons as soon as we boarded. Of course, we had problems too.
The "botch-up" might be rooted in the fact that we booked the Pandamonium Package on our initial cabin and then subsequently upgraded to a new cabin a few weeks prior to sailing. Our TA assured me (pre- and post trip) that she had verified with Royal that we would not lose the panda package with our upgrade. As luck would have it, the panda package did not make it to our reservation. On the first day, I had to really chase down our coupons, which we finally did receive just before midnight on the first day. Sonja at Guest Relations was excellent and took a personal interest in our plight.
We also missed the exclusive meet and greet with Po. It was supposed to happen on Day 5 at 5PM and while I knew this on Day 1, we forgot by Day 5. Invitations like those that are issued for the Meet & Greet would have been a nice and well-appreciated reminder.
Despite getting and using our coupons, we still got billed for everything that should have been included for free with our package. On the debarkation day, DH had to stand in line to get credited for all those charges. When Royal does credits, they have to contact the "head' of that department to do the credit. When we left the ship, we had still not been credited for the pet at sea (stuffed animal), as that needed to be done by the kid's club manager, and she was still asleep.
Dining Room (BLD) We generally prefer to have all our meals in the MDR. Breakfast service was horribly slow. They now have a "breakfast buffet" self-service in the MDR. I think Royal wants to push people towards self-selection for breakfast. By the end of the cruise, we were eating breakfast in the Windjammer. The service was comparable and the food was a lot faster.
We were really disappointed by the food quality. Having just come off HAL, I think HAL food was better. The options on the kid's menu were great, and my kids were always pleased. Presentation for our meals was lacking (okay, food does not have to look good to taste good). But I found the food to be mediocre at best. The food wasn't bad per se; but we were certainly not wowed. Perhaps our tastes are becoming more discriminating as we age and we are just harder to please, not sure. I know DH generally orders 2 to 3 desserts if there is something he really likes, he will ask for more. There was not a single dessert that wowed him on this cruise.
I finally tried the vidallia onion tart that everyone raves about. It was not to my liking, but I'm not a fan of anything quiche-y or too egg-y. I was very disappointed that I did not get to finally try the lab shank. I'd been salivating over this ever since a table-mate ordered it on Grandeur last fall. Unfortunately, the lab shanks did not make it to the dock in time and we sailed without them (seriously.). So, the menu item was subbed with beef tenderloin, which although not terribly flavourfull was cooked perfectly. I found the ship did a very good job of cooking steaks to order. I could not get medium-rare on Carnival as it was supposedly against their policy (or it was against my waiters' policy). I found if anything, Royal errs on the side of rare, but I will definitely take an under-cooked steak over an over-cooked one.
Wind-Jammer: The food was "okay". We're not huge pork eaters, and I found some days, there were mostly pork options. I thought this was poor-planning on Royal's part. I would assume that a fair number of passengers do not eat pork for religious reasons, and I found the pork-heavy menus somewhat exclusionary.
At breakfast, I found the "number" system for the omelettes, somewhat chaotic. I thought Carnival did a much better job with the buffet options on Carnival Dream especially their omelette station. They also had the noodle and pasta stations for lunch which were excellent options when one could not dine at the MDR.
Cupcake Cupboard I was very disappointed with the cupcakes. I expected stellar cupcakes. Having taken the Michael's cake decorating classes, I could churn out cupcakes of comparable decorating quality. But the cake/icing quality was really poor. They were extremely sweet and the cupcakes were lacking in any flavour. My kids each took a bite of theirs and didn't want any more (and they love cupcakes!). Good thing they were free! I'm just an average home baker, but I'd bet I could outsell the Cupcake Cupboard in a bake sale.
Lakeland Airport/Niagara International We generally fly Southwest out of BUF to MCO or FLL (depending on the cruise). This flight we flew Direct Air out of Niagara Falls, NY to Lakeland, Florida. The flight was a lot cheaper so I cannot complain about that. However, we were nickel and dimed ... had to pay for every checked bag (hence numerous people trying to stuff their too large carryons into the overhead bins). Also, no free soft drinks or snacks. But in the end, it was still cheaper. This was our first time flying out of a regional airport. I have to say that the lack of hustle/bustle was nice. Unfortunately, TSA had too much time on their hands and checked (should I say ransacked?) every bag. We had 4/4 bags checked on the way in and 4/4 bags checked on the way out. In all my flights out of BUF/MCO/FLL, I've only ever had 1 bagged randomly checked. TSA left many of my outer pockets open/unzipped and things were falling out as our bags were retrieved from the carousel. They also went through our stuff, and took things (like liquids) out of the poly bags, without re-zipping the bags. They even opened a bottle of pain meds without properly re-sealing the bottle, and the pills went everywhere. I was NOT happy about this. For this reason alone, I'd be more inclined to fly out of a major airport next time.
Despite the above, we did have an amazing holiday. As we continue to evaluate all the cruiselines trying to pick which one is right for us ....we're trying to be critical in our assessment .... I've mainly posted my criticisms here to benefit others who use the same criteria to judge a cruise.
I'm not 100% sure that we would sale Freedom again .... but if we did, these experiences will qualify our expectations. Given that I found a $25 casino chip in my dryer .... I'm pretty sure I'll be sailing Royal again in order to redeem it! Besides, we made Platinum this cruise, so that is a good thing!
Like I said above, this reflects our experience, and the experiences of others may vary. I'd be happy to answer any questions. You can find me here mostly on the Chit Chat board at Cruisemates or PM me through this site.