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
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
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 club
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.