We sailed the Eastern Caribbean 2 years ago and this was the largest, best entertainment, best food, we've had on any cruise. I don't have any complaints at all. We sailed on Carnival, and 4 other RCCL ships before this cruise, and then Disney with the family, and I recently got back from Carnival's Fantasy out of Charleston. I've enjoyed every cruise! But, for the first time, we've decided to go back on the Freedom of the Seas and do the Western Caribbean next month. We loved the Promenade Stateroom to people watch and see what was happening on the Promenade. We spend very little time in any cabin on any ship, but the Promenade cabin was greatly enjoyed by my wife. So when picking out a cruise, I want to make sure she's happy, because as we all know, when someone isn't happy, that someone can make you unhappy!
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.
My wife, Ginny, and I sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas to the Eastern Caribbean in December. We sailed on the Freedom of the Seas to the Western Caribbean in September, a back-to-back cruise with two months in between. We live only 40 minutes drive from Port Canaveral so getting to the port is very easy.WESTERN vs. EASTERN CARIBBEAN
We like both itineraries but sailing to the Caribbean is mostly about the ship for us therefore we prefer the Eastern Caribbean on the Freedom because the Eastern itinerary has three sea days versus two for the Western. The Western “private island”, Labadee, is more picturesque than the Eastern’s Coco Cay. The Mayan ruins are a special excursion on the Western. We shop so we like St. Thomas and St Maarten on the Eastern although Grand Cayman is also very nice. Sea days make the difference for us because we enjoy the ship’s amenities, more of which are available on sea days.EMBARKATION
Port Canaveral is an excellent cruise ship port! It is easy to navigate, easy to park, clean and safe. Getting on the ship takes about 15 to 20 minutes fromparking the car to clearing security, checking in, and boarding. Lines are amazingly short for a ship the size of the Freedom of the Seas. Checking in on-line is a must because security checks the “set sail” passes at the first step in the process. Parking is $15 per day in a multi-story parking garage next to the very modern terminal. We usually sail with friends so we split the cost plus it is a huge convenience to have your car immediately available when you disembark.THE SHIP
You have to experience it to understand just how grand and unique it actually is. It is now the second largest cruise ship sailing but “big” is not a good descriptor. The centerpiece for us is the Royal Promenade on deck 5 with its Café Promenade, Shops of several types, barber shop, Sorrento’s pizza, Bull and Bear Pub, Vintages Wine Bar, Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and much more. Coffee in the early morning at the café Promenade is a great way to start the day. A Murphy’s Stout at the Pub is also nice in the afternoon. The Royal Promenade was decorated for Christmas on our cruise which was very pretty.
Decks 3 ,4, and 5 hold the leisurely attractions like the dining rooms, ice rink, Royal promenade, casino, photo center, lounges, show room, and much more. Decks 11-13 hold the action venues like the pools, rock climbing, flow rider, spa, basketball, golf and a lot more. The Windjammer Café, specialty restaurants, and Jade are on deck 11.
If you want to be close to the internet café book a cabin on deck 8. The library is on deck 7.STAFF
The Royal Caribbean people in every venue were very friendly, always trying to accommodate and please. It is a special treat to hear about their adventures, families and experiences. They can offer a lot of assistance if you need any.FOOD
The food options rage from the Café promenade with its coffee, pastries and sandwiches through the main dining rooms to Pizza at Sorrentos, the steakhouse, Italian themed specialty restaurant, the buffet, the Brasserie lunches and ice cream specialties. The quality, selection and presentations are very good. The Windjammer and Jade on deck 11 serve buffet style breakfasts, lunches and dinners with a large selection. It pays to look around before you make selections the first time or two. You will miss something you really like if you don’t. Fresh vegetables and fruits, oriental pizza, and English bacon are all there along with a large display of other foods. Seating is seldom a concern. Most guests eat in the buffet on embarkation day at lunch time so it can get crowded.
We enjoyed "Sprinkles" self serve ice cream on the pool deck and scones in the café as special treats during the day.ENTERTAINMENT
The highlight for us is the ice show. We have seen a few of the Royal Caribbean ice shows and they are all great. You do need tickets because the seating is somewhat limited. No cost for the tickets. The theater and lounges have live entertainment and there is something for everyone starting in the evening and going until the late hours. The cruise director and staff schedule activities on the ship all day long, especially on sea days. Then there is the Casino Royale on deck 4, a fun casino with slots and table games.BARS AND LOUNGES
There are twenty of them scattered from deck 3 to deck 11. Most are themed. Several have dancing to live music. The “Olive or Twist” on deck 14 has great music and a terrific view. We like the Schooner Bar on deck 4 where we gather when we have a large group that wants to gather. The Pub is great for people watching on the Royal Promenade.DISEMBARKATION
It is as easy to get off as it is to get on. You can pretty much schedule your time to get off by requesting the proper color bag tags. Starting at 6:00 AM with express departure you carry off your own bags to a later time where colored tags determine your time so the ship stays on schedule. It took us 35 minutes from the time our color was called to depart the ship, clear customs, retrieve our bags and be in our van. Bags are put on carousels, very similar to airports, so you need to be timely when your color is called.SUMMARY
Great ship. Great experience. Great staff. We believe bigger is better and the ships just get better and better. We will return in May for our third Freedom of the Seas experience.
As promised here are our impressions of our very first Royal Caribbean Cruise aboard the Freedom Of The Seas 11-16-2008 to 11-23-2008 Eastern Caribbean.
Embarkation as well as debarkation at the port of Miami were by far the fastest we have ever experienced and frankly, we were left stunned by the speed and efficiency. It was explained that Royal has begun to debark all passengers who have U.S. citizenship papers from the bow (front) of the ship and any foreigners debark from the aft (rear). The ship had approximately 4,000 guests on our voyage. 1500 were U.S. citizens the remaining 2500 were international passengers. This resulted in zero waiting time for us. We literally walked off the ship, gathered our bags as they arrived and walked out to the street showing our ID along the way. Maybe we were lucky -- but it was unbelievably fast!
It should be noted that we had always sailed on Carnival prior to this cruise. We always were quite satisfied on our Carnival cruises. Our friends Rob and Liz asked us to let them know when we returned, if Royal Caribbean was worth the extra $200per passenger. Our first words to them upon returning were "Book your next cruise on Freedom Of The Seas."
What a magnificent ship. Freedom Of The Seas is truly something to behold. Everywhere you look the detail of design is evident and the entire ship provides a feast for the eyes. It is a stunningly beautiful vessel and I can't help but implore anyone who enjoys cruising to experience this ship. We would sit at Boleros in the afternoon, enjoying a lovely mango mojito (Mike's favorite drink onboard) and admire all of the details that went into the décor all around us. There is no comparison between FOS and anything Carnival has when it comes to décor, nothing at all.
(Boleros was also the spot where each night our 18 month old grandson Henry would be dancing it up with all the pretty girls onboard!)
Food This was probably where Royal and Carnival share the closest comparisons. Most dishes onboard were quite good but some were rather poor. The steak served on the last night of the cruise was horrid. It was tough and flavorless which was probably why they served it covered in some type of sauce. On the other hand, many dishes were very delicious like the Chilean sea bass -- wow! That was excellent. For those caught up in the controversy, lobster was indeed served in the main dining room. Almost every dessert was exceptional.
Sorrento's was always a culinary delight and we will miss Michelle and Reyna. They were just wonderful people who always found time to chat with us and make our experience there so very special.
We came away very pleased with the quality of the food overall.
Portofino: The service was exceptional. The food however, was average to below average.
Mikes dish "Saltimbocca" was pretty good and tasty, and well prepared. Suzanne ordered the Spiedino Di Mare.
The presentation was stunning but that's where it ended. In Suz's words, "The lobster was salty and bland, the scallops were a tasteless glob of nothing, the shrimp were average and the salmon was fishy."
Once again, the desserts were astonishing, but the lack of quality regarding the entrées left us unimpressed.
Cabin The cabins were a bit small but once we got used to our quarters, we were comfortable. The bed was the BEST!
The shower was wonderful. Our cabin steward "Hilton" was always friendly and did a magnificent job. We always looked forward to seeing him each morning. He got an additional tip! We had 2 items in our cabin that required maintenance. Our TV would go on by itself 2 minutes after we shut it off. One phone call and minutes later there was a knock at the door and the problem was diagnosed and fixed. The only other problem was a flickering wall lamp. One call and moments later, maintenance was there to fix it. Lovely!
Entertainment The entertainment onboard was spectacular -- far better than anything we have witnessed on Carnival.
The quality of the production shows truly showed the dedication and talent of the staff involved.
And then there is Richard Spacey. This man made every cruise director we've ever had before him utterly forgettable. I certainly hope that Royal Caribbean appreciates what they have in Richard Spacey. He can make a doorknob seem exciting!
The Quest: This was everything and more that we'd been led to believe it would be. We laughed until it hurt. Once again, I have to wonder if it would have been half as good with anyone other than Richard Spacey running the show.
Freedom Ice.com: This was spectacular -- dazzling -- inspirational and, at times so nostalgic that I was choked up and my eyes began to well (the whole 60's segment really brought back some beautiful memories).
Conclusion All in all my good friends, our first Royal Caribbean cruise began a new era for us, and closed an era for Carnival. You've been just great Carnival, but it's time to move on! As I said in another online post, Royal Caribbean provides a degree of elegance that doesn't exist within the Carnival experience. We are now of the age where we can appreciate that difference. Our cruise on Freedom Of The Seas was easily our very best cruise experience to date. We hardily recommend this beautiful ship to everyone.
31 of us boarded the Freedom of the Seas for a 7-night W. Caribbean cruise starting August 17, 2008. The oldest family member was 80 years old and the youngest was 2, spanning 3 generations.
Pre-Cruise Stayed at Hyatt Summerfield Suites (close to Miami airport) and were all upgraded to two-bedroom suites upon arrival. Summerfield Suites provided free hot breakfast buffet, free internet, and taking the shuttle from the hotel to the port was only $10 per person, and $3 for each bag. The journey took less than 20 minutes on a Sunday morning.
Embarkation and Cabins We arrived at the port at about 11:30 a.m. and were able to get on the ship before 12:30 p.m. Our 10 cabins (6 D1 on Deck 10, 1 interior on Deck 10, 2 E1 on Deck 8 & 1 Promenade-interior family stateroom that can house up to 6 pp. on Deck 8 with almost 400 sq-ft) were all great. Each of the 3 aft cabins (1400, 1402 & 1404) had a huge balcony with 2 lounge (bed) chairs, 2 regular chairs and 1 round table. Taking afternoon naps on the lounge chairs on ourown private balconies was added luxury that only suite guests would experience. Rooms were all ready at 1 p.m. but luggage was delivered close to dinner time at around 5:15 p.m.
Dining and Food We had 4 tables in Leonardo Dining Room on Deck 3 by the window. Food was quite good, considering they had to prepare over 1000 meals at the same time. Dinners at Portofino ($20 extra) and Chops Grille ($25 extra) were exceptional and well worth the extra bucks. The setting, the food presentation, the food quality and taste & the service (everybody had their own personal waiter that brought the food out at the same time!) all contributed to an extremely satisfying fine dining experience. Chops Grille was able to accommodate all 31 of us at the same time. Food at Windjammer was regular buffet food but they had Jade that offered some kinds of pretty authentic Chinese food. The sandwiches and pizzas (especially the Seafood Pizza) offered on Deck 5's Promenade were mouth-watering. Kids (they are 14-20 years old) said Johnny Rocket was so good that they had to give them extra tips.
The Midnight Buffet (now they call it family get-together night club) was downsized & didn't even offer viewing time. There were only a few ice sculptures and the food presentation was only average. Selection was very limited too.
Entertainment It was surprisingly good (way better than last year's Mediterranean cruise onboard Voyager of the Seas). The solo entertainer, the RCI singers, and the magic show were all worth watching. However, the Ice Show was not as good as the ones on Navigator or Voyager. It was probably because we have seen similar shows so many times before & it was not thrilling any more, even with the wheels, wings, etc.
The 70's & 80's dance parties and the parades were great!
We loved to sing Karaoke & met some friends too. The Quest & Love-&-Marriage show were fun to watch. Ken Rush, our Cruise Director, was quite good.
Outdoor Activities We played in the H2O zone, the Flowrider, rock climbing, mini golf & different types of ball games & had a lot of fun. The Adventure Ocean (kids program) was so good that all 4 to 17 year olds enjoyed that very much.
Ports & Excursions This was the part that made this cruise so much more fun, enjoyable and memorable. In beautiful Labadee we went on the waverunners, then did kayaking & parasailing -- expensive but a lot of fun. Local magnets with a list price of $5 could be bargained to $1 in the Labadee market.
As we were a big group, we boarded a 28-seater van that took us to Ocho Rios' Dunns River Falls and went on an island tour (5 hours in total & $20 each person including tip). We got the van from the white info booth located right outside the pier. Admission to Dunns River was $15 each. It was a blast & half of us climbed the whole 650-ft. falls. It was tiring but we had great fun & didn't feel the heat as we were in water the whole time. We bought the video (quality was below average but still worth it as a big group) for $40. Bring your own Aqua shoes so you don't have to pay $5 to rent them or $15 to buy a pair ($9 at Wal-Mart).
Grand Cayman was the best as we had a private group tour to Stingray City & Coral Gardens for snorkeling. We had our own private boat so we didn't have to worry about our belongings when we were in water playing with the Stingrays. There were 4 guides for the 31 of us and they brought the stingrays for us to touch, to take photos & to feed them with squids. One guide took a lot of photos for us and sent them to our e-mail addresses for a reasonable cost (about $5 to $15 per picture, the more we bought the cheaper per pic). We also had our own water cameras & that's a must. No shoes were allowed at Stingray City so you wouldn't step on the stingrays and hurt them. Watch their tails as they're hard & could sting you if you are not being careful. Our 2-year old had a real fun time with the stingrays & he was not scared at all. We booked the tour through Best Value Water Sports & it's about $30 cheaper per person than booking the same tour with RCI.
We didn't book any excursions in Cozumel so we just went downtown ($6 per cab ride) for shopping. Carnival parked very close to the shops but RCI docked way further. The head-bobbing colourful turtles & other sea creatures for $1 each were great souvenirs. Last time we were in Cozumel we rented a jeep to a private beach with big waves and yummy barbecues, so it's great to see Cozumel with the locals this time. Street sellers had hand-crafted 3-D baskets (pushed down to one flat piece of wood or push up to form a basket), we had the biggest size for $10 each. They were gorgeous!
Spa The ladies of our group enjoyed the "Happy Hour" with facial, massage and champagne. We felt so relaxed that most of us slept through the soothing and relaxing treatment.
Parking at Port and Disembarkation Parking is now $20 per day, so parking cost us $140, yet it's extremely handy to have our own vehicle after disembarkation & we were able to leave the port in less than 10 minutes after collecting our luggage from the carousel. We were given colour tags Beige 1, that was called at 6:40 to get off the ship, though we chose not to leave the ship till 7:20 a.m. The line got quite long & we actually had to stand & wait to go through immigration for about 20 minutes. We left the port at 8 a.m. and were able to arrive at the awesome Miami Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort (between North & South Beach in Aventura) at 8:30 a.m.
The hotel was wonderful & we were upgraded to a big room (almost 600 sq. ft) with a sitting area and golf course view right away. We were able to sleep for a few hours before lunch.
This was the 6th cruise we took with RCI & it was the best. We loved the big ship and we enjoyed the time to chill with our friends and relatives. It was a pity that Oasis was not open for public booking yet when we were on the ship, we just can't wait to get on board the even bigger Oasis of the Seas. We're hoping that next year's 12-night Scandinavian Cruise on Jewel of the Seas will be another wonderful and positive cruise experience.
This was our first cruise. We went with lifelong friends and their two teenaged daughters.
Embarking was no problem. We made it on the ship in about 30 minutes. Our stateroom was on deck 6 starboard. It was an Outside with a balcony. The girls had the Ben and Jerry's room (free ice cream since the promenade window is partially blocked by a cow's butt). The stateroom was comfortable with a great bed. While not the largest, there is plenty of storage. The outside patio was awesome and had privacy screens between staterooms.
The food in the formal dining room was very good considering they serve 4000 passengers per day. The Windjammer buffet has something for everyone. Service in the dining room was awesome. Everyone from the head waiter to drink steward was the best. The waiter was able to accommodate a number of special requests.
The shows were great. The Flow rider is fun for all ages. I'm 44 and showed the young wipper snappers a thing or two about boogie boarding.
All shore excursions were as advertised and on time. The casino was wery nice for this ship. It was agood place to hone your gambling skills without losing your pants.
Drinks, while not cheap, were all made with top shelf products.
Disembarking is a breeze if you use the valet service. This service is for specific airlines and passengers leaving the day of disembarkment from Miami or Fort Lauderdale. For $20 per person they provide your boarding passes and destination tags for your luggage. You leave the luggage outside your stateroom just like everyone else. However you can disembark at your leasure. Go through customs and head to the airport without having to schlep your bags. You pick up your bags at your destination. This is a bargain because (1) We didn't have a weight limit of 50 pounds; and, (2) We did not have to pay for a second bag.
I would definately do this again. Maybe we will wait for the Oasis of the Seas.
Ship We were on the 15th voyage of Freedom of the Seas. She's a total of 158,000 GRT, 1,112 feet long and 184 feet wide with a 28 foot draft. There are 15 passenger decks with 1,800 guest cabins. With double occupancy there are 3,600 guests, and total guest occupancy of 4,370 in addition to 1,360 crew. Freedom of the Seas can reach a 21.6 knot cruising speed. The entire week, you hardly could feel that you were actually moving. The very last night, I felt a slight rock, and we had an aft cabin, #9604.
I took an early flight down from O'Hare in Chicago and arrived in Miami shortly after 10AM. Then we were on our way to the pier and got there around 11:00. As we approached the ship from the highway, I got my first glimpse of Freedom, WOW, what a sight! She towers over everything else in the area. There were two other Carnival ships in port that morning, and they actually looked dinky compared to Freedom.
We proceeded to check-in which went rather smoothly, until we actually needed to get to the ship. Seems alot of folks like to board as early as possible, get something to eat get settled in and start exploring the ship, which was my plan as well. All in all, the check in process went well, I had done all the pre-registration on-line and I think that does speed things up a bit. Once on board, we were told we couldn't go to our cabins until 1:00PM, which is pretty standard, so we figured we'd get some lunch. Unfortunately the Windjammer café was packed. I found out later that they didn't actually open it up until later than they were supposed to, so everyone was waiting in line just to get in. I think that was my one disappointment the entire week. Almost every time we went there to eat, either breakfast or lunch at the Windjammer café, we had to wait in lines. Sometimes the lines were small, but then it was another trick trying to find a table to eat at. Previously when cruising on both Explorer and Voyager, I never had that problem. It may have been that this sailing was at or almost full occupancy, and therefore more lines.
I did however, like the way the Windjammer is set up, more like the way it is on the "Radiance" class ships. They have the 2 main side buffet lines, which now also include "Jade", and the regular breakfast/lunch buffet items, along with separate stations for different entrees and a dessert area. I did notice however, that instead of just helping yourself to a cookie or a slice of cake/pie, they had a server there to put it on your plate instead of self serve, which I think always slowed things down. My main disappointment is no self serve coffee. They have the drink stations in various areas of the Windjammer where you could pick up juices, but you always had to ask for a cup of coffee. You can no longer just help yourself, which I think they should go back to. Although, once seated, they did have someone come around and offer you juice and or coffee, but sometimes it was too late into the meal.
Freedom of the Seas, is very similar to the previous "Voyager" class ship, except for its size and there are a few more activities. The Promenade is noticeably longer than the Voyager ships, more shops, etc. There are actually a couple new exciting things on Freedom that I've never seen before, one, is and likely the most popular. The Flowrider! We did give it a try and were hooked. What a gas! I did notice during the week, people were actually getting good at it. It took time and unfortunately, since it is so much fun, you almost always had to wait in line to get your turn. Before you could go on it, you needed to sign a waiver and get a wrist band. The first day, we were told, since we did the paper work, that we were good for the entire week. Not so, by the third day, one of the flowrider workers said we needed to go and fill one out daily, which we ended up doing.
Royal Caribbean added a much larger pool deck which included a H2O Zone, just for kids, but honestly, you'd see just as many adults in that area as well. It's a great area for kids to play in the water, all ages. Plus I did notice that never once did I see kids in the other double pool or in the adult pool area. Great idea! In the adult pool, there are 2 new hot tubs that look out into the ocean, what a nice way to relax and enjoy the view.
On decks 3, 4 and 5 , forward is the massive and stunning dining rooms. They still have the traditional "early" and "late" dinner and open seating lunch. Opposite on decks 4 and 5 is the Arcadia Theater, equally as beautiful with an amazing curtain that not any of my pictures do it justice. We actually saw all but one show there, all very entertaining and excellent. I think Royal Caribbean puts on some of the best shows on the water. They also have a great Ice Show down in Studio B. You don't want to miss that one. They also hold the "Quest" adult game in Studio B and we even had a Crown and Anchor welcome back cocktail party which was held there too. Its always nice to see the Captain instead of hearing him on speakers throughout the week. The captain was Erik Tengelsen and the Cruise Director was a very funny guy from Australia, James Andrews. Seems James was leaving the same day as us, he was filling in for a vacationing Ken Rush. He was very personable and did a great job.
I did stroll through the gym, but that was about it. Looked like they had all the latest equipment one could need and also a boxing ring. Going higher up on the ship, you'd find the spa, where they now do acupuncture and teeth whitening, I had never heard of those procedures being done on a cruise ship, they did run some specials for those, rather on the expensive side from what I could tell.
Of course this ship had the climbing wall, basketball court, mini golf on deck 13 along with the new flowrider. We did spend a lot o time on these upper decks. The pools are on deck 11 along with the Windjamme café and while our cabin was on deck 9, all these day-time activities were very close by and easy to access. The casino is on deck 4 along with the photo area, while guest relations and shore explorations are one deck up, on deck 5.
Cabin I had an aft cabin with balcony. I loved it! It was nice to go back to your cabin and sit by yourself viewing the ocean and dky without anyone else walking around you. The cabins also came with new bedding and flat screened TV's. Drawer and closet space was adequate, bathroom is still on the small size but standard for a cruise ship. All cabins come with WiFi capabilities and connectivity for cells phones which is nice. The shower is about the same as usual, small but functional, with a dispenser for shampoo and the curved glass doors.
Entertainment As I mentioned earlier, Royal Caribbean has some of the best entertainment on the seas. Their singers and dancers are excellent and know how to put on a wonderful show. In addition to the nightly shows,( which include comedians), they also have a parade in the promenade which is something to see. They only last 15 to 20 minutes, but lots going on and great audience participation along with some great photo ops. The second day into the cruise, you can pick up ice show tickets, you don't want to miss seeing this show. They performed 2 different nights, so everyone could get a chance to go down to Studio B and see that. The tickets are complementary, you just need to send someone in your party to pick up the number of tickets you need. We went the first evening and there wasn't an empty seat in the house. Its quite amazing the things they can do in such a small space.
As for food, I had no complaints in that department. I always left the dining room very full. I thought most menu's had a nice choice of entrees along with salads and desserts. I was able to have one dinner at the alternative restaurant, Chops. Other than the entire meal taking almost 3 hours, food there was excellent, although the service was on the slow side, could of easily done in it 2 hours, not 3. Others in our group also included an additional night dining at Portfino's and said that was equially as good or amost better, but I was happy with a wonderful meal at Chops, well worth the extra $20 per person.
Ports of Call The first day of this cruise was a "sea" day. Weather was nice and hot/sunny, so of course majority of us cruisers spent a good portion of the day up on deck 11 enjoying the pool and the activities there. I will say this; there was never a shortage of lounge chairs at any point during the week, whether it was a sea day or a port day. In just about all my past cruises, getting a deck chair was always a feat, not the case on Freedom. It was nice to see, they used the extra space on the pool decks.
Next day was our visit at Cozumel. We were told that it was the first time that Freedom could actually dock there instead of tendering. Only problem, we used the International dock, which is about 3 miles from the downtown. If you wanted to go there, it was easy enough to get a $6.00 cab ride from the port area. There are some shops by this pier, so you could opt not to go all the way downtown to shop. We did all our major shopping there that day, figuring it would be the best port to pick up tokens to take home. They had also built a new Margarettaville in town, but had yet to secure their liquor license, so they were open, but no drinks. They were hoping to get that straightened out that day. You will find Senior Frogs, Hard Rock Café and Carlos and Charles downtown in Cozumel. You could certainly tell, that quiet a few passengers paid a visit to some of those bars. On the ride to downtown, you can still see lots of damage from the last hurricane.
Following Cozumel, was our day in Grand Cayman. After tendering in, we did some walking around and brief shopping, picking up some Rum cakes and Rum from the local Tortuga shops all around town. I noticed since my last stop there last year, same time, that they now drop you off at a new pier and the old one is under construction. Its only about a block from the old one. Grand Cayman is a nice friendly port. You don't have any locals hounding you to buy things from their shops, which is a welcome change from some other ports. There were a total of 3 ships in port that day, Carnival Imagination, Caribbean Princess along with Freedom, so walking around town was manageable.
I was able to see a new port for the first time on this trip, Montego Bay Jamaica. This port in Jamaica had different look and feel from Ochio Rios where I've been before. The port is fenced in, nothing really to walk to there, so you'd need to either hire a cab or go on an excursion here. We did the Canopy tour here and really didn't know what to expect. Its about 20 mile bus ride to get to the "jungle" from the port. Once there, they also had the river rafting, on the same river that we flew over on the cable. I'm so glad we did this excursion, so different from others I've done in the past. There was lots of fun and laughs throughout the tour, with a great bunch of guides that help you along the way. There is a good deal of walking between the different traverses, a total of 6 for the entire tour. I would certainly recommend this excursion to anyone that can handle some walking up trails and has no problem with heights. I think everyone in our group enjoyed it.
The last port and my favorite was the "beach" day at Royal Caribbeans's private beach in Haiti, Labadee. Doesn't get much better than this, with multiple beaches, shopping areas, eating areas, lots of room, never any overly crowded areas in one place. We did the waverunner excursion there and had a ball doing that. I had done it on a previous cruise and was ready to go again, always lots of fun. By the time we finished that, it was lunch time, so we took a walk to the other side, found a nice place to park for the afternoon and went to the BBQ buffet. Lunch was good, chicken, ribs, burgers, hotdogs, salads, fruits and cakes and cookies, all there and ready to eat. Then we just relaxed in the water, took a walk and just relaxed until it was time to head back to the ship. Did stop by the market and see what they had, still a lot of very pushy venders there, not my cup of tea. This stop was a wonderful way to almost end the week cruise, I love the beach days.
After 3 ports days in a row, our last day was another sea day, so spent time running around the ship, relaxing by the pool and getting packed up for the following travel day. I liked the way this itinerary was planned, with the start being a sea day and the last day another sea day and the rest with ports.
Summary I think this was my all time favorite cruise, had wonderful cruisemates, great weather and a big new ship to explore for a week. I found this ship very easy to navigate, although it did take days for me to remember where things were and which deck there were on. Art work throughout the ship is again amazing, but possibly a little less that the other Voyager shops, but none the less, impressive along with the ships décor, everything nice and neutral and open feeling and still plenty of windows/glass.
I think the best improvement I found on Freedom, was the fresh water in the pools. I expected salt water and was pleasantly surprised to not taste that salt, very welcome change. We had a wonderful cabin attendant, Romero, hardly saw him, but anything I asked for was delivered promptly, cabin always clean, always clean towels daily and some adorable towel animals. Same with our dining room waiter and asst. waiter, great service, nice job guys! I'm finding myself already trying to plan another cruise on possibly a sister ship to Freedom, the greatest ships for cruising with family/friends, great ship, great cruise.
I also have a photo's in the gallery here of Freedom of the Seas: http://www.cruisemates.com/gallery/view.php?id=3082
Itinerary Miami; Labadee, Haiti; OchoRios, Jamaica; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Cozumel, Mexico.
This is our first cruise on a ship of this size.
Embarkation Arriving at the Port of Miami, we find that traffic is backed up, police are routing everyone away from the area. What should take 45 minutes to board ended being 3 hours. Later we were told that a security breach caused the problem. I'm happy to be onboard. Let the fun begin! We leave the carry-on luggage, make our way to the sailaway party, book onboard services (massage, Portifino's, etc).
Ordered the drink of the day and watch as Miami slowly disappears.
The Ship Freedom of the Seas is the largest built so far:160,000 grt Passengers 3,634 Length 1,112 feet Amenities: Rock climbing wall, casino, Promenade, ice rink, virtual golf, Solarium & pool (adults), 2 specialty restaurants, H2O Zone (children), fitness center, basketball, boxing ring, Sea Teck Dive Shop, several bars, online internet, Conference Center, movie theater. This ship is HUGE, but easy to navagate. On each of the decks you can get from one end of the ship to the other. At the glass enclosed elevators there are replicas of F-16 fighter jets and stop lights hanging in mid-air nearby. I couldn't figure them out.
Promenade deck 5 has the purser's desk, Champagane Bar, shopping, Ben & Jerrys Ice Cream, barber shop, Vintages Wines, Bull & Bear Pub, Café Starbucks, Book Nook, pizza, cigar club, Pharaoh's Palace.
On Deck 11 there was the Jade & Windjammer Café, Portofino & Chops Restaurants, Sprinkles soft ice cream (free), Squeeze Bar, Pool Bar, Fitness Center, boxing ring, and the Solarium.
The Cabin We had a balcony, port side. Nice and spacious. Lots of storage. The decor was of aqua blues, peach, shades of green and cream. I like the little touches; night light over the bed to read by, hair dryer in the drawer by the make-up table, a safe you can program with a code instead of a credit card, flat screen t.v. that rotates to view on other side of room. We like to order breakfast and cocktails in our cabin, watch the water and enjoy the open sea.Only one problem -- the shower is small. If you drop the soap your backside is out the shower door. Sink and counter top also small.
Dining Rooms Three levels - Isaac's and Galileo's. We ate at Leonardo's at second seating. We were at a table of 14. We moved to different seats each night to talk to everyone. Food & service were very good.
There was a different nationality menu each night. Steaks done to perfection, seafood just right. I ordered my seafood plain and use only lemon (don't like a lot of seasoning). Deserts are the usual fare; pies, cakes, ice cream. One night there was Baked Alaska. The chocolate cake was very good.
Entertainment Every night there is a different program in the Arcadia Theatre. The cruise directior, Becky Thompson, is energetic, funny and beautiful. First night was the Broadway Review song and dance. What great talent they are. Motown Live with "Spectrum" from Las Vegas.
Magic show staring Phyllip Kaiser, Comedian Phil Tag, Once Upon a Time by the Freedom singers and dancers. We really like the stage shows the best. What talent!
The Royal Promende had parades down the middle of the ship. What a sight to see. A flying bridge came down from the top deck to showcase the acts. Anything you desired to see and do, they have it all: Jazz, Classics, Piano, Ballroom Dance, Latin Music, 70's & 80's music, D.J's nightclub in all the different bars & clubs.
Of course, there is the Ice Show. What can I say? Wow! It is incredible! Try doing jumps and spins on a moving ship in a 30' x 40' ice rink. You have to see it to believe it.
Sports Deck 13 Lots of activity here. Basketball, jogging/running track, Flowrider, mini golf, golf simulator, sports contests, Surf & Sports Shop.
I tried the Flowrider. What a blast! You have to sign an injury waiver for each day. There are many tryouts for best trick, etc., at different times. The boogie board is twice a day with a divider so two people can surf at the same time. I tried my weak skills on the Flowrider. What a blast! Pictures in the Gallery.
Itinerary (Ports of Call)
Labadee, Haiti (Private island owned by Royal Caribbean): Very clean, nice beaches, restrooms, buffet lunch, beers, frozen drinks. Don't drink the water. We swam, and enjoyed the beach. The activties were zipline, parasiling, kayak, powerboat, waterslide, SCUBA and snorkeling.
Ocho Rios, Jamaica: We went to Dunns River Falls, Coyaba Gardens, Museum. I didn't want to climb the falls after I saw many people falling and getting hurt. One man broke his hand, and a friend of ours fell and hurt her leg. The gardens and falls in Coyaba River were the most tranquil paradise. Many tropical flowers, birds, a very pleasent stroll. Shopping in the park was a hassle, vendors were at you all the time. We hurried out.
Georgetown, Grand Cayman: We have been to Grand Cayman many times, so we chose not to tender off the ship. The many adventures there are wonderful. We liked the Stingray City the best.
Cozumel, Mexico: We took the tour Wonders of Mexico & Cozumel Highlights. "Discover Mexico" is a miniature replica of the history and the people & buildings (pyrmids) thru the ages -- from pre-Myan, Columbus, Spanish, all the way to modern times. All the buildings were to scale in detail. Next we traveled to a working Hacienda and sampled Tiquela. Then on to the city for shopping and lunch. We had a very nice lunch at Pancho's Backyard (corner of Waterfront & 8th St).
Overall, the Royal Caribbean Line is trying very hard to please everyone -- the children, adults, and grandparents. All seemed to have a good time. We met many wonderful people from the Florida Pharmacy Association. They held a continuing education seminar program onboard. What a way to get educated!
The only bad experience was a freek storm while returning to Miami at 2:00am. The ship listed port side about five degrees. That caused some people to become worried. The captain announced to everyone we were fine. An interpreter came over the pa system speaking in several foreign languages to translate the same message. It was all over in 30 minutes.