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.
My wife & I finished a week long cruise on FOS on August 26th last. To say the least we were glad to be disembarking the ship on the last day. We had a most unenjoyable week on the ship from start to finish. I will not go into every detail but here is an overview of the week.
1. On boarding the ship we were told that we would recieve our bags no later than 8pm. I went to the guest services desk at 9pm to be told that we may not get them until the following morning but if I wished we could go down to the basement & have a look for them ourselves. I was on honeymoon, not working. Having travelled since early morning I was a little annoyed at these suggestions but bit my tongue. We eventually recived our bags; 1 at 10.30pm & 1 at midnight. Not good enough when you wanted to shower and get dressed for dinner!!!
2. We ate in the formal dining room on the Sunday evening and were amazed at the poor level of service and food quality. Wesat at a table for 4 and even though the other 2 guests sat before us, they got preferential treatment as they had dietary requirements. We waited 30 minutes to get bread, water & for our order to be taken. The other couple were served straight away. At this stage I had had enough and walked out. On the Wednesday we gave the main dining room another try. For starters I had a crab meat salad which was on a bed of pasta. Personally I think it was prepared in Miami before we left. I had surf and turf for main course, the steak was like rubber & the fish was of an inferior quality. We left the dining room & ended up getting something to eat in The Windjammer instead!
3. Our room attendant was very rude and addressed me on numerous occasions as DEAR in a rude undermining tone. I felt I was a bold child been given out to when I asked for a shirt to be ironed late in the evening. These people expect to get tips but don't seem to want to work for them or indeed look after their guests.
These were only a few problems we faced on the ship. It was the general feeling of a lot of guests who we met over the week. I personally would suggest not using Roylal Caribbean again. You are told repeatidly that it's the biggest and best ship in the world but for me it has a long way to go in relation to staff and guest care.
Once again for the second time the Freedom did not let me down!
The ship is beautiful and just as clean as the 2nd voyage in 6/06. The service was excellent the food was good (however I don't vacation for food and I wish the food was worse because I did put on 2 pounds). Then again those long island ice teas are full of useless calories. The shows were wonderful 2 comedy, 2 production, 1 magic, 1 headliner and of course the farewell show. the CD, Rich Spacey, is the bomb! Rich is soooo funny I never cruised with such a great CD. Rich was not on the Freedom last year. I forgot the CD's name from last year however he was not funny and did not see him much. Rich however is all over the ship and is ready to take pictures and talk to passengers.
The weather was great only 1 hour of rain in Jamaica while we were heading back to the ship. They had over charged me for the wine package when I mentioned it to the head waiter he quickly took care of it. Itwas also nice to see familiar staff faces on the ship. The best bartender is Adrian. We first met him on the Navigator then Voyager then twice on Freedom. He juggles bottles like Tom Cruise in the movie Cocktail. Also has many jokes and tricks for both kids and adults. He works in Bolaros latin niteclub or the disco. However he left in Grand Cayman and is heading over to Liberty. Colin Thompson and Corine both of Jamaica are great bartenders. We are a big time soccer family and we would talk to our cabin steward every day about soccer he would bust our chops because the kids always had a different soccer jersey on everyday but they don't own a costa rica soccer jersey (our cabin steward was from costa rica) well on the last evening of the cruise what do we find when we get back to the cabin - the compass, chocolates, towel monkey and a costa rica soccer jersey brand new with tickets in original package. How about that for excellent friendly staff!
Labadee is the best for me I wish the ship could stay there overnite so I can get another day there.
Pre-cruise We flew American out of Baltimore direct to Miami the day before departure. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed for mechanical problems, so we missed a planned pre-cruise dinner with friends.
Priceline had been good to us: We got a room at the Royal Palm on South Beach for $110 a night. When they handed us a key to a "suite by the pool," we thought we were REALLY fortunate. In its heyday, this may have been a lovely suite, but now the room was in lousy shape, with badly stained carpeting, an iffy lock, and no refrigerator. There were also college grads partying it up in the pool until the sun came up. Heaven help those who pay the going rate for this room. But it sufficed for one night.
Embarkation Some friends had arranged for a Hummer Limousine to take us to the pier. What a fun time we had! Decked head-to-toe in pink (pre-planned -- men and women both), we were immediately greeted by RCI land employees at the Port of Miami, ushered through check-in, and escorted into the Diamond waiting area. There we were able to meet upwith even more pink-clad friends! The excitement was truly palpable.
At precisely 11 a.m., they ushered us onto the ship, where we were greeted by crew all dressed up in their formal attire and handed a glass of champagne. Four-stars to the Embarkation!
Day One Our cabins would not be available until 1 p.m. (and they actually had crew members in the stateroom areas to enforce this). This is where I was reacquainted with Owmz from the Radiance who quipped, "See you in the Casino!" Since the casino was closed, he lucked out with hall-monitor duty. So we headed to the Windjammer cafe, had a bite to eat, then hit the pool bar for some drinks. We made a quick trip astern to check out the FlowRider, and the time flew quickly until we could get into our cabin.
The Cabin We were in 6332. On the deck plans, this looks like the first forward cabin on the starboard hump, but 6330 actually gets those honors. It is an E2 cabin, and was very tight with the beds separated into twins. There was barely room to squeeze between the wall console and the foot of the first bed.
Rather than give the extra space generated by the curve on the hump to the balcony, they allocated this space to the cabin. It sounds like a good idea on paper, but the shape was odd, and the balcony curtain was placed where it would have been without that extra space. This left an unusable chunk of real estate between the balcony curtain and sliding door. With the beds separated, the same lack of room occurred near the balcony, and we were always getting tangled up in the curtain. The installation of a simple tie-back would go a long way in alleviating this problem.
The beds, however, were fabulous. They made my 3-5 hours of sleep each night go a long way! Storage was at a premium, though. The flat-screen TV is neat, but it eliminates the cabinet area over the TV which normally contains the safe. Instead, the safe takes up a full shelf in the closet. The drawers also seemed smaller than I've experienced in the past.
Day One continued We headed to the muster drill, followed by an uneventful sail-away, and then off to the Welcome Aboard show after acquiring another drink from the pool bar. The show was simply the usual, and there was a funny bit of comedy by Don Friesen. I was upset that I missed his adult show later in the week, as he seemed pretty funny. We made a quick check back to our cabin -- still no luggage. It finally arrived sometime before 11 p.m.
Dinner was at 9 p.m. for late seating on the first night (8:30 on all other nights). I couldn't tell you what I ate, but I will say I was not disappointed with a single meal. The food everywhere was good to very good. Sorrento's interesting and cheesy pizzas really hit the spot at 2 a.m. on several nights!! I'll let others focus on the food in their reviews, but I will tell you not to miss the chocolate-banana cream pie in the dining room.
Day Two This was our first sea day, and jam-packed full of activities. What wasn't jam-packed were the lounge chairs -- it was easy to find prime seating right at the main pool. The Studly Jamaican Bartenders Union seems to have taken over the entire pool area (including the Solarium), and the service was great! It is evident they took the best crew members from each ship to staff Freedom.
The belly-flop contest was the usual good fun, but the Sexy Legs contest took the cake this week! Never have I laughed or shrieked so much in my lifetime. It caused me to lose my voice for the entire week. Our group had a special Pink Boa entry, and he was crowned Mr. Flamingo Legs. It was probably the biggest and funniest Sexy Legs contest ever!!
We also had a scheduled group party at 5 p.m. in the gorgeous Olive or Twist (Viking Crown Lounge). Captain Wright himself attended, gave a lovely speech, and stayed for nearly an hour signing copies of a poem our group presented to him. It was very special to us all. Kudos to Captain Bill and the RCI staff who participated.
The show this night was Once Upon a Time. I am not a show-goer. This was it for me for the week (no parades, no ice shows, etc. -- others will have to tell you about those). But you MUST attend this fabulous show. The premise was new and interesting, the talent was top-notch, and the costume and set-design were gorgeous -- a great job by RCI entertainers and all who had a hand in this production!
Ports Cozumel -- The day is very short in Coz, as the ship sails at 4 p.m. The tender operation was incredibly smooth, so people were able to maximize what little time they had in port. We elected to go downtown, shop a bit, and spend the rest of the day in Carlos 'n' Charlie's. Needless to say, not much goes on in that place that I can share here, but it was an extremely fun afternoon spent with friends and margaritas!
Grand Cayman -- We tagged along with friends who scheduled a private catamaran excursion through Captain Bryan's. The price was reasonable, and we had a fantastic day, with three snorkel stops (one at a very crowded Stingray City) led by competent crew. I would recommend Captain Bryan's in a heartbeat.
Montego Bay -- Jamaica gets a bad rap, and personally, I'll no longer allow it on my watch, after our day at MoBay. They quite literally rolled out the red carpet for our arrival, and we docked to the sound of music. All day long they had music, dancers, free drinks and samples of the local fare. This led up to a concert right there on the dock by Shaggy! The stage was set up in front of our balcony, and it was a great time!
The culmination, however, came at sail-away. A formal brass band was playing, and as the ship began to pull away, everyone stood as they began playing the Star-Spangled Banner. Afterwards, we dried our tears, waved, and repeatedly yelled "Thank you, Jamaica! We love you Jamaica," as we sailed off.
Early that morning, we did the Original Canopy Tour. This tour is awesome! If you are physically able (it does require significant hiking up some steep and iffy terrain), shell out the dollars and get out there! We did six zip lines through the treetops of the Jamaican forest, the last of which was more than 1,000 feet long, at which we reached exhilarating speeds of up to 35 mph. Our guides, Dervon and Sean, made the experience a total blast!
Labadee -- It was a gorgeous (and very hot) day in Labadee. RCI has done a lot of work on this private Haitian beach, and it shows. It was a lovely beach day spent with friends, and the staff handed us cool, wet towels for the tender back to the ship. We opted to head to Hideaway Beach. Partiers, be warned: There isn't very good bar service all the way back there. If anything other than a beer or Labadoozie is your drink of choice, stick closer to the tendering area.
Have I mentioned the tenders? They were plentiful, smooth, and well-orchestrated at every port. People who worry about tendering from such a big ship can worry about something else. Tendering was a breeze!
Debarkation We opted for self-debarkation, in which you can carry your own bags off the ship as early as 6:30 a.m. If you are up for it, I recommend this option. It's like pulling off a Band-aid: You know it will be unpleasant, so do it fast and get it over with. We were through customs by 6:45 a.m., and at Miami Airport before 7:15. It also helps if you numb yourself via sleep-deprivation and alcohol-consumption. Leaving the ship is never fun, no matter how you slice it, but this method was as good as it gets.
Less than perfect Nothing is totally perfect, and it would be neglectful to not mention a few problem areas.
On the pre-inaugural sailings, the Freedom crew did not have to deal with luggage, and it showed. Our bags (and those of most guests I spoke with) arrived much later than usual on the first night. There was also much grumbling about a mess at disembarkation, but we were lucky to have missed it.
The rotating doors between the Windjammer cafe and the pool area are ridiculous. They are very quirky and cause odd traffic jams.
The bar stools in most of the lounges were very high, particularly in Olive or Twist. You literally had to climb up, and then had nowhere to perch your feet.
On a funny note, we seemed to be on the verge of a toilet paper crisis by week's end. I kid you not. I imagine this was simply an accounting error that will be rectified by the logistics staff.
Not such a big list, huh?
Special Mentions Everyone makes their own cruise experience. That is one thing that makes cruising so wonderful. I come from the perspective of a 40-year-old single woman who likes to have a fun time. The fellow passengers and new friends I make play a huge part in that experience, as does the crew. Here are some of the less-celebrated crew who helped make this the trip of a lifetime:
First prize goes to Deddy, the greeter in the Windjammer, and a future institution on the ship. Where he finds the energy and enthusiasm is beyond me. I wanted to wrap him up and take him home. I almost didn't need my morning coffee after a greeting from Deddy!!
I have a friend onboard named Jesus, from the Dominican Republic. He was up at the Viking Crown, a martini bar called Olive or Twist. Olive or Twist is wonderful, and generally has a jazz band playing. It took a while for people to find it and appreciate it, but by the second half of the week it was rocking in there every night.
Our wonderful times in Olive or Twist were in large part due to my adorable friend, as well as the bartenders, Earl and Neville. Stop in and tell them that Tracy sent you. They are wonderful!
If you don't go to Boleros and have Cebe and Adrienne make you a Mojito, you haven't lived! This team of two is a force of nature, and the mojitos are delicious! My biggest complaint about the ship: I went for my last mojito on our final night at about 2 a.m., and they were out of mint and limes. I guess that tells you something about the popularity of this duo!
Pool bar server honors go to Sanji. He won't be there long, however, as he was a last-minute fill in and is off to Explorer in a few weeks. Special kudos go to the Jamaican bartending duo of Bailey and Loren at the main pool and Solarium bars. Wonderful guys! And Loren can make a proper Long Island Ice Tea (do not order one from anywhere else)!
I cannot leave out the dealers in the Casino! I have to give the nod to a wonderful man named Michael. He'll steal your heart (and hopefully not too much of your money). I thought his nametag said he was from Canada, but then he mentioned something about Philly. I dunno...alcohol doesn't help my memory with these sorts of things! There is also Owmz, whom I'd met on Radiance. Both of these guys are wonderful, and actually made losing money a fun experience.
Summary Freedom of the Seas is gorgeous, and a work of art. For her considerable size, she was very easy to navigate once you got your bearings. Every detail of her appointments is top-notch and beautiful. The crew, while still needing to find their rhythm a bit, is the best of the best, and it shows. You've seen the pictures, and they are lovely. They don't compare one iota to actually setting foot on this magnificent ship. I still found myself wondering, however, if she wasn't a little too big. Guess that means I need to go back and make a final determination. Twist my rubber arm!
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
This was our 3rd cruise, all with RCI, (Rhapsody and Jewel). We enjoyed all our cruises with them and see no valid reason to change besides, trying out Celebrity which is now under RCI. I'll try to be frank and honest with my comments and make it informative and enjoyable to read. We booked the Air/Sea Package with RCI.
FLIGHT: Flew in from Toronto day prior on Air Canada. All connections (Sudbury) and flight were right on the money; smooth and on time. We had transfers included and a hotel stay before boarding ship. (Transfers recommended) PRE CRUISE STAY: Cruiseline booked us @JW Marriott Miami, located in financial district of Miami. Quiet safe area. Good views of Biscayne Bay and surroundings just a peaceful short stroll from hotel. Looking for a fantastic place to eat close by, go to Perricone's. Fabulous food and atmosphere. (Recommended). Hotel was very clean and comfortable. Expensive but we were upgraded to this hotel from the Hyatt Regency, no extra cost to us. Coming in a day early is probably a wise decision for all cruisers, especially those from a distance or far north (Ontario).
EMBARKTION: A littleconfusion @ hotel with transfers. People waiting in lobby for someone to come in and announce bus is ready, did not happen but all were loaded in time and off to the pier we go. What a sight to see ships lined up waiting to depart. The best sight came at the end, you guessed it the 'Freedom of the Seas'. You get out of bus, make sure your luggage has been unloaded and you see it, then you can proceed to the entrance of the pier with your carry-on. While your making your way to the entrance you can see the 'Explorer of the Seas' docked in front of the FOS. The mightiest and most massive sight is staring you in the eye right now the newest and largest cruise ship in the world 'Freedom of the Seas'. In no more than 15 min. you are entering your home for the next 7 days. What a feeling, you are about to embark on possibly the best vacation on earth, a cruise with RCI. OK, sea passes in hand, smile on face; let's begin our fun in the sun. First things first, reservations @ Chops Grille, then book a couple's massage in the spa. You must do this immediately as you enter to avoid disappointment for those of you who did not reserve excursions on-line, you better do it as you enter the ship. Now we go to our room, drop off our carry on and meet our room steward Elvis, intros and welcomes are shared then off to check out our ship. A little tip - in company of your room steward check out your mini bar fridge and note its contents to avoid being wrongfully charged for missing items or items you have not consumed. Well now we both have in our hands the drink of the day, Tequila Sunrise, the sun is shining, island music is playing on pool deck by the Combo Tropicale - what better way to start your vacation, don't be a bloke, let your hair down ,it's time to party and enjoy.
SHIP: Largest cruise ship in the world, massive but quite easily navigatable. All you need is a good pair of legs and a copy of the ship's deck plans. Pamphlet of deck plans available on ship, but a good pair of legs? We'll I'll let you answer that. A large collection of art on ship and many beautiful architecture pieces are part of the framework throughout the ship. Plenty of activities, some come with a charge, most don't. You see the standard - sexy legs, best belly flop, bingos, and volleyball contest etc, always fun to watch. Nothing like taking in an hour and viewing the brave souls trying their best at Hang Ten - that's the Flow Rider folks, some Kodak moments guaranteed at this event. Ladies- be aware a one-piece bathing suit or a tee covering will prevent some embarrassment. The Royal Promenade is definitely the main attraction, where most of the cruisers hang out and events take place. You might begin with an air brushed tattoo, then search for your favorite fragrance in the perfume parlor, mosey on down to the Reebok store and pick up the latest wear. Now for the ladies you can shop for good deals on duty free jewelry, yes the men also can. You have really worked up a thirst doing all that shopping; stop in at the Bull & Bear Pub for a refreshing pint and a smoke, outside for non-smoking. Are you a wine connoisseur? Vintages is the place for you, taste and purchase some of the finer wines available on the ship. TIP; wine lists in Dining Rooms, specialty restaurants and Vintages are all different; view them all for your best choice.
Don't forget your family and friends back home, so stop in the souvenir and general store for anything and everything. You feel hunger coming on, have no fear Sorrento's is here. A slice or 2 of pizza, maybe some prosciutto, pancetta, eggplant, crostini, mushrooms, olives you name it all your Italian favorites are here for you to enjoy, sit inside to view photos of Italy and listen to the Italian music while you munch with gusto. Maybe a glass of vino to compliment, over to vintages and bring your glass to your table at Sorrento's it's that easy. Clothing both dress and casual is available, some nice stuff, sell-off at end of week 50% reduced. It's time to return to your room with a balcony but not before stopping in at the Café Promenade for a purchase of a specialty coffee or just a plain cup of Seattle's Best (no charge) and maybe a little something for your sweet tooth. Ah, it's time to try out RCI new bedding with a short nap. Boy what a comfy bed, best I've ever slept in. Up and about in less than an hour feeling refreshed. There are so many choices of what to do, rock wall climb, mini golf, shuffleboard, cinema, karaoke, whirlpool and I mean whirlpool, two cantilevered pools holding 16 people each overhang the starboard side for a most relaxing and picturesque view, there are also whirlpools on the pool deck, take on a lesson on gaming or napkin folding, art collection, acupuncture, scrap-booking, play bingo, the list goes on and on. TIP: don't try to do everything or see everything on the ship, you will fail as a result of running out of energy or time. Sailing was smooth, there was some motion but mostly unfelt. The ship is definitely set up with the family in mind. Lot's of family activities H2O Zone, basketball courts, adventure programs, vault, etc No lack of things for children (infants to teens) to do. Although not as rich and refined as say the Jewel of the Seas remember this is a fun activity filled ship.
SERVICE: You can't beat RCI in this area. All areas were well responsive to the passenger's need. Genuine smiles and happy faces were always evident. Whether it was our dining room waiter Ben or Gabriel his assistant, Elvis our room steward or being entertained by the talented bartenders @ Boleros while sipping on a Mojito (Fantastic) to all the service staff. A credit to Captain Carlos Pedercini, Master , Michael Rasmussen Hotel Director, Errol Saldanha, Food & Beverage Manager, Rich Spacey, Cruise Director as the staff's exemplary behavior is a true reflection of the above mention people. However there was one incident that was not rectified and I don't know why. I mentioned earlier as a tip to check your mini-bar fridge right away for its contents, which we did not on this cruise. We were charged $12.63 and $8.60 for stuff we did not use. We filed a complaint with the Services desk who intern said the he will forward an e-mail to the supervisor in charge with our complaint. This was Sat day before disembarking. Our statement was at the door the next morning, check it, charge was still on, we left. This did not alter our views regarding service.
ROOMS: Room 1630 D1 balcony Deck 10 Mid ship - perfect location - next to elevators and 1 floor below pool and windjammer. Great for fast exits to these locations. roomy, clean, flat screen, plenty of storage space, king bed, great new bedding (the best). Nice size balcony- 2 chairs & small table. This was an adjoining room; there is no fear of extra noise from other room, just like normal rooms. Remember in your room are 2 brown towels for beach and pool deck use. Don't misplace them; there is a $20 charge if they are missing. You can exchange them for fresh ones anytime.
FOOD/DINING: Standard fare is the best way to describe with basic variety and choice with little to not so bad taste. Tip - always order the waiter recommended choice and you won't go wrong. There are many places to get food, so this is not a concern. No one should go away hungry at any time. Food was well presented in dining rooms, but found only to be lukewarm to warm, never hot. Windjammer has many options in the form of stations satisfying all templates and is sufficient for breakfast and lunches. An appreciated alternative to the main sources was the 50's style diner 'Johnny Rockets' where a sitting fee of $3.50/person and $3.00 milkshakes (worth it) is all that it costs, great hamburgers, delicious onion rings and descent fries as well as an assortment of sandwiches will satisfy all taste buds. The waiters, cooks and all workers in this diner do put on a show to their favorite tune for your pleasure. It's busy at times and fills up quickly, so you may loose out. We went once @ 1PM when in port and had no trouble getting a booth inside. Service in all venues was prompt, courteous and very pleasing.
PORTS OF CALL: We chose this cruise for the ship not the itinerary, so the ports were not much of a factor. Cozumel was not bad, probably one of the best areas in Mexico, typical of Mexico though. We did the Fiesta Party Boat - short ride to Playa Mia Beach for 1 ½ hrs. Beach has not much cover, very hot and not too comfy chairs. Water was beautiful and very clear. On way back to ship is when the party really takes off, lively music, free rum punch and anything goes. Grand Cayman - no excursion just walked around town, very expensive, yes it's an affluent island, but save your dollars for elsewhere. Mo Bay - did the Martha Brae this slow, leisurely, peaceful and possibly romantic ride down the river was mind pleasing and enjoyable. The ride to get there and back was hell. Takes about 1hr15m each way, ridiculous, not enjoyable. I have no answer to this. Labadee - our favorite - you can tell it's RCI's private island, well maintained, your ship is the only people on island, lots of freedom and different beaches to try, plenty of chairs, shade and service. Help was everywhere, BBQ, music entertainment, water activities galore e.g.: wave runners, water park, kayak, thriller boat rides, parasailing; the list goes on and on. Just a wonderful day filled with sun, Labadoozi's, great food and local arts & crafts available at the market, no vendors in hair, just great.
DISEMBARKTION: Smooth, considering amount of people. Always a sad part of the vacation. Color coding tags is the standard system, allowing an organized manner to exit the ship. This is a long drawn out portion for some, but as I said, it prevents chaos. Find a comfortable seat in your designated area and mentally prepare yourself for a wait and try to relax and be patient, you should fair out well. When called, off you go, through US customs at the pier located just as soon as you exit ship; have all your documents ready! Go and retrieve your luggage on carousel, proceed outside to bus parking lot, ensure your luggage is loaded, hop on transfer bus with your transfer papers, to the airport you go, it's as simple as that.
SUMMARY: Fantastic, immensely enjoyed, lots of fun, great service, wonderful ship (We did not think it was too big), excellent features, everything a person would want or expect on a holiday was available on this cruise, very pleasant crew. If I was to use two words to describe this cruise on this ship - 'WOW FACTOR'. Any one with a family or not should try this ship, you will be pleasantly surprised. We are booked for a back to back cruise of the Southern Caribbean in Feb/09 on the Summit and Serenade. This will be our first 2-week cruise and first away from Royal Caribbean on Celebrity's Summit, but still a member of RCI.
REMEMBER: If you're even remotely thinking of a cruise, go and book one. The best vacation on earth.
Freedom of the Seas is the Flag Ship of Royal Caribbean International (RCI) and the world's largest cruise ship. We waited with great anticipation for Oct. 15, 2006 to roll around for our first cruise on the Freedom --- on board this Dream Vacation Ship. We enjoyed the RCI Voyager Class Ships so much (Voyager of the Seas, 1999; Explorer of the Seas, 2000; Adventure of the Seas, 2001; Navigator of the Seas, 2002; and Mariner of the Seas, 2003; that we looked forward to this newer larger ship, with so many amenities for her passengers. We just had to see it for ourselves.
Now, just one week after our cruise, we feel that one week is not enough to see and experience all of the Freedom of the Seas; maybe a back to back cruise would be better so that on debarkation day one wouldn't feel too much was missed. She is designed in the Voyager style, only on a grander scale. RCI is right to stay with a winning design. The magnificent three level Dining Rooms, with the huge crystal chandelier, the rich warm naval colors of navy blue, maroonand gold are both serious and elegant. The Royal Promenade with its village atmosphere is a lovely place to spend a few hours strolling, shopping or seated at a cafe` drinking espresso or tea with scones or Italian cookies from Sorrento's. We met many new friends from all over the world: England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, France and Italy, on this marvelous Promenade.
Needless to say, we had a wonderful cruise again with Commander Captain Erik Tengelsen, whom we met last January on the Voyager. This brilliant Master followed in his seafaring Norwegian family's tradition and now commands on the most magnificent cruise ship in the world.
EMBARKATION On Sunday Oct. 15, 2006, the Port of Miami was easily accessed, no traffic, simple roads off I-95 to Pier G. We dropped off our luggage and were in the terminal in five minutes. Wheelchairs were let in the doors, and after a five minute wait, we took an elevator to the second floor where checkin occurred. At the Crown & Anchor Diamond window, we were processed in five minutes, but had to wait for security clearance about thirty minutes. We were through security in about 15 minutes. In slightly over an hour we were on board and in our stateroom. A bit longer than smaller ships, but understandable since 3,817 passengers were boarding. We had wheelchair assistance all the way to our stateroom. Excellent!
THE SHIP This massive vacation resort cost $800 million and was built in Finland at Aker Finnyards (Kvaerner Masa yards combined with Aker Finnyards in 2005). The Freedom is 158,000 gross tonnage, with maximum passenger capacity of 4,375 and a crew of 1,365 on 15 passenger decks. She came into service in May 2006; her length is 1,112 ft. and her beam is 184 ft. Her average speed is 21.6 knots. The main engines are 6 Wartsila 12V46C with output of 75,600 KW. Propulsion is by 3 Azipods with output of 42,000 KW. There are 4 bow thrusters with 3,300 KW. She is registered in the Bahamas.
The theme of this ship is Earth, Air, Fire and Water and is seen repeated throughout in myriad ways, on the Promenade a larger than life diving woman "Down Under" by David Mach (Britain) is seen as from the bottom of a pool. This is only one combination of Air and Water presented. In the Crypt the stained glass windows have combined Air and Water again and Fire and Earth handsomely.
In addition to all of the innovations introduced in the Voyagers class ships, the Freedom offers a few other innovative features: The amazing FlowRider surf pool, the H2O Zone water park, a boxing ring, a barber shop and two cantilevered, semi circular whirlpools suspended out over the seas. There are 22 bars and many other beautifully decorated public areas including the fabulous Royal Promenade.
On this cruise there were 2,500 Crown & Anchor members, there were 780 Diamond members and 160 Diamond members. About 2/3 of the passengers were C&A Society members, which meant that the Concierge Club was too small in size to accommodate all of the Diamond members, thus complimentary drinks were served every evening in the Pharaoh's Lounge.
Deck 2 has the lower level of the Arcadia Theatre forward and the Screening Room where we saw the movies "Casanova" and "March of the Penguins." Towards midship is the Conference Center, then Studio B with Centre Ice Rink and staterooms in categories H and I.
Deck 3 forward is the Arcadia Theatre, with its beautiful curtain of 13 stunning female "Lyric Musicians" appliquéd on black velvet and sewed with thousands of glass jewels and bugle beads, and hundreds of sequins in five different colors. RCI brochure states that it took 150 yards of material and 846 man hours to complete the curtain, which weighs 325 pounds. It is a stunning, magical design by Linda Carmichael.
Next, there is the lower level of the Crypt with its wonderful stain glass windows representing Fire & Earth and Air & Water by Harry Cardross. Then there is the Forward Centrum, and Studio B with its spectacular Ice Shows, then the On Air Club, the Art Gallery and all the way aft the Leonardo Dining Room. In the aft centrum, looking up, there are Harald Vlugt's "Stop & Go" traffic lights converted to chandeliers in bronze, and very eye catching.
Deck 4 forward has the balcony of the Arcadia Theatre, which has red and gold seats, white sconces, and only six columns; thus, most seats have an excellent view of the stage. Next is the Centrum and the Schooner Bar with its nautical theme: a lovely replica of the Swedish sailing ship the "Kalmar Nyckel" which made round trip crossings of the Atlantic Ocean in the early 1600s, and established a Swedish Colony which was to become Wilmington, Delaware. Next is the entrance to the upper level of the Crypt and midship is the Casino Royale. The Roaring twenties atmosphere is created with larger than life "Silk Stockings and Bootlegged Booze." Next is the Photo Gallery of all pictures taken during the cruise.
Then, there is the Boleros Lounge with "The Tequila Sunrise" collection of art work in glass of exotic colors: green, orange and grenadine. Mixed media of blown glass and hand glazed aluminum by Arts in Architecture (USA). The live music of the wonderful Trio Sol y Arena heightens the whole effect. Finally all the way aft is the Isaac (Newton) Dining Room.
Deck 5 forward is the Pharaoh's Palace Lounge whose entrance is flanked by a series of larger than life Pharaoh statues. The murals on the walls are "Views of the Nile" by Clarissa Parrish. Novidi of France did all of the statues based on museum reproductions. Next is the Connoisseur Club (Cigars and Brandy). The scent of fine tobacco and leather are redolent here. Then there is the forward Centrum from where begins the Royal Promenade, the heart of the Freedom. Sorrento Pizza (Pizzas, sandwiches, salads, and marvelous Italian Cookies) is great any time. Ask John Xavier, he is so kind and helpful. Here are the Fashion Boutiques, Bull & Bear Pub, Perfume Shop, Vintages Wine Shop, Logo Souvenir Shop, Gift and Jewelry Shop, General Store, Ben & Jerry Ice Cream, Cafe` Promenade, "A Clean Shave" barber shop with shoe shine stand, "Get Out There," a sportswear store and Vincent's favorite a beautiful dark blue Morgan Spider. Finally, there is the aft Centrum where the Guest Relations and Tour Desks are located.
A beautiful glass bridge leads to the Galileo Dining Room. Larry Kirkland's designs for the Centrum and Promenade are always unique, and this one is dazzling: He has placed the four elements on lighted columns of varying heights, each one has a gilded angel modeled on the mythic "Vittoria Alata" (Winged Victory), which is part of the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument in Piazza Venezia, Rome, Italy.
Deck 6 has all staterooms and the Business Services.
Deck 7 has all staterooms and the Library.
Deck 8 has all staterooms and RCI On Line Access.
Decks 9 & 10 are all staterooms. But, by the forward elevators are three copies of F-16 and F-18 fighter planes which the artist Antonio Riello has decorated with scenes taken from frescoes found throughout Italy. He "...transforms our ethical perceptions..." of these war planes by seducing us with Tiepolo Frescoes.
Decks 11, 12 and 13 are all public areas.
Deck 11 forward is the Fitness Club. Then there is the Solarium Pool (with perfect temperature) and the two huge whirlpools semicircular in shape cantilevered on both side of the ship. In this area is a huge parrot of ceramic and bronze tiles in hot red and yellow colors and many other exotic birds like South American toucans, etc. Lonngren's "Sun Boat" is a very interesting concept. Midship is the Pool Bar, The Main Pool Zone, whirlpools, Sports Pool and the H2O Zone. Aft is the Jade Restaurant, Windjammer Buffet Cafe`, Chops and Portofino's. The latter two are upscale restaurants, by reservation only. Make a reservation early, preferably the first day or you may not get one.
Deck 12 forward is the Day Spa, the Sky Bar and the Jogging Track. Deck 12 aft is for younger cruisers: Challenger Arcade, Adventure Ocean, Fuel Teen Disco, and Johnny Rockets with its succulent hamburgers and milk shakes (a '50s hamburger joint).
Deck 13 has the Sky Light Chapel and the Sports Complex; Rock Climbing Wall, Basket Ball court, Golf Simulator, Freedom Fairways, the FlowRider (the only surfing on the high seas).
Deck 14 has the Viking Crown Lounge, The Diamond Club, Olive or Twist Bar, Cloud Nine and Seven Hearts a card room.
This is a very Sketchy overview of a very large, beautiful ship which deserves much more. Go see for yourself. It is fascinating and laid out like the rest of the Voyager Class ships, but it is so much roomier and offers many more activities than any other ship on the seas. Yes, it is monumental!
CABIN Cabin #7624 is wheelchair accessible and like all cabins on board a prefab module. It has beige walls of light oak or birch wood cabinetry. Teal, green and gold drapes and sofa. When entering on the left there is a mirrored wall and a triple armoire, the first section is shelves and a personal safe, next there are wooden hangers and more shelves. There is a console TV, a mini refrigerator, and a lighted vanity/desk with several drawers. There are two upholstered chairs, a couch and a coffee table. When entering on the right is the huge bath with safety rails all around. The shower has a fold up seat and is 4 ft. x 6 ft. The corner mirrored medicine cabinet has ample storage space. There is a queen size bed with monogrammed linens, a teal suede head board, two night stands with reading lights. Two pictures of beautiful full Blown white roses (one front view and the other from the back or calyx of the flower). The far wall is all glass with a glass door leading to the large balcony with two chairs, a chaise lounge and a table. Cabin Steward Donald was excellent in every way ****.
The Best Beds at Sea Award goes to RCI for their innovative approach for solving the crater or mountain created when joining two twin beds. They have installed new style bed frames, upgraded mattresses, duvets, towels and linens. Custom designed pillow tops are folded in half when used on twin beds, and opened and placed one on top of the other to create a gap free queen size bed. Excellent! The linens feature the Crown and Anchor Logo and a very heavy puff.
FOOD & SERVICE Hotel Director Bernd Weidacher has the Freedom of the Seas running perfectly; it must be the fact that Mr. Weidacher worked in Austria, England and Switzerland and the Freedom runs like a fine Swiss time piece. Food and Beverage Manager is Michael Ochmann, whom we first met during our cruise on the Norwegian Dream, March 2002, in South America when we traveled around Cape Horn, and again last January on the Voyager. We had a grand time reminiscing about Captain Rolf Sandvik of the Norwegian Dream. This trip we met Jayne Colella Loyalty Ambassador & Cruise Sales Manager. She was very personable and had a wealth of information on future cruises. The service is tip top.
Most cruisers really notice service in the Dining Rooms. We dined in the Isaac (Newton) Room on Deck 4. The other two Dining rooms are named the Leonardo (Da Vinci) and the Galileo (Galilei). This is a magnificent Complex on three levels. At one end there is a graceful curving staircase with a bandstand and a huge mural of acrylic on canvas of these three remarkable men of the "Age of Discovery and Invention" by Barry Rowe (British). The best view of these elegant rooms is from the Captain's table. We dined with Capt. Tengelsen on the second formal night. It was a meal we won't soon forget. Especially the dessert, which was an almond brittle tulip filled with wild berries and cream.
Each night in Isaac's we dined with our friends from Cincinnati, Salvatore and Maria, and were wonderfully served by our waitress Omanda and her assistant Karen. They were friendly and efficient and always anticipating our needs. Food at the Buffet in the Windjammer Cafe` was quite good and the many stations helped in keeping the lines short. The Buffet servers were very helpful, assisting with trays and drinks. There are two Specialty Restaurants, the Chops Grille and the Portofino. We chose Chops Grille with its fantastic Veal Chop and sides of spinach, asparagus, mushrooms and unique salads. Alas, they no longer serve the terrific NE Clam Chowder, now they serve Lobster Bisque. Desserts are still grand: Tiramisu and Mississippi Mud Pie --- Chocolate to die for. Manager Adina Chis and our two waitresses Galina and Genoevva (all from Romania) were very professional and excellent. There was a wonderful selection of T-bone, Filet of Beef, Veal or Pork Chops, Lamb Filet or Halibut fish. They start off with a hot loaf of bread with pimento butter and shrimp appetizers and Crab cakes. The decor is dark Mahogany walls with lotus blossoms and water lilies of white and maroon. There were circles of Mahogany on the ceiling, an open kitchen and lovely silverware. In the main dining rooms the menus were more than adequate. There were nice alternative selections, pastas, and vegetarian options daily. We thoroughly enjoyed our eating adventure.
On the Royal Promenade there are several eating areas. We especially enjoyed Sorrento's with its nostalgic walls of pictures of Italian Singers, Actors and Sports figures. Chef and server John Xavier was a terrific waiter too. One of our friends does not eat cheese, so he made her a special sauce and tomato pizza. He was so kind that after the first time, he knew exactly what she wanted as soon as he saw her. John has a great memory and is eager to please. Bravo!
We did not tender on Labadee, Haiti, RCI's private island resort, but a wonderful Barbecue was enjoyed by our traveling companions Salvatore and Maria. There are many areas for swimming and water sports, and the Artisan Market and the Flea Market where some interesting wood carved pieces can be bought at very reasonable prices.
ENTERTAINMENT Ken Rush is Cruise Director; we saw him many times on RCI. He's fast on his feet and great with funny banter. He hosted a newly wed game where some answers echoed during the whole cruise "Size Forty Long." There were several excellent shows in the Arcadia Theatre: The Comedian Al Katz led the audience in riotous laughter, and Jimmy and Anna did marvelous dancing and acrobatics on silk cloths --- just magical. Many shows were recorded and shown on stateroom TV (channel 41). The best show is the ice skating in Studio B, "Freedom-Ice.Com." The international cast, with special Guest Stars Oxana and Adam, was superb and got standing ovations. RCI clowns did comic routines before the shows and they were wizards with jump ropes. The show "Marquee" honored Broadway musicals.
Vincent felt that ABBA Cadabra was the best concert aboard. Their repertoire had many of his favorites songs. They also received standing ovations. Another comedian was Troy Thirdgill who had a running joke about having to do his laundry, because what he had left conjured up hilarious mental pictures. The magic of Drew Thomas is the best at sea: levitation, disappearance, translocation and the "Now You See It..." tricks. Apart from the shows this ship offers, there is more on board fun than in any other ship: Daily Trivia, Royal Promenade Parades, Dancing in the streets, Bingo, Casino Games, and sports activities like rock climbing, basketball, ice skating and surfing on the FlowRider high above the ocean. There is a golf simulator and a Mini Golf Course. All the amazing array of activities are listed in the Daily Planner Cruise Compass. No chance to be bored here --- the children's and teen's programs are top notch! This is a "rave review" and the Freedom deserves it!
PORTS OF CALL Day 1. Miami, Florida, USA Sail Away at 4:00pm Day 2. At Sea Day 3. Cozumel, Mexico Arrive 7:00am Depart 4:00pm Cozumel has some of the finest scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities. The water is clear and beautiful in color. It has the best shopping opportunities in the Caribbean. Day 4. Georgetown, Grand Caymans Arrive 7:00am Depart 5:30pm The Bubble Sub, once known as SeaMobile, is the most unique underwater adventure; 360 degree of unobstructed view of the reef from inside a glass bubble (www.bubblesub.com). Day 5. Montego Bay, Jamaica Arrive 7:00am Depart 4:00pm There are some tours which include the Dunn's River Falls, but the duration is between 6 and 7 hours, due to the long bus drive to Ocho Rios. Some local tours are the Essence of Montego (4 hrs.), Helmet Diving (3 hrs.) and Horseback Ride N' Swim (3 hrs.). Day 6. Labadee, Haiti Arrive 9:00am Depart 5:00pm Here there are nice beaches for swimming and sun bathing with lots of water sports, such as Parasailing and Waverunners. Enjoy a great picnic on the beach with plenty BBQ and drinks. There is a good Artisan Market and a Flea Market where one can buy carved wood pieces, pottery and artifacts for bargain prices. Day 7. At Sea Day 8. Miami, Florida, USA Arrive 7:00am Debarkation begins at 7:30am
CONCLUSION This was a Crown & Anchor Society Member Cruise with a significant number of "Frequent Floaters" from "Cruise Critic". It was also our 31st cruise on RCI ships and a great one for us. We enjoyed some of the best entertainment at sea, from ice skating to theater production shows, concerts and live music throughout the ship. It was continuous fun all week long. Although at times the long lines and crowded areas (i.e., the long wait for the ice skating show in front of Studio B), did irritate some cruisers, including us. Guess, this is a trade off for the hectic vacation on the largest cruise ship afloat versus more relaxing cruises on smaller ships. However, we like to enjoy them all: the small, the medium, the large and the enormous ships.
Next we'll be cruising the Southern Caribbean on the Carnival Legend, Nov. 8th, the Eastern Caribbean on the Norwegian Jewel, Nov. 26th and the Western Caribbean on the Queen Mary II, Dec. 9th. Happy Cruising!
Wow! where do i begin! Ship is beautiful same layout as the voyager class ships. The new flowrider was fun. shows, food and service all excellent. my boys 11 and 15 will not cruise on any other cruise line. they had so much fun. so much to do for all age groups including adults and seniors. Have cruised before with rccl, carnival and celebrity. Can't wait to book my next Royal Caribbean cruise. Thanks Royal Caribbean for an unforgetable vacation.