My apologies in advance, this review is long and bounces around a bit....
This cruise was a school vacation cruise with four families. 8 adults and 8 children. Kids ranged from 8-15. All adults have cruised in the past, and 2 of the 8 children have cruised in the past. All adults have cruised on RCCL in the past, and my family took our two children on a Disney cruise in 2009 as well.
We all flew into Orlando at different times, some families extended their vacation prior and beyond the cruise. My family flew into Orlando the day before the cruise, and I highly recommend this. If you are flying in from any distance, there are too many things that can delay you and cause you to stress about not getting to the port in time. There are several options to get to Port Canaveral from the airport. We choose to rent a car. There are several car rental agencies in Port Canaveral that are close to the pier, and they offer very reasonably priced one way rentals. So you can rent a car, drive to Port Canaveral, turn the car in and catch a shuttle to the pier. On the last day, once you are off from the ship, you can catch a shuttle back to the car rental agency and rent again a one way rental from Port Canaveral back to the airport. They have this down to a science, and it went very smoothly for us and was by far the most economical way to get all four of us and our luggage to and from the cruise. The total cost for rentals, gas, and tolls was $124.00. I believe RT transportation from the ship was going to be $240, so we saved $116.00 and we prefer to have our own wheels. Getting from the airport to the cruise port was pretty much a straight shot, pretty easy. We stayed at the Country Inn and Suites the night before, which was right next to Hertz, so it made returning our car rental super easy. Then we rode the Hertz shuttle to the Port, again, super easy. The Country Inn and Suites is a bit tired, carpet on the stairs could use replacing, and overall it shows some wear and tear, but it was clean, comfortable and very convenient for us. And the price was right. Some friends of ours stayed just down the street at the Radisson, because they provided transportation to and from the airport for $35 pp roundtrip. They had a nice stay, and found the transportation to be reasonably priced and easy to use.
We were very excited to board the Freedom of the Seas, just seeing this ship docked was incredible! We could see it out the hotel window the morning of our cruise. The size is massive, the ship is very impressive looking. We got to the terminal to board the ship around noon, and got right on easily with very little waiting time. I brought on a 12 pack of water, and a 6 pack of soda. A friend of ours had brought with her one soda, and they took it from her. I guess it depends on who is looking at your carry ons. We sent our carry on containing the beverages through the screening belt, and they never said a word about it to us.
Once on board, we had a nice lunch at the Windjammer, and then we went to check out our room. All of our luggage had already arrived. We had booked an inside room, category K for the four of us. Two bunk beds came down out of the ceiling to accommodate our kids, and this worked very well for us. My husband and I had a large bed below the bunk beds, and with tight quarters we had to sneak off the end of the bed as there was not room on the sides, but it worked just fine. All others in our party booked balcony rooms. We considered a balcony, but those rooms were an additional $1200.00. I am cheap, and when I thought about the additional $171.43 per day the balcony would cost, I imagined myself each morning handing that amount of money to the cruise line to have the balcony for the day. That made me decide pretty quickly that even though we could afford a balcony, I just wasn't willing to pay that kind of money for one. And I am glad we didn't. The inside room worked just fine for us, and during the day we were out of the room more than we were in the room anyway. I had read several posts prior to leaving, and a few said to bring a nightlight because the inside rooms were dark. I did, but there was not a plug in the bathroom to use it, so we never used it. I did bring a flashlight which I kept on the nightstand next to the bed, and that was helpful. I also brought a battery operated alarm clock that had a backlight so we could tell what time it was in the night, because when morning comes along the light in your room doesn't change. That was also helpful to have. Under the door at night enough light enters in to see to get to and from the bathroom. We were on deck 7 towards the aft of the ship. We liked this location very much. All others in our party were also on deck 7, with balcony rooms midship, and also liked their locations.
Some of our kids used the Ocean Adventure kids club, and enjoyed the activities. The older kids in our group used the basketball courts a great deal, and played mini golf a few times, and enjoyed watching the flow rider. All of the kids participated with some of the adults in our group in a scavenger hunt and had a good time. The pools were used by the kids each day. There was always something for everyone to do. The adults enjoyed the pool area as well, and the casino on a few occasions. We went to some of the shows, and the ones we were able to get to were very good. Because of the kids, we had the early dining at 5:30 so it made it difficult to fit everything in we wanted to do, as the early shows were at 7. We did go to some of the 9 pm shows, but some nights we opted to do other things, and some families needed an early night for their exhausted kiddos.
I can't speak for the entire group on service, except for in the dining room. Our waiter and assistant waiter were top notch. They were personable, pleasant and worked very hard to learn all of our names and use them! They also tried to learn our preferences, and brought us things they knew we enjoyed. We felt the food was of good quality, and a good selection each night. The waiter and asst. waiter were really fantastic, and the kids loved them! Our room steward was fine, and all other employees we came across were pleasant. Nothing over the top other than the dining room, but certainly an acceptable level of service for the most part. I had a massage, and was very pleased. The massage was wonderful, and I was not asked to purchase any additional products. I had read in other posts the spa staff tried to push product. That was not at all my experience. My husband and I also both used the fitness facility. It was clean, and had everything we could ever need.
Because of high winds that made the tender dangerous, we were not able to make our stop in Coco Cay. This happens fairly often I believe, and we were very disappointed. The ship has plenty to do, but we were all looking forward to Coco Cay. With a seven night cruise it is nice to have at least the three days off the ship. We were able to visit our ports of call in St. Thomas and St. Martin. In St. Thomas my family did the Sea Lion swim excursion. This was fun for the kids, we all enjoyed it. Another family did the Swim with Turtles snorkeling excursion and enjoyed that very much. In St. Martin we all did the Beach Rendezvous excursion, and we all had a blast at the beach. It was a gorgeous day. Four of us in the group went parasailing in St. Martin and that was fun.
We paid the cover charge and ate at Johnny Rockets a couple of times, the food was great, and the atmosphere was fun. A few of the kids also did the cupcake decorating class and loved it. A couple of the families purchased the picture package, so we had a lot of pictures taken, and the quality of the pictures was very good. The picture package was expensive, but if you want to purchase any pictures they add up quickly at $20.00 per photo. I left the ship with about 80 photos, many of which I will use for gifts for relatives, so we felt like the picture package was of value to us.
I did have a couple of annoyances, nothing that was a big deal at all. One thing I made a note of on our post cruise survey is the requirement to pay the head waiter a gratuity. (this is on all cruises, not just this one) The head waiter comes over each night to check on things, but other than that does not interact with us at all. I am sure he has a difficult job and that his job is important, but I would prefer RCCL to just pay the head waiter an appropriate salary, and not expect the passengers to tip them. I have no issue as I said with gratuity for our waiter, asst. waiter and room steward, in fact we gave them a little extra as they provided great service and worked hard. Again, no big deal, but it irritates me a little. The other thing that I think they need to change is on deck 11 there is a turn style door that exits out onto the pool area deck. This door was a major pain, and caused major bottlenecks of people trying to get in and out of that area. That was so annoying I often went to deck 12 and walked down the stairs on the outside to get to deck 11 to avoid this door.
Disembarkation went smoothly. We did have to wait in line a bit, but it was a pretty smooth process, then we went to the car rental shuttle area, and waited a bit for a shuttle to take us to the car rental agency. Before long we were driving back to Orlando. We had a late flight, so we went into Orlando and shopped a little and had lunch before heading back to the airport.
Overall, we had a great time, and very much enjoyed the Freedom of the Seas!