Our first cruise ever was on the Carnival Sensation out of Port Canaveral, FL last year. Being that we were new to cruising we wanted a 4 night-er just to see if we liked it. Carnival Sensation was a lovely time HOWEVER, once we set our eyes on the Freedom of the Seas docked in Port Canaveral, we knew we wanted to try the Freedom next time.
We were two families with 3 children each (ages 12 thru 16). We booked 1 balcony room (6640, 6642 -center hump) 1 inside room (6657,6655 inside cabin for 3 with the option to add a 4th if we wanted). First I would like to say that cabin 6640 on the Freedom was the best choice I ever made. It is located in the dead center of the hump on the 6th deck. One floor above the main promenade level and the 3rd level dining room where anytime dining passengers are seated. We loved the convenience of being so close to all the night time activity (just a couple of floors below). We were right across from the stairs and the elevators. Absolutely no noise issues with that - just convenience. We have re booked these same rooms for our Eastern trip next year. Cabin 6657 is located across the hall and down a bit. This is where our children slept. Although it was down a bit in the hallway, it wasn't too far at all. It was no problem for us or them to stay there.
We loved everything about the Freedom. Although our first night of cruising was through a storm, it was a bit unsettling at first to be walking on the ship without having anything to drink and your mind is saying walk straight but your body is doing something else... after a while, you got used to it and by the morning the seas were nice and calm. Our friends were right next to us in cabin 6642. It was great to have the divider on the balcony unlocked (by the staff) and we just had one big balcony together. Fabulous! One note though, the staff would not unlock it the first night due to high winds (50mph!) It was definitely howling out there... no problems though, the next day, the divider was unlocked for the rest of the trip. You can open and close it as little or as much as you want... great feature. My only complaint with the balcony was our neighbors on the other side were smokers who smoked out there quite frequently.. did not enjoy that too much but did not let it ruin my balcony experience. The showers in the cabin were tiny but the water pressure was awesome! The cabin was ultra clean and there were plenty of TV stations for those times you were so exhausted you just wanted to lay there and rest with the balcony door open. (yes, the balcony door can stay open if you want it too). I even did some cold water rinsing in the shower of some of my boys' clothes since they went through them so much playing basketball! I took some time while docked in Jamaica to hang them on the balcony to dry in the sun with the plenty of hangers offered in the closet. (I know, trashy but the laundry service took a full 24 hours to complete) we didn't have that kind of time. Needed the clothes. Just a tip in case you run out. For pre-teens and teen boys... if they like basketball, they will love this ship and make a ton of friends. We had 5 boys and 1 girl in our group and the boys made a ton of friends playing basketball. It was fun to watch them one night (yes it's lit up at night and they can play until the wee hours - or until kid ship curfew of 1am.) choosing teams to play.
The pool area is very nice although on sea days it gets very crowded and you really need to get up there early to reserve chairs. There is a separate kid pool area and a separate adult only pool area. That was very nice but the main pool is where all the entertainment was so naturally, people wanted to sit in those areas.
The dining room food was just "ok" on some nights and very very good on others. We had the same waiter and the same table for 10 (overlooking the balcony to the other dining levels every night). Service was amazing. We stressed over what to wear for formal night.... no worries, just dress nicely - anything goes if you dress nicely. Picture opportunities are everywhere, every night... my advice is to look around at the different back drops, there are photographers everywhere and on different levels, some of the back drops are much much nicer than others. Check out some of the photographers on the decks below the main promenade (I think deck 4), I saw some beautiful colored glass art backdrops (with photographers waiting)that made awesome photos.
Labadee was beautiful! Much much nicer than I expected it to be. Especially since it really was an extension of the ship since the crew and food come off the ship and on to the beach. No local people hounding you at all. The beach was rocky in the water (below the zip line) but my understanding is that there are other beaches that weren't so rocky. Just walk around and take the free jeep shuttles to the different areas. The lunch buffet was very nice and quite impressive since it was put together by everything that came off the ship. Just amazing. We loved Labadee.
Jamaica? ehh! We barely got off. The Falmouth port is very nice, has plenty of little shopping areas and no begging within those port gates... once you get to the gates to go outside the port, another story, the locals are just waiting to hound you. (same in Labadee by the way, beware of venturing off of the port properly on your own without a organized group... learn to say NO!! over and over again.
So Jamaica I would say was a nice day to stay on the ship and enjoy it with many people being gone.
Grand Cayman was very nice although surprisingly, the water was a bit cool. We did the Stingray and snorkel tour with Captain Marvin (not through RCCL). I highly recommend Captain Marvin. The crew was super friendly and professional and the boat was very very clean and not overcrowded.. Stingray city was "ok"... the water was a bit wavy so it didn't show that beautiful color we all wanted to see from the brochures. Not bad at all, just not what I expected. Plenty of stingrays though and plenty of photo ops. Captain Marvin's has a photographer on board who will take a ton of pictures of you and your group with the stingrays and sell them to you on a cd right there for $50. I did that and it was a nice amount of great photos in the water.
The snorkeling was not as I expected. It was very nice, but I have seen better. The 2nd stop was better than the first. Maybe it was the weather that day. Kind of overcast and breezy? still pretty though but no WOW factor that I was hoping. Just my opinion and I'm sure many things factor in on how successful the snorkeling is that day IE weather...
We tendered in Cayman. No problems with that, they had enough boats there to take you back and forth. Just be sure to be back when they say... This ship left ON TIME at every port!
Cozumel was very fun and active! We took a cab down to the avenues? down a couple of miles - $11 for the ride each way up to 5 people. Not sure if it was worth it. FOS pushes for the shopping there claiming its great... I don't know, it was ok and certainly I did not see a lot of "silver" deals as they kept saying. There is plenty of shopping right outside the port (walking distance) that is probably better with no need for a cab ride. After a while we had a cab driver take us to a beach. He chose Mr Sancho's. It was very nice there although it was later in the afternoon and not as crowded. We went to the Free side.. staff was awesome, kept coming for drink orders, set us up on chairs etc. very nice. The water was a little cool but pretty. They had water blow up things to climb which looked like fun for teens and kids but you had to pay $11 pp to use them... We weren't staying too long so we didn't. The cab driver stayed and waited for us to drive us back. He was very very nice. You can negotiate a price with them so I recommend you try. Cozumel was fun and I wished we had more time there.
Back on the ship, we did bingo and that was fun but more expensive than I expected.... $32 for I think 5 games. I guess not too expensive when you break it up by game but you had to play all games so if two of you played it was $64! We lost, naturally but it was fun.
Saw a movie in the small theater... that was interesting. Moneyball was the movie and it had a big screen with about 60 seats. The only thing is, the movie only showed on half the screen??? It was fun though but hard to find down on deck 3 I think it was located. The ice skating rink is very impressive. Did not get to see the ice show but next time will for sure. Saw Marquis (the show) and that was quite nice. Worth seeing.
Being that our cabin was on the 6th deck and the main promenade was on deck 5 right below us. I can't begin to tell you how convenient it was to just walk down there and get a snack or dessert or bite size sandwiches at any time. They have a Starbucks right there (you have to pay for Starbucks though)... but it was worth it if you had to have it... there was free coffee and tea if you didn't... Free ice cold water with cups available as well. Of course, Sorrento's was down there also. Place was always hopping with different pizza's ready to go at all hours. Very cool and looked JUST LIKE a pizzeria.
I could go on and on but I think you get my point. This ship was amazing and we had NO negative experience whatsoever. Booking for next year while on the cruise was fun. We received $100 obc per room, reduced deposit of $100 pp AND RCCL beach bags that fold into mats on the beach (4 of them). Those bags came in handy at the ports.... Then we transferred the reservation to Costco travel and received an additional obc of $190 for our balcony room and $165 for the inside room. We did good.
One last comment for those who really care about being on the "port side" of the ship or the "starboard" side for docking views coming into port. When I booked this reservation, the agent told me that "port side" was the best view for being able to watch while docking at the ports. Well, I was on the port side and EVERY port was docked on the starboard side! Turns out, I was told that the ship had a new captain on the job (this was his 2nd trip) and he preferred BACKING the ship into port rather than pulling forward. Thus, this messed us and all of the staff (according to the staff I spoke to) with confusion. So, docking views all depend on the captain's preference on how they want to dock.. I will say, he (or she) did an amazing job maneuvering this vessel backing in! Can you imagine!