I've been fantasizing about sailing the Freedom of the Seas since her inauguration, and the ship definitely lived up to most of my expectations. I found the layout easy to navigate and generally knew where I was going by the second day. I loved the pool deck, with it's adult solarium, the main pool deck and the kids zone. It really does feel as though they thought of something for everyone. The promenade was also a big draw and I found myself there more I often than I thought I would.
My son is a teenager so I had no occasion to do anything Dream-works-related, and it's nice that I didn't have to. Except for the occasional character walking on the pool deck or through the promenade, it wasn't in my face and I didn't feel as though I was on a kiddie cruise.
Embarkation was a breeze. I hadn't been expecting any special treatment, being a lowly gold member on this cruise, but was surprised to find a special line for embarkation, which had only one family in it when I got there. The coupon books were also put to use, and were a nice bonus.
My stateroom was an interior room, so I certainly wasn't expecting anything special, but found that there was ample space and certainly plenty of shelves and drawers for storage. The bathroom was small but functional, and I liked that it had medicine cabinets rather than shelves in front of the mirror and that they provided bar soap rather than pump dispensers of shower gel.
There was always something to do somewhere on this ship. I liked that, when I left the room at night, I had to decide what I wanted to do rather than figure out what there was to do. There were just a few things I never had time to experience - like the boxing ring and the flow rider - but I guess that just gives me a reason to go back.
I think Royal Caribbean could improve on some of the entertainment. After a while, it just felt like more of the same. The cruise director provided quite a bit of evening entertainment, as did the captain, which I've never seen on a ship before. I certainly hope both are well compensated for their dual roles. They were entertaining, but it did come off as a bit cheap - not to have dedicated entertainers for so many evening events.
Most of the staff acted very professionally, but were not very personable, with just a few exceptions. Our head waiter was absolutely amazing. He is the first head waiter I've encountered who really got to know us and cared about our dining experience. The food, like the staff, served its purpose but wasn't anything worth writing about. Two exceptions were a coconut cake in the buffet at our very first meal and the freshly baked breads and pastries. I enjoyed having lunch in the main dining room - it was a very pleasant experience and the tutti salad bar is a wonderful idea. I wish they had served a proper tea in the dining room rather than in the buffet. The few times I was forced to eat in the buffet, I found it to be very messy with food left on the floor from previous meals. However, I did like that the staff would help you find a seat. I also really liked the Jade buffet in the evenings as a nice change of pace.
I didn't really understand the individual karaoke booths that made you slide your room card for entry and then acted like they were recording your performance, but nothing happened. I kept thinking we would be able to see our performance on our tv or it would be emailed to us after our trip, but I was wrong.
There were also a few events that took place in venues that were too small to hold the crowd. Our Crown and Anchor event was one and the Battle of the Sexes was another, but there were certainly many more. The ship may want to reconsider where they hold some of those events so that everyone who wants to attend can be comfortable, rather than having to stand the entire time.
The interactive room TVs and screens throughout the ship were a very innovative and intelligent use of technology.
Ice skating with the assistance of the stars from the ice show was a highlight of our trip.
We sailed on Easter Sunday, as we do most years, and for the first time, got an Easter basket of chocolate eggs and a chocolate bunny at dinner. That was a very nice touch.
For the first time in my years of cruising, I was not impressed by any of the shore excursion offerings through the ship for any of the ports. We ended up booking tours independently because the tours that Royal Caribbean offered were not interesting at all - or were ridiculously overpriced. That is certainly an area where Royal Caribbean needs to do some work.
My son was not kept occupied by the teen activities. As a 17 year old, he did not want to hang out with the younger age groups, and that was not an option. As an alternative, the older teens would travel in packs throughout the ship, often ending up congregating in Sorrento's, the Business Center or Library. Royal Caribbean definitely could have done a better job keeping them in their teen club.
Finally, at one of the ports, we were sandwiched between a Norwegian cruise ship and a Holland America. When it was time to re-board the ship in the late afternoon, Norwegian and Holland America had shuttles to ferry their passengers down the long pier to the ship. Once the passengers on those ships reached the line to re-board, they were offered cool drinks and cool towels as they waited. Norwegian even played party music and the staff danced with the passengers to keep them entertained. Royal Caribbean passengers certainly felt like chopped liver - no music, no towels, no drinks. I enjoy Royal Caribbean cruises far more than Norwegian cruises, so was a little disappointed that they would allow themselves to be shown up like that.