Background Information - We are a family of four with kids ages 13 and 9. I researched cruises on Cruise Critic as well as the Internet for a year before selecting the Freedom of the Seas cruise. I have been on one previous cruise (Carnival) back in the late 1980's. This was the first cruise for our entire family. We had first thought about a Disney cruise but found that one room for four nights with a balcony (a bit larger size for four of us) was more expensive than two (promenade) cabins on Royal Caribbean for seven nights. We decided to book our cruise through our local AAA agency. They were great. They helped us with passports, printed and binded our cruise ticket booklets, and laminated our luggage tags for us. We got a special through them as well -$50 credit per cabin, champagne and VIP boarding (more about that below). We decided on two connecting Promenade cabins which we loved.
Travel To Port of Embarkation - We decided to drive from where we live in Indiana to Port Canaveral. We stayed one night on the way down and then decided to stay at the Hampton Inn on Cocoa Beach on Saturday night before our cruise on Sunday. We took advantage of the park and cruise package. For a family of four, we had a great room with a view of the ocean, four shuttle passes and parking for $205. They offered free breakfast as well. We thought the hotel was very nice. We have been in the Cocoa Beach area a few times before so we were comfortable and went to previous restaurants we liked (e.g., Sunset Grill on the Waterway). We were told our shuttle would leave at 11:00 am on Sunday morning so we should be in the lobby by 10:30 or 10:45. Sunday morning we started working our way down to the lobby around 10:20 and found out that the shuttle had arrived early, and if we hurried, we could get on sooner. Just a note here, we had WAY TOO MUCH LUGGAGE - 11 bags for a family of four. As everyone mentions on here, you can pack less than you think! The hotel used TravelLynx and I think they had two shuttles and about three or four guys loading up the luggage (more on this later). We were on our way to the port around 10:30 am. We arrived at the port in about 15 minutes and the guys unloaded our luggage and then the porters at the port took care of ensuring our luggage was taken to the boat.
There was a bit of a line going into the building to get on the boat but it moved quickly. We showed our passports and our seapass tickets and moved on. Because we had a VIP boarding pass through AAA, we were able to walk right up to the desk to get our seapass cards/photos and answer the health questionnaires without waiting in line. We then walked to another area where they took our pictures again and then it was on to the boat. We got on the Freedom of the Seas about 11:30 am. We had our carry on bags with us and went to the Windjammer for lunch. I had the honey stung chicken mentioned on the boards (it was very good). We then walked around the ship to take some pictures. We were told that an announcement would be made when our rooms were ready (around 1:00 or 1:30) but we were on the pool deck and didn't hear anything - finally around 1:30 I asked one of the servers and he said that we could go to our cabins. I went ahead and checked to see if they were ready.
Staterooms - We had Promenade cabins 7615 and 7617 which connected. They are not far from the elevators and stairs which where great. Our kids had a room with twin beds and we had our own room. We chose these because we thought the window overlooking the Promenade would be better than an interior room with no view and they were less expensive than a balcony room. The rooms were just what I had expected (after viewing photos online). I did bring the extra power outlets but didn't need them because we had two rooms so we had plenty. I did bring the over the door organizer to put on the bathroom door which was handy. I brought extra hangers but found I didn't need them (especially with two rooms). We packed a six pack of bottled water in our luggage and it arrived as well. The rooms were very nice. As I was taking pictures of the rooms, our luggage arrived. We had all our luggage by about 2:15 pm! That was a nice surprise. By the way, the beds are extremely comfortable (we had trouble getting out of bed each morning). We heard NO NOISE from other rooms or the hallway our entire trip. There are two parades on the Promenade (one is late at around 11:15 pm and one at 5:15 pm and a Rock Party around 10:30 pm but they only last around 45 minutes and they would not stop me from booking one of these rooms. The music is somewhat muffled and really, we were SO exhausted on the night of the first parade, we fell asleep anyway. But in my comments to Royal Caribbean I did say that the first parade should be at 9:00 pm. It's geared towards kids and I bet most of them were asleep by the time it started! We really enjoyed our rooms and they were kept immaculate by our stateroom attendant, Emily.
Ship Info - Well this ship is just gorgeous. We explored much of the first day and saw everything on board. It's also very, very clean. I was glad to see hand sanitizers everywhere (before you eat, after you come off the islands, etc.) At first we got turned around (port, starboard, which side is our cabin, is this the front or back of the boat?!) but after a day or so, you learn your way around. This boat is big but not so big that you can't find your way around. The interactive menus on each floor were wonderful as well. I know there were comments on the boards about the wait for the elevators but I never found them to be long at all - we were on the 7th floor so we usually used the stairs to get to the Promenade deck (5th floor) and used the elevator to go to the 11th floor to the pool deck and to the Windjammer. It's funny though how many people will cram their way onto the elevator! There could be 20 of us on there and a family of five would squeeze in!
Dining - We simply enjoyed all our meals. We ate breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer and thought it was very good. We ate every dinner in the MDR except for one night when we ate at Sorrento's - and we really missed our head waiter and assistant waiter (Nelson and Jose who were fabulous). Our MDR was the Galileo on the 5th floor. When we reserved the cruise, we chose the traditional early dining time because of the kids(6:00 pm). We then found they moved the timing back to 5:30 pm which was a bit early for us so I chose My Time Dining and made a reservation beforehand for each night. Some were a bit early and some were later. We ended up arriving late all but a few times. For the most part, it wasn't a problem except on the first formal night we had to wait about 45 minutes to get a table. The hostess said that the formal nights are very popular (especially the lobster night - Friday). That was the only wait we really had. Our waiter brought us appetizers to try, extra lobster dishes on Friday night. They knew our kid's names and our drink orders. As a mother of four, I can say that having someone cook my dinner and serve it to me is a joy! We also ate at Sorrento's Pizza which was good as well as the Cafe on the Promenade (the coffee is steaming hot!).
Activities - Our kids chose not to do the kid's or teen activities. They enjoyed hanging out at the main pool area with us. I would say that was where we spent most of our time on the ship. A reggae band plays on many of the days and they are good (a bit loud for me but you can move around to where you are father away from the band). There is line dancing and silly games which we enjoyed watching. And a word about the chair hogs - we only encountered one instance were we noticed that we sat next to a chair with a towel on it and the lady didn't come sit on the chair for HOURS. For the most part, you can find a chair to put your towels on (we always needed about three chairs for us). On sea days, you may have to go to the 12th deck but people leave throughout the day and you can move - so no big deal.
Excursions - One word of advice - get off early to go to Coco Cay. We didn't get in line until 10:00 am and it took 30 minutes to get off the ship (you have to take a small boat over to the island that holds about 300 people). Not too bad, but the line wrapped all the way around the 2nd deck and many people saw the line and decided not to go ashore (at least at that time). The island is nice. We hadn't been before - the kids did the water slide and aqua park which was fun for them. The sand was slimy in the aqua park beach area and my husband didn't like it. The food was fine - hamburgers, hot dogs, bbq, sides, etc. My daughter got her hair braided. St. Thomas - we did our own thing - went to Sapphire Beach based on comments on the boards. The kids snorkeled for a while. It was very pretty there. We only shopped at the port area. Stopped in Senor Frogs next to the ship and it was a bit wild in there but fun. At St. Maarten we took a water taxi over to the main beach (we again started too late - 11:00 am) and the kids and hubby played at the beach while I walked and did some shopping. Lots of jewelry stores - I just wanted some souvenirs. There were vendors on the beach there in Phillipsburg trying to sell items to you every five minutes. A bit annoying but understandable. We found a taxi driver ("Choo-Choo") who owned an older Toyota to take us to Maho Beach. While his taxi (car) was older with no air conditioning, I enjoyed seeing the sites on our way. We ate at Sunset Grill there and watched some planes come in and then Choo Choo took us back to the port. I had a Guavaberry frozen drink (very good) and we shopped a bit and then back to our beautiful boat.
Service - Our service was fantastic and everyone was very friendly. Couldn't have asked for more. In fact, I had an issue with my on board credit for one of our cabins. I went to Guest Services who said they would look into it. They couldn't resolve on the boat and my travel agent was on vacation when I returned home. I called Royal Caribbean about another question on my account and talked to "Jess" who resolved my first issue, and then went ahead and gave me the on board credit due to me. Great service!
Entertainment - We saw three shows - The Freedom Ice Show, the Drew Thomas magic show and the Once Upon a Time show. All were very good (they only last about 45 minutes). I made reservations for all but they really only checked for reservations for the ice show. Probably due to the limited seating. We did see folks saving seats even though you are not suppose to. We got to the shows 30 minutes early to grab a good seat. The World's Sexiest Man Contest and Belly Flop contest next to the pool were fun, the parades were fun and the Rock Dance Party was also fun. We wish we would have gone to some of the adult comedy shows but they were later in the evening we were too tired!
Disembarkation - This day is so sad! We placed our luggage outside our doors Saturday evening (never even heard them pick them up - so quiet). We chose to depart around 8:30 am when we booked our cruise. So we were given #11 as our group number to depart at 8:30 am. We were to wait in the Arcadia Theatre for our number to be called. They were running behind so we got off at 9:10 am, picked up our luggage and headed to the shuttle area. It was very busy out there, and it took about 30 minutes for the shuttle to arrive. This time, it was a large TravelLynx bus. There was only the driver there to load all the luggage! They really needed another person there to help. Back to the hotel, we picked up our car to head home. In the lobby, where the next set of cruisers waiting to get on the ship. Oh, how jealous I was!
Sea Sickness - We are not ones to get motion sickness (my husband is the most sensitive to this stuff). But we did take Bonine throughout our cruise and did just fine (my son took some chewable Dramamine due to his age). We did feel some vibrations in our room, in our bathroom, and at dinner and periodically we felt like we were swaying, but never felt sick. We had perfect weather and smooth seas so I'm sure that helped. So to be safe, take your Bonine! We also took some ginger root tablets (my stomach never hurt on the trip after eating all that food!) We did see some people wearing "the patch" and there are plenty of green apples on the buffet line!
Summary - Royal Caribbean made us feel like we were their first cruisers. Even though we know they do the same thing every week, they made us feel special. The boat was immaculate, the food was good, the service was great. We thought the cruise director Graham Seymour and his crew were very funny. We all had the best time and cannot wait to go again.