We are a family of 4, with 2 daughters ages 17 and 20. This cruise was our younger daughter's high school graduation gift, and our first time cruising with Royal Caribbean (we have sailed with Disney, Princess, and Norwegian Cruise Line previously). Based on sail date and itinerary, we chose RCL Freedom of the Seas, although we prefer sailing on smaller ships. Overall, we were very pleased with the cruise ship and its many amenities, and only noticed the thousands of other passengers a few times - during embarkation, disembarkation, getting off the ship in St. Thomas, and trying to find a table for breakfast at the Windjammer a couple of times.
We flew into Orlando and stayed a couple of days at the Floridays Resort Orlando which we loved - great 2 and 3 bedroom suites, new, clean, spacious, on-site cafe, bar, fitness center, pool, walking distance to Benihana restaurant, and free shuttle service to the amusement parks. We went to Universal's Islands of Adventure and had a great time - highly recommend the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! We rented a shuttle from the airport to the hotel, hotel to Port, then the reverse afterwards, but based on the total cost, we probably should have rented a car.
We arrived at Port Canaveral about 1 pm on Sunday, June 17 (Sail Pass suggested 1:30 boarding time), but there were already lots of people there and we had to wait in a long line for about 45 minutes (felt like we were back at the amusement park!) At least we were inside the air-conditioned cruise terminal. Once we got checked in and on the ship, we had fun exploring. The ship is huge! The Promenade is like a shopping mall, with restaurants, bars, and shops. There is even a Starbucks (for an extra cost), although we usually ended up drinking the complimentary coffee (Seattle's Best) which was just as good. The coffee house also provided desserts and small sandwiches for no extra cost. There are 3 dining rooms, and we chose the My Time Dining option, which meant we could eat anytime between 5:30-9:30. But we didn't realize that we would always be eating in Galileo's. Reservations were recommended and it looked like the other dining rooms (Leonardo and Isaac) were stacked below Galileo. One of my daughters is a vegan, so we contacted the Head Waiter, Ricardo, who was very gracious and accommodating to her special diet. We didn't always have the same waiters, but service was always great, and our favorites became Ali and Yemliha, the 'boys from Turkey'. We didn't end up eating at any of the specialty restaurants since we were happy with the dining room choices and the Windjammer buffet selections. We purchased the soft drink plan for our younger daughter, which worked out well.
We enjoyed all the ports, and booked a couple of shore excursions through Royal Caribbean (At Your Leisure Snorkeling at Coco Cay, and Caribbean Sea Safari, Beach Snorkeling & Fun by Power Cat in St. Thomas). The snorkeling at Coco Cay was ok, but the water seemed murky and we didn't really see much underwater. My older daughter also got stung by jellyfish, so that put a damper on things. But Coco Cay was beautiful, with plenty of beach chairs for everyone. In St. Thomas, we did a little shopping before the excursion and were a bit put off by the aggressiveness of some of the locals. Needless to say, we didn't end up buying much. On the other hand, the shore excursion with Virgin Breeze Powercat was wonderful - we snorkled at the wildlife sanctuary of Buck Island, and enjoyed the beautiful Honeymoon Beach on Water Island. And the crew of the Virgin Breeze did a great job keeping us entertained and the drinks flowing! We booked our final shore excursion at St Maarten through Twin Island Excursions (St Maarten Sights, Shopping and Sand), and give kudos to Lloyd Euwen, our knowledgeable and professional tour guide for a fun and interesting tour of the Dutch and French sides of the island, culminating at the beautiful Kakao Beach at Orient Bay. Swimming in the warm clear turquoise waters and white sand beach, and enjoying a tasty guavaberry drink was perfect! The only downside was being charged $30 for 4 beach chairs and 2 umbrellas for 1 hour (it was an all-day rental but we were only there for an hour).
We were looking forward to the 3 days at sea to relax and enjoy the pool, but the weather didn't cooperate. It was cloudy, a little rainy, and very windy, so we mostly stayed in our cabin, watched tv and caught up on reading. Our oceanview stateroom with balcony was very nice, clean and spacious, and the cabin steward opened the balcony and inside connecting doors between our rooms for convenience. Our cabin attendant, Ron, was wonderful and friendly, and we looked forward to seeing his amusing towel creations every night. We worked out at the fitness center almost every day, and ran on the outdoor track. We looked forward to dressing up on the 2 formal nights (at least my daughters and I did), and purchased a number of photos and a CD of our favorites. We enjoyed the Once Upon a Time musical show (although I thought the singing was a bit too loud), and thought the adult comedy of Graham Seymour was hilarious. We also listened to some karaoke and piano bar performances. There were many opportunities to shop on board the ship, and we found good deals on watches, jewelry, and souvenir t-shirts. There was certainly something for everyone on the ship and we were never bored.
Disembarkation was pretty well organized, but there were the expected delays through Customs. We were off the ship by 10 am, and feeling very sad and forlorn as we watched groups of people arriving for the next cruise. Overall, we loved Royal Caribbean, Freedom of the Seas, and the overall cruise experience and would not hesitate to sail with them again!