This was our second cruise with Royal Caribbean in as many years with the Radiance in Alaska last year and this year the Freedom in the Eastern Caribbean. As most of you do, I read the most recent reviews as the cruise date was approaching to get a handle on what people thought of the cruise we were about to take. Reviews were generally positive but comments about the food were persistent -- more on that later.
HOTEL IN PORT CANAVERAL
Cruise was 1 July 2012 out of Port Canaveral and we stayed at the Residence Inn Cape Canaveral Cocoa Beach the night before the cruise. This is a non-descript hotel but it has the perk in that the Hertz car rental return location is on its parking lot. This made drop off a breeze and Hertz provides a complimentary shuttle to the port when you drop off the car! They were very pleasant to deal with and it was a great savings.
The morning we embarked we arrived at the port around 11:30 and were on the ship by 12:00. Lines moved very quickly. Luggage arrived in our rooms around 4 pm but we were allowed in our rooms at 1 pm. As last year, we were first herded into the Windjammer for lunch while we waited for our room. We had 4 people in a balcony room which was a little cramped but we spent very little time in the room for the most part since there was so much to do around the ship. For all intents and purposes, the room on the Freedom was like the room on the Radiance, with the main difference being the shower had glass doors versus a curtain. Our room number was 6330 which was centrally located and the balcony was the first along the hump moving from bow to stern. Storage room was surprisingly abundant even with 4 suitcases.
The Freedom is much larger than the Radiance and it required more walking to get to different places. However, it wasn't too cumbersome and we learned our way around on the first day. Like others have said before me, the elevators tend to have very long waits and you are often better off just taking the stairs (if you can). I would suggest that able-bodied individuals take the stairs all the time and leave the elevators to those who need the assistance. Of course, before reaching this epiphany, we took the elevator a couple of times from floor 3 to 11 and I was able to watch an apparently fit couple get on at 5 and off on 6. That one flight of stairs can be grueling....
The ship was clean but appeared a little worn in some places (compared to the Radiance) which was surprising given the Freedom was recently in dry dock for upgrades. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful ship and I would not hesitate to go on it again.
Our itinerary was the Eastern Caribbean 7-Day. The age demographic tended to be mostly middle-aged couples with children. While it is true we sometimes saw unattended children running around wildly (yes, there was even the random elevator button pushing observed which motivated us to take the stairs even more), most of the time there were no issues.
One nice feature of this ship is the available piano on Deck 14 in Cloud Nine. My son spent an hour or so each evening up there playing. Sometimes the folks next door in Seven Hearts would applaud through the wall -- of course they never tipped! ;-)
The fitness center was truly exceptional and while it was very busy in the am each day, we always were able to get the machines we wanted without a wait.
One of the hidden treasures on this ship is the personal Karaoke room (there are two) in the On Air bar. You can practice your craft in these rooms in private and then perform on stage during the several Karaoke events held during the week. There were thousands of songs to choose from with a search engine based on artist or song title.
Other fun things to do on this ship are open skating in Studio B (they provide skates), 3D movies in the Arcadia, trivia contests (at least two per day), lots of seminars, and demonstrations. There seemed to be a different party every night and according to my 20 year old daughter, the Crypt was a great nightclub to hang out in. She met several people her own age on the boat and they generally hung out together every night.
One word -- Fantastic! The staff were so friendly and helpful the entire trip. Our waiter Frederico and his assistant Deepak worked very hard to accommodate our daughter's allergies and they remembered our beverage choices after just one night. Our steward Setho was not often seen, but he maintained our room extremely well -- he was also very generous with the towel animals each and every night!
A special kudos to Cruise Director, Graham Seymore -- this guy was absolutely hilarious. His stand-up routine, game show hosting, and morning shows were hysterical. Everyone in our family (ages 17 to 50) thought he was a ship highlight.
Last year, we ate most meals in the Windjammer. This year, we ate all dinners in the Main Dining Room. I mentioned the great wait staff above -- this comment is about the food. We are not connoisseurs, but I think it is fair to report that what folks have been saying about the food is true -- it is good but not great. Presentation was always wonderful and there was always at least one desert that stood above the others. However, the MDR fish (regardless of type) was consistently more "fishy" than we prefer. After the first couple nights, we all moved towards non-fish dishes. Windjammer breakfasts were great (the usual foods including excellent lox) and the lunches were very good. We never ate dinner in the Windjammer so we cannot provide any opinion compared to the MDR. One of the main benefits of the MDR over the Windjammer is portion control. Some of us actually managed to lose weight on the cruise and I think avoiding the buffet at dinner was one reason.
The Cafe Promenade provided 24/7 complimentary sandwiches and desserts and was a favorite hangout between activities for our family. Sorrentos was an alternative down the promenade but we thought the pizza was pretty much frozen pizza quality.
A nice surprise was Johnny Rockets ($5 cover) which served great burgers, fries, and rings as well as flavored sodas. We really liked JR and highly recommend it. We also ate steaks from Chops and they were the best we had during the trip.
We were impressed with the on-board entertainment. The production shows were good with talented performers, the ice show was excellent, and the bar entertainers were great. We particularly enjoyed the piano performer in the Schooner Bar and every night the crowd seemed to grow as more folks heard about him. The "Freedom of the Seas Orchestra" was also very good and slightly better than what we saw on the Radiance last year.
STOPS AND EXCURSIONS
There were three stops on this cruise: (1) Coco Cay; (2) St Thomas and (3) St Maarten. None of them were anything to stand up and scream about. That said, we thought Coco Cay and St Maarten were pretty nice but St. Thomas was somewhat dirty. We did the Helmet Dive at Coral World in St. Thomas (booked through RC) and it enjoyable -- the staff there were very professional.
All in all, this was an outstanding cruise vacation that I would highly recommend. Thanks Royal Caribbean for another great time!