This is our fifth cruise and the third sailing with our children. We have previously sailed twice on Carnival (with kids) and twice on Celebrity (alone). We live near Galveston and have sailed out of that port twice, however only Carnival sails from Galveston during the summer months and we have visited those ports several times, so we decided to leave from Florida on Royal Carribean. We selected Freedom of the Seas primarily because the date was convenient and we have heard good things about Royal Caribbean. We were not disappointed.
Our family of four (two girls ages 12 and 16) arranged for a driver to meet us at the Orlando airport to drive us to the port. While that may sound extravagant, for four passengers it was about as reasonable as a shuttle and extremely convenient. We arrived in Orlando on the day of sailing (6 a.m. flight was killer) and our driver delivered us to the port close to 11 a.m. which was the earliest one could board. Once they began embarkation, check in was very quick and we were on the ship in about 30 minutes.
Staterooms were not available until 1 p.m., so we headed to the Windjammer Cafe for lunch. Food was very good and despite the size of the ship, it did not seem crowded. After lunch we began exploring the ship. It is magnificent.
Although the promenade seemed hokey, it actually works quite well. The hip has several distinct venues on the promenade including a Wine bar with a large selection of wines with about 30 available in a vending machine that allows you to swipe your card and get 1 oz, 3 oz or 5 oz.; an English pub with about 50 different beers available, a coffee shop that serves both regular coffee (included) and Starbucks (for an extra charge). The coffee shop provides pastries and sandwiches included in the cruise. There was also a pizza parlor which is included. Pizza is good, not great. Someone commented that it was like DeGeornios, which is probably accurate. Also on the promenade is the Ben and Jerry's and a cupcake shop, both of which are for an extra charge as well as some shops. At night the promenade serves as a forum for "parades" which are enjoyable for the kids.
I spent time in the casino which was very comfortable. In addition to the regular table games, the ship offers a poker tournament satellite with entry for $75. The winner of the satellite is entered into the final tournament on Saturday with the winner of that tourney (one table) winning a free cruise.
The food on the ship was very good. Its not gourmet, its not the greatest food ever. Its very good banquet food. There are two speciality restaurants on board, an Italian restaurant and a steak restaurant. We eat only fish so we ate one evening in the Italian restaurant as a "date night" without our kids. The specialty restaurant was excellent.
Ship activities are excellent. The fitness facility is as good or better than I have seen at sea. I signed up for a 4 workout boot camp. The classes were good, a little short (30 minutes) but a very active workout. The rest of the family had massages and had no complaints. There is also a steam or sauna, perhaps both. I did not try them out.
There was an excellent video arcade, a teen lounge and a teen disco. Although my teens did not partake, the venues seemed great and after a couple of days at sea, the other teens would frequent these venues.
The top deck (aft to stern) has the Flow Rider which is great fun. My 12 year old took lessons which I would recommend. It allows them to understand the Flowrider and to get somewhat proficient. There is a wait to use the Flow Rider during operational time, but the wait goes quickly because you are watching others try it as you wait your turn. There is a large sport court for basketball, volleyball, etc. A 30 foot climbing wall (not a very long wait) A great "H2O" zone for small children and toddlers, the regular pool with music and a large video screen and then the adult/quiet pool. Soft serve ice cream is available poolside as well as soft drink refills (if you have purchased the soft drink option) Of course, there are several bars poolside.
Entertainment on board was very good and included a magician, comedian, and the regular dance and singing troupe. The singers and dancers also performed at night during the events on the promenade.
There are several distinctive bars on board. A champagne bar just off the promenade has a nice selection of champagne and Scotch. One deck below is Boleros, a Latin bar that usually features Latin dance music. Olive or Twist, a Martini bar, also has live music and is located in the "crown" which is a Royal Caribbean feature and offers a terrific view.
The cabins were very comfortable. The wife and I had a balcony and the kids were across the hall and had a window that overlooked the Promenade. The kids cabin was smaller and I would have felt cramped, but it was fine for kids. Our cabin was a little more spacious and the layout was fine. We could have used a few more drawers, but the closets had ample hangers and a few shelves.
Th crew was excellent and maybe outstanding.
We were unable to visit Coca Cay because weather prevented tenders. The captain did arrive early in St Thomas to allow us an additional 2 hours there, and the crew worked hard to skirt the bad weather to provide us with as much sunshine as possible.
My only complaint was that RCL allowed a large group (rumored to be 500 - 700) 15-16 year old girls to travel with little supervision. My understanding was that they were from South America and celebrating quinceaneras. The group had little supervision and was a bit distracting. If a group of 20 or 30 descended on a venue, they tended to overwhelm the venue. I would have liked to known about such a large group of kids, but even that did not detract much from an otherwise outstanding vacation.