My husband and I (late 30's) took the Western Caribbean cruise on the Freedom of the Seas with my parents (early 60's), who are Crown and Anchor Society members that cruise each year. This was my hubby's first cruise, and my second one.
We left from Port Canaveral. Getting through customs was quick and painless. We left our car at the hotel, but instead of waiting on their shuttle bus to arrive and take 100 people to the ports at once, we opted to call a taxi and get to the ports as early as possible. We were in the first line to get into the port when it opened. This may be why getting through customs was so easy.
The Freedom of the Seas is an amazing ship! It really is like a large, floating city. The first thing that you notice is the size of the ship once you are on board. Our cabins were not ready yet, so we ate lunch in the WindJammer before taking off to explore the ship.
There is a lot to do on board. There is a gym onboard, with a spa, and tons of classes and services offered here. We all used the gym, and it was fine. My Mom took a spa day, and enjoyed her massage. The Flow Rider is always entertaining to watch. My hubby ventured to do the Body Boarding on the Flow Rider, as did my Father. They both enjoyed it, and I took some good action shots when they wiped out! The casino is fun. I had a good night while at sea. I put about $30 into the slot machine, and came out with $110. There are different shows nightly that you can attend in one of the many theaters. We caught the "Welcome Aboard" variety show, and the Magic Show entitled "Now You See It", starring Drew Thomas from America's Got Talent. Both shows were good.
Take advantage of reading through the Cruise Compass that arrives in your stateroom each night. It tells you information about the upcoming port of call, activities that are available throughout the day, and a schedule of the shows at night. It even lists the Drink of the Day special for each day. I eagerly awaited the Compass to flip through and see if there was an upcoming event I wanted to attend.
Also, Royal Caribbean has several television channels on the ship. These tell you about information that you need to know, and offer replays of some of the shows that are performed in the theaters. Our favorite channel was the one that showed you a map of where the ship currently was in real time, along with the names of the islands it was currently passing by, as well as a live outdoor shot off of the front of the ship. If you wake up and wonder if the ship is docked in port yet or not, all you do is turn on that channel and see. It was very helpful!
Our stateroom was an interior Promenade stateroom on Deck 7. We had a window facing the Promenade. It was a small room, but hubby and I quickly realized that we only used our cabin as a dressing/changing room and to sleep in. We were hardly ever in the room! The bathroom was, well, grim in that it was so tiny. When I first saw the shower I doubted that my 225 pound hubby would be able to fit inside of it and close the door! He was able to fit inside the shower, but just barely!
I don't think I'd choose a Promenade room again because of the noise. Most nights the Promenade either has a parade or a disco party or karaoke or another event that begins at 11:00 PM. By that time hubby and I were exhausted after our day-long shore excursions, and ready to crash to be able to get up for the next day's excursions. The music and shows right outside of our window was very loud, but each event only lasted for about a half hour or so.
The Freedom's dining room was fantastic!! We had a table for 4 right beside a large window. We had the 5:30 dining time. Our Head Waiter, Bernard, was from Jamaica and had a great personality. The Assistant, Vilam, was from Mauritius and was also personable. We chatted up both waiters and got excellent service! If we couldn't choose between 2 of the entrees, no problem, Bernard would bring us both! On the last night in the dining room, Bernard brought us not only the desserts that we ordered, but also EVERY dessert on the menu!!! The table could barely hold all of the food! It was amazing. Each night the menu had a good variety of items and it was all very tasty. Each night we left the dining room feeling very full and satisfied.
On one night hubby and I ventured up to Chops, the onboard steakhouse. Our waiter there was Ali, and he was from Turkey. He was also chatty and asked us questions about where we came from as well. The decorations in Chops are nice; they really do try to make it feel like an upscale steak restaurant. The food was excellent here as well, and we had a lot more than we were able to eat.
I've seen reviews where people have complained about not being able to get water or soft drinks easily onboard the ship. On the first day at sea, we bought the Coke packages and were able to go up to any bartender and get any Coke product dispensed into our keepsake mugs at any time. The bartenders will also fill your mug with ice water if you ask, so there's no need to also purchase the separate water package that they offer.
The 4 of us got off of the boat at each port of call to go on excursions, which we'd booked through Royal Caribbean.
The first stop was Labadee, Haiti. I was surprised that Haiti was so beautiful! It has green rolling hills and blue water. My parents took off to parasail, while hubby and I went snorkeling on our own. The water was clear, and we were able to see some small fish and sea urchins. We all met back up for a buffet-style lunch provided by the cruise ship. Afterwards, hubby and I were supposed to go on the Adult Sandbar Catamaran Getaway, but it was cancelled because the catamaran was not working. So we joined the parents on a bay on the far side of Labadee. Hubby got me a Floating Mat so I could relax while he resumed snorkeling. This cove had a view of the ship. It was very picturesque. Once we reboarded the ship, hubby and I went to the Excursions desk and we WERE able to get our money refunded for our cancelled trip without any problems at all. They simply credited our Sea Pass account for the amount that I had prepaid for the trip. We were happy with this arrangement.
The next port of call was Falmouth, Jamaica. This was our second favorite excursion day. We went on a trip to the Green Grotto Caves and to Dunn's River Falls. The Falls were first. I was surprised at how cold the water was, and how long a hike it is all the way to the top of the falls! You are supposed to hold hands and make a human chain to climb the falls, but we are all individual, athletic types and didn't hold hands for longer than about 5 minutes. The guides encourage you to take a lot of photos, and a Dunn's River videographer accompanies you and films your trip. To leave you have to go through a small type of straw market, and the vendors are kind of pushy, but if you just keep going you will be fine. Then we went to the Green Grotto Caves, which was also pretty neat. This was where one of the James Bond movies filmed a scene in which a submarine comes up inside a water filled cave. You wear a hard hat and see a lot of bats, but the trip is a good one. Afterwards you are served either a rum punch or a regular punch drink. This was a fun day, and the only complaint we had was about how many people we had to tip on this day. (2 separate guides at the falls; the videographer; the guide at the caves; the tour driver and the guide from the van. It quickly added up.)
The third port of call was Grand Cayman. We had signed up to do the Cheeseburger Reef Kayak and Snorkel excursion. The tour guides here were NOT very helpful or knowledgeable, and the trip was a bust. So hubby and I paddled our kayak back to the shore and went back on board the Freedom. The only downside about Grand Cayman is that you are only docked there for a few hours, so if your excursion is not good you really don't have time to go on another one. So we took advantage of the pools being mostly deserted, and were able to swim in the pools for the only time of the entire trip. (The rest of the time the pools were crowded all day and all night long.)
The last port was Cozumel. This excursion was by far the favorite of all 4 of us. We did the Cozumel By Jeep and Snorkel trip, and it lasted from 10:30 AM until 5:00 PM. It was all day long, but it was awesome! Nathan and Edwin were our guides. They knew what they were doing. They led us off to a dive shop, and told us to gear up to snorkel. We snorkeled around and their photographer took a great picture of us... (he had fish food in his hand, so the photo is great because we are snorkelling with a lot of fish around us!) Then we dried off, crossed the street, and loaded up into Jeep 4 by 4's. A few mintues later we were off, driving around Cozumel in an open topped Jeep, with Mexican dance music blaring on the speakers. This was such a fun trip! It was sunny and nice, and we WEREN'T cooped up in some tour bus. Our first Jeep stop was a small shopping area where a guy who was dressed up in Mayan clothing gave us a brief history of the Mayan people who used to live in Cozumel. Then it was back in the Jeep. The next stop was at a tiny beach with turquoise water that rolled up on shore. It was beautiful. A tiny shack was next to the beach, and we got free chips and pico de gallo, along with a margarita that we purchased. We swam a bit, and then went off to the next stop. The next stop was a Tequila Factory. You got out of the Jeep, and got a brief tour of the plants that they make the tequila with.... and then got about 10 different free sample shots of different flavored tequilas!!!! I had no idea that we would get to sample so much of it! We purchased two bottles, and then got back in the Jeep. We then drove to a restaurant, and Edwin the tour guide went behind the counter to help the cook dish up whatever you wanted. The food was very tasty. The salsa was spicy and good. Finally, we returned the Jeeps and walked back to the ship. I HIGHLY recommend this excursion for anyone who wants to do something a little bit differently, and to experience Cozumel in an open topped Jeep.
A few things in closing... the best-kept secret on the Freedom of the Seas is Deck 4. Very FEW people ever go there, so if you are tired of crowds, you can get some air. You can walk all of the way around the outside of the ship on this deck. The back of the ship on Deck 4 offers you some of the most beautiful sunsets you could ever see, and we took a lot of great photos here. You can also get to the very front nose of the ship on this deck, and you can have one of those Leonardo di Caprio "I'm the King of the World!!" moments, ala Titanic. They have bench seating around the front of the ship, and hubby and I watched the ship pull into port one day from this spot. It was neat to watch from out on the nose of the ship. We spent a lot of time on this deck.
The ship is a little bit crowded, but not too much so. For example, we always took the stairs instead of waiting for elevators, especially around meal times, and never had any problems...(We also didn't gain any weight on the cruise this way!! I mean, cabin on Deck 7, Dinner on Deck 3, Breakfast on Deck 11..taking the stairs will help you keep fit!) I recommend taking the stairs versus waiting for an elevator all of the time.
I was sad for cruise to end. I had a great time. It was very relaxing. I will book again with Royal Caribbean in the future!