Cruised on Freedom of the Seas 9th - 16th Sep 2012.
We flew into Orlando International from Manchester, UK with Virgin Atlantic and stayed one night on International Drive before a friend gave me and my wife a lift to Port Canaveral. This was our first ever cruise.
We arrived at Port Canaveral around 12 and there were long lines outside of the main terminal building. We crossed the road from the drop off point and stood in the first queue we came to. A member of Royal Caribean staff made their way up the line and checked our tickets, he told us and a few people in front of us to change lines and move to the other side of the building. No big deal as I was only standing in line a couple of minutes.
We got onto the ship around 12.50 and were told staterooms would be ready around 13.30. I had read on previous reviews that the Windjammer buffet can become very busy so chose to head to the Promenade deck which was quiet and we ate at Sorrentos Pizzeria followed by an ice cold beer in the Bull and Bear pub!
We headed upto our balcony stateroom (7488) about 13.40 and were able to get straight in. Met our stateroom attendant Martha who was friendly. We had arranged for 2 bottles of wine to be delivered to our stateroom for our arrival however only 1 bottle was waiting. It took numerous calls to guest services to get the second bottle delivered two days later! Again no big deal as I wasn't going to drink 2 bottles at once!
Our stateroom was what I expected based on reviews and photos I had seen previously. It was just the right size for the 2 of us. A little bigger would have been nice but this was adequate. The Balcony was great for the times where you just wanted to get away from other people and read a book or something in peace.
The bed I found to be very comfy. It has a memory foam mattress topper on it. (I have since bought one upon my return home!) Everything was clean and functional. Bathroom was small but not an issue for us. Shower had good water pressure however our shower tray leaked when the shower was on full flow so had to adjust the speed to stop the leak.
Our luggage did not arrive until around 6pm. There were passengers still waiting for luggage later than that as well. Not ideal, as, if you wanted a change of clothes if you had been to the pool or gym etc you had nothing to wear unless you had packed something in a carry on bag. Maybe Royal Caribbean should offer an express embarkation where some passengers can opt to take their own luggage aboard (same as express departure)?
We ordered room service for breakfast most mornings and was nice to sit out on the balcony with breakfast especially as we docked in St Thomas. The breakfast menu was quite limited to what you could have but still nice enough. (ie: Only scrambled eggs rather than fried or poached etc)
Food in general was good wherever we went. The Windjammer was ok but not great. We also tried various things from the Jade section as we eat a lot of Thai, Indian and Indonesian food but found most of it to be too salty compared to what we are used to back in the UK. The remainder of the Windjammer was typical buffet style food which was ok and offered plenty of choice. At times we went for lunch and it could be difficult to find a table but the waiters generally help you out to find one.
The first formal night we ate at Chops for the $30 up charge. We had filet mignon as a main course along with 4 side dishes and it was very nice. In my opinion it was worth the extra, especially when you compare it to what you would pay in a restaurant at home.
It appeared most people adhered to the formal requirements however on the second formal night in the main dining room we saw people wearing jeans and t-shirts so in no way is the formal requirement enforced. I do not mind what people wear but all I would say is why not make a bit of an effort and stick a shirt and tie on at least??
The main dining room was good too. We ordered things that I normally wouldn't chose and was very very impressed by them. Had a filet steak there once and it was a bit chewy. You could order a filet mignon from Chops for an extra $15.
We chose my time dining and from when we got on the ship we were aware that its like any other restaurant you would visit, you turn up, ask for a table, they tell you it will be 15 - 20 mins etc. Or you can reserve a table prior to turning up, arrive at that time and be seated.
Whilst waiting to enter the main dining room someone had turned up without a reservation and was told it would take x amount of time for a table to be ready. This person began very loudly shouting that he does mind having to wait that long and he wanted to be seated immediately. All this guy achieved was to make a fool of himself infront of many other diners waiting to be seated. So just be aware of this when you cruise! If you want to be seated virtually straight away, make a reservation during the day!
Another bit of information that may be usefull to some are the wine prices. No one seems to mention the prices on board and I occasionally like a bottle of wine with my evening meal. I was expecting to pay something around $50 a bottle based on what I managed to find out on the net before we cruised, however you can get the cheapest bottles for around $27 (Berringer White Zinfandel).
We ate at Johny rockets a couple of times for the $4.95 up charge. Both times the burgers were really nice. You can eat as much fries and onion rings as you like too. The waiters, every so often stop what they are doing, crank up the music (Staying Alive - Bee Gees) and dance!
Days at sea always meant busy pool days so get there early if you want to grab a spot. On the days we were late out we could always find a spot on the next deck up (running track). Its breezy up there so keeps you cool.
We opted for the soda package. I thought it was great that you had self serve machines on the pool deck where you use your refillable mug however after 2 days these machines broken, or were taken out of use as they had covers put over them. You could still get your mug refilled at bars however this could mean queing for a while. Some bars asked for your sea pass card with the coca cola symbol on it and some didn't so try to make sure you have it on you incase they ask.
Saw a few shows at the Arcadia Theatre, which were good. I wouldn't nessacarely pay to see these shows but hey its was included in your ticket price so why not. Again turn up early to get a seat. Maybe 20-30 mins before show time and you should be able to get whichever seat you want. I overheard a couple arguing with a member of staff that they could not get a seat when they turned up just before 9pm as the first show was starting. It's a story I bet the crew hear a lot and very little they can do about it.
Enjoyed all of the ports of call but my favourite by far was Maho Beach, St Maarten. We got a taxi from the port straight there. It cost $8 per person as we shared the taxi with 2 other couples. Not a huge beach but very very entertaining with the planes coming and going just feet about your head! A bar is located right next to the beach that serves food and drinks cheap. 2 bottles of Heineken was $6.
We chose to do express disembarkation where you take your own luggage off the ship. This is quite early between 6.45 and 7.15 as I wanted to get my hire car and hit the road asap. Set my alarm early so I could go down to the Windjammer and get breakfast before departure. We headed to Windjammer around 6 and found quite a few other passengers had the same idea!. After breakfast we headed back to stateroom to get my cases and headed down to deck 4. Express departure appeared to be quite a popular thing as long lines had formed on deck 4. However we found that whilst the queue moved quckly at first it soon stalled for some reason for about 10 mins and became a bit of a pain waiting on deck to be allowed off. Once the line started moving we got through customs and immigration quickly though.
We had arranged to pick up a hire car through Dollar from Cape Canaveral/Cocoa Beach Depot. After a wait of around 15mins a shuttle van arrived and took us to pick up the car. So even if I had got off the ship straight away I would of still had to wait longer for the shuttle van. Or pay for a taxi to take us there.
Overall we were both impressed with the ship. It was very clean and generally appeared well maintained. I have crossed the English Channel and North sea from the UK to mainland Europe many many times on so called 'cruise ferries' and there is absolutely no comparison!
This ship holds something like 3500 - 4000 passengers but most of the time it never felt very busy. The only time I thought it was particulary busy was on the Royal Promenade where they had set up various food stalls, watch sales etc but you can avoid it if you want.
You can do as much or as little as you want on this ship. We wanted a relaxed, go with the flow cruise and Freedom of the seas did not dissappoint however I did find that 2 full days at sea returning from St Maarten to Port Canaveral may be a bit much. Another port of call would have been nice but I know trying to fit another one in would be virtually impossible?
My wife used the gym nearly everyday and she says it was a great gym. The treadmills feature tv screens etc.
However, I would without a doubt cruise on Freedom of The Seas again and would like to try more ships in their fleet at some point.