We're Florida residents who typically sail out of Tampa. However, wanting a longer cruise on Royal Caribbean means driving elsewhere so we elected to try Freedom of the Seas out of Port Canaveral.
Day Prior and Embarkation
We drove to Port Canaveral the day prior to embarkation. We'd read good reviews of the Radisson Resort and the Port and their park and cruise package. So, we booked there. As it turns out, we ended up meeting up with many folks from our Roll Call on Cruise Critic both at the hotel's pool area and prior at a local restaurant called FishLips. This was great fun as we were able to watch Saturday's large ships (Disney and Carnival) sail-away!
Although we'd booked the park and cruise package (which seemed well organized), we decided to take a cab to the port. This took less than 10 minutes and by so doing avoided the crowds of the shuttle. After dropping off our luggage with the porter (note: we took our packaged/bottled water WITH US through security) we were in line,through security (no problem with the water), upstairs, checked in and waiting in the suite-sitting in less than 15 minutes. After about another 15 minutes of waiting, we were ushered through the doors, got our required Welcome Aboard picture, and were on the ship by 11:15 or so.
We were in Junior Suite 1678 (aft/port). Although some said that this was "a long way from the elevators), it really wasn't. Plus, it does seem quieter in the aft on most ships we've been on. The room itself was great; very spacious, a huge walk in closet, comfy bed (of course!), plenty of storage space in addition to the closet, good sized sitting area (couch and chair/ottoman), nice vanity area, and a decent sized bathroom with tub. The balcony was also very spacious; it fit two chairs, a regular sized table, a full lounger, a half lounger and a small table. I was surprised by its size, actually; the JS we had on Enchantment did not seem near as large. Our attendant, Wayne, was attentive and friendly.
Apparently Royal Caribbean had just recently begun to roll out their new menu. I'm not sure if it's on all of the ships yet but Freedom had it and, frankly, we thought it was great. Although the portions seemed a tad smaller (probably not a bad thing considering you can pretty much eat as many servings as you want), we thought the selections were much more interesting (cosmopolitan), flavorful, and varied. In deference to the beloved classics (e.g., shrimp cocktail, escargot, Caesar salad), they were on the menu each and every night. Each night had a different theme (as usual). We heard some complaining about the menu but, again, we found it a refreshing change.
We opted for My Time Dining this cruise and loved it. We were able to make RSVPs before we sailed (but it was easy enough to show up early or change the RSVP once on board). We prefer if we are not traveling with others to have our own table and MTD allows for this much easier than attempting to request a table for two during the 1st or 2nd seating. Having said that, we dined with a couple we met on board one night and had no trouble getting a table for four that night.
With the exception of one night when we showed up an hour early and another when we dined in one of the specialty restaurants (Portofino), we had the same wait team. I was a bit worried that our service would suffer with the flexibility of MTD but I this fear was unwarranted; the service was fantastic; probably better than the service on the past two cruises with Royal Caribbean (four night/five night cruises).
Portofino did NOT disappoint. The wine list, food, and service was all top notch. This was our third time in Portofino!
We ordered room service several mornings; many folks either do not realize or just don't take advantage of this great perk! We also use it as our wake up call as they always call us when the order is on its way. The breakfast menu isn't huge but you can order all that you want, including extra coffee :-)
We ate in the Windjammer once or twice; for lunch on embarkation day, twice for breakfast and a time or two during sea days to go in, grab a plate, and head back to the pool. The food is just fine in there but I just can't hardly stand to be in there as this seems to be one of the places on the ship where people seem to check both their brains and their courtesy at the door.
We ate breakfast and lunch in the MDR one time each. They do a good job of getting you in and out quickly and it is nice to spend some time meeting fellow PAX.
As we typically do, we pre-ordered a 5 bottle wine package. There are three levels; we usually get the middle of the road one. The selection is fine and it's a bit cheaper to do it this way. The wait staff always remembered to bring us the wine menu/and or that we had left-over wine from the night before. We ended up taking an almost full bottle of wine to our room the last night.
DH ordered a very nice Super Tuscan wine for our dinner at Portofino.
Other drinks about the ship were good as always. My favorite foo foo is their Frozen Mojito. We had several Bloody Mary's this time; most were made to perfection (with the exception of one DH got from a fairly surly pool bartender one afternoon). Yeah, (alcoholic) drinks are NOT cheap on board. Such is life.
We did bring our own bottled water on board this time. We slapped luggage tags all over it and carried it through security with no trouble.
Shows and Venues
Believe it or not, we never made it to a major show. We were having too much fun with our fellow Cruise Critic friends or just doing our own thing. We did see The Quest; always a favorite. I must say, it wasn't quite as fun on Freedom since it was held in a large place (Studio B); they had to assign team captains to actually do the Quests. We thought it was amusing to watch but it's so much better to participate (e.g., on Radiance class ships).
We really enjoyed Kory at the piano in the Schooner Bar. The various bands, trios, duos, etc., playing around the ship were quite good.
As always,hanging out in The Viking Crown Lounge/Olive Or Twist is neat; especially at night.
We stayed on the ship in the Bahamas (turns out this was just as well as the water was quite choppy and there were some issues with the tenders).
We took a Royal Caribbean excursion on St. Thomas; St.John's Champagne Catamaran. Lots of fun! 1/2 day of sailing, snorkeling, and then a fun party ship back to port with Champagne, rum punch, beer, etc. Not cheap at $80 pp (plus tip) but a nice day.
We did our own thing in St. Marteen; Bernard's Tours (which I'll review on Trip Advisor).
Wow, what a lovely ship! So much to do and see. The Royal Promenade really is spectacular; many different shops, bars, etc. The pool area(s) were nice (although we missed the retractable roof in the Solarium). Loved the cantilevered spas! We really found the main dining room (three levels) to be spectacular.
Having said this, we personally prefer the smaller chips, e.g., Radiance class, where you have good, clear views of the water from pretty much every venue on the ship. We missed being able to sit in the Schooner Bar or Champagne Lounge and watch the water. Many things on Freedom are truly "inside"; you don't see the water at all. Again, this is OUR preference; not a knock against Freedom at all.
For the most part, they were all excellent; friendly, courteous, knowledgeable. There is always one or two that don't really stand to muster (the surly bartender at the pool one day or the woman in the photo shop we wasn't too helpful) but definitely the exception, not the norm.
We can't speak highly enough of the Captain who kept us out of some "hot" water as we were following in the aftermaths of Hurricane Sandy and also with the rocky weather in the Bahamas He put safety first at all times and you have to respect that.
We were part of a very large Cruise Critic group. We had a fun Meet and Mingle (although we pretty much did all of the pre-work/planning; we organized gift exchange and a cabin crawl that was a lot of fun!) DH and I attended both the Captain's Reception (on the Royal Promenade) and then a welcome back event for Crown and Anchor members. Both nicely done.
On our cabin crawl we were treated to an inside view of The Royal Suite. Wow! Truly WOW!!!!!
All in all we really enjoyed ourselves on Freedom and we'd certainly consider sailing on her (or one of her sister ships) again at some point. Our only beefs were very minor (e.g., a few unhelpful personnel, some of the public bathrooms, especially in the pool area, were sorta gross at times) and, frankly, most of our irritation come (as usual) from some fellow PAXs who were just downright rude at times (to us and to others). Still, with 4,000+ passengers on board, they thankfully remain firmly in the minority!