First time cruisers on Freedom of the Seas
First of all, I'm sorry if I write a book. There's just so much to say, and I'll never say everything I want to say. This was our first cruise, we were very excited. My husband & I are in our late 20s. After watching numerous videos on youtube and reading lots of reviews, we were ready. We flew into Florida a couple of days early, to make sure we wouldn't have any delays. The night before the cruise, we stayed at Best Western in Cocoa Beach. It was right off the beach, which was very convenient, and only a couple of miles from Budget. We returned our rental around 10AM and they told us they were waiting for the port to allow them to bring new passengers, as they were still trying to get everyone off the ships that had just come in. Within a half an hour, they were ready to shuttle us there. The shuttle dropped us off right at our terminal. A very nice couple from the UK gave us a quick run down of what to expect. When we got to the terminal we handed a porter our luggage and a few More
dollars (it says you don't have to tip, but their hands are out for $ before asking for your luggage). Being some of the first 100 or so passengers there, we cleared through security very quickly, and waited in the terminal for them to say we could now check in & get our Sea Pass card. Within minutes of having our SeaPass we were boarding the ship. Everyone was very friendly. We boarded through the front of the ship which brought us right in by the Arcadia theatre. The ship was impressing from the moment we walked in. We thought it would be overwhelming & too big, but we easily found our way around. After a quick stroll around the ship we headed to Windjammer Buffet, of course it was busy because that's where everyone went when they first boarded. Our stateroom was ready at 1PM as suggested. We immediately met our statement attendant Livingston & we knew we would like him.
We decided we would try the main dining room (Isaac) for supper, which I'm glad we did because we ended up eating there every night. We had 6 great table mates, all with different stories, and all different ages. We really enjoyed their company every night. Our waiter was Bronson (from India) & Assistant Waiter Sharett (from St. Vincent). They were very very nice, and great at their jobs. We thought it was really well organized, incredible. We really enjoyed our meals. The only meal I did not enjoy (and I think the others at our table would agree) was the steak. I found it too thick and tough. Everything else was great. You can order whatever you want, and how ever many dishes you would like. Some people at our table ordered 2 different starters, 2 main dishes and 2 deserts per in order to really get their monies worth.
We were able to attend all of the main shows, and really enjoyed them. (Opening show, farewall show, magic show, Once Upon a Time, Marquee & Freedom Ice). My husband works in production so I was worried he would be disappointed but because each show is only 45 minutes, it's a perfect amount of time. The production was really well done. It could have sounded better for the room but other than that no complaints. We did a backstage tour on the last sea day with the sound tech, lighting, rigging, stage manager, and one dancer which was really informative. All of the dancers participate in all of the shows, and are only on the ship for 6-8 month contracts. So new dancers and singers are constantly learning the shows at RCL's studio, and due to the cost of producing these shows, this is why they run for 3-7 years on the same ship. The backstage tour was very informative, and it's incredible how small the backstage actually is considering the productions they put on. I would recommend attending all of the shows, and if you don't care for them, you can either leave or it's only 45 minutes. The only complaint I heard was from people who had been on FOS before, as the shows were the same so it was nothing new for them.
Some people said the ship wasn't as nice as it use to be, but we thought it was great. What people have to understand is there is over 5000 people through that ship every week, over 250,000 per year, and we noticed carpet being replaced in the stairwells, I am sure it's constant. On the 2nd night they closed the kids pull for maintenance while we would be in port for 2 days, I think they were painting the bottom.
The cruise director was Drew and he and his staff were awesome. We went to the Captain's Corner on one of the sea days, where you could ask him, Drew, or 4 other officers any question you wanted. One asked why the pools were so cold, and the captain said they take the water direct from the ocean and filter it, but do not change the temperature. We really enjoy the pool deck and hot tubs whenever we had time.
When it came to time to leave, we had selected to disembark around 8, they gave us the 830 slot, and we were through security with our luggage shortly after 9am. We felt it was all very organized. The only thing I would have liked to see was more organization at the shuttle section outside the terminal as you never know which spot your shuttle is going to pull into and then it's a mad dash.
There's so much I can write, but really it was a wonderful experience and we would certainly do another cruise with RCL. I lived FOS, but would also love to explore a different ship for something different.
As a side note we asked out waiters and stateroom attendant if they preferred their tip in cash or prepaid, 2/3 preferred cash so we went that route. I did make sure they get the prepaid, they do, they just don't always know that the customer has selected that option if they aren't told. You can get US cash off your Seacard at the casino for a 3% charge which we thought was convenient. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
We were up early, and arrived in Cococay right about on time and took one of the first tenders. We had to wait a little bit aboard the ship for the tender to arrive, and then once it arrived wait until it filled up with other passengers. The tender only takes a few minutes before you arrive on CocoCay. We first decided to walk around the island so that we would know where everything was. Having never been to the Caribbean before, the water was a beautiful blue. It was a beautiful day, with a couple of short isolated showers. We had only brought our SeaPass cards as we did not realize that there are locals that boat to the island that sell souvenirs, clothing, and such. There is also a shop run by RCL, but we felt bad that we did not have any cash on us so we couldn't even really look around at the other shops. Although you can tell much of this island is man made, and that the sand has been brought in (you can see a huge sand pile on one of the islands across the way), it was still very nice for a private island that is set up for this exact purpose. We found out that some of the RCL workers live on the island full time, however many of the ship workers took a separate tender over. (Bar tenders, excursion staff, etc)
Our first excursion, parasailing was at 10AM. There was a boat driver, and a lady who looked after getting everyone ready (was she ever quick). The water was quite rough, so I figured it would be very windy up in the air. We were the 3rd group out of 5 to go up, and it was absolutely incredible. It was so calm and peaceful. The boat driver took us out by the ship, and we were able to have an incredible view of the ship. We were up in the air for 6 minutes. It was very smooth. Once we got back down onto the boat, and were on the rough waters, we both started to feel a little sea sick, but were okay once we got off the boat. We felt really bad as we didn't have any cash, and couldn't tip the 2 helpers. I would highly recommend bringing cash if doing any excursions.
Then it was time for lunch and to relax on the beach. The food was a BBQ style buffet with chicken, corn, salads, hot dogs, hamburgers and more. I have heard many people complain about the the food on CocoCay, it wasn't incredible but it was good for a beach picnic feel.
After a couple hours of relaxing, we were the last group for the seadoo tour. They warned us that the tied was coming in and the waters were really rough. They played a safety video and then brought us out to our machines. Every 5-10 minutes we stopped so that the group could gather together, after the 1st meeting, when we were in deeper water, it got very rough. My husband loved it, lots of big wakes. One father and young son turned back and the son didn't like the rough waters. I was not comfortable driving 35-40mph in the rough waters, so I fell back in line, and drove at a more comfortable speed 25-30mph. My husband really enjoyed and I enjoyed it as well. I did feel like we were a bit rushed and the guides wanted to go fast. Every time we stopped for a break we had to shut our machines off and mine really struggled and re-starting everytime, so I was a bit frustrated but other than that it was a lot of fun. When we got back to the island, there were 3 staff members and big golf carts waiting for us to take us to the tender, as it was the last one and they needed to get everyone off the island.
All in all we had a fun day at Cococay.
We arrived in St. Maarten the following day right on time. We decided to go again with our dinner table mates, however we did not have much of a plan, we were just going to make it up as we went along. There were a couple of places I researched that I wanted to go. We really wanted to go to Maho Beach and Orient Beach. When arriving at the port, there were numerous shops right there. We decided to rent a Jeep from one of the car rental companies ($90 for the day plus taxes came to $120US). It was going to cost us close to $80 per couple for taxi's. The guys working the booth were very friendly and informative. The Jeep came with a GPS which had all of the tourist spots, restaurants, beaches, etc programmed in already. He told us we should go to Maho Beach first as the traffic would be worst coming back from there at the end of the day. Maho was BEAUTIFUL. Within an hour we saw 2 small planes & 1 big plane land, and 1 smaller jet take off before lunch time. The water was sparkling blue, and calm. We decided to take the other route around the french side of the island to Orient Bay as I had read great things about Orient Bay.
This allowed us to see most of the island. Unlike St. Thomas which roads went all around the mountains, St. Maarten's roads seemed to mostly go around the island on flatter ground despite all of the mountains around. It was a much more of a boring drive than driving through St. Thomas, and the poverty was very noticeable. It seemed like most people did not care about their properties, a fair amount of garbage, and run down buildings. Just a completely different world than we are use to, but still interesting. We had a few scattered showers during the drive, luckily were able to put the roof up quickly. We arrived at Orient Beach (which is supposed to be a half nude beach), however we were expecting warning signs for where that area was, the next thing we knew a naked man was walking past us. It didn't bother us, but signs would have been nice. We ate at one of the bars along the beach, again we found it over priced and the food wasn't great. Because we were on the french side, the prices were in Euros and when converted, our meal was quite pricy for the quality of it. If you were not eating at the restaurant, it cost $1 each time you wanted to use the washroom. The water was rough, and windy, so we thought maybe we would go try another beach. Every beach we found was not nearly as nice as Maho Beach and we regretted not spending the entire day there, and especially swimming there. On our way back to the port, we filled up the jeep at the closest gas station we saw. I put down my window and handed him money & said $10 only, and he walked away without saying a word. The pump showed $17.50 so we did not think he had pumped anything. We were confused, and got out to put $10 in. He told us we owed him more money. It seems they must have the fastest pumps in the world, and the funds were in Euros. We gave him the extra money and left. They call it the Friendliest Island on their license plates, but we would have to disagree. We much preferred St. Thomas, and the people of St. Thomas. If we were to go back on a cruise we would go straight to Maho and spend the day there.
The night before arriving in St. Thomas we decided to take a taxi with 2 of our dinner table mates to Sapphire Beach. Coming into St. Thomas was beautiful. The captain advised us that because of the wind we would have to wait a little bit before we could dock, however there wasn't much of a delay, maybe half an hour. It was incredible to see the ship park between 2 other ships. When we first arrived, we wandered around the shops at the port, and then we decided to stop at Wendy's quick (we were surprised there was a Wendy's). The service was incredibly slow. There are an unbelievable amount of taxis in St. Thomas, and we had 1 driver following us to Wendy's saying he would take care of us and would wait outside. We weren't too sure about him. We got outside and he was gone, so we jumped into another. We were much more comfortable with him. He was a retired detective, and he treated us really well. It was $20 per couple to go one way to Sapphire. The route to Sapphire allowed us to see much of the island. We were a bit surprised by the amount of poverty, but the people were incredibly friendly. He told us that he would be back by 4:30 to pick us up, and said we could pay him then, but we all decided to pay him right then in case we changed our minds. Sapphire Beach was beautiful and the guys said the snorkelling was pretty good considering the water was rough. I wouldn't recommend the food (waitresses walking around handing out menus from the nearest hotel). We found it quite pricy and not that good. We rented 2 chairs for $10/each for the day, and my husband rented snorkelling gear for 7 or $8 for a couple of hours. He did not find the snorkel good quality but was fine for the rental price. Shortly after 4, we went out to the taxi area, and sure enough our driver was there. We asked him to take us to Paradise Point. He took us to one other look out on the other side of the port which was beautiful, so we asked him to still take us to Paradise Point so that we could see it from the opposite angle. The drive up to Paradise Point was very rough, narrow, and hilly, but he manoeuvred it quite well considering we were in a passenger van. Once at the peak, he was very patient with us and let us take our time taking pictures. He took us right back to the entrance to our ship, at a return price of $30 per couple. I did not realize until afterwards that the other couple didn't have enough cash to tip him, even though we did, I still felt like he was incredible to us. He was very informative, not at all in a rush.
I would recommend taking a taxi over an excursion. With excursions you are rushed, and they only last a few hours. We were gone for over 5 hours, and back in time to have dinner at our 5:30 setting and see the ship leave the port with St. Thomas all lit up in the back ground.