June 4th Freedom of the Seas Inaugural Voyage
Pre-cruise: We flew American out of BWI, direct to Miami the day before departure. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed for mechanical problems, so we missed our pre-cruise dinner with Cruise Critic friends at Lombardi's.
Priceline had been good to us, and we got a room at the Royal Palm on South Beach for $110 a night. When they handed us a key to a "suite by the pool", we thought we were REALLY fortunate. However, the room was in lousy shape, with badly stained carpeting and an iffy lock. There were also college grads partying it up in the pool until the sun came up. Heaven help those who pay the going rate for this room. Yuck! But it sufficed for one night.
Embarkation: Some of the folks on our Cruise Critic Roll Call had arranged for a Hummer Limousine (also named Freedom) to take us to the pier. What a fun time we had! Decked head-to-toe in pink, we were immediately greeted by RCI land employees at the Port of Miami, personally ushered through check-in, and escorted into the Diamond waiting area. There, we were able to meet up with even more pink-clad Cruise Critic members! The excitement was truly palpable.
At precisely 11:00, they ushered us onto the ship where we were greeted by the crew dressed all up in their formal attire, and handed a glass of champagne. 4-stars on the Embarkation!!! Wow -- what a memory & those first steps onto this fabulous one-of-a-kind vessel!
Day One: Our cabins would not be available until 1:00 (and they actually had "guards" in the stateroom areas, to enforce this), so we headed to Windjammer, had a bite to eat, and then hit the pool bar for some drinks. A quick trip back to the Flowrider, and the time flew quickly until we could get into our cabin.
The Cabin: We were in 6332. On the deck plans, it looks like this is the first forward cabin on the starboard hump, but #6330 actually gets those honors. It is an E2 cabin, and was VERY tight with the beds separated into twins. There was barely room to squeeze between the wall console and the foot of the first bed.
Rather than give the extra space, generated by the curve on the hump, to the balcony, they allocated this space to the cabin. It sounds like a good idea on paper, however, the shape was odd, and the balcony curtain was placed where it would have been without that extra space. This left an unusable chunk of real-estate between the balcony curtain and sliding door. With the beds separated, the same lack of room occurred near the balcony, and we were always getting tangled up in the curtain. The installation of a simple tie-back would go a long way in alleviating this problem.
The beds, however, were FABULOUS. They made my 3-5 hours of sleep each night go a long way! Storage was at a premium though. The flat screen is neat, but it eliminates the cabinet area over the TV which normally contains the safe. Instead, the safe takes up a full shelf in the closet. The drawers also seemed smaller than I've experienced in the past.
Day One cont'd: We headed to the muster drill, followed by an uneventful sail-away, and then off to the Welcome Aboard show after acquiring another drink from the pool bar. The show was simply the usual, although the message was that they were excited to finally be sailing for a full week. There was a funny bit of comedy by Don Friesen. I was upset that I missed his adult show later in the week, as he seemed pretty funny. A quick check, back to our cabin & still no luggage. (It finally arrived sometime before 11:00)
Dinner was at 9:00 for late seating. Couldn't tell you what I ate, but will say that I was not disappointed with a single meal while onboard. Actually, the food everywhere was good to very good. Sorrento's interesting and cheesy pizzas really hit the spot at 2:00am on several nights!! I'll let others focus on the food in their revues, but will tell you not to miss the chocolate-banana pie in the dining room. :)
Day Two: This was our first sea day, and jam packed full of activities. What wasn't jam-packed were the loungers, and it was easy to find primo seating right there at the main pool. The Jamaican Studly Bartender Union seems to have taken over the entire pool area (including the Solarium), and the service was great!! I really do think they took the best from each ship. After the blow-by-blow, I will make mention of special crew members, so hang tight!
Belly flop contest was the usual good-fun, but the Sexy Legs contest took the cake this week! Never have I laughed or shrieked so much in my lifetime. In fact, it caused me to lose my voice for the entire week. Our Cruise Critic group had a special "Pink Boa" entry, and he was crowned Mr. Flamingo Legs. I think it was probably the biggest and funniest Sexy Legs contest ever!!
We also had our Meet and Mingle party this day, at 5:00, in the gorgeous Olive or Twist (Viking Crown Lounge). Captain Wright himself attended, gave a lovely speech, and stayed for nearly an hour signing copies of a poem which our Roll Call group had presented to him. Another BEST EVER & the Meet and Mingle. It was very special to us all. Kudos to Captain Bill, and the RCI staff who participated!!
The show this night was Once Upon a Time. I am not a show-goer. This was it for me for the week (no parades, no ice shows & others will have to tell you about those). BUT, you MUST attend this fabulous show. The premise was new and interesting, the talent was top-notch, and the costume and set-design were gorgeous. Great job RCI entertainers and all who had a hand in this production!! Another BEST EVER!!!
As it is pretty hard to top Day One in "BEST EVERS", I'll back it down a bit and just go over what we did in ports, and wrap up with some comments on particularly note-worthy crew.
Cozumel: The day is very short in Coz, the ship was sailing at 4:00. The tender operation was incredibly smooth, so people were able to maximize what little time they had in port. We elected to go downtown, shop a bit, and spend the rest of the day in Carlos n' Charlies. Needless to say, there is not much that goes on in that place that I am at liberty to share here, but it was an extremely fun afternoon spent with friends and margaritas! :)
Grand Cayman: We tagged along with friends who had scheduled a private catamaran excursion through Captain Bryan's. The price was reasonable, and we had a fantastic day. Three snorkel stops (one at a very crowded Stingray City & and the stingrays were apparently full from all of our predecessors), led by competent crew. I would recommend Captain Bryan's in a heartbeat.
Montego Bay: Jamaica gets a bad rap, and personally, I'll no longer allow it on my watch, after our day at MoBay. They quite literally rolled out the red carpet for our arrival, and we docked to the sound of music playing. All day long they had music, dancers, free drinks and samples of the local fare. This all led up to a concert right there on the dock by Shaggy!! The stage was set up directly in front of our balcony, and it was a great time!!
The culmination, however, came at sail-away. They had a formal brass band playing, and as the ship began to pull away, they all stood and began playing the Star Spangled Banner. Afterwards, we dried our tears, waved, and repeatedly yelled "Thank you Jamaica! We love you Jamaica", as we sailed off.
In the middle of all this (or should I say, bright and early in the morning) we did the Original Canopy Tour. All I can say about this tour is AWESOME!!!! If you are physically able (it does require significant hiking up some steep and iffy terrain), shell out the $$$ and Get Out There! We did six zip lines through the Jamaican forest, the last of which was over 1000ft long at which we reached exhilarating speeds of up to 35mph. Special props to our guides, Dervon and Sean, who made the experience a total blast!!!
Labadee: It was an absolutely gorgeous (and very HOT) day in Labadee. RCI has done a lot of work on this private Haitian beach, and it shows. It was a lovely beach day spent with friends, and the staff handed us cool, wet towels for the tender back to the ship.
BTW, have I mentioned the tenders? They were plentiful, smooth, and well-orchestrated at every single port. People who worry about tendering from such a big ship can worry about something else. Tendering was a breeze!
Debarkation: We opted for self-debarkation, in which you can carry your own bags off the ship as early as 6:30am. If you are up for it, I highly recommend this option. It's like pulling off a band-aid. You know it is going to be unpleasant, so just do it really fast and get it over with. Well, "really fast" applies here for sure. We were through customs by 6:45 and at Miami Airport before 7:15. It also helps if you numb yourself via sleep-deprivation and alcohol-consumption. Leaving the ship is never fun, no matter how you slice it, but this method was as good as it gets!!
Less than perfect: Well, nothing is totally perfect, and it would be neglectful to not mention the non-optimal.
One thing the Freedom crew did not have to deal with on the pre-inaugurals was luggage, and it showed. Our bags (and those of most I spoke with) arrived much later than usual on the first night. There were also many grumblings about a mess at disembarkation, but I was lucky to have missed it.
The rotating doors between the Windjammer and pool area are, well...ridiculous. They are very quirky and cause odd traffic jams. Not sure of their point at all.
On a funny note, we seemed to be on the verge of a toilet paper crisis by week's end. I kid you not. I imagine this is simply an accounting error which will be rectified by the logistics staff. :)
Lastly, I feel that we maiden-voyage passengers brought along enthusiasm to last a lifetime. Although it was mentioned frequently throughout the week by the CD, Captain and others, we never really *felt* a return of the "maiden voyage" enthusiasm after our first day on the ship. This isn't really a complaint, and it will not diminish the fabulous week we spent onboard Freedom...it's simply a disappointment. We heard about all of the hoopla, special celebrities, etc... brought onboard for the free pre-inaugurals before us, and it was a bit of a let down that there was not some big special surprise flourish.
Not such a big "bad" list, huh?
Special Mentions: Okay, back to the good stuff. Each person makes their own cruise experience. That is one of the things that makes cruising so wonderful. I come from the perspective of a 40 year old single woman, who likes to have a fun time. The fellow passengers and new WONDERFUL friends I make have a huge part in that experience, as does the crew. Here are some of the less-celebrated crew who helped make this the trip of a lifetime:
First prize goes to Deddy, the greeter in the Windjammer and a future institution on the ship. Honest to goodness, where he finds the energy and enthusiasm is beyond me. I wanted to wrap him up and take him home....almost didn't need my morning coffee after a greeting from Deddy!!
I have a friend onboard named Jesus, from the Dominican Republic. He was up at the Viking Crown, which is a martini bar called Olive or Twist. Olive or Twist is wonderful, and generally has a jazz band playing. Took a while for people to really find it and appreciate it, but by the second half of the week, it was rocking in there every night.
Our wonderful times in Olive or Twist were in large part due to my adorable friend, Jesus, as well as the bartenders: Earl and Neville. Be sure to stop in and tell them that Tracy sent you. They are wonderful!
If you don't go to Boleros and have Cebe and Adrienne make you a Mojito, you haven't lived! This team of two is a force of nature, and the mojitos are delicious!! My biggest complaint about the ship: I went for my last mojito on our final night at about 2:00am, and they were out of mint and limes. Well, guess that should tell you something about those two!!!
Pool bar server honors go to Sanji. He won't be there for long, however, as he was a last-minute fill in and is off to Explorer in a few weeks. Special kudos also to the Jamaican bartending duo of Bailey and Loren. They can be found at the main pool and Solarium bars. Wonderful guys! And Loren CAN make a proper Long Island Ice Tea (do NOT order one from anywhere else!! Not sure what they do to make them undrinkable, but Loren got it done properly).
I cannot leave out the dealers in the Casino! I have to give the nod to a wonderful man named Michael. He'll steal your heart (and hopefully not too much of your money! LOL) I thought I remember his nametag saying he was from Canada, but then he mentioned something about Philly. I dunno...alcohol doesn't help my memory with these sorts of things! LOL There is also Owmz, who I'd met before on Radiance. Great guys, both of them!
Anyone going on the ship anytime soon please track down these special people, tell them I talked them up, and sit back while they show you a great time onboard!!
Summary: Freedom of the Seas is gorgeous, and a work of art. For her considerable size, she was very easy to navigate once you got your bearings. Every detail of her appointments is top-notch and beautiful. The crew, while still needing to find their rhythm a bit, is the best of the best, and it shows. You've seen the pictures, and they are lovely. They don't compare one iota to actually setting foot on this magnificent ship. I still found myself wondering if she wasn't a little too big. Guess that means I need to go back and make a final determination. Twist my rubber arm! :)