We are well-travelled couple, on land and at sea, gunning for a year at sea- this marked 68 days for me and probably double that for DH. We flew in two days ahead of time, stayed at the beautiful Mandarin Oriental, and relaxed and shopped in Miami. During peak hurricane season in Aug/ Sept, do fly in at least one day ahead and watch the weather carefully, things can change fast and you sure don't want to miss the ship, especially if its the Freedom!
On Embarkation Sunday, we dropped the rental car in town and took the 5 minute Hertz shuttle to the pier at 12:30pm- no need to go back to airport, take advantage of this! Getting on was swift and painless, if a little warm at times- took about 25 minutes. Can't understand why I have to fill out emergency contact info when it was done online with Set Sail pass but it was the only thing I had to fill out. We were warmly greeted as we boarded and we set about getting spa and dinner things set, then explored the Freedom.
It was really a well-thought out ship, we have not been on RCI since Radiance in Dec 2001 so we found lots of great new touches and fun spots. Promenade was terrific, Sorrentos and SB Coffee and Ben and Jerry's were fantastic for snacks, then we went up to the pool decks and loved the cantilever whirlpool, Solarium, forward decks... good things all over the ship!
Then it was time to see our room. Our stateroom was midships on the 9th deck, our wonderful attendant was Kevin from Trinidad and he was terrific- thanks for the robes, the towel animals and the laughs Kevin! Every steward on our deck was friendly and funny, deck 9 midships Starboard was a happy place to call home. The cabin was the best I'd ever seen, large and well thought out, and the bed was certainly the comfiest we'd had at sea. The bathroom was well sized, though cat-swinging is still strongly discouraged. Shower was clever, if only they had a teeny perch for the leg-shaving ladies it would have been perfect- no crazy hot/cold water temp fluctuations, yay RCI! We had very calm seas and really missed feeling any rocking at sea- all things combined we really did not feel it much, too bad, we love that sensation.
We met our Meet and Mingle Cousins Monday night and had lots of fun- the first time we signed up for the M&M and we met great people. We had another mini M&M Saturday night to say goodbye- I look forward to seeing the Freedom 8-Sixers soon! Thanks for the laughs and good times, here's to our next foo foo/Corona Limon/ Chocolate Martini/ you name it Cuz!
Meals were pretty good most everywhere but not spectacular except Chops one night. Most food was good but some was not- just as I expected. We thought the food on Surf night was bad, we left and got sandwiches at SBC cafe instead. We got a table for two, which we love, but it was hard to get our original assigned waiter's attention, as he had a demanding table of 15 as well, we felt abandoned and waited 20 minutes for bread or water- so we moved up a deck to another table for two on the third deck, right on the railing. We had a wonderful waiter and asst waiter, Neville and Sochuila and they were fabulous. The headwaiter from Turkey was very good, helping out the waiters, serving wine, inquiring politely- he even came to our rescue in Windjammer one afternoon when my DH stabbed himself with a toothpick- three cheers to the dining room staff. Windjammer staff was amazing as well, and the food was fine most of the time as well. The greeters were great, and there is a wonderful cook/ server with a distinctive slim waxed handlebar mustache- he was so cheerful I sought him out to say hello everyday. Wonderful ambience in Windjammer, everyone is working hard and doing a great job there. Had a meal in Chops one night and it was great in all ways, do treat yourself.
Ok let me say this: people dressed like slobs for dinner in the Dining Rooms, and it is RCI's fault to no small extent. There were jeans and shorts and tank tops and I guess if you call for Casual people dress worse than what I wear to Mc Donald's. Even on Formal Nights, come on- dress to the code- there is flexibility, no need for top hat and tails- or eat casually elsewhere, please do not destroy the ambiance with ripped jeans and t shirts, you knew this when you bought in. Rant over.
Spa was nice, DH had a massage first day to get some kinks out and we both got mini/pedis- I think it was Diane from Jamaica and I begged her to set up shop here where I live, she was terrific! Spa staff did not push product, bless them, and we were quite happy. Staff on the whole ship was really really great- there was a warmth and pride that we were SO happy to see. Everyone we spoke to seemed quite happy, thought their management was very good, and it was a refreshing change after our Difficult Diamond Princess Experience in Dec 2005. We were quite impressed with the way the staff and management behaved on every level. This was Week 10 and congratulations are due every member of the staff- we had a great time and it was due to all of you! The service was amazing, and we appreciate all you do. Wish you were here now, as I have to cook and clean and serve myself...
We loved the pool decks, there was never a shortage of chairs and it seemed the Chogs were in low form. As I said, the ship was well designed; it was a full sailing or close to it but I never felt it. Families congregated in the H2O zone which looked terrific- kids have their own shaded jacuzzis and stayed out of the Solarium for the most part, this is the first ship I did not have to seek the spa jacuzzi for peace. I think the Solarium Pool should have been much cleaner, it was the only place that seemed overlooked in by the spotless police. Towels were only available by H2O zone and towel staff were, um, concerned for the safety of their charges... seemed a bit much, I have never stolen a pool towel and their plain beige towels did not bring out the thief in me either! However towels were freely available at Flowrider so apparently surfers can be trusted to self-serve, just not adults in the Solarium.
Did I mention the Flowrider??? Good times were had by all, I boogie boarded and surfed and had a good time even when I wiped out. Staff was very kind and patient, and did their best to help you with humour and good cheer. I LOVED the Flowrider, did not mind spending half an hour in line each time, it was worth it. Ladies do wear a t-shirt over, it is an option you should take unless you are really good or an exhibitionist.
The cruise was port- intensive, although we always do our own thing so we always have adventures. Mind you I live in the Caribbean so I do not rush out to the beach and spend my day on a towel, we usually like to drive the islands and see what they are like compared to home!
First day was a blessed Sea Day, we cannot get enough of them. Cozumel was a quick stroll through town, nothing special as we have been here before. Cayman was my fav- my first time there and I will go back. We rented a car for $26 from Avis (we drive on the left at home so it was easy for us) and went out to Rum Point. The sand and ocean were wonderful, the staff was great, you could spend the whole day here. We loved it- did waverunner for an hour and then a 10 minute boat trip to Stingray City, which I thought was magical even though it was busy- had a very good time and thought the stingrays were amazing. Jamaica was just a quick stop off for us, we did nothing special- both been there plenty and DO NOT care to drive it, they are a bit loony on the roads there. Then we went to Labadee, my first time on a private beach deal and I was impressed. Very well organized, felt uncrowded and we had a good time just limin'. Last day was Sea Day- we enjoyed every second.
Entertainment onboard was very very good. We did not skate or climb or mini-golf, although all were tempting. We skipped Bingo, as I finally faced the fact that I am a born loser and did not even try; we skipped the Art Auctions which were so noisily hawked. We thought the band in Boleros was amazing every night, just wish the non- smokers were not relegated across the hall. The Aussie Jazz Quartet in Olive or Twist was truly wonderful, sought them out every night we stayed up but did not care for the DJ Hurricane adding in the scratch one night- not to our taste. Also loved the guitarist in O or T at sunset for sailaway, he made it wonderful there. We saw the ice show and both loved it- skating and jumps were great, music really got you, costumes were great, and now my DH wants me to learn how to quick-change for dinner like that amazing skater did- do go see it, it was mesmerizing. The two Arcadia Theater shows were really very well done, the singers were really tops and such voices! The costumes and sets were beautiful, loved the gymnastics and aerial bits as well. See them both! Walked out on the comedian, did not suit us but others were howling- room was packed. If you cannot find entertainment on this ship, don't know where on earth you will. Between sports and shows, they seemed to hit the mark everywhere.
We chose the self-debarkation, left the room on the 9th floor toting our luggage off at 6:30am, never ever had it so good... flew through Customs/ Immigration, were done by about 6:45! Dropped the bags at the pier side AA check in counter- three cheers for AA, best $10 we ever spent, despite my problem. We had applied for an upgrade and gotten it the last night onboard- yay us!- but mine needed to be paid for and they could not do it pier side so no boarding pass for me. We were sailing the week of the diverted disaster in the UK, and came home to a code Orange airport- got notices in the cabins to expect long delays, no liquids, etc. and to show up very early- and I was dreading the lines but we did fine at the airport, got my boarding pass after a 5 minute wait in line and proceeded to the C-gate security checkpoint- the line looked interminable, yikes. However a TSA security guard suggested we go to the B-gate security line, which he said was always short; there is a hallway connecting the C and B gates and yahoo, we were in line for security just long enough to get passports and boarding passes in hand, not even two minutes- and sure enough it was a two minute stroll through the corridor from B security to C gates. Thank you security man for the hot tip, hope it helps you guys too! Flight was uneventful and we were glad to be home.
So we loved the Freedom and had a wonderful time, she is far and away the most cleverly designed ship we have sailed and the staff was amazing in every way. Not sure I want to go on a Genesis Class ship with 6000 of my closest friends but we said the same thing about Freedom a long time ago and yet booked it anyway in July. The cabin was lovely, the food was good, entertainment was great, cantilevered jacuzzi was wonderful, don't miss the Flowrider, ports were good, and despite the fact that there were over 3900 aboard, we never felt we had to stand in line; don't know how you did it RCI but you did it well!!! We are loyal Celebrity fans and will do more RCI if they stop the in-room advertising for bingo and auctions, etc- I turned off the interior speaker and stuffed a towel in the outside speaker which helped but still it is invasive. And whoever Keisha Smith was at 5 am, I hope you were having one heck of a good time, they woke us all up looking for your sorry bum, grrr. Ms. Smith's early AM activities aside, we thought the Freedom was terrific and the staff even better, and really had a great time aboard this amazing ship. Thanks to all the staff who made it such a great trip, hope to sail with you soon.