Embarkation in Miami was pretty straight forward. We arrived at the Pier via the Cruise Connection bus at around 1:30pm. Since we are past Royal Caribbean guests (known by Royal Caribbean as Crown & Anchor members), there was a separate line for check-in. Check-in was pretty easy, and we were only on line for about 20 minutes. Interestingly, the luggage x-ray occurred BEFORE check-in. All in all, from the curb to the ship took about 30 minutes total. Not bad at all.
Our cabin was on Deck 9, mid ship. The hallways on deck 9 are similar in color to other Royal Caribbean ships with a beige color for the walls, and neutral carpet. The stateroom doors are a light pink. The walls of the hallways have many interesting pieces of art hanging on them. The hallways are substantially wider than on other cruise ships, which is nice when the cabin stewards have their carts parked in the hallway and there is still plenty of room to walk.
We had a category D2 stateroom, which is considered a superior ocean view stateroom. The cabin was very nice, and was a decent size. The balcony is larger than a typical balcony on most ships for being just a regular balcony room and not a suite. The bathroom was small but adequate. A nice touch is the shower door which has 2 curved sections that curve around you, rather than the shower curtain, which always seems to want to attack you. All of the rooms on the Freedom of the Seas have a flat panel TV that is probably about 26 inches in size. The TV is on a swivel bracket, so you can angle it to view it from anywhere in the cabin, and even view it from the balcony. The basic channels were very limited, and there were no main network channels to be seen. Since the TV is a widescreen model, most content is viewed 'stretched', and cannot be changed to be viewed correctly. A nice feature on the TV is that you can order room service, check you Sea Pass account, and do a few other things such as ordering On Demand movies and excursions. The movies are priced at about $12 each, which in my opinion is ridiculous. There a variety of family movies, as well as a few adult movies. The deck chairs on our balcony were horrible. They are the cheap plastic slat type chairs, which are extremely uncomfortable after sitting for more than a few minutes. They could have sprung for the sling chairs, which are much more comfortable. The balcony was large enough for some nice 2 piece chairs with the footstool, like they have by the pool, but obviously they did not spend the extra money here. In addition, the balconies now use a glass wall along the rail instead of the traditional bars on the older ships. This makes it easier to look out on the ocean from the balcony, but because of the glass wall, there was more of an echo when talking on the balcony.
Since our stateroom was midship on deck 9, we were not close to anything on this ship. On most other ships, there is a bank of midship elevators that would make a midship cabin convenient to most areas, but the Voyager and Freedom class ships do not contain midship elevators.
The Windjammer/Jade Cafe was a very nice buffet style restaurant. They have a combination of typical buffet line and 'stations' of food. The great part of the station concept, is that you can go right to the station where the food is that you want, rather than waiting in a long line to get to 1 item. I am not sure why they did not eliminate the buffet line completely, and go to all 'stations'. The food in the Windjammer/Jade Cafe was average for the most part, and there are a decent number of choices. I was far from impressed by the taste of most of the food I tried for breakfast and lunch. There were drink stations where the drinks were already in the glass, so you just took a glass rather than waiting in line to fill your own. This is a real time saver. However, during peak times, the Windjammer Cafe does not have enough seating, and several times I found myself walking around with my tray of food as I searched for an empty table. There needs to be more seating here, but nothing can be changed now, as this area is just not large enough to add more seating. The Windjammer Cafe closes at 9pm, which I think was too early, as there are not many food choices after 9pm on this ship.Dinner on this ship has a few choices, and we tried most of them. The main dining room is 3 stories tall, and each floor has a different name for the restaurant, but they are all the same restaurant and serve the same food. Our meals here were inconsistent. A couple were very good, a couple were average, and a couple were not good at all. The best meal of the week was probably the cheese tortellini (they called it tortelloni). The worst was the NY Strip steak on the last night. I asked for a medium steak, and received a dried up well done one the first 2 tries, and a bad tasting fatty one on the third try. I gave up after that. The prime rib from an earlier night was also not a very good cut and very fatty too.
The waiter and assistant waiter were great. I asked for 2 orders of shrimp cocktail every evening of the cruise and was accommodated. On other nights we asked for lots of extra mozzarella for the family style salad, and extra grilled shrimps on 2 other nights and were accommodated as well. I think the staff has too many tables to take care of, as there was less personal interaction than on past cruises. The head waiter made maybe 2 brief appearances at our table for the entire cruise, except when it was the last night of the cruise and the tip envelopes were due. If you are a late night eater, you have 4 choices. First, there was room service, which has a decent selection, but at times took a VERY long time to get food. The food was average in both quality and quantity. The other thing that room service is great for is on those mornings when you will be doing excursions off the ship, and do not want to spend time going to the restaurants. You hang the card on your door at night with the choice of items you want, the time you want them delivered, and you are done. This serves 2 purposes. Coffee delivered right to your door along with fruits, cereals, etc., as well as serving as a wake up call. Room service calls your room right before they deliver the food, which is a nice touch. It is very nice to sit on your balcony first thing in the morning enjoying breakfast. There were omelet's and sausage and bacon items on the room service breakfast menu. Again, not the best quality, but good for a time saver. Second, is Johnny Rockets, which was fun and entertaining, and the food was pretty good. There is a $3.95 per person surcharge on the food, and the drinks and ice cream are extra as well. If you are a Crown & Anchor member, there is a coupon that waives the $3.95 portion of your bill. Our waiter was very good and spent time showing us a few magic tricks. It was the only place all week that I felt any type of personal service. Your third choice for a late dinner/snack was Sorrento's Pizzeria. This is located in the Royal Promenade and was generally open until 2 or 3am each night. They serve pizza (high school cafeteria quality), and some tasty desserts. But the best items here are found in the display case out front of the restaurant. There were several good breads, eggplant, mozzarella cheese, and some other items. There is no extra charge here, except for drinks such as soda or alcohol. And finally, there is the Cafe Promenade. This is the only 24 hour service restaurant on the ship (not including room service). They had small sandwiches, cookies, and pastries, all of which were pretty good. The food is free, but if you want coffee here, there is a surcharge. The prices are typical of a Starbucks on land.The pool area was very nice. There are 4 pools, 1 is marked as adult only. There is a separate area known as the H2O zone for the kids, and this area was highly utilized by families traveling with children. The 2 main pools are very nice, and for the most part, contain filtered water with very little salt in them. They are also chlorinated. They average about 5 feet in depth, so most people can touch the bottom pretty easily. The adult only pool was in the solarium area, which also contained the 2 giant hot tubs that hang over the edges of the ship on each side. These hot tubs are also adult only. The pools are open 24 hours a day, which was great for the late night swims. The main pools have a nice wading area around each one, so you can sit in 6 inches of water if you just want to get wet without going into the pool. There is NO food around the pool other than the soft serve ice cream machine, so if you want food, it's a real hike to the Windjammer. For all of the time we spent at the pool during the day, the band seemed to be non existent for the most part. They spent much more time on breaks than actually playing. This was a disappointment. The recorded soundtrack at the pool was only about 45 minutes long, so every 45 minutes you would hear the same songs again. There are several activities centered around the main pools that were entertaining, such as the belly flop contest, sexy legs contest, golf chipping contest, water polo, and water volleyball. Royal Caribbean seems to have come up with some type of solution to the chair hogs that plague most ships. They now put your pool towel in your room, and tell you that if you lose it, you will have to pay $20 to replace it. Perhaps they figure that you won't leave your towel on a chair all day if you might risk losing it if you are not there to watch it. This strategy also cuts down on people leaving towels behind on excursions.
The casino was HUGE with over 300 slot machines (according to RCCL), and lots of tables. There is also a bar in the casino so drinks are close by.
The main theater is named Arcadia. They had a few good shows during the week including the Love and Marriage game (not to be missed) and a midnight comic that was great. The Broadway style shows were cheesy and boring in my opinion. Once you have seen one of these shows on a cruise, they all seem to be slight variations, so if you have cruised before, they will probably not excite you unless you love Broadway type of stuff. Personally, I favor a magic show or comedian or just a good singer to these Broadway types of shows. The show times were odd. Some nights late seating dinner had to go to the show at 7pm, other times the late seating show was at 10:30 or so. The Freedom of the Seas orchestra was excellent.
The main disco was called the Crypt. This is a 2 story bar that is not very large on the top story, but is much larger on the bottom floor. The decor is not like something you would expect on a ship, as it has a gothic theme. However, the place is very cool to see, and the cracked glass staircase was awesome. They did a great job here as even when the music on the dance floor is VERY loud, you can still have a normal conversation if you sit in the booths around the dance floor. This place does not get going until late at night.
Bolero's is a small lounge on deck 4 that plays Latin music. This place was always hopping and had WAY too many people for the size area it is, and as a result, people spill out all over the stairs and walkways making it difficult to get around in this area. Since it is not an enclosed lounge, you can hear music up to the Royal Promenade which is on the next deck.
This ice show was very good and lasted about an hour. The arena is fairly small and does not seat more than maybe 400 or 500 at a time, so the ice shows require a ticket to attend. The tickets do not cost anything, but the shows do 'sell out', so if you want to see it, you need to be sure to get a ticket. They also have open skating time during the day at times, so you can skate if you want to. I am not sure if there was a charge for this.
The flow rider is the other innovative idea on the ship. It is located on Deck 13 aft, and has stadium seating to watch the participants. They have sessions for demonstration, standing mode, and boogie board mode. There was about a 15 to 30 minute wait to ride it until you fell off the board, where most people averaged a half minute at best. Oddly, the flow rider was not open during the middle part of the day while in ports, which would have been an ideal to try it when a large group of people are off the ship which would reduce the wait times. The ships photographers take more pictures here than anywhere else on the ship. The photo gallery seemed to be filled with about 40% of the pictures being from the flow rider.
The days in port were pretty good. We were able to dock in Cozumel and Montego Bay, Jamaica. We had to tender in to Grand Cayman and Labadee, Royal Caribbean's Private Island. This means that you cannot just walk off the ship and be at the port, you have to take a small boat to the destination. Of course, this takes time. There is time spent waiting for the tenders, and time spent on the boat ride in to the dock. If you have a tour excursion that you purchased through the ship, you get priority so that you won't miss your tour. Labadee was pretty nice. It had a few beaches, some small shops, and some trails to walk around. There was a lunch buffet, and a bar on the island. Although this is RCCL's private island, you get the typical Jamaican residents of the island who 'sell' you a lounge chair for tips. Activities on the island such as jet skis and parasailing are way overpriced compared to doing these activities on your own at the other ports. You must bring cash for the small shops, as well as for the tips that these chair ushers will demand. The best place to buy anything is in Cozumel. Grand Cayman and Jamaica are very expensive, and the prices for items that you can find in the U.S. such as cameras or jewelry are no better. About the only thing you MIGHT save on is the tax, but if you spend too much, you have to pay duty on it anyway, and if there is a problem with the item, good luck getting it resolved.
Disembarkation day on our last day was better than our last Royal Caribbean cruise 1 year ago. The cabin stewards still want you out of your room by 8am, although we stayed until almost 9. Of course, he was none too happy and called our room to tell us to get out. Breakfast was being served in the Windjammer until 9am, and we were able to get some food before they started putting it all away at about 9:15. They do the disembarking in stages, but the line to clear customs still took about 45 minutes to get through.
A few last points about our trip on the Freedom of the Seas...
- James, our cruise director was a lot of fun and a very nice guy. The crew really let loose during the late night adult only party.
- The elevators on this ship are HORRIBLE !!! There are only 2 banks of elevators, fore and aft. There are NO mid ship elevators. There are only 14 elevators on this ship. Contrast this to our last cruise on the NCL Jewel which had a total of 12 elevators for 50% less people. There should have been a MINIMUM of 24 elevators on a ship this size. The elevators are EXTREMELY slow and seem to have logic issues. These were the worst elevators of any ship we have been on.
- For a ship that has only had 15 voyages (ours was the 15th), the ship already shows signs of wear. The carpets in the common areas are stained and the stairs and hallways are wearing already. The varnish is already gone from the pool decks and balcony railings. The ship for the most part is clean, but certainly not immaculate. I expected the ship to be pristine given it is less than 3 months old. If I had not known this, I would have thought the ship was a year or 2 old already. I did not see the staff continually cleaning the ship like we have seen on other ships.
- And finally, an overall comment about the ship. This ship is HUGE. It is not easy to navigate quickly to anything, since there is almost always an elevator trip involved, and these are slow. You can do the stairs, but there is still a lot of walking. The ship has almost every form of entertainment you can think of, but as the ships get to be this size and in the future, even larger, the convenience factor goes down dramatically. While the smaller ships do not have all of these activities, they are usually more geared toward being guest friendly. In addition, on a smaller ship, you tend to get more intimate and personal service from the staff and crew. I guess what I am saying, is that although this ship has a lot to offer, it is far from perfect. I guess 1 ship cannot be all things to all people. If you have cruised smaller ships before and like the convenience, personal service, and high quality of food, this ship is not for you. However, if you want activities to your hearts content, and are not bothered by lack of convenience and average food quality, then you will love this ship. Since the Freedom of the Seas is brand new and the demand is high, you are paying a premium for this ship.
Overall, we had a great time on the ship, due in part to the ship itself, but mainly due to the great people that we met during our cruise. And in the end, that's what makes a vacation special to me.
Good Luck and Bon Voyage !!!