My husband and I sailed the Freedom of the Seas from March 3 -- 10, 2013. This was our 22nd cruise, our first on Royal Caribbean. We have previously sailed on Carnival, Celebrity, Cunard, Holland and Norwegian. This was a seven night sailing, with stops in Labadee, Haiti; Falmouth, Jamaica; Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico. I heard someone say the ship was at maximum capacity with every berth (including staterooms for three or four) filled.
We drove to Port Canaveral the day prior to sailing. Since this was our first sailing with Royal Caribbean, and we did not book a suite, we had to wait in the standard line to embark. It took about an hour, which wasn't too bad. It appeared the bottleneck for the line was the security check. There were just two lanes in the entrance we used. However, it may not be cost effective to add more x-rays and scanners.
Freedom of the Seas is a very elegant ship, with lovely public areas. Mr. Cruise Cat and I immediately checked out the Adult Only Pool Area, Casino and Dining areas. We found the Windjammer/Lido Deck to be standard with other mainstream cruise lines. We had asked for a table for two in the Early Seating for dinner, but were assigned to a table for six. The maitre d' was able to reassign us to a table for two.
Mr. Cruise Cat is still somewhat recovering from a recent surgery, and has to be pretty careful of what he eats. He is lactose intolerant already, and his additional limitations did not leave him with very many options in the Main Dining Room. After three days straight of chicken breast and potatoes, we gave up on the Main Dining Room and made reservations in the Specialty Dining Restaurants. Overall, we found the food in the Main Dining Room to be a little on the disappointing side. I had Lobster Bisque one night that could have passed for a Campbell's condensed version of it.
We then ate at Chops Grille and Portofino's. Both were excellent and Portofino's was even so kind as to serve us Linguini Bolognese to accommodate Mr. Cruise Cat. We enjoyed a table for two with amazing views as the sun set each night. Mr. Cruise Cat was somewhat disappointed with the menu selection offered at both restaurants. He likes Surf & Turf but was not able to order this combination at the Chops Grille and there was a not fruit cup available for dessert. The three dessert selections were loaded with sugar or cream, a no-no for him.
We have sailed quite frequently with Carnival, and had made a habit of having dinner only in the Supper Club. Between the quieter atmosphere, less crowding, food cooked to order and all that, it gets to be somewhat challenging to appreciate the Main Dining Room.
We had a stateroom with a view of the Promenade. The bed had an 'egg carton' foam above the mattress which was comfortable enough. There were also two love seats and a vanity. The room was fine.
We did notice sewer odors from time to time that seemed to be coming from the commode. There were also a couple of times when the toilet did not flush. (It appeared maintenance was being performed.) Eventually, it flushed on its own, probably when the maintenance was complete.
Mr. Cruise Cat ordered a flower arrangement for our stateroom. He was kind of disappointed with what he received. He ordered a standard arrangement, and I know he would rather have spent the few extra dollars for a decent arrangement, such as a dozen roses.
The Adult Pool Area is very nice, with cushioned lounge chairs. There are two sets of stairs (in addition to ladders) leading into the pool at one side. This made it much easier to enter and depart the pool, and to 'ease into' the water on days when it wasn't as warm. This was a big plus for Mr. Cruise Cat.
We have cruised on several different cruise lines and have learned that none of them are immune to Chair Hogs. We are generally early birds, so we were able to get chairs. But we watched as passengers wandered around looking for lounge chairs only to find too many of them had been 'reserved' for later use. The last sea day was really out of hand. We arrived before 8:00, and almost all of the chairs had already been reserved with towels. We managed to find two chairs together, but not in the best spot. Those were for people's towels.
There were a couple of instances where minors were using the Adult Only Pool. These were times when it wasn't crowded, and no one seemed to upset, so long as they were quiet and not splashing. One family who brought their kids was tolerated until the kids got a little too disorderly. Then someone from the cruise staff asked them to leave.
We did enjoy going ashore to visit Labadee, Haiti. It's clear this island was completely developed by the cruise line, but this made for some pretty fun events. We didn't feel like zip lining or using the aqua park ourselves, but other passengers seemed to be having a great time.
Since most of our cruises have been with Carnival, where we have Platinum status, it was nearly impossible to not compare them to Royal Caribbean. I think we learned that mainstream cruising is mainstream cruising, and any way you slice it, they all have their pros and cons.
We had heard a lot about Royal Caribbean being better than Carnival, but we didn't really see it ourselves. Both cruise lines were subject to rude passengers, noisy children and over-served merry makers. Both cruise lines do the best they can with several thousand passengers all on one ship.
Both cruise lines offer the same breakfast and lunch on the Lido Deck every day. We learned that we prefer the Carnival Supper Club to the Chops Grille. The Carnival Supper Club offers lobster on the menu and we really enjoy the homemade ice cream for dessert. We also prefer the 24 hour availability of pizza and complementary drinks (such as iced tea and lemonade) on Carnival, and ice buckets already in the stateroom. On Royal Caribbean we had to order buckets of ice from room service each night, wait around for it, and provide a tip to the server. (Requesting ice ahead of time didn't do any good.)
Finally, with Platinum Status on Carnival we have priority embarkation and free laundry, and things like that.
So whatever. Maybe our next cruise will be with Carnival again. But it's hard to not be wary of all the trouble Carnival ships have been having lately. I'm not sure what would be worse... Being on a ship that had to be towed back or miss a port, or finding out that my vacation (the following week) was going to be cancelled all together. Both situations are appalling, and it keeps happening on Carnival ships.