I anxiously awaited this cruise for about one year, as I booked this cruise on the Explorer of the Seas last year. On September 24, 2006, I boarded the Freedom of the Seas and was not disappointed.
Checking-in went relatively smooth. I was upset to see that Royal Caribbean did away with the private departure lounge for senior Crown and Anchor members. My wife and I had to wait in line just like everyone else. But, we always arrive very early, so we were within the first 50 people on board, which was about 11:30. Unlike most cruise ships, the Freedom, like other Voyager Class ships, does not greet you into a nice atrium. You board right onto the lifeboat deck and just walk into a set of glass doors. There's really nothing fancy. But, that comes later. The word "wow" was uttered through my lips more than on any other ship.
Our room was Junior Suite 1544, port side, forward, on deck ten. We were lucky. Our room was one being toured by a guided tour group, so the room was already prepared for us. Most people could not go to their rooms until about 1:00. The suite was very spacious. The balcony was very deep with a glass wall, unlike the cavernous type on the earlier Voyager Class ships. The bathroom had granite counters and a full tub. The room had a very spacious walk-in closet. Every room has a flat panel TV. However, I would not suggest booking a room near the front of this ship. Most of the activities, most importantly food, were at the stern and this made for a very long walk every day.
The bar service was top-notch. Every bar I went to had at least one bartender that remembered my name and favorite drink. They always greeted me and other guests with a handshake. If you're looking for a bartender who likes to give you that little extra punch in your drink, go see Jose at the Pool Bar.
The three-story dining room was spectacular. The color scheme was a little old fashioned, but beautiful nonetheless. Our waiter, Strawberry from Jamaica, was one on the best we ever had. The food was OK. If you've cruised with Royal Caribbean, you know how it is. The good stuff is in the specialty restaurants. Chops Grill provided, perhaps, the best steak ever to enter my mouth. The food quality and portions were fantastic. The Windjammer was a great breakfast place. The buffet provided everything from fruits to ham and cheese omelettes. To cut down on coffee lines, you can no longer pour your own. They bring it to you. For lunch, try Johnny Rockets. It costs a few bucks, but it's worth it.
I found the shows to be OK, at best. There were only two shows I enjoyed. The singers and dancers performed a show called "Once Upon a Time." It is not to be missed. The celebrity performer was Charo. I found her to be very talented and funny.
The gym was fully equipped and very rarely crowded. There was a regulation size boxing ring. Boxing classes were given throughout the cruise.
The Royal Promenade was longer and wider than on the other Voyager ships. The Freedom added a barber shop, Ben & Jerry's, and a Get Out There store to the Promenade. One of the other shops carried name brands like Tommy Bahama and Roxy clothing. Sorrentos Pizza and Cafe Promenade were split into two separate bistros on opposite ends of the Promenade.
The pool deck had something for everyone. The adults-only pool in the forward Solarium had swim-up bar stools in the pool. Also, there were two jacuzzis which stuck out 12 feet from the side of the ship, 11 stories up. The main pool area had a large pool and a sports pool. The sports pool usually had some team sport going on. Further back was the H2O Zone, an interactive family water park. There were fountains, a waterfall, and a lazy river pool. But, the most exciting feature was the Flowrider. Watching people try to surf was very entertaining. I tried my hand at it and only lasted a few seconds. They make you sign a liability waiver before trying it.
The ports were OK. If you've cruised a lot, you'll probably agree that Grand Cayman and Cozumel are getting a little old. Montego Bay didn't provide much and was dirty. Labadee was my favorite. The island is beautiful. The only downfall are the Haitians Royal Caribbean hired to work there. They are aggressive for tips and will follow you around. It's a little discouraging when all you want to do is relax.
My biggest disappointment was the crowds. This ship is a monster and it dwarfs every other ship it gets around. It's fun to look down on other ships. With that, comes lots of people. Everyone has run into those rude people on ships that like to cut in line, be rude, then make a smart comment to you in some foreign language. Unfortunately, I met a lot of those people on this ship. They were very prevalent in the Windjammer, photo gallery, and anywhere else crowds gathered. And elevators, forget it. The ship is severely lacking in that area. If you are not a very patient person, avoid this ship, or prepare to be outraged. By the end of the cruise, the common complaint among people I met was the rudeness of others.
All-in-all, the cruise was fun. The ship itself has lived up to it's hype. It seems to be aging quickly though. Many of the carpets were stained already. But, I would highly recommend this ship to the younger crowd.