FOS Western 3/31/13: Freedom of the Seas Cruise Review by DrD
Overall Member Rating
FOS Western 3/31/13
Destination: Western Caribbean
Embarkation: Port Canaveral (Orlando)
I'll organize review by theme/topic rather than chronologically. We did Western itinerary. What better time to do this than while sitting in the Orlando airport?
My wife said it all after we boarded and she said "this ship looks brand new." The layout is great. I had studied deck plans alot and knew my way around right away. We loved the soaring, wide-open spaces around the atria. The royal promenade is a great idea, whoever thought of it should be in the naval architect's hall of fame. Many great areas, bars, and lounges. I was skeptical about the oft-repeated claim that the ship doesn't feel crowded but it's true. For those of you who like to study deck plans there are 2 changes. More First, the screening room is gone, replaced by some kind of travel office. Second, the book nook near cafe is now a Britto's art gallery.
Sorrento's is great. My kids especially loved it. They went there all the time for a few slices and some desert. As they were finally old enough to go off on their own (and find their way back to cabin) they went there alot. The pizza was better than I thought it would be. I didn't try a pannini. The atmosphere is great, really feels like a pizzeria.
Cafe promenade is also very nice. I dashed in there frequently for coffee. The cookies and brownies were awesome. I only had the sandwiches once and they were very good, if I had more room in my stomach I would've had them more often but one has to prioritize. Some people were there on the very last night and were surprised to hear all the food there is included!
Bull and Bear: went once just to say I did, nice if a bit small. Beer list is extensive if perhaps not as much as I thought it would be.
Ben and Jerry's: boys went a few times, of course loved the ice cream. Between that and sprinkles (poolside) they ate more ice cream this week than in the whole last year!
Vintage's: the only real disappointment for me. I was looking forward to the wine dispensers and went the first night. However the bartender talked me out of using them, she said "it's not fresh, tell me which one you want and I'll get it from bar." She then said "sometimes it doesn't work and you can't get your money back." So I picked one, we don't have it. Another one, oh we don't have that one either. This went on for selections at which point I felt like John Cleese in the cheese shop and left. I did not go back. Oh well.
Bars: I won't go through all of them, we didn't spend much time hanging out in the bars. I can say that whenever we did go service was very prompt and the drinks were great. Even on sea days by the pool I never waited more than a minute or so to get a drink. You can keep the glass which is ok, you can only take so many home. They don't let you get the drink in a plastic cup and pay less.
Cabin: We had 2 adjoining cabins, 8318 and 8316. John from Jamaica was our steward and was the best ever. He always did our room right away. He was able to open the balcony divider right away, the connecting door had to wait a bit as he needed his supervisor but was open by dinnertime. The cabin is pretty standard, kind of small but good storage. The closest has a second bar for hangers at about waist height that folds down if you need it, it's in 2 halves so you can just fold down one if you want. The shower is great, very very powerful. It was quite tight though, I'm 6'3" and 175lbs (well I was last week anyway lol) and although it was high enough it felt tight. Those who are a bit short for their weight might find it challenging. We wish there were more outlets but were prepared for that. Only 2 in whole cabin is really not enough with all the gadgets that need charging. Also there are none by bed so charging my kindle at night required me to get out of bed when done reading for the night (I know, the horror.) Having 2 cabins was so awesome. Last time we were 4 in one cabin and I could never go back to that.
MDR: We had traditional second seating. As the food gets mixed reviews I was unsure of how it would be but we found it outstanding. Every dish I had was great. The boys for the first time ate off the adult menu as there was always something they wanted (although they went 4 times only.) We aren't fussy eaters and like seafood so that may be part of it. The only thing that was a bit underwhelming were the deserts, sometimes they were great and sometimes just ok. Food that really stood out for me was the lamb (rare of course), a pasta with braised beef, shrimp goyza (dumplings, the boys had those and asked for more). My wife had the fish selection just about every night and was never disappointed. Chetan from India and Maria from Mauritius were our servers and did a great job. No problems getting more than one appetizer. A few times they offered us seconds on entrees which we usually accepted. I tried my high school french on Maria and she said my pronunciation was excellent so of course I had to give her a Wow card. My wife and 1 boy ordered the strip steak the last night and it was really good. It was done perfectly, not overcooked as is so often the case. (We ordered medium rare).
Windjammer: It was good, not great. Food was the same every day except for dinner. I took the boys there once for dinner as they were going to kid's club later and they had alot of the same entrees as in MDR. Service was great, always someone coming by offering coffee or other beverages. I never found it crowded but I did not go for lunch on sea days and always went to breakfast early. Overall comparable to other cruises we've done, nothing stands out but nothing to complain about either. I did love the smoked salmon and had some every morning (it's expensive on land!!!)
Johnny Rockets: We went twice and had 2 different experiences. The first time the service was fine but nothing special. The second time our server brought us fries and onion rings right away, did magic tricks, and overall made it an experience. I then wondered why it wasn't like this the first time?
Room service: also fine, fast. The boys really liked ordering stuff on their own while we were out and about. They just had burgers pizza etc.
We did not do any specialty restaurants.
Entertainment: The shows were great. We missed Marquee but did Once Upon a time, Magic show, and ice show. All were great although the magician did spend alot of time promoting himself like showing video from when he was on America's got talent. But the show was really great and was a must-see. Kids did not like Once Upon a Time so much as it was more geared towards adults despite the name. Little one got a good nap. We also saw the Croods in 3D. I was VERY impressed with the sound system in the theater, the movie experience was as good as any on land. There was one night when there was not much to do, they had the Croods at 7 which did not work for our 8 o'clock dinner and that was the show. We were able to see the movie on the last day at 1:30. It actually worked out though as we had a great time staying at the pool until 6:30 then watched late boarders from our balcony. (I think someone got left, there was an officer on the dock with a girl's carry-on bag that looked to be waiting for someone. Both the officer and the bag were still on shore when we departed.) We missed the welcome aboard show. The last show was good but as usual about 1/3 was clapping for all the staff. Another night the only show was an ABBA tribute band so we didn't go.
We didn't do too many other activities. Drew the CD was great, he's a heck of a drummer. We didn't do Quest as we've done it before. We did kid's quest for awhile but could not get there soon enough to be on a team and it's not all that fun to just watch. I wish it started a few minutes later so second-seating guests could get there on time.
Outside: pools are nice. Many hot tubs. There are 2 big ones in solarium, 3 regular ones in main pool area, and 2 small ones in kid's area. Main pools were VERY cold the first day and did not warm up until towards the end of the cruise. My kids tricked me into jumping in one and I'm still plotting my revenge. We never had trouble finding a chair. Flow rider was a blast, we did private lessons and had a great time. It took me 3 tries but I did eventually do stand up surfing. By then my wife had left so never got to see me. I should warn you that when you wipe out on standup you hit pretty hard especially if you're tall. My neck ached for a day after. My son did rock wall once on the last day, there was no wait. I used jogging track twice but it was very windy as we were cruising and this was a bit of a struggle. I did not use gym but walked through a few times and it is huge and did not seem crowded. There is a nice sauna in men's locker room that we used once.
Kid's stuff: My kids both liked AO at first. (more later). We were hoping younger could go with older, and they said he could, IF, he first went to his session and was well-behaved. He enjoyed that and for the rest of the cruise told everyone how he got "promoted." They went for 3 sessions but apparently the last session was a zoo and everyone who was a self-signout got kicked out and the other kids had to have their parents talked to. Mine were self signout so when I went to pick them up they were just kind of milling about in the arcade waiting. Of course they both said they were little angels and it was the other kids who were acting up but strangely they never went back. So if you make your kids self-signout be aware they can be kicked out and there's no way to contact parents. Also the made my older take off his seapass and then it got lost. Luckily it was very fast and easy to get a replacement. So overall I'd say AO was ok. In fairness my boys have never like kid's programs on cruises much and liked this one the best so far, but they certainly were not eager to go back after that third session. The arcade was great but expensive. It was by far the biggest I've seen on a cruise and had alot to do. You could win tickets for prizes, the tickets were "virtual" in that they were assigned to your seapass. On the last day they were able to get a bunch of prizes. Both kids enjoyed the soda package and the freestyle machines. There were 2 in WJ and 2 in royal promenade. We saw characters everywhere but the boys are too old for that now. We saw part of parade as we randomly went for pizza as it was starting, it looked fun but more for little kids.
Labadee was awesome, we had an over-the water cabana on Nellie's beach and this was so worth it. Aqua park was very fun, kids wanted to do it again. It's a decent workout for adults, we went up the big iceburg 3-4 times and that earned us another drink or 2. I was not impressed by the upgraded buffet, it was quite small and line was slow. It had steak and shrimp but regular buffet actually had more stuff like ribs and cornbread. If we go back I'd go to regular buffet.
Falmouth: we did Dunn's river falls and tubing down the white river. The falls were very nice. Crowded true but so beautiful, shaded, and cool water. Definitely an unforgettable experience although I don't see repeating it. The tubing was the surprise of the week, I thought it was more of a "lazy river" type thing but it was actually quite fast with some rapids approaching class 2. The guides were great at jumping in and helping stuck tubers and sang the whole time, albeit with more enthusiasm than tune. Both boys said the tubing was 1 of the 2 highlights of the trip. The bus ride was long but the guide did a pretty good job of keeping us entertained with info and jokes. She also sang but was pretty bad. The whole trip was great but long, we didn't have time to walk around town at all. Vendors were much less pushy then I had been told, going through the market outside the falls we only had a few people ask us to buy something and none were pushy. No one offered us drugs or anything, although we did see 2 young teens smoking behind a tree while we were waiting for our tubes. Boys did not seem to notice, they probably thought they were smoking a cigarette.
Grand Cayman: We did jet skis to stingray city with Fat Fish and it was really great! (the other highlight for boys.) We went all out on skis, speedometer as high as 53. With light chop we were airborne alot! They let kids drive on the way back, I made the mistake of telling my 8yo to open it up and next thing I knew I was hitting the water at 50 mph and that stings let me tell you! We went to stingray city, then a snorkeling site, then starfish point. Everyone was great, the van was prompt and Ray the driver was a hoot and very knowledgable. I would highly recommend Fat Fish in general and this excursion in particular.
We lined up for tenders at 8 just as they announced they were ready, we got on a tender in 2 minutes and were on our way to shore 5 minutes later. They key as always it to get up early. We cam back around noon with no wait, my wife stayed and came back at 2:30 with about a 20 minute wait.
Cozumel: I stayed on board and had a pool/reading day, wife and 11yo did some shopping and enjoyed it. My son loves history like I do and found a great arms and armor shop.
Great! Everyone was very nice and did a great job. Once a hostess in dining room rolled her eyes at a group (they didn't see) but I can't really blame her. (They were sitting to lunch in MDR and insisted on sitting even though they were waiting for more people, clearly not understanding how the flow works.) I thought it was a bit bold for hostess to so clearly dis them in front of me, she had no way to know I would be sympathetic. But that's the worst I can say.
My wife had to get her seapass replaced twice when it stopped opening cabin. The first time she remembered putting it next to her cellphone but the second time it was random. I did miss a poolside grill like they have on most cruises, it was sometimes a bit awkward to walk into buffet when wet. Also ever since I was little I've associated pools with the smell of french fries!
We loved the interactive screens for checking the menu. Starting early in the morning you could see what was for dinner that night. Nice for planning/anticipation.
RCCL seems less pushy than other lines. On another cruise as soon as we boarded we were bombarded by offers, this did not happen here. Photographers were not pushy at all, on boarding there was a path if you wanted photo and 1 if you didn't. In fact I don't remember being solicited verbally even once. At least not for anything that cost money, certainly deserts and second entrees were offered over and over!
While it's true that we always remember the most recent cruise the most we all think this was the best cruise yet. Much had to do with the kids being old enough to appreciate it and to be independent (a huge boon to parents) but the FOS and RCCL are clearly a class act. If I had to come up with a criticism I would say that if you want to see a big show every night you may be disappointed. I will definitely do this trip again. I miss the FOS already. Why am I so hungry?? Less
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