We are a family of 4 (two 40 somethings, 1 12 year old and 1 10 year old) who love to cruise. We had been looking for something for spring break of 2013 back in the fall of 2012 and booked our Freedom of the Seas cruise on a Cyber Monday special. We had never been on the Freedom before but had been on her sister the Independence back in 2008 and really enjoyed the ship. This was also our first cruise out of Port Canaveral.
We drove down the day before and stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Cocoa. We enjoyed watching the ships sail that afternoon from a park located along the port it really put us in the mood to cruise. I booked the hotel through Hotwire and got a fair price seeing it was spring break. With Hotwire you prepay your hotel with no cancellations. Therefore, I was surprised to see a charge of $85 on my credit card bill fter we got home when I knew I had paid months ago. One call to the hotel and my credit card was credited the amount. The hotel has a nice pool area (but the hot tub was closed) and the morning breakfast was very nice.
I had also prebooked parking at the park n cruise facility for $5.99/day after get some recommendations about them from some co-workers. We arrived at park n cruise at about 10:30 am pulled into their drop off lane, several employees were available to help unload the car. My husband was directed to the cashier to pay and the employees took all our luggage over to the Freedom line. I was directed to where to park the car. When I got back from the car and headed over to the Freedom line where my husband and kids were waiting I noticed some of our luggage wasn't there.... and started to panic.... In trying to be over efficient one of the employees had taken the luggage that was in the Freedom line and loaded it onto the shuttle and not checked to see who that luggage belonged. We had two bags missing - one a carryon that I was not happy left without me and another bag that was going to be checked at the ship (which I also would have preferred to be with me). The employee called the shuttle driver identified our carryon and asked him to bring it back. After waiting an addtional 15-20 minutes our bag made it back everyone apologized and we received a coupon for a free visit in the future. We have used offsite parking at other ports and have never had our bags taken from us like this, we have always stayed with the bags then we all get on the shuttle together. It all worked out in the long run and we would use them again now that we know how it works at their facility. Now let's get to the ship!
We arrived at the port about 11am proceeded to the priority checkin line (which I think was longer than the regular line!) it moved slowly it seems that since it was a spring break cruise they were collecting all drinks including soda and water. We had a six pack of coke zero bottles that were taken and given back to us the last day and the people in front of us had a six pack of water (even in the shrink wrap) that they had taken away. Seems a little ridiculous to not allow bottled water. I don't know if people that packed theirs in the suitcases were sent to the naughty room and had their water confiscated or not.
The checkin lines were a breeze and we were through and on the ship by 11:30. There was quite a line for the kids to get their muster station bracelets. My son was extremely happy he finally didn't have to wear one (only kids under 12).
The ship is well maintained and beautiful we had a good time exploring to see what we remembered from the Independence several years before. We bought our son the soda package and he really loved the Freestyle Coke machines and the Shirley Temples he could get at the bar. I think the last sea day or the last two sea days two of the Freestyle machines in the Windjammer were not in service (and they were the ones on the side that was open most often).
We had an inside room midship on Deck 9, it was a bit tight for 4 but the location was great very close to the elevators and only 2 decks below the pools. Our room attendant was Wensula from St. Vincent and she was excellent, she treated us great all week, she made some really great towel animals for the kids including an alligator which we've never had before.
We had late seating and were seated on deck 3 back in the corner so it was very quiet. We had Veron from Jamaica as our waiter he was also excellent. He was probably one of the best waiters we ever had and we really enjoyed going to the dining room every night. Veron was also our waiter when we went to the Character Breakfast so that was nice.
Our first stop was Coco Cay, we had gorgeous weather and the water was beautiful. We got off the ship about 9 am and stayed until about 1 pm then headed back to the ship for lunch. For such a large ship with so many passengers (over 4,000) we didn't have to wait for a tender either getting off the ship or getting back on.
On the ship the kids loved the H20 zone my 12 year old was maybe a little old for the area but he loved it. The 12 year old didn't really enjoy the teens (12-14) club but with late sitting he missed the first night get together and many of their activities were in the evening when we were at dinner or other activities. My 10 year old enjoyed the kids club but didn't really go as much as sometimes since there were so many other things to do.
My 10 year old tried the flowrider the first evening which was a good idea since there was no line that day and pretty crowded everyday after. We also climbed the rockwall, went ice skating twice, enjoyed two 3D movies in the theatre, and went to Character Breakfast. I would definitely recommend reserving the Character Breakfast online before you sail if you want to attend.
The ice show was also excellent and I would highly recommend making reservations ahead of time.
We arrived at St. Thomas at about noon, it was beautiful day and we enjoyed watching us arrive from the helipad. Due to our later arrival and two other "big" ships in port we didn't have any plans and just got off wandered around the shops at the pier for a little bit then headed back to enjoy and empty ship. We enjoyed a tasty but fattening lunch at Johnny Rockets (which most of the time we were the only ones there) then headed out to the empty pool deck.
One disappointment was the H20 zone was closed both the St. Thomas and St. Marten days due to some sort of maintenance or repairs. But since the ship was mostly empty the kids used the main pools and had a great time.
In St. Marten we rented a car from Hertz. I had made a reservation online ahead of time since I knew there were going to be 4 ships in port that day. By booking online the rental car was less the $100 for the day for the 4 of us and we were free to go wherever and whenever we wanted. We had been to St. Marten several times before but had never rented a car. We enjoyed LeGallion beach which is very shallow and protected I would definitely recommend for young kids. Stopped by to check out Orient Beach but it was pretty crowded. Then stopped at Sarafina's in Marigot for a snack..yummy... then spent the most of our time at Mullet Bay which was not marked at the road but figured it out from the map and from talking to people on the beach. Headed over to Maho to see some planes land and then back to the ship. Driving on St. Martin is easy and no different than the US.
Had two more sea days on the way back to Canaveral for some time to relax before it was all over...
It was the Masters golf tournament week and they showed the coverage on the big screen out by the pool in the afternoons, it would have been nice if they showed more things during the day on the big screen.
Overall it was a GREAT cruise and we wish it would have lasted longer. I would go back on the Freedom tomorrow if I could.
Getting off the ship was a bit slow, we were scheduled for 8:30 but didn't actually get off until closer to 9:15 and didn't get back to our car and on the road home until 10 am. We didn't have to wait long for a shuttle back to the park n cruise.