Port terminal- Royal Caribbean wins when it comes to the port terminal and embarkation. Our party arrived by local taxi and had to only deal with carry-on items as the luggage was taken away as we stepped out of the van. We waited in what looked to be a long line outside the terminal, but it moved swiftly indoors and on through security. After security, we followed the signs up the escalator to the second level where you had two lines, one for decks 1-8 and the other for decks 9 and higher, plus members of Royal Caribbeans programs that award frequent travelers. Our stateroom was on deck 9, so off the line on the right we went. I would estimate the wait time to be less than 3 minutes for us and the total time at the desk to be less than 5 minutes. That includes taking I.D. photos of the three individuals in our party and giving us our Sea passes. From there we were boarding the ship and off to lunch. We found the Promenade to be open and sat down for some pizza at Sorrento.
The three previous cruises with Disney Cruise Lines we used Disney ground transfers from Orlando International Airport to the cruise terminal. This was always seamless and well organized. Check-in with Disney isnt as fast, but it has never been so long that it was a nuisance. The part that Disney could improve on is getting passengers on the ship once checked in. With Disney, you check in and sit for what can feel like an eternity waiting on your group number to be called. This is especially true when it comes to loading the much larger than Magic, Disney Dream. For this trip we arrived one day early and stayed one day late. For that reason, I arranged all the ground transfers to and from MCO to LaQuinta Oceanfront in Cocoa Beach with Executive VIP Limo Service. I highly recommend their service as we found them to be prompt, courteous and more than reasonably priced. It only took an email to Executive VIP and Michael called me to finalize everything. We even added a person to our return trip and this service accommodated without any issues. You can search this site to find the same great reviews that led me to use this service.
This was my first time aboard the Freedom of the Seas and my first time on a non DCL ship. DCL keeps their ships tidy so I had the bar set high for RCCL. Once aboard and having explored the ship for a bit I found myself pleased to see an equally tidy ship. This ship is close to the same size as the Disney Dream, yet it feels much larger and is far easier to get around on. Nearby all elevators/stairs was a large, interactive, touch screen monitor that listed all functions, schedules, dining, etc. and a set of directions to get you there form where you stand. The system is intuitive and easy to use plus it knows several different languages. This system combined with a glass model cross-section of the ship found on all decks, you can find anything you want easily.
We had a veranda room on deck 9, forward ship. The stateroom was spotless and roomy. The bathroom had only a stand up shower with no tub, DCL has a tub/shower combo. DCL has an advantage when it comes to the bathroom. This is not a deal breaker for those out there with children old enough to bathe without adult assistance. As far as the stateroom goes, RCCL gets the nod simply due to having the bed located next to the balcony door rather than the couch like DCL. RCCL has a mirror and desk area in the stateroom with a hair dryer that my wife found handy and useful.
The Freedom of the Seas has a Promenade where the DCL ships have what I would call a traditional layout. The Promenade onboard the Freedom makes you feel as if youre at the mall somewhere in Suburbia, USA. This was nice to stroll through at times, plus it made a direct route from forward ship to the dining rooms located aft at dinner time. There were a few occasions that we found the Promenade congested and difficult to pass through during jewelry sales situated in the center, but it was never anything that would ruin your vacation. Nothing more than a typical day at sea aboard the Disney Dream on the pool deck.
This makes a nice transition to my next part of the ship, the pool deck. Compared to the Disney Dream on a day at sea, there is no comparison. RCCL laid deck 11 to accommodate all of those passengers on sea days. The adult area on Freedom seemed to fill up early, where onboard the Dream you can always find a spot to relax. The family pool areas onboard the Dream seemed always felt jam packed where the Freedom always felt roomy or at the very least, appropriately sized for the number of guests on board. The childrens area on Freedom was a welcome sight to my five year old. Named the H2O Zone, this part of the ship rivals or beats either child pool areas found on the two DCL ships I have cruised on. Apart from the H2O Zone, a rock climbing wall, a Flow Rider and Putt-Putt course are up top. While I am on the topic of outdoor areas on ships, the Freedom allows full access to the bow area where the Dream uses the bow for a teen only pool and lounge, (Vibe). During my 5 days on the Dream, at the end of March, (Spring Break for many schools in the US), the bow area stayed empty. This is a shame considering how nice it looks. In my opinion, DCL should repurpose this area as the new Quiet Cove and convert the existing Quiet Cove to an additional family pool area.
We chose My Time Dining because it was the only option available when we booked the cruise. This selection turned into 7:30pm dining for us since we didnt really understand or look into how My Time Dining worked. In the end, we basically reserved a table for 7:30pm and had no problems with delays or waiting on a server to assist us once seated. We had the same server and assistant server on all but one night. One thing we did not care for was, having to wait for an additional bar server to take our wine or bar order. It was sometimes difficult to get a drink order or we waited as significant period of time as the bar server serviced a large area of the dining room. With DCL your assistant server takes care of this. Not to mention, once the bar server took and filled the order we waited long after our desserts were finished and were ready to leave before he delivered the bill.
Overall, we enjoyed dining with RCCL. Portofino was equal to Palo and an excellent dining experience that I recommend to all. The other dining rooms were good, but not as good as DCL. I would rate RCCL with a 3.0 out of five and DCL with a 3.5 when it comes to taste. The service in the dining rooms, (other than the bar service), is equal between DCL and RCCL.
The Windjammer buffet on RCCL was crowded and cluttered. It seemed as if there was little thought put into foot traffic and flow of passengers from the food to the seats. To make things worse, the food was mediocre at best. I know you cannot expect three Michelin Stars with a buffet on a cruise ship, but it wasnt as good as I have had on two other DCL ships. This theme continues on the RCCL private island Cocoa Cay, where the poor layout of the food stations is worse than on the ship. Beyond that, the food is not as good as on the ship and there is not enough seating to accommodate the guests.
Not as nice as DCLs Castaway Cay, but nice and relaxing. Tendering in isnt as convenient as docking the ship on the island like DCL. The beaches arent as roomy or nice as Castaway Cay. There is no organized 5k run on the island. The slide/play area is a pay to use area, unlike Castaway Cay. This is unacceptable. My last criticism is the horribly laid out buffet lines and lack of seating. Poor planning and execution on this island, but it could be corrected.
I cannot praise Cruise Director, Richard Spacey enough. By far the most memorable individual I have ever encountered on a cruise or any vacation for that matter. I looked forward to his routine before and after all shows in the evening.
RCCL had two acts featured on NBCs, Americas Got Talent, MO5AIC and Magician Drew Thomas. MO5AIC put on an entertaining show for all ages. I saw people across three generations giving these guys a standing ovation after their last song. MO5AIC is an incredible talent that I would recommend to all. Drew Thomas put on a very entertaining show as well. My five year old found this act to be her favorite of the entire cruise, so a big thumbs up to Mr. Thomas for entertaining the entire family.
On another night we reserved seating for the ice skating show, freedom-ice.com. I sat down impressed to see an ice rink while aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean. The performers only made it better. All of them had impressive credentials as professional or semi-pro performers. Thoroughly entertaining and I recommend to everyone. They put on a great show.
The RCCL Broadway style show I saw was good, but not at the same level as Disneys. Not a far gap between the two, because the cast was obviously as good as any aboard a DCL ship. It was the content of the show and the production lacking just a bit compared to DCL.
This is the area I went in feeling as if DCL had set the bar too high for RCCL to compete, but again I was surprised and happy to find that not to be the case. Our Stateroom Attendant was as good as any I had on the DCL cruises. Since we elected My Time Dining, we didnt have the same wait staff on all nights at dinner. We were lucky enough to have the same team three times and had excellent service. I can only think of one time where we waited at a bar for a long time, but that was poolside on a sea day. One concern was not having bathroom attendants like DCL uses. On two separate occasions I witnessed a man walk past the sink after using the toilet in the public restrooms onboard the ship. With a bathroom attendant, this simply doesnt happen. While I am on the subject of personal hygiene, RCCL places automatic Purell dispensers at the entry of all dining areas. This is a great way to help prevent the spread of germs on the ship in the eating areas as long as everyone that enters the dining area uses the dispenser. Sometimes I noticed an RCCL crew member policing the dispenser to make certain everyone was using them, but more often this was not the case. On DCL cruises a DCL crew member hands everyone entering the dining room a disinfectant wipe. This prevents the less hygienic passengers from bypassing the hand cleaning station and spreading their germs among the rest of us.
Overall, we will cruise with RCCL again as it is a good alternative to DCL with more ships and more itineraries. The service was not far from what DCL offers and the cost can be less.