Let me preface this by saying that although this was only my 5th cruise (my husbands 10th) and I know there are many other veteran cruisers that have cruised probably 4 times that many...my review is my review. Everyone has their opinions and this is mine.
My husband and I try to cruise twice/year if possible but this cruise was our first in almost a year and half so we were very ready for this vacation. Our cruise was originally booked on the Carnival Dream for the same week and same destinations (Eastern Caribbean), but a few weeks prior to our final payment date, our travel agent mentioned the ability to jump from the Carnival ship to the Royal Caribbean ship for a mere $40...we didn't hesitate. (My full review is on the RCCL page if you want more information on all of that).
We arrived at the port around 10:30 or so on the shuttle from our hotel (Radisson at the Port). After getting our bags to the porters and tipping we found the line which at this point wasn't too terrible. We made our way through and up to check in and before you knew it, we were on the ship. When my husband looked at his watch it was about 11:15! It was a smooth and seamless check in. I thought it a little strange that you enter in on the 4th deck in a little corridor near the stairs and elevator, where with the other cruises I have been on you enter in the Piazza (Princess) or central Atrium, but this certainly didn't bum me out other than I didn't get the initial WOW...but don't worry, that is coming!
We quickly made our way up to the Promenade (just one deck up from where you enter) and this was the WOW I was waiting for and anticipating. Nothing can ever put into words or prepare you for the first time you see this. It was simply amazing and wonderful. This is where we started to have our first encounters with some of the staff that we would get to know of the the course of the week. Everyone we met was so nice and always smiling and very willing to help you in any way that you needed.
The ship itself was very clean and bright and beautiful! Nothing was ever left sitting out on the table for very long in common areas or to us it didn't seem that way. The only area this was any kind of an issue was late at night walking down the corridor to our cabin we would pass a ton of room service trays in the hall, but this is totally expected and not anything that was obnoxious our "trashy". This is a relatively large ship, and I remember our past cruise on the Carnival Dream (at the time the largest of the Carnival Fleet) and how crowded and packed everything was. Thankfully we didn't have a crowd problem on the Freedom. It seemed like everything flowed so well and there was enough elevators, large enough common space, etc that no one was really cramped or felt horded like cattle from one thing to another. The over all ship layout was perfect!
We opted for an inside (Category N)cabin this cruise. We have stayed in various cabin types over the year (balcony, Ocean View, inside) and frankly we are the kind of people that cabin type isn't as important as cabin location for us. This cruise we lucked out and were assigned a cabin on deck 6 (6391) and this was the perfect location. We were close enough to the Aft stairs and elevator and just one floor above the Promenade which is where we spent most of our time during the week. We liked this deck so much that we are booked in a promenade view room on our next Freedom cruise in 2014. The cabin was smaller than the other insides I have been in, but it was fine for the two of us and provided enough storage for everything. The bed was probably the most comfortable bed I have had on a cruise!
One of the best parts of our entire cruise was our AMAZING cruise director, Richard Spacey. He is truly the best CD either of us has ever had and from the talk among the ship and here on CC it seems like many other cruisers feel the same way. If you are lucky enough to have him on your sailing, you will definitely feel that he enhanced your cruise experience! The rest of the cruise director staff were pretty good too, but Richard was who we were really impressed with. His right hand guy, Jaimie was very funny too. We really enjoyed watching their morning shows and how they interacted during events and shows and such.
On our cruise we had 2 production shows (Marquee and Once Upon a Time). Both were phenomenal. The music, dancing and more impressively the sets were just amazing. By far the best shows we have seen on a cruise. I'm still telling people and co-workers about these shows. There was a comedian that performed during the Welcome Aboard Show and did a headline comedy show (Adult) one night. He was pretty good, but the two other headliner shows were out of this world. Now you See It is the magic show that Freedom does featuring Drew Thomas who was a finalist on one of the seasons of America's Got Talent. We sat in the front row and still don't know how it does it. He was a super friendly and all out nice guy too. If you saw him around the ship he was always welcoming to speak to. The other headliner show was a group of five guys who were also on America's Got Talent, MO5AIC. These guys were AWESOME. I can't even put into words, just google them or go to youtube and you will see what I mean.
The other various game shows, karaoke, dance parties, etc kept us busy every day and they were all very good. You must check out Quest! This had us laughing so hard I thought I would pee my pants.
Here is the big one that everyone wants to ask you. "How are the new menus?"
We had late dining every night and was tended to by two great guys from Jamaica. There was never any lag in our food being brought to our table. Everything was hot and seasoned so well. All in all, this was probably the best dining we have had on a cruise and I don't just mean in the MDR. I was completely impressed by the food quality, presentation, options that was in the Windjammer. We had prime rib in there on Embarkation day as well as for dinner one night (we skipped the MDR just once all week). We had planned on going to Chops one night, but we were so impressed with the MDR that we didn't really feel the need. Besides, you can get a Chops Filet or Lobster in the MDR for an up-charge if you wanted, but again...we were happy with the menu offerings each night.
There really isn't much to say about the ports we visited. We have been to all 3 and they are some of our favorites in the Caribbean. We had some rain in St. Maarten when we first arrived and I know of some excursions that were cancelled because of this, but our excursion (done outside of the cruise line) wasn't cancelled and we enjoyed they day there once the rain subsided which was mid morning.
Another aspect that we were impressed with was the organization of the crew once we returned to Canaveral. From the time we walked off the ship (8:15am) thru customs and grabbing our bags and getting on the shuttle for the hotel we were back in our car and homeward bound by 9:05am)!
All in all, this was the best cruise that either of us has experienced and one that we continue to talk about with any and everyone we know. From stepping on the ship to stepping off...I give RCCL and Freedom a big A++
Trust me...if you are considering this ship, I am here to tell you that you will not be disappointed in your choice should you decided to sail her. We loved her so much that we booked her again for next year and are taking another couple with us!
I rated this port just a 3 only because we don't even get off here or any other private island for that matter. We take advantage of the cruise ship while others are having their beach day!
Although we had rain when we arrived in St. Maarten, we were the only ship in port that day. Once the rain subsided it was a nice visit. We did a tour through an independent tour company that is highly recommended by Cruise Critic members. We loved the tour and would definitely recommend them and use them again on a future visit.