This was the 7th cruise for me and my wife, our 5th on RC and 1st on Freedom. We are in our early 50s, empty nesters and wanted this cruise to be a bit different than others we have taken. We were shooting for maximum down time, and less in the way of excursions and late night shows. Mission accomplished. I will have a bit different take than most since we didnt set out to experience all of the ships wonderful offerings. But that isnt to say we are easy to please.
We are wine lovers. We always look forward to spending time in the wine bar, learning about wine, finding something new, making some friends with other wine people, and of course drinking some great wine. This was our first cruise that offered wine paired dinners. So we signed up for all we could. First was the Chops Wine Dinner. The only night it was offered was the first night, which we werent crazy about but signed up anyway because we figured it would be great. After boarding the ship around 11 am which I highly recommend because you feel like you have the whole ship to yourself we got a call in our stateroom around mid-afternoon (you cant typically have access to your room until 1 pm or so) that the Chops Wine Dinner was cancelled because there werent enough people signed up. They need at least 6 people to make it work. We were pretty disappointed to say the least. Turns out we were the only two that signed up. Out of 4,000 passengers we were the only two? Wow. Well we decided to have dinner there anyway for the Chops experience. It was really good. Had a great meal, a great bottle of wine, service was excellent. Oh, and it turns out we were the only two of 8,000 passengers that signed up because the Wine Dinner for the sailing the week prior didnt make either. Go figure.
The second night we signed up for the Wine Dinner at Portofino. It made the minimum, but there were only four of us. We had a great time with the other couple, had a great meal with great wine pairings and were very pleased. Highly recommend it if you enjoy wine. But I also recommend it for the food, so go to Portofino at least once and enjoy.
Then we, of course, made it to the wine bar (Vintages) on the first day and met the head wine steward on the ship, Sing, who manages it. He is wonderful and very knowledgeable. He had daily wine tastings and also offered a wine pairing dinner there. We couldnt resist and signed up for it on the fourth night. This was the best one of the three offered. Mostly because of him. If you enjoy wine, go to Vintages and see Sing. Find out all the things he offers during the week and pick a few. We learned so much. My wifes favourite was the port paired with chocolate. But the blue cheese pairing with Reisling was close behind.
Our only complaint about Vintages is that its often very loud because of its proximity to the Promenade shopping deck where there is constant activity and loud music.
I am a cigar guy and always want to know where the best place is to buy some Cubans. Yes, they are way overpriced, but its still fun to get a few and smoke them during the week. The best place to purchase them is at the port shops at Falmouth, Jamaica. There is a La Casa Del Habano right there with a great selection, and the best prices you will find believe me I checked other places. The onboard shopping coordinator, Ian, recommended this place to me and he was right on. Ian is wonderful by the way and I recommend going to his overview talks of the ports. He will make sure you go to the right places and not get ripped off at the wrong ones.
Cigar smoking on board is available on deck 12 (Starboard side) and in the Connoisseur Lounge.
We were at the Solarium pool all week, which for our demographic was perfect. It has sun or shade, its own pool and bar and better deck loungers than the rest of the pool/sunning areas. Its true that most of the action, music, games, etc is out by the main pool, but refer back to my first paragraph for why we chose this spot. We loved it there. We got plenty of sun if we wanted it, plenty of shade and breeze if we didnt, and a refreshing pool when we got hot. And the bar is a few feet away. So nice, so nice.
We are both coffee snobs, we admit it. We enjoy our Starbucks daily, prepared at home. And we must have half and half. Not milk. And certainly not the fake cream that comes in those individual serving packs. We have found this obsession a bit frustrating at times on cruise ships because either the coffee isnt great or acquiring half and half is an adventure. So, first of all, the coffee on board is fantastic. They serve Seattles Best, which we found surprisingly good and bold. After a few stumbles, we found the best alternative is the Cafe Promenade on deck 5. The coffee is complementary (except for the Starbucks cafe), always fresh, and the half and half always abundant. And the bran muffins are to die for. This became our morning routine after we finally figured it out around the third day. Also, this is a bit of a giggle, but if you like the non-sugar sweetener alternatives, they have the pink, yellow and blue packages that youre used to. We are sweet-n-low people so the pink is our choice. However, no matter which color you pick, the package says NutraSweet. Is that hilarious? Nice fake out, RC. But Im on to you.
Ive already covered our meals at some of the special venues. We only ate in the dining room for dinner three times. And we were underwhelmed. Some good things, some just okay things. The servers were excellent, fun, attentive. So no issues there. The last night we decided to try the Windjammer. It was one of the best meals we had all week. I wanted some sushi and the evening meal at Jade (connected to Windjammer) is the only time its served. The evening food at Jade was outrageously good. And we could go casual, which was also wonderful. Actually, we found the food at Windjammer to be really good all week. But we chose carefully and didnt waste our time with burgers, fries and such.
We only got off the ship in Jamaica for two reasons. First, to get my Cuban cigars. And second to have a Red Stripe. There are a number of places right as you get off the ship to get a beer. We have found Red Stripe to taste better in the Caribbean, though I have no idea why. Anyway, we had several, including a new Red Stripe Bold that was excellent. We had already done some of the Jamaica excursions on prior cruises.
We thought about not getting off the ship the entire week, this being our 7th cruise and we had already been to all the ports in the Western Caribbean itinerary. But we always, always do a catamaran/snorkel excursion and we found a great one at GC. The water there is simply the clearest, most beautiful you will find anywhere. Highly recommend you get on the water somehow. Our catamaran sailed to a sunken US Navy ship to snorkel, then to another spot for reefs. Then a cash bar serving great local beers. Had a wonderful time.
The only place we really shopped, and were glad we waited to do it here. Ian, the shopping coordinator onboard, does a great 45 minute preview on Cozumel thats great. You have to take a taxi into town and he passes out taxi vouchers that get you to town for free (one way only). Theres also free wi-fi there (at the Forum Shops) which was great. If you like Mexican food, try Panchos Backyard. Great food and margaritas. Also highly recommend spending some time shopping at Los Cinco Soles if you want genuine Mexican pottery, artefacts, local jewelry and great local clothing. We picked up lots of stuff for family members and ourselves. Its also in the same building as Panchos Backyard. Try the fish tacos and fantastic guacamole. The Cadillac Margarita on the rocks is fantastic, and no worries about the ice.
Overall, it was exactly the kind of week we wanted.