Happy to report another great RCI experience.
Flew into Orlando the night before and took a car service(Cocoa Beach Shuttle, as recommended by many on CC) to Cocoa Beach where we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express. Trip was uneventful.
Sunday morning we took another Cocoa Beach Shuttle over to the port. They picked us up just before 10:30a and had us to the port a few minutes later.
Embarkation was quick and uneventful. From the time we walked into the port, walked through security, got our SeaPass cards, and got on the ship it was less than 30 minutes. The embarkation area was nice and clean, but to be honest with you we were on the ship so quickly that I didn't take much notice of anything.
Once aboard we went through our normal routine of Windjammer for lunch and off to the pool. Since there always seems to be a Honey Stung Chicken thread popping up on here, I'll sidetrack momentarily: no HSC served on embarkation day, HOWEVER, it was served in the Windjammer for dinner on one of the nights and was real breaded chicken cutlet (not the Tyson patties that have shown up on other ships). But I digress...
On to the ship and experience:
We booked an inside stateroom guarantee three weeks out from the sail date. We had never sailed an inside before but wanted to try it. As luck would have it, they gave us a cabin for special needs passengers(#1231, Deck 10 forward). It was about twice the size of a normal interior (260 sq ft- meant to accommodate a wheelchair) and had a huge bathroom in addition to a king size bed. We enjoyed the heck out of that extra space because we know we'll never see it again!
Despite being on Navigator (when she was the newest), Liberty, and Oasis, my DW and I both agreed that Freedom was our favorite ship. All ships have a "vibe"-- you sense it in the crew from the command staff, to the room stewards, to the maintenance crew. Freedom just has a great vibe. Everyone was very friendly and seemed genuinely happy to be working on her. The Captain (who moved on to Allure after our cruise) and hotel director were particularly engaging and could be seen interacting with passengers throughout the cruise.
Another reason this was our favorite cruise so far-- the food was outstanding!
We've done 6 RCI cruises before this and while we always enjoyed the food, we were never blown away. That changed with this trip.
RCI has really taken a big step in the right direction with the new menu, imo. We absolutely could not get over how much better the food was on this cruise versus all of our previous cruises. Mind you, we never disliked the food or thought it was bad-- it just was that much better now.
We did mostly MDR a night in Windjammer when we were just too kicked from a day on the beach, and one night in Portofinos.
Portofinos was excellent as always, but I have to say that the MDR food was so good we'll most likely skip the specialty restaurants next cruise.
Entertainment was very good throughout the week as always
The ship itself is in great shape. And a quick story will go a little way to explaining why, I think.
On our last at sea day we were out at the pool at around 9:15 already reading and enjoying the sun. We saw the hotel director (Michael, iirc) walking the pool deck with a maintenance worker pointing out little areas that needed attention which the maintenance worker appeared to be noting on a clipboard. My wife and I walked over to the areas where he was pointing and, sure enough, there were very small areas that had perhaps a little corrosion or coating on the surface. These were things that we never would have noticed if we didn't see him pointing them out. This went a long way to explaining to me why FOS is in such great shape. Kudos to the crew.
RCI continues to build up Labadee. We just stuck to the beach and very much enjoyed our day there.
In Falmouth we did the Chukka Beach Break. The beach was nice and the facility was ok, but it's Jamaica-- we had vendors up and down the beach the whole time trying to sell us everything under the sun. Overall, though, we had a good time and enjoyed the beach. I think next time we'll try Red Stripe Beach for comparison sake.
In Grand Cayman (our favorite island outside of Bermuda)we took a taxi to the Royal Palms Beach Club on Seven Mile Beach. Can't say enough about this place. Nice clean facility, great service, good food, and free wifi. Great day.
In Cozumel we got off and checked out some of the local hotels that offered beach access, but ultimately just did some shopping and then got back on the ship to enjoy the empty pool deck.
For disembarkation we took our time as our last minute booking of this cruise led to an 8:45pm flight back to Philly.
We enjoyed our last breakfast in the Windjammer and got off the ship around 9:30am. Disembarkation was trouble free.
The next part of our day might be of interest to anyone with a later flight.
For $5 more than the normal price for a shuttle to Orlando Intl, Cocoa Beach Shuttle picked us up at the cruise port, held our luggage for us, and dropped us off at the Four Points Sheraton in Cocoa beach. We enjoyed a day on the beach and also grabbed lunch at the bar/restaurant in the Sheraton. Cocoa Beach Shuttle picked us up at 5pm and took us to Orlando Intl. It was a nice day and beat the heck out of sitting in an airport all day.
Overall, we had our best cruise yet. Perfect weather, great ship, great food, and good times. Thanks to the many CC members whose reviews and tips we used to plan a perfect cruise!