Arrived in Miami December 2nd...stayed at the DoubleTree Hilton in North Miami. We had a 2 bedroom suite with full living room, kitchen and dining room. We also had a huge balcony with a beautiful view of the beach. We were traveling with 2 other couples so splitting the cost of the room was real cheap. Beautiful hotel definitely recommend!
We arrived at the Port about 11am December 3rd. There were signs posted that boarding would take place at 4pm instead of 2pm. We followed the suite line for priority check-in and when we arrived at the counter we were given a letter stating there were a number of people sick on the previous sailing with Norovirus symptoms. In turn, they were busing us to Parrot Jungle for the afternoon with full access to the entire park with free food and drink. We were a little stunned but happy RCL was taking this serious and handling the situation. We basically went with the flow and arrived at Parrot Jungle, had some food and drinks walked around and then realized about 3900 more people have now showed up. It was quite crowded as you can imagine. We began to realize how unrealistic it would be to get back on a bus with all these people. The six of us walked out to the street and flagged down a taxi and were on the ship by 3:50PM. After talking to people who waited and finally got on the ship after 8PM, we knew we made the right decision. I have to say, Parrot Jungle never ran out of food or cold drinks the entire time we were there. They did a great job of handling this amount of people. Well done!
Once on the ship we went straight to our room and found all our luggage waiting for us. We had done very well in the casino on the Mariner last November, so we decided to upgrade to a Junior Suite for this cruise. What a difference! We loved the extra room. Some don't care the size of their cabin, however, we like to sit on our balcony and do definitely spend time in our room. It was 287sq ft. with 101sq ft. balcony...loved it!!!
The ship was beautiful as we expected. So much like the Voyager class ships just bigger.
Unfortunately, because of this Norovirus business, we never quite felt at ease. Every time you felt something in your stomach or felt the ship rock, we were like..."are we sick"..."do we have symptoms?". It was talked about so much, even at dinner the captain came on the loud speaker to say, "Please remember to wash your hands before eating...etc". We were beaten to death with it. We understand why and appreciate the work the staff did to keep the ship clean. I must admit, it got worse as the days went on. We suddenly started to smell bleach. I don't mean a hint of bleach...I mean an overwhelming smack in the face of it. It started out with just handrails being sprayed, then elevator buttons, then all pictures on all decks, every door handle, doors, walls...even floors. There were staff 24 hours a day walking around with backpack solutions filled with bleach, wearing masks and gloves...spraying every inch of the ship. I assure you, I am not exaggerating in any way.
Believe it or not we did have a great time. It was not something we dwelled on, it was just something you could not ignore even if you tried. My biggest complaint, we spent alot of money and it didn't feel like the vacation it should have been.
Cozumel was okay. We did not book any excursions, instead we went on our own and spent the day shopping. I felt most places sold the same stuff for the same expensive price. Most people were not too quick to bargain. Oh well, we just didn't' spend as much money. Not one of my favorite places. Most people I spoke to agreed.
Second stop was Grand Cayman...We booked the stingray and 7 mile beach break excursion. Unfortunately, there was some problem tendering to the island and we were late. I believe it had something to do with rough seas, not sure though. We did eventually get to the sandbar with the stingrays, but never made it to the beach...Swimming with the stingray's was awesome for a lack of a better term. There were 3 very well prepared guides on our boat. One of the guides, Tara, even filmed the entire thing and offered a DVD to each guest that would be delivered to the ship before we leave. I haven't even watched it yet...but I know me kissing a stingray is on there. After the excursion, we went back to the main town near the ship and had lunch at Breezes. It was quite good. Then we went shopping quickly. There were 7 ships in port that day, it was way too crowded for my taste. Probably should have gone to the beach.
Third stop was Jamaica...We booked the Canopy tour...EXCELLENT!!! I am some what afraid of heights, however, the crew, Wally and Dain, were very well qualified and all about safety! This is a MUST do!!! I went on the recommendation of another review I read on this board and boy was she right! What a blast! The people in Jamaica were great!
Fourth stop was Labadee Haiti...another great stop! Beautiful weather, beautiful beach and beautiful haitian products. You would not believe how many people stop you to see there products. OH MY GOD! Some say they are pushy, that's one way to say it...I just politely said, "no thanks, great stuff, just looking"! I said that about 2 million times. =) I did get some great items though! After shopping at the market we decided to get a lounge chair at the beach and went snorkeling. Lots of fish and reefs...cool stuff to look at. At about 2:30, we decided to see if there were any Waverunners available and yippee for $89pp we were on our way. Or if you just wanted to hang on as a passenger it was $29. Elise, Ashley and John took us out on a tour. SO MUCH FUN!!! I never thought it would be so much fun to travel behind a group of people. You go as fast as you like and you do go far. Labadee is beautiful and a real fun stop! Everyone seemed to love it. This was also a tendered stop.
As everyone writes...the ice show is a must see! I am not a big "show" person, however, one of the girls in our group loves them, so I go every now and then so she doesn't have to go by herself. We also went to the "Once upon a time" show...also very good.
The hot tubs that hang off the side of the ship are huge...very nice touch. The H20 Zone for the kids is just the best idea. The kids loved it. It also kept the pool areas free for just adults.
We took the couples massage workshop on board for $52 and we learned how to give a good professional massage. They also gave us a free bottle of Elemis oil...ooooohhhhhh! =)
The food was very good in the Windjammer and the main dining room. Nothing was self serve at the buffet, not even the salt and pepper or the drinks. Constantly waiting on line, not so much fun! Unfortunately, the main dining room was closed for both breakfast and lunch everyday due to the Noro. We also missed out on the Captain's dinner, the midnight buffet and the BBQ on Labadee. All because of Noro!
The food at Portofino's and Chops was of course outstanding!!! I recommend both very highly!
Loved the casino, felt bad for the dealers, they had to work many hours at a time because they were short staffed.
Over all we had a good time...not great...but good! RCCL offered all guests on board 20% discount off a future cruise. This amount is in relation to what you spent on this cruise. It is fairly acceptable. I understand they also delayed boarding of the December 10th cruise to December 12th making it a 5 day instead of a 7 day. The passengers were offered either a full refund with 25% off a future cruise...or if they decided to sail, 50% off current and 50% off future...also they receive $250 on-board credit. This was a great compensation. In addition, and most importantly, they receive a virus free and bleach free cruise.
The staff aboard this ship were outstanding considering the circumstances. I know if they could have spent their time on the guests instead of cleaning the ship...it would have been amazing. I give Royal Caribbean alot of credit for doing their best with a sticky situation. I would definitely like to cruise on the Freedom again when she is spick and span without the streak marks.
Thanks for reading...I'm sure there is more I could have commented on and some I could have left out. Please feel free to email me with additional questions or comments.