My husband and I are seasoned cruisers and had been on Carnival, Disney and NCL before, but this was our first cruise on RCCL. Along for the ride were our three children, my mom, my teenage sister, 10 year old brother, middle sister with her boyfriend, and grandma. Originally, we booked multiple cabins, but when someone from our roll call cancelled his presidential family suite, we scooped it up.
We spent a week in Orlando prior to the cruise and drove to the terminal, parking right at the pier, which was pricy, but convenient. Check- in was simple and quick, though despite my efforts to explain that the suite upgrade was a surprise, several employees shouted out that we were suite guests. Luckily, my family did not catch on, and we were able to surprise them when we walked into the cabin.
The PFS is located at the aft of the ship, has two beautiful wooden doors (with doorbells) and a gigantic balcony. The view is slightly obstructed because the balcony does not extend to the rear of the ship, but that did not bother us. We enjoyed the deck chairs and the giant table, which easily fit us all. The space in this suite is excellent, with what was essentially two master suites, two regular sized bedrooms, four bathrooms, a living room, dining room, and more than ample closet space. The room was clean, but parts of it were clearly old and needed painting/replacement. The location was very quiet. We did not hear any noise from people nearby.
Itinerary- This is your basic Eastern Caribbean itinerary with stops in St. Thomas, St. Martin and on RCCL's private island. We chose to walk into town in St. Thomas, but beware, it is a long walk! I wound up getting too much sun that day and not making it to dinner. On St. Martin, some of the group took a beach excursion and the rest of us stayed onboard to enjoy the ship. We rented two cabanas on the private island, and it's tough to say if that was worth it. Weather that day was not great, so it was hard to enjoy the beach. The upgraded lunch option was nice (steak, shrimp, etc) and it was nice to have comfortable chairs/couches to lay on. I think if it had been very sunny/hot, I would have enjoyed this even more. The crew on the island were wonderful and played with our kids in addition to helping us.
Ship Layout/Maintenance- We found the Freedom very easy to navigate. The promenade is a great open space. The ship is kept in good working order and is always being cleaned. The decor was subtle but fun, especially in places like the Schooner Lounge. Some of the store choices seemed questionable, because they did not get a lot of business, but it was fun to look in the windows. Our cabin steward was fine- though he refused to clean any part of the suite if any of us were inside, which meant that on the night I felt ill, no one got new towels or their beds turned down even though I was contained to my own bedroom/bathroom, and told him it would be fine to clean the other rooms.
Dining- We enjoyed the food on Freedom. I do not recall ordering anything that wasn't to my liking, though I don't remember much being outstanding either. Service in the dining room was fine, but not particularly friendly. My sister and her boyfriend got engaged on the trip and the wait staff did not acknowledge it in any way, which I thought was odd. We were very impressed by the buffet area- staff there went out of their way to make sure everyone had comfortable seats, which is something I'd never seen done in a ship's buffet before. They also assisted in getting people drinks/coffee/tea, etc. It made for very nice breakfasts. The food there was good too- though your average buffet selections. The pizzeria was excellent as well.
Activities- We thought the shows on the Freedom were excellent. The ice show is not to be missed. The main stage shows were very well done- good singers, good dangers, good outside entertainers, etc. I was impressed. I would have liked to have seen more daytime entertainment/trivia, because I thought the schedule was light, and then too many activities would run on top of each other. Otherwise, the cruise director and staff were not memorable. The parades were cute, but much too crowded and difficult to see in the promenade with that many people. We loved the piano bar and spent most nights there after the shows.
Concierge- This was honestly one of the most disappointing things about our cruise. We paid a significant premium to sail on the concierge level for this trip, but aside from the room (which we loved) we were not impressed with the "perks". The guide listed that we were entitled to bath robes, but when we asked for them, the concierge could only produce a couple of them instead of robes for our group. The concierge lounge was MUCH too crowded. This was supposed to be a place where we could relax and enjoy free drinks before/after dinner. There was no way that the larger suites (all of which had concierge level benefits) could fit in there comfortably. The included diamond/platinum level people all in this tiny space and there were rarely ANY seats, much less space for our group including my wheelchair bound grandmother. When we tried to send in a couple of people to pick up wine for the group we were also told "no". So the alternative was to walk in there two at a time, pick up our drinks and then try to join up elsewhere. Another perk was supposed to be priority tenders- which turned out meant that we had to go up to the concierge lounge, get griped at by the concierge so he could bring us down to the tender station and point us ahead of a crowd of people. No matter what we asked the concierge, he seemed annoyed by us. Lastly, we were supposed to be able to order room service from the main dining room menu. Again, this was a hassle. We weren't given daily menus, and the couple of times we ordered, we did not get what we asked for. We were supposed to have upgraded toiletries, but these were sample sized shampoo/soap, which were not replenished. Prior to the trip, we were very excited about cruising concierge, so having all of those "perks" fall through was disappointing.
Another odd note- it would be nice if they issues tickets or receipts or reminders for the activities you book onboard. I had booked cupcake decorating for the girls prior to boarding as well as the ice show, and it was lucky that I remembered the date/time because we never got any kind of tickets or reminders. Unfortunately, I was not as lucky with the character breakfast- we missed it! :(
Photographers- Prior to boarding, I purchased the unlimited photo CD for our group. I called ahead of time and made sure that I only needed to buy one, since we were all staying in one cabin and was assured this was correct. Can I tell you- it was as if the shop never saw a CD bought for a suite before. Every day, I would bring them missing photos from the kiosk and one of the girls kept insisting that she had to check with a manager because 11 people shouldn't fit on one CD. Somehow, our photos from formal night never made it into the system and even though we made repeated requests, they could never be found. So that night was lost. However, the pictures we did get were fabulous. Some of the photographers on this ship are seriously top notch! We even got a bunch of shots from the moment my sister and her fiance got engaged, which was wonderful.
Kids Club- My seven and four year olds were happy to go to kids club. They made crafts and drew pictures and played games. My daughter participated in the talent show at the end of the week. My ten year old brother was not enthused about going to the club and didn't spend much time there. The two year old was too young to participate.
Character greetings- We were happy about being able to meet the Dreamworks characters onboard. I wish the meeting times had been a little longer though. They would appear for 15 minutes only, and sometimes in odd locations (outside of the skating show right before showtime). Luckily, lines were not long. I think we saw everyone except Gloria the Hippo.
Overall, it was a great cruise on the Freedom. I think we would consider RCCL again moreso for adult vacations and stick to Carnival/Disney if we are traveling with our kids. I would be especially interested in trying out Oasis/Allure, since Freedom seems in that strange space of being a large ship without all of the amenities that you find on the super-large ships.