Overall we had a good time on the Freedom of the Seas cruising the eastern Caribbean. This was our 15th cruise overall and 6th on Royal Caribbean. To compare, we cruised on the Allure of the Seas in May. The Allure was definitely a “wow!” with all the great activities and shows, but it also was crowded from time to time, esp the elevators and buffet, plus you had to book everything in advance. The Freedom, although with fewer things to do (still a lot though), did not seem crowded and we had a pleasant and relaxed time.
EMBARK: We stayed at Country Inn & Suites at Cape Canaveral and left our car there, then took the first hotel shuttle to the ship. We arrived at Port Canaveral at 11 AM and were smoothly onboard by 11:30AM and sitting in the Windjammer. By noon the Windjammer was crowded so we hung out at the Promenade until rooms were available at 1 PM.
FOOD: We ate all breakfasts and lunches at the Windjammer as it had great variety, plenty of stations, and always had tables. We occasionally had snacks at the Café Promenade and pizza at Sorrentos during the day. For dinner, we used My Time Dining (MTD) instead of the fixed dining times. I went online a few months before the cruise and booked a standard 7:30PM time every night for the 5 of us. This worked great as we were seated upon arrival each time and had the same table and servers each night. Overall we liked the food in the dining room, esp lobster night on the second formal evening. We also tried Portofino’s and Chop’s Grille. We enjoyed Portofino’s (Italian) but weren’t impressed with Chop’s. In all honesty, the steaks and beef in the dining room were good so Chop’s wasn’t worth the cost.
SHOWS: We only went to several of the shows – part of that was due to our 7:30 MTD as shows were usually at 7 or 9PM. So when we wanted to take in a show, we ate earlier in the Windjammer or rushed thru dinner. The specialty shows, a Motown review and two comedians, were great. The singers and dancers were typical – good but not as “wow!” as the Allure shows in May. We made reservations for the ice skating show online months before the cruise (only show you can reserve) and it was very good.
ROOM: We had a superior ocean view balcony room on Deck 9 (cabin 9672). It was a great room, good location. Very quiet as we had staterooms above us on Deck 10 – we always avoid the deck below the buffet or pools. Our cabin was slightly larger than other balconies and very roomy, esp compared to the smaller rooms on the Allure. Our steward was outstanding, possibly the best we ever had. He was very attentive and friendly, as were most of the crew members we met.
POOLS: They had a large selection of pools from the kids area, which was pretty empty on our cruise, to the normal pools, to the adult Solarium. We hung out in the Solarium since it was quieter and had padded loungers. It also had the two large whirlpools which hung over the side of the ship. Unf the Solarium was our one bad experience as it was too small for a ship this size. I had to claim our 2 loungers by 9 AM on the sea days or wait until later in the day to get seats. This may have been due to the elderly ages on this cruise – so a lot of early risers and people who wanted the peace & quiet of the Solarium. The main pools and kids areas always had loungers available. A plug for the Allure – it has a huge Solarium in front of the ship that had plenty of loungers.
STOPS: What kept this cruise from being “great” and instead just “good” was the stops. Our cruise was noteworthy for having 4 medivacs during the week, again probably due to the aged passengers (we also had many motorized scooters and a lot of walkers).
COCO CAY: Our first stop was Coco Cay which used tenders. Due to prior bad weather, we were the first ship to stop at Coco in 6 days. Unfortunately the weather started getting bad, wind picking up and rain moving in, so they recalled all the passengers at noon. This didn’t work very well as we sat and watched a long line of people trying to get on the tenders for the next 2 hours. We boarded our tender at 2PM to get back on the ship. We were able to scuba dive at Coca Cay in the morning but it was not a great dive due to cold water and poor visibility. I suspect Coco would be a great stop if the weather was nicer. Our first medivac was there as they brought a sick passenger off the ship and had a Coast Guard helicopter take them away.
SAN JUAN: Upon departing Coca Cay, the captain informed us we had to divert to Nassau to drop off medivacs 2 and 3. This took us into the early evening to sail into Nassau and drop them off. We only stopped at the dock about 10 minutes, then sailed out. Unfortunately, the captain said we could no longer make St Thomas on time so were going to San Juan for our second stop. This was okay with us but disappointed many of the passengers. Sailing into San Juan harbor was cool – very scenic with old forts and such. We booked the Rain Forest Hike which was fortunate for us as we planned to take our ponchos and umbrellas there. As it turned out, a thunderstorm hit San Juan so it was pouring rain as we got off at the pier. They cancelled several of the tours including the Old Town walking tour but ours went on as “rain” in a Rain Forest isn’t really an issue. It was a good excursion, very scenic and a good chance to see part of Puerto Rico if you haven’t been there.
St MAARTEN: Our best stop although it was cloudy, but no rain. We opted to walk around the port, Phillipsburg, rather than take an excursion. Docked at the pier – there was a small shopping area there but best was in the town about halfway down the bay. We took the water taxi from the pier to town - $7 all day or $5 one way. You can also take a taxi or walk. Downtown was nice, with standard cruise shops plus good restaurants. Also plenty of beaches if you just want to rent a lounger and swim. The wives went shopping while the guys went to Hard Rock and sat on their balcony café drinking and eating. Definitely the best stop! Medivac 4 was unusual – the ship pulled away from the pier, then reversed direction and returned to the pier as an ambulance pulled up. Apparently someone decided they were sick at the last minute.
DISEMBARK: Leaving the ship in Port Canaveral was very smooth. They called the departure numbers pretty much on time and we were off the ship, got bags, and thru customs in about 15 minutes. Two comments – there was a parking garage right next to the ship at Pier 10 in case you prefer to drive to the ship, although it costs twice as much as off-port parking. Also they have a great luggage option where, for $10 per passenger, they take your bags direct to the airport and check them with your airline so you do not touch your bags until you arrive at your destination.
Overall, great ship and a good cruise in spite of the marginal weather and the medivacs. We never did hear what any of the medivac problems were but the captain announced it was a new record for the ship – but not one celebrated. Although these are serious there was a bit of humor. When we pulled back into the pier at St Maarten, the folks on the Princess ship next to us yelled “Why are you returning”? One of our clever passengers yelled back “We had a flat tire”.