We just returned from our cruise on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas. It was my family's fourth cruise and the first cruise on a ship of this size. We have cruised on Rhapsody of the Seas once and Celebrity's Infinity twice. This was our first cruise as Platinum members to which we had been upgraded for reasons unbeknownst to us.
We were in a JS category cabin, 7712, which faces the AFT. Our traveling band of merriment included myself and my wife, both late 30-somethings and our daughter who was 3.5 years old at the time of sailing.
Before I begin, I want to stress a couple of things. Overall we rated the cruise as Good. We are active members of a few boards where members post reviews of their cruise experience. Because of this, we know that we look at the entire experience with a more critical eye and maybe have higher expectations than the average cruiser. We also realize that everyone can have a totally different cruise experience on the same ship and same sailing. Please keep this in mind as you read any criticisms of our experience as another's experience will be different. Some of our comments will be just observations, some suggestions and others downright criticisms. Several members of our roll call had vastly different experiences.
If after reading this, you think we hated it. Just know we have booked another cruise on Brilliance of the Seas for March 2008 and would take another cruise on Freedom or maybe one of its sisters in the future perhaps when our daughter is older. We might try the Voyager class at some point.
Gosh this ship is big. The pictures do not do it justice. When you see it for the first time, it really is breathtaking.
We entered on Deck 4 forward, took the starboard elevators to deck 7 and thought, geez this is a looooooong walk to our aft cabin.
Why did they put those art pieces in the middle of the seating area in the Windjammer? It sure makes getting around quite difficult.
The H20 Zone is wonderful, but why is one water gun already missing after only six months of service and why doesn't the other one work?
You mean there are only TWO hammocks in the Solarium?
Gym, what gym? Never saw the thing.
Why does it smell like mildew on Deck 7 aft and by the aft elevators?
Ooooh man these new beds and bedding sure are comfortable.
Did you know you can really get a workout if you swim against the current in the lazy river in the H20Zone? I hope one innovation on ships will be to put in constant current lap pools.
Thanks to our head waiter for arranging for white chocolate mousse for our anniversary on formal night, but I really wish Mohr im Hend would have been possible.
The embarkation process on this Sunday was a nightmare to say the least. Due to a confluence of events to which we were not privy, we did not board the ship until after 2:30pm when earlier voyage reports indicated they had been on the ship as early as 11:30am. One of the events involved the closing of the port due to a security breach that later turned out to be unfounded. Another event involved the late disembarkation of guests. We later were to learn that there were over 1300 non-us citizens that had to be processed by a small force of Customs and Border Protection agents. Several of those non-us citizens were from countries where time is merely a suggestion and not an actual measurement. I think several of those passengers leisurely walked off the ship long after their bag tag colour had been called.
While neither of these events is the fault of RCCL, the lack of communication between the shore staff and the bewildered guests was appalling. At one point, I noticed others carrying cups of what looked like juice or water from another area. We in the area we had been sent for priority boarding due to our status were never told that some type of refreshments had been available. It was almost as if the shoreside representatives were scared of us. Be they contract or RCCL employees, they are the faces guests first experience before boarding. RCCL needs to do a better job of training these folks as it leaves the shipside staff the unenviable task of trying to cheer up those passengers who started the voyage on the wrong foot.
Due to all of these events, we did not depart Miami until after 7:45 at night as we waited for the last of the luggage to make it from the shore to the ship. Muster was also pushed an hour to allow for the guests who had not even made it in the building until well after we had boarded to come on the ship. Again a lack of communication was demonstrated to those waiting outside from reports we overheard. To be fair, some passengers did receive word in their boarding documents on orange cards not to arrive until after 2pm. I am sure though for those who had read prior reports, we would have been so excited we would have arrived early anyway.
This is one area where Celebrity excels. While we never went hungry, there were several meals which were just ok. They are cooking banquet style but doing it for so many more on the Freedom than the M-class ships of Celebrity really reflects in the quality. Don't get me wrong, there were dishes that were very good but nothing that wowed us.
We ate with several from our Roll Call in Chops and frankly the meal was not that enjoyable. They managed to overcook one of our tablemates steak and mine was without flavour and covered with an even more flavourless red wine reduction. The company was fantastic, but the meal was not worth the upcharge. We did receive a nice note of apology from the manager along with a plate of desserts. The Mississippi Mud cake there was very good.
Dinner in Portofino was like a breath of fresh air the next night. The pacing was better, the food was very good. I liked my filet so much better than the one the night before at Chops. It was cooked to the perfect medium. Sadly we were seated next to a bussing station which is a huge design flaw on this ship. They have it in the middle of the restaurant and can only seat tables of two behind it. It is not the same as in the main DR where they are dumping food, but it can lead to a distraction and they are handing water and silverware.
I dined at Johnny Rockets once and never again. I have never had a BLT served on soft white bread until getting on this ship. The chocolate shakes were small and nothing to write home about. While getting it, the woman behind the glass rudely demanded her pen back while my wife was trying to finish signing the receipt.
I guess I miss being able to get fresh burgers, hot dogs and fries by the pool instead of having to head all the way back to the back of the Windjammer. The pizza in Sorrento's was edible, but I guess I am pretty spoiled when I make and bake my own. Thanks to postings on cruise critic, we did sample food from the side display which is easily missed. Several people saw my marinated feta and asked where I had obtained it. I just pointed to the side and it was like a light bulb went off! The offerings in the cafe promenade were good.
We did have lunch twice in the DR and breakfast once. The breakfast was ok, but the lunches were terrible. I had a steak sandwich and to call what was between the two halves of bread shoe leather would be a compliment.
Ice show was spectacular. I cannot believe they are able to achieve some of the things they do on such a small sheet of ice.
Once Upon a Time was by far my favorite show at sea. The set pieces and the music was great. I had seen other versions of Marquee, but judging from our cruise in review DVD we missed another great show.
The headliner was Yakov Smirnoff and though some of the jokes were long since recycled, he really gave a good performance.
We finally saw Quest and have not laughed so hard in a long long time.
The circus parade down the Promenade sure was fun and I was so into the moment I forgot I ended up wearing the clown nose until going up the elevator and I looked at myself in the mirror.
A couple of $5 blackjack tables with an 8 deck shoe. The rest were anywhere from $10 minimums up to $50. There were two single deck tables with either $5 or $10 minimum bets with HORRIBLE RULES. First off a blackjack paid 6:5 versus 3:2. There was no offer of even money if the dealer had an ace showing. No doubling after splitting was allowed either. However there were still people playing those tables. They also use an automated shuffler machine.
I stayed at the $5 table and just increased my bets accordingly. You meet the same people just about every night playing blackjack which makes it a bit fun getting to know folks. There were quite a few slot machines, but I avoid those like the plague.
What a great time my daughter had here. She always begged us to go back to Kid's Club. My only concern happened the night of Quest when she was the only one in the late night party zone and they called the cabin instead of the phone they had given us upon check in to let us know she was the only one there. No harm done as she wasn't quite ready to go even when we picked her up late that night.
PORTS OF CALL
Cozumel was turned into a sea day as we looked at the weather and saw the torrential rains and just decided to stay on board.
Grand Cayman was missed was the port authority closed the port because of the swells.
Jamaica was a fun port. We took a private tour from A-z Jamaica Planners. We went to Rockland's bird sanctuary and had hummingbirds eating out sugar water bottles we held while they landed on our fingers. The lemongrass and allspice growing wild sure were fun to pick up. We also went shopping and picked up shirts for my daughter and her friends as well as spices and sauces for our friends. I would recommend this again in a heartbeat.
At Labadee, we slept until very 9AM. Tendering to the island took about an hour between waiting in line and the short ride over. The line moved fast, there were just a lot of people wanting to go ashore. The food at the BBQ was good. We were however disappointed that Dragon's Breath Point was unavailable. I was also surprised at the number of activities on the island that you had to pay for. I understand things like waverunners, parasailing and the Thriller boat ride. But $5 for an hour at the splash park? Thankfully, the ticket taker did not turn away a 3.5 year old girl who just wanted to climb around and get splashed. I also learned the water slide was $20 per person for the day, but we never made it over to that part of the island.
We seem to get the short end of the stick when it comes to cabin stewards. There were several times when we would come back from breakfast and our stateroom still was not clean. He did his job, but honestly I think he had entirely too many cabins for which he was responsible.
On the last two days of the cruise, the Loyalty Ambassador who also serves as future cruise consultant had a note in her appointment book that was bolded and highlighted that indicated she would NOT BE AVAILABLE FOR LOYALTY PROGRAM QUESTIONS. What is the point of even having a loyalty ambassador at all if they are not available for questions? I like that the Captain's Club Hostess has regular hours and is a separate position from the future cruise consultant over on the ships of Celebrity. Our assistant waiter was far superior to our regular waiter. He was leaving the same time we were for vacation, and then he was off to the Liberty of the Seas. Unlike others we have met near the ends of their contracts, he certainly did not act like it.
My spouse, the sun lover, did not like how our cabin barely got any sun. I know any balcony can have only sun based on the position of the ship, but the superstructure seems to help block additional sun time. For some this is great, but for her it makes aft facing cabins on this size ship less appealing.
One thing that drove me crazy was the constant amount of announcements for things like the auction and bingo. I guess the time we spent on Celebrity really spoiled us for an uninterrupted vacation.
I talked to several staff and crew who said their cabin sizes had decreased when they moved from Voyager-sized ships to Freedom. It depended on the location of the ship when it came to the decrease in size.
I wrote a thank you note to the Master of the vessel who took time away from his family and posed with my daughter's friend's Flat Stanley. He had a 3.5 year old son and a 14-15 month old son as well and was very accommodating. I really appreciated his time. He also seemed to understand when my daughter got all shy and didn't want to pose for pictures.
Walking those long corridors can be very scary for a 12-13 year old girl. I came off the elevator behind a girl who happened to be in the cabin next to ours facing aft. I told her that I was not following her just heading back to my cabins. There are several open staff passageways where someone of that age could easily be taken into. Sailing a couple of weeks after a passenger allegedly assaulted someone on a Disney ship and having a daughter myself, I could not help but wonder who on earth would let their daughter walk alone on such a big ship.
There were several areas where I saw form that clashed with function. The wood trim and wall colors of Portofino's is entirely too light for an intimate dining experience. The pillars on each corner of the bridge block the archway which indicates the beginning of the Royal Promenade. I kept wondering either ditch the pillars or get rid of the sign.
I ran into an inventory manager and held a rather frank impromptu discussion with him when I asked what does missing a port like we had done that day at Grand Cayman do as far as inventory. He commented how Freedom is a pregnant Voyager class ship yet has the same size stores/inventory for the Voyager. It is quite the challenge when there are 1000 more guests but no extra space to service all of those guests. He told us and we noticed things like strawberries and other fresh fruit becoming scarce in the final day. It was not really a negative just a matter of fact.
I talked to others whose list of things that are not working on the ship is quite lengthy and hopefully will be implemented as much as possible on Liberty and Independence.
Finally, there were several times when we both felt The staff and crew on the Freedom is said the best of the best in the fleet, but we just are not seeing it.
I think the next time we book a ship of this size we wait until after Independence comes out and wait six months or so for those kinks to be worked out.
I still missed the refinement of Celebrity but frankly the unreliability of their M-Class ships is a bit of a turn off. There are so many things Celebrity does really well, but the idea of having a long planned for vacation possibly postponed or cancelled is quite daunting.
Like I said at the beginning, I still had a good time, despite the criticisms. I am booked on two more cruises within the next 15 months and one of those is back to RCCL, though on a smaller ship.