1. My Time Dining was perfect for us. We chose to have dinner at 5:30 (1st seating). Our table for two was a real table for two, not sandwiched between two tables of four. The table number was #168 in the Galileo Dining Room -- it is next to a window. You can (and should) visit the dining room on the first day to see where you might want to sit. We asked for a more private table, and they were happy to accommodate. You are given the same table each night if you so choose. Our waiter and assistant waiter (Brian and Milan) were absolutely fabulous each evening.
2. Finding solitude is not easy on a ship with 3,700 other folks. Our tip for this if you're an early riser: Go to the non-smoking side of Deck 4 between the hours of 6am and 10am. During this time of the morning, you can relax with a cup of coffee and listen to the waves as the ship passes through water. For us, this was the perfect time and place to relax. We have photos of us being the only two out there at times. The lounge chairs are reclining on this side of the deck, but you can grab a couple of upright chairs from the starboard (right side). Hint: Save a week's worth of unread newspapers to read while relaxing on the ship. After reading a paper, take it to the library for others to read. They will appreciate it -- trust me!
3. Do participate in the photo taking during the formal nights. There are several stations and backgrounds to choose from. We did this on both formal nights and then decided on the last day which photos to purchase. The photographers do a great job! We chose to purchase four 8x10 photos -- but we had 30 or 40 photos taken to choose from. You will love them and the price is right (average about $20 a photo).
4. The ICE show is a must! Nothing else needs to be said about this other than you need to make reservations for one of the shows.
5. A word of warning: while some folks may not like to -plan- what they are going to do and when they are going to do it, you should consider arriving at least 30 minutes early for the entertainment shows. If you wait until 5 minutes to show time to arrive, you will not be happy with the left over seat choices. We even arrived early for Bingo.
6. Ahhh the elevators. For us, this was probably our only frustrating experience on the ship. Needless to say, we utilized the stairs often. The good news is that by day 7, it's a lot easier to go up 5 to 6 decks at a time. The elevators are crowded on the food side (rear of the ship) every morning after 9:30am and continue to be crowded through both lunch and dinner. Reverse it for the shows (front of the ship). Hint: Two weeks prior to departing on your trip, don't take that elevator up to the 7th floor at work. Instead, take the stairs and build up your endurance. You won't regret it.
7. Bingo - our take on it. $55 will get you an automated machine with 30 cards loaded on the machine. No thinking is involved at all. The machine tells you if you are a winner. Additionally, you are given 3 other traditional Bingo cards to play. For those who don't want to spend the $55, you can purchase 6 traditional Bingo cards at $32. Obviously, the odds are heavily in your favor if you purchase the automated machine. Every game that we played during the cruise was won by someone with an automated machine. (Yes, we did pay for the automated machines.) In our opinion, we'd rather see a more fair game where **everyone** has a proportionally equal amount of chances to win. Most folks are just trying to have a little fun on the ship and maybe win a bit. RC should consider tweaking the game a little to make the odds a little fairer for those not willing to spend $55 for an automated machine.
8. The small fridge in your stateroom is not meant to keep things ice cold -- "cool" is the best you are going to get. Ice and ice water (through room service) are available at any time upon request. We found you can bring small quantities of bottled water onto the ship. We packed twelve 8 ounce bottles in our carry-on. Handy if you need to take meds in the morning and evening. Bottled water is available on board, but at a fairly hefty price tag.
9. Our room had a small safe. It was very easy to use and it gave us peace of mind (passports/house keys/etc).
10. We had one of those rooms with an adjoining stateroom door. We were a bit worried about possible noise coming through this adjoining door. Luckily, we did not hear a peep out of our neighbors, day or night. 9302 was a great room and a great location on the ship.
11. We brought a portable sound machine with us on the cruise (for sleeping) and used it even though our neighbors were very quiet. Consider bringing yours if you own one. Out of habit, we got to bed fairly early each nite (between 11-12), and were early to rise. The sleeping on the ship was some of the best sleep both my wife and I have had in weeks.
12. We were able to use our walkie-talkies on 90 percent of the ship. The only 2 dead spots we had were in the Casino (deck 4) and the Bulls and Bear Pub (deck 5). As long as you are respectful when using them (not having long conversations and turning them off completely during shows and dinner), they are a great way to keep in touch when you separate for activities.
13. Bring watches. Your cell phones will not work after you leave port.
14. We found the slots to be very tight. Enough said.
15. Prior to sailing, we printed out maps of each deck with common areas. This was handy the first few days. Additionally, there are digital displays on every deck which are very easy to use and extremely helpful. Each day, use your Cruise Compass that is delivered to your room to get your game on for the next day and evening.
16. We used the green tag system to depart the ship. They take your bags the last night of the cruise and you are asked to leave the ship at an assigned time. Departure went very smoothly for us. Once they called our number, we walked off the ship, picked up our bags at the terminal, made it through Customs with our bags and were out the door in about 20 minutes. BTW, Customs has a drug dog that sniffs each bag as you leave. Getting on the ship on the first day was a breeze as well (we arrived at 10:30 am).
Final thoughts -- Every crew member we encountered on the Freedom was outstanding. Every day we got good morning, good afternoon, or good evening greetings and genuine offers for assistance from the crew. This occurred whether we were in the dining room, out on deck, or passing in the hallways. Thank you, crew members, for providing such a fun and friendly atmosphere! A special shout out goes out to Brian H, our room attendant. His professional, yet friendly demeanor truly exemplifies what excellent customer service is all about.
Mark & Peggy H (Tampa, FL)
January 26-Feb 2, 2014