Freedom of the Seas 14/1/07 - 21/1/07
Having decided to celebrate Jane's birthday on a cruise, it seemed obvious to go for the biggest ship out there and book the Freedom. This we did about 1 year ago and here follows our experience and opinions.
We flew out Heathrow to Miami arriving an hour late in Miami (as the plane had left there 2 hours late the previous day..knock on effect) and were met after exiting customs by the RCI ladies. Then had to wait for half an hour for a bus. Spent the night at the Biscayne Bay Marriott, which was very nice. First saw the Freedom at breakfast, as the hotel restaurant had a stepped terrace design, so everyone had a view over the harbor. Tried to get upstairs a bit to take some distance pictures of the Freedom, only to find loads of the hotel had been taken over by NFL security...great!
Picked up by bus and left about 11am. Only a mile to the terminal and despite the mega traffic jam outside the terminal, we entered the building at 11.20am. Breezed through security, sea pass, security again and joined the line for boarding at 11.40am. Hot/soft drinks were available. Announcement came that we would be allowed on at noon. By the time Diamond passengers etc had gone on and we had our photos taken, we got on the ship about 12.30, but were told we couldn't go to our cabins until 1pm.
The Freedom is big...really big. We boarded on deck 4 and went up to 5 which is the Royal Promenade level; a four story high street about 150yds long. Very impressive, with a ceiling made to look like you were underwater, even down to the female diver. This is where the shops are, together with Sorrentos, Bull and Bear pub (an 'English' pub with only 3 English beers, one of which I would never drink, one was brown ale, but at least they had Boddingtons, even if it was in a can!), Ben & Jerrys, Clean Shave barbers and a few other bits and pieces. There is also a Morgan sports car there, but I never found out why! Had a wander around the outside decks then up to the pool decks, before heading for our cabin. The Windjammer was open, but we had not long had breakfast, so gave it a miss.
We were in 6608, which is a balcony cabin. Obvious improvements were the new style bed, which was much bigger than on previous ships, the flat screen TV, which wasn't as intrusive into the room, and the shower having doors rather than a curtain, so it didn't 'leak' and you didn't have to avoid the curtain clinging to you. The only real downside was that as the TV was now a flat screen, the cupboard above had been removed. This meant the safe and some cupboard space was inside the wardrobe and was a bit awkward to get to when clothes are hanging up. Had a great view from the balcony.
Just must mention this. The Norwegian Jewel and the Explorer of the Seas both had to come past us and turn around before heading out to sea. On both occasions there was much whistling, shouting, waving and cheering exchanged between the ships. It was great and really put you in a good mood. Whilst we were sailing down the channel to the sea, loads of cars on the adjacent road sounded their horns and lots of people were stopped taking photos. There was also a crowd of people at the end of Miami Beach. I don't know if this happens to all the ships, but the Freedom still turns heads.
We had breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer and evening was second sitting in Leonardos on deck 3. The Windjammer was as good as usual, the usual mix of dishes for breakfast and lunch. No complaints there. I'm not sure if it is just me, but there seemed to be a lot more 2 and 4 seat tables, so you didn't get as many people asking if they could join you for breakfast and then have a talk with them. This seems to happen much more on say 6 seat tables where 'strangers' joining you don't feel as if they are pushing into your space. I missed not talking to people a bit. Anyway, there are the usual drinks and juices available. The omelette/egg station works on a ticket system, and pretty well at that. I used to order a couple of eggs, go and get my sausages etc and be back just in time to collect my egg order. Dinner in the main dining room was OK. We had table for 8, but not everyone came every night, so we varied between 4 and 8. The food was good, but perhaps a little uninspiring. This maybe because they are cooking for the best part of 4000 passengers.. I don't know. I would say 'could have been better', but the service on our table was very good. Jason, our waiter, even went to the trouble of finding an english chef who could make a marie rose sauce for Jane to have with her shrimp cocktails. Jane got her little cake on her birthday (which was actually a piece of tiramisu, which was on the menu that night, with a candle and chocolate wafer stuck in, and her name piped on the side) and the waiters singing 'Happy Birthday'. Had no problem with any of the bars, but was surprised how many of them allow smoking. Here's a little question...How many bars are there on the Freedom? ......Answer: 36! Also, beware if you are having a drink before the ship leaves Miami, as you will be charged an extra 8% Miami tax!
Activities, Shows etc.
There is always plenty to do. The pools are always available with plenty of loungers about. On the upper promenade deck there are too many for my liking. They are packed in either side of the jogging track so it is not easy to get on to a lounger, nor to lean on the rail 'watching the world go by'. Consequently, joggers, walkers and people on loungers did get a bit in each others way. I would also estimate that on this upper deck, less than 10% of loungers were used...seems a bit of overkill! The usual things were available eg rockwall, basketball, mini golf etc plus of course the Flowrider. I didn't have the courage to have a go on this with loads of onlookers, but it is good fun to watch all the same. A word of warning to ladies having a go...wear a T shirt, as several ladies/girls tended to 'spill out' when they went for a tumble! The other thing unusual on the ship is the Ice Rink. This was apparently only open on sea days (Monday & Saturday), as the rest of the time it was closed for rehearsals, which was a bit disappointing. That said, the Ice Show was brilliant. Won't spoil it for you here, but watch for the girl with the hoops...don't know how she does it! We have never really been into watching the shows, but though we might this time, but we got a bit confused. For second sitting, the theatre show is on at about 7pm. However, sometimes it was on at 10.45pm, when to be honest, I would rather be doing something else. As I say, didn't see any, but heard they were good. Did see bits on the TV the next day eg the Love & Marriage Show (or Mr & Mrs as we call it in the UK!). They had the usual cooking demo, though I didn't see this advertised and caught it on the TV next day. Personally I love the trivia games and did quite well this cruise. We were on the winning team 4 times (thanks Ann & Bob!). There are also 2 'parades' down the Royal Promenade which last about 15 minutes each and worth watching.
Cozumel Went on the Segway tour. If you have never ridden one of these before, its great fun and fairly easy..just got to keep your balance like on a bike. We had about a 10minute walk from the dock to the premises where we started 30 minutes 'training'. We were told we would go for about 15mins, have a 10 mins break and then do another 20 mins. In the event, we just went for about 25 mins to the beachfront house, where you could either go in the pool or go snorkeling. We chose snorkeling. There was a pretty strong current and it was hard work going one up the coastline, but you could then drift back. Was quite disappointed there wasn't many fish (compared to , say, Aruba which was teeming with fish). After about 30 mins came back to the pool for a quick swim to wash the sand off (beware of the beach, it is quite stony) and then get changed, then off in a taxi back to the ship. Ample soft drinks were available. Just about everyone on the tour thought we should have had longer on the Segways, but this was the only real bad point.
We didn't book a trip here and were planning to just go ashore and look around. However, the sea was a bit choppy with an offshore breeze and at least one tender took 3 goes to get alongside. We decided to go off at about 11am. This would allow everyone with tours to get off first. We stood in line on deck 1 for over 25 mins with no sign of a tender and decided that, as we would probably only see shops, we would stay aboard (and we weren't the only ones to make this decision). I think the fact that there were 7 ships (that's well over 20,000 passengers!) at Georgetown probably helped our decision, so we spent a day 'sunning and swimming' by the pool.
Jane wanted to climb Dunns River Falls, so off we went on a 2 hour minibus drive. Unfortunately, the road between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios is being rebuilt, over its whole length, all at once!, so they trip wasn't the smoothest. Take into account that they all drive like lunatics and it wasn't the best trip in the world. Our driver had a lead right foot and seemed to have no thought for the comfort of his passengers. Anyway, got to the falls and was told the climb would take about 1 hr. In fact, as there were so many people there, it took nearly 2, but it was good fun..and I only picked up 3 cuts on the way! Back to the minibus for another lightning drive!, but the bus stopped at a small shopping centre. No one really wanted to stop, but they said 'its on your tour'. Actually you are supposed to be given the choice and one guy got very irate with the guide. I assume she and the driver get a kickback off the shop. After about 15 mins got back to the ship. The falls were good, but getting there and back was a little fraught!
Great place. Loads of space. A lot of people stay around the market and many turn left and go to the beach by Dragon Point. We went up to Dragon Point and heard the 'Dragons Breath' then walked back along the easternmost beach, where you could get you lounger without having to tip someone for it. BBQ lunch was included and served at 3 different locations by the ships staff (the Windjammer is closed for lunch this day).BBQ was great and all done on disposable plates to save washing up. There are loads of water based activities. I wish I'd gone on a Waverunner!!
As our flight wasn't until 5pm, we were one of the last groups off. We were supposed to come off about 10.30, but we weren't called until about 11.15..don't know why. I assume this would have had a knock on effect to those waiting to board, as we saw no one in the ticket hall at this time, whereas when we boarded, there were several hundred people waiting to board ship. Immigration and baggage claim were no problem and we jut had to join a bit of a scrum to get on one of RCI' shuttle busses to the airport.
As said, its a big ship. A lot of people we talked to felt it is too big, and I'm inclined to agree. It's nothing I can put my finger on, but it doesn't have the intimacy of say, the Legend or even the Radiance. The staff as usual did anything they could for you and were most helpful. It was an experience to go on the Freedom and I daresay that when Genesis comes out, we will go on that, but I don't think Freedom will be my first choice for a cruise again. Perhaps it would have been different if we could have had a back to back with different itineraries.