We drove down the day before the cruise departed and stayed at the Radisson in Cape Canaveral. This hotel offers a hotel stay, cruise parking, and transportation package. The hotel is conveniently located about 5 minutes from the port and runs shuttles constantly back and forth.
The port itself is pretty nice and is well laid out. We arrived at the terminal at about noon and the line was already out the door and 500 feet down the sidewalk. For some reason, one of the port staff pulled us and a few others out of the line and put us with the priority boarding guests. We noticed later that all of the people he pulled out of line were holding passports instead of birth certificates or other documents, so that may have been the reason. So we ended up skipping ahead of hundreds of people in line. Once inside the building, the lines merged back together to go thru the port security checkpoint. The line moved pretty slow and seemed to pause occasionally for no reason. Once through security, you join another line upstairs where you checkin and receive your card. In total we probably waited a little over an hour from arrival time to boarding the ship, not bad considering we were sailing with over 4000 guests.
First impressions of the Freedom of the Seas is that it's massive. The interior promenade gives it the feeling of being like a mall with a hotel attached rather than a ship. Rooms were not ready when we boarded so we had to keep our carry-on luggage with us for an hour. The Windjammer buffet was crowded but not without empty tables. They also had ample staff placed throughout the buffet to clean and direct passengers to empty tables.
The cabins are pretty standard to what I've seen on other ships. We had an inside cabin on deck 7 aft. The room had 2 twins and 2 upper beds. I liked that the room also had a desk/vanity with chair and a small couch to sit on. The glass coffee table is too big and gets in the way. I tripped over it at least three times over the week. The bathroom was the smallest I've ever seen on a ship. The shower is smaller than an old style phone booth but has glass doors instead of a clingy curtain. The water temperature adjustment didn't seem to work right. It seemed to stay about the same temperature no matter how you twisted or turned the thermostat. The room was very quiet and must be well insulated. We never heard a sound from the neighbors or anything from above or below. There is no noticeable propeller vibration in the aft section like vibration that plagues other ships
The ship itself is very clean and well maintained. The layout is pretty simple to be so large. The only room we found difficult to access was studio B on deck three. (You have to go up to another floor and then back down to get there). The royal promenade is massive and makes you feel like you're walking through a mall. It can get crowded tho when the shops set up tables with sale items that block the middle. The Arcadia theater is beautiful and has great sight lines, much better than the typical lounge style theater found on some other ships. The three level main dining is beautiful. The third level is reserved for my time dining while the first two levels are for traditional dining. My time dining allows you to make reservations or just show up when you're hungry. We made reservations for 7:30 everyday but after the first night, we discovered this didn't leave us ample time to get to the show at 9:00. We decided to go at 7:00 for the rest of the nights and were seated right away even tho we did not change our reservations. It seems like they try to seat you at the same table every night. We almost always sat at the same table and noticed a lot of the same people around us every night.
The food was generally good. The variety in the buffet was decent, although breakfast is pretty much the same every day. The lunch menu in the buffet features some items that change from day to day and some items that are offered every day. Food in the main dining room was very good and the food was always hot. The pizza that is offered in Sorrento's is not great. There is definitely room for serious improvement. I would describe it as cafeteria quality at best. This is also the only place where the service was not exactly friendly. The woman behind the counter was very impatient and borderline rude to some people. Other than the stone-faced woman in the pizzeria, service was excellent. All of the other crew members were very friendly and the dining room waiters Igede and Ruth went out of their way to help us. I also noticed a big difference in the friendliness and visibility of the officers. It seemed like they were constantly walking around and would say hello or stop and chat for a minute. It was just a small thing, but it definitely makes a difference in the feel of things on board.
The ports on this cruise were beautiful. We missed Cocoa Cay due to high winds and rough waters. We heard from some other cruisers who sail this itinerary regularly that skipping Cocoa Cay is not uncommon. So you may want to select another itinerary if skipping cocoa cay would ruin the trip for you...
St Thomas is a beautiful port and definitely lives up to its reputation. We did a snorkeling excursion where they take you out to a small island with a shipwreck offshore. St Maarten is beautiful. We hired a taxi that took us to some of the sights around the island like the beach with the airport, Marigot, and Great Bay beach.
St Maarten is a beautiful port. We hired a taxi to take us around to some of the sights. Maho is the famous beach seen in all the photos and YouTube videos where the planes land and take off precariously close to the water. It's very cool to see which makes it a popular and crowded spot. If you stand behind the planes when they're taking off, prepare to be sand blasted.
Marigot is the French capital of the island and feature some quaint shops and an open market area.
Our last stop was great bay beach. The water is calm and there were plentiful chairs and umbrellas available for rent for a decent price. Chairs were $5 each and included the umbrella. A few things to note: the beach is lined with bars and restaurants playing loud music which is either good or bad depending on your perception. There is also lots of seaweed in the water which is somewhat gross when huge patches run into your legs under the water.
St Thomas is a beautiful port and it's easy to see why so many shops there. The downtown area with shopping can be quite crowded. Shopping includes the typical diamonds,jewelry, booze, etc. If you want local arts and crafts, this is not the place for you.
We took a snorkeling excursion booked with the cruise line. They tour met us at the pier and then walked us way down the beach to a dock to board the boat. They take you out to a small island a few miles offshore with a shipwreck under the water. Think a 1970's small freighter wreck, not 1800's pirate ship wreck. The water is very clear but the wreck is deep, not shallow. It was not snorkeling along a reef as we expected. Still pretty cool though.
On the way back they provide free snacks and drinks.