We are a group of six in our 50s. This cruise was perfect for us! Just enough to do when we felt young and plenty of R&R when we felt old! Luckily we had perfect weather all week. We didn’t experience any overcrowding at any time during the cruise. Our routine tended to be early rise and early to bed so maybe we avoided the masses this way.
TRANSPORTATION/HOTEL— We stayed the night before our cruise at the Marriott Airport Courtyard. They provided airport shuttle service. For transportation to and from Port Canaveral we went with Ace Luxury Transportation. They took us from the hotel to the port, then on the return trek from port to another site (to kill time due to our late flight), finally to the airport in the late afternoon. Ace took care of our luggage while we strolled the Florida Mall. They were friendly, professional and prompt. Worth the price for our group as we didn’t want to deal with car rentals and parking.
EMBARK/DISEMBARK—We arrived at the terminal around 11:30a and was sitting at the Windjammer by 12:30p. The line looks long but it moves very fast. Secure your luggage tags before heading out (we had the paper ones). Once you arrive at the terminal things get hectic. Porters take your luggage from you right away. It’s hot, not the best time to mess with luggage tags. They have extra tags if you forgot or lost yours. You may want to have a separate tote bag with your bathing suit if you want to hit the pool right away. Your luggage will be delivered to your cabin a couple hours later.
Disembarking took a lot longer but it was expected. We docked at 6am and got off the ship close to 10am. We had plenty of time for breakfast while waiting for our number to be called. Customs had some sort of computer glitch which delayed us a bit. Otherwise, it’s pretty organized.
SHIP/CABIN—The ship is beautiful, clean and well-maintained. It may seem huge but once you get oriented it’s really not that big. We figured out that our cabins and the dining areas were on the same end of the ship. That was enough to orient us! Being in the middle (Deck 6) we just took the stairs everywhere. They have handy ship guides and interactive maps to help you find your way. The elevators are frequently full or stop on every floor so you might as well work off all those extra calories by taking the stairs.
The cabins are small but workable. If you have the beds separated into two twins you get the extra space in the middle. It does make a big difference. The beds are so comfortable! Bathrooms are small too but everything fits. The water pressure is really good and the shower head is on a handle so you can move it around. There are 2 outlets on the desk. I brought an extension cord because others advised it. I did not need it. And technically, it’s not allowed on board. They did not confiscate mine but one person in my group had his removed from his suitcase along with his pocket knife and this delayed his luggage being delivered on the first day. Then he had to wait until the end of the cruise once he was off the ship to retrieve his things.
DINING/ENTERTAINMENT—The main dining room is beautiful and grand! The food is fabulous! I can’t understand some of the bad reviews on the food. Compared to my last couple of cruises on Celebrity and Princess, the Freedom had the best food! The meats were always tender and cooked perfectly, the seafood was cooked just right too, the breads are homemade, everything looked and tasted fresh. There were so many interesting starters that we had to order 2 to 3 each night! Of course, there may have been one or two misses but overall, the food was fabulous. Our wait staff was great too. I miss them terribly now that I’m home. We picked the first seating which is 5:30p. A bit early but we didn't want 8:30p. We made it to the MDR almost every night except in Cozumel. Food at the Windjammer is good to very good. It’s a buffet. Expectations should be adjusted for a buffet. We ate most breakfasts here but the MDR breakfasts should be experienced too. The last day was when we experienced some hectic tension. They had to feed all of us before we disembarked then turn around and have everything ready for a new wave of cruisers that same afternoon! We did not make use of the Anytime Dining nor Specialty Dining.
Entertainment was of high caliber all around. See all the shows! Make reservations to the ice show and show up ½ hr early. Can’t comment on the late shows as we were in bed by then.
ACTIVITIES—We enjoyed the Port Shopping Tips (they raffle prizes), cooking demos, fitness classes, the Flowrider and rock climbing. You can pre-sign the required waivers online prior to sailing. There are many deals happening on the first couple days so take advantage if you’re interested in anything.
Chair hogging—We only lounged around the pool on the last sail day, too busy otherwise on other days so I don’t know how bad this problem really is. I believe we were the lucky beneficiaries of the crew removing unattended towels. Because these were REALLY good spots! While lying there a woman confronted us and asked if we removed her towels. As if! If you’re going to be a chair hog at least put some personal effects there too!
EXCURSIONS—We booked everything through outside vendors and are happy with our picks so I’ll just list them. NOTE: Local time in all ports was 1 hour earlier than ship time. You should verify if this is the case during your sailing and plan accordingly.
Labadee—We just got beach chairs and hung out and played in the water. Towels are provided on your way out. There are porters everywhere so if they end up helping you get beach chairs or find a spot, they expect tips. The resort is small enough for you to walk around and explore. Lunch is provided. Keep tabs on when lunch starts as the line quickly gets long. I’d recommend getting off the ship early so you can find a shady spot as it gets hot!
Jamaica—We booked a private driver with Marvyn’s Paradise Tours, who picked us up from the pier. We toured the Blue Hole, lunch at Scotchies, Bamboo Blu beach, and sightseeing along the way. Expect a long drive from port to the Blue Hole (over an hour) but it was worth it. You must pay $10 to get in then you’re given a water guide who takes your group through to the various water spots. Life vests are provided. Wear water shoes as the rocks are slippery and possibly sharp. These young guides are great! They not only do death-defying stunts for you but also hold your hand if you’re a bit shaky and afraid of falling, and they take pictures of you (with your camera) while you do your jumps. They deserve their tips but what a fun job! It was such a fun day!
Grand Cayman—We booked a 3-stop snorkeling trip with Captain Marvin, which included Stingray City and two other snorkeling spots. They are located outside the cruise terminal. Stingray City was a definite highlight of the trip! Use of tenders to disembark went very smoothly. It only took about 5 minutes to get to port. Time at this port is very short. I’d recommend an early start. We had to be back on board by 3:30p. There’s an Effy Jewelry store here. I made sure I had some time to shop before our excursion!
Cozumel—We booked a private Jeep tour with Cozumel Cruise Excursions. Detailed instructions were emailed to me beforehand on where to meet our guide (short walk). We had two Jeeps among our group and drove around the island, stopping for snorkeling, fruit tasting, lunch, viewing a Mayan ruin, Tequila tasting. We got Jose Carlos as our guide. He’s the best guide in town in my opinion! Not only do we get his perspective as a local (and of Mayan descent), he’s very knowledgeable in everything as a guide. He’s someone who loves his job and it shows!
This was a wonderful first Royal cruise! We'd sail with RCI again.