My husband and I sailed on the Nov 11 2006 sailing of Freedom of the Seas -- this was a 30th anniversary trip. We have cruised twice before.
We booked directly through Royal Caribbean - I would not do so again. I did not think that the sales personnel were particularly motivated to help, or even to return phone calls. It made me nervous to realize that they did not seem to have much interest in providing good service. I will definitely use a travel agent next time. Because we were persistent and good record keepers, all went well in the end.
Because of time limitations we did not fly in the night before, but rather took the red-eye from California. I cheered myself up by knowing that once we got on board, I would have a lovely long afternoon nap on our balcony.
The plane got in at about 9:00 am - the shuttle bus did not leave until 10:30, so we were stuck in the airport with a few other cruisers. There was a little confusion about who was getting on what bus, even though cruise line personnel were right there and were involved and helpful. Once we finally got on the bus and arrived at the airport, we saw that there was a huge line. No one seemed to be moving. A loud speaker announcement stated that embarkation was delayed because of Coast Guard activity. It took until about 1:45 pm to start to finally get on board. This whole process was really the only low point of the trip - once we got on, all was well.
OUr cabin was on Deck 10 - 1568. We loved it. My husband and I have decided that we would rather cruise less frequently and have a nicer cabin. His health is not the greatest - if he needs to rest during he day, he has a comfortable cabin to go back to. 1568 is located a short way from under the jacuzzi, but it did not interfere with our beautiful view. The balcony was extremely spacious. There was upgraded patio furniture. I could have spent the entire cruise there. The beds were extremely comfortable, the bathroom was huge, we loved the wet bar, there was a lot of storage; basically we could not have been happier with the space. THe Concierge Club available to those staying in suite cabins, was a fantastic amenity. It was also on deck 10, a quiet classy place for free drinks, lattes and cappuccinos, appetizers and continental breakfast, also free dvds and magazines to borrow, plus Paul the helpful concierge, who made travel arrangements, shore excursions, salon appointments, and basically was there to help you with any problem.
We were very pleased with the ship - we found it clean and beautiful. The only time we had a wait for the elevators was after the big shows - there almost always seemed to be one there quickly as soon as you touched a button. ALthough the ship was massive, we did not get a crowded feeling. The strolling ambiance of the promenade, like a Main Street, on Deck 5 helped to give us a feeling that you had room to roam and spread out.
OUr cabin steward was Cherry, a lovely and helpful person, Jamaican like a lot of the staff. We got very good service from her. Generally the staff throughout the ship was cheerful and helpful, just as you expect on a major cruise line. THe staff at Guest Relations/Customer Service coped very well, they were very knowledgeable and handled the few but inevitable ranters with great tact.
There was something flat about the dining room. I thought the decor was very staid and somehow dated for a brand new ship, unlike the rest of the ship. There were numerous empty tables, and other tables for 8 with only 2 or 4 people. I don't know if the dining room was overbuilt or if a lot of guests just preferred to be elsewhere. Two nice ladies from Ireland moved to our table, where we were the only two at a table for 8, because they were also alone at their large table. Our waiter was Enderson, good but not great. He seemed rather glum about the low number of diners. The waiters generally seemed a little low energy - the usual dancing and singing, etc, seemed pretty hollow. As others have said, the food was not spectacular, but was certainly good enough.
The buffet was fine - we especially liked the seating on the sides, right next to big slanted glass widows, giving you a spectacular ocean view while you were dining. We had room service breakfast every day - it was excellent and very prompt. THe food at the coffee bar and the pizza parlor on the Promenade were outstanding especially the salads, and pastries. You could definitely get yourself into trouble there.
Activities on board were pretty good. I thought the cruise director, Abe, seemed a bit young and inexperienced, compared to Gordon who added so much when we cruised on Radiance to Alaska. The shows were good - especially the ice show - costume changes that were mind boggling. The poolside games were a lot of fun to watch. The sports bar is a nice addition. On the one rainy day - it happened to be a Saturday- they staged a "Big Game Afternoon" with the football game in the big screen tv, pizza for everyone - it was a real refuge for some of the husbands, you could tell. We liked the bands, but missed the really fine piano bar that we had on other ships. The Latin band was particularly fun.
Our shore excursions were great. In Cozumel my husband took the Mayan jungle hike - saw some cool scenery, felt like he got a change from the shipboard atmosphere for a while. I did not want to hike so I took the Atlantis submarine. I wear strong prescription glasses, and was not going to be able to snorkel easily, so I wanted to see something under water. It was really neat - everyone has a window, you get really close to the reefs. We saw a shark, a big seat turtle, lots of schools of colorful fish - it was neat.
In Jamaica we went helmet diving. I highly recommend it. Again this was good for me because of my glasses.We were impressed by the professionalism and competence of the Jamaican managers and divers on the excursion - it was at Doctors Cave Beach Resort. The dive leader carefully explained how to wear the helmet, how to descend the ladder correctly, coached us in hand signals so that we could communicate under water, and led us on a wonderful hike under the ocean waters. We could touch sea urchins, the reefs, see little fish up close - it was great. Then we relaxed on the beautiful private beach and snorkeled for a few hours.
In the Grand Caymans we went to Sting Ray City. This is another not to be missed experience. It is not necessary to swim or dive to enjoy this. You will be taking a 45 minute boat ride to a sand bank where sting rays got used to being fed by fishermen gutting fish. Now it is their happy home. The guide gets off the boat with you - our guide reminded us exactly of Captain Ron - and explains how to feed the giant rays that are swimming all around you in about 3 to 4 feet of water. They are peaceful and will not hurt you. The crystal blue water and the sunny day make it a perfect Caribbean memory.
The disembarkation was not too smooth -it seemed to take about three hours longer than we had anticipated.
But that isn't why we cruise! Altogether, it was a great vacation and we would go again gladly. We were so sorry about the bad weather the week after we went and the flu outbreaks - I was sorry for all the passengers who were not able to enjoy the ship and the experience as they should have.