We are a family of 5: husband, me, three boys 11, 10, and 20 mos. We cruised during mid-winter break. This was our 7th cruise. We had Deck 7 forward, category H oceanview cabins (our cabins were separated by 1 cabin in between). We generally don't do excursions preferring to enjoy the ship and relax. We are not picky about food and usually don't eat in the dining room except for lunches (we ate at Windjammer for most meals).
2/18/07 - Day 1, Embarkation, Bon Voyage Dinner, Casual Attire, Welcome Aboard Show Embarkation: The notice that came with our cruise docs says not to show up before 2pm, but we were at the terminal by 1:30. We had to get new cruise luggage tags because we switched from deck 3 to deck 7 cabins just before the cruise. This was very easy, the baggage workers at the terminal have all the necessary tags there. We got to bypass the longer line because we had the stroller. It was a little confusing as we first entered the building; you are stopped by workers checking for passports but we didn't understand why. Then there's another checkpoint for passports upstairs. Then finally you wait in line for a RCI counter rep. However it all went pretty smoothly and we were on the ship by 2pm. ID photos (the ones stored in the ship system) are taken the first time your card is scanned as you first enter the ship. Can't remember where the 'Welcome Aboard' photo is taken because we didn't do that this time. As soon as you board, there is a table set up there where they put wrist bands on your kids which they wear the whole cruise (it shows where their mustering station is in case of emergency).
We went straight to the cabins to drop off the backpacks and were happy to see the cabins were ready! We had the kids' swim trunks and goggles, which were packed in the backpacks before we left the hotel room that morning. The kids took their radios and were off exploring within 5 minutes of getting on the ship. Since we have sailed on Navigator and Mariner, and Freedom is basically an enlarged version of those ships, they were familiar with the layout and we weren't worried about them getting lost. They were looking for the Flow Rider and it took a while. We had assumed it was by the pool but it's not - it's actually on Deck 13 aft behind the basketball courts.
First we looked at our assigned table in the dining room. I had forgotten to tell the travel agent that we wanted a small table just for our family (which we prefer - it saves us from struggling to make polite conversation with strangers while at the same time trying to pay attention to our kids and control their rowdy behavior at the table) and as it turned out we were assigned to a table for 10 so it was obvious they had grouped us with another family. We could have stood in line to request a smaller table, but we decided we weren't going to eat at the dining room this cruise. We prefer the casual dinners in the Windjammer anyway with the kids and the baby.
Around 3pm husband reminded me about making reservations at Chops and Portofino. I had forgotten about that and when I finally got up there (deck 11 aft, inside the Windjammer entrance...Portofino is on the left and Chops is on the right) there was a line of about 3-4 folks each for both restaurants and when I got up to the reservation desk, a lot of good dinner times were taken. I ended up with a 5:15 on Wednesday at Portofino (Grand Cayman day) and 6:00 Saturday at Chops (this one I had to cancel because we didn't know that was the day of the 5pm family ice show). Then I headed to the spa (deck 12 forward) and made an appointment for a pedicure the next day.
Mustering was around 4:30. I thought it ran longer than usual since the emergency procedures are read, then the whole thing is given in Spanish right after.
We relaxed in the room, then had dinner at Windjammer. After dinner, we went upstairs to the kids' club (deck 12 aft) and registered the boys. They told us there were over 1000 kids on board that week! The boys stayed and hung out there playing games with the other kids. The luggage arrived by early evening so I unpacked and put everything away. We went to Internet room (deck 8 aft) and husband signed up and bought $50 in minutes while I played with baby in the library below (deck 7 aft).
2/19/07 - Day 2, At Sea, Captain's Gala, Dinner, Formal Attire, Marquee Broadway Show A somewhat rocky day at sea. At 10:00am I brought baby to the Fisher Price toddler play time. This was a disappointment, but just for me - baby had a fine time. I expected lots of babies in a big play room just for kids, but it's definitely not that. You're in the Cloud Nine room (deck 14), a very small room full of tables and chairs used for small gatherings. The Crayola art classes were held in there; I don't know what else they use that room for. At Fisher Price time, an assigned kids' club crew member sets up the room by putting down a play mat and hanging 2 huge Fisher Price signs. Then she takes out a bunch of Fisher Price toys and the babies play (on this day, there were 2 babies, mine and 1 other). It was not structured, no songs or games, but this may be because there were only 2 kids that morning. I'll give the crew member credit for playing with the babies a bit, but she actually left the room for a good 15-20 min. After 45 minutes, she packs up the toys and that's it. I did hear that the earlier baby play time (infant - 18 mos) was packed and seemed to be more structured. I'm not sure what kind of turnout they ever get for these Fisher Price play times. They are only given once a day, for 45 min in the morning. After that first day, you're in ports for the next 4 days in a row so if you really want to go to Fisher Price, you would have to stay on the ship til 10am; not likely if you have plans in port. However, on the last day, an at-sea day, there is an "open" play time which I did go to and there were actually 5 other babies which made it more lively.
We ate a lot of great food at Windjammer and the kids played at the H2O Zone most of the day. Boys said the water was cold there the first day and preferred the Main pool because it was warmer, but later in the cruise the boys said the H2O Zone was warmer. All the pools are freshwater.
Had my 4:30 pedicure appointment. The pedicure gal was peeking at the stack of gossip magazines I brought so I let her have the ones I had finished reading while she was doing my toes. She seemed very appreciative. Noticed a lot of women and girls getting fancy hairdos for formal night.
Had dinner at Windjammer, but sat in Jade ("Asian food") section ...they serve you tea at dinner. Note - the back end of Windjammer was having weird lighting problems during the whole cruise. The lights would go dimmer and dimmer and then go out and then come back on all of a sudden. Sometimes it was a few minutes before the lights would come back on.
2/20/07 - Day 3, Cozumel, Mexico 7:00am-4:00pm, Crown & Anchor Dinner, Casual or 50s-70s Attire, Celebrity Showtime (Osmond Brothers) Walked off the ship onto dock. Terminal there with shops and a few outside vendors too. Took a cab to Paradise Beach. $18 each way. Wow - this was a perfect place for our family! This is a restaurant/beach. They are very friendly and all the staff explain everything to cruise passengers that are dropped off there. It's free entrance. You find your beach chairs and set up there for the day. You have to spend $10/person in food/drinks. You also pay $9 for a wrist band if you want to play with the water toys: a water trampoline, a floating climbing wall, and floating mats. They have bathrooms, showers, lockers, massage and hair braiding cabanas. Not much for shoppers here though; they have a very small 'shop' w/ mostly sarongs. There are no towels; bring your towels from the ship! Great place to hang out. When we were ready to go, a cab was already there. Cabs are readily available and no need to worry about being stranded or late back to the ship. When we got back to the terminal, husband took 10 yo back onboard ship and I stayed at the terminal with the other boys and shopped for souvenirs. Got a $15 marionette puppet for $10 for 11 yo and a $2 toy bead drum for baby.
2/21/07 - Day 4, George Town, Grand Cayman 9:00am-5:30pm, Surf Dinner, Casual or Surf Attire, Freedom Ice Show There are 5 ships in town this day; what a sight to see all the ships together...of course we were the biggest! I got off the ship with older boys. We thought it would be a quick, fun tender ride, and although we waited for the crowds to get off so there was no line for a tender, we had to wait for about 20 min til the tender was filled up w/ passengers trickling off the ship before they eventually got going. In town, we found the grocery store (turn left at that main street, then immediately right and it's on the right at the end of the block). We bought a 2 liter of Diet Coke for $2.50 (cheap pop compared to on board!) and stored it in the cabin fridge the rest of the cruise. Also loaded up on Doritos and candy bars for the cabins.
We had 5:15 dinner reservations at Portofino. Everything would have been just perfect if not for the babysitters, aka the boys, radioing from the room that baby was crying for 'mama' so I ran down there and brought baby back up to join us for dinner which waiters said was perfectly fine. We had a table by the window with a gorgeous view of the sunset. The chianti was perfect. Dinner was delicious. The staff is very friendly. The per person charge of $20 is well worth it.
2/22/07 - Day 5, Montego Bay, Jamaica 7am-4pm, Venetian Feast, Formal Attire, Freedom Ice or Now You See It magic show A very hot day in Jamaica. No tender; we walked off the ship and then into the terminal building. If you just want souvenirs, you can shop at the little huts that are to the left as you exit the terminal building. We followed the crowd and ended up on a taxi-van paying $4 per person for a ride to "city center" where we didn't find the simple souvenirs we were looking for. We had pretty much just followed the crowd off the ship and through the terminal and out to the taxis. We had to pay $4 per person for a taxi ride back to the ship and that's when we discovered the entrance to those little shops at the dock. Do not get on those taxis unless you know exactly where you're going and how much you'll pay each way and for each stop. Our taxi charged $4 to get to city center, then charged another $4 to go to other stops from there. Besides the little huts at the dock, there are also some shops inside the terminal building itself. (Too bad Freedom doesn't go to Ocho Rios where we went a few years ago and did the waterfall hike. The cab driver said it's an hour and a half ride over there if you want to go from Montego Bay.)
Wandering around the ship before dinner we happened upon the 3 ladies playing violin and piano in the Schooner Bar. The baby loved it and the ladies kept smiling and waving at him between songs. They were dressed in beautiful evening gowns, and turns out they were headed to the dining room right after to perform for the dinner guests.
2/23/07 - Day 6, Labadee, Hispaniola 9am-5pm, Chef's Dinner, Casual Attire, Once Upon a Time Show We were all going to get off the boat together, but once we got stuck on deck 2 in line (the elevators didn't even go to deck 1, where the gangways are...I think they wanted the line to form on deck 2 going down to deck 1), the boys changed their mind. We left them on the ship with the radios and husband and I took baby in the stroller and rode the tender to the beach. This is a very nice port with lots of beaches and bars and shady areas, but it was just too hot for us so after letting baby play in the sand for about 15 minutes, we took the tender back. There are great views of the ship from the beach so husband took pictures before we got back on the tender.
We couldn't agree on lunch. Windjammer was closed due to the BBQ being served at the beach. The options were the dining room, Johnny Rockets, or pizza. We decided to split up and husband took 10 yo to Johnny Rockets which he said was great and worth the $3 cover. The waiters do a song and dance. I took 11 yo to the dining room and they had the same lunch menu we had a few days before which was fine. The pasta is made to order and 11 yo had his linguine with cream sauce which he would have every meal every day if we let him. I had the Caesar salad with the jumbo shrimp and bacon - yum!
2/24/07 - Day 7, At Sea, Feast of Nations Dinner, Casual Attire, Farewell Variety Show Today was a great day to do the things we hadn't done yet. 10 yo and baby played mini golf, husband and 11 yo both tried boogie boarding on the Flow Rider, 11 yo went ice skating, and we all saw the ice show. Suitcases had to be out in the hallway by 11:30pm which was not a problem as I spent every few hours or so throwing things in the bags. We had already given our tip to the cabin steward the day before just to get that out of the way, but probably shouldn't have because I noticed he wasn't so quick to clean up our rooms after, although he did eventually get to them and still made the towel animals.
2/25/07 - Miami 7am Debarkation: We had to be out of the rooms by 8am. We were out by 7am and ate breakfast up at Windjammer. We had reserved a shuttle to pick us up at 11:30am so we had plenty of time to hang around. We spent time at the pool, in the theater (where they were showing the making of Freedom movie, the cruise DVD, and another TV special about Freedom), and the wine bar on the Promenade. It really helped to have the stroller as we just threw all 4 backpacks in the stroller and wheeled that around while one of us carried the baby. They stopped serving breakfast in the Windjammer at 9am, but they continued to serve coffee, milk, and pastries at the coffee shop until they finally kicked everyone off the boat, which was around 10:45am.
We had previously reserved Port of Miami Shuttle, aka Airport Shuttle, to pick us up at 11:30 (no rush to get off since we were going to stay 1 more day at a Miami hotel before leaving for Seattle). This would have gone very smoothly if I heard my cell phone ringing since I had given them my number, but I didn't in the hustle and bustle and noise of the terminal. Husband called them at 11:00 to let them know we were out of the terminal and after a few phone calls we had a van meet us at 11:35. We were at the hotel by 12:00. You probably don't need to pre-arrange a ride as there were taxis all over the place when we got off the ship. The baggage workers that help you with your suitcases are great at getting the attention of cab drivers (with a tip!).
Conclusion: The ship is huge and there's so much to do. It looks very much like Voyager class ships but the Promenade is bigger and there's a few more things in the Promenade like stores and restaurants. The kids water park pool is a terrific addition and the kids played there for several hours every day. It has a large very shallow play area with fountains that would have been perfect for the baby but the rule is no diapers in any swimming pool, although I kind of bypassed that rule a few times by carrying him in there (so he wasn't actually in the water) so he could touch the fountains. The flow rider is interesting, but there's always a line. The staff was super friendly and they love babies. We got lots of help carrying our trays in Windjammer and there was always a high chair when we needed it and they would get milk for us whenever we asked.
The older boys loved the ship. We barely saw them the whole week...they were in the kids' club, the pool, the arcade, getting ice cream, cookies. Once in a while we'd reunite to have dinner or see a show. The baby had fun too, but many times he just wanted to go back to the room - for him there were too many people, or too loud announcements being made by the cruise director or captain, loud music, etc. However, there are lots of quiet places to go where he could run around, like the Viking Crown lounge on deck 14 or the big lounge at the end of the promenade was always empty.
Overall we loved it ... we're reserved for Liberty for 2-08!
Here are tips for getting around Freedom: - If you're in the Promenade, the lady that hangs from the ceiling looks at the back of the ship - Also in the Promenade, the pizza shop is in the front, the coffee shop is in the back of the ship - All pools and Windjammer are on deck 11 - All food (Windjammer, dining rooms) is in back of the ship - The theater is opposite of food, meaning in the front of the ship - When in doubt, look outside - which way is the ship going? That's the front!
Other Tips - Book your reservation at least a year and a half in advance for a choice cabin. - If you don't have enuf cash for tips at the end of the cruise, you don't have to use the cash machine which charges a fee. Go to the cash window in the casino (deck 4) and "buy cash" with your seapass card. (of course, you will have to pay your account w/ your charge card and if you don't pay off your balance you will have interest fees.) - If you have a baby or toddler, don't hesitate to bring the stroller! The stroller was a big help for when the baby got tired since the ship is so long it's really a walk to get from one end of the ship to the other. During naps and in the evening, the baby can sleep in the stroller while you enjoy the ship. Plus it helped when we embarked and debarked 'cause we loaded up our backpacks on the stroller while one of us carried the baby. - Remember to pack kids' swim trunks and goggles in your carry-ons so your kids can jump in the pool as soon as you board (suitcases don't arrive at your cabins til evening). - Bring tape to tape your reminders for spa appointments and gym classes and restaurant reservations to the mirror. - Two-way radios are a must! - The pizza restaurant has FREE pizza and pastries...most folks don't realize that until the middle of the week. - The coffee shop has 1 line for the coffee (lattes and 'spirited coffees' that you pay for) and another line for the food; if you just want that apple strudel, get around those people waiting for lattes. Again, the food is FREE at the coffee shop - this means cookies, pastries, sandwiches 24 hours a day! - Don't try to squeeze thru the revolving door exiting Windjammer out to the pools...you'll make the door stick! Just wait til the door opens wide enuf. - Pack lanyards with a hook on the end for your kids (and you too if you like that convenience). The kids cards have holes punched in them so you can easily hang the card. The kids' cards are constantly being scanned...when they sign in and out of the kids' clubs, when they play games in the arcade, getting on and off the ship, and of course getting in and out of their room.
You don't need an over the door shoe holder to organize stuff in the cabin. There is plenty of storage space in the cabin. Here's what you get (at least in category H rooms) - plenty of room to store 2 or more suitcases under the beds (we had 2 twin beds pushed together) - 1 tall and narrow cabinet on the side of the desk mirror perfect for cell phones, chargers, etc) - 1 narrow shelf over the TV - corner medicine cabinet in the bathroom has 4 shelves and fits a lot of toiletries - closet has hanging space and 4 wire shelves - desk has 3 drawers on each side; great for undies, hats, swim wear, etc. - 2 nightstands each have their own drawer and an open space at the bottom