Background Information - This was our 6th cruise, our 3rd with RCCL. We have been on RCCL, Disney, NCL and Carnival. We travel with our 2 children ages 3 and 7.
Pre Cruise Hotel - I wanted to try the Mandarin Oriental in Miami. We were looking for an ultra luxury hotel with balconies on the bay and THIS fit what we wanted. The room was beautiful, overlooking Biscayne Bay. The service was top notch. But be prepared to pay for the luxury. Even the PB&J for the kids was $15. Would I stay here again...probably not. It was nice to do once. But there was no place to just get simple snacks. No gift shops. No shopping around. Everything had to be ordered straight from room service which is difficult when all you want is some juice for the kids. The hotel does accept dogs up to 30lbs and there is a 1.6 mile walking track around the hotel and neighboring properties where everyone walks their dogs. So the kids enjoyed seeing all of the animals. When we arrived at 5:30pm, the room wasn't ready although check in was at 4pm. When I asked for another room, they gave us a key to a king sized bed. With 2 kids, the king sized wouldn't work. So back down to the lobby for another key for another room with double beds. If I had to do it all over again I would have picked a hotel closer to the Bay Marketplace/Mall.
Priority Embarkation - On other cruiselines, the priority embarkation was a sail through zero lines and right onto the ship. That wasn't exactly our experience on Freedom. Now don't get me wrong, it was still less than 30 minutes from arrival to getting on the ship. We walked into the terminal, there was no one in line in the Priority Suite line. We walked right up to be checked in...very quick process. THEN, we we ushered into a line that snaked up and down the terminal. This was the line to get the pictures taken for the set sail pass. So that was the longest part...waiting in that line. But after 30 minutes we were on the ship.
We made our way to the Windjammer. All of the doors to the cabins were closed with a sign on them that read (Your cabin will be ready by 1:30)
Ship Info - The Freedom of the Seas is a truly magnificent ship. THere is so much to see that is truly takes a day or two just to wander around check everything out. And I can tell you that every day we discovered something new on the ship that we hadn't seen before.
Grand Suite 1298 - this was the PERFECT grand suite. We were underneath the sports pool but we could hear NOTHING. Not one chair. No one above us. Only one night when they were having a pool dance party could I hear the muffled sounds of music. I am a light sleeper and I slept like a baby. There IS a door bell. Only once did a kid think it was funny to ring it at 11pm. Boy did I give THAT kid the evil eye the rest of the week...lol.
Suite Perks - Upon arrival, there was a bottle of champagne waiting for us. There was also a big complimentary bottle of water on the bar. Of course also robes and slippers, the keys to the concierge lounge, bottles of hand cream, shampoo and conditioner, cotton balls, q-tips, fresh flowers in the cabin, ice show tickets and our Portofino's confirmation. On the 2nd day a fruit and nut tray was delivered to the room. We never did receive any C&A welcome back gifts. I was talking to other C&A members on Thursday who said they hadn't received anything by then either.
Activities - We played trivia (and won the Cartoon Theme Song Trivia, I need to get out more...lol) We lounged at the solarium. Absolute HEAVEN! I never though a place could be so peaceful. It was better than any spa! I fell asleep in their comfy lounge chairs on two different days.
Chair Hogs - In full force. On Sea Days if you didn't have a chair by 10am, forget it. You could look at any section and there might be 20 chairs with 2 people actually sitting in them. One day I laid there for an hour in a section completely covered by towels and of course BOOKS on every chair. But not one person in those chairs. And when there are only 5 people in the pool, well you do the math. It seemed like the Deck Staff was only really policing the solarium.
Babies in Diapers - RAMPANT. I saw THREE different babies in the H20 zone wearing swimmy diapers even though there were signs all around stating the contrary. And I saw 2 different parents arrive at the pool, take the diaper OFF the baby. And put the baby in the pool without a diaper. The staff said nothing. And we are talking babies that were crawling. It was obvious they weren't potty trained.
Service - OUTSTANDING! Our cabin attendant was Carolyn. She was an absolute DREAM. She also addressed us by name. Always a smile. And as soon as we left the room, she was there and gone. The customer relations desk was as friendly as can be. We kept dealing with Vicky. She was wonderful!
Shore Excursions - Cozumel, Mexico: Playa Mia Deluxe Beach Break. At $69 per person, we thought this would be a paradise. It was a nice enough beach. They had a pool too. The sand was very rough. The buffet was a little scary. We didn't get our money's worth out of this one. A better bet would have been to get off the ship and find a Playa Mia representative. The cost would have been cheaper. And we wouldn't have been stuck there for 5 hours. Grand Cayman: Butterfly Express tour. We wanted the kids to see the butterfly farm. We were loaded onto a nice shuttle and taken to what looked to be a small house with a large netted backyard. The guide gave a 20 minute talk about the life cycle of the butterflies. We got some very colorful pictures. The kids were bored before the 50 minutes were over. Nice to see once, won't be going back. Labadee: Labadee was beautiful. To be honest though it's not as nice as Coco Cay, at least in our opinion. There were a few different beaches to try. The water park was closed (it said "excuse our dust"). The area with the water trampoline was $15 pp per hour. The best part was our tram ride to Dragon's Breath Point. THIS is something not to miss. The views are awesome. There is a guide at the top who will charge you $1 to take your picture with your own camera...lol. There are many up and down steps so if your mobility is limited, this might not be for you. Mo Bay Jamaica: We decided to make this a ship day and I am glad we did. We stepped off the ship just to go into the little shops off of the ship. The building was closed off to the locals but they were yelling at us from between the slats in the windows. Then the clouds rolled in and there was a downpour for the rest of the day...so we didn't miss anything as far as I could tell. Dining - The service was impeccable. The BEST in the business. Our waiter Enderson and Assistant Waiter Glen made the whole experience perfect. So much so that my kids wanted to eat in the dining room for breakfast too because they loved the service at night. Our table for 4 was at the WINDOW. We couldn't have asked for a better table. We had main seating so the sun set during dessert. Just beautiful! The food was good enough. I never had a bad meal. We ate at Sorrento's pizza and Seattle's Best Coffee (the cookie of the day, every day, YUM!) I would love to say that Portofino's was fabulous but I'm sorry, for me it wasn't. Now let me preface this by saying I had a killer migraine that night. SO it might have clouded my taste buds...lol. But they tell you at the start of the meal that it will take 2.5 hours to complete. Fine, I understood that. But when I finish my salad, I like the plate to be removed from the table. When I finish a drink, I want it refilled...just like the normal dining room service. It seemed like when you finished one course, they would wait to take your plate till the next one was ready, up to 30 minutes later. I don't like to stare at my empty plates for that long ;) I know everyone loves Portofinos so maybe I was having an off night. It just wasn't memorable for me.
Children's Clubs - Now THIS is where the problem started....Adventure Ocean. Let's just get right into it. We signed up our children ages 3 and 7. This was my 7 year olds' 4th cruise. For my 3 year old this was her THIRD BIRTHDAY CRUISE! THIS cruise was timed for HER birthday and entrance into the kid's club. She has been on Disney and Carnival (who accepts 2 year olds). So, we sign them up and drop them off the next morning. At the end of the session, one of the counselors tell me that the kids were all hard to break away from the sliding board. That's understandable, they are THREE years old. So when I went to drop my youngest back off later that afternoon, Marlene, one of the counselors asked (in her own broken English) if my child spoke English? WHAT? Of course she does. She said that Gabriella didn't listen to her and wanted to play on the slide that morning and not do the craft. She said she gave her a "strike" for that morning and I needed to talk to her because 3 strikes and you're out. So I reminded them that Gab had ear surgery to put tubes in her ears the week before. She had hearing loss for her first 3 years (now restored) and so her speech is behind and you MUST get down on her level and address her directly.
So after that session, Marlene said that Gabriella was "much better". So after dinner the kids asked to go back to AO. When I went to drop her off, Marlene said that "Gabriella's behavior was BAD and that she painted on the table with markers during coloring of a poster". I was SHOCKED. I told her that she is THREE. She attends a private preschool. She was just in Camp Carnival in December who had NO problems with her behavior at all. And this counselor was telling me that if I brought back Gabriella that she WOULD get a third strike and be kicked out of camp on the SECOND day. I was just sick. I went to Customer Relations who have NEVER heard of this before. They said it was just wrong. Gab was with me and they could see she wasn't the demon that Marlene was making her out to be. Vicky in Customer Relations called Jessica, the head of AO. Jessica said that Gabriella received NO strikes. And this was only Marlene's 2nd week on the ship. She said strikes were for MAJOR behavior problems like hitting, biting, harming other children/counselors and that Gabriella had received NO strikes and she was welcome back to AO for the rest of the week. Jessica couldn't apologize enough. So Gab was welcomed back and had a wonderful time. Marlene needs to find a new line of work, one without children.
I talked to the parents of the other 3 year olds onboard. They all told me the same thing. Their child was unhappy in the club and this was unusual because they loved other clubs on other lines. It seems to come down to in the 3-5 AO, they do one craft after another after another, followed by story time. There is ALOT of sitting. We checked on our kids MANY times while they were in AO. The 3 year old class was ALWAYS sitting, my 7 year olds' group was constantly running around playing games and MOVING. Can you believe that they actually had a presentation for the 3 year old on WHY they need to wear their YEP bracelets (the ones marking the lifeboat station). WHY would a 3 year old care to sit and listen to this? The other parents and I agree that the 3 year old group need to have more playtime and less art/science time. It's just too much for THAT age group.
And for those parents who are unsure are how potty trained YOUR child is for AO. They are VERY strict on this. They explained this up front. Your child WILL receive an automatic strike for potty accidents. Three strikes and they are out.
Disembarkation - Going home was a little bumpy. Our flight was leaving at 4pm, so our luggage tags weren't called until 10:30am. We had to leave our cabin by 8am and all of the dining was closed by 9:30am. So this left an hour window of waiting on an outer deck with all of our carryons to be called. SO at 10:30am, they called our color. We made our way out of the ship and met a HUGE line. We had to wait about 45 minutes as we snaked down one line and up another. As the guests behind me said "It was alot of hurry up and wait". The 45 minutes was to get us through customs. There were 5 custom agents for all of those people. And it showed. But we made it through and grabbed a taxi right outside the terminal and in minutes we were at the Miami airport.
And my 7 year old left a flood of tears on that plane as we touched down at our hometown airport. She said "It's not Miami" sniff sniff :( She is begging to go back.
We had a wonderful time, on a beautiful ship with a fabulous staff. We are definitely looking forward to booking our next RCCL cruise.