We have cruised several times before. Cruised with RCCL last summer to Alaska and had an amazing time. We will be cruising with RCCL next summer 2008 in Italy for 13 days. We decided somewhat last minute to go on this cruise and we are very glad we did. We chose two adjoining Promenade Staterooms for our trip even though we usually only stay in balcony suites. Our two kids (ages 10 and 13) stayed in one and we stayed in the other. We really enjoyed having these rooms and watched the two parades from our windows. Because of the large bay windows, the rooms felt spacious. We did not regret this decision.
Embarkation was a breeze. We arrived at about 12 noon and were on the boat by 1 pm. Our room was ready and we got all but one of our bags right away. The other did not come until after our main seating dinner, so our son had to wear the clothes he had worn onto the ship. Being a teenager, he was not pleased, but got over it.
Dining: Upon arrival, I checked on our seating arrangement in the dining room. Our table was next to a wait station and since we value this time, I requested a change. The a head waiter named Erick Puschnik from Austria had a hard time accommodating us, but went to his supervisor and we ended up getting an amazing table on the window in Galileo's (Deck 5) We ate dinner all but one night in main dining room. Our wait staff was superior. We had Reyly Delos Santos as our waiter and 'Ruil' as our assistant. The food was for the most part excellent. If we did not care for something, Reyly was quick to replace it.
Fitness: We had intended to use the gym facilities, but ended up just using the treadmill a few times. There were only three yoga classes offered and the times were not great. There was a pretty hard sell in the gym for the seminars for thing like "How to get a flat stomach." The seminars were designed to sell products like detox systems. I tried fast walking on the ships outside running track, but the heat this time of year makes that extremely difficult.
Entertainment: Overall the night time entertainment was superior. There are a few full production shows and the dancing and female singing talent was equal to many of the show I've seen in New York. One night was a 50's night and the ship brought in one of the original Platters. We did not enjoy that show. Kind of corny. The magician show was OK. It was less about the magic and more about a themed performance.
Labadee, Haiti: We loved Labadee. This is RCCL private peninsular jutting off a mountainous coastal portion of Haiti. RCCL has done a great job with this property. The facilities were clean and the beaches pristine. We got a couple of chairs brought down under a canopy of Sea grape trees. We tipped the beach crew $1US per chair. There was plenty of shade offered. We snorkeled just off the beach on the side that the zip line was traversing. We did not sign up for any of the activities and were glad. There was plenty to do. They had a Haitian Market, a pavilion with a show presented by the local talent. The food was barbeque and jerk chicken. The ribs fell off the bone. Staff roamed with tropical drinks. If you wanted a soda or water there were several bars you needed to go to get it. We loved shopping in the market. The locals are very pushy, but I loved the opportunity it gave my children to see how other cultures behave. I bought a painting from a local painter. The experience was rich.
Ocho Rios, Jamaica: We booked our own excursion through "OchoRiostours.com" We were given instructions to look for Alphonso upon arrival. We easily found him. The tour bus was brand new and the driver a delight. We went to Dunn's River first to beat the crowds. We were so glad we did because by the time we left, the place was packed. We them preceded to our second activity, the White River Tubing. What an amazing time. Three young Jamaican guys were out guides. We floated through an amazing landscape of rainforest fauna and tropical canopies. The guides swam and ran there back sides off to make sure that we never got stuck. We stopped at a midway point were photo for sale were being offered. No hard sell. We bought two photos for $5 each. At this stop we also jump off a 25 foot bank into a deep pool of water. Some people chose not to do it...their lose! The buss driver met us at the bottom and we returned to the ship with plenty of time.
Grand Cayman: We booked our own excursion through "Fatfishadventures.com" We were given very good instructions on transfers before we left home. It went seamless and Peter, who owns the company, gave us an AMAZING day that we will not soon forget. We rented one of his Jet Boats for Hire and he guided us on a jet ski. We paid $100 per hour and it was WELL WORTH IT! We got to Stingray City before the crowds. He got out and picked up one of the stingrays for us. He said that she was female and had been named "freckles" because of her speckled coloration. We fed her and held her. Truly amazing. He then took us to a coral reef that none of the tour operators go to. We have snorkeled a tremendous amount in our lives. This stop was one of the best reefs we have ever seen teaming with amazing sea life! We were hungry and exhausted, so Peter took us to a restaurant at a club called "Kaibo." We ate conch chowder, fish and burgers and drank margaritas as we listened to Peter tell us of his upbringing in Jamaica. He took us back to the resort; we swam in the pool and took a taxi back to our ship.
Cozumel, Mexico: We booked this excursion through We went to Chanakanaab Park. We were pretty tired at this point and chose to hang on the beach under our own tiki hut while we waited for our Royal Dolphin experience. The snorkeling off the beach was just OK. The visibility was not great. The staff was organized and pleasant. The highlight of the day was the swim with two bottlenose Dolphins. We got to touch, kiss, be pulled by and ride on the nose of these gentle creatures. There was a pretty hard sell at the end of the DVD. We chose not to buy it, most everyone else did fork out the $50 for the DVD and $14 per photo. We bought 4 photos and negotiated a lower rate.
The SHIP: Freedom of the Seas is an amazing ship. There are plenty of opportunities to escape the crowds. We spent some time in the hot tubs in the Solarium. They were very nice and were situated on each side of the ship and lofted out over the ocean. My husband tried out the flowrider and surprised our skeptical kids with his performance. My 13 year old son loved the teen activities. There was a lot for his age group, including a meeting room called The Living Room. The arcade is gigantic. On the other hand, my almost 10 year old daughter hung with us most of the time. The programs for 9 - 11 year olds are more of a babysitting service. They required a sign in and sign out process and offered little interest to a mature child. She had a few friends out at the pool, but that was it.
ALCOHOL: Overall the drinks were well made. We never felt cheated. The beer by the pool was not very cold. The wine selection was fine. We have done the wine packages on previous cruises; we did not miss it this time.
Guest Relations: The line at guest relations and the excursion desk was MOST OFTEN very long. The excursions line spilled out halfway down the Promenade. I highly recommend not waiting until boarding to book an excursion. I was relieved that I did not. The guest relations lines moved very quickly. I needed to use this service several times and all but once got excellent attention. I had a very hard time with the computer service on the ship (ungodly slow internet speed) and needed charges reversed. On Day 7, a gentleman working the desk was not in a very good mood and was short tempered.
Overall, we had a GREAT time. We would avoid the mega large ship next time in favor of the intimacy of a small class of ship. We will travel with RCCL again....no doubt.