Our family of 7 went on this cruise together. We had 2 rooms 2358 and 2356. Last year we went on the Mariner of the Seas. We were on the third floor. I would not do a 2nd level again. All you hear is the motor of the ship. On the third floor, you hear the waves. Also the windows on this shop have a metal bar through them. This review will point out some of the differences between the cruise ships and give some suggestions. The Freedom is almost identical to the Mariner except for the boxing rink, flowrider, Sorrentos, water park/lazy river for children. Also the rock climbing wall is taller. The Freedom also has fresh water pools and the Mariner salt water.
CHILDRENS PROGRAM: Our children are 5, 7, 9, 11 and 14. Our youngest and oldest loved the children's program. Our 7 year old liked it. Our 9 and 11 year old preferred to just roam together. I was impressed that they seemed to update some of their programs for the kids. While some activities were the old ones, it looked like others had new themes. The downside to this years kid's club though was that there was a lot of switching of counselors. My youngest bonded with her leaders last year. This year it was like a revolving door. You never knew which counselor you would get. I was most impressed with the teen counselors.
DRINK PACKAGE: My husband and I skipped it this year but our children purchased it. They loved their shirley temples. You don't have to carry the bottles around. You can just go to the drink places and they will give you a glass. There is milk, apple, cranberry and OJ at dinner in the dining room. In the Windjammer, there is lemonade, passion fruit, fruit punch etc. The drink package only gave my kids sprites, shirley temples and for the teens, mocktails.
PIZZA: Pizza on this ship was far superior. Sorrentos and Cafe Promenade were filled with excellent employees.
TABLE STRATEGY: Its hard to find a table for 7! I would suggest two things. In the main dining room, make a request with your travel agent that you do NOT want to be by the waiters areas where they put dirty dishes etc. We were and it was quite distracting. Also in the Windjammer, I noticed that some people would stand my a dirty table and then request it be cleaned. It gave them a table faster.
LAUNDRY: On Wed, you can stuff a bag full of laundry to be cleaned for $20.
MEDICAL: My son was injured on the ship on the first night. The medical staff was phenomenal! They even waived the fee.
IS IT WORTH IT? The ship is great. My kids LOVED the flowrider and the water park and wave pool. For that reason alone, I'd take the ship. They loved the fresh water pools. You don't need goggles here. My husband lived at the dive shop. There's so much for a family to do on this ship. We only rock climbed once, ice skated once because we had so much to do and it was so fun. We loved Emelia our head waiter. She was awesome. We also loved her sister, our assistant waiter, Benhi. Our waiter was fine. He was Clark. We liked our waiter from last year better, Federico. We also thought our room steward Clark was awesome.
OTHER TIPS: Don't book an excursion at St. Maarten but if if you do we liked the Tiki Snorkel. Great customer service. Its not for non swimmers like young children. Otherwise, take the water taxis and go to the beach for FREE. San Juan was fine but somewhat boring. St. Thomas was beautiful. Book a tour here. Feel free to email with questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.