Day Zero, Saturday - Departure
Actually, this day started on Friday. I completed the check in for flights via the internet and had boarding passes in hand on Friday morning. Friday afternoon the phone rang and it was an automated call from American Airlines saying our flights were cancelled due to the weather (ice and snow) that came in. Our flight was supposed to leave at 6:20 am. We finally got out of Colorado at around 2:00 pm. We arrived in Miami at around 11:00 pm and checked into the Intercontinental without any problems. Got something to eat, and slept well after our adventure of getting to Miami. The Intercontinental is a beautiful place with very nice accommodations. The beds are wonderful! We woke up in the morning to a sunny sky, slight breeze, and Freedom of the Seas tied up at the port.
Day One, Sunday - Embarkment and Sail Away
Our party of 8 made a quick trip over to Bayside for some breakfast. There were several options for breakfast food at Bayside. More than I remember from April 2006. Walked back to the Intercontinental, checked out and everyone met in the lobby for the taxi ride to the port.
We arrived at the port about 10:45 am. Tipped the porter, and went into the terminal. Check in was extremely quick and painless. Our only slowdown was an elderly couple from out of country that had not filled out any paperwork prior to arriving. They had to fill out all the required forms at the desk. We moved over a couple of spots at the counter, and zipped through the check in, received our Sea Passes, and headed to the ship.
We made it to our usual first stop, the Sky Bar, at around 11:30. Met Bailey and Courtney from Jamaica, and they fixed us up with a nice "we're on the ship" drink. Deck 12 was remarkably empty, and stayed that way for nearly the entire cruise. Rooms were ready by 1:00 pm and we dropped the luggage off and met our room steward. She told me what she would do for us during the entire cruise, and she did not deviate from that. Overall, our room steward was "acceptable". Never received ice in the room, but she said we wouldn't. If we wanted ice, call room service were her instructions. Others in our group received ice, so not sure what that was all about. I never saw her again during the cruise. She got the recommended tip amount.
Muster went pretty well. Took about 20 minutes from start to finish and we headed back to deck 12 for sail away. We found ourselves wondering where all the people were! The Cruise Director Richard Spacey said there were 4000 passengers on board, but we never saw them! The least crowded ship ever.
Had a live band during sail away playing from the pool deck. During this cruise, we saw more live entertainment than ever before. Not sure where the rumor about live bands being cut came from.........
Our wait staff in the main dining room was absolutely awesome! Our Head Waiter was Amalia from Romania. Our Waiter was Keron from Jamaica, and Asst Waiter was ShoJun From China. We still miss them very much. Amalia was at our table every night. Most nights she would serve up the salads, remove dishes, and just chat. Keron and ShoJun were wonderful also.
Day Two, Monday - Sea Day and 1st Formal Night
We were up at about 6:00 am and went to the main dining room. Breakfast was good. The food during this cruise was good to very good. We had breakfast in the dining room most mornings, but did go to the Windjammer a couple of mornings.
The weather began to get worse during the day. Sunny skies in the morning gave way to clouds by afternoon. Wind also increased, and stayed at 30 to 50 mph for nearly the entire cruise. We felt some movement of the ship, but not enough to really bother us. My youngest daughter took bonine after the first day and was fine for the rest of the cruise. We spent the morning walking the ship, and checked in with Courtney and Bailey at the Sky bar for some foo foo drinks during the afternoon.
Dinner time was a highlight of this cruise. You see, my youngest daughter's boyfriend had asked me for permission to propose to her during this cruise. He was very nervous most of the day, and I had fun teasing him about it. I kept telling him to stop fidgeting and he would look at me and just grin. This is the first vacation he has ever taken in his entire life, and he is 23 years old! At one point, he looked at my wife and I and said, "My face hurts from smiling so much". That turned out to be a pretty good summary of this cruise. Sorry for rambling, back to the proposal story.
My future Son in Law had gone down to the dining room on Sunday to meet with the head waiter concerning the proposal. Arrangements had been made for something special, and Amalia and crew did not disappoint! As the appetizers began to arrive, the first person served was my daughter. A plate of flowers that surrounded the engagement ring was set down in front of her by Amalia. Keron stood by watching with a huge grin. The contents of the plate did not register immediately with my daughter. She admitted her first thought was, "That doesn't look like what I ordered". After a moment, her bottom jaw dropped through the floor of the 4th deck, into the lower level of the dining room. Her boyfriend then picked up the ring, dropped to one knee, and spoke privately to her. By this time, the commotion around our table was attracting the attention of everyone seated nearby. With tears streaming down her face, and shaking hands, she replied "Yes, definitely!" and the entire section of the dining room erupted into applause. He slipped the ring on her finger, and everyone, including nearby tables, had to see the ring. Keron began to mop my new son in law's brow with a napkin saying, "It's OK now, she said yes!"
After dinner, we went to the cigar lounge for celebration. I broke out the 1926 series Padron cigars, and ordered up Johnny Walker Blue for all of us. After much celebrating, we headed off to bed around 1:00 am. The ship seemed to be moving around a bit at this point, but it may have just been the Johnny Walker.
Day Three, Tuesday - Labadee No, Sea Day Yes
We woke up at about 6:30 am to very cloudy skies, strong winds, and fog. We were getting ready to depart for our scheduled excursions when the announcement came that we would not be stopping in Labadee due to the wind and seas. Tendering would have been virtually impossible. After the previous evening, we went back to bed and slept in until about 8:00 am.
We spend the day wandering the ship some more. Visited with Bailey and Courtney at the sky bar in the afternoon. Business was very slow up on the pool deck. Bailey was happy to see us show up so they had something to do and someone to talk to!
We ate at Johnny Rockets for lunch and had dinner in the main dining room. Again, the service was outstanding. Amalia and Keron made us feel welcome, and special. We purchased several of the Royal Caribbean cookbooks and got them signed by the Executive Chef, as well as our entire wait staff. We found ourselves collecting things during this cruise, because of the special occasion.
Had some after dinner drinks, and back to bed around 12:30 am. The new bedding is wonderful by the way. The Captain has been travelling at nearly 22 knots most of the day trying to get us to sunny weather.
Day Four, Wednesday - Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Weather today was a mix of sun and clouds. Still pretty windy, and the seas remain choppy. If I remember correctly, we were told the seas were 1 to 5 meters during this cruise. The kids all had excursions to go to, so my wife and I spent the morning on the ship enjoying the solarium pools and hot tubs. The crew performed an emergency drill today, so we had an exercise "Bravo" call, and lots of horn blowing. Pretty darned loud in the solarium area!
We got off the ship around noon, and walked into the shopping area. We were to meet the kids at Margaritaville around 1:30 pm or so. We looked in a couple of stores for a few usual shopping items. I looked at watches. The prices were not very good, so we did not make any purchases. We sat at the bar inside the entrance of Margaritaville and waited for the kids to arrive. At about 2:00 pm, we discovered they were already there, and had been for over an hour. They were seated on the other side of the bar area where we couldn't see them. My wife and I moved over to the table, and we ordered some food for lunch. Probably the worst cheeseburger I've ever had! The conch fritters were pretty tasty however.
My oldest daughter and her friends went horseback riding. My youngest daughter and her fiance went swimming with the dolphins. All of them enjoyed their trips, although my oldest daughter got pretty good sunburn. We gave her the aloe gel to use that evening and it helped her.
Headed back to the ship, and got absolutely drenched by a downpour on the pier. As we entered the ship, there was a staff member with a cart full of nice warm towels from the dryer. He passed them out to everyone as they went by. It was a very thoughtful act by the crew. Went up to the room and showered. We took a short nap before the evening activities.
We went to Bolero's for some mojitos before dinner. We ate in Chops tonight. Service was excellent, and the food was also quite good. I ate way too much on this cruise! After dinner we walked off the full feeling from dinner, and spent some time in Olive or Twist. Live entertainment was present here also. We went to bed around 1:00 am and slept until about 6:30 am.
Day Five, Thursday - Grand Cayman No, Another Sea Day Yes
The port authority at Grand Cayman denied tendering today. I knew something was not quite right when we got out of bed and I turned on the TV. The trip information on channel 28 showed us already past Grand Cayman.
We went back to bed for a couple of hours. We missed swimming with the stingrays but decided it just means we have a reason to cruise the Western route again! All port fees and excursion charges were automatically refunded to our account. The Captain seemed very disappointed to have to make the announcement concerning not stopping at Grand Cayman. We heard there was a couple on board that had a wedding planned in Grand Cayman. Their families were in Grand Cayman having arrived by air. I'm not sure I would have planned my wedding this way, but still felt very sorry for those involved.
We spent the day trying to outrun Olga and reach some sun again. We did get some sunny skies by afternoon, and spent a few hours up at the sky bar. We went to the Windjammer for lunch and it was fine. It does get a bit crowded at certain times. He had dinner in the main dining room, and were happy to see Amalia, Keron, and ShoJun again. It says something about the service when you look forward to seeing the wait staff, and miss them when you eat dinner elsewhere.
After dinner drinks and some walking time before bed. We were in bed around 12:30 am again.
Day Six, Friday - Cozumel
We arrived in Cozumel as scheduled. The kids all went to Tulum, and we went to Nachi Cocum. Another day of sun and clouds for weather. Some sun in the morning, followed by clouds and rain showers in the afternoon.
The kids had an interesting trip! They had to ferry over to the mainland for the tour, and the ferry trip was pretty rough. When they told us to the story, we nicknamed that trip the "barf barge". I can't begin to tell the story like they can, so I won't try. They were OK during the trip after being smart enough to take the bonine before they left. Overall they enjoyed the tour, but said it did feel rushed. The ferry trip was 45 minutes each way, and the bus ride was about 75 minutes each way. That doesn't leave a lot of time to see the ruins.
We enjoyed our time at Nachi Cocum. It was quite windy again today. Mario took good care of us while we were there. Spent about 4 or 5 hours here and ate some very good food, and enjoyed the never ending bottles of brew! The surf was quite rough which made swimming in the ocean impossible. The pool was quite chilly (colder than the ocean) but the hot tub area was nice and warm. It was not hot, just warm. As we took a taxi back to the ship, we drove through a rainstorm. By the time we arrived at the pier, it had passed so we didn't get drenched like we did in Jamaica!
We had dinner at Portofino's tonight, and it was just as wonderful as we remembered from Explorer of the Seas last year. Service was great, and we received glasses of champagne from Amalia! She sent them up to us from the dining room. I told you we had a GREAT Head Waiter!
Day Seven, Saturday - Sea Day
Finally the weather seemed to cooperate today. We had sunny skies all day, and the pool decks actually looked like a cruise ship! Still quite windy however. The Captain slowed to around 15 knots most of the day, which helped. Most of the activities scheduled for the outdoor areas today actually happened as advertised! We enjoyed the ship on this last day, and already were getting depressed at the thought of leaving. Spent a little bit packing in the late afternoon, and then got ready for dinner. We did our last minute shopping on board today. Purchased the pictures we wanted from the photo gallery, and attended the farewell show. We did not enjoy the comedian at the farewell show. Within the first 30 seconds of his show, he began talking bad about Jamaica, tried to do the racial comedy thing (which we do not enjoy), and pretty much alienated half the people in the theater.
We had dinner in the dining room, and lingered long after the meal. It was hard to say farewell to Keron and Amalia. We really did enjoy seeing them every night. We went from the dining room up to Olive or Twist and spent time with Raul and Floyd. These guys are just two more of the outstanding crew we encountered this week. There was live entertainment again this evening, and one of the singers was recently engaged to a Staff Captain. She was still excited and telling everyone about it!
During one of her songs, my daughter and her fiance got up and danced. At the end of the song, the singer made a comment about them, and my daughter said "I just got engaged 4 days ago". The singer congratulated her, and dedicated the next song to them. After the song, the singer came over to the bar and chatted with us for quite a while. She was quite funny, and had us all in stitches!
Suddenly, I notice someone squeezing between myself and my daughter. I figured he just wanted a drink, so ignored him. Next thing, he is asking me if he can bum a smoke from me. I pick up my pack, and hand it to him, and notice it is the comedian from the farewell show. I didn't say anything, and he moved around the bar and sat next to my daughter. She asked him if he was the comedian (knowing he was) and he answered yes in a short response. She asked how long he had been on board, and how long until he left. He answered "I have two more gigs and I'm outta here". Obviously he wasn't happy on board! I heard his shows pretty much bombed. His style of comedy isn't too good for a cruise ship audience in my opinion.
We left Olive or Twist, and my daughter decided to challenge me to air hockey in the arcade (I won). We played some other video game that I had no clue what I was doing, and she beat me miserably. Back to the room for our final sleep on Freedom of the Seas. Woke up at 6:30 am, went to the dining room for breakfast, and then off the ship.
Miami airport was an absolute zoo! I have NEVER seen a bigger mess. It took us over 2 hours to check in, check luggage, and get to the gate. Once we got past security and headed down the concourse, I celebrated with a beer. Quite possibly the best beer of the week! I'm a pretty laid back guy, but I really wanted to punch somebody before we got to the gate. In the future, I'll pay Royal Caribbean to take care of my checked bags and give me my boarding pass. Would have been worth every penny to avoid that nightmare!
Ship - Beautiful condition. Of course, she's less than 2 years old. I did not care for the art work as much as Explorer of the Seas, but that's a matter of opinion.
Food - Food in the dining room was good to very good. I would like to see a menu change soon. Yes, there was lobster on the second formal night, so we can put that rumor to bed.
Service - The service we received on this cruise was absolutely wonderful! We did not meet a single staff member that was not helpful, and fun! Perhaps our attitude had something to do with that? Room steward was acceptable. She did the minimum required, and go the minimum required tip for her efforts. Dining room staff was outstanding. All Head Waiters should get training from Amalia! She was everywhere! We had one member of our group on a gluten free diet, and she personally took made certain he was taken care of. When we arrived in Chops, they already knew and told us Amalia had visited them. Same thing happened at Portofino's. Also, the champagne in Portofino's was unexpected, but greatly appreciated. I can't say enough about the entire wait staff we were blessed with! They were tipped far in excess of the minimum suggestion for their efforts. Bailey and Courtney at the sky bar were a lot of fun, and also took good care of us. We took them an extra tip on Saturday, and they made all of hang around for a moment. They fixed up some small drinks, and had a round with us "on the house". Great guys!
Entertainment - Live entertainment was everywhere! A partial list includes the promenade, Bolero's, Pharaoh's Palace, Olive or Twist, Dining Room, the pub, and the pool deck. The idea that live entertainment has been cut is another rumor that needs to die. There were 2 comedians on board. One was pretty good as he did some pretty good sound effects. The other needs to look hard at his material for use on a cruise ship where so many different nations are represented. His statement that Jamaica should be nuked was neither funny, nor necessary, particularly considering so many of the outstanding staff on this ship come from Jamaica. I do not care for racial remarks period, even if they are supposed to be done in comedic taste. Just my opinion, you mileage may vary.
The weather did not cooperate with us, but we had a great time and made some lasting memories. As my future son in law said, "Most things you do, you talk about for a couple of weeks. I'll be talking about this for at least a couple of years. I know my friends are gonna get sick of hearing about it."
Would we do it again? We leave for a 15 night Hawaii cruise in 297 days. It is with Royal Caribbean again, and we will be Platinum C&A. Now we also have a reason to go back to the Western Caribbean and see what we missed at Labadee and Grand Cayman.