My wife and I are avid cruisers. Every time we go we have a great time (who doesn't right?). We booked this trip (March 9, 2008) in early February as the snow kept piling up here in Toronto. We booked a category D2, balcony cabin on Deck 9. We had no problems whatsoever getting a great price and we loved the new online ticket system. Our biggest pre-cruise issue was the flight down to Florida as the entire northeast was getting hit by a huge storm (not RCCL's fault). In any event, we flew down one day early (a big must during the winter season) and took our time the morning of the cruise.
We got to the port at around 130-2pm and to our surprise we found it empty. We were instantly greeted by the bag guys, walked through reservation, found perhaps 10 people ahead of us in line to check in and literally within 30 minutes we were in our room dropping our handbags.
The D2 cabin was very nice, clean and spacious, like other balcony cabins we have had on Rccl (voyageur and mariner the last 2). There was lots of room to move around, a great looking flat screen tv, a mini bar, nice sitting area and the standard bathroom. Our room attendant came by right after we were in, introduced himself showed us the hairdryer and left us be.
One pretty cool note about the Freedom, is that everywhere you turn you will find Purel hand sanitizer dispensers, I thought that was fantastic. We headed up to the Windjammer (think BIG spacious cafeteria for all you newbies) for lunch. From the minute we walked up there the selling began. You could buy pop cards, wine, gifts, spa treatments etc. The one thing we did do was we booked a night a Portofino and one night at Chops (the two specialty restaurants on board. They fill up fast and we thought it best to book ahead and either cancel and change later. FYI- Portofino charges $20 per person and Chops charges $25 a head. Both are superb and I recommend them highly. Chops is like a fine Steakhouse (think Morton's or Ruth's Chris), Portofino is like a nice Italian restaurant. ?Not sure if it is your thing, but the Tuna tartar at Chops was the best I have ever had!
I won't bore you with a play by play of my entire week, from here on in, but will try to give some impressions and tips where I can.
* The food in the Windjammer was ok. There is always a huge selection which was fine. At breakfast there is your normal hotel like fare, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles etc. There is a ton of fresh fruit an omelet to order station and a ton of fresh baked goods. There is also hot and cold cereals and a ton of fresh juices. Lunch is always a salad bar with good options, hot and cold main dishes, burgers, hot dogs, a meat, a pasta, a fish etc. We never ate dinner there, but did go up around 630pm (we ate at the second seating 830pm) and every night there is fresh sushi which we snacked on. Like I said the food is ok, the best part about it is the staff, they were all very helpful, and pleasant.
* Food in the dinning room was good, not great but good. Same story here, lots of choice, lots of salt but nothing was ever bad or inedible. The staff work their butts off to please you and they do a great job. If you are thinking of going to either Portofino or Chops ask your waiter what night to miss, as some dinners are better then others. My 2 cents, the last dinner in the dinning room is the worst, so book upstairs that night. i will say that one difference on this cruise was that usually the lobster tail (on our trip Friday night) is pretty lousy and the shrimp cocktails are fantastic. The opposite was true on the Freedom. The Lobster tails were excellent and the shrimp cocktails weren't very good.
* Lunch in the dinning room is the best. We are young(ish) 35, so sitting inside for lunch isn't our thing, but I will tell you, that it worth killing the 30-45 minutes inside for lunch. The food and the service were outstanding.
* The Shops/Mall. There is one store in the mall that had great stuff. I don't recall the name but it sold bathing suits and t-shirts, not RCCL logo stuff, but really nice stuff at very competitive prices. The other stores were your standard on board stores, they have everything but it is a tad pricey. We loved the Ben and Jerry's ice cream store (for a small fee) and both the pizzeria and bakery (free unless you wanted high-end coffee drinks) were excellent. The duty free shop had excellent selection and their prices were as good as anything we saw in any port.
*Entertainment- the shows were all fun as they usually are on RCCL. The show was fantastic and the comedians were very good too. The adult only dating/newlywed shows were funny, with the usual flavor of humor. They have a very cool karaoke area that was busy and the disco seemed a tad dead on this cruise. One downer for us is that we love the sing along piano bar on the mall and the guy singing the week we were on had very poor people skills and an even worse song selection. Oh well, there is lots to do at night.
*Internet/Photos- We bought a package to use the internet, I had brought my laptop (an apple macintosh) so we could talk to our kids every night on the webcam. It worked perfectly. We paid $50 for about 150 minutes and as gold members we got an additional $10 in coupons so it worked out very well. The coupons books are awesome. There are great discounts in them, so if you go on more then 1 rccl cruise be sure to join the crown and anchor society to get them. We used them in the casino, for drinks at the pool, wine at dinner,ben and jerrys etc. Although we had photos taken of us, we didn't buy any. They weren't very good and a tad pricey- even though we had coupons for that too.
* Something we have never done before that I would highly recommend to all you drinkers. One night, on our cruise Wednesday night in the wine bar on the mall, they offered a martini class. It cost us $20 per person, but I have never spent a better $20 on a ship. They provide you with at least 4 huge shots of high end martinis that a bar tender makes and then an additional shot for every guest that attends the class. For example, the night we went, there were 8 of us and 1 bartender. We each got, 11 large shot size samples of martinis. The bartender made us 4, then each passenger made his or her own and we each got to sample theirs PLUS, when you make your own, you fill a nice big glass martini glass with your own concoction and keep the glass. Needless to say everyone left feeling pretty good, and they used very good vodka, Grey Goose.
* Our trip went to San Juan, St. Thomas and St. Martin. We did no excursions (we never do) and enjoyed the islands immensely. Getting off the ship took forever (hence the title of this post) and getting back on was way worse (more on that later). The nicest part of San Juan is sailing in. You don't get in until about 3pm on day 3 and the port we sailed into which was Old San Juan was spectacular. Walking around old San Juan was fun, not much to see or buy (always a good thing) but it was nice to get off the ship for a couple of hours. Lots of people we knew ate dinner that night in San Juan. St. Thomas and St. Martin were both very nice as well. Again, no excursions for us. In St. Thomas we took a cab to Coci point, a beautiful beach with phenomenal snorkeling and scuba. If that is your thing i would highly recommend it. We took a cab and it cost us $5 per head each way. A better choice would be to go to a really nice hotel and use their beach ( I hear the Ritz Carlton is spectacular). In St. Martin we took a cab to a great hotel called La Samana and sat on their 1.5 mile long beach and ate an awesome lunch in their grill restaurant.
*The size of the ship. As i said getting on the ship on day one was no problem. Getting a table at the windjammer and at a pool were major problems. No matter how you slice it 4200 (our week) is a lot of people. It is just too big. No matter where you tried to go, you always felt like a bus had just let out ahead of you. While the staff were good about saving seats at the pool and in the windjammer, there just isn't enough room to accommodate that many people. At 4200 people, the ship isn't full, I would hate to see it when it is. The pool bars were always packed as a result and the time one had to wait for a poolside waiter was longer simply due to the sheer number of passengers. The other 2 areas you really felt this were in the dinning room and the ports. In the dinning room, the service really suffered because of the size. The meals took a very long time. We were in no rush, but 2-3 hours for dinner seemed a tad excessive. Lastly, getting back on the ship at ports was in a word brutal. They just weren't equipped to handle the masses. In each port it took over 45 minutes to get back on board. I shutter to think what will happen when the new ships come out and they are 40% larger with an additional 2000 passenger capacity. My advice would be to try to book off weeks when they apparently have been around 3-3500 passengers. By the way, all the staff complained to us about the ship. They were saying that RCCL can't fill the ship and therefore there isn't enough money to be made making tips. They were all very happy the week we were on it though.
* Getting off the ship was very easy. We got the earliest non-do it yourself luggage tags. We got up at 630 am (our flight was at 1020am) and had a quick bite in windjammer and were in a cab before 8am.
Overall we had a very good time. To be honest anyone who doesn't is either very negative to start or they got sick :) All kidding aside its hard not to enjoy yourself on this cruise. Personally, we are probably going to stick to ships around 3000 passengers and under going forward. Truth be told we loved looking at the surfing pool, but never used it (like the rock climbing wall). The kids facilities are second to none. We didn't bring our kids on this trip but when we are ready to take them, there is on doubt we are going on RCCL. There is just so much for the kids to do. The staff were great, the food as I said was good. All in all it was a good trip. Nothing blew my socks off, but that is ok too.
The best part of my trip however, occurred at 439pm on our last full day at sea when I one jackpot Bingo... it was the first time I played all week..and nothing will ever make going home so easy as that did.
If you have questions be sure to drop me a line, I would be happy to answer.