Freedom of the Seas - April 6, 2008 through April, 13, 2008
This was our first time (wife and I) on the Freedom of the Seas, but have cruised with Royal Caribbean many times before (Diamond Members). Our cruise began in Miami and traveled to San Juan, St. Thomas and St. Martin. The ports were the same as we remembered them from our other visits, and we enjoyed the sea day (three total).
We were in a group of nine, with three teenagers. We immediately notice the number of children onboard as this was spring break week for some South Florida schools. The nice thing about a large ship (there were over 4300 passengers on board) is you never really seem to be crowded. Miami Embarkation - This was the worst experience we have ever had in Miami with embarkation. We arrived at 11:30 am and were able to check-in immediately. As Diamond Members, we were offered priority embarkation and readily accepted it. It did not do a lot of good as we still waited for an hour and a half to board. The RCCL staff seemed to be overwhelmed and we were told there was a problem with the ship clearing customs. There was one RCCL person who rudely ordered people to move as she attempted to put out chairs in a crowd of several hundred people. We hope this is not a weekly occurrence with Freedom sailings.
We LOVED the ship. The set-up was great and they have improved the Promenade area from the Voyager class ships. We were in a Promenade stateroom on eight. For those who need it, the wireless Internet connections work great in these rooms, as it is picked-up from the Promenade area. Our cabin steward George was great and very attentive. He was the type of steward we love, he was in and out and we rarely saw him. Ship activities were well planned (although we are more of a lay by the pool and read crowd) and they kept everyone busy. As with most ships, if you want a pool chair you need to get out early. The pool staff made regular announcements about saving chairs at the pool and for the first time we saw cruise staff moving belongings from chairs where people threw their belongings down and walked off for hours.
The teenagers in the group had a great time with the Flow Rider, putt putt golf course, and the Adventure Club activities. The Living Room area for teenagers kept them busy, as well as the ice skating time. Service on the ship was exceptional. We did notice our dinner waiter was a little slow (seemed intent on bringing all his orders, for all his tables, out at once), but the assistant waiter more than made up for the slower service. The staff in Portofino's was outstanding and the food was well prepared. This restaurant is well worth the extra $20 a person. Do not miss dinner here at least one night on the ship.
The entertainment was good (a couple comedians, a magician, an all around entertainer, and the RCCL singers and dancers), but not exceptional. The one redeeming feature of the ships entertainment is Richard Stacey, the Cruise Director. Of all our cruises (24 total), he is the best cruise director we have experienced. He was a great entertainer and made all theater activities fun to be at. He is an asset to this ship.
Disembarkation was as bad as embarkation. With over 4300 passengers, they need to coordinate disembarkation a little better. We were in the first group to be called to disembark (#1, white) and there were still hundreds of walk off passengers waiting in the hallways. This is an issue RCCL needs to work out.
Overall, we had a great time. Despite a few stumbles, we would cruise on this ship again, although the next time we would like to try it during a non-spring break week. Freedom of the Seas was a true adventure on a BIG ship.