Just got back from our W.Caribbean trip from 5/11-5/18/2008 on RCI's Freedom of the Seas.
We arrived in Miami the day before and stayed at the Marriott Biscayne Bay...got a terrific view of the port and saw all the ships coming in...my husband was up half the night watching them...wish he had a pair of binoculars, but despite that he just loved seeing it all. I would definitely stay there again...personnel were outstanding. We taxied to Bayside Marketplace ($6 cabfare each way) and they had a number of restaurants/bars, including HardRock Cafe also had a bunch of shops to browse in. We had a drink, walked around a bit...very nice. After that, my husband wanted to see South Beach and we took a taxi there (approx $20 each way)....got dropped off on Lincoln which is where all the shops, bars and restaurants are....walked for hours around there...anything goes and it is very interesting. Ate at a restaurant then went back to our hotel for the evening.
The next morning we were transported to the cruise terminal without a hitch. Boarding the ship was to say the least a grueling experience....it took approximately 2 hours to board....you were hauled in groups from one section to another...RCI stated there was an immigration problem with the previous sailing and that is why things took so long. We met up with people who cruised many times before and they said something had to have been wrong because they never experienced the delay we did, so it may have been just a one time thing. They didn't even provide refreshments for waiting so long.
As soon as we got on the ship (after 1:30 pm)we went to check out our room (balcony e2 cat), then went to the Windjammer Cafe for lunch. As soon as we got off the elevator, it seemed as though we were bombarded by RCI personnel to buy drinks, soda packages, spa treatments...it was very overwhelming and I didn't care for that. The Cafe was all buffet and we were not told the buffet extended much further than what we originally saw....the place was jammed with people, it was as though they didn't expect that many people and were unprepared to accommodate us. Lines of people trying to get their food, no available seats...it was ridiculous and at that point in time I was getting annoyed with the whole process and thought to myself maybe a big ship like this wasn't the best choice and I had thought I would be greatly disappointed if this was going to happen for the next seven days. However, that was the worst day....after that we got settled in and we never experienced the inconvenience or lines anymore.
After our lunch we made dinner reservations at Chop's Grille for our last night of sailing....it is $25 PP, however, it is well worth the money. The food there was excellent, a far cry from the dining room food...very upscale, service was great and so was the food. Speaking of dining, RCI just implemented "Anytime Dining"....we originally opted for the 8:30 pm seating, however, we found that the "Anytime Dining" allowed you to dine anytime between the hours of 6-9:30 pm...we decided to try that and for us, it worked out perfectly...actually dined basically between 7-8 pm each night...you are not locked into a set time and the service was great...never really had to wait at all. The food in the dining room was good, of course, that is a personal thing...most of the food served was good...there were a few things I did not care for, however, you are going to have that happen anywhere you go, but we always found options. We ate breakfast at the Windjammer buffet most mornings which had a nice variety and the food was of good quality....they had basically anything you could think of. The service was great...servers always noticed you looking for a table and got one for you and served your drinks if you didn't want to carry them yourself. We went to the dining room one time for breakfast and we ordered eggs benedict...I didn't think it was that great...over cooked eggs, but it just must have been an off day.
Ship is beautiful...presently the largest ship in the world...it is a city in of itself...whatever you want or need is at your disposal. We paid more to go on this cruise than our last one...which was the Carnival Glory in 2003...expected more for our money and there really is no difference we thought...others who sailed with us felt the same way. You are really paying for all the amenities on board that are there...like the rock climbing wall, boxing ring, ice rink, state of the art spa and fitness center, etc...that is if you use them it may be worth it. I also found there were alot of "extras" you had to pay for if you wanted them...a glass of freshly squeezed oj was $5 a pop, regular oj was free. Ben & Jerry's ice cream, you had to pay for, however, self-serve on the pool deck was free; Seattle's Best charged for specialty coffees, however, regular coffee was free. I bought the soda card for $48 including tax...provided unlimited soda all week...I believe I got my money's worth on that, so if you like soda, that is something to buy...bottled water is not included...the large bottles were $3.50 and small were $1.95...we drank alot of that, however, didn't care about the cost because we considered it a necessity. We did notice people carrying on cases of water...which is a nice option if you can do it because you will definitely go through water very fast.
On to the ports of call: Labadee, Haiti was very nice...RCI apparently leases this section of the island exclusive to their ships. You use your Seapass card for alcohol, but the food is provided by the ship. As soon as we approached the beach, personnel offered their assistance to help you locate lounge chairs and to put them where you wanted them, of course, they were looking for a tip to do that which was fine. We swam there for a while, had lunch...shopped in their local market which was overwhelming...the marketers tried to pressure you, however, you had to just be adamant and tell them no if you were not interested. We bought water shoes because it was rocky in the water and we needed them for our excursion in Dunn River Falls the following day...never thought of bringing a pair from home, but I highly recommend bringing along some because it is sometimes difficult to walk on the sand and in the water without them.
The next port of call was Ocho Rios, Jamaica and we bought an excursion through RCI for a Reggae Baby Boat excursion to Dunn River Falls; the boat was a disappointment because the music was a CD and the personnel on the boat spent alot of time trying to sell stuff to you. Had I known this, I would have booked the catamaran which our friends did and they had a ball with the live music and dancing on board. But anyway, Dunn River Falls is a great place to visit and experience. My husband climbed the 900 ft. falls and had a blast. I opted not to and walked up the stairs instead. You need alot of agility and strength I believe to accomplish this and it is a bit scary, however, tons of people did it and just loved it. I just am not in that type of physical condition to do something like that, but it was definitely fun to watch. You go up the falls in teams of 10 holding hands with a guide to lead you...there are places along the way to escape, however, I saw no one do that. Afterward, your guide does expect a tip for his efforts. My husband is 54 years old and absolutely loved the experience...would definitely do it again.
Grand Cayman was very nice....no excursions for us here, so we tendered into port...which is done seamlessly and shopped there for a few hours, then ate lunch at Margaritaville...nice day.
In Cozumel, we shopped in port, then took a taxi downtown where there are more restaurants and shops...tons of them actually and bought vanilla which was extremely cheap, some gold and t-shirts. Had lunch at a nice Mexican restaurant...only ask for bottled water. Have to warn you though...almost every shop we passed offered a shot of free tequila which my husband obliged several times, but stopped after several shots, thank goodness otherwise I would have been escorting a very drunk husband home!
The shows on the ship were fantastic...ice show was great, Motown Spectrum was fantastic...standing ovation and an encore ensued. We also attended the Love & Marriage game show and they took 3 married couples from the audience to participate and it was just alot of laughs. Have to congratulate Sophie/Paul for participating...they've been married 67 years and were the hit of the show! Another show that was great and alot of fun was "The Quest" which was a scavenger hunt...unbelievable what went on there...lots of laughs. We did attend the comedy act, however, thought the comedian wasn't that great. Also saw a broadway musical which was enjoyable. Recommend attending these shows if you can...they are all not very long...maybe an hour each which is great because it allows you to do other things.
So, all in all...this was a fabulous vacation...lots of fun, lots to do...we enjoyed ourselves tremendously...met lots of great people... I do have to say this...a vacation of any sort is what you make of it, all the tools are there for you to enjoy, you have to do what makes you happy...it's all in your hands! Enjoy!!!!