My husband and I, both in our mid-forties, took our first cruise on Voyager of the Seas 5 years ago to the Western Caribbean to celebrate our 15th Wedding anniversary and had the time of our lives. It has been the first time that my husband had ever been out of the US. We have been waiting for the chance to cruise again, but had promised the kids that we would take them on the next cruise. So after saving the needed money I booked our next cruise on Freedom of the Seas, also to the western Caribbean . This time we booked a year in advance and purchased two cabins, an inside for the kids (ages 19, 16, 9) and a junior suite for us (needed that alone time).
Embarkation was longer than I remembered for our first cruise. We had completed and printed the online set sail pass and made sure we had all our documents in order weeks before sailing, but upon reaching the port, found out that there had been an immigration issue with the previous cruise causing a delay. We arrived at the port at 11:30am and sailed right through the initial check-in (advantages to booking a suite), but then were given a card with the number 6 and directed to another room that was packed full with all the other passengers awaiting to board. We were lucky to find five seats together and proceeded to wait. Once they started calling the numbers, it went pretty quickly and before we knew it we were on the largest ship in the world. We went immediately to buy our soda cards, (as with anyone with kids knows) it would have cost a small fortune without them. Then it was on to find our cabins and unloaded our carry on bags. Before going off to investigate the ship, we decided to get something to eat at the Windjammer. The food was good and plentiful, but then again we are not very picky eaters, with exception to the 9 yo.
Once finished with our lunch we were off to explore the ship. It was absolutely amazing and never felt crowded. We were so busy exploring that we didn't even noticed that we had left port and were underway until we passed by a window and saw the ship was moving. We took that opportunity to take the kids up to the bow and watch the ship sail out into the open ocean and kiss Miami goodbye. We decided it was time to go back to our cabins to see if our luggage had been delivered, which it had. The junior suite was perfect for me and husband with plenty of room to stretch out, especially on our private balcony. We had the center cabin on Deck 10, and were able look down onto everyone else's balcony. The bathroom was also pretty roomy for a cruise ship, with a full size bathtub (that made my day, as I love to soak a tub night). The kids inside cabin was just as I had remembered, like the one we had on our first cruise, but the kids didn't really seem to care that it was small. After a quick unpack, we went off to explore some more. We also took the time to register our youngest in the Adventure Ocean program and checked the teen facilities for our son. Since our oldest is 19 we figured she would be off on her own anyway. The kids clubs turned out to be a blessing. Our son, (normally shy) made several friends on the first day and is actually still in contact with a few of them. My youngest also made a new friend that she talks to almost daily (thank god for internet email).
Prior to the cruise departure date I had received an email introducing the new My Time Dining option and decided to give it a try. We were not disappointed in this choice at all and will probably make the same choice on the next cruise. The only draw back that I can say was that you didn't always have the same waiter or asst waiter every night, but we did get to know almost everyone that worked the area. The my time dining had its own separate area set-up so that you never really had to share a table with anyone else, which suited us just fine. We usually had the same table every night right next to the window looking out over the ocean at sundown, wow it was spectacular. The food was great, with plenty to choose from and we were always informed that if we didn't like what we picked we could always choose something else. We even were able to get the youngest to try new things, which in itself was miraculous. The dining room staff from the Head waiter down were fabulous and gave special attention to our youngest, which made her feel very special.
The entertainment from the first welcome show to the farewell show was spectacular. Richard Spacey was the greatest cruise director, he brought his own entertainment to everything he did and was correct in stating that "if you were bored on the ship, then you were just boring." The ice show was amazing, especially the soundtrack that was picked for the production, (took me and my hubby back to younger years). The kids also loved the fact that they were able to ice skate later in the week and actually got pretty good at it by the end of the cruise (that's saying a lot since we live in Florida and they have never seen snow). My oldest and hubby loved the Karaoke bar, (On Air) and sung several times on stage. We had people coming up to us several times later in the cruise to compliment his singing. The Wii competitions were also a lot of fun and my son actually won the one for guitar hero, then again he picked up his first video game at the age of two and hasn't put one down since. There was so much to do on this ship, that we were not able to do it all. Oh well just means we have to go on another cruise.
The pool areas were fabulous, especially the solarium whirlpools, which I loved the idea of no kids allowed. My youngest of course loved the H2O zone and it was really hard to get her out of the pool for anything. We never really had a problem finding chairs, since we usually only needed one since most of us were usually in the pool, except for my hubby who prefers not to get in the water (doesn't want to get his hair wet, he he just kidding). The service throughout the ship was great, everyone smiled and I didn't run into a single rude person, well not a staff member anyway.
Labadee was a great beach day. We let our youngest go into the water park that was just for the younger kids, while the rest of us relaxed under some shade trees. The lunch that was provided was OK, but I understand that it is not easy to do a bar-b-que for that many people. We decided to try the water park that is in the cove where the ship is docked, though it was a bit overpriced for an hour of use. Plus we didn't like the fact that you had to wear this bulky life jacket that made it hard for my husband and I to do some of the activities. I guess it was really meant for the younger crowd. All in all it was a good day and the kids had a blast.
Ocho Rios was beautiful as always, though I had also noticed a build up from the last time we were there. This was the only port that we had purchased an excursion, which was the Dolphin Cove/Dunns River Falls combo. Dolphin Cove was a blast and the staff was pleasant. I noticed that there was a big push for you to buy their wears. Dunns River on the other hand was a disappointment. The falls themselves was as beautiful as I had remembered, but I really hate the way you are forced to walk thru the marketplace to leave and are harassed and insulted if you did not buy something. I happen to work with a lot of Jamaican women and have picked up a lot of their lingo thru the years, so I was well aware of the things that we being said of myself and my family as we passed. If we ever do a western Caribbean cruise again we will not be doing the falls again.
Georgetown was completely changed from the last time we had been there, defiantly built up. We decided to just take our time and peruse the local stores and the go back to the ship to spend the rest of the day. This worked out perfectly and we actually had a nice time. The water is gorgeous and you were able to see clear to the bottom as if looking thru glass. As my youngest pointed out to me, "mom I see Dory, (just keep swimming, just keep swimming) the fish from Finding Nemo". For those who have kids you will understand that reference.
Cozumel was exactly as I remember. On our previous trip to Cozumel, we had stumbled across a restaurant named Carlos and Charlie's. We had such a great time then, that we decided we would have lunch there so the kids could see what a crazy and fun place it was. We were not disappointed, well except for the food, which was mediocre at best. The entertainment and service well made up for this in spades. My oldest was actually pulled from her seat to join the conga line and I was escorted onto the dance floor by one of the waiters to salsa. We had a great time and the kids said it was one of their favorite ports.
The final day at sea was bitter sweet, as none of us wanted to leave the ship. Of course while the others went and had fun at the many activities, I was left to pack for five people. I did make it to the farewell show in the Arcadia, which was great. Since there was five of us, we were unable to do the early disembarkation due to the fact we had way to many bags for all us to carry off (especially since most of them weighed more than our 9yo). We were assigned to wait in the Arcadia until our color was called, where one of cruise staff was conducting a Q & A session about what it is like to work for the cruise industry, in particular RCCL. My oldest was very interested in this, as she had expressed a desire to work on a ship. It did take awhile for us to get off the ship, but once off we went through customs with out a hitch and had our luggage within 15 mins. Since we live in South Florida we had a ride waiting to take us home. Since being home my youngest has stated, on an almost daily basis, she wants to go back to the ship. I haven't the heart to tell her that I have already booked the next cruise, but it is just for myself and my husband. This was a family vacation that all of us will remember for a long time to come and has endeared me to cruise on RCCL from now on. The only complaint that I can possibly have was with the elevators on the ship. They had no rhyme or reason to them. You could be standing there waiting for one and watch it go right by your floor, going in the direction you wanted and most times it was empty or nearly empty. We were not the only people that had made comments about this, but have not seen this commented on in any to the reviews that I have read to date. Oh well it was not that big of a deal after all. I definitely got my exercise for the week by using the stairs anyway. Thank you RCCL for a great ship and great family vacation.