This was our family's first cruise and we were so excited and ready to experience everything that Freedom of the Seas had to offer. My husband and I are in our mid 30's and our children are 11, 9, and 5. We had booked this vacation in January and could not believe that it was finally here.
We live in Baltimore and decided to fly to Florida for the cruise. We flew into Ft. Lauderdale around 9 in the morning and had to take a transfer to the Port of Miami. As soon as we exited the Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood Airport, we were bombarded with taxi and limo drivers pressuring us to use their services. We were only interested in using the GO! shuttle and tried telling them so. It was nice once we got on our shuttle and were on our way. Our driver was very personable and gave us a mini tour of Miami and South Beach. It was very exciting when we got our first glimpse of the ship. It was so huge and would be our home for the next week. Shortly thereafter, we arrived at the Port and got dropped of at the correct location where a porter came to retrieve and tag our luggage. We were ready to begin the embarkation process. We entered the terminal and since I had our Set-Sail Pass ready, it was easy getting through security. We did receive a boarding number(8) and was ushered to a waiting area which was packed with people. They had made several announcements that we might have a late boarding time due to immigration issues with the previous cruise. However, once the numbers were called, boarding went pretty quickly and smoothly. After we had our welcome aboard photo taken, we decided to head to the Windjammer Cafe for lunch in case our room wasn't ready yet. We were pleasantly surprised at the selection of food available. Even my picky 5 year old found things to eat. The staff was very friendly and went out of their way to find us a table for 5.
We headed to our room after lunch. Our room, 8307, was a family promenade stateroom. It was absolutely wonderful. It was very spacious with ample sitting and sleeping space. The kids had their own room with bunk beds in it. We were worried about our 7 suitcases but the room had a walk-in closet to store the suitcases. Hamilton, our room attendant, was very friendly and did an excellent job of caring for us and our room. The surprises he left our family each night became the highlight of bedtime. The room had two window seats overlooking the Promenade. This was wonderful since we never had to leave our room to watch the parades. We did not worry about our luggage arrival. We had decided beforehand to just take the day to explore the ship. It did, however, arrive around 5pm.
The best thing about the ship was Adventure Ocean. Our children went to their age appropriate rooms each day leaving good quality time for my husband and I. This is the first vacation that our kids actually left us and "did their own thing." The counselors were wonderful and provided an excellent service to the children and parents. They had great activities and receiving the schedules the night before allowed the kids to pick and choose which times (pretty much all of them) they wanted to attend. The "kids clubs" were open from 9-12, 2-5, 5-10. The programs were open after 10pm but charged $5 per child per hour. We did take advantage of this one time and the kids had a blast. The counselor nicknamed "Spacey Casey" was my older two children's favorite by far. Basically, he was a grown up who acted like a kid.
One the first day of the cruise, my husband made an appointment and sent me to the Spa. I had a seaweed wrap, massage and a facial. The treatment was wonderful. My Spa Specialist, Loreta, was very informative, gentle, and did a wonderful job of making me relaxed and comfortable. My only complaint would be when the charge came. During my initial/introduction talk with her, she was asking me what I liked during a massage, things like do I like deep tissue or a softer touch, do I like full body or focus on specific areas. So I answered that I liked a softer touch and full body. Well, I was not informed that by my saying "full-body", I was upgrading my package from an area massage (head, feet & shoulders) to a full body massage. I did not realize that is what happened and had to pay the $90 difference. Oh, well, lesson learned I guess. My husband went to the barbershop, A Clean Shave and had an express shave done. He received an exfoliation, deep hydration and a shave. It was reasonably priced and he enjoyed the experience. I enjoyed it too as his face was super smooth.
We explored every inch of the ship and tried everything we could. Flowrider was awesome but be careful on the wipe out. The Wall was fun but tiring as it caused you to work up a good sweat. Who knew you could ice skate in the Caribbean?! What fun! The shows on board were varied and entertaining. Richard Spacey, the cruise director, is by far the best entertainer I have seen in a long time. He had jokes for everything and cracked us up constantly. My kids were so excited to meet him as they had been watching him on You Tube the previous week. They could not wait to his history of dance routine. He performed this during the farewell show and it did not disappoint. We played ping pong, cards, board games - all on deck 14 in the Seven Hearts room. Of course, the kids loved the arcade on deck 12. The Promenade offered plenty of people watching opportunities. They had a face painter, Mrs. Kathy, at various times and she did an excellent job of transforming your child. The main pool had daily activities and the H2O Zone for the kids was spectacular. We visited the solarium only a few times. We did love the cantilevered whirlpools - the view is breathtaking.
We unfortunately did not eat at the two specialty restaurants. We ate in the main dining room 4 out of the 7 nights. Two with our children and two without. We were in Leonardo's Dining Room table 240 which was off to the side in a room that had its own private side entrance. We were very impressed with the courteous nature of our wait staff. They were friendly and were always willing to please. We did go to Johnny Rockets for one meal and did not even mind the 20 minute wait time. We were allowed to take the buzzer to Deck 14 to play ping pong until a table became available. We also did not go to Ben & Jerry's. We did not feel the need since Cafe Promenade and Sorrento's offered delicious and ever changing desserts. Cafe Promenade was my favorite. I loved the cozy sitting areas and finger foods. My littlest one lived off of the pizza at Sorrento's. Windjammer Cafe was great. It satisfied most of our hunger pangs and was not difficult to find a table.
The ports of San Juan, St. Thomas and St. Maarten were beautiful. We did our own walking tour in San Juan. The architecture and "old town" feel made it very relaxing. We enjoyed touring Fort San Felipe del Morro. It was worth the walk and heat to learn about the culture. We did not get to see too much of St. Thomas. After we docked and left the ship, we took a ferry to the British Virgin Island, Tortola, for a Dolphin Discovery. It was such a wonderful experience to swim with the intelligent and beautiful creatures. St. Maarten was very relaxing. We played on Great Bay Beach and did some shopping. Diamonds International was everything that it was claimed to be and we bought a few trinkets from them.
The last night on the ship, we decided to handle our tips personally. We tipped our room attendant handsomely as we were extremely pleased with his service. We did alter our tips to our dining room staff as we only ate there 4 nights for dinner - no other times. During the week, we did tip staff at the bars and especially at Cafe Promenade and Sorrento's.
We had a 9:30 disembarkation time, so we got up early and went to breakfast before going to our meeting place, Pharaoh's Palace. After breakfast, we returned to our room to gather our things and head down to our meeting place. On our way there, we were informed that they had already announced our color (light blue). This was the longest part of our trip. The line to leave the ship was long and very slow moving. We had arranged through RCL for a transfer back to Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood Airport. The ride was nice - we were put in a motor-coach bus - nice air conditioning and comfortable seats. We arrived at the airport at 10:30am.
Once at the airport, more waiting was in store for us. It was Sunday, 6/22 and storms were along the east coast. Our flight was originally scheduled for 2:45, but due to the weather, was delayed until 6pm. It was sort of funny. We had perfect weather all week and on the day we are returning home, the sky let loose. Luckily, we had things in our carry-on bags to occupy the hours we had to wait. Our flight home was bumpy and a few times truly scary. When we finally landed, we were happy to be on land again. Now it was homeward bound to return to everyday living.
I will admit that before we booked the cruise, my husband was extremely worried about getting motion sickness. I was not too worried about the kids since they seem to take after me. I contacted our primary care physician and he prescribed a patch for him to wear. The patch was a lifesaver. My husband did not get/feel sick one time the entire trip. He did experience some minor side effects such as blurred vision and tiredness but these were not too bothersome. I would suggest it to anyone else who suffers motion sickness. Also, our cabin, being in the middle inside of the ship helped as well.
If we decide to cruise again, it will definitely be with Royal Caribbean.