We call ourselves the Mil family cruisers because we like to travel and I have spent my share of time packing to go who knows where many times. So how do we relax? We pack the family up to go somewhere! yeah, were nuts. We have been on a combined 18 to 20 cruises so we are trying all the cruise lines. I booked the freedom cruise one night after I realized the whole family was stressed out and we all needed a break. Cruising is the easiest way I know to go from zero to hero in the dad department, everyone was all smiles when I came out of our home office with e tickets.
Arrival We drove to miami the day before our cruise about 13 hours in the family truckster without any major issues and no major arguments from the kid department. (everyone seems to be happy on the way to vacation) We spent the night at a hotel, sleep in til 0830 then got dressed and headed for the ship. The port is not too bad and its well marked, area G is where the freedom parks and nothing you get from RCCL will tell you that. I felt safe with the parking and it was fairly expensive $140 for seven nights. $200 if you lose your ticket. Again this information should be on the RCCL web site but quite frankly it sucks and is not customer friendly.
The first thing that happened is we went thru security and our family was pulled aside and my 6 year olds backpack was seized. He had happily marched towards the ship with his red backpack, pirate hat, and of course his trusty light saber and the usual assortment of hot rod car models and a few robots and army men. The police were called and his backpack was searched upon a table by an officer with rubber gloves. He said "Ah Ha!" and reached into the backpack producing a wooden blunderbuss toy pistol ala Walt Disney World's Pirate of the Caribbean ride, bright plastic caps and all. They presented it to the sherriff's department while I tried not to laugh. It was tagged and bagged, whisked away by Security and I still didn't know what to say. My 6 year old looked confused and kept telling the officers, "Can't you see it's a toy? Give it back!" With that behind us, I told the family "Let it go" and of course had to promise a replacement.
On to the next phase of boarding. Check in was pretty easy and Sea Passes were made. Now done with everything, it was 10:45 and we were told that the ship would load at approximately 11 to 11:15am. We proceeded to the final cattle call waiting area and were lined in rows at the back of the room. 11:15 came and went and so did 12 noon, RC personnel were talking and people started asking questions. It was then we discovered the ship had come in code red and had to be disinfected more than normal. This was not a warm fuzzy. About 1pm we finally got on the ship and had been told that our rooms would be available between 1 and 1:15pm. At 2:30 all the passengers seemed to be on board lugging around their carry ons. It was obvious that some had come from overseas, that is when a dec member told us that we could not go to our rooms until 3:30pm. All the personnel started to serve drinks and tried to start the party, but no one wants to be part of a party when you are dragging around your tired kids and all of our carryon luggage. During this waiting period, our kids decided to swim as they had come prepared and had their swimsuits in their backpacks. That seemed to help pass the time until we started looking around for towels. Of course, all of the towel bins were empty and when we asked an attendant for a towel, they said that we had to get it from our room. When trying to go to our room to just get a towel, we were redirected back on deck until the appropriate time of 3:30pm. No one could even figure out how to get us a towel and a good hour passed before someone finally brought us one. Great start, NOT!
The room - At 3:30pm we came through the door of our FO category and we were on Deck 8. The room was advertised for 4 to 5 people and surprise, it was! The room was fantastic for it's category with lots of storage and two TV's and a great bathroom with good water pressure and a good shower. The beds were very comfortable and I slept well! The room was starting to show some wear but I think the ship has about 8 months before it heads to drydock for the first time. Overall we were comfortable and pleased with the room. The only thing that stinks is the little fridge in the room is so packed with overpriced items there is no room to put anything in it unless you eat what is there. At almost 7$ for two snickers with "Gratuity" it can get expensive very quick, eat with caution! Low class move RC, especially in the kids area where parents are forced to say "NO" as soon as you arrive in the room. Again other than that the room was as good as I've seen.
The Food- IN a word. "Stinks" The wind jammer is the main casual dining area with the Jade asian buffet incorporated into it. The dining area itself is clean and appealing and food presentation is nice, especially the salads and fruits are pretty good both in taste and looks. First the Jade asian buffet, I was really looking forward to this so on the first sea day at lunch we headed to the wind jammer. I came down to the first dish, Fried asian rice, sounds good Huh? looked good too, I almost spit it up. It was full of leftover chopped hot dogs! Are you kidding me? This was followed by three more dishes with neither chicken or beef and the finale ta dah...... BEEF teriyaki, but wait it's beef teriyaki pizza. Two vile soups, OX tail soup and some other smelly soup and the ASIAN buffet was complete. I actually talked to the wind jammer manager and the jade chef and they admitted it was chopped hot dogs in the rice. I complained and the answer I got was corporate policy to follow menu cards. They call them RC chefs but it seems all we got was kitchen robots and corporate policy. I don't think the merger of RC and celebrity X does anything in the food department but make it suffer. They must have gotten a huge deal on fatty chicken thighs because they serve them at every meal with a different fancy name and great cuts of steak such as "FILET of Shoulder" The bottom line is if you want to eat well you had better visit the specialty restaurants and Johhny Rocketts. Those are good, but of course you pay extra. I only visited the windjammer once when I didn't leave just mad. I ate room service one day and it was only OK with a corporate menu selection in the corporate room book. Wake up RCCL, good food is a Must on a cruise and it should not cost extra, I hate to say it but even Disney food blew you away. Fix this, there is no excuse! The soda pass deal stinks too, It cost me almost 90.00 for a soda pass for my son and me! You must produce this pass and wield it like the scarlett letter to get a soda. I'm like "hey, this cruise cost a lot just give me a soda already". I think I've said enough, Presentation and service was great in the main dining room but the food was still sub par compared to other cruises. I want to finish on a good note;
The entertainment was good, shows were excellent, especially the ice show and the cruise Director Richard Spacey was the best I have ever seen. He is funny, everywhere and he truly loves his job or needs an Oscar! Hey RC promote this guy, he gets it. Let him fix the food! Great job Richard, I always appreciate excellence. They had a classic guitar soloist who was unbelievable and the ship itself is truly amazing and spectacular. You can always find some quiet area and the pool system is good except no slide in the kids pool and more staff is needed to keep everything open on sea days as times in some areas are limited. Also clean the pools between Midnight and 0600 not at 8 at night and now my wife on the kids programs.
It seems a great marketing angle to promote something that the kids would love, not to mention the family. But RCCL missed the boat, and the ship, on this one for both parents and kids. Our two boys, being 10 and 6, have a lot of energy and love to play games. They were really excited about each going to their own club, expecting new friends and things to do. Our youngest was in the Explorers club, ages 6-8. The club area was ok, but for the biggest cruise ship in the world, it seemed to be an afterthought. The staff were great and patient with everyone as it got hectic coming and going. Club time didn't start until 9 am and then you had to pick up your child by Noon or pay an additional fee to have your child stay in the club for lunch. I'll get to the lunch part in a minute, it's a doozy. So for 3 hours of the morning in the club, these kids are stuck in a small cubby of a room. Half of the kids were on computers playing games and the other half were huddled in a play area doing group activities such as dance, games, projects, science, etc. Not much to this! After lunch, the kids had some playtime again in the club area and we saw the same old thing. Afternoon pickup was at 5pm, and by the way, no were on the RCCL website does it talk about closing times for the clubs or that there is a $1.00 a minute late fee, per child, beginning at the 16th minute following posted closing times. So you ended up dropping off and picking up all day( sound like carpool? ). I had decided that as long as the boys were having fun, I would go with the flow but to be honest, it felt like I was signing them into daycare rather than offering them the exciting kids club experience we had looked forward to. RCCL needs to take some lessons from Disney, they did it right! The Voyagers was the 9-11 year old club and what our 10 year old had in store. Again, the room was an afterthought and activities not much to mention. Our 10 year old seemed to like it better than our 6 year old but the older kids can entertain themselves much easier. Same schedule for the most part with the older kids and don't forget, drop off, pick up, drop off, pick up, etc. We picked up our kids at noon each day except for our time at St. Maarten which my husband and I decided to shop by ourselves. We paid the extra $7.95 per child to eat with the staff and they had a huge selection of pizza and cold fries. No other choices, just hold up your plate and plop on the food. Was this the school lunch line? To top this off, our older son who we had purchased the soda pass for, could not get a soda with his lunch as they told him that they didn't care if he had a pass or not, he could only have juice or water. What did we buy the pass for then? This horse is dead also. By the last few days, our kids asked to NOT go to the club and just wanted to stay in the room and watch TV. Definitely something we do NOT do on a cruise. Needless to say, we were disappointed.
I'll finish it with saying we still had fun a vacation is never a bad thing. I won't sail the freedom again , but might try a smaller ship. We have booked the east Caribbean on the disney magic Feb 1st only, 3 months out of drydock so look for our review in late feb. I forgot to say the jeep trip in St Thomas was definitely worth the money. Had a blast, rent a scooter in St Maarten. Good times there too. Hope this helps both the customer and RCCL. Beautiful ship and entertainment fix the nickel and diming and the food and you'll get back in my four category. I've only given one 5 and that was to crystal.(Not a kid cruise) Fair Winds and Following seas.
MilFamily cruiser's :-)