We had never cruised before but a good friend of ours and his family went on a cruise to the Caribbean and told us what a great time they all had. We decided to bite the bullet and got a great deal on a 7 night Eastern Caribbean cruise on Royal Caribbean's Freedom Of The Seas in early October 2007. On the cruise were my wife, 23 year old daughter and 17 year old son. Our daughter was working in a summer camp in New York and we rendezvoued in L.A. on our way from Sydney. We flew into Miami (via Las Vegas)the night before the cruise and stayed at the Holiday Inn opposite the International Marketplace. We went there for a bit of shopping and dinner the night before the cruise and were suitably underwhelmed. It was dirty and crowded and the dinner (at Bubbah Gumps) was just okay. The only exciting thing was that we could see the Freedom Of The Seas from there and we were immediately blown away by its sheer size. We were really looking forward to boarding the ship the following day.
We got to the dock early (a bit too early as it turned out) and this was the only bit of the cruise that was less than satisfactory - it took an age to get through customs, where we had problems with our daughter's visa ( not our fault), then a long time for the embarkation process. Quite a few people were getting agitated but after a couple of hours we were in our cabin. I had booked a family suite and it was big enough for the four of us - we did not intend spending much time in our cabin, but nonetheless it was a decent enough size for us to comfortably co-habitate in.
After the formality of the rescue drill we settled in to the cruise. We stood on our balcony whilst we pulled out of Miami and were amazed at all the people lined up on the side of the road waving us off. I think they were as impressed by the grandeur of Freedom as we were. We then commenced exploring the ship before getting ready for dinner. We met our waiters and enjoyed a beautiful dinner in the dining room. Then to a show before finally going to bed around midnight. Awoke early next day and down to the Windjammer for breakfast. Unlike a lot of others we resisted the urge to cram as much on to our plates as possible as we were anxious to get up to the pool and watch the passing parade. The Americans and South Americans on board did not disappoint us - there was a constant stream of big people in little costumes going by as well as the odd good sort. Lunch was followed by a few beverages by the pool and an entertaining day was had by all.
PORTS OF CALL Freedom stopped in 3 ports - San Juan, St Thomas and St Maarten. We stayed off the ship for most of the day in St Thomas but at the other two ports we couldn't wait to get back on board. It was very hot, especially in San Juan, and it appealed to us more to be on the ship by the pool sipping cocktails than haggling with stall holders trying to sell us cheap t-shirts and jewelry!
THE SHIP Unbelievable - I have described it to my friends as a floating 5 star hotel. Nothing disappointed us. The first thing you notice about Freedom is its size - it's massive. A couple of times we were docked alongside other ships and it dwarfed them. I'm not saying that big is necessarily better, but it certainly looks the part. The cruise director was Richard Spacey and he kept us entertained as the MC of all the shows - he is a very funny guy and perfectly suited to the job. Our waiters and cabin staff were very friendly and nothing was too much trouble for them. The seas were fairly flat so there was no sign of any sea sickness, not sure if that could be attributed to the stability of Freedom or we were just lucky. HANDY HINT If you intend buying any souvenirs on board (clothing, hats, jewelry, etc,) wait until the last day, as just about everything is reduced by 50%!
OVERALL Would recommend a Royal Cruise to anyone, the only bummer for us living in Sydney is we have to travel a long way to get to Miami and our dollar has dropped considerably since we did the cruise last year. However, RCCL have now based a ship (Rhapsody of the Seas) in Sydney for the summer and we have already been on a one night cruise and it was great. We have a Mediterranean cruise booked for Sept. 2009 with 4 other couples and will let you know how that goes. Regards and Happy cruising in 2009.