EMBARKATION: Embarkation was relatively smooth. A benefit to taking the shuttle is that they check your luggage onto the ship for you, which helps speed up the process. Our luggage was delivered to our cabin remarkably early, but I have no idea whether or not that was influenced by the bags being checked by the shuttle service.
THE SHIP: Being fans of the Voyager Class, the Freedom was easy to maneuver. It is laid out nearly the same, so it quickly became familiar.
TOWELS: I had read that Freedom placed no pool towels in the cabins, as on other ships. We had pool towels in our cabin upon arrival and our room steward exchanged them nightly for clean ones.
FLOW RIDER: My BF tried it out on our last sea day and reported that it was a lot of fun. It is also a great spectator sport.
CANTILEVERED HOT TUBS: Located in the adult pool/solarium area, these are a great feature.
CROWDS: It's a big ship and there are plenty of places you can wander and find yourself completely alone - despite the huge number of passengers aboard. HOWEVER, the popular events were packed. I looked forward to the 70s party - even packing tacky 70s clothes for the event - and couldn't really enjoy it because people were literally shoulder to shoulder. Some folks were still trying to use the Promenade to walk from one end of the ship to the other, bumping and shoving their way through the tightly packed mass of party-goers. Richard Spacey (CD) and the entertainment staff did a great job, but the crowd just ruined it - at least for us. We'll return to the Voyager class next year. Bigger isn't always better.
JOGGING PATH: We don't use it, but if you do, you'll need to get up awfully early. On Freedom, the jogging path is on deck 12, overlooking the main pool. It's packed with sun worshippers all day, so there is no possible way for anyone to run on the track once passengers begin to gather by the pool.
GYM: It's great and well-equipped. No idea what's up with the boxing ring, however. Like other reviewers, I just didn't see the point. Never saw anyone use it.
ROOM SERVICE: Was very reliable. We ordered coffee each morning, to drink before going up to breakfast. They called before delivering our order and were always on time.
DINING: We used MyTime Dining on this ship and LOVED it! In the past, I've missed shows or activities because they conflicted with my assigned dinner time. (Yes, they offer two show times, but the early one is sometimes too early on port days.) On this cruise, we scheduled our dinner around our activities, rather than vice-versa. It eliminated a lot of stress not feeling like we had to race to eat on schedule. You do sacrifice the social aspects of meeting other passengers at dinner. The MyTime section includes more small tables and passengers are seated with the group they arrive with, rather than being seated with others. You also don't get to watch the performing wait staff, unless you walk to the railing and look down at the lower-level dining areas. With everyone eating at different times, the wait staff can't really stop everything to perform. We considered those sacrifices minor in exchange for the option of eating whenever it was convenient. The host seats participants in the same area each night, so you will still become familiar with your wait staff. I highly recommend this new dining option!
Surprisingly, we were able to find a table by the window at the Windjammer every morning but one. Freedom opens up the specialty restaurants for additional seating at breakfast, so finding a table was never a problem.
SHOWS: As always, the shows were great. To be honest, our least favorite was the "Once Upon a Time" show that came so highly recommended by our cruise director. The other shows we saw were all great. Don't miss the parades, the ice show and the Quest show.
MEET & MINGLE: Ours was a bust. We met some nice folks, but only about 10 people showed up. The Freedom activities director was even a no-show. It was pretty lame.
NEXTCRUISE: They didn't advertise this option on the ship, but it's a good deal if you know you intend to cruise again the following year. You don't have to decide which cruise to take while on board. You just promise to book one within the next 30 days and you get coupons good for up to $200 worth of on-board credits for you and also for friends who book to travel on the same cruise. We'll be trading in our NextCruise coupons toward a cruise in 2010!!
PORTS: LABADEE: Better than I expected. Yes, it's a bit of a Disney-like, manufactured paradise. However, the natural beauty of the location still shines through. It's a relaxing first port with lovely beaches and nice places to walk. You don't need the shuttles, you can walk everywhere. Check out Dragon's Breath Point!
JAMAICA: For seven previous cruises, I intentionally avoided Ocho Rios. I'd heard frightening things about the port. Like Labadee, I was pleasantly surprised. We opted for Royal Caribbean's "Cruise to Dunns River Falls" and I recommend it highly. LOTS of excursions take passengers to climb the falls. But few take you back by boat (thus avoiding the high-pressure sales pitches on the way to the parking lot) and even fewer provide the fun party atmosphere we experience on the Baby Reggae. Rum punch and dancing were the order of the day on the return trip and everyone had a fabulous time!
Be sure to hit Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. It's a very short walk from the ship and hugely fun - even better than Carlos and Charlies!
GRAND CAYMAN: We'd booked the Buccaneer Sting Ray and Snorkeling excursion on-line, having done it previously and really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, weather conditions were awful the day we were in port and the excursion was canceled.
Here's your second chance to hit Margaritaville if you missed it in Jamaica. It's right across the street from the tender port.
COZUMEL: We considered the clear kayak excursion, offered both by ShoreTrips and Royal Caribbean. However, I discovered it was less expensive to book directly with the small resort, Playa Uvas. For only $45, we got beach chairs, an open bar, Mexican lunch, kayaking and use of the facility. We went snorkeling on our own, since we have our own gear. We had a staff member assigned to us who waited on us like royalty. (Thanks, Onassis!) It was a great day.
OVERALL: We prefer the smaller Voyager class. We often found ourselves annoyed the crowds. It gets old having people bump into you or pile into the elevator before you can exit on your floor.
If you are traveling with kids, they'll love Freedom. The H2O Zone is amazing and the FlowRider was a huge hit with the teens.
We got GREAT service from Hanson (room steward), Adrian (pool bar) and Olena (dining room). To be honest, we got GREAT service from EVERYONE, the folks mentioned just stood out. It's difficult returning to reality after a week on a Royal Caribbean ship. After being treated like royalty all week, it's hard to return to being just average!