This trip was planned to celebrate my Great Niece's 16th birthday. It blossomed into a cruise for 18. Included were ages 10 to 60, with every age group represented. My wife also uses a scooter for mobility issues so this adds another facet into this review.
The travel agent was contacted, reservations for the ship were made, 1-E1 handicapped, 2-E1 balconies, 1-Promenade and 1-4 person inside. The Pittsburgh contingent made flight reservations via Air Tran for non-stop to Ft. Lauderdale, the Charlotte crew to Miami. We had originally planned to take our own scooter on the planes and onboard ship but one-week prior our scooter had major maintenance issues (batteries) so we wound up renting a scooter to use on board. Painless process, the only downside is rental on a ship is separate from any ground rental. So if you are arriving early or staying late you need to make separate arrangements for a scooter/wheelchair.
The flight down was great, the wife, son and I were able to up-grade, for a fee, to business class. In our opinion worth the $70 each. We were met by SAS transportation and driven directly to the pier at Miami.
Porters took care of our luggage and we were off for check-in. Wife and I were taken to the head of the line, at this time she is in a wheelchair. We were escorted to a special lounge to await boarding via a wheelchair from the ship. Total time from arrival at the port to this stop was about 10 minutes. It is now 11:00 and the ship was not ready for us yet. At about 11:30 we were allowed to board. Up the elevator to the very gentle ramp onto deck 4 where we did the picture thing with the rest of the Pittsburgh contingent (we met up with them on deck) The wheelchair escort, from the ship, was going to take us up to the Windjammer, but we asked to go to the pool deck where we sat in at a pool side table until 1:30 when I went to our very spacious cabin and retrieved the scooter that was waiting there for her.
Now it was time to explore, what a ship! The Promenade is just breath-taking the shops and restaurants are amazing. I was to meet some of my CC M&M crowd at the Bull & Bear at 2:00. I managed to run into two, with their spouses. We met the rest throughout the evening and at the M&M Monday. We went to the cabin to meet Karen our stateroom attendant and get out orange sport coats for the Mustard drill as it was approaching 4:00. Sail away went without a hitch and we did a little more exploring before we unpacked and got ready for dinner and the Superbowl. While most of us had our Steeler attire on we hit the dining room to meet Chris and Lufty our waiter and assistant. After a quick, and I mean quick, first dinner, we joined the rest of the party in Studio B for the last 3 quarters of the game. They took the ice rink and covered it with flooring and set up a projection TV on the stage area for us. RCI sent hot dogs and other "munchies" for the game. My son even won "The best seats in the house" for the second half. It was two overstuffed leather lounge chairs that he shared with the youngest great niece. They did have plenty of libation available but not enough bottle openers, we made due. We all know the outcome of that game. GO STEELERS ! ! Now onto the first visit to the Connoisseur Club, Aka The Cigar Lounge, where we met Chan (pronounced Chun). This woman, in my as well as many others, opinion is the epitome of Gold Anchor Service. During the cruise many of us spent every one of the seven nights at the Lounge with Chan. You need to experience it.
Monday, sea day #1 breakfast at the WJ. Explore, shop, eat (an on-going problem) gamble, cigars, and pizza at Sorrento's. Their pizza is probably second only to '80s vintage Costa for taste. What very little they lacked in taste they more than made up for in variety of pizza as well as salads and light deserts. Again, impeccable service, My wife was so happy with the service at Seattle's Best she bought an espresso so she could add a tip. She stopped every day for a little nosh and or coffee, which she said, was fantastic.
Tuesday, Labadee, Haiti. This is the first of two tendered ports. My son and I went to the tender deck and were directed from the aft, almost to the bow to the end of the tender line. That being said, the line, once it started, moved very quickly. We had nothing planned so we visited beaches on both sides of the peninsula, the ocean side was very rocky with broken coral, but both beaches were very nice. There were hammocks all around for relaxing. The little market was nice. Yes, the natives hounded you but stopped as soon as you made a negative remark or gesture. We stayed about an hour and went back to play a little in the casino. This was our Great Niece's 16th birthday and we did cake in the Main Dining room to a serenade by the wait staff. Great Show in the Arcadia Theater.
Wednesday, Ochos Rios, Jamaica. The family went horseback riding on the Montego Bay side and had a blast. The wife and all got as far as the customs shed and were rained out. We went back to the fantastic ship for a game of cards. After dinner, an early cigar encounter with my new friends.
Thursday, Georgetown, Grand Cayman, NOT. The weather was too bad to tender so we had another day at sea. More of the same R&R. Nothing special just enjoying our family and the sea.
Friday, Cozumel, Mexico, Wife, son and I went on shore. We did some light shopping and son and I rented scooters for a whirlwind trip around the island. He got a flat. The Charlotte contingent went to the ruins on the "Vomit Comet" ferry. Other than the boat ride, they said it was a lot of fun. The evening show had the new cast performing in their debut as the old cast was leaving with us at the end of their contracts. GREAT JOB. More cigars.
Saturday, Sea day, what can I say the end is drawing near. We've spent a week on this wonderful ship with this fantastic crew. The final show was a magic/production show that was very good. The addition of the shipboard cast made the show though. The last night for cigars. I will truly miss the attentive service if Chan in the Connoisseur Club. I made it a point to not only write a personal note to Chan's supervisor but asked her to call him up to the club and had a very nice chat about my favorite RCI employee.
Sunday, THE LAST DAY. Debarkation. I like the new rules; we stayed in our cabins until around 9:30 when our color was called. Of course we left for our final WJ breakfast. We got all the crew and luggage together and proceeded to the Bolero lounge so wife could swap her rented scooter for a wheelchair to get through the port. We were escorted off the ship into the Port offices and collected our baggage. The Porter, with the help of the wife's wheelchair status got us through customs quickly where we met our transport service for the trip to Miami and Ft Lauderdale airports.
The flight home was uneventful, we didn't an upgrade this time but you can't be lucky all the time.
Opinion time: Freedom of the Seas is a wonderful ship with almost every imaginable thing on board. From rock walls, golf courses, surfing, dining and first run shows. Although this was only my fourth cruise, I missed some of the intimacy of a smaller, but not tiny like the old Costa Rivera. Don't get me wrong, Freedom and its sisters are great vessels and I'm planning another trip on Independence in December. The crew was is usual friendly self. Exceptions among them were, of course, Chan in the cigar lounge, Karen our cabin steward and EJ from the sports staff. EJ hosted the Superbowl party and being a diehard Arizona fan learned the lesson that the game is 60 minutes long not 59min 30sec. He always stopped to at least say hello and most time shake my hand in congratulations. Seas were a little rough but not bad. Yes I am disappointed we didn't stop in Grand Cayman because I REALLY wanted to do the stingray swim, but I'm much better off alive and intact to return to do it. Thanks Crew for keeping the passengers first.
Food was VERY good. We didn't do Chops or Portifino, I don't know why it just didn't "trip our trigger". Johnny Rocket's is OK, I'm glad I had a C&A coupon though. Windjammer is Windjammer, Jade is a nice addition but nothing to write home about. Service in the Main dining room could have been better, our assistant waiter had priority problems, do I do butter, water, rolls? The headwaiter, Eric was a joy we saw him many times each evening. We NEVER saw a maitre' de. We were very impressed with the backstage tour from the technical aspect and performers view as well.
The kids did not participate in any of the Adventure Ocean programs, as they are all very comfortable with us old folks and we with them. Had a grand time playing games and just being around them.
Again, great ship, I can't wait until December to experience Independence of the Seas.