We arrived Saturday night in Ft Lauderdale and stayed at the Hyatt Place near the airport. We took SAS transportation from Ft Lauderdale to the Port of Miami on Sunday morning. The driver was right on time and we arrived at the Port about 11:15. The porters met our van, handed us luggage tags and whisked our luggage away..no lines no waiting. We then went into the pier again no lines no waiting and were onboard within 20 minutes. We had two inside staterooms Cat N for the 4 kids across the hall from our D2 balcony on Deck 6 forward. Next cruise we will try and book aft as we spent most of our time in the back of the boat.
As we had sailed the Voyager class ships three times we knew our way around pretty well. After eating we went to check out the sports deck/ pool area. The H2O zone is amazing..much bigger than the pictures that we had seen made it look. As we are from Houston, we thought it was pretty chilly in the water although the air temps in Miami were near 80. We found the pool water all week to be really cold and the kids only spent time in the hot tubs, not the pools after the first day. There were some kids in the H2O zone all week but not many adults in the pools...especially on the sea days which were really windy. Anyway, awesome pool area that we can't wait to use more of in the summer months when it is warmer out.
The flowrider is incredible and my teen boys spent most of their time out there. They took private lessons twice and almost had the hang of surfing by the end of the week. It is a great places for teens to meet each other...and it was fun for us to watch. What an amazing view from the top of the bleacher seats out over the ocean! We spent a lot of time playing ping pong, playing mini golf, watching dodge ball etc on the sports deck.
We choose My Time Dining which worked out great for us. The first few nights we made reservations but found that we got more relaxed as the week went on and would just arrive when we were ready. We never waited more than 5 minutes for a table for six and had the same wait staff 6 of the 7 nights. We loved this option and will definitely use My Time Dining in the future.
The entertainment onboard was plentiful and very good. We enjoyed the ice show, the two main dance/ singing shows (although we thought Once Upon a Time was much better than Marquee). The boys did not enjoy the dancing and singing but sat through it. The balancing act Fulcrum was amazing. The comedians hilarious and the ventriloquist was the best entertainment we have ever had at sea. We usually watch Karaoke with the kids after the shows but they have Karaoke in the On Air area which is the little room to the right of the ice rink. It was always packed with guests and there were usually guests sitting on the floors so we did not do this at all...a bigger venue is definitely needed. Not sure why they don't use Pharoah's lounge for this?
We found the food to be really good. Breakfast is the same as always. Plenty of choices and always hot with the omelets made to order as well. Lunch at the Windjammer or at Cafe Promenade or at Sorrento's...so many choices and only 7 days! Dinner in the dining room was still very good. The menu seemed to be the same or very similar to the Adventure last July. We found the prime rib and New York strip to be very good, the sea food to be good and the pasta just fair. There was so much to choose from many nights we ordered two appetizers. Our wait staff was awesome in My Time Dining. We received just as much attention as we would have with a set seating. They new our names and drink preferences after the first night.
We had visited all of the ports of call before and were looking forward to some relaxing beach time. We tendered in Labadee and that was a breeze both on the way there and on the way back. We went to the beach under the zip line (bring some cash to tip the gentleman who helps you find chairs). The beach was too rocky for the kids to skim board (they brought them onboard with them) so they ended up just playing in the water/ sand. Lunch here is just ok in our opinion so we just ate a little and then stopped by Sorrentos on the way to our room afterwards. Weather was sunny and about 80..beautiful day. The beach didn't feel overwhelmingly crowded but it was obvious to us that there are more people on the Freedom than the Adventure or Mariner. Not sure how all of the guests from the Oasis are going to find space but I am sure RCCL has a plan. The kids did the Water Park and enjoyed it.
In Ocho Rios we had arranged for Marva Shaw at knowjamaica.com to drive us back and forth to Reggae Beach. The Beach was deserted and absolutely breath taking. There was a $5 per person entry fee and limited facilities but if you aren't too fussy it was the perfect day. The kids were able to skim board on the gorgeous beach and we relaxed on chairs.
In Cayman we took a taxi to Sea Grape Beach on 7 mile beach. We just threw our towels down and enjoyed about 2 hours on the beach..sunny and low 80's again. Made it back to the boat in time for a late lunch and surfing on the flow rider. Again the tender there and back was a breeze no wait at all even an hour before the last tender back.
In Cozumel we had made arrangements to go to Nachi Cocum which we have been to before. It was great but the weather was cool and rainy so not as nice as it could have been. the pool was cold as was the ocean so we spent our time under the umbrellas. The kids enjoyed digging and all you can drink virgin drinks and we enjoyed the adult drinks and a delicious Mexican lunch. We did our shopping in Cozumel near the pier on the way back to the ship.
Our sea days were very windy with rain and sun depending on the moment. We never had a problem finding a chair and the deck patrol was in full force (at least near the pool) enforcing the no saving chairs policy. They were marking abandoned chairs and removing towels if they exceeded the 30 minutes. The rain every few hours helped clear the chairs out a bit too so that may have helped.
We are runners so we were up on deck 12 near 8 am every morning to jog our 4 miles. We found the running track to be less crowded than on the Voyager Class ships. It was also nice that 4.5 times around was a mile. Tough to run on the sea days with the wind but the other days it was perfect. There was some second hand smoke as the smoking areas are around the balcony on this deck but not too bad. We wish Royal Caribbean would have a jogging track off the beaten path (like Disney) so you don't have to get up early to run. We found staying up until 1 am with our teens and then being up on the deck by 8 to jog before guests needed the chairs wore us out. Not much sleep on this cruise :)
Our staterooms were perfect..the D2 has so much room we had empty drawers. As the four kids had two rooms they also had more space than they needed. The last night sailing back to Miami was very windy so the partition between our balcony and the stateroom next door was rattling all night as well as the wind howling...this is the first time we had noticed this with a balcony room and we aren't sure if it was just due to the weather? It made for a very sleepless night :)
The kids had a great time and have found a new favorite ship. Our 9 and 12 year old boys did not venture into Adventure Ocean at all even though there were 900 kids onboard (Spring Break). They have tried Adventure Ocean before and found it more like babysitting so instead we all hung out together. I think with warmer water in the pool they will spend more time there next cruise. We had a lot of time together as a family but also time alone when needed. Our 14 year old daughter met several friends in the teen club the first or second night and spent the rest of the cruise with them. Our 17 year old son actually met a good friend hanging out outside the teen club. He did not really want to venture inside and I guess neither did the teen he met. They spent most of their time on the Sports Deck with other teens. So, even though the kids did not really utilize the kids programming there are lots of places for them to meet other kids their ages and so many things for them to do. We did purchase the soda cards for all and definitely got our money's worth. The younger two boys also enjoyed the arcade in the evening when there were adults only activities that we wanted to enjoy.
Debarkation was a breeze. We decided not to book the 11:30 flight out of Ft Lauderdale as after researching the boards we were afraid we would not make it. Instead we flew out of Palm Beach at 2:00. Turns out we would have been fine with an 11:30 flight. We left our staterooms at 7:40 for breakfast, were down to pick up our luggage by 8:15 and cleared customs by 8:30. No lines and only 15 minutes waiting for our luggage to come around the belt. We did tie some orange cloth around our luggage to make it easier to find but the debarkation here was MUCH better than either Mariner or Adventure. We had rented a van at the airport and driven to West Palm Beach (an hour from Miami) by 11:30.
We would highly recommend the Freedom Class ships to everyone and especially families. As adults we could sail on any ship and be happy as all we really need is the ocean and a good book but for us to enjoy ourselves it helps to have the kids busy. There is definitely enough to keep the kids busy on these ships. We have another cruise on the Freedom booked for July and can't wait to try the Oasis after that!