I. Background Information.
We are a couple in our mid-30's to early 40's from New Orleans, Louisiana, and this Freedom of the Seas cruise we completed on September 6, 2009, marks our 9th cruise overall, though it is our first time on Freedom of the Seas. We drove our vehicle from New Orleans, Louisiana to Port Canaveral, Florida.
II. Motel Information.
We always keep a low budget on motel costs, as we're only there for 1 night and are hardly even there in our motel room, so this time we chose to stay at the Days Inn located in Cocoa Beach, Florida which is a short 10 - 15 minute drive to your Port Canaveral pier. We averted paying the costs of having to park at the port, since Days Inn provides a free parking lot to park our vehicle there for 7 days without charge -- AS LONG AS YOU ARE A GUEST STAYING AT THE DAYS INN. The motel maintains a contract with an outside vendor named Travelynx which conveniently picked us up at the the Front Desk of the motel at either 1030 AM or 1130 AM to take us to the ship. The way it works is you pay $4 per person, one-way. We purchased a round-trip shuttle voucher and the shuttle was efficient and on-time and I am pleased to recommend the shuttle and the motel we stayed at as well, as long as you're okay with a budget-type motel. The motel is equipped with a good-sized refrigerator & microwave and is only blocks from the beach. I'm satisfied enough with the motel, the free parking they offer for a week, and the shuttle service they provide, all enough to the point whereby I will definitely stay there again, and utilize those services offered. They also offer a free continental breakfast. With the free parking they offer, it sure beats having to pay the $105 dollar weekly rate that Port Canaveral charges if you decide to park there instead.
III. Ship Information.
Freedom of the Seas is now a little over 3 years old as of August 2009; still a young ship. The passenger capacity is 3,634 passengers, (double occupancy). It has 16 decks with the wedding chapel at the top 16th deck. The length is 1,112 ft and has a gross tonnage of 160,000 tons the heaviest & largest of any passenger cruiseship on the high seas today, (until Oasis of the Seas debuts in December 2009). Some of the highlighting features that this ship has that so many OTHER cruise ships do NOT have, (amongst the other cruiselines), are:
1.) Cantilevered whirlpools, (hot tubs extending outward, hanging over beyond the ship's edge to provide for awesome views of the seas)
2.) Ice skating rink -- with professional performance shows and skating at your leisure
3.) Parade shows put on inside the Royal Promenade along with ascending/descending platforms during the parades
4.) Real-time Water Surfing Simulator -- known as the Flowrider
5.) Rock Wall -- for your climbing pleasure
6.) H20 -- Mini-Water Park, excellent for kids aged 2 - 6.
7.) 3 swimming pools (most other ships only have 2).
8.) A 50's-style diner -- known as "Johnny Rockets" -- cover charge applies
9.) And finally....everybody's favorite...A Ben n' Jerry's ice cream shop.
10.) A boxing ring (what a waste!!)
While I can spend time pouring through many other features the ship has onboard, these OTHER features that it DOES have are comparable to what many OTHER ships have as well. So, I'm only listing the things above that make this ship truly unique and special, which many other cruise ships at sea do NOT have. (Exceptions noted -- Other Freedom-class clones, by RCCL and to some limited extent, Voyager-class ships by RCCL).
With this being my 9th cruise, I can say without a doubt that this is *NOT* a sleepy ship. First of all, 2 of the 3 pools are open 24-hours a day!! Wow-wee-WoW!!! All other ships I've been on, there's a rope circling around the pool indicating the pools are CLOSED on other cruise ships shortly after nightfall. Not here! Even one of the 2 cantilevered whirlpools is open 24 hours per day and so, too, is the adult solarium pool.
Activities are planned all the way up thru 1 AM each night that I saw, with bar music and live entertainment in the pubs and bars going past 1 AM. I'm sure there were a goodly many activities planned during the daytime onboard the ship, but this particular sailing was very port intensive with 4 ports of call on a 7 day cruise, that I was typically off the ship very often participating in tour (shore) excursions, that I was not available to view the activities. I'm sure there was Bingo onboard like all cruise ships, and I even remember there being trivia games. There was a movie trivia game I remember walking by, whereby the Bourne Supremacy was being played, and then there'd be some questions about the movie and you had to score the most points of being correct. So there's plenty of trivia and bingo onboard and the usual casino. This casino impressed me as being MUCH BIGGER than many other casinos that I've seen on other cruise ships. So for you gamblers....!!!
I participated in 2 shows while onboard. The first was the Battle of the Sexes Game Show, in which the men won...finally!! Yay!! The 2nd show I participated in was the Quest, a whacky, outrageous adult game show held in Studio B, and this show was packed to the hilt with spectators! This show is a favorite of mine and I'm sure not to miss it or to miss out on taking part of the show. I was a co-captain of my team. The Quest show was held on the 2nd to last day of the cruise, the night when we were at Cozumel, Mexico. The show is set-up much differently than on many other ships I've been on. Here, the audience makes up the teams, and 2 captains are picked to represent each audience section. The captains are picked by whoever volunteers to come down to the floor first; no voting.
I could have seen/participated in even more activities than I did, I'm sure, but I was just wayyyyy too busy chit-chatting and gabbing with many other folks on the ship, at various times of the day and night, engaged in numerous conversations, and for that, I even missed a nighttime theatre show in the Arcadia Theatre.
The Royal Promenade on this ship is constructed far different than many other promenades on other cruise ships at sea I've been on. I seen pictures before boarding the ship, so I knew about this unique construction. I like to think of it as being conducive for visiting and gabbing with other people since it's a narrow corridor and there are eateries on either side of it, e.g. -- Cafe Promenade and Sorrento's Pizza Eatery, both open late...24 hours and til 3 AM, respectively. I found out about the closing time at Sorrento's as I, along with the company whom I was chatting with, were booted out at 3 AM. I'm a very energetic, outgoing person and it made all the difference in enjoying this cruise!
Service, OVERALL, was generally decent to very good. Typically on other cruises I've been on in the past, I've had issues with the dining room wait staff, but this dining room wait staff was far superior than many other cruises I've been on. The only fly in the ointment, or bump in the road, was with the room stewardess. It was minor and not a big deal, but she'd just leave water spot stains on the mirror in the bathroom, without cleaning them up on some days; she just wasn't that attentive to detail. In other areas, out of all the service in the dining rooms, Windjammer, and everywhere else, I can't recall of any other flaw or eye soar that stands out though. Overall it was a job well-done and am pleased for the most part with the service on the ship. The shore excursions desk was also helpful in clarifying what the tours would be like and even put in their own "spin" & take on what to suggest in the tours department. The manager even steered me clear of one tour operator who they had been receiving complaints from, so that was a relief.
You'd think that waiting at the Guest Services/Relations desk, (Purser's Desk), that there'd be a really long line all the time with a nearly sold-out cruise of over 3,600 people, but I didn't really have that problem. Sure there was a wait, but typically no longer than about 10 minutes at most during the most crowded time. The shore excursion desk was a different story, though. Waits there exceeded 15 minutes, as, too, they did on the flowrider/surfing simulator. ***Tip: You can have the Guest Relations desk order your tours and give you tour tickets on the spot without having to wait for the shore excursion desk to become available. Also, you can order your tickets using your in-room TV or by using the internet before boarding the ship.
VI. Dining on the ship.
*** Breakfast ***
We usually ate morning breakfast in the Windjammer as we had tours in the morning, and had no time to be waited on in the main formal dining rooms. Breakfast on board the ship had an extensive choice of items to choose from. It was a GREAT choice to choose from. They EVEN HAD GRITS!!! I *LOVE* grits, and surprisingly, with it being a regional staple of food, it was onboard this ship. Waffles, pancakes, blueberry pancakes, french toast, scrambled eggs, potatoes, hash browns, lots of fresh fruits, pastries, doughnuts, cereal, muffins, apple and orange juices, and the list goes on and on of numerous items to choose from. I had no complaints about the quality of the breakfast in the Windjammer. The only problem as it's been on my other 9 cruises is there is NO WHERE to sit!! Gosh-lee! Finding a table during breakfast in the Windjammer was competitive and difficult. It was always a mad house during breakfast when I was in the Windjammer. However, to be honest for comparison, it's ALWAYS hard to find a table during breakfast on the other 9 cruises I've been on, so this cruise was no different in that category of "finding a table" at the breakfast buffet.
*** Lunch ***
I seldom ever ate lunch on the ship. I usually stock up big like a camel with a big breakfast and then afterwards, a big dinner. Twice I had lunch, on the ship and it was during sea days ONLY, the first and last sea day. Take note that the lunch menu does not change. This is fine with me as I really enjoyed the Singapore noodles AND the Morrocan Pita. I had 2 orders of each, totalling 4 entrees! The chicken fingers were just plain AWFUL!! They were very hard and stiff; very chewy and had a split of lemon put on them; just terrible!
*** Dinner ***
Okay, this is the one area that I'm really going to hem and haw over with MUCH DISAPPOINTMENT! The food choices in the main formal dining room (Issac's Dining Room on Deck 4, Aft), were about the MOST LIMITED, MOST RESTRICTED choices that I've EVER seen on a cruise ship, and recall I've been on 8 cruises before this so I've got something to compare with. The quality of the meat was POOR. Steaks were HARD and CHEWY. (Weatherguy, did you order the steaks as well-done??) No! I did not. I ordered them as medium-rare. They were still tough and chewy and hard. Royal Caribbean does *NOT* do a good job with steaks, so steer clear from the steaks unless you like them hard, tough, and chewy. I ordered the top sirloin one night and the New York Strip another night; both were bad. I seem to recall chicken was served 2 nights in a row, on the featured entree, (repetitive).
Several of the dinners I've had in the main formal dining room were typically below-average quality. Royal Caribbean is obviously slipping-up in its food. I've had better food on Princess and Holland America cruise line.
Desserts on Freedom of the Seas, after dinner were even WORSE in the main formal dining room at nighttime. The choices again were very limited, and there were 2 nights in a row, that I just did *NOT* order dessert at all, because nothing interested me on the menu of desserts! I have NEVER skipped desserts on other cruises that I've been on -- NEVER! But this was the first time that I ever skipped dessert; the choices were that un-interesting, and when I did order dessert the quality of the desserts were bad. I do recall one dessert, a cheesecake, that was decent and acceptable though. The desserts at LUNCH were okay too --the Strawberry Napoleon and the Apple Streusel-- but at dinnertime, it was generally not good on most nights. (Why do you suppose that's so, weatherguy?) On a ship that has 3,000 to 4,000 passsengers, the food is mass-produced in very large quantities. You take a hit in QUALITY when there are large QUANTITIES served. Besides the tirimisu that was served had a jello-like filling in it and was terrible. (Why a jello-like filling?) All cruise lines want to save a buck, so they don't want to use high-cost ingredients like the REAL heavy whipping cream they're supposed to use, so instead, they pick cheap alternative ingredients and so the result is low-quality desserts. It's the truth. The proof is in the taste.
Now, take our dinnermates. They had a whole different take on the food. One couple thought, especially the man, that the dinner food was the best they've had in a long time. Whew!! Whew!! I don't know what they've been accustomed to eating at home, but it must be dog chow. The topic of "Food Quality" is such a subjective topic onboard the ship, that each person is going to have a different take on it. I was really disappointed in the dinner time food in the main formal dining room, & ESPECIALLY WITH THE DESSERTS. The Florida lobster and shrimp were okay mainly because the shrimp had garlic on it, and who doesn't like garlic, right?
We had an inside stateroom. It was adequate just like most of my inside staterooms have been in the past. This time, there seemed to be more space than there usually is in comparison with a few other ships I've been on, even in light of the fact that my stateroom is only 152 square feet. Still, it accomodated us both, comfortably. For "newbies" ~ just don't go bringing your entire wardrobe from home and expecting it to fit inside your stateroom; it's just not going to happen. Smart cruisers know how much to bring and also know how much is too much. The hair dryer was problematic in finding it. It's hidden in an inconspicuous, very shallow top drawer next to the chair that slides into the desk. Thao finally found it and used it, but it's not in the bathroom where it should be, and it's unmovable, too.
Climate control was fine inside our stateroom, never too warm or too cold. The shower pressure was quite strong in our cabin. On the other hand the water in the sink seemed like it was just a tad stronger than a dribble, having to wait quite a while for the cold water to get hot and vice-versa. We never had any problems with the toilet flushing; which is better than some other cruises we'd been on in the past.
Mirrors -- There's mirrors everywhere, sometimes designed that way to make the stateroom feel larger than it actually is. The beds were soft and not firm, with what seemingly felt like one of those soft egg crate-cartons under the sheets.
Entertainment is such a broad subject to discuss. If it's sports entertainment you're looking for, you're in for a FINE treat!! There's the surf simulator, Flowrider, outside on the top deck in the aft of the ship, and then there's basketball, vollyeball, mini-golf, rock-climbing, ice skating, boxing ring, and plenty of treadmills and other weight-lifting gym equipment as well. I believe there may have been some soccer too up on top decks. There's scheduled competitive games too atop the sports decks where you can compete with your fellow cruisers.
Evening or nighttime entertainment inside the Arcadia theatre at the forward/bow of the ship was typical of most other cruises I'd been on -- nothing special. In some ways this was a let-down, as I really had high hopes that this ship would offer the very best shows imaginable with what I imagined having the biggest stage on the high seas. I've actually seen better production shows on the Princess cruise line, and I was not impressed with the production shows on this sailing of Freedom of the Seas. It was just an "average" production show. That's too bad. It could have been so much better, especially considering this is Freedom of the Seas, which I think should live up to a higher level of expectation -- (considering the expensive cruise rate costs!)
It was finally a delight to see some comedy shows return to the high seas on Freedom of the Seas. For months or even years I had been yearning for comedy shows on the other cruiselines. Here on Freedom of the Seas, there was comedy and lots of it!! So, if you're a comedy fan, they'll have some comedy shows lined up for you in the Arcadia Theatre, even a late-night comedy on one of the first couple days at sea. Comedian Miguel Washington was superb and much better than some other comedians I've seen on other ships. He's quite a dynamic individual! I was speaking with him for about 20 minutes at the guest services counter and he was explaining to me that he has some contracts on the Oasis of the Seas, even the pre-maiden public passenger voyage, too.
Overall, considering all the bells and whistles that Freedom of the Seas has to offer as I outlined in Roman Numeral 3 above under Ship Information, this all contributes to a part of the entertainment, in such a way, that I have to say that this brings up the overall score in the entertainment category even in spite of the lack-luster qualities of the production shows, which deducts points in the score. So in many other facets, the score remains high.
There were plenty of places to enjoy live entertainment music, from the Olive and Twist Lounge all the way over to the Crypt, so there's no shortages there of live entertainment -- just as on other cruise ships.
One of the most outstanding qualities that I thought this ship stood out was in the Royal Promenade parades. I'd seen the one on the first night after boarding the ship. It was late at night around 11 PM, but I was there for it. They had more than just a parade; there were ascending/descending platforms along some bridges, near deck 6, above the ground deck 5 of the Royal Promenade that enhanced the parade experience, with even a Swedish couple performing their acrobat stunts, suspended by cables in the air. You've never seen anything like this in a ship's promenade area!! This was worth some Kodak picture moments!
Another outstanding feature on this ship is the professional ice skating shows that were put on by the ice skating performers. It was almost a 1 hour show; about 50 minutes. Only a small number of cruise ships on the seas have an ice skating rink onboard.
And finally the flowrider was another really inviting & challenging activity to do; I surfed it twice, standing up and belly boarding; you may know it as being boogie boarding. I climbed the rock wall once between rain showers. The ropes have to be dry in order for the cable pully to catch you, when you let go of the wall.
IX. Children's Clubs.
I'll only write a short blurb on this topic. I don't have any children myself, but I did chit-chat with a number of folks that do have kids. Adventure Ocean is the name of the children's club. From what others had told me, there is no fee for the kids to participate in this club. There's clubs of all ages that can be enrolled. The only time you pay a fee for this club is if you don't pick up the kids during the times of breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or if you keep them late, after hours, then there's a fee as well. It's more than just a baby-sitting service. They even have the younger kids put on shows for the adults in the Royal Promenade and in the dining room. I did speak to some teenagers and smaller kids, and there wasn't one that said they didn't like it. This meaning, they all loved the program. So there. That's some more good news!
I'd like to attach this addendum to children's activities, by imparting a few more words here about the onboard water park. The H20 zone is basically a water park for kids and it's onboard this ship at the top of the pool decks. Even though I don't have kids of my own, this H20 zone impresses me as a playground for kids, targeting what I'd estimate in the age 2 - age 7 bracket. No other ship has this water park except Freedom-class clones, the Liberty of the Seas in Miami and the Independence of the Seas.
X. Tour Excursions.
This was a GREAT highlight of the cruise. My girl and I did a number of tour excursions for all stops made. She likes thrilling tour excursions.
*** In Labadee, Haiti ~
I am really proud of the way that RCCL has constructed their own private location set-up as well as they do in Labadee. They even offer a FREE Bar-B-Q in a covered area once you get off the ship and veer to the right after a short walk in Labadee. Royal Caribbean cruise line has their own water park with inflatables for kids to climb in the water, (a fee to do this). Then there's a zip line on the other side that connects the hill to the beach, (a fee to do this, too). The slope is real, real gradual, so there doesn't appear to be any sudden drops there. There's hammocks in the shade, which I used -- really relaxing!! Lounge chairs are littered all over the place for people to lay in and take a nap.
The tour we did in Labadee was on the high-speed jet skis. You may also know them as wave runners or jet runners. Since the waves were relatively smooth compared with another time that I did it in the past, it allowed me to rev-up the jet ski to its maximum speed. For those of you not well-versed with the water, and don't know how to swim, everyone *IS* required to WEAR life belts at all times, no matter how strong a swimmer you are or if you can't swim. My girl doesn't know how to swim, yet she was with me on the jet ski and we both went in to the water and she was fine because of the life belt. So even non-swimmers can do this, too! I had a person ask me about this, so this is why I'm sharing this with you. They did a great job separating the slow-pokes from the front-runners, which I eventually became a front-runner. They have you go in a single-file line, and those who are slow get bounced into the back of the line so that the fast ones can speed-up. There was a gal in our group that got liquored-up and a beer bottle already in her hand, having drunk quite a bit already. You are instructed NOT to have any alcoholic beverages before participating with a motorized sports craft. Heed the rules. She got plucked off of her jet ski for wreckless driving. I'm not going to get in to this any more than that. Her behavior did not affect me or my girl as we both very much enjoyed this tour and got a couple of GREAT pictures as well from this on our jet ski together. Yes, there are 2-seaters. There is a ship's photographer there at the pier to take your photo while you're on the jet ski. I didn't bring my camera as it's not waterproof, so I relied on the ship's photographer to take our photo. ***Tip -- It's best to operate jet skis REALLY FAST when the water is smooth. The choppier the waves get the harder it is to steer and keep the jet ski straight, PLUS you have to go slower in rough waves. Fortunately for us, it was a calm day on the water, so I was able to goose-it and hot-rod it pretty good!! I recommend this tour very much, particularly in calm to light waves. I only used a jet ski one time before this and it was in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico when the waves were considerably bigger and harder to steer the jet ski.
*** In Ocho Rios, Jamaica ~
Here Thao and I chose to do the Inner Tubing on the White River, only it was the one tour that did *NOT* take you to the beach. It was the tour whose name that started with Channakab River Tubing, I believe.
We spent a goodly amount of time on the White River, occasionally encountering some white water rapids from time to time. This made for some really FANTASTIC photos. The photographer even got a photo of me coming OUT of the inner tube when I went down some white water rapids! I have the pictures of it on a C.D. The scenery was relaxing and beautiful. Many times we held arms together as a group, but there are times when we break up and wind our way down the river as soloists, too, especially when encountering the white water. I'd say it's mostly class 1 rapids with occasional class 2-3 rapids for brief, short bursts of no more than about 2 to 4 seconds, but that's what made it fun and entertaining. There is a photographer (not from the ship) who does take photos for you, so if you're skeptical about bringing your digital camera for fear that it may be ruined by the water, as I was, then just purchase from the photographer as I did. I believe it was 8 photos for $25, which is the package I purchased. I recommend this tour very much.
*** In Grand Cayman ~
This was the only tour that I had which was a dud. It was the Cayman Pirate Encounter, I believe the name was. It was supposed to be a show of a mock attack between ships, and this was not the case. It did not live up to its name. The one positive thing I got out of this tour was it circled our Freedom of the Seas cruise ship, and I got very nice UN-obstructed photos of each side of the ship, and oblique angles from the aft/stern side of the ship. Most of the time when you take ship photos it's obstructed because of the pier or tenders or island beach scenery, but since I took this "pirate" ship and it came close and went completely around our ship, I got some fabulous shots of the ship, with no people in front of the ship, no docks in front of the ship; nothing but water. There was fruit punch and rum punch served on this tour -- unlimited amounts, too. They say in the tour guide that this was geared towards kids, as they had the kids listen and interact with the captain of the pirate boat, and they scrubbed the deck, and walked the plank as well. I expected the boat to be bigger and more heavily equipped with armor than it was. This was a disappointment. I do *NOT* recommend this tour.
*** In Cozumel, Mexico ~
Here, Thao and I chose the tour which was entitled Speed Boat and beach. All's I recall was it had the words, "SPEED BOAT", in the name of the tour, and there was only one tour that had the words speed boat in the title. These were fiberglass speed boats; not inflatables.
This was an AWESOME experience and GREAT tour. Thao told me she thought it was the very best tour she's had in the Caribbean, as she enjoyed Barracuda Beach so much. The waters were something to marvel at, too. Again, for a 3rd time I did not bring my digital camera for fear of water damage, so I purchased another photo of the 2 of us in the speed boat, and I'm telling you, this water we were in was "outta sight!!!" It was an unbelievable fluorescent turquoise color that our speed boat was in when the picture was taken.
I was again sure to be the front-runner in this particular tour. We got a LOT of time on the speed boat!! A LOT!!! We weaved in and out of the waves, zig-zagging, basically hot-dogging it! Again, life vests were required to be worn the entire time. NO ONE fell out or flipped. I think we had about 30 - 45 minutes of time at Barracuda Beach. The water was super clear, and I felt like those ugly motors from our speed boat shouldn't even be in this crystal clear water. As we came back after speeding around some more after the beach, we were introduced to a Mexican buffet lunch which served chicken fajitas, cheese quesadillas, and nachos with cheese, and liquidy re-fried beans. Sodas were free too, and you had a chance to rinse yourself off from the sand and salt in a fresh water pool next to the buffet, or by using the shower stalls. Restrooms were conveniently located nearby as well. I highly recommend this tour, as it was a very entertaining experience!
Disembarking went smoothly. I signed up for the purple luggage tags, to be the last ones off the ship, so I could sleep in some more. The last persons to be off the ship were scheduled to be off at 930 AM. They ran ahead of time on this; about 15 to 20 minutes ahead of time, and made a final call for everyone to be off the ship at 915 AM. That's outstanding considering our ship was just about sold-out, and this ship has the highest number of passengers on it than any other ship, (until your Oasis of the Seas debuts in Dec. 2009).
We found our luggage quickly, and then we were picked up by the shuttle vendor Travelynx with only a small wait. This port was very efficient at boarding and de-boarding -- much better than some other ports I've used.
....And now it's time for the closing summary, if you've made it this far. (Are your eyes hurting yet?)
It is true that this ship has many more features and sports entertainment than virtually all the other ships at sea, to this date of September 2009. That's what distinguishes this ship from all the rest, and that's what makes this ship stand head and shoulders above all the rest. There's so much MORE to DO onboard. (See roman numeral 3 above; "ship's information" as a re-cap). I believe this ship is best targeted & suited for young couples and young families because of the many more sports activities onboard this ship.
I chose this cruise for the cruiseship experience, as I've already been to the ports of call.
While it is true that you will pay about $100 to $300 more (for inside cabins) to go on this ship, than other cruise ships, it's because of the extra bells and whistles that the ship boasts that you can't get on many of the other ships on the high seas. The brand new Oasis of the Seas debuting in December 2009, will have even more to offer than this ship.
(So will you go on this cruise ship again, weatherguy?) Given the current 7-day itinerary, then I say no. If it had a more creative, longer itinerary, then I might go on it again, but the price will have to be lower. Ideally, you'd want to take this ship on a Trans-Atlantic cruise when you are stuck at sea for so many days, then this ship has lots of things packed onboard to do while at sea.
Even though I mention a couple rough areas that I disliked on the ship such as the quality of the dinner food and desserts, and the mediocre production shows, I am STILL pleased to recommend this ship OVERALL to folks who'd like to experience the many bells and whistles this ship has to offer, especially to young couples and young families who have children and teenagers. This ship suits this particular demographic very well, I believe.