Freedom of the Seas Western Caribbean Itinerary September 13, 2009
Our first sailing on Freedom class! This was a nice vacation break for DH and I. It's been a tough year. We both lost our jobs and we are now spending little time together. So this was a great getaway and chance for him to relax.
I booked an oceanview, hoping to see the traditional "hurricane season" price drops. But there were none! So we were happy to have our oceanview at a relatively reasonable price.
We left home at around 11:30 a.m. and were at the Port before 12 noon. Surprisingly, the drop off line at the port was very short! We basically drove right up to the porters where Geoff dropped our four checked bags. I went over to the line for security while he parked the car. We were in line for security by 12:10. Security took several minutes, and when we arrived upstairs at the cruise check in there was quite a long line. Unlike Mariner, Monarch or Sovereign, they have two separate check-in lines - one for the lower decks and one for the upper decks. I told the lady at the line that we were Platinum and we were brought right to the front of the priority check-in line. It took just a very few minutes to check in and then we were on our way to the ship! The only real log-jam was waiting to have our pictures taken for security. They have four different cameras in two locations (one fore, one aft) and it took quite a while to get through the line there - maybe 10 minutes. There are new cameras on top of the “bing bong” box so you no longer have to look down to have your picture taken. We were on board by 12:40 and immediately went to Guest Services to see about an upgrade from our deck 3 OV, but the ship is sold out! We had our first meal in Windjammer and it was relatively busy - but not as congested as on Mariner. We waited until 1 pm to get in to our cabin then dropped off our carry-ons. Our luggage arrived before 3 pm. Prior to sailing I ordered a bottle of red wine and sparkling wine for delivery to the room on sailing day and both were here when we arrived at the ship. The sparkling wine was in the mini bar - not in an ice bucket. Also no ice in the ice bucket on the desk. Wine glasses and a corkscrew were provided.
Muster Drill was quick and easy, and much more comfortable since we didn’t wear our life vests. After the drill we waited on deck for a very few minutes and then were off - by 4:30.
We had My Time Dining, and were assigned to deck 5. That first evening we were seated with three other couples. This surprised me because I hadn’t read that you were seated with others at MTD. But the company was good and were in and out in about 1:15. That first night I had Caesar salad, grilled chicken and dessert. After dinner we went to the “Welcome Aboard” show, but we were quite late so only caught about 10 minutes of the comedian. After the show we went to the Viking Crown Lounge and had our first evening drink of the vacation.
Day two was at sea. The weather wasn’t terrific for those wanting to sunbathe. It was hot but very cloudy and windy. The Meet & Mingle was held at 10:30 in the Olive and Twist on deck, 14. I won a door price (woo hoo!) and we met a few people I had conversed with on Cruise Critic. We wandered around the ship that day and, I spent some time in the casino. We also worked out in the fitness center and I checked out the art auction. We had breakfast in the dining room that day. For dinner that evening we asked to be seated on our own, as it was formal night and we were trying to finish dinner in time for the Captain’s Welcome Aboard reception
A note about dress. Of the people I saw, the vast majority of women were in cocktail length dresses, with very few in full-length gowns. There were a lot of men in tuxedos or dark suits, a group in kilts (they looked fantastic), and more than a few who were wearing crappy jeans (i.e., not nice, not new jeans) and tee-shirts or golf shirts. In every instance their female partners were dressed FAR better than the men!
Day 3 was Labadee, Haiti. After working out and having breakfast we headed down to the tender station but the line ups were HUGE. So we went up to the solarium and spent a couple of hours up there. It was very hot and sunny, and the pool was just the right temperature. Cold enough that you didn’t want to just casually get in the water, but it was really refreshing and wonderful once you got wet.
Pool Towels: You have to sign out pool towels and return them, or you will be charged $20 per towel. This seems to be a FANTASTIC solution to the chair hog issue. We hit the Solarium at about 10 am and there were ZERO towels holding chairs. Just a brilliant solution to that problem! I met the wife of the headline entertainer and we talked a bit while I learned about the life of the headliner entertainers when they are on board the ship.
By around 12:15 I had definitely had enough sun, so we changed clothes and went to the dining room for lunch. I had a steak sandwich and this lemon boule (??) for dessert. The dessert was absolutely excellent. A real “yummy yummy” as the waiters like to say.
That afternoon I went over to Labadee to check things out. As I went over so late in the day (about 1:30 pm), there was just myself and one of the Activities staff on the tender. That was fun. I checked out the straw market and watched the zip liners.
For dinner we ate in the dining room again, and were seated at a table for eight. Dinner that night was Italian and I rarely find much of interest to me that night. I had a couple of the small rolls and a caesar salad, but something in those rolls didn’t agree with me (I’ve been off carbs for a few months), so when my Chicken Marsala appeared I could barely eat about 5 bites. It seemed to be good … but the combination of a lot of sun and the bread really did me in.
We went up to the show to see my new friend's husband perform. His name is Earl Turner and the show was just fantastic! His singing is great and he gets the whole audience involved. Christine --- you were right! Earl put on one heck of a show!!! :D
That evening was also 70s dance show in the Promenade and we watched the show and parade. It’s cool to see them up dancing on the two bridges.
Day 4 - Ocho Rios - we had an early excursion so grabbed a quick breakfast in the Windjammer then headed onshore.
Let me preface my comments on the excursion by saying that I am an eternal optimist. I see good in almost anything and can overlook a lot of mistakes. This excursion was a disaster from the first minute. It is almost impossible to find your tour in the small quonset hut onshore in Ocho Rios. After wading through all kinds of lines in a very hot building we finally found our tour guide. The tour was to depart at 9:00 am, and we headed out to our bus by just after 9. Once we got to the van it was obvious that they had miscounted and we wouldn’t all be able to fit in the bus. So our tour guide took off to find another bus. She found one and we walked over there. It was locked. So we followed her around the parking lot where the next bus was also locked. She took up back to the quonset hut and said she’d find a bus for us. By now it was about 9:25. I found an explorations staff member from the ship and explained the issue to him and asked if we could cancel if the tour company didn’t get their act together. They said they would let us cancel if she didn’t find something in a few minutes. We she did find a bus and we were on our way about 35 minutes late. There was a short drive up to Mahoe Gardens. On the way the tour guide told us not to buy anything up at the Gardens as their prices were a rip off, instead we were to buy from the places Carleen suggested. Hmmm. When we got to the gardens we met the garden tour guide, then we were told that they would take our picture and we could buy one, and they were also making a video so we could buy the DVD. Fine, whatever. We’re pretty good at saying “NO” if we don’t really want something.
The tour of the gardens was fine. It was pretty and there were some nice specimens, but the guide was gruff and you couldn’t quite tell when he was joking. He yelled at one guy for rubbing a leaf to smell it, and then started taking flowers off plants to hand to the women. Oh, and the videographer kept jumping in front of people to take his pictures. About half way through the tour the guide introduced us to a guy who swallowed fire, and another who had a big parrot. If you gave these men money you could hold the fire sticks, or have the parrot on your shoulder. Most people were far from interested - and there was some grumbling about the constant demands for money. After we had met the fire breathers the videographer started to yell at the guide - “why did you tell these people not to buy my movies.” “I didn’t tell them anything” … it went on for several minutes and was extremely uncomfortable. Some of the other passengers jumped in verbally and basically told them to shut up and give us the tour we paid for! Good grief!!
When we got to the falls the guide sent those who didn’t want to get wet up to a different path. He took the rest of us across the falls (they are really very pretty, and quite easy to traverse - especially if you have water shoes). At the other side of the falls there was a big ledge you could climb, so the guide helped me way up on the falls, then brought my husband up as well and he took several pictures of us. That was appreciated and it did make for an enjoyable part of the tour.
After the falls we went back to their little shop and museum. We wandered through for a few minutes and were asked several times to look at our pictures so we could buy one. No thanks. Then it was time to go to our bus. The garden guide stood at the end of the bridge so you couldn’t cross, and let all of us know that it is customary to offer a gratuity. Seemed like extortion to me!
Once we got on the bus we learned that those who didn’t want to get wet were just left on their own for an hour. Poor, poor planning. The bus guide and driver were apologetic, but then took us to their shopping place and we were left there for half an hour … and it turned out that this shopping place was about 500 yards from the ship entrance. We walked back as I wasn’t about to give another dime in tips to anyone after that mess.
When we got on the ship we cleaned up and headed up to the Windjammer for lunch. After that it was nap time! I also went down to Guest Relations to get a complaint form about the excursion, and stamps for post cards. I also asked about Ice Show tickets and there were all gone. I was disappointed as they only offered the tickets one time --- usually they’ll have two distribution times. We couldn’t get to the first time as we were heading our our excursion. Oh well …
That evening we again went to MTD and asked for a table for 2. We were seated in a back corner that was quite nice and out of the way. Our servers in this section were different, but they were great.
This was “surf night” and the menu choices were all new to us. We both tried the Free Range Chicken with lemongrass, cilantro, soy sauce and ginger. It was absolutely excellent! Everything from the spice to the preparation was just right. A nice new addition to the menu --- but it is quite spicy so some may not like it. After dinner we went down to the Schooner Bar and played trivia (did not win), then took a stroll around and were asleep fairly early.
Day 5 - Cayman Islands - Our excursion didn’t leave until 11 am so we had a nice breakfast in Windjammer and then headed over to the island early. Took just a few minutes to get on the tender and be under way. We walked through some of the stores at the port, then met up with our tour. We did the Jolly Roger Trolley Tour. The guide (Steve) was great … dressed up in full Pirate’s Regalia, and he growled and hollered appropriately. The tour was just an hour but he pointed out different homes, talked about the damage inflicted by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, explained by the Cayman Islands have no tax charged, and was just generally interesting. I thought it was a good tour, especially if you don’t want anything too strenuous. We stopped and bought a few postcards and a Key Lime rum cake to take home and then headed back to the ship for lunch.
The rain came down that afternoon so those on excursions probably got wet. We had rain in Ocho Rios in the afternoon, and a terrific thunderstorm on the second evening right at dinner time. We are grateful that this is all we have seen, and hurricane season is quiet (so far).
We had a reservation for Chops this evening at 7 pm. The recommended dress at Chops is “smart casual”, but it is formal night and there were a few people really dressed up in tuxedos and dresses, and also at least a couple of tables in really crummy t-shirts and jeans. C’mon Royal Caribbean --- if you’re going to post dress codes, then enforce them!
Anyway, dinner at Chops was excellent as always. I had the Grilled Portobello Mushroom appetizer, the small filet and a baked potato. DH had the Dungeness crab cake, a caesar salad, the large fillet and a baked potato. We shared onion rings and asparagus. For dessert he had apple crisp with ice cream and I had the mud pie. That mud pie is just excellent! Ate way too much food so we weren’t exactly ready to go out and rock and roll all night. He stayed in the room to read while I went to the casino. The casino is non-smoking on formal nights, so that makes it easier to spend time and money there. I had found a few machines that seemed to have decent payouts, but there were people camped at them --- including leaving their room key in the game while they went to the bathroom. I think we now know where all of the chair hogs have gone!
Arrived to beautiful weather in Cozumel. Breakfast in the Windjammer then we headed ashore. Nothing particular planned in Cozumel – just a walk down the main street from downtown back to the ship. We shared a taxi with a couple who were on their honeymoon and landed at Diamonds International. They gave me one of the free charm bracelets, even though I hadn’t attended any of the shopping talks. We had a couple of the free margaritas then checked out the stores. I am always interested in silver jewellery and found lots of choices, but some of the vendors aren’t bartering as much as they used to. I think some prices may now be more realistic than they used to be. We got as far as our favourite t-shirt/souvenir/pharmacy store (it’s about a block north of Carlos & Charlie’s) where I loaded up on gifts and then the sky opened up and it poured rain. We dashed across the street and grabbed a cab back to the ship. The prices for liquor and chocolates were better at duty frees in town or in Grand Cayman.
Lunch in the Windjammer, then a nap, wander around the ship, and a visit to the gym. We left Cozumel at 6:15 and had dinner not too long after that. We asked for a table for two and were seated in an alcove way at the back. After dinner we went to the show “Now You See It” – a magician show. I really don’t enjoy magic shows and jugglers. This one was more of a combination of magic and song and dance. Not my taste but a lot of other people seemed to like it. The Quest was immediately after the show so we got a good seat waaay at the back and watched. It was fun as always. CD Alan Brooks threw in a few new items and ideas to keep it interesting. There was one guy who arrived with a huge backpack and a few layers of clothes – he must have heard that it was a scavenger hunt and figured he’d be prepared. Didn’t help him much! One woman had her 8 or 9 year old daughter with her. People --- there is stuff in this show that is not for your small kids. Plus, don’t the adults deserve some time to be stupid?
Can it already be day 7??!! We had the C&A Platinum/Diamond/Diamond Plus breakfast in the MDR on deck 5. It was a nice event with some interesting breakfasts. This was our first cruise as Platinum so it was a surprise that we enjoyed. After breakfast I did my shopping, spent some time in the casino, did the Slots Tournie (nope – didn’t win!), wandered through the Freedomfest on the Promenade, and finally had lunch in WJ. It was a beautiful day so the pool deck was pretty well full. There were very few chairs to be had, but practically no chairs being held by anonymous towels! I did our packing late in the afternoon and we polished off a bottle of wine that I had bought for the stateroom.
Dinner in the MDR with the “goodbye” parade by the staff. Then on to the casino to cash in my vouchers, then to the Farewell Show. As always, we missed half of the shows so we saw bits and pieces here. I picked up a headcold in the last couple of days so wasn’t feeling 100% so we just took a tour of the ship and outside decks and took a lot of pictures. Funny to see the lights of South Florida off on the west and know that we could be home in 2 hours if we were driving – but it would be 12 hours on the ship! We put our bags outside and got a good nights sleep.
On Sunday morning I woke up several times and we were probably in the dock at 3:30 am. They called for the express disembarkation probably at 6:30 am, and we went up to breakfast in the WJ at 7. No lines! Tables to be had! Wow – that’s a big change! We had Brown 1 coloured tags and expected to be called between 8:15 and 8:45 am. So I didn’t really rush through our meal. Just as we had finished checking the stateroom they called our colour – at 7:45. Amazing! We were through Customs in a few seconds and waited about 10 minutes for our bags … then we were on our way home.
Oh – a note about leaving Port Canaveral. There were two huge tables covered with contraband for pickup by passengers. I saw dozens of irons and bottles in bags …
We both agreed that it was a really relaxing vacation and we achieved our goal of allowing DH to get some rest. (He has a really stressful job and travels 5 days a week.) The ship is beautiful and we were impressed with the staff and the food. It seems like there have been improvements to the menus in the MDR.
WHAT WAS GREAT:
My Time Dining: We loved being able to eat when we were ready, and also to get in and out quickly. We also liked sitting with different people every night. What we missed was really getting to know servers and tablemates, and having that glass of iced tea or decaf coffee without having to ask.
Fitness Center: So well appointed, and never had a wait for a machine.
Sprinkles: Loved that ice cream in the afternoon.
Deposit for Pool Towels: What a smart innovation! You have to check out pool towels now. If they aren’t returned on the last night of the cruise you’re charged $20 per towel. That means the pool hogs either risk their personal belongings, or $20 towels. It was so much easier to get a chair by the pool. Kudos!
No-Smoking in Casino on formal days: ‘nuff said
WHAT WAS A DISAPPOINTMENT: Stateroom Attendant: I met our stateroom attendant on Sunday afternoon but have had a really difficult time understanding her English. After that we never spoke to her again. If we saw her in the hallway she didn't even lift her eyes. Granted, she performed perfectly well, but I missed being able to speak to her. We received ice every afternoon and evening and had several towel animals. Again --- the service was fine, but I always like to chat a bit. Of course this didn't affect our gratuity.
Activities: It seemed like there were as many activities as in the past. Perhaps I missed activities because we had several days with rain and I was looking for trivia in the afternoon, but it just seemed like there was a dearth of events. That said, Alan Brooks is a great CD. He is very, very funny and should do a show himself.
OVERALL --- we really liked our cruise on Freedom and would definitely do it again, but we've come to the conclusion that we prefer to spend money on the specialty restaurants and skip the excursions. For us the ship is the destination!