Freedom Western Caribbean 09-27-09
My DW and I stayed pre-cruise again Friday nite 09-25-09 at the Best Western Castllo del Sol in Ormond Beach. Had an ok dinner at Fish City Grill. The hotel is an older property which has undergone a recent renovation. Rooms are very clean, zero mold in the bathroom and tilework, and oceanfront balcony. Staff friendly, rates are very good, and views fantastic.
Saturday 09-26-09 checked out, ate at the Burger King, drove on the beach, then ate lunch at Racings North Turn Grille (located on the north turn of the old speedway), near Ponce Inlet. Good food, good prices, and great views. Drove down to Cocoa Beach, checked in a 2 BR at the Residence Inn nearest the Port, where we met our 4 other cruisemates. Very nice clean hotel, free breakfast and no charge to leave your car. Had a FANTASTIC dinner at Thai Thai restaurant.
Sunday 09-27-09 had a pretty good free breakfast at the hotel, dropped off our luggage at the Port, checked out of the hotel, then caught the shuttle to the Port at 11:30 am ( $6.00 roundtrip pp ). Check-in was a breeze at the Platinum line and we were in the Windjammer by 11:45am. This was when we knew there were 4000+ passengers on a sold out ship. After a short wait for a table for 6, we chilled out, had some wine, ate a good lunch, and went to our cabin around 1 pm. Plenty of room in our D1 balcony cabin for our 5 pieces of luggage (we packed light this time LOL!)with space under the bed for the luggage. Small closet with some shelves, a vanity with 2 vertical very small shelves, and 4 small drawers on either side of the vanity (a total of 8 drawers) plus another small drawer. There is also a small nightstand on either side of the bed ( a king mostly) with a drawer and a shelf. LCD TV and a small refrigerator. We missed the tub, and the big sink and bigger bathroom vanity( the sink and vanity in this bathroom was miniscule). There is also a very small vertical medicine cabinet. The shower was small but serviceable, with hot water and very good pressure. The curved doors instead of shower curtains were a better alternative. Balcony was only as wide as the cabin but was pretty deep (about 6 ft) so was very usable. After the life-vestless safety drill (finally) and with impending rain showers, we watched Sailaway from the Oliver or Twist (Viking Crown Lounge to many) on deck 14. We enjoyed the dry view and great service from Marly and Clyde, although we missed the pool deck music. We got our luggage by late afternoon and after helping our friends decorate the door of their "cow butt" promenade cabin (next to the Ben and Jerry's Sweet) we met for dinner. MTD in the Galileo dining room worked out extremely well all week and the food was always better than we have come to expect, of late. Service provided by Orhan, Vicky, and Kinglsey ( MD was Sheryl) was exemplary. The bed called and we missed the Welcome aboard show. Our cabin steward was DeRoy and he always kept our cabin looking good, ice in the ice bucket, and towel animals to cheer us up at nite.....always a smile on his face! Thank you Deroy!
After sleeping in and Room Service breakfast, Monday 09-28-09 Was a sea day with fair skies and great pool weather. We watched the wipeouts on the flowrider, then had a very good lunch in the Leonardo dining room. After checking for holes in our eyelids, we met for pre-dinner drinks at the Bull and Bear Pub, where we had great service all week from David, Sheryl, and Rita. It was Formal Night, and we had dinner at Chops, where the food was always a cut above.
Day 3 September 29, 2009 was Labadee, Haiti and another "sea day" for us. Perfect weather and a great beach day for those so inclined to tender in. Ride the zip line or make a deal with the local merchants, or get a massage. Thank you Julian (pool bar) for your wonderful drinks and service! After MTD it was dancing in the Bolero's Bar (thank you Turnip!) then on to 70's Dancing in the Street to a packed promenade. Always a ton of fun and lots of energy! The CD, Richard Spacey, was his usual energetic self, dressed in a skimpy Indian costume. We decided to beat the rush at the end, and left before the end so we could watch the finale from our friends promenade deck 6 cabin on the other side of the cow. As we were entering the cabin we heard a commotion down the hall, with people in indian costumes beating on cabin doors. Of course, no-one would open their doors, so the "indians" ran into our cabin then up to the window, where the entire crowd below was watching Richard's antics. We didn't realize at the time that Richard had his mike on and the whole crowd could hear everything that was said and done (Richard claimed someone was pinching his butt!). He was hilarious and our sides were hurting for hours afterwards!
Day 4 September 30, 2009 Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We had a private countryside tour with Yardie Tours. Christopher did an awesome job showing us wonderful views from the mountains, took us through some small towns, saw a guy eating fire, then toured a small 1 room school near Claremont where we dropped off some school supplies for the kids (definitely one of the highlights of our trip). Then we had lunch at Scotchie's Too Jerk Restaurant between St. Ann's Bay and Ochie. Wonderful food and great prices. A little shopping at a local market in Ocho Rios for some Blue Mountain coffee and some Walkers Wood Jerk seasoning, then Christopher took us back to the ship for some R and R. Some wine at Vintages before dinner then off to Portofino's for an awesome dinner and scrumpcidelicious dessert sampler (you gotta try it! ). The Freedom -Ice show was fantastic, as usual, and Elena and Dimitri wowed! us with their quick change routine. How do they do that??? Paul O'Shea on the piano in the Schooner Bar and Steve Duell, guitar in the Bull and Bear Pub, do a great job late night.
Day 5 October 1, 2009 Georgetown, Grand Cayman. Another tender stop, but calm seas made it easy. After purchasing some liquor at the port (they take it to the ship for you) We rented a Suzuki mini-mini-van at Cayman Auto Rentals (come on Rog, Floor it!) and on to Viviene's Kitchen for carrot juice and lunch, beer, and beach at Rum Point. Rog did have it floored but it only used 2 gallons all day! Wonderful day and weather but too short a port stay. Formal Night in the MDR with lobster. Karaoke was fun in Pharoah's Palace. And thank you Yu Jia in the Connoisseur's Club for your smile and service.
Day 6 October 2, 2009 Cozumel, Mexico. Shopping at the port, then on to La Choza's for lunch. Be aware that everyone tries to steer you to which ever restaurant gives them the biggest kickback, but usually the advice on Tripadvisor is fairly accurate. Our friends had eaten at La Choza many times before, and the new restaurant in even better ( the old one burned down). 15 - 20 of the Freedom crew joined us while we were there, confirming our choice. Wonderful fresh food and great service. A guitar duo entertained us and the guy on the pvc pipe flute was awesome, and was the guitarist. Rain showers delayed us, but oh well, another Superior Beer, then on to the Plaza for more shopping. Beware the "Cuban" cigars. The "Heche en Cuba" or "Monte Cristo Habana" labels don't mean anything. The only "Offical Cuba" store is by ferry to Playa del Carmen at La Casa Del Habanos (Avenida 5 and 28th). You cannot take them into the US but they make a good smoke on the ship. Stopped at one of the Palapa hut beach bars on the way back to the ship to escape another rain shower. Argh! They didn't have Superior...settled for a Modelo...pretty good beer. Great views. Quick Dinner at Jade then onto the Show of Illusionist Drew Thomas. Definitely worth catching this show, as was the Quest. One of the ladies from North Carolina had Richard Spacey speechless. Probably the first time that has happened! Hilarious and our sides were hurting again for hours!
Day 7 October 3, 2009 Sea day and Walk for Wishes ( Make a Wish Foundation). Beautiful weather, good pool music (thanks Dave at the Skybar), Belly Flop contest (did Richard Spacey win it as an unwilling participant? ), packing, and dinner at Portofino's. Thank you Mina and Oktay for your friendship and perfect service.
October 4, 2009 Debarkation was easy. Early tags around 7:15am, we were through customs and were standing by the curb with our bags waiting for the shuttle by 7:45am. In our cars leaving the hotel parking lot by 7:55am. New record for us.
Overall, there are a few times when you can feel the crowds, such as the first day Lunch at the Windjammer and everyday for Breakfast in WJ. RCI could do a better job by at least having self service coffee for Breakfast in the WJ (you have to wait for a waiter to get coffee.....what?????). Best bet for coffee in the AM is at the coffee shop on the Promenade..., room service or dining room for breakfast. Elevators were not bad except at the end of shows. Pool chairs, even on Sea Days, were easy to find.... the Pool Police did a good job...and the $20 pool towel deposit, kept chair hogging to a minimum. The great amount of space on this ship including the decks and promenade, did a good job spreading everyone out, so you rarely felt that you were on a ship with 4000 other passengers. But the key is in the timing. Avoid the Rush hour and go somewhere or when the crowds aren't . Guest relations is a step up from other RCI ships...thank you Alin! Food in the MDR is pretty good and a step up from other RCI ships lately (we did not try the beef in the MDR so cannot comment on that). Food in the specialty restaurants was very good. Food in the Windjammer was good, although crowded. Service was exemplary all the way around in every department. Entertainment and shows were good - very good. The Cruise Director, Richard Spacey, was the best we have seen on any ship. Condition of the ship, was almost new condition, and was constantly being cleaned and wiped. Captain Kasselas was always timely with his announcements, and kept us up to date on weather conditions, timetables, and anything else which might affect our cruise experience. Would we do this ship again? In a heartbeat! Happy sailing and see you on the Oasis.