Background information: This was our 9th cruise - all on Royal Caribbean. We have always tried to be objective when we cruise and we understand that on a large ship like Freedom that you will have people that don't like anything.
Our group of eight adults flew into Orlando on Friday from Ohio and Maryland - we immediately headed to the Hampton Inn in Cocoa Beach for 2 days of pre-cruise relaxation on the beach. We have all cruised before (4-9 cruises each couple) We had beautiful weather in Cocoa Beach (sunny & low 90's) and had nice dinners both nights on the water at Mulligan's Reef (overlooking Port Canaveral) and at the Lobster Shanty.
Arrived at Port Canaveral around 11 AM on Sunday after dropping off our 2 rental cars at Budget rental on Astronaut Blvd ($73 each with Entertainment coupon) - free shuttle by Budget to the port. The wait was short at the port- maybe 20 minutes before the line started moving. They need a better method of lining up the arriving people as even the port and RCCL workers were in disagreement with each other as to who had priority entry (wedding parties, Crown and Anchor folks, etc.) and where to snake the line - very disorganized. We entered the terminal around 11:20, and were eating lunch at the Windjammer by 11:45 AM. Our set sail passes streamlined the process - it took maybe 5-7 minutes at the counter. Don't forget to ask for the priority check-in if you are Platinum or above in Crown and Anchor.
Labadee, Haiti - our first stop. This island was a pleasant surprise - very nice island with lots of activities, lots of shade, and lots of options to enjoy. We did the Dragon's Breath Zipline - what a blast! Expensive ($85) but definitely a fun time. Buffet lunch was good - especially for an outdoor venue serving over 3,000 people. Weather was great - around 94 degrees and sunny all day. One of our group had sprained her ankle the day before in the Schooner Bar (no she did not have any drinks) stepping off the raised floor - a Royal Caribbean person wheeled her around in Labadee for over 2 1/2 hours in a sand wheelchair - and he even waited while we had lunch - very classy and well appreciated by all.
Ochos Rios, Jamaica - Traveled to Dunn's River Falls by Taxi (actually large buses - cost $20 round trip each). Had a blast climbing the falls ($15 per person). Purchased the video ($20) - they wanted $30- - easy to negotiate price down to a reasonable sum. Avoid the marketplace and other sellers upon your exit - very pushy sellers - I don't know why they allow these sellers to spoil the experience for so many people. It doesn't bother us - we have been there before, but for first timers it can be intimidating.
Georgetown, Grand Cayman - Did the Catamaran and Snorkel tour. This excursion through RCCL was with Red Sail Sports - a dependable and classy outfit. We had 89 people which is the limit but the Catamaran did not seem too crowded. Excursion stopped at 2 places to snorkel but the amount of fish and sea life we saw was very limited. They had said something about a beach break in the excursion description, but they didn't explain that it involved paying your own way to get back to the ship if you did not take the bus back. So we went back on the bus and went to the pool instead.
Cozumel, Mexico - Another pleasant surprise with Cozumel being better than our prior visits. Did not do any excursions but spent some time in Diamonds International for Sapphire and Ruby purchases for my wife and another lady in our party (ouch). PS - You can negotiate with them on the price - also free Margaritas and Cold Beer if you ask!
The food on the ship this time was very good. Although our waiters were somewhat slow - all of my meals were excellent except the cod, which was tough. One other thing: Our table was by the window (I requested a window seating) and was the furthest from the kitchen - so the distance to the kitchen could partially explain the slow service.
Entertainment was outstanding as usual. Drew Thomas (from America's Got Talent Show) was excellent and put on a great show. Did not see the comedian, but the highlights on the Cruise in Review confirmed that we didn't miss anything. The Ice Show was also great, as was the 2 main parades through the Royal Promenade. Also the Freedom Fest that they had on Saturday was nice with lots of foods to sample and mementos for sale such as specialty glasses (shot glasses and fancy glasses).
I had read so much about Richard Spacey - the Cruise Director. And, everything is TRUE! He is the epitome of a great cruise director - funny - accessible - entertaining - etc etc etc. He moves to the Oasis in November - and I can see why. We booked 2 more cruises during the recent RCCL WOW sale - and one of them is on Oasis - can't wait to see Richard again.
Debarkation was easy - we were off the ship by 7:30 AM, and the RCCL bus ($36 per person!) was convenient. We used the Luggage Valet Service ($20 person) which provided our boarding passes and luggage handling. This was very nice, as once we left our bags outside the night before - we didn't see them again until our arrival is Ohio - very nice!
Here are my negatives: No Crown and Anchor gifts anymore - what a bummer. Slot tournament in casino - $25 person - and they didn't tell us until we got there that the tournament was a 2 day event - which meant that if you placed high up - you had to come back on Saturday (sea day) to complete the tournament. They didn't tell us beforehand this and we were not happy campers. Alcohol & Photos continue to be expensive - especially the specialty drinks (with tip $8 - $10). They did have some photo specials if you were willing to spend over $120 on pictures - and they also had some 2 for 1 drink specials on the last day - probably because people were so bummed out on the first 6 days of sky high prices. Expensive bus ride back to the airport - should not cost more than $15-20 per person - ride is only 45 miles and takes less than an hour.
Overall another great cruise on Royal Caribbean - feel free to contact me if you have questions! Ramjet1997@yahoo.com