This review is a little belated as we sailed on Freedom of the Seas on Super Bowl Sunday February 4, 2007 from Miami when the Colts defeated the Bears. We had actually made reservations over a year in advance for the cruise scheduled to leave the week before but we were bumped because the ship was bought out for a GLBT cruise. Royal Caribbean didn't happen to mention that we would now be leaving on the day the Super Bowl was going to be in town making it impossible to find a hotel room for 150 miles. However, RCCL did give us a credit for the inconvenience of being bumped so it all kind of evened out.
First off, I want to say that we loved Freedom of the Seas. Everything was first class. Although I will mention some things about the cruise, my critique is mainly aimed at Royal Romance (also known as The Wedding Experience and a few other names), which is the wedding planner under contract to Royal Caribbean. Our cruise was originally booked as a way for my family and my fiance's family to vacation together and get to know each other. When we found out that my mother had terminal lung cancer in 2006, my fiance suggested moving up our wedding to the cruise since most of our family was going to be gathered here for the trip anyway. For this reason, we chose to not only make FOS our honeymoon cruise but also the location of our wedding. We thought it would be simpler and less stressful to use Royal Romance and have the wedding on the ship instead of arranging something at the house before we left. WRONG!!
We were told by Royal Romance that we would be assigned our own personal wedding planner who would handle all of the details of our wedding professionally. Instead we got a boiler-room operation where we never spoke to the same person twice. Half the time if I could get someone on the phone they did not understand English. Many of the extras promised in their brochure were unavailable. Everything was disorganized and unprofessional. A week after signing the contract, I received a call that I had to have all of my guests info including birth dates, maiden names and social security numbers by noon the next day or no one could attend the wedding. What?! Seriously?! I spent hours making calls like crazy and got the info faxed in by the deadline. Then RR loses the fax. I have until 5:00 pm to re-fax the info, but I don't have it with me. So my fiance has to take off work to go get the list and re-fax it to them and our guests are finally approved. So we send RR the wedding details, menu and music list. They lose the fax. And on and on and on. Every day it was some new level of ineptitude.
On the day of the wedding, our own "personal" wedding coordinator was late. So they send a flunky who is clueless and gives us the wrong information almost causing my children to miss the wedding. The coordinator finally shows and corrects the mistake but then makes me turn over my dress to the TSA agent for inspection. I'm thinking this means she will unzip the garment bag and look for bombs or whatever. Silly me. She wads it up in a ball and shoves it in the scanner where it starts getting wrapped around the conveyor belt. I pull the dress to safety and scream at the agent. She flashes her gold teeth at me and says, "I din't knows it was a weddin' dress." Hmm. Let's see, they are pre-boarding the wedding parties and the garment bag says D****'s Bridal. I came this close to slapping the TSA agent and ending up in federal prison on my wedding day.
Royal Romance had also overbooked the weddings that day and so we were rushed through our prep time, given only 15 minutes to get dressed and do hair. Brides were flying up and down the halls. On a positive note, I must say that other than the music being played out of order, our wedding itself went off well. The officiant performed a lovely service and the chapel on the Freedom of the Seas is gorgeous. Everyone had a wonderful time at the reception which was held in part of the Viking Lounge with a spectacular view of the Miami skyline and the pool deck. The food and service were very good, although I feel this was due to Royal Caribbean and not Royal Romance. The cake was pretty but not completely thawed. Yep, a frozen wedding cake. We were also told that we would need two cakes by RR, but the guests didn't even finish one cake.
The Royal Caribbean photographer took me and my husband for photos all over the ship. He did a great job and the photos turned out beautiful, but a note to RC and its photographers, because we only have a short time to spend with our guests at the reception before they get tossed off the ship, don't waste that time dragging us from one end of the ship to the other and back again. Let us enjoy that time with out family and friends and arrange a time to take the photos later that day after we sail.
Now for the cherry on top of the slightly frozen wedding cake. Royal Romance LOST out marriage certificate. It never arrived at the courthouse. We had to take time off work to go get a duplicate marriage certificate and send it off to them to re-do when it still had not shown up 3 weeks later. I was not able to get my name changed for over two months after the wedding which caused a great deal of problems and frustrations. We only got a apology and a lot of lame excuses and finger pointing from Royal Romance.
To sum up, I would NOT recommend Royal Romance to anyone based upon our experience. Maybe they have changed their business practices in the nearly 3 years since our wedding. However, based on other complaints I have seen online I would say they are still doing the same old song and dance. When everything else Royal Caribbean does is first class, why would they use this second-rate bunch?
As far as our honeymoon cruise on Freedom of the Seas, as stated before, it was fabulous. Freedom was THE ship to sail on in 2007, the biggest and newest at that time (Oasis has taken over that spot now). As always with RCCL, everything was done to perfection: food, service, entertainment, amenities, ports of call, excursions. No detail was overlooked. Our every need was anticipated. The staff bent over backwards to help my mother who was very frail from her cancer treatments.
We had only two mishaps during the cruise. While watching the surfers on the Flowrider, I sat in greasy, gritty black soot from the smokestacks on the benches at the back of the ship. This stained a brand new outfit. I took it to customer service, and they had it cleaned free of charge and returned the same day. The soot is apparently an ongoing problem, so word to the wise - watch where you sit on the upper decks or always sit on a towel.
The second mishap, which was not Royal Caribbean's fault in any way, involved a sail/snorkel excursion. My mother was feeling well enough to accompany us but needed a wheelchair, which we had brought on the cruise for her, to get to and from the boat. The sailboat captain even took the wheelchair along in case she needed it at our beach break. When we got back from the excursion, the deck crew unloaded the wheelchair as we helped mom topside. By the time, we got her to the dock, some low life had already grabbed her wheelchair and taken off with it. I hope the person who stole the wheelchair really needed to use one and wasn't just using it for a joyride, because there is nothing lower than stealing a wheelchair from a dying woman. My husband immediately headed back to the ship to borrow a wheelchair and report the stolen wheelchair. He ran into our RCCL wedding photographer who went above and beyond the call of duty to try to find my mom's wheelchair. In the meantime, it had begun to rain, and my mom who did not want to inconvenience anyone, insisted on trying to walk back to the ship. It still breaks my heart to remember her leaning on us for support, slowly, painfully limping her way back to the ship, struggling for each breath, down that long, long dock, in the pouring rain. My husband met us just outside the ship with a borrowed wheelchair and we got her back to her room, but the effort had exhausted her and caused her so much pain that my aunt, a nurse, had to knock her out with heavy painkillers for the rest of the day. On a happier note, my mother's wheelchair was found. Whoever stole it, had luckily dropped it off on our ship and not one of the others in port, so mom was able to use it for the rest of her trip which she thoroughly enjoyed. Other than the wedding, her favorite part was sitting out on her balcony and watching the sun rise over the ocean. Sadly, it was her last cruise. She passed away less than a month after our return. But we have memories of happy times together on that cruise that will last a lifetime.
The cruise was such a success that we were able to completely turn my new mother-in-law into a cruise addict. We had to practically drag her onto the cruise. She had so many fears about cruising that she almost backed out a couple times. Only the wedding convinced her to come along. But she had such a great time on FOS, now she can't wait for our yearly cruises. We will be celebrating her birthday on Oasis this year.
I know this review is something of an epic novel (kudos to those who have made it this far), but I would like to mention one last thing. We did stop at Labadee, Haiti, on our honeymoon cruise. My heart goes out to the people of Haiti who have suffered so much from the earthquakes. I did not know what to expect when we visited Haiti on that cruise. We saw so many news stories about the awful state of Haiti and all the violence there and how the island had been destroyed by deforestation. We were almost afraid to disembark. But what we experienced was a Haiti with soaring lush green mountains and warm, cheerful, fun-loving people. I look forward to returning to Haiti again in the future and seeing all they have accomplished in rebuilding their country. RCCL has my support 100% in continuing to bring tourism dollars into Haiti and I laud them for all the aid they have brought and continue to bring to the country.