For college spring break, we decided to take a family vacation with our young adult sons, ages 23 and 20. Thankfully, Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas is not a ship for a "girls gone wild" spring break vacation. We specifically chose a cruise out of Port Canaveral because of its proximity to the Orlando airport and the vast array of flight options offered (we were flying in from three separate cities). We stayed at the Hawthorne Suites Airport Hotel because it was the only suite option with two queen size beds in one room and a king size bed in the other bedroom. We rented a car at the airport from Avis and drove to Port Canaveral because it was considerably cheaper than using any port shuttles. It is an easy one hour drive to Port Canaveral. We dropped off our luggage with the porters at the ship and then drove to the Avis location a few miles south. The Avis shuttle then took us quickly and efficiently back to the ship. We made no attempt to get to the ship early which really worked in our favor because there were absolutely no lines for embarkation. We breezed through the process in about 10 minutes.
Our sons may have preferred a cruise ship that caters more to the college crowd, but I personally appreciated the fact that no drunken teenagers were running up and down the halls banging on doors in the night, as experienced by my friend on a Carnival spring break cruise. In fact, our 20 year old received a kiddy ship card (the ones with the holes punched in them). He reported being watched like a hawk when sitting across the table from his brother who was enjoying a drink in one of the late night clubs. The staff on Royal Caribbean definitely do not turn a blind eye to underage drinking, which is great for the rest of us!
We loved our time on board Freedom of the Seas - the meals in the main dining room were very good and the service was outstanding. We ate at Portofino's one evening and, while it was good, you really pay the premium for the ambiance and privacy rather than the quality of food. What truly delighted us was the quality of entertainment onboard. The lead female singer (Patti) was an exceptionally talented performer who would silence all those nasty "cruise ship performer" jokes. And the skating show was well worth standing in line the first morning to get tickets. The tickets are only offered once, so you must line up for all the performances held that week. That said, if you show up without a ticket there are rush seats available when ticket holders don't show up.
To those of you who complain about poolside chair hogs - just ask the person in the next chair if someone has been in the empty chair in the last half hour. If they say no, move their stuff and sit down! They know the rules as well as you do.
I had to use the medical facilities on board so beware that no medical insurance is accepted on board, even if your travel insurance company assures you that they have a pre-existing arrangement with Royal Caribbean. You must pay up front for services and then get reimbursed by your travel insurance company. Apart from that, the staff was very helpful. I was happy to see that when a young man came rushing into the medical office after a day of drinking in Cozumel and threw up all over the place, a veritable swat team descended with a special kit to clean up the mess.
I really think the secret to disembarkation is to schedule a late flight, eat a relaxed breakfast in the dining room, and leave late. No lines, no rush. I would not, however, count on a rental car again to return to Orlando. We got the last car at the Avis location, leaving behind numerous passengers, even loyalty club members with reserved cars. This problem is not unique to Avis. The rental car companies count on people arriving from Orlando airport on outgoing cruises to bring the cars to Port Canaveral. Take a taxi or shuttle back to Orlando!