After spending a week at sea on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas on my first ever cruise I can say without a doubt this certainly won't be the last. My husband and I and another couple, all in our 30's, had an amazing week full of many adventures, great food, professional service and lots of fun times.
Embarkation/Disembarkation We arrived to the port at about noon after a lengthy trip from Orlando via Coco Beach Shuttle. The shuttle service was great in price compared to others but we would probably chose a different company next time as they seemed a little disorganized both on the trip to and from the port that resulted in lengthy delays and overcrowded shuttle vans. Once we arrived to port, the lines were long but moved rather swiftly. Disembarkation also went very smooth with the luggage tag system, we had time for a leisurely breakfast before our number was called. Once in the terminal, we found our luggage pretty easily and sailed through customs without issue.
Food Our first meal on board ship was at the Windjammer. Despite the crowds, we were able to find a table for four rather quickly but ended up not eating a whole lot as all four of us were pretty disappointed with the food, with the exception of salads. We were worried this would be a preview to a weeks worth of disappointing food, but we were wrong. We just avoided the Windjammer for the rest of the cruise and were pleased with the overall food quality on board, with one other exception, which was at Chops, one of the specialty restaurants, where we were downright amazed. We booked Chops for the first night thinking the crowd would be less that night. My meal there, and my traveling companions agreed, was not only the best on the ship but among the best meals I've ever had. It was so worth the extra $25 surcharge to eat there, we ended up going back a second night. Not only was the food outstanding, but the service was impeccable. Most other meals, including breakfast, were in the main dining room. Since there is only a small window when the MDR is open for lunch and since we knew we didn't want to return to Windjammer, we made an effort to make it to the MDR each day during that window, although we did splurge on Johnny Rockets twice. The food in the MDR was certainly better than expected both at lunch and dinner. We were on a waiting list for My Time Dining for dinner which we were able to take advantage of after the second day. It worked out really well as some days we were ready to eat by 6pm, other days we didn't eat until 8:30. But regardless of when we arrived, we never had to wait more than five minutes and we had the same table and wait staff each night who provided us with good service.
On-board activities/entertainment Each evening the Cruise Compass was delivered to our stateroom that detailed the next day's activities. One day we marveled that if someone wanted to, they could attend a new activity every 15 minutes. The range of activities was broad and anyone who couldn't find at least one thing that appealed to their interests must have some pretty obscure interests! Among our favorites was the Flowrider. We spent the first few days observing others before jumping on boards ourselves. The excitement of watching others almost matched the actual participation. Everyone, including the staff, were supportive of novices like ourselves and cheered loudly when someone did good and the staff made useful suggestions to stay on the boards longer. We had lots of laughs and took some pretty comical photos. It was definitely a highlight. Less helpful were the staff at the rock-climbing wall, which we had to try once because, well, it was there, why not? Was fun, but once was enough. We also went ice-skating once which would have been much better with more comfortable skates. We didn't make many shows, preferring instead most nights to finish our bottles of wine from dinner outside on the 4th deck just staring at the vast ocean or by having a night cap while enjoying music at Olive or Twist. We did, however, go to the ice show. It certainly wasn't an Olympic quality show. But considering the performers were skating on a moving surface, which was also about one-third the size of a regular ice rink, the fact they were still able to perform the jumps and stunts they did was quite amazing. Worth standing in line for (free) tickets to see. I also have to point out that cruise director Allan Brooks was great. He did a daily tv show in the morning, Babbling Brooks, where he highlighted some of the upcoming daily activities. He was so funny we made it a point to watch the show every morning just to laugh. We got the chance to talk hockey with him briefly by the pool one afternoon and he was so pleasant and easy to talk to, even though he couldn't find a way for us to watch the Stanley Cup finals at sea, which brings me to a suggestion--get a sports bar on board! The pools were also nice. We spent many relaxing hours both in the sun and in the shaded lounge chairs. Chairs next to the pool, however, were mostly occupied by 8 am and there seemed to be no enforcement of the rule prohibiting unattended chairs for more than 30 minutes. Also worth mentioning is the gym facility on board. The equipment is state of the art and in adequate supply so there was never a long wait to use anything. The fitness classes, although I didn't take advantage of them, were plentiful. We also did not take advantage of the spa and barber services on board as the prices just seemed too outrageous. For example, my husband and the other man in our group looked into getting shaved and were quoted a price of $95! It's no surprise I didn't see anyone in the barber chairs. The spa services were also high with no massages for less than $150-$175.
Ports/excursions Our itinerary included a stop at RCI's private island Coco Cay in the Bahamas, St. Thomas and St. Maarten. Our group of four agreed Coco Cay was pretty much a bust. We got off the tender and the beach closest to the dock was crowded so we kept walking only to find beaches that had been replaced by mud. So we made our way back to the other beach and found one lounge chair to share between the four of us for our belongings. We got into the water and quickly realized we had to proceed with caution as under the surface were sharp rocks and corral that were very painful to walk on. We had considered going snorkeling but when we also discovered how cold the water was, we decided to seek out a bar instead. We found a nice secluded bar behind the building where they allegedly do massages although the building was locked up and closed that day. We enjoyed our rum drinks at the bar and then decided to skip the BBQ lunch, for which the wait appeared to be about a half hour long, and headed back to the ship for lunch at Johnny Rockets. On St. Thomas we had about two hours to kill before our excursion so we walked to downtown, window shopped and had lunch then came back to the pier to meet our excursion. We booked the Water Island Adventures bike tour which I would highly recommend. Susan and Butch have lived on Water Island, the smallest of the US Virgin Islands, for 20 years and Susan had lots of great history to share regarding not only the little island she and Butch call home but also St. Thomas. The trip began at the top of a scenic hill where we took some awesome camera shots and ended at Honeymoon Beach, the most beautiful, quaint beach I have ever seen. With just our tour group and a few locals, it felt like our own private beach. At the end of the tour when the ferry returned us from Water Island to St. Thomas we had about an hour to do some actual shopping at the outdoor mall near the port. Found some great deals on jewelry then returned to the boat to secure a place on the 12th deck to enjoy cocktails as we sailed out. The next day we went to St. Maarten, where similar to the previous day, we had about two hours to kill shopping before meeting our excursion. We booked the Lord Sheffield tall ship adventure. Despite the less than ideal rainy weather, we had an enjoyable time. We went snorkeling which wasn't that great, but the visibility was low because of the lack of sun. After snorkeling we headed out to sail but returned early due to a sick passenger on board. We still had time to enjoy a delicious BBQ lunch prepared on board, however. Even though we returned early the captain and crew allowed us to stay on board until the scheduled end and continued serving the delicious rum punch.
The remaining days were sail days and we passed the days enjoying the pools, outside decks, food and good times.
Overall, it was an amazing experience and we are eager to schedule our second cruise. As I said earlier, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy but you also feel no guilt doing nothing more than relaxing. That's the beauty of a ship like Freedom of the Seas, the destinations are the same for everyone but each can choose his or her own journey.