Background: We traveled as a family of 11 (ages 4 - 69) on the Freedom of the Seas on June 27th. This was my family of 4's 3rd cruise (second with RCCL), my FIL/MIL also traveled with us as did my SIL and family. This was their first cruise.
Helpful Items to have for the Cruise: - Lanyard for the kids to hold their sea pass card (customer service desk will punch a hole in it if they don't want one with a pouch). Lanyards are given to kids in Adventure Ocean or you can purchase them in the ship store. - Travel scale to weigh luggage at the end of the trip - A travel alarm clock is a must have as the only clock in the stateroom is on the phone and doesn't light up at night. - My SIL used an over-the-door shoe rack. Comes in handy if 4 or more in a stateroom to put trinkets, shoes, bathroom items, etc. - Additional Outlet for charging ipods, cameras, walkie-talkies, etc. (only outlet in the room is on the desk) - Walkie talkies to find out where everyone is if you want to meet up - Large black garbage bag for dirty clothes
Pre-Cruise Hotel Information: We flew in a few days earlier and went to Universal Studios Florida. While at Universal, we stayed at the Homewood Suites nearest Universal Studios on Hilton points. They have a shuttle service to Universal, but it only leaves for Universal twice in the morning and once for a return trip. We ended up using our rental car and paying $14 for parking each day at Universal. The day before the cruise, we met up with the rest of the family at Hyatt Place Orlando Airport. This is a very clean and beautiful hotel. We initially had a rate of $99 per night, but for some reason, the rate went down and we were able to get the hotel for $69 per night! A definite bargain! We also purchased Hyatt gift cards at Costco ($100 gift certificate for $80). Any money left over from the gift card was used to purchase beverages to go (juice and water) from their restaurant. They had a decent continental breakfast each morning.
Travel to Port: We reserved a shared shuttle from Cocoa Beach Shuttle for all 11 of us. Cocoa Beach Shuttle received mixed reviews on Cruise Critic. Their shuttle drivers and office staff do not seem to communicate very well. The office staff seems overworked as well. I was told I would receive call back confirmations, but did not. The shuttle driver was suppose to pick us up to take us to port at 11:00 am, and did not show up until 11:40 am. When I called to find out where the driver was, I was told he is out front and has been waiting for us. Definitely wasn't true as we are a party of 11 at a small hotel and we couldn't be missed! Otherwise, travel to the port was uneventful and I have no other complaints about Cocoa Beach Shuttle. They were very affordable for 11 ($261 r/t for all 11). If you mention Cruise Critic, they give you a 10% discount. I would probably try another company next time we travel as there are plenty of them out there. Make sure to get your return trip voucher and ask the driver where to pick-up the shuttle for return (we were so excited to be at the pier, we forgot to do this when we were dropped off and he didn't mention it).
Embarkation: Embarkation went very smooth. We each had several bottles of bottled water in our carry-on bags and were allowed to bring them on as no one said anything about them. We had a junior suite cabin and could check-in a special line for suite guests. My SIL got to check in the same line as she had small children traveling with her. My MIL/FIL stood in the regular line and it really didn't take too much longer. All of the attendants were very friendly and helpful.
Stateroom: Our group of 11 had 4 different staterooms. My husband and I had a jr. suite (cabin 9258). The cabin was absolutely beautiful! Last time we cruised with RCCL, we were at the very back of the ship (all four in a jr. suite). This time, we were near the front of the ship, close to a stairwell. We loved the location. The cabin had a walk-in closet, quite a bit of drawer and storage space, three chairs and a small table on the balcony, a flat-screen TV, a loveseat, a desk, a tub and shower in the bathroom, and a very comfortable bed. Our boys (ages 14 and 16), had the inside cabin directly across the hall (9259). Their cabin was very spacious and perfect for them. They loved having their own bathroom. It was nice to each have our own space. My SIL and family had a family promenade cabin for their family of 5. There is a set of bunkbeds in a little closet type area. Otherwise, the cabin and bathroom was very similar to our jr. suite. It had three large window seats overlooking the promenade. They were on deck 8 above Ben and Jerrys. They did say they could definitely hear the music during parade and show time on the promenade.
Ship Information: The ship was absolutely beautiful! We signed the boys up for a flow-rider lesson the second night of the cruise. Definitely worth the $60 p/p. There were 8 guests total in the one hour lesson. Lots of one-on-one time. The boys also enjoyed the rock climbing wall, miniature golf, and the sports court. We didn't ice-skate as they didn't want to. If you plan on ice-skating, make sure to bring a pair of pants as shorts are not allowed on the ice. The H2O zone was a big hit for the younger kids (5 and 7). Every night from 4:30 - 6:30 the On-Air Club (a bar near the ice-skating rink) had buy-one-get-one margaritas. Room service was a hit with our 14 year old, and the pizza in Sorrentos was a snack every night for our kids as well. Sprinkles soft serve ice-cream was also a must do on the ship for all of us daily. We used the fitness room on several occasions. The equipment was great and it was all free of charge to use day or night. We did not participate in any of the fitness classes as there was an additional fee, but the spin class looked like the guests were getting quite the workout! 4.5 laps on the track is a mile, which we tried to do several times during our cruise. It was nice at night as it wasn't crowded and the weather was beautiful.
Dining: We ate dinner all but one night in the MDR. The food was good and the service was excellent. Our waiter and asst. waiter were both from Jamaica (Michael and Delroy). They were very accommodating to the kids, and we were all on a first name basis. Markers and paper were brought for the kids as well as a fruit bowl each day while we were perusing the menu. We had breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer each day and dinner one night in the Windjammer as well. Food in the Windjammer was typical buffet food. The salad bar was a wonderful change for lunch. We did try the MDR for breakfast on the last sea day. They had quite a bit of the same food, but it felt more relaxed than eating in Windjammer. They did offer eggs benedict in the MDR, which was delicious and not offered in Windjammer. I did not feel the service in the MDR was the same received at night as we had a different wait staff and they just weren't as friendly as our nightly staff. Since we were three different families, we split a 7 bottle wine package. We purchased the wine package onboard to save on paying tax (didn't pre-order). There is no need to finish a bottle of wine each night, you can either take it back to your cabin or have your waiter save it for the next night.
Activities/Children's Clubs: The younger kids participated in the Adventure Ocean clubs. The 7 year old enjoyed the activities. The 5 year olds enjoyed the activities once they were there, but never wanted to go. They ate at Johnny Rockets one day (no additional charge while in kids club) and participated in the pirate parade. Kids need to be able to participate in group activities as there isn't any 'free play'. Our teen boys did a few of the teen activities, but mostly were content to hang out by themselves. The younger kids absolutely loved the H2O zone and couldn't get enough of it.
Staff & Service: All of the staff was very friendly and helpful. The room attendant did an excellent job. Towel animals each night were a nice surprise. No more chocolates on the pillows, but that's to be expected in this economy. Ice buckets were filled daily and the room was kept very clean. You can check your sea pass balance from the TV in your room, which we did daily to make sure it was accurate. No one in our party had any problems. My MIL wasn't feeling well the day we were to go to the ruins, and was able to get a refund the day of the excursion with no problem.
Entertainment: We missed the first show but did see the Broadway show the second night. We were not impressed and could have easily skipped it. The Illusionist was awesome and a do not miss as was the farewell show. The comedian they had during the farewell show was a total bomb and didn't receive many laughs from the full audience. Alan the cruise director was great and had us in stitches any time he was on stage! My 14 year old went to the ice-skating show, which is another don't miss. We didn't get tickets and had to stand in the "standby line", but everyone was allowed in that night. If you don't have tickets though, don't expect to get great seats or more than 2 together.
Shore Excursions/Ports of Call: We were told to bring a photo ID when going into port, but were never actually asked for it when getting back on ship. No need to bring towels from home for shore excursions, as you can check out towels at the pool deck. You need to show your seapass card to check out the towels. If you don't return them, you are charged $20 per towel. Again, we didn't have any problems getting our credit when we returned the towels.
Labadee: Labadee is a private island owned by RCCL. Only RCCL stops at the island. We did not sign up for any activities early in the trip, and wish we had. We decided last minute to parasail and there were no times available as they were sold out for the day. The boys did the Dragons Flight rollercoaster and enjoyed that. The beach was very nice and relaxing. The buffet lunch was a typical buffet bbq lunch. The ribs looked much better than they tasted (they were horrible and very tough). Stick with burgers, hot dogs and fruit. Be sure to eat earlier rather than later as they run out of the desserts.
Ocho Rios: We could have skipped this port as it was our least favorite. We did a quick walk into town to shop. The locals do not leave the tourists alone. If we ever return here, we will be staying on the ship. We weren't interested in doing the Dunns River falls excursion.
Grand Cayman: We signed up for the stingray city/snorkeling tour with Moby Dick Tours prior to leaving home. I highly recommend going with Moby Dick as they were excellent and very affordable. The tour was $40 p/p ($35 for kids). There were about 35 people on the excursion. They gave us a quick and informative safety lesson in dealing with the stingrays. They also provided all of the snorkeling equipment and had snorkel vests for those who wanted to use them. They also brought food for guests to feed the stingrays while on the sandreef. Our only complaint was that we could have used more snorkeling time. I heard that the ships excursion tries to sell you their photos and videos and are very crowded. This was not the case with Moby Dick. If you bring your camera, they will take a photo for you with your camera. They also had under water disposable cameras for sale on the boat. They were not pushy or tried to sell you anything while on the excursion. Afterwards, my 14 year old asked why we didn't get him a t-shirt from Moby Dick. I didn't even know they sold them! Definitely recommend them and would use them again.
Cozumel: We did the ship's excursion to the Ruins and Beach/Lunch tour. It was unbearably hot and humid (as it's expected the end of June/beginning of July). I would not recommend this trip if you want to do anything else in Cozumel. This is an all day ship sponsored excursion and we were actually late getting back to the ship (the ship waits if you book through them). I felt we spent more time on transportation than seeing anything. The ruins were nice and the guides were informative, but spoke in broken English so it was a little difficult to understand them. The authentic Mexican lunch was delicious and the best part of the tour (IMO). The beach was not swimmable and a bit disappointing. I was under the impression we were going to be taken to a Sandals type of resort and it was nothing like that. The resort was very deserted in a remote and very quiet area. Lunch was outside on the beach with very limited seating. No shopping time was available on this trip as you were hustled from the ferry to the bus, to the ruins, back to the bus, to lunch, back to the bus, ferry and ship. The ship's pamphlet said we would receive soda and water on the bus. The bus provided a small plastic cup of cold bottled water after the ruins tour. Also, guests were given a choice of a bottle water or soft drink at lunch (one only at no charge).