I and my group of 6 (3 couples) just returned from Freedom of the Seas after cruising on the July 4 sailing. My wife & I have done 16 cruises, and this was our 5th on Royal Caribbean. We sailed with our son (4 cruises), his fiancE (first-timer) and two good friends (first-timers). Rather than write a complete review and regurgitate information obtainable elsewhere, I wanted to list some key points that relate directly to our experience and opinions regarding our cruise.
We stayed at the Radisson in Port Canaveral and our opinions were mixed. The location is convenient and hotel is generally nice. The rooms are laid out in a series of buildings surrounding a central courtyard. There are elevators in only every other building, which makes navigation with luggage a little tricky. Our room looked out toward the port, so we were able to see Freedom on Sunday morning. Most (perhaps all) of the rooms are billed as having a Sleep Number bed, but the one in our room didn't work. We were disappointed to end up with double bed instead of a queen or king, which I would have expected given the prices. We had dinner at Kelsey's Pizzeria, an Italian restaurant right next door and it was excellent. The following morning we went to Zachary's, on the other side of the Radisson, for breakfast. It was also very good. I would highly recommend both of those restaurants, especially for those staying at the Radisson.
I highly recommend Royal Shuttle for transportation to and from Orlando Airport and the port. They were quick and efficient, and their rate for 4 people was $20 per person one-way. The return trip for two of us was $70.
Arrival and check-in at the cruise terminal is very efficient unless you get behind someone who has to search through their bags for the documents that they should have gotten out on the shuttle (never get behind me in a checkout lane because I consistently pick the wrong one!). Once in the door and through security the process was swift and painless.
Royal Caribbean is an excellent choice for first-timers and families. We knew this going in, but because the ship is so good for families there were tons of kids on board. Cruise Director Alan Brooks made several comments about the "packs of kids sitting on the stairs and jamming the elevators" and he was correct. It was never a problem but was sometimes annoying. We prefer to travel at off-peak times for this reason.
I have never before been awakened in the night by announcements looking for people - presumably kids that are not in their cabins. This happened at least three times, anywhere from 2:00AM to 4:00AM. This seemed very strange, and I think there must be a better solution to that problem.
We used My Time Dining and really enjoyed it. We had Hyde as our waitress and she was excellent. Unfortunately this cruise was her last on Freedom, as she is heading to Allure after a visit home. The food and service were excellent.
My biggest disappointment in the dining room was a general disregard for the "no shorts" rule at dinner. Despite numerous notices to the contrary, it was common to see people in shorts, t-shirts and sandals at dinner time, even on formal night. And not just the kids, there were adults in shorts on a regular basis. I'm not a dress code nazi, but feel strongly that a policy should be either enforced or removed, preferring enforcement over dining with people in dress typically found in more casual surroundings.
My wife and I did the wine dinner in Portofino and it was very nice. It was a nice selection of wine that was paired well with the food. I think there were 12 people (6 couples) which I found surprising given the size of the ship. This was on night 2 (Monday) and the rest of the restaurant was relatively empty.
We ate in Chops on night 5 (Thursday) and had an excellent experience. After noticing that the couple seated next to us rushed through their courses - whether by their choice or the waitress' training I'm not sure - we mentioned to our waitress that we preferred a slower pace with more time between courses and she adapted commendably. I had the 16-oz Ribeye and it was very good. The only thing that would have made it better would have been to cook it over an open flame, which sadly is no longer found on cruise ships. The Mud Pie dessert was excellent. Chops was pretty full on that night.
We're big wine lovers, and the wine experience on this ship is pretty do-it-yourself, although there are some decent selections if you know what you like. The waiters in the dining room and specialty restaurants were pretty much order takers. We never did make it to Vintages, the wine bar. There were just so many other things to do, and we prefer to have our wine with a meal and don't generally drink wine at other times. We did make good use of the other lounges and the bars there!
We fell victim to the Deck Chair Police one morning. We had been sitting in our chairs, in the shade near the Solarium pool, and decided to go get breakfast. We got distracted with friends in the photo gallery and returned after the allotted 30 minutes to find our stuff confiscated. I suspect we had some "help" from neighbors who ratted on us to get the chairs for their friends, as on another day there were four chairs in our little section that went unoccupied for hours at a time, except for a towel and a book, with no consequences. So while we didn't like losing our chairs it is good to know that there is one policy that is enforced, albeit inconsistently.
We went ashore at Coco Cay. It was OK as private islands go, but not as nice as others we've been to. We had the BBQ lunch there and it was OK. There were a lot of bold seagulls that liked to swoop in and wreck people's plates, taking bites out of the food. Very annoying.
In St. Thomas we did a little shopping then visited Paradise Point for lunch and Bushwackers. That is one of our favorite destinations on St. Thomas.
On St. Martin we toured with Joyce Prince. She's an excellent guide and this was our second tour with her. Joyce is a great person and fun to tour with. We worked with her ahead of time to make sure we got to do what we wanted, which was primarily some beach time at Dawn Beach, then lunch at Maho to watch the planes land at the airport. I would highly recommend Joyce for a tour. She also cooks for people who stay on the island, which would be interesting to try.
Disembarkation was very smooth. Our son was off the ship at 6:30 am, to his car at the Radisson and back on the road at 7:00. My wife and I had breakfast in the dining room and were off the ship about 7:30. We caught our shuttle just outside the terminal and arrived at the Orlando airport about 9:00.
Except for the few minor issues noted, we had a wonderful time on Freedom of the Seas and would recommend her and Royal Caribbean to anyone considering their next (or first) cruise.