This was our second cruise on Freedom of the Seas, the first being in October of 2009. That cruise was so thoroughly enjoyable that we decided to go again. We booked this cruise in December of 2009 with two other couples. Before the cruise we stayed at the Country Inn and Suites for their parking deal. It allows you to park you car at their hotel, and they transport you to the pier on the day of the cruise. This ends up saving quite a bit of money in parking fees. The cruise was a seven day Western Caribbean itinerary from Port Canaveral to Labadee, Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman and Cozumel.
This was our first cruise as Platinum guests so we were able to go into the priority line. This was very nice as the lines for check in get fairly long. We then were sat in a special area so that we would be the first group to board when they started loading the ship. All in all it was a very easy and fast process.
Nothing at all changed with the ship over the last year, so I won't dwell very much on this topic. Anyone interested in checking out my 2009 review and pictures can view it here:
In that review I covered the Freedom extensively and included many pictures. The ship was immaculate as usual, and I continue to be completely impressed with its size, styling and amenities.
The only new area we got to explore was certainly one of the nicest on the ship, the Concierge Lounge! What a wonderful experience that place is! They have nice little finger foods and complimentary beverages for those granted access. I almost felt bad taking advantage of it knowing that everyone else in there paid a lot more than we did, almost.
I have only a minor complaint, and it is pretty much the same as last years cruise. The ship simply has too few elevators. The grand total of 14 is not enough for the passenger numbers on board. Too often there were very long waits for elevators, and when one finally stopped it was usually full of people. I certainly don't mind climbing a few flights, but on a 14 deck ship it gets tiring going top to bottom or vice versa. I hope that on newer classes they add lifts to properly serve the passenger load.
We booked the Ben and Jerry's "Sweet" which is cabin 6305. The room comes with special amenities, plus it had the promenade view that we wanted. The view is partially obstructed by the Ben and Jerry's cows that sit above the shop, but it's not too bad. You can still easily see the Royal Promenade. The room is decorated with cow stuff, and it also comes with Concierge Lounge access and free Ben and Jerry's ice cream once a day! For only about $100 more than an interior cabin, it was well worth it.
As with our last cruise on Freedom, the shows were some of the best I have seen on any ship. The singers and dancers did very well, and the comedy shows were hilarious. Live music was abundant around the ship and was also extremely well done.
I simply can't understand how a cruise line can excel in almost every area and then fail so miserably in the most important one, guest relations. Thankfully during my first three cruises with RCI we had no need to contact the Guest Relations Desk. Unfortunately, on this trip we had some issues spring up.
One couple was double billed by the spa for a treatment on the very fist day. They stopped by the desk two times and were told that a dispute would be filed. They were also told that they would be contacted once the situation had been corrected. By the last sea day nothing had been done, and no credit had been issued to their account. So a third trip was made and again the husband was told that he would be called later. He had to demand that they call the spa immediately and told them he would wait there at the desk until it was resolved. Finally the issue was corrected and their account credited, five days later.
Another couple traveling with us attempted to use one of the on board ATMs. The machine debited their account, made the usual whirring noises, and then failed to produce the requested cash. They contacted their bank and found that the transaction did go through and their account was less the money. Again, the Guest Relations Desk failed to provide any measure of satisfaction. Their only answer was that the ATMs are not owned by RCI and that the vendor could address any overage in the ATM once the ship was back at the home port (Port Canaveral). They were also told that they should file a dispute with their personal bank, which they did. In my opinion there should be some way for RCI to address issues with ATMs on board their ships. Especially since the Guest Relations staff member told them that these issues occur on a regular basis. Short of that there should at least be some noticeable signage letting guests know that use of the ATM is at the guests "own risk".
The third and arguably most annoying issue (as it affected the whole group) was that for no apparent reason RCI refunded our pre paid gratuities back to our travel agent. On the morning of the last sea day we checked with our room stewardess since our tip vouchers had not been delivered. She checked her list and said that we had not pre paid our gratuities. My wife contacted the ship's Group Coordinator who looked into the issue. She stated that the gratuities were refunded to our Travel Agent back in July. To her credit, she did allow us to call our Travel Agent from the ship's phone without charge. Our Travel Agent knew nothing about any refunds, so she contacted her RCI rep. They finally figured out that the funds had been refunded and a check cut by RCI not in July, but on September 8th (while we were on the cruise). None of them were able to figure out why this occurred. The only solution was for us to charge the gratuities to our SeaPass cards and obtain reimbursement from our Travel Agent. This process ate up the first half of our last day, time we would have liked to have spent poolside. Our Travel Agent requested the Group coordinator send us a bottle of wine for dinner, which she did.
Day 1, Port Canaveral:
After embarkation I took our friends on a tour of the ship. They had never been on one of the big Royal Caribbean ships. They seemed as impressed as I was the first time I saw Freedom OTS. We watched sail away from the Viking Crown as usual.
The welcome aboard show featured acrobats and a comedian. The show was very good, and the acrobats were amazing. At dinner I had the Vidalia onion tart which was great, and the prime rib. Our serving team did a great job. After dinner we watched the parade on the promenade and turned in for the night. It was a great first day.
Day 2, At sea:
Our first day at sea was a very relaxing one. We actually woke up in enough time to make it to breakfast in the main dining room. Since our last cruise they have tweaked the format slightly. Now one can either order off the menu, or visit a little buffet area they set up in the middle of the room. The selection on that buffet is fairly limited, but it is nice to have the choice.
After a big breakfast we spent a good amount of time in the Solarium. The cantilevered hot tubs are always one of my favorite things on deck. We watched the Flowrider for a while and then went back to the rooms to get ready for the ice show.
The ice show was very good, although the skaters did not seem as skilled as the cast last year. I noticed more falls and near-falls than before, but the guest entertainers were much better this time. After the ice show we spent some time in the On Air Lounge treating ourselves to some two-for-one (pretty good for half price) margaritas.
This was our first formal night and I was impressed by how many actually dressed up. The dinner was absolutely wonderful. I had multiple orders of the escargots, which were awesome as usual. The beef filet was delicious and so tender it could be cut with the side of a fork!
We went bar hopping along with our friends later in the evening. We spent about an hour in the Crypt dance club, but the DJ failed to hold our interest. The selection of music was more for a wedding reception than a dance club. We walked in to YMCA, then heard Play That Funky Music White Boy and later Sweet Caroline overlaid with Salt-N-Peppa (yeah, you read that right). I kept waiting for the Chicken Dance to start, but got the Macarena instead. So we left the Crypt and looked for better prospects. The Viking Crown Lounge was totally dead, and we found that Boleros and The Schooner Bar both wrap at around 1 AM. Not wanting to wade back into the Crypt we called it a night. Probably for the best since the next day would be my first visit to Labadee.
Day 3, Labadee, Haiti:
Our third day was spent docked at Royal Caribbean's private resort, Labadee. Having never been there before I took the opportunity to explore the area. We walked a large portion of the resort and saw most of the sights. We also rode the Dragon's Tail Roller Coaster which was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, by the time we made it over to the zip line counter they had already sold all of the slots for the day. So we will have something to look forward to next visit. We walked many of the paths, including the one that goes up to the Dragon's Lookout. The many paths and ruins were very interesting; I recommend that folks take the time to see it.
Only a couple of things disappointed. One was the lack of knowledge on the part of some of the staff. We were very tired after walking the island and wanted to catch the tram back to the ship from the far side of the property. None of the three employees had any idea where it picked up or how often it came. One simply told us "yes, there is a tram, it comes sometimes". That was it, and she was the most helpful. We eventually found a tram stop, no thanks to some of the staff.
The other issue was the awful shopping area they have there. The local vendors they allow in there were very pushy. They started haranguing us the moment we entered their field of vision. This was vastly different than what we experienced at Coco Cay. The little shops there were clean and the employees didn't try to pressure you to buy things. Even walking close to Labadee's shopping plaza I felt as annoyed as I did in Nassau's "Straw Market". That annoyance is exactly why I usually prefer the sterile conditions of a private island. Needless to say, we didn't venture any farther and walked back out to the beach.
Back on the ship we enjoyed some time in the Solarium, and afterward my wife went ice skating in Studio B. Later in the evening we watched the "Now you see it" magic show in the main theater. I remember it being pretty good last year, and we enjoyed it again. Before dinner we had a few drinks at the Crown and Anchor reception for past guests. We were then treated to another excellent dinner in the main dining room from our wonderful wait staff. We turned in early this night due to an early excursion planned for Ocho Rios the next day.
Day 4, Ocho Rios, Jamaica:
During our day in Ocho Rios we went on our only shore excursion. We booked the excursion through a private company, so the bus over was nearly empty save the four of us. The first leg of the excursion took us to the tourist favorite, Dunn's River Falls. I wasn't all that excited about it since it sounded like a huge tourist trap. It was a tremendous tourist trap as it turned out, but a fun tourist trap. The climb up the falls is pretty enjoyable and not too strenuous. The scenery is pretty and they do a good job of making sure that folks make it to the top.
Our next stop was at White River for some tubing. We each got our own inner tube and a guide took us down the river. A few small rapids were about the worst of it, but the trip was mostly just relaxing and drifting. After floating down the river we returned to the ship.
Since this day was my friend's birthday we had dinner at Chops Grille. The food was excellent just as it was on our last visit. The speed of the service left something to be desired though. The staff was friendly enough, but everything just seemed to take forever. After many visits to cruise ship supper clubs, I am used to the relaxed pace. But this visit was downright slow. We had half hour and longer waits between courses, and often would not see our waiter except when he was bringing the food. The whole experience was three and a half hours, much longer than it should have taken. The place was fairly full, but they should staff it to keep up with demand. After our lengthy dinner we spent the rest of our night enjoying the live music in the Viking Crown Lounge. It was another great day.
Day 5, Grand Cayman:
We had already been to Grand Cayman a few times before, so there was no hurry in getting up and to shore. By the time we did make it to shore it was already almost noon. After hiring a taxi we arrived at Seven Mile Beach and spent the day swimming and enjoying the beautiful Cayman coast line. I would venture to call Seven Mile Beach the second most beautiful I have yet been to, Half Moon Cay being the first. After returning to the ship we had lunch at Sorrento's, enjoying their fresh mozzarella and delicious pizza.
In the evening we were invited to a cocktail party for Platinum Crown and Anchor Members. The Captain arrived during the party and fielded questions from the audience. The hotel manager said that this was the first time they had done a party just for Platinum Members, but they were considering making it a permanent event.
After dinner we went to the adult comedy show in the main theater. Our Cruise Director Graham Seymour was the comic and was hilarious. I have never seen a Cruise Director headline an entire show before, but he was great. Graham was a superb Cruise Director the entire week. He is multi talented, singing songs, making jokes and keeping the entire experience extremely fun. His morning news show was also very funny. I hope to cruise with him again one day. After the show we spent time in the dance club and the Viking Crown Lounge.
Day 6, Cozumel, Mexico:
As with Grand Cayman, we have had many visits to Cozumel and were in no rush to leave the ship. Our time in Mexico was extremely brief. We all walked down the street to the Carnival pier and had drinks at Pancho's Back Yard. After that we went back to the ship and took a few rides on the Flow Rider.
Day 7, At sea:
Aside from the above mentioned issues with our gratuities the last day at sea was pretty uneventful. We woke up late and ordered room service for lunch. The rest of the day was spent up on deck in the Solarium and on the back sports deck. We got in a round of mini golf, and one of our friends took a second trip up the rock wall.
We had a great last dinner with our excellent dining staff and spent one last evening up in the Viking Crown Lounge. The jazz band and singers they had in there for the last evening were excellent. It was sad having to pack up, but all good things must end.
Debarkation and final thoughts:
My wife and I normally get up as late as possible on the last morning and enjoy our time on board. Unfortunately our friends needed to hurry home and we were sharing a car. So we had to drag ourselves out of bed at a horrid 6:30 AM. We simply took the elevator down to deck 4 with our luggage and walked right off the ship. We were in the parking lot within a few minutes and on our way. RCI has certainly got debarkation down, every RCI ship I have been on has been an absolutely easy to debark from.
Despite the bumps in the road everyone had a very good time. We are all reasonable people and understand that problems can and do occur. For that reason we all continued with our plans to book on Allure of the Seas in 2011. I just hope that any minor problems on that cruise will be handled better that Freedom's Guest Relations staff.
My review with pictures can be found at this link: