This cruise was booked in July 2010 to celebrate my retirement from 30 years in the fire service. We have cruised the Carriben in early January twice before and the weather was great. This time however, the system that dumped 6" of snow in Atlanta,GA swooped down into the Carribean and made for an interesting (read "cool and windy") time.
Embarkation from Port Canaveral was efficient and uneventful. The TSA screeners were pleasant and RCI had plenty of agents on duty to get all 2900+ passengers onboard within the alotted time frame.
A big ship equals a big crowd. Freedom of the Seas is one of the second largest in the world and can host nearly 3000 passengers at a time. Days at sea mean little room at the pools or hot tubs and large crowds in the Royal Promenade. No real worries unless you have an aversion to crowds. If so, I would suggest booking on a smaller ship.
I was very impressed by RCI's enforcement of "Gold Sea Pass" exclusivce areas, especially while at sea. On previous cruises I have seen the signs completely ignored by boorish guests who have a "rules don't apply to me" attitude. However, this time a member of the "Deck Patrol" regularly policed the deck above the "Sky Bar" and politely removed several interlopers to other areas.
If they would enforce "adult" areas as effectively the overall experience would be more pleasant. Actually, if the parents of the little cretins on board would exercise their parental responsibilities like they do at home, there would be little need for the ship's crew to intervene!
The ship itself is beautiful and very well maintained. Elevators abound and are very reliable, but do get crowded near chow time.
This ship has some wonderful "wind control" technology. While at sea and sailing into the wind, realized wind speeds (actual wind + ships speed) reached as high as 50mph. However, the pool deck (11) was only mildly breezy while deck 12 (run/walk track) was downright windy.
The food service in Isaac's dining room (deck 4) was excellent! Mind you, I am not used to "haute cuisine" or country club level service but that is the order of the day onboard Freedom. The food quality, quantity, and selction were second to none and the service was equally impressive. We chose the 6pm seating and were able to enjoy a well paced meal without being rushed out before the next seating at 8pm.
We did not opt for "My Time Dining" and I'm glad we didn't. I heard from several passengers that due to this being a "full" cruise, "My time" meant you chose a time between 6 and 8pmand ate at that time (and at the same table) EVERY evening. Might as well choose one of the regular seatings.
We also dod not opt for either of the "upscale" restaurants. Just weren't interested in spending additional money for something already paid for. The "Jade" and "Windjammer" buffets were good but had little variety from day to day. There were ample "healthy" choices everywhere for those watching calories, cholesterol, etc. and special dietary needs outside that realm were readily accomodated as well. (One guest at our dinner table has a severe allergy to certain nuts and was always offered a desireable alternative to anything containing them.)
The entertainment on this cruise seemed inconsistent to me. The "Freedom on Ice" show was very good and well produced in the ice rink on dack 3. However, the evening shows in the Arcadia Theatre, although decently performed, seemed canned and a bit lifeless. Possibly in an effort to inject some life into the shows, the sound guy boosted the volume to near painful levels at times. Several people complained and were offered ear plugs! Dude! Louder is not necessarily better!
If people watching is your thing, you would have been overwhelmed at the opportunities on this cruise! From 400+ pounds squeezed into tiny bikinis to plaid shorts with flowered shirts, to wild tattoos and piercings, to open-mouthed food chewing, to bad comb-overs. You name it and it was there to behold! I am sure my pale, somewhat plump bod was an eye-feast for someone out there too. ; )
Graham Seymour was a great cruise director and wildly funny at times, although I never quite got his "daily diss" of the drink of the day. Does he have issues with the beverage manager?
When shopping for beverages to take home, be aware that each passenger of legal age is permitted to bring one litre of untaxed liquor (whisky, vodka, tequila, etc.)or 2 litres of liqueur (Bailey's, Sheridan's etc.) back into the US. (That can change at any time)
If you bring more, declare it and pay the small tax when you go through CBP. They won't bust your chops if you're honest and up front. If you try to hide it in your checked bags, they will likely find it. (through x-ray or worse . . breakage!) You will be fined AND have to pay the tax. (even if it broke!) :/
Freedom of the Seas is a wonderful ship even though it can seem a bit crowded at times. Still a good value for your vacation $$.