My DH and I are early 30's with no kids. This was my second time on a Freedom class ship having previously been on the Liberty of the Seas. We have also been on the Mariner of the Seas, Princess Emerald and 2 Carnival (Dream and Liberty) ships. DH missed out on the Flowrider on the Liberty and was really keen on going on the Freedom to try it out.
We booked a Park and Fly package at the Marriott Buffalo and flew out on Southwest on Saturday morning. Flight was delayed a few minutes for de-icing but we still made it to Orlando on time. We did some shopping at the outlet malls in Orlando and then stayed over at the Hampton Inn (Florida Mall location). We rented a car from Budget and drove to Port Canaveral on Sunday morning.
We arrived in Port Canaveral around 10:30am and dropped off the rental car at the Budget office. It was relatively quiet and we were only one of two couples headed to the Freedom. Lines at the port were short and we were onboard by 11:30am. The Windjammer buffet wasn't even open yet and there was already a long line waiting to go in.
We packed a 6-pack of water and two bottles of wine in our checked luggage and everything made it through without incident or a trip to the naughty room!
We booked on interior room on the 7th deck forward (7217). We liked the location because of its proximity to the gym, the theatre and the Solarium but it was a bit of a hike to the dining room at the aft. We found the room comfortable and had everything we needed for the week. Oh yes, I must rave about the amazing shower pressure and plenty of hot water. Our room steward Bruce was very friendly and we saw him several times a day.
In the evenings, we could hear the music from the Pharaoh's Lounge. It was very, very faint and usually ended by 1:00am. I think the music would be louder for the rooms on the 6th deck. Pharaoh's Lounge is on the 5th deck.
I think the speaker inside our room was broken because we could never hear any of the ship's announcements. We could hear them in the hall but not in our room.
The motion at the forward of the ship was non-existent throughout the week until our last evening heading back to Orlando. After our late dinner, the ship really started rocking. Not a huge deal for us as it gently rocked us to sleep but I did have to take the hangers down from the closet to keep them from clashing into each other.
Dining Room - Breakfast
We prefer breakfast in the dining room because it's more relaxed and less hectic than the buffet. In addition to the breakfast menu, the dining room also offers a buffet with breakfast standards - granola/ceral bar, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes and pastries. The menu has a several choices including a daily special - huevos rancheros, eggs benedict on crab cakes just to name a few. On Friday morning, the breakfast menu featured a chocolate lovers special that included items like chocolate waffles, chocolate milkshake, chocolate pastries, etc.
Service at breakfast was a bit slow on some days. While we were never in a rush, we just noticed it took a lot longer than it had to be. Servers were slow with offering coffee and juice and entrees took some time to arrive at the table.
Dining Room - Lunch
We also had lunch in the dining room on a few days. The menu offered several entrees - turkey burger, noodle stir fry, lamb kabobs, pasta, steak sandwich with a fried egg on top, etc - and there was a made to order salad bar as well with several choices of lettuce and an abundance of toppings. The staff then mixes it with any of the dressings.
Dining Room - Dinner
We chose the traditional late seating at 8:30pm and were seated at a table for 6. Our table mates were Kristin and Anthony from Syracuse and on the first evening, we were joined by the headlining comedian from the Welcome Aboard Show (which we missed). The comedian stayed on the ship until Wednesday but never returned to our table. Hope we didn't offend him with our dinner conversations - I brought up all the classic topics - religion, how much we paid, politics. Just kidding! ;)
Our server was Didi from Indonesia and assistant waiter was Stephen. Service was friendly but quite slow. Most dinners, we were the last table with dessert and the rest of the waiters were packing up the dining room, preparing for the next day. On the first few night, we were finished dinner close to 10:30pm and towards the end of the week, we finished closer to 10:00pm. We were never in a rush but felt that the dinners last a tad too long considering on the Carnival Dream, we were finished dinners in about 45-50 min. We like the traditional late dinner but wished RCL would move the late seating to 8:00pm instead of 8:30pm. We may try the Any Time dining in the future.
We did enjoy the meal choices at dinner with steak, lamb chops, traditional lobster, etc. Some really great appetizer choices as well. We often ordered 2 appetizers and I think RCL have stepped up their desserts with traditional choices like apple pie, cherry cheesecake, key lime pie and creme brulee and a newer selection like mango pudding.
We generally avoid the Windjammer because it tends to be quite crowded up there. We did have lunch on embarkation day and it was very busy. People who couldn't find seats at tables were standing with their plates on the ledge just outside the seating area. We checked the Windjammer on the last evening around 6:30pm to see their dinner selection and was impressed. It was a lot quieter, the lights were dimmed and there was linen table cloths. The Indian and Asian food choices were great - loved the paneer. We sampled a few things and everything tasted fresh.
We decided to skip Portofinos and Chops this time since we had eaten there before on previous cruises.
Food in the Promenade
We loved the anti-pasta selection and pizza slices at Sorrentos and also the desserts and coffee at Cafe Promenade. Both areas provided plenty of seating for people watching.
We walked through the Freedom Festival on the last sea day and it was very, very busy. The area was also very tight because they had both tables set up for shopping and food so it made the path through the Promenade very narrow. They should have either food or shopping set up, maybe not both at the same time just to ease the congestion. The food served at the Freedom Festival wasn't unlike anything found at the Windjammer with the exception of the chocolate covered fruit. Not really worth pushing through the hoards of people.
The room service menu on the Freedom was quite limited. There was a selection of a few sandwiches, burger, pizza, salad and desserts. We found that our favourite item was the warm spinach dip with nacho chips and would order it when we got back from excursions when the Windjammer was closed. Ask for an extra order of chips as there is a large amount of dip and we generally ran out of chips before it was gone.
Ports of Call
Coco Cay is a tender port. We waited about 15-20 min. in line around 10:15am for a tender. The ride was quick. Once we arrived, we decided to not follow the herd and went right off the path when everyone else walked left. After a 10- 15 min. walk down a desolate dirt path, we found a very quiet, deserted part of the Coco Cay beach. Unfortunately, the weather was not great. It was overcast and very, very windy. I cocooned myself in two beach towels at one point because I was so cold. We decided to head back to the ship and jump into the hot tub to warm up. We walked past the main beach and buffet area and noticed that it was very busy...the buffet had a huge line up. So, not a great day at Coco Cay just because of the weather.
In comparison to Labadee, I think I prefer Labadee because it has a better layout and less walking to get to the beach areas. The beach at Coco Cay is very shallow. Because of the cool weather, we did not venture out into the water.
Pulling into St. Thomas, we got a great view of the new Norwegian Epic as it was already docked at Havensight. Also in port was the Carnival Glory and the Disney Magic was tendering.
We decided to book a ship excursion in St. Thomas based on the fact that there would 7 ships in port that day and we didn't want to fight the crowds. We booked the St. John Island shopping tour with free time with the intention of ditching the tour and heading straight to Trunk Bay. We had been to St. John and Trunk Bay on our own the last time we were in St. Thomas. Cost of going with the ship excursion ($40/person + $24 for cab to/from Trunk Bay and $4/person for entry) was more than doing it on our own ($30/person total) but we figured we would save a bit of time as the excursion provides a direct ferry from the Freedom's dock right to St. John so no need to taxi to Red Hook and take the ferry from there.
Our excursion tickets indicated that we were to meet the group on the pier at 11:30, a half hour after we docked but getting off the ship that morning was very busy. The lines were very long and backed all the way up to the fifth deck. Once we got off the ship, we had a hard time finding the tour group as there was no signage. We asked around and were finally directed to a group waiting furthest down the pier.
Once everyone arrived, we were directed to the ferry over to St. John's which was only a few steps from where the Freedom docked. The ride over to St. John's took about 30-40 min. and our captain gave us some information about the island but it was hard to hear at times since it was windy and the speaker wasn't very loud. We arrived at Cruz Bay in St. John's and we were told that we would have to meet back at the ferry by 5:00pm (island time). St. Thomas does not observe Daylight Savings Time so they were already an hour ahead of the ship's time.
Now this is where we had an issue. Since we booked the ship's excursion, we thought that they would be running on the ship's time. We were very disappointed to find out that the tour was on island time, which was already one hour ahead of the ship's time and this meant that we would be losing an hour of time on St. John's. The tour description did advertise that the tour would be 6.5 hours in length and that was the main reason why we booked the tour so that we could maximize our time on St. John's. But had we known in advance that the tour was operating on island time instead of ship time, we would have just done the trip to St. John's on our own.
We didn't let this ruin our day, and we were still thrilled to be in St. John's. Once we arrived in Cruz Bay, we told the group leader that we would be skipping out on the shopping tour...most people did this. Walked over to the Virgin Island Tap House at Mongoose Junction (a short walk from where we docked) and picked up a cold 6-pack of the mango beer and grabbed a taxi ($6/person) to Trunk Bay. Trunk Bay was heavenly as usual...Not too busy at all. Water was a bit chilly than the last time we were there (October) but overall, a relaxing day at the beach. We met the ferry at 5:00pm and headed back towards the ship. They provided some refreshing rum punch for the ride back.
Once back on the ship. we went to the excursion desk to express our concern about time difference on tour. We were given a feedback form to fill out and bring back to the desk, which we did. This was on Wednesday. When we hadn't heard anything back from the excursion desk manager by Friday, we returned to inquire about it and was told that he had received the form. As we were paying the balance of our account on Saturday evening, we mentioned it again and the guest services clerk had no explanations as to why we still hadn't heard back. I woke up Saturday morning around 2:00am and found a flashing message on our phone from the excursions manager who apologized for the time difference and credited our account for 50% of the price we paid. We appreciated the gesture but wished that it would have been dealt with in a more timely fashion. Still, we were happy that RCL was able to do something for us to make up for it.
This was our second time in St. Maarten. The first time, we did an island/beach tour with Bernard where we stopped at Orient Beach. We liked it so much that we decided to head straight there this time. Cab to Orient was $6/person.
Once we arrived, we decided to head to the right side (yes, the nudie side!). We grabbed 2 chairs and an umbrella at Club Orient for $20 for the day. The area was quiet and mature. There was no pumping dance music or beach vendors coming by with their wares. We're not bothered by other people's nudity, in fact, my eyes were closed for most of our time there as I was napping and just for the record, we kept our clothes on! We had full day at the beach and really enjoyed it. We took a cab back ($7/person) and asked to be dropped off in the downtown area. We had a quick look around at the shops and beach area and was able to walk back to the ship (about 15 min.).
We skipped a few of the traditional theatre shows but did manage to see the Drew Thomas' illusion show, the celebrity show time (The Drifters) and the stand up comedy of cruise director, Graham Seymour. Seating in the theatre was generally available if we arrived 15-20 min. before the start of the show. We arrived about 10 min. before the comedy show and almost every seat was taken. My husband ended up sitting in an aisle seat in the balcony and I just sat on the step beside him. I saw a few other people do the same. Graham was funny but we had seen him throughout the entire week. I was expecting a professional comedian at the show but it was just Graham's solo stand up comedy.
DH liked the show band and the musicians throughout the ship but once we heard the off key singing of the entertainers at Drew Thomas' show, we had no desire to attend any of the other theatre shows.
We saw the ice show, Freedom.com. I'm not sure why RCL bothers to hand out tickets for the ice show. As I remembered from the Liberty, seating for the show was just first come first served. We had overheard that some passengers got up at 6:00am just to wait in line for tickets, which I think is unnecessary as there was plenty of tickets left over at Guest Services later in the day. Even though the title of the skating show was called Freedom.com, it was unclear what the theme actually was. Skaters dressed in karate outfits, mobster costumes, pirate clothes, etc. Seemed a bit random. Enjoyed the skating show on the Liberty more.
We also attended the Quest which was amusing, not ask risque as when Ken Rush hosted it on the Liberty but still an entertaining time.
We saw both parades in the Promenade (RCL loves their parades). Fun but we were more impressed the first time we saw them. We also watched a bit of the Rock Britiania show but the Promenade fills up very quickly for these events.
The gym on the Freedom was very impressive. Plenty of treadmills and elliptical machines, not to mention all the the latest weight machines. The gym was rarely busy when we went. I also used the running track (3 laps equals 1 km) on the deck outside but only in the early morning around sunrise or dinner time. It was impossible to use during the day just because it was full of lounge chairs and people walking, and also it gets very hot in the afternoons with full sun.
Pools, Hot Tubs, Flow Rider, Deck Spaces
On the Freedom class ships, we really like the Solarium area because it's an adults-only area with nicely padded lounge chairs. We found that the chairs in this area was often full, not always with people but people's stuff. There was a sign posted about chair hogging but it was rarely enforced. We did see a pool attendant come around but he did not remove any items holding the chairs. The pool in the Solarium area was nice and refreshing. The hot tubs were a nice temperature and relaxing. On sea days, the hot tubs were quite full.
We tried the Flowrider on the first morning around 8:00am for the stand up surf session. This is a great time to go as it was not busy at all. The staff, however, weren't really interested in helping out or giving pointers. Not sure if they were even fully awake yet. On the Liberty, the staff were really enthusiastic and keen to help...not so much here. The mornings are a good time to go as the line up was minimal. The Flowrider does get quite busy as the week goes on.
We did our traditional donation to the slot machines in the casino. Plenty of machines and I found my favourite, The Cleopatra. Aside from that, we did not spend a lot of time in the casino.
Meet & Mingle
The M&M wasn't greatly attended. I believe there was probably only 12-15 people. RCL had some drinks like juice, coffee, tea and water set up along with a few finger foods. A staff member came by to introduce herself and do a few draws for door prizes. We won the RCL beach bag which was great since our beach bag broke before the cruise. Unfortunately, the zipper snapped off the bag when we were in St. Thomas but we still were able to use it for the rest of the trip. We also received two RCL notepads and fridge magnets for attending the M&M.
Our roll call was not as active as past cruises even though the ship was sold out. Throughout the week, we met a lot of guests who were first timers on RCL or new comers to cruising who probably didn't know about Cruise Critic.
Captain's Party and Past Guest Party
Champagne is still served on the first formal night in the Promenade and in the Pharaoh's Lounge where the Captain greets the guests.
We attended the Past Guest Party where they served champagne and a rum punch. I do remember in the past that a greater choice of drinks was served or the waiters could bring a drink of your choice. My request for a glass of white wine was met with a sigh and eye roll from one of the servers but he did bring one for me. But other than that, everyone else was drinking either the champagne or the rum punch.
Crown & Anchor Coupon Book
We weren't impressed with the changes to the C&A coupon book. We found a majority of the coupons useless. On the Liberty in 2008, the coupon book included a free $5 internet credit (now you had to buy an internet package before receiving the $5 credit), a coupon for a free entry fee at Johnny Rockets (current coupon book had a free milkshake at Johnny Rockets but entry fee still applied), and a coupon for a buy-one-get-one free drink which we used for martinis (current coupon states for beer or wine only). Plus, gone is the free C&A gift. Too bad because I looked forward to it.
End of the Cruise
We decided to do the self-disembarkation and did not set out our suitcases the night before. We had one last breakfast in the dining room before heading out around 8:00am. Walking off was a breeze and it's something we will do again in the future. We were on the shuttle to the Budget rental car office by 8:30am and on the road towards Orlando by 9:00am.
We got a glimpse of the new Disney Dream in all her glory as she was in the port on Sunday, along with the Carnival Sensation.
We did enjoyed ourselves, so just a few observations:
- The Freedom felt very, very crowded and mob-like at times. Not sure if it was the time of year or the week but it was very, very busy in certain areas - Windjammer, Promenade, Solarium and getting off the ship at ports. My sister and I were on the Liberty around the same time of year in 2008 and at the time didn't notice any crowding at all. Also, there was a lot of families with kids on board. Because we don't have kids yet, we generally choose cruises on off-holiday times but this week, there was a lot more kids than ever before. We realized later on that a lot of kids have Martin Luther King Day off so that may have contributed to a greater number of kids.
- General service on the ship felt a bit strained, especially in the dining rooms at breakfast and lunch and also at the past guest party. Definitely not up to the standards of previous sailings. It wasn't terrible, it just wasn't great.
- The announcements for bingo were super loud, perhaps louder than any other announcements from the captain or cruise director. The bingo announcements also happened quite frequently. Yes, we know there is bingo - no need to announce it to death.
- For myself, I like port days more than sea days so I probably won't book an itinerary with 3 sea days again. With the cool weather at Coco Cay, it felt more like four sea days. DH likes the sea days but since I do the research and the bookings, I will look for an itinerary with more port days.
- We didn't take advantage of the activities like the ice skating, rock climbing or mini-golf at all so we realized we probably wouldn't miss it if it wasn't there. Next cruise, will probably try a different line like Celebrity before coming back to RCL again.