Having cruised twice prior, once with Holland America and once with Carnival, we set out on our March Break vacation with an Eastern itinerary onboard the Freedom of the Seas. After flying into Orlando, we had booked a room overnight at the Hyatt Orlando Airport Hotel which we liked. Had a great dinner in McCoys restaurant and our son had an evening swim while we watched the planes landing and taking off. Nice evening to cap off a day of travel.
Travelling with my husband and two sons (15 and 11), we awaited pickup by Happy Limo at 10:30 a.m. They arrived right on time and transported us to the ship. Arriving at approximately 11:15 a.m., the embarkation line moved swiftly - much better experience than when last cruising out of Fort Lauderdale. The line was mostly inside and was air conditioned, organized and very comfortable. We were boarding the ship within half hour.
Upon boarding, we headed to the Windjammer and had no problem finding a table. There were still tables available when we left. Rather than check out the ship while lugging our carry ons, we decided to relax around the pool and watch our fellow travellers arrive. At 1:30 p.m. we took our bags and headed to our cabins. Royal Caribbean had staff posted in the hallways to assist with directing travellers.
Cabin - Our connecting promenade cabins on the 7th floor were perfect for us. Loved the little sitting area by the window and our steward was quick to open the connecting door. The beds were configured perfectly and there was plenty of space for unpacking. Loved the safe where you entered your own combination which was much better than Carnival's safe that required a Visa card be swiped. Did I mention the beds? Comfy!
Next we went to find our dining assignment and were thrilled to have a table right by the window for the four of us. I'd hoped for some great family conversations over dinners, and this was going to be perfect for that.
Food - There was nothing to love or hate. Decent quality but no wow factor. We ate in the MDR 6 of the 7 nights. The dining room service was slow. We weren't in any hurry and didn't have small children so it was not a big deal but did start to get annoying as the cruise progressed. One night due to a late returning excursion, we ate dinner in the Windjammer. What a treat! Lights were dimmed, table clothes set out, soft music, no wait and the boys were able to choose from more variety. We will eat in the Windjammer for dinner more often in future. Breakfast at the Windjammer every day was good. I've read about folks wanting more variety. Really? What more could there have been? Yes, the menu is repeated, but there was variety in the hot entrees, lots of fruit, cereals, pastries, etc. Never felt a need to have breakfast anywhere but Windjammer. The set up of the Windjammer was good with similar stations being scattered around - it really disperses the crowds so we never had problems with lines. Also it was a pleasant surprise that finding a table was never an issue. Same thing at lunch - no problem with lines or getting a table. Lunch buffet options were ok, but we did miss the Deli and the hot sandwiches that we loved when we cruised Carnival. Once we had lunch at Johnny Rockets and I think we're the only ones I've read of anyway that really did not enjoy it and would not repeat.
Gym and fitness - We used the gym once and it was a great facility. We also used the jogging track which is good if you use it before the sun loungers are out. After that, the sun worshippers set up the loungers which stick out onto the track which pretty much ended chances for a mid-day run.
Flowrider - Our younger son loved it. Older son just had a cast removed after breaking his wrist snowboarding so he was forced to watch from the sidelines. Lines weren't too bad and it was lots of fun to grab a drink and watch those with an adventurous spirit give it a whirl. It was fun to watch the best flowriders (best of our fellow cruisemates that is) at the best of the best completion on the last day. Big shout out to the winners of the March 13 sailing (I still say it was a tie!!)
Pool - very crowded and tough to find chairs but I knew that would be the case so no surprise there. One afternoon we found a nice spot behind the flowrider off the beaten track where we had a peaceful afternoon enjoying the sun, reading, etc. It was a perfect solution to the days we couldn't get nearer the action around the pool.
Fellow cruisers - I've read that there are lots of rude cruisers out there. Well, they weren't on the March 13 sailing. I found my fellow cruisers to be polite, pleasant and a pleasure to share the cruise ship with. There were lots of teenagers as well with this being a spring break cruise and most were well behaved with a couple exceptions. My husband walked up behind a couple of kids who thought it was funny to spit over a balcony into the Royal Promenade but my husband put an end to that really fast. One thing I like about Royal is there is such a wide range of people on board - babies, kids, families, seniors, all generations.
Coco Cay - This day was a bit cool but sunny and was a beautiful setting for relaxing and enjoying a beach day. The bbq on the beach was nice and the quality was fine - it was like having a picnic on the beach and any picnic I don't have to shop for, prepare and transport, serve and cleanup....is a GREAT one! Tenders ran quite smoothly and waits weren't bad
St. Thomas - We took the Royal excursion to St. John Beach and Snorkel trip. I knew that it was lots of travel time for 90 minutes on the beach but decided we wanted to see Trunk Bay enough to go for it. Unfortunately, the ferry was late returning from an earlier run so we were late leaving. Then when we got to the taxi/shuttles at St. John, we were one of the last off the ferry and there was open air cars with one or two seats left each and they wanted to split our family up and put one of our sons on a shuttle without us. NO! They tried splitting another family as well. Another open air car was brought over and we were able to travel together. When we got to Trunk Bay we listened to 10 minutes of snorkelling instruction and then waited in line to get equipment. This was all biting into our 90 minutes of time at the beach so it actually ended up being less than one hour. They herded us back to the cars and when we arrived back at the ferry area, we had to wait what seemed like 20-25 minutes for the ferry to arrive (time we could have used at the beach I might add!). It all seemed like a cruel teaser. What I saw of Trunk Bay was absolutely beautiful.
St. Martin - Booked a tour with Bernards Tours and enjoyed it. There were a few stops along the way for photo ops, an opportunity to hold sea creatures (son loved the sea urchin), two hours at Orient Beach which we loved, an hour of shopping time and a stop at Maho. All in all it was a day with lots of variety and overall, I would recommend them.
Disembarkation - we had a late flight so exchanged earlier tags for tag 15. We were off the ship by 7:45 a.m., had our bags and were picked up by Happy Limo by 8:15 a.m. and at the airport by 9 a.m. Very efficient.
Thanks Freedom of the Seas!!! We had a wonderful time, service was good and we can't wait to return. No doubt about it...cruising is THE life!