My boyfriend and I (from Toronto, both in our early 30's) joined his family of 21 on a 7-day cruise on Royal Carribbean's Freedom of the Seas. This was our first cruise for the both of us and to be honest we were nervous at the thought of a) cruising with the family, b) being cooped up on a ship for a week and c) the amount of kids onboard (it was March Break). From the time we left the pier to the time we returned, we had a great time, albeit with a few hiccups.
We booked our cruise through Royal Caribbean directly in mid-December and waited until early February to book flights and hotel, which we booked through iTravel2000. We flew from Toronto to Orlando on the Saturday (it wasn't much cheaper to fly from Buffalo), rented a car and stayed at the Mariott Orlando Airport overnight before driving to Port Canaveral Sunday morning. The hotel was really nice for the price we paid (less than $80) but were a little ticked at the $10 parking fee. I was told by one of my fellow cruisers later that week that they're the only hotel on that block that charges a parking fee. Lesson learned.
Sunday morning we drove the rental to Cape Canaveral and had them shuttle us to the Port. We booked with Avis, and the shuttle driver alone was worth the cost of the rental - he entertained us all the way to the port. Embarkation was fairly easy - it took about 30 minutes from curb to ship - and we met the rest of our group at the check-in counter. We had checked-in online two nights before so when we got to the counter all they needed was to swipe my credit card and take a look at our passports and away we went to board the ship. We had read reviews that it took a while for rooms to be ready but we were let into our stateroom right away. So we quickly dropped our bags, changed into beachwear and headed to the pool.
The Freedom of the Seas is HUGE. Being first-time cruisers we were blown away by the size of the ship and the amenities onboard. We were on the ship for 7 days and still didn't have the time to fully explore the ship - everywhere you turned there was a different little nook or sundeck or neat piece of artwork to enjoy. Our stateroom was small, but cozy - we were on the 8th floor in an interior room (read: no windows) but we made sure to bring a nightlight from home and we were fine. The bed was converted into a king and we couldn't even feel the gap between us. The bathroom was small, but the shower was *awesome* - great pressure and we never ran out of hot water - even during formal nights before dinner! We tried to use the sound control in our room to listen to the Captian's announcements in the morning (they play outside in the hall) but when we turned it on, it didn't work so we turned it off. Since then, faint classical music played in our room 24/7. We actually loved it (nice to fall asleep to), so we didn't complain. Our attendant, Ida, was really pleasant and took the time to get to know us.
The first night I spent the evening between the bed and the bathroom due to heat and seasickness (typical Canadian that I am - can't handle the heat). My boyfriend went to the medical centre and the doctor there gave us a handful of motion sickness tablets and told us each to take one every morning regardless of how we felt. After that I was fine. There were a few days where even on a ship as big as the Freedom you could feel the waves but it was fun to feel them!
We usually slept through breakfast but ate lunch at Jade/Windjammer every day and had supper in the dining room every night with the family. The food was great - there was always something different to enjoy in the Windjammer along with the standard hamburgers/hotdogs/sandwiches etc. The french fries were the BEST! The dining room was great - fine dining and exemplary service every night. The food was always delicious - especially lobster night! Mmmmm. We were so happy with the food available to us we really didn't feel the need to try the specialty restaurants (Chops and Portefino). Shout-out to Ranil, our assistant waiter - he made my boyfriend's dad laugh so hard every night! After the shows/casino we'd usually head to the pizzeria for a late-night slice and snacks (try the marinated bocconchini and crostini) and then to the Cafe Promenade for a coffee. All wonderful. My boyfriend's parents and aunt ate at Johnny Rockets for lunch one day and even though they were the only ones in the restaurant (it was a port day) the waitstaff still sang and danced for them.
During the day, we usually met up with some family members and lazed by the pool, but we did head up to the sports deck and had a round of mini-golf as well as watched people attempt the FlowRider. Both of us were interested in trying it ourselves, but there were a lot of kids surfing who never wanted to get off, creating really long wait times. No matter - it was really fun to watch the wipeouts.
After dinner we'd usually change and head to the Casino for a hour before going to the show - the casino was small but had everything and there was never really any wait for tables or slots. The table limits were low (min $5) so it was fun to play. A family member who had cruised before had befriended a pit boss on her last cruise and by chance he was on our ship this week! It was nice to see that he remembered her and he took the time to get to know all of us.
The shows each night were AMAZING. We've seen vacation entertainment before on resorts we've gone to and they were all really cheesy but this was completely different. Between the aerialists, comedians, magicians, musicians and the ships' own dancers and singers we were always entertained and looked forward to it every night. The headline show of the week was the Nelson brothers - sons of the late Ricky Nelson, and they sang all his hits. We had no idea who Ricky Nelson was but we recognized the songs right away and by the end of the night everyone was singing along.
The best entertainment of all for us was the Love & Marriage show and the Quest. I can't remember the last time we laughed so hard. My boyfriend's brother was the captain of our team and made sure we participated (the bf had to strip to his underwear). Hilarious.
Both of us enjoy a drink or two on vacation so we were concerned that the alcohol was not included in the price of the cruise. The beer cost as much as it would at home at a local bar (about $4.50) and a mixed drink would run you anywhere from $6-$9 but when they poured you a drink, they were generous. A lot of the drinks I had (especially at the casino) almost had too much alcohol in them (notice how I said almost, ha ha). When we got our SeaPass statement at the end of the trip we were actually surprised that we hadn't spent more!
The only really bad experience that I had was at the spa. I had booked a Tester package and only recieved 2 of the 3 that I paid for. The reason for this was after the second treatment the girl doing them started to push products on me. The first few times I politely said no thank you and then she started to get upset with me that I wasn't buying anything. She actually said to me 'You're on a vacation that you spent money on, why can't you spend a little more?' I replied very politely that I had to save a lot for this vacation and for this treatment, so no, I would not like to spend a little more, thank you very much. She then told me to get up and the treatment was over. Once back at reception, she printed the receipt and in front of everyone, started tapping the tip line! We spoke to Guest Services and they told us that the spa is not owned by Royal Caribbean and the employees are independent contractors however, it's in their contract that they are not supposed to push products in any way. Needless to say I got my money back.
This little island is owned by RCI. Little shops are right outside where you dock and then continuing on there are nature trails and the restaurant and bar and finally, the beach! The beach is beautiful - nice white sand, clear blue water, and on one side it's so shallow that you can walk out about a 1/4 kilometer and be ankle deep in water. Lots of beach loungers to be had and hammocks are hanging between palm trees. I spent the afternoon swinging in a hammock and drinking a Coco Loco. There's a dock for watersports and a large inflatable waterpark area - however other family members were saying that the waterpark was not worth the admission they were charged. Had lunch at the outdoor BBQ (free), met up with some family and spent the rest of the afternoon building sandcastles and playing paddleball on the beach with our niece and nephew.
St Thomas, USVI
Shopped the stores at the port and took a cab downtown to walk up and down the main street. Lots of US stores mixed with jewelery and liquor stores. Stopped at the Belgium chocolate store and had the most delicious chocolate EVER. Bought a box and had it delivered to the ship - which got to our room intact at about 6pm that evening. Upon suggestion from another cruiser, we took a cab to Emerald Bay and were surprised when we were dropped off at a resort, where they had no problem letting us walk through the hotel to get to their private beach (I guess they want us to come back and stay there?). The beach is on an inlet with yachts drifting in the distance. Super pretty and so relaxing. The cab driver taking us back dropped us off downtown and we walked the rest of the way to the ship - it took about 20 minutes. All in all, a beautiful island, but really busy - traffic was everywhere and there was road work going on - even on the back roads.
This was the best stop of the week. A bunch of us wanted to book an excursion for zip lining at Loterie Park but the excursion offered by RCI was booked - so we hired a taxi to take us there and booked through Loterie Park directly. It saved us $30 a person! Great experience- it took us about an hour and a half to complete the course (32 activities in all, 7 zip lines) and about an hour to drive there and back. Finished the day at the local beach and shopped the stores. There are lots of diamond stores here, as well as some designer stores.
Overall, we had an amazing cruise vacation. We would definitely cruise again, but do a different itinerary and make sure that we weren't cruising during a school break - not to say that the kids were troublesome, it was just louder at times and we weren't able to do a lot of the activities on the sports deck without waiting forever to do so. We might have to wait a bit for our next vacation, but it'll definitely be another cruise! We're hooked!