This was my 11th cruise, 10 on RCCL, 1st on Freedom of the Seas. First time with the kids we did 4 night, then 5 night, this time a 7 night and we all had a wonderful time. (kids are 12 and 14). (please excuse the informal language/typos, but if I don't write this today it will never happen.)
Arrived in Orlando and because of an early return flight on Sunday we booked our own transportation to and from airport. Elena from Transportation Sale greeted us at baggage claim and had a large private van to take us to the cruise terminal. Cost was $180.00 round trip (cheaper than large cruise bus for a family of 4).
Ship had just come out of dry dock for cleaning an upgrades and was late. That in turn caused delays for us to board ship. Very frustrating as it took over 2 hours for us to board ship and get to our cabins. We were all tired, hot and there were lots of June bugs swarming the terminal area. I must say that this never happened before on RCCL and I do believe it was a fluke of the ship coming out of dry dock. Upgrades were pretty cool - new cupcake shop, large i-pad like touch screens on every deck with gps to map your way to cabins and activities and a what's happening now screen, new computers in dining rooms, plus some others I can't recall.
Windjammer - good food with lots of variety. Best place for breakfast. Except for day one, never had a problem getting a table for 4.
Sorrentos - by the end of the week that staff there knew my son and his order. He loved their pizza and with it being on the Royal Promenade he could easily girl watch.
Dining Room - I cruised a few times in the 90's and must say that the level of service, food, and class of people cruising has declined a little. Even on the formal night many passengers were in flip flops and sundresses and some men wore button shirts with no ties or jackets. I know that some may think this is judgmental, but if you want to vacation in flip flops go to Sandals Resorts or don't come to the formal dining room that night. Food - I would say that the food is good, but I was hoping for some more eclectic cuisine. Most of the items on the menu is food I can cook at home. Dining room just switched over to a new computer system and had some kinks, but even towards the end of the week, that improved. We did My Time Dining and I would not do that again. We missed the dining experience of meeting other cruisers since it was just the 4 of us each night. If we wanted to dine alone for dinner we could have gone to Windjammer to the specialty dining venues.
Kids' Activities - Some days never saw my son until dinner. He quickly met kids his own age and formed quick friendships. One piece of advice is to make your kids go to the day 1 activity. Daughter was too tired and skipped it on day one and all the kids pair up that night, so she spent most of her cruise with me and my husband. He had a much better time than she did. Curfew on ship is 1:00 am and that is when he returned to his cabin.
Booked cruise on last sailing and was upgraded to a larger cabin on deck 9 with a balcony. Didn't have adjoining cabins, but the door between our cabin and our children's was open, so we could easily access their cabin without going in the hallway. Loved the balcony, my husband preferred that space to the pool. I like people watching at the pool.
Ports of Call were nice. Love to shop so St. Thomas was a treat. Spent some time researching the items we wanted to purchase to make sure we were getting a good deal. Found out that the electronics we wanted to purchase can be found cheaper on sale in states. Very easy to get caught up in excitement if you are not prepared. Did an ATV Tour in St. Maartin to Orient Beach - highlight of trip.
Photos - Get picture taken whenever you can and buy the CD for $250.00. It comes with copyright release for you to print photos in any size you want. Just got back from photo store with every print I wanted for just a fraction of what it would have cost on ship, plus in the sizes I want not the 8x10 they print in. They use your Sea Pass card and face recognition software so you get all the photos.
Entertainment - Shows were good, very family oriented. New cast got on ship and had to cancel one of the production shows, but had another headliner in place of that show. If you arrived 10-15 before start of show, you could easily find a seat.
Pool - Unfortunately, there are always a few folks who get up at 7:00 am and save seats at the pool, even though there are many signs stating any chair left unattended for 30 minutes will be released. Get to pool early if you want a chair in the sun by the pool, get there by 10:00 if you want any chair.
Staff - A1. Service on a cruise ship is still impeccable and our stateroom attendant and dining room waiters were terrific.
First time on a ship this large and did experience a few frustrations: long wait for towels on Coca Cay day, felt like cattle being herded getting on tenders, quite a few times lines were too long to even bother with the event (Freedom Fest, ice cream at pool, Flow Rider, Rock climbing). Very difficult to find family members; always needed very explicit directions of where to meet, couldn't just say the pool. Next vacation will probably be on a smaller ship.
Since we had a 10:15 am fight home we chose to utilize Express Departure and carry our luggage off of the ship so we could meet our ride by 6:45 am. No problem there at all. Didn't have to wait for a bus to fill or stop at each terminal at the airport since we had our own transportation, by 7:55 we were at airport.
Thinking of Brilliance of the Seas for next trip in 2012.