Cruise Review - Freedom of Seas March 27, 2011 Eastern Caribbean
This was our first time on Royal Caribbean, and we have done 3 other cruises with Norwegian. RCI's Freedom of the Seas was an improvement in quality in all areas, in our opinion. Hubby and I are 47 and 46, and we had 17 yr. old daughter along.
New Things on Board - We were on the FOS right after her dry dock. They added a wonderful large poolside screen, which was used for evening movies, replays on contests, such as Best Belly Flop, NCAA basketball playoffs, and video pictures. Also new, was the Cupcake Cupboard shop on promenade, where you can buy special cupcakes for $2.50 extra or take a class on decorating cupcakes. Brand new big production show, Marquee, was a wonderful extravaganza of singers, dancers, choreography, & costumes from famous Broadway music selections. Brand new Ice Show was wonderful...don't miss either of those! New, but experienced cruise director to just get on, was Graham Seymour, funny guy.
Pre-cruise - Arrived day before, stayed at Holiday Inn Express incl. breakfast in Orlando for $90/night, rented car from Enterprise at airport for $82, and back from Port Canaveral for $64. (Enterprise shuttle at the Port) Hotel was in great location from airport and right along Hwy 528 to get to Port. There was an unusual delay with boarding we were told, but we were in air conditioning and visited with others in line while we waited. We were on board about 12:45 pm., after arriving at Terminal around 11 a.m. I did hear that some arriving later ended up waiting outside, due to the delay. It was fun seeing our ship as we drove close up, as well as Disney Dream and Carnival Sensation.
Interior Stateroom - We had 3 in the room. Our 17 yr old daughter slept in bunk that came out of the ceiling. It had lots of great mirrors, some with storage inside with plenty of hangers, 8 small drawers, 3 very shallow drawers, extra shelves in closet and one in bathroom. We had 3 suitcases and 3 carry-ons. All but one carry-on fit under the beds for storage. Bathroom is small but liked it. Toilet worked great and had wonderful water pressure in the shower, which is shaped like a tube. Laundry line in shower was a big help. Only 2 electrical outlets, located outside of bathroom above the desk. We got rid of the small glass coffee table so we had more room. There was also a love seat in the room with nice flat screen TV. Interactive menu on TV, incl. ship location/time, movies, sign up for excursions, sometimes show entertainment, and a funny short show by cruise director each morning. There was an easy to use safe in the closet and great reading lights by the very comfortable beds as well as a curtain you could use to portion off the room for late sleepers or clothes changes. You might want to bring a nightlight as room is quite dark with lights off. We had an awesome location, deck 10, #1257. We were close to front of ship and elevators, just a deck below the fitness center and main pool deck (deck 11), and just down the elevator to the Arcadia Theater (big shows), decks 3 & 4, and promenade, deck 5. Only longer walk was to the dining rooms, windjammer buffet, ice show, and some lounges. Had great steward, Ronnie, who also took care of many suites located near our room and made great towel animals. Towels were changed twice a day. We utilized their wake up call system on most days. No clock in stateroom, unless you have TV on. Lifeboat drill info and directions are on back of your stateroom door, and muster station number is on your sea pass. Main cruise announcements could not be heard inside our room...we had to open door. There is a volume control for this in your room by desk, but ours wasn't working. There was a thermostat control. Daily Compass is delivered to your room each evening.
Luggage - worked very slick to check in online and have luggage tags (sent by RCI) already on luggage before we left home. Luggage was delivered to our room by 5 pm, with the exception of one suitcase. We had to claim suitcase in security because they thought we were smuggling in a rice cooker. It was, in fact, a white noise maker. Message about suitcase was left on our room phone. Most suitcases with alcohol in them end up in security where they confiscate. Make sure to fill out the paperwork mid-week to choose luggage and disembark options. We did the Luggage Valet service for departure for approx $22 per piece of checked-in luggage. We set it outside the last night, they delivered it to airport and directly to our final flight destination. They delivered airport boarding pass to our room last night about 5 pm. It worked out great and we didn't have to spend time locating our big luggage at the port terminal, walking right through on departure, other than the customs/security line. We kept carry-on luggage so we had clothes for evening, overnight, and departure morning. Couldn't keep shampoo over 3 oz. for airline, so we solved that by pouring some in a bathroom glass before we packed the bottle into our luggage that was picked up last night by 11 pm.
Dining - We ate in the gorgeous 3 story dining room at 6 pm nightly, but ate at Windjammer/Jade buffet for lunches and breakfasts. Food was excellent, with themes for certain nights, including some entertainment by the wait staff. Fnu and Glen (asst) showed us outstanding service & attention to personal details. We enjoyed the bread variety very much, and ordered as many things as we wanted. Only missed one show due to dinner time, the Welcome Aboard Show. All other shows have two show times. Drinks guy, Floyd, was a lot of fun. In the Windjammer/Jade area, I especially found the raisin/craisin bread with white crumbles to be a favorite at breakfast, as well as their very creamy oatmeal, with hot milk available. Pancakes, waffles and fresh fruit were only so-so. Omelets made to order were enjoyed by my family. Fresh squeezed orange juice for $, was really good. Lots of breakfast choices. Lunch had good variety between sandwiches, BBQ, and hot selections and desserts. Best food was still in the dining room. At dinner, there was always an Indian menu selection, vegetarian, and lower calorie selection too, lots of great starter options and soups as well. Portions are smaller and fancy, so feel free to order more than one of any category & try new things. It took us about 2 hours to eat dinner every night, for our table of 8. Lobster tail, escargot, prime rib, tiger shrimp & scallops, fruit soups, and warm lava chocolate cake were some highlights during the week. Everything at Sorrentos on promenade is free, though we found the pizza to be average. This 7 day cruise had 2 formal nights on Monday and Friday. See dress code online.
Evening Entertainment - This was our favorite part of the cruise! Included: Welcome Aboard Show, Tony Tillman (outstanding, Las Vegas well-rounded entertainer, singer, dancer), El Gaucho (man of unusual talents with heavy balls on strings), Freedom-Ice.com Ice Show (outstanding, with much variety & skill), Merrill Osmond of the Osmond Brothers, Marquee (outstanding, big production), Farewell Show (incl. comedian, aerialists, video of the week, cruise director sang, appreciation of staff) We got pretty good seats every night going 30 minutes ahead of show time for 9 pm shows. On best nights, don't wait till late to be seated. Place filled up.
Ports of Call - (always take Sea Pass off the ship with you) Coco Cay, private island - took tender in off the ship. There were plenty of lounge chairs all over and some hammocks. You could hear music from most areas. It was very relaxing, although the buffet lunch, was just okay. We found that as we walked around the island, the breeze really varied. We found a perfect spot with perfect breeze, view of water, and shade to keep us cool in between the farthest back main beach area, and the water park area. Didn't do any excursions here, and did no ship excursions at any port, as we prefer to utilize local companies for lesser cost and less people along. Have had good experiences every time so far, with local tours reserved online.
St. Thomas- it was a bit chaotic getting off the ship, as everyone wanted to get off at once, since we arrived at 11:00 a.m. Can't wear/take straw hats off the ship here. Downtown area is to your left off the ship, but it was confusing. We took local Godfrey Tours-Island and Beach Tour (maybe 20 people along), a short walk from pier to open air vehicle with roof, $30/pp (online), who took us shopping for 1 hour, then for Island tour (steep roads) including Mountain Top view and souvenirs, followed by 2 hours at beach of your choice, Magen's or Coki Beach. Bottle of water, soda, or punch was included. Magen's Beach had fees $4/pp, and fees for lounge chairs. ($7, but with an additional $5 deposit) There was food available, showers, and bathrooms. It was somewhat crowded, even on a cloudy day, but pretty w/soft sand. Unfortunately, it rained while we were at the beach, soaking all our stuff. At this time Coki Beach had only portapotties, bathrooms were under construction, and no running water. We heard good things about the snorkeling there, though. Tour guide was fine, but sometimes we couldn't hear him well. He was inside the cab, and we had some noisy people on board. Returned to the ship about 5 pm. Found St. Thomas to have a lot of litter/garbage on sides of the road.
St. Martin - had a full day so it was much more relaxed getting off the ship here. We took Island Marketing Tours (online) $41/pp Island Tour and Sonesta Beach Break (6 hrs total) meeting them at 9:00 am., a short walk from the pier. Air-conditioned van was nice with only 7 passengers along. Had two short shopping stops (20 min. each), stopped at some nice overviews, visited Maho Airport Beach (only saw small plane land, too early in the day), Orient Beach (we had to pay 50 cents to use bathroom at Orient Beach stop...be aware you may see nude sunbathers there), and ended at Sonesta Resort (~3 hrs.) with very few people around, great facilities for our use, beach loungers, umbrellas, pools, whirlpool, floating mats, showers. Very lovely, warm, light blue water, great waves, and we could see our ship right across Little Bay. It said 2 cocktails of your choice included, but it was actually either bottles of water, Heineken, or sodas. Tour guide was very easy to understand and provided much detail. Back to ship about 3:30 pm. Shopping was available right next to pier. Some litter also on roadsides.
Fitness Facilities - were state of the art, and we used them maybe 4 times. Some times were more crowded than others for machines. Didn't take any $ classes, but did do water aerobics one morning at the sports pool. Class lasted only about 30 minutes.
Poolside (deck 11) - always were able to find a lounge chair in the sun, even if we didn't look till 2 pm. There were many more choices of spots if you went out early in morning. 3 pool areas to choose from...Solarium - adults only, warmer water pool, extra padded chairs, quiet. Middle area - band played there, louder, big screen to watch, scheduled activities there, like Sexiest Man, Belly Flop, Olympics, Ice Carving, etc., kids active in the pool. Family Area H2O - with colorful statues, interactive water sprays, etc., more shallow areas, much kid activity. All areas had whirlpools. Sprinkles soft serve ice cream (free) served poolside...wonderful treat, 11:30 - 8 pm. Beach towels available pool side with your Sea Pass. Could swap them out anytime...must return all those borrowed by last day of cruise or pay $25/per towel. Often they were warm from dryer...ahhh. We always picked up fresh towels day before we needed them, when we were going to a beach.
Shopping on board - We weren't looking for much in particular. Found a $10 watch for teenage daughter to keep track of time. We took advantage of the 2 for $20 t-shirts for sale on pool deck during two at sea days. (reg. $16.95) They had various sales on jewelry, watches, other things during the week in the promenade. Wait for jewelry to go to 50% off. We bought some sunscreen for about $14. They had some $10 sales on various items, bags, scarves, jewelry, ties.
Teen Program 15-17 - You can request (room steward) a schedule of these planned activities to be delivered to your stateroom each night with the Daily Compass. Activities sounded fun and varied (Toy Trivia, Dodge ball, Scratch DJ Academy, Karaoke, Teen Double Dare, Free Arcade, Speed Dating, Pool Party, Photo Scavenger Hunt) but our 17 ½ yr old senior daughter decided not to participate after finding that it was mostly attended by younger teens. We saw younger teens roaming in packs. She found a few similar aged teens and did her own thing with one of them in the late evenings. At 17, she could not participate in the Crypt (main dance area) or sun in the Solarium, or drink. Her sea pass card had special punches on it to show her age limitations. Curfew for 17 and under is 1 am. She enjoyed all the shows with us, with Merrill Osmond being her least favorite...some songs unknown to her. There was a Dreamworks theme, characters, and parade on board this week. Daughter got cute pictures of herself with Kung-fu Panda.
Activities and Other - There were many opportunities for pictures, formal and informal, but they were not pushy. Live music in all venues was pretty good. We enjoyed Love and Marriage Show, Rock Britannia, and Finish That Lyric. We got a kick out of some of the contests, and trivia contests. Did not enjoy the Liar's Club; inexperienced staff was running it. Freedom Fest was held in promenade last day at sea in the early afternoon with lots on display, ice & food sculptures, towel and napkin folding, samples of many foods, etc. It was fun to see. We did not use Casino, but noticed they had one night where it was no smoking. Good information (called Planning Event) on many things is available on the Promenade, deck 5, 1:30 - 3 pm the day you board. We were able to pick up a schedule of the most popular activities for the whole week and get our Ice Show tickets early. Otherwise, you have to get them between 8 and 9 am. one morning. As a last resort, if you miss that, check the guest relations desk. Since you almost always need the Sea Pass on you, wear pockets, or get a lanyard on board. Flow rider, climbing wall, sports court, mini golf, are all in back of boat and open late on deck 13. Each deck has an interactive ship-shaped menu nearby the elevators on the wall. It was fabulously easy to find out where things were and what was happening right at that time on board. Great helpful idea. We always get our tip money/cash ready at home in envelopes before we leave to keep in safe until its time to give it out. It saves a lot of hassle. They do let you add your tips to your sea account if you want, but I just feel better handing it right to them. Be sure and fill out the surveys at the end, as the staff depend on good reviews to get commendations and promotions.
Summary - Even though the Freedom was much bigger than other cruise ships we've sailed, we were surprised to find it did not feel crowded. In fact it seemed more spacious, which may have to do with how they have eating venues arranged, seating, more activities, and the very high ceiling-ed promenade in the center, which felt like a quaint small city of its own. Only time it felt crowded and less organized was leaving the ship in St. Thomas. We found the service, especially at dinner with so much detail taken by our waiters, but even in the friendliness all over the ship, to be outstanding. The food was excellent, covered all the bases, and the entertainment something quality to look forward to every night. The ship was beautiful and seemed to be well cared for. It was a great vacation, with much variety, and at a great value. We love all a cruise can offer, found in one place. We can't wait to go again.