About US - It is me(42), my husband (46), and 4 kids 3 girls (15, 14, 8) and 1 boy (12). Except for our first cruise on our honeymoon 18 years ago on the Celebrity Zenith, we always cruise with our kids. We always keep our kids in mind when booking a cruise. On our last Disney cruise in August 2008, only our little one enjoyed it fully, there wasn't enough to do for our older children. In August of 2009, we decided to give RCCL a try and booked the Freedom. It was a vacation of a lifetime. In my review of this cruise, I may make some comparisons of the Explorer to the Freedom. This is only based on our experience as a family.
Embarkation - Was quick and easy. We usually drive to Port Canaveral from New York which is about a 20 hour drive. Driving to Bayonne, NJ was a treat for us. Don't be scared by looks of the port at Bayonne. It gets better once you are on the ship.
Room - We usually get connecting oceanviews since we have the 4 kids and need 2 rooms. We don't spend a lot of time in the room. We were happy with our rooms and the cabin steward. He made special love towel animals for us on our anniversary...18 years WoW!!!
Dining - We requested a table for 6. We had a beautiful table near a big window which we could look out into the ocean. Our waiter from China was wonderful.
Entertainment - Shows were pretty good. Some of the shows were a little out dated but met our expectations.
Kids Clubs - The kids club for 6-8 was fine. The teens clubs were terrible, no rules in place for the kids to follow. Read problems encountered section.
Problems Encountered - The only complaints about the entire cruise that we have are how the teen clubs are run and transportation in Bermuda (more about this later). What made our Freedom cruise so great were the great teen clubs. The kids always had something to do. Simply put, they were run well. Not so on the Explorer. They had activities but never enforced the same rules that are enforced for the adults. Why they enforce rules for adults and not teens is beyond me. No rules equals chaos. Our older children (15,14,12) did try the teens clubs several times but gave up after awhile. The following are just a couple of examples of problems they encountered. There are many more that I could tell you about. First example, although there were over 1100 kids on board, the scavenger hunt game only allowed for 25 kids. I can assure you that a lot more than 25 kids came to play. Another example, when playing dodgeball, the person who supervised the game never made the kids get out when they got hit. Instead, he timed the game for 10 minutes, so it was just kids throwing balls at each other. Dodgeball only lasts an hour, because of the way the game was supervised, again not all of the kids were able to play. When they had an adult version of dodgeball on the ship they actually had rules. I can go on and on with examples, but to get to the point, the kids rarely had the opportunity to play any games. I raised my kids with manners, so our course, they were always last. The only good thing that came out of this was that the kids spent most of their time with us and I enjoyed spending that extra time with them that I usually don't get on a cruise. With that being said, I pay a lot of money for my children to cruise (2 pay adult fees). Cruising out of NJ is very expensive and I don't feel it is worth the premium after this cruise. If it were just me and my husband, maybe it would be, but we don't have this option right now. From now on we will continue to make the drive to Florida and the kids told us that they are happy to do this to get the Freedom.
Bermuda (2 days) - Transportation was terrible. By reading many reviews here on Cruise Critic we decided to purchase the popular 2 day bus pass. We were only able to use it on 1 day and let me tell you it was a rough ride. After coming back I have read about some issues going on right now. We did get to Horseshoe Beach, but our experience was lessened by the bus issues and the time it took us to get there. Sunday was even worse in Bermuda, we didn't even attempt to use the bus passes again. I was also worried that my youngest may get injured if we used the bus again. Bermuda is very expensive. When you have 4 kids, everything adds up. I don't think another trip to Bermuda is in our near future.
Nassau - Nassau isn't one of our favorite ports, but we decided to make the best of it. We booked the Blue Lagoon Beach Day that comes with lunch directly with RCCL. We had a wonderful day and it more than made up for Bermuda. The only negative thing that I can say about the excursion is that on our long ferry ride to Blue Lagoon from the pier, we were told nothing from any of the people running the ferry from Blue Lagoon. They were obviously workers for Blue Lagoon but said absolutely nothing. Usually, when on a ferry ride, you will be introduced to what things are around you when passing by. Again, not one word. It was very strange. We would still do this excursion again in a heartbeat and had a wonderful day.
Cococay - Again, another beautiful day. Our kids did the Aqau waterpark and waterslide and had a blast. The food was also good although I remember the food being better in Labadee. I am assuming the cutbacks are the reason for this. There was still plenty to eat.
Summary - We had a wonderful time, but in the future we will stick with the Freedom class ships or bigger. The kids really missed the flowrider. We did book the Oasis while on board. We will see how the Freedom cruise goes this summer. Hopefully it will be the same as our first experience on her, especially with all of the upgrades.
Final Comment - The only other thing that I would like to mention is that it would be nice if all parents paid attention to what their children are doing and not just let them run wildly around the ship. I don't think we will cruise during Spring Break again because of this. I know all parents think their children are perfect little angels all of the time, but let me tell you, they're not. We always make it a point to know where our children are and what they are doing at all times. We sometimes check up on them to make sure. I don't want to preach, so this is all I will say on the subject.