My wife and I took our 4th cruise on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas during May 2011. Our itinerary was the Eastern Caribbean which included the ports of Coco Cay, St. Thomas and St. Maarten.
PORT AND EMBARKATION: Port Canaveral is one of the best cruise ports we have encountered. It is easy to access. It is clean and safe. Parking is in a covered parking lot and is very convenient to the ships. We live relatively close to the port so it is also convenient. The parking fee is $15 per day but there are less expensive remote lots and some local hotels offer free parking and a shuttle with overnight stays.
Embarkation is fast and easy. Parking is just a two minute walk across the access road from the terminal 10 entrance. Three entrances are provided; one on the right and one on the left as you face the terminal. There is another entrance in the center for priority, suite and diamond members. Security screening, check-in, photos, and set sail card security ID photo are all done quickly. We count on being on board in less than 30 minutes from unloading our bags.
THE SHIP: The Freedom of the Seas is an excellent ship, loaded with amenities, well maintained, and nicely staffed. Highlights include the Royal Promenade on deck 5 with the shops, a cafe with complimentary food and coffee 24 hours a day, Sorrentos with complimentary pizza, an English pub and a wine bar. The Studio B, on deck 3, has the ice skating rink which features a very professional ice show. The large casino is located on deck 4 with two spiral staircases providing access from the Royal Promenade as well as the normal accesses. For children, the ship has several large spaces, including an extensive arcade, dedicated to children of various ages. The pool deck is colorful and has numerous programmed activities.
The new, post-dry dock changes include a huge outdoor movie screen on the pool deck, a wine dispensing system in the Vintages wine bar, and a digital information system with terminals located throughout the ship. Wonder what is on the menu for tonight? Just locate the menu on the system. They also added some Dreamworks features.
CABIN: We had cabin 9570, a junior suite. The cabin and balcony were both about 50% larger than a superior balcony cabin. It featured a large walk-in closet as well as noticeably more walking spaces around the furniture. The extra size balcony allowed for a lounge chair in addition to the normal small table and two chairs.
THE STAFF: We obviously encountered Royal Caribbean staff throughout our cruise. Every man and woman was cheerful, eager to assist, and well trained for excellent service. They represent many countries. Our room steward was from China.
DINING AND FOOD: The Freedom has numerous dining and food options, most included with the cruise fare but some cost extra. We found the food to be very good regardless of where we dined with one exception. We were disappointed with Portofino, the Italian themed alternative restaurant. Chops Grill, the steakhouse, was excellent. There were a lot of food choices in the main restaurants, the buffet, the alternative restaurants, the cafe and several others. I found the fish and pasta dishes to be my favorites.
We tried the "My Time" dining in the main dining room and found it to be an excellent choice. It allows flexibility for a dining time and starts as early as 5:30 PM which works for some days when the evening schedule is busy. The buffet worked well for breakfast and some lunches. Royal Caribbean does a better job of accommodating large numbers of people in the buffet than any cruise line we have experienced so there are seldom lines of any significance.
ON BOARD ACTIVITIES: The Freedom offers a variety of on board activities for everyone. There are rock climbing, surfing, pool contests, basketball, numerous shows in the theaters and lounges (Don't miss the ice show), street parades, cooking and jewelry instruction, movies, the library, internet cafe, casino contests, bingo, trivia games and people watching on the Royal Promenade. Lounging poolside or on one of the outside decks is a major attraction.
PORTS: The Eastern Caribbean ports of Coco Cay, St. Thomas and St. Maarten are all good. Coco Cay is designed for beach and water enthusiasts while the others provide good shopping, touring and sports related activities. Downtown Phillipsburg is a short water taxi ride from the pier and a fun trip. The main shopping area on St Thomas is a short taxi/van ride from the pier although there are a very large number of modern shops at the end of the pier.
The weather for our cruise was terrific so getting out was nice.
DISEMBARKATION: Disembarking into terminal 10 at Port Canaveral is fast and easy. You can pretty much select the approximate time you want to leave and get numbered bag tags for the time. Bags are delivered on a carousel system like those found at airports so you need to disembark when your number is called. We encountered a small "glitch" with the baggage system because the baggage door on the ship jammed and it took about a half hour to get started in the morning. We had bag tags numbered "1" and were still home by 9 AM even with the delay.
CONCLUSION: Great ship. Well managed and staffed. Excellent staff. Fun experience.