My wife and I are retirees. My wife has wanted to book a cruise for several years and in April 2011, we made that desire a reality.
We selected Royal Caribbean because of the recommendation from a former co-worker who cruises every December and only travels on Royal Caribbean.
We flew to Orlando a day early and drove to Cocoa Beach. We spent the night at the Double Tree on beach. The hotel is showing some of its age, but was still an enjoyable experience. The staff were very pleasant and helpful.
Sunday morning, we took a shuttle to Port Canaveral and joined a long line of people waiting to board. The line was a little intimidating, but fortunately it moved quickly. Royal Caribbean takes possession of your luggage at the curb, so we didn't have to lug them through the terminal.
Because we booked a suite, we were placed in a shorter line and soon we were on the ship. The staterooms were ready, so we went straight to ours on Deck 10.
I had watched numerous videos of staterooms, but the actual room was so much better. We had reserved a junior suite and were very happy with the amount of room in the cabin. There was a walk-in closet with one wall full of shelves. There were more hangers than we could use. There was enough clearance under the bed to store large suitcases. There was plenty of floor space for two people to walk around without feeling confined. The balcony access was through a large sliding glass door (it took a little muscle to pull it open). The balcony held a couple of chairs and a small table. Note that only a partition separates your balcony from your neighbor's. You can peek around the end of the partition and view your neighbor's balcony, so don't assume that you have privacy on your balcony. The bathroom contained a shower tub, a toilet, and a single sink. This space is very limited and I can't imagine two people in this space, unless one is in the tub. Also, the doorway is only 22 inches wide and I had to turn sideways to enter. The rooms must be well insulated, because I never heard my neighbors. I thought the rooms were empty, until I saw my neighbors looking over their balcony railings watching a Carnival ship leaving port before us.
The ships public areas are quite attractive. I never heard anything but praise for these areas. Freedom has a small shopping mall running down the middle of Deck 5. This area is very popular, second only to the pool deck. In the evening, Deck 5 becomes overly congested because numerous photographers set up their backdrops and lights in key areas. Since many cruisers want to have a professional photo taken, there are lines for each photographer, adding to the congestion. The mall area is also the location for nightly parades, attracting a large number of viewers.
The pool is small, but almost everyone was there to sunbath and not swim. There were plenty of lounge chairs on deck, but not enough deck space around the pool. In other words, you might have to sunbath without a view of the pool. The hot tubs were great and never too crowed.
The shows are entertaining, but not quite at the level you would expect from entertainment venues in a large city. Activities onboard are too numerous to list. You can stay as busy as you want.
Freedom has a buffet restaurant called the Windjammer. In my opinion, buffet food anywhere is, at best, mediocre. The Windjammer was no different. There were a couple of dishes that they excelled at, but all-in-all, the food was average buffet food.
The main dining room (encompasses three decks in height with a grand staircase connecting the three levels)is well appointed, to include some beautiful chandeliers. The food is good, but perhaps not as good as your favorite restaurants. I heard someone say that the food on the Princess ships is better. Regardless, we enjoyed dinner in the main dining room every night. Our waiter was superb. He memorized our names after hearing them just once and took care of our every need. I asked him if the ship had jalapenos and he had jalapenos on our table for the rest of the cruise. He would greet us throughout the day if our paths crossed and made great recommendations as to what to eat. He demonstrated some napkin art (similar to the infamous towel art). He even performed a magic trick for his tables. I heard other cruisers bragging about their waiters.
I did not encounter any rudeness from any staff member. I did see a wide range of friendliness. A few were notable for their exemplary service. Most provided average customer service. A few seemed to be just politely tolerating us. Waiters and stateroom attendants are usually the friendliest (and they depend on us for tips). Bartenders were probably the least demonstrative (drinks were billed with an automatic 15% gratuity, so we never tipped).
The staff became friendlier when we took an interest in them as individuals rather than staff.
Our main frustration was that key information isn't provided so you must ask questions. For example, there was no guidance or instruction regarding the muster drill. Of course you can just follow the crowd and it works out fine. I would have felt better knowing what to do in advance, rather than just following the crowd without a clue. Standing still in crowded rows for over 30 minutes was no fun, but it is a requirement (I wonder what happened to the two cruisers who failed to show up?). Even more frustrating was not knowing exactly where to meet for an excursion. In St Maartin, we were told to meet in two different places (on a wharf and in front of the Post Office). The real meeting place was in between the two locations. Expect to walk around and ask different people questions to find out where to go. Also expect some wrong advice. We didn't miss any of our excursions, but we moved around and kept asking questions until we found the right place. I found this to be a very poor business practice.
The bottom line is that the cruise was very good with a couple of irritations, and therefore rates as an overall enjoyable experience. We will cruise again.