Just returned from the 5/22/2011 7 night Eastern Caribbean on Freedom of the Seas. I'm not going to do a lengthy review because I just got home and we are exhausted and there have been so many Freedom reviews lately, but I just wanted to let everybody know that we had a great time once again on the lovely Freedom. We were lucky with great weather and a near perfect cruise. I'll just hit the main points and I would be more than glad to answer any questions.
Background- We're in our early 40's and booked this cruise almost a year ago onboard the Majesty. We have been on the Freedom before when she was new as well as the Liberty among many others. We are Diamond C&A members and have stayed loyal to Royal Caribbean, feeling they are the best all-around line for us. Having been to many, many, many Caribbean islands between cruises and land vacations, we rarely do excursions anymore and usually spend our port days at the beaches, which is why we love the Eastern and Southern Caribbean. We cruise for the nightlife, fun in the sun, and serenity of being disconnected from home! We have done everything from insides to suites and this time we did a deck 8 inside because of a resident rate. It was fine for 7 days but we will go back to a balcony next year.
Pre-cruise/Embarkation- We arrived in Orlando the night before and stayed at a Hilton with rewards points. We got in fairly late so it was essentially just a chance to get a few hours sleep before boarding day. We parked at the pier on boarding day, price was $15 a day. We arrived at the terminal around 10:45 and were on the ship and in the Windjammer by 11:05. This was by far the easiest embarkation we've had thus far. Props to Royal Caribbean's Port Canaveral team. Of course the priority boarding made a huge difference for us, but it looked painless even for those without. I've never been a honey stung chicken fan but I know many on here are, so I have to say it was really good on Freedom this trip! On the itinerary, departure was listed at 4PM, but the muster drill was at 4PM and the ship sailed at 4:30 behind the Sensation and before the Disney Dream.
Port Canaveral- We have previously sailed from Canaveral on Sovereign twice and on the Mariner in 2005. We loved sailing Freedom out of Port Canaveral for the ease of embarkation/disembarkation. I know the time of year can make a difference, but the demographics were certainly different than sailing out of Miami as well.
Cococay- We've been too many times for it to be exciting, so I got off early, went for a walk on the beach, got back on around 10 AM and turned Cococay into an at sea day, enjoying the empty pool deck and gym.
St Thomas- Went to Sapphire beach. Gorgeous beach, one of my favorites on St. Thomas, rented chairs for $15 and headed back to the ship late in the afternoon.
St Maarten- Went to Orient beach as we usually do. The cab is $7 a person and you can get nice chair rentals with an umbrella and drinks for $8 a person. I can't remember of the name of the place but I have a photo of their sign when I get my pictures posted (we have over 500).
Days at sea- These are always our favorite days! We spend most of our time on the ship laying out and working out and Freedom is really perfect for both of those activities. I'll say it was hard to get chairs in the solarium because the chair hogs were out in full force by 7:30 AM every day at sea. We could only get chairs there the first day at sea. I do wish the itinerary was backwards because no matter how you look at it, it kind of feels like the cruise is going to be soon over after you leave St. Maarten simply because the last two days were at sea. We enjoyed having the two first days at sea on our Liberty Eastern Caribbean trip. We still enjoyed the itinerary as a whole though and would rather have 3 sea days than just 2 on the Western trip.
Disembarkation- We did the express disembarkation and we were off the ship and in the car by 7AM. No lines whatsoever. So much easier than waiting for your tags to be called.
New Additions- We were talking the whole trip about how much more we enjoyed the Freedom than the first time we were on her when she was barely a year old and sailing out of Miami. I can't put my finger on what was different, but the ship had a really happy feel, looked brand new, and was really just a pleasure to sail on. I could take or leave the new big screen. I was totally opposed to it in the beginning, but it grew on me upon realizing they weren't going to be blaring Disney movies during the day on the pool deck. Most of the time it showed ocean scenes or music videos. Cupcake cupboard was a nice addition instead of the barber shop. That's about all I can comment on the dry-dock as those were the only things that affected us. Aside from that, the ship was spotless and literally shows no signs of wear, and trust me I usually notice things, thus why we try to sail on the newer ships. The only thing that surprised me was that most of the carpet (hallways, stairs, etc) did not seem to have been replaced during the dry dock. Not that it looked bad, but you could tell areas had been patched/cleaned. Still looked great, I just thought that was one of the main projects of a dry dock.
Food- Very subjective so I won't say much about it. We have found the food to be steadily declining across the fleet in recent years, but I will say this time was the exception. We had the best dining experience we have had in quite a few cruises. The food in the Windjammer was particularly good, in my opinion, compared to other recent cruises. We did the MTD in the MDR and our food was always quickly prepared and hot. We have done MTD lately because I feel they try to get you in and out fasted to accommodate more people. We were in and out in about an hour every night, very good to the common 2 hour meal in the traditional seating. We kept our same waiter every night and were at one of two tables depending on what time we went.
Entertainment- We didn't do most of the shows because we had seem them the last time were on the Freedom. We did go to one production show, the comedy shows, and the ice show. All were spectacular.
Ship in general- As I said before, the ship just seemed to be glowing. I was worried about her hitting the 5 year mark, but she is remarkably well maintained. Graham Seymour was our cruise director and he was amazing. We had him on the Navigator in 2006 and were thrilled when we found out he was our CD again. We love the gym, steam rooms, solarium, pool deck, flowrider, promenade, dining room- I guess we love everything out this class of ships. We feel the Freedom class is a perfect fit for us, we wont go smaller for a 7 day cruise, but don't necessarily want to go larger either. Maybe in a few years...
Diamond Lounge- We took advantage of the Diamond lounge every night of the trip, open bar from 5-8:30 PM is hard to turn down. We have never really taken advantage of it before, but it's going to be hard to do without on other ships now that we have experienced it... another reason to stick with Freedom! Amit was the concierge, great guy, super friendly and eager to please. He took care of all of our tickets, tours, disembarkation without even having to ask. We hope to sail with him again one day.
Needless to say, in case you didn't guess, we booked Freedom again for next May, same itinerary. We are also doing the Monarch 4 night later this year. This was one of the best trips we have been on and you can't beat it for the price. I can't justify spending the extra money and time on Oasis or Allure when we can easily drive to Port Canaveral, have to fly to Fort Lauderdale, and are still in love with the Freedom class after 3 trips on them.
We met some great people, had a relaxing week in the Caribbean, and had a blast. I can't wait to do it again. Those sailing on Freedom in the future, let me put your worries at ease as this was one of our top cruises out of all of our sailings. The only complaint I have is that the 7 days went by way too fast.