If you want to know about shore excursions, please see earlier well-written reviews by other on those topics. This is for those splurging on a cruise but watching their budget in other respects. So read on concerning hydration on ship, dining, ship activities and exploring ashore.
Many posts and questions have covered the water issue. Though we cruised in early August, we had no problem with keeping hydrated on the ship. In fact, we bought stainless steel bottles to use on board, but used them only once, and that was in our cabin with flavor packets late one evening.
The Cafe Promenade on the Promenade on Deck 5 has ice water, coffee, several varieties of tea bags and hot chocolate packets for free; it has hot water to make the teas and hot chocolate. (You must pay for specialty coffees.)
The Windjammer Cafe and Jade restaurant at the back of the ship on deck 11 was open from 6 a.m. (for Jade, 7 a.m. for Windjammer) to 9 at night, with a slight break in the afternoon to set up for dinner. As the dress style is casual, it is easy to run down from deck 11 from basketball, the rock climbing wall, table tennis, or miniature golf to get ice water, iced tea, or the Freedom's delicious fruit-flavored waters - mango, strawberry-kiwi or lemon lime. The fruit-flavored waters also contain B vitamins and vitamin C.
However, DON'T run down to the Windjammer after doing the Flowrider for surfing or boogie-boarding. The dress is not that casual! Besides, if the Flowrider is going, the sign-up booth (called Wipeout, appropriately) will provide glasses of ice water.
There's also a water fountain, just forward of the sports area and Windjammer area, along the running/jogging track on deck 12 on the starboard (right) side.
Basically, between the Cafe Promenade, the Windjammer and Jade, the faucet in our room, and water and iced tea at meals, we kept quite well hydrated.
Dining on a cruise ship. Lots of food, of course!
We did splurge on the Murder Mystery Theater, which began in the Olive or Twist and then went downstairs to the Portofino, which is an extra charge if you choose to dine there. The theater was great fun, with the guests taking part to interview suspects to solve the mystery. The food was excellent, with a well-cooked prime rib, lovely fluffy potatoes, and a wonderful tiramisu in a baseball sized chocolate shell.
The Cafe Promenade on the Promenade on deck 5, mentioned earlier, was open 24 hours daily; it offered little sandwiches on rolls and croissants and desserts such as cookies, granola bars and sweet breads for free. A great place for a quick snack and to sit and people watch.
At the other end of the Promenade is Sorrento's Pizza, offering free food. It opened at 1 p.m. and closed at 3 a.m. We tried a seafood pizza there, quite good. Sorrento's has other types of pizza, breads including focaccia, as well as roasted peppers, prosciutto ham, little dessert cups of fruit salad, tiramisu and panna cotta, and biscotti. Again, all free.
In the pool area on deck 11 is Sprinkles, where you can make yourself a soft serve ice cream cone for free. Though if you want to splurge at Ben and Jerry's on the Promenade, a single scoop was $2.49, similar to Baskin Robbins back home.
In reading other reviews, we were a little confused about the location of Jade, which we knew was supposed to have Asian food. Here's how it works. As you enter the dining area on deck 11 at the back of the ship, you can walk to the left or the right around the bar area. On both sides you will go through Jade, which is a casual dining area that offers some Asian foods, varying by night. The dishes might include Chinese noodles, Indian or Moroccan dishes, Japanese miso soup (add your own condiments) and Burmese fish soup. It's all buffet style.
Jade also offered a quick pick-up breakfast beginning at 6, and other items later in the morning. All food in Jade was free.
Continue walking through Jade to reach the Windjammer Cafe at the rear of deck 11. It, too, is buffet style and the food is free. Try to get there for breakfast before 9:30, as it becomes crowded then. At lunch, it has a burger bar, which is great for the kids who may not want to try the more exotic dishes the adults want to sample. Those who enjoy casual dress and dining may also prefer the Windjammer for dinner. However, if you do, you'll be depriving yourself of the feeling of being pampered in the formal dining areas by your headwaiter and assistant waiter! And that is, indeed, a nice feeling.
We decided to ask for MyTime dining, which made it easier to plan around some activities on the ship we wanted to do or see. Though the Royal Caribbean webpage encourages you to schedule your MyTime dining before boarding the ship, we only did that for the night we knew we wanted to see the ice skating show. The MyTime dining was scheduled in half-hour increments beginning at 5:30.
Once you have checked the Compass newsletter of activities for the next day, call the MyTime dining extension number early in the day to be sure you get the time you want. One day we didn't call until late in the afternoon, and we had to take a later time than we wanted. Still, it wasn't a problem, as we didn't have anything major planned that evening.
The food in the formal dining room on deck 5 (formal dining rooms are on 3, 4 and 5) was delicious, and sometimes when we wavered between two choices on the menu, the waiter brought us both! The fruit soup appetizers were a nice taste treat and something different to try. The appetizers and entrees ran the gamut from steak, seafood, Italian, Indian, Moroccan. Do indulge yourself in the formal dining areas. Be sure to pack something for formal nights, though. The passengers who wear Hawaiian shirts look out of place.
We loved the activities on board the Freedom. We specifically picked this ship to try new things, such as climbing the rock wall, learning the basics of ice skating, and learning to ride the Flowrider. Two of our group made it to the top of the rock wall, and we're not teenagers! The staff in sports are very good with first-timers, both on the wall, on the Flowrider, and on the ice. We opted to stick with the boogie board on the Flowrider, which means we didn't have to stand up. One staff member was so kind as to go down to the foot of the Flowrider to show an older rider how to get to your knees on the board. If you choose to try ice skating for the first time, rest assured that your safety is important. Helmets are required. The staff also has knee, elbow and wrist pads available for your protection, and a free lesson was available.
The sports court was big enough for a couple of games of basketball at opposite ends of the court and a soccer game in the middle. The guests were quite considerate about sharing space during busy times. The netting around the area usually keeps balls in, though we did see a soccer ball plunge overboard one evening while dining. On the deck overlooking the sports court are two table tennis tables. We didn't get to those, but we did enjoy some rounds of miniature golf on the 9-hole course, which was nicely laid out.
Pools are on deck 11. The H2O zone for kids is toward the back, near what we considered the active area higher up with the sports court and Flowrider. The H2O zone is colorful, has different depths of water for different ages, and flowing and spurting water to amuse the children. The next zone toward the front is the regular pool, where people can swim laps or sunbathe. In this zone is a huge outdoor digital screen where movies can be shown. The staff also scheduled some Wii sports on the screen, but the Wii bowling didn't work too well and they had to switch to tennis. The next pool section, toward the front of the ship, is known as the Solarium and is more sedate. The water is shallower and you can even sit on barstools in the pool and enjoy a drink. The Solarium section also has two whirlpools that extend over the side of the ship.
Definitely go to the shows in the huge Arcadia theater, as well as the ice skating show on the rink in Studio B on deck 3. The skaters and musicians are wonderful, quality, live entertainment. One of the Arcadia shows gave fairy tales a modern twist. They set the tales to modern songs that carried the story along. Since this was a Dreamworks cruise, we also saw a couple of movies there in 3D format. There were several chances to meet Dreamworks characters, as well. Great entertainment, and all free.
Late at night, several venues around the ship offer live music. Latin rhythms, classical strings, guitar, dance music, popular tunes on the piano - take your pick. If you get hungry, you can always head to Cafe Promenade or Sorrento's for a snack. And if you've never tried karaoke, the ship has two private booths in the On Air area on deck 3 where you can give it a try.
Freedom has a library on deck 7; you can check out books or just sit there and read. Gaze over the Promenade from the front of the library, which also had daily sudoku puzzles. For other quiet pursuits, the Seven Hearts Card Room on deck 14 at the rear of the ship has several games in stock, including cards, Scrabble, checkers, Chinese checkers, chess, and dominos.
Shore excursions. We got off at every port, just to say we'd been there, but didn't pay for any excursions. Again, we were traveling on a budget.
Labadee. For beaches, your best bet is Royal Caribbean's private beach at Labadee, Haiti. Lovely white sandy beaches with plenty of deck chairs and hammocks. Barefoot Beach, the first you see as you leave the ship, gives a view of zipline riders. It also seemed to be less crowded than the beach over by the water park. We just dragged our own deck chairs over to where we wanted, relaxed and dozed. No fee. We also walked through the Artisans' Village but didn't see anything that caught our eye. The vendors were a little insistent, but some Royal Caribbean staff were on hand to ensure that the guests weren't bothered too much.
Falmouth, Jamaica. Once we got off the ship, we were in a triangular shaped public square where several new buildings were under construction. Some finished ones contained expensive jewelry shops. However, there was also a craft market with textiles, shirts, wood carvings, and other items to see and buy. You could get a good local souvenir here, if you wanted. On that day, the locals had started charging $10 per person for the formerly free shuttle into town. So we just wandered around the square, got a small souvenir, and headed back. The area actually looked like it was fenced off from the main part of town, but we saw later that we probably could have wandered through a pedestrian gate in the fence. That was okay. It was hot, and we enjoyed activities on the ship.
Georgetown, Grand Cayman. The small tender boats, which can carry up to 300, efficiently took people from Freedom to the pier. We left the ship at 8:30 a.m. before the rush. Look for The Sugar shop in The Shops at the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal. We splurged there on gelato, an Italian ice cream, on the way back to the ship. We wandered to some of the recommended shops for souvenirs as well as some of the T-shirt shops along the way and bought shirts that changed color in the sunlight, as well as some polo shirts. Some good places to get rum cakes, if you're interested.
Cozumel, Mexico. Getting off the ship, we immediately found ourselves in a bazaar of shops selling everything from jewelry to luchador wrestler masks to sombreros to scarves to T-shirts to Mexican vanilla to liquor to - well, you get the idea. You can find almost anything in this small area. The vendors are very good at luring you into their shops, so if you are a weak-willed shopper, take along someone stronger. By the way, if you're looking for Mexican vanilla, check the list of ingredients before you buy and don't get it just because it's cheap. One bottle had corn syrup and sugar among the ingredients. Though there are other shopping venues and sights outside the immediate port area, it looked like a long hot walk to anywhere unless we paid for a taxi. So we took our few souvenirs, including the Mexican vanilla, back to the ship.
Our stateroom with a balcony on the starboard (right) side of the ship gave us a good view of the ports we visited. It was very relaxing to sit out on the balcony at night or in the early morning. The closet space was just right for our belongings, and the hideaway bed was efficient. The cruise director joked in the farewell show that we would be amazed at the size of our home bathrooms when we returned, because in the shower we wouldn't feel like we were in a toothpaste tube waiting for Scotty to beam us up! But really, we understood the need for efficient space and the shower setup was quite nice with the sliding doors. The little shelves hidden behind the mirrors in the bathroom and living room provided cubbyholes to stash shavers, toothbrushes, deodorant, etc., to hide clutter.
The disembarkation process was well explained, both on paper and on the TV channel, and went smoothly. We had driven to Port Canaveral and stayed overnight, so when we left the ship it was quite easy to catch the shuttle back to the Best Western long-term parking.
Again, we enjoyed the cruise very much and look forward to trying Freedom of the Seas again in the future. Lots to do, good food, and very good service. Hope this helps those cruising on a budget.