After this 6th cruise, first 2 with Carnival and 4th straight w/RCI I will say that I will continue to cruise and especially with RCI. Because I feel very comfortable with the line than anything else.
But I do have to say that RCI is a mass market line which truly (IMHO) competes only with Carnival and NCL and too many negative reviews here are comparing RCI to Princess, Holland America, Celebrity, and Disney. However those reviews may keep you from being disappointed and help you select a line that will best serve your needs and expectations. I hope that this mostly positive review will also help you.
The Freedom class ships are the second largest in the RCI fleet, but are still larger than any other ship. The ship got out of dry dock earlier this year and I wanted to see the "Oasis Style" improvements since I couldn't afford the Oasis this year. I thought that the informational touch screens were a bit gimmicky at first, but by the end of the cruise that opinion changed quickly. I never had to carry a Cruise Compass around to find out what was happening, especially if there was something I wanted to do. The interactive map will show you how to get anywhere on the ship. I wish they had that on the Navigator but they will. The poolside movie screen was also an addition. I didn't think it was needed, wrong again they played great movies at night and even the opening game of the NFL season (although they cancelled the movie, they could have done it afterwards). The movie screen itself looked like it could always have been there but there are 4 decorative lighted columns that obstruct the view from areas of the pool deck. Please remove them. Last the show reservation system, which guarantees you a seat up to 15 minutes before the show, then they will open up to those w/o reservations. I hated this system, but if the ship was full, I could see the usefulness of it. Anyway make the reservations that you want and if you change your mind no problem. If you didn't want to make the reservation don't try to get in early.
I booked the Freedom Class ship specifically because I wanted to try the flowrider. I found out that I'm not any good at it, but it was so much fun that I will definitely try it again. I brought my own ice skates for the rink, but I miss the small rollerblading track on the Navigator. I did not do the cooking academy($) but I will try it the next time. There is just so much to do rock climbing, mini golf, basketball, dodgeball, table tennis.
As always, it was more than satisfactory comparatively speaking. This was the first time I have ever had to go to Guest Relations to bring a complaint. I hate complaining. First one I blame on the TA and I will deal with them on that, but Jared took the time to look into my request and provided me w/complimentary internet time to get the documentation from my e-mail. Although the issue has not been resolved, they addressed my concern properly and I will deal with the TA. Second time I went to the desk (actually the first time) the AC was not cooling down the room to my satisfaction. Literally before I even made back to my cabin the tech was in the hall in front of my room getting ready to enter.
Port & Shore Excursions:
I took the Grotto caves/ Dunn River falls excursion in Falmouth Jamaica . It met my expectations (They can keep the Bats, but it was part of the fun.)
Stay away from the straw market in the falls area "Tourist Trap". Even though haggling is part of the fun, these merchants are pushy, obnoxious and extremely rude if you don't buy something. Even worse if you buy something from 1 then every other merchant will descend upon you like pigeons in the park trying to get bread crumbs. Yes it was that bad. (There is a path to bypass this and it is well marked. I love to shop in them however so I did. I will never do that there again.)
I've been to other ports where the merchants even in the tourist traps were much better, and more enjoyable to deal with. Remember that these merchants survive on the tourist trade.
Note: Cruise lines make money on the shore excursions but I generally only take 1 or 2 per trip.
Travel To Port of Embarkation:
Booked this through RCI, came in on the day of departure 640am flight. Paid the upgrade for the business class. Arrived in Orlando around 9. I expected to wait till 11:00 for the first bus to leave for the port (45 min additional travel which is why I hate port Canaveral but the cruise fare was worth it. I even got a balcony room for the first time after having insides, ocean views, and the promenade cabin (interior views)).
The Greet staff were there at the baggage carousel and had the first bus leave 30 minutes after arrival. I was checked in on the boat by 10:50am The fastest ever (5 minutes once I got through the security line to being onboard). I have arrived first thing to long lines before, I have arrived to average lines later in the day.
The worst cabin I have ever had (except for the balcony) Problem 1: In September, the ships cooling system can not keep the cabin cool during the day. If you go out on the balcony it will take a long time for the cabin to cool back down. Even though the unit was working. At night I turned the unit to max cool and I even had to turn it back up. I will not get a balcony cabin in September again unless it is Alaska. Problem 2: Water pressure in the sink was little to non existent. I did not bring this to their attention. Problem 3: The balcony. I got an aft balcony after talking to my agent (Excellent decision, would do again, hopefully one in a better condition) but the balconies above overlook the deck below and since smoking is permitted on the balcony (needs to stop) my balcony always had ashes on it. The balcony furniture was dirty as opposed to the pristine condition of the rest of the room it should be taken care of. I forgot, the stateroom attendant was very pleasant and personable. Even though the towel animals are no longer required by RCI, they still take the time to do them, even though they have more rooms to clean.
Johnny Rockets($) Yes it does cost $5.00 per meal but it is worth it. When it was free, you could never get in there. Now, although it is busy wait time is limited. (no wait on this cruise) The food is prepared to order right there on the grill. Its basic food, burgers and fries but its done well.
The windjammer. This is the buffet and the service was very good. Although this is a buffet, the wait staff will offer to bring drinks to the table (even the free ones). Food is just okay and the number of dishes that they offer is good. Several different stations so you can pick and choose. No cafeteria line here except to get the omelets in the morning. There has been cost cutting over the last few years and it is most evident here. The free beverages are flavored waters (Mango, lemon lime, etc and it varied a couple of times) but this is the first time I felt the need to purchase the soda package. But the food was 100 percent better than on the Navigator. Better free food vs. paying for sodas if you want them I say RCI made the right decision and it saved RCI a customer. Dining Room service was fine and the menu is pretty much the same as last time. One of these days I will try the specialty restaurants, Chops Grille and Portfino.
Cupcake Cupboard($). Another of the Oasis improvements. Gucci cupcakes. Overly designed and decorated. They even have decorating classes. We all know how popular cupcakes have become after the reality show. $3.00 per cupcake. There was a mini cupcake that was cheaper but the $3.00 ones were pretty small I dont go to these type of shops on land so I cant compare, but I couldn't see my self paying more than $2.00. I had 4 of them, very good.
Ben and Jerry's($) enough said, same prices on land, slightly smaller selection. Good.
Room Service:(Free except 12-5am $3.95): I like having the continental breakfast in the room although I'd prefer a larger selection of food for room service in general. But there's food all over the ship and there is just enough items on the menu to make it satisfactory.
Bars: Generally good service I believe in a small additional tip. The staff rely on these tips for their wages. Ok so a smoothie would be about 4.50 (I dont remember the price) the automatic 15% is added on to that. I will tip $1 and round the change up to the next dollar. Makes it easier to track your bill.
If you give a tip to that first server, they will give you better service than not. And it will be better for the rest of the cruise. If you get a bartender you like keep supporting that one. If your mindset is that they already put a 15% gratuity on it why tip more, so be it and I'm not trying to be critical.
If you receive poor service don't tip, but if it is okay then tip a small extra amount. On these main stream lines Carnival,RCI,NCL you should tip. The upper level lines tipping is not expected and often refused as they are compensated better.
One reason I hold this opinion is my perception of the service staff morale after a ship has just returned from an itinerary where the cultural bias is not to tip vs a spring break or close to, where the tips are more forthcoming.
Entertainment: The best yet. The Freedom Ice show is one not to be missed, as well as the headliner magic show. But all of the entertainment shows were very enjoyable.
Disembarkation was longer than usual due to some issue in the terminal. But once they were aware (on board ship) they made sure that there were people to help with the winding cues through the ship. I did the express departure where you take your own bags off. I have done the leave the bag out on the last night and have not had any issues. I have yet to take advantage of the check in service, where RCI takes care of the check in of luggage and prints boarding passes.
Overall this was an excellent cruise despite the stateroom which is the only reason this did not get a 5+. I cant wait to do it again.
I hope that this review was not too opinionated, but when I read some of the reviews on these boards......
But I hope that this helps.
My last personal opinion is RCI is not as consistent from ship to ship and cruise to cruise. I will be surprised if I ever sail on anything smaller than RCI's Radiance class ships.