Background - My wife and children, son 12, daughter 11, and son 9, left by car :(, very early Saturday morning from Northeast, Ohio. We had to leave Saturday, as both of us couldn't miss a day more of work (we own our own company's), and of course missing school for the kids is always a huge concern. The drive went great, and the kids did their school work on the way down to Florida. My parents have a home in the east Orlando which made the stay convenient.
Traveling with us, were my parents, brother with his girlfriend, my sister with her son, age 13, and our cousin, who happens to be also a close friend of my sister.
Overall Thoughts: We had a blast on this cruise. Everybody had a wonderful experience. This was my family's second cruise, the last having been a four day cruise with Disney a year ago. Royal Caribbean does it right. We couldn't think of a better value out there for a family vacation than one on a Royal Caribbean cruise. There was always entertainment and activities going on, and things to eat, see and do. And at all hours of the day and evening! Their night life is first class all the way, and the public spaces were so much fun. Everybody in my family left the ship, wanting to go on another cruise with Royal Caribbean. Freedom of the Seas is first rate, and I would strongly recommend traveling on her.
Embarkation: The arrival, parking deck and boarding process went extremely smooth. Judging from the parking deck, we arrived fairly late in comparison to most other people, which probably helped us escape the crowds. We stepped on the boat within a half hour of unloading the car. Not too bad at all. So if there is a lesson there, I recommend arriving about 2:30 P.M., depending on your comfort level
Room: Standard inside room on the ninth floor. There was enough room for our things. A room is a room. My daughter stayed in my sister's room, but her belongings stayed in our room. The room was clean and well maintained. There was a little of a worn out odor in the room, like pillows, linens and chairs need to be replaced. There was not a odor of mold or sewage which is a bigger concern when staying in well used room.
Our room attendant, Ewen, did an incredible job, and we gave him the highest marks. The room was always clean and maintained. My parent's attendant, Wesley, deserves props. He always went out of his way for my parents, and I never saw a day where he didn't have a smile on his face.
Entertainment: There is non-stop entertainment going on at all hours of the day and evening. Graham Seymour, the cruise director, kept the boat hopping. He is hilarious, and his morning show had us laughing non-stop every day. The kids absolutely loved both extremely large pools. It was a chore to pull them out of the pool area every day. The magic show was pretty good, as were the live shows. The love and marriage show and quest were hilarious for the adults. Every night there was a street party or parade. There is no possible way that anybody can do everything offered on the cruise. The ice show, was simply incredible.
The kids went to Adventure Ocean maybe two times. This was definitely an area of disappointment. Though my kids were not interested, it was my belief that if they did a few things differently it would have made a major difference. Such as get the kids together immediately -â€“ first night and have them do introductions. The few times I walked the kids to AO it had the feel of a rumpus room. I also believe that AO needs to fill the gap in regard to tween activities (kids 11-13). There shouldn't be an expectation that a 12 year old kid can partake in activities with kids in high school.
I think RCI can learn something from DCL in regards to catering to the tween age group. DCL has a group named the" Out and About," that gets kids involved in activities together around the ship. The activities were not difficult things either, for example take the kids to the sports court, or a show. DCL set the tone immediately by bringing them together the first night. RCI/AO seemed to be in denial that they were dealing with a new set of kids and set the activities together on the first day on Coco Cay. Like that's going to work?
Even with that issue, my children had an incredible time, so my complaint is tempered. They had a magical time. They enjoyed RCI over Disney, just because of the many offerings on board the ship. We loved the rock wall, and did the miniature golf. The boys did the Flowrider. We did not get to ice skate.
Whatever good things people have read about, regarding the entertainment on Freedom of the Seas is all true.
Adult entertainment highlights were the many bands and performers who seemed to be playing throughout the ship in the various venues. The latin band in Boleros was fun and passionate. The reggae group on the pool deck was infectious and really set the mood at the pool. Wish I had their name, because they were excellent. Some of my family loved the karaoke (not my thing).
The game shows, Broadway shows, and street parties were very fun. The Crypt the
night club/disco was fun and had a great DJ. Olive and Twist was a fun, classy place to
grab a drink while overlooking the boat.
The amount entertainment was overwhelming.
I can write on and on about the entertainment. It's very impressive. If you are bored on this cruise then you should check your pulse, or you're ridiculously hard to please.
Food: Overall we really enjoyed the food. It was very good!
The Windjammer always had a good selection of food. The kids especially loved it. Jade the Asian section of the Windjammer had some good stuff most days. I always grabbed a tray of sushi and brought it back to our room for a pre-dinner snack. Breakfast was pretty good.
We chose my time dining, but always went to the late seating, as it was easier to accommodate everybody's schedule. We ended up at the Galileo dining room on deck 5. Our server Salama, and his assistant Odalis, did an incredible job. We always had a great time with them, and they handled the experience with the utmost efficiency and professionalism. We were lucky to get them! The food was mostly great, with a few misses sprinkled throughout.
As I have read on the boards, the desserts throughout the ship provided an excellent area for growth and improvement. The cookies in the cafÃ© promenade were always a treat. RCI might be better off outsourcing the desserts, and if they already are find better distributors.
We ate lunch two of the sea days in the main dining room. I would strongly agree that the salad bar (tutti salad) was excellent. I wish there was a restaurant that did the same thing around my town. The ingredients were fresh and of good quality. There is nothing better than enjoying a great lunch while looking out the window of the main dining room on a beautiful day.
Nobody in our party went to Chops or Portofino's, so I can't offer a opinion.
Destinations and Excursions:
Coco Cay: it was rainy, windy and cold at Coco Cay, so it hampered our experience there. We made the most of it and swam a little bit and ate lunch. Tendering was a wild experience because of the waves. For those who have never been to the Bahamas, should be warned that the water is pretty cold.
Sea Days: Always sunny and beautiful. I think only the last day was windy with some sprinkles. Other than that, the weather could not have been more perfect.
St. Thomas: The island is picturesque. After getting off the ship we had about an hour and a half, so we walked around the little mall near the ship.
We took the Snorkel and Beach Safari by Powercat excursion (Bimini Breeze), offered through RCI. The price was right and it was a blast!! I can't say enough good things about our experience. The rag tag group that took us was very fun and hilarious, yet they were very professional. When we boarded the boat they handed us a cold cup of water or can of soda, and our gear. The boat was fast and powerful, which was a thrill in and of itself. We got off the back of the boat, and snorkeled around a lagoon where we saw reefs with tropical fish and sea turtles (the area was a sea turtle protected zone). We then re-boarded the boat then transported to a private beach where I and my son and daughter snorkeled in the small reefs along the side of the beach, while my wife and other son played on the beach. They provided beer, and soda while on the beach along with beach toys. The time flew by and before we knew it, we had to re-board the Bimini Breeze for the trip back. While on the way back we were given a delicious rum punch or beer that could be made strong to the liking. Needless to say, my wife and I felt comfortable when getting on the Freedom of the Seas. On the way back to the ship the captain of the boat let my two son's drive the boat for a couple minutes each, which we appreciated and that they loved. All the kids on board got to drive the boat for a few minutes. There was great music and when we got back to the dock, we were all screaming our approval while driving next to the FOS. If anyone is wondering what excursion to take when in St. Thomas, here is your answer. It's a great value and fun for all.
St. Martin/Maarten: We took the water taxi to the town from the dock, which cost $6.00 per person total for as many trips that we wanted during the day. St. Maarten is very European feeling and the Phillipsburg was a fun place to walk around and shop. The day we were there it was very hot, so we stopped for some cold beverages in a outdoor tiki bar/cantina. The beach was next to the tiki bar, so we had the kids change into their bathing suits for a swim on the beach. While at the bar I noticed a sign that said, two chairs, an umbrella and a bucket of beer for $20.00. The tiki bar is bright yellow and in front of the "Blue Bitch Bar" left of the Holland House Hotel. If you make it there, ask for Louie the chair/bar attendant who will set you up and make sure you have a pleasant experience (order the mojito - excellent). We all sat there looking out over the blue lagoon paradise that is St. Maarten. My wife and I agreed to add St. Maarten to our list of favorite places. It's fantastic!! We definitely want to get back there again.
Debarkation: We opted to do the express check out at 6:30 AM. I highly recommend it, as your off the boat in no time, and who really relaxes at a time like debarkation day anyway? We each walked out with a bag, said our last goodbyes to our room attendant and the ship with a smile each of our faces.
Final Thoughts: We all had such a great time on the Freedom of the Seas. The week could not have been better. I STRONGLY recommend that people take this cruise! You will not be disappointed.