Freedom of the Seas- Eastern Caribbean Itinerary
Oct. 23-30, 2011
I know this review is a bit late, but better late than never.
Pre-cruise and Check In: I flew into Tampa 2 days early to spend some time with my parents and to conduct some business. The day of the cruise, I drove to Orlando Airport to pick up my traveling companions and then on to Port Canaveral, arriving at the pier around 11am. After a quick luggage drop off and parking we were on to check in. There were virtually no lines to go through Security, and once upstairs we were directed to the dedicated Diamond Plus check in counter.. again no line.. and within 5 minutes we were onboard and on our way to the Windjammer for lunch. The Windjammer had the usual offerings and everything was hot, fresh and tasty. We stayed until 1pm when the cabins were ready.
Ship: I had previously only been on Freedom for one of her 2 night pre-inaugural events in 2006 which doesn't seem possible that 5 yrs has already passed. The ship was in excellent condition as I've found all RCCL ships to be (except Voyager). They were constantly cleaning, painting and replacing carpeting in several of the public areas throughout the cruise. I must say, I was both anxious and apprehensive to experience the ship after her recent Oasis class upgrades and Dreamworks Experience. I wasn't looking forward to the poolside movie screen or Dreamworks characters at all, but again was pleasantly surprised. The Dreamworks Experience was very low key, with the exception of the sailaway party on deck or one of the 2 parades. If you didn't know where and when the "Meet Shrek" events were you wouldn't know they were onboard. One thing I did not care for was the Dreamworks sailaway party on deck, and I was also surprised there wasn't much guest participation even though this cruise had a fair share of kids onboard. They basically played recorded music and had a few characters on the dance floor--not much excitement. I really felt bad for the crew members who got stuck wearing those costumes, as it was about 90 degrees and humid. I much prefer the "normal" sailaway with the pool band etc. I was also not happy when RCCL announced the addition of movie screens on the pool deck, as I've sailed on other cruise lines that have this feature and didn't care for it at all. I must admit on Freedom I actually enjoyed this feature more than I expected. Of course they aired all of the Sunday/Monday football games as well as the World Series. They also showed a few movies during the day, but most of the time they aired music videos and when the pool band played they projected different scenes of nature etc. One afternoon they held a Wii game tournament as well. All in all it was very unobtrusive and did not detract from one who wishes to just enjoy the sun and sea air without the TV blaring in the background.
Cabin: I was on this cruise to participate in a Seminar at Seas, sponsored by RCCL and as such the only choice of accommodation was an Inside Stateroom. The thought of spending 7 nights inside a "windowless box" did not thrill me and I was even willing to pay the full cruise fare for any other category. I had hoped to receive an upgrade from the Diamond Plus C&A desk, but due to the ship being sold out, no upgrades were available even for an up charge. Again, I was pleasantly surprised. The cabin was quite spacious and was more than adequate for me traveling as a single. The only thing I didn't care for was the lack of natural light and not knowing whether it was day/night, raining, sunny etc. The lack of daylight caused me to sleep much later than I normally would, and I can see how it's very possible to sleep away the entire cruise without knowing it. Those who like to hibernate will be very happy. The location of my cabin on Deck 10, around the corner from the Concierge Lounge was perfect for grabbing a morning coffee and quick bite to take back to the cabin without having to use room service. My Cabin Attendant, Aura from Romania was excellent and one of the sweetest people I've had the pleasure of meeting.
Food: I only ate in the Windjammer once this entire cruise and that was on embarkation day which was fine. One afternoon, we dined at Johnny Rockets to remedy the effects of too much drinking the night before. Sometimes you just need a greasy hamburger and fries to help get you back on your feet, however this was some of the worst food I've ever had--anywhere. The burger was cooked beyond recognition and so dry there wasn't enough water in the ocean to help wash it down! I must note though that others in the group dined there another day and said the burger were juicy and good so it may have just been an off day when we were there. Sorrento's and Cafe Promenade became our nightly stopping places to grab a late night snack before going to bed and both were very good. I only ate in the Main Dining Room for lunch on the sea days and the Tutti Salad Bar and other offerings on the menu were very good as was the service. Having been invited to dine in Chops on 3 separate nights, left me only eating dinner in the MDR 4 times and each dinner was good to very good. It was nice to see some new menu items and the service was excellent, from our Bar Waiter to Head Waiter. Chops was excellent and each night we had different wait staff all of whom were also excellent. Chops menu has a few new items which was a nice change and I think during our 3 visits we sampled most of the menu. The red velvet cake is the best I've ever had, and one piece is big enough to feed a small village. One disappointment was the Cupcake Cupboard. During one of our meetings RCCL provided us with an assortment of cupcakes and all I can say is.. I wouldn't eat another one of them if they paid me, let alone pay $3.00 for one! The ratio of icing to cake is about 100 to 1, and the icing was far too sweet and the cake was very gummy and had the taste of raw flour.
Entertainment: I had previously seen one of the production shows "Once Upon A Time" during the pre-inaugural and it was just as good this time as it was then. The RCCL Singers and Dancers were a very talented group and the singers could actually hit the notes of the songs which is not always the case. There were 2 new production shows as well.. "Marquee" with the standard singing/dancing and "Now You See It" which features the RCCL Singers and Dancers along with the magic of Drew Thomas (from America's Got Talent). This show has potential to be really good, however it was a bit boring in places with too much set up and talking between any real magic. The highlight of the show was the end when Drew made it snow inside the Theater... the story he told during this "trick" was very touching and several people had tears in their eyes. The Ice Production--Freedom Ice.com was also very good. All of the bands and shipboard entertainers were also very good and every night the bars and lounges were packed with people enjoying all the different styles of music available from Big Band to Latin. The pool band wasn't the best I've ever heard, nor were they the worst either. Throughout the week there were 2 parades in the Royal Promenade, which I avoided like the plague. There were also 2 "Street Parties" in the Royal Promenade.. one with a 70's/80's theme and the other "Rock Britannia" featuring British Rock bands performed by the Cruise Director and Staff. I didn't attend the 70's party, and honestly had no intention of going to Rock Britannia, but after hearing all the people carrying on I had to see what I was missing and it was a blast!
Crew/Service: Service onboard was as usual with RCCL, excellent. Every officer, staff and crew member encountered was pleasant, helpful and genuinely happy to help. You can tell this is a very "happy ship". It was nice to run into several crew members from previous cruises on different ships and at one point I even joked that this cruise was like a reunion with old crew friends. One thing I wasn't looking forward to was having Graham Seymour as Cruise Director as I had the misfortune of spending a week with him onboard the Navigator a few years back and he was so rude and arrogant, I swore to never book another cruise where he was CD. Once again, on this cruise I was pleasantly surprised. Graham seems to have lost the attitude he had from years past and was actually very visible and quite funny--especially his late night, adult comedy show.. which you should know really is ONLY for adults and only those not easily offended by off color humor and language. This daily morning TV show was mostly funny with a few misses such as his obsession with fart jokes. Overall, after this cruise, I would gladly spend another week with Graham as CD, which is something I can't say about Ken Rush.
As a Diamond Plus amenity, I attended a tour of the Bridge, and it was nice that the Captain Tor actually came up to conduct the tour with his great sense of humor. He spent about 45 mins talking, explaining the instruments and answering everyone's questions. Following the Bridge Tour we were escorted to meet the Executive Chef for a tour of the Galley which was in full swing was they prepared for Formal Night Dinner. The Chef again, spent time with us at each station, explaining what was happening and at the end presented each of us with a small "treat".
Ports: While on this cruise, Hurricane Rina was heading for a collision course with the Western Caribbean, and as this cruise was the Eastern itinerary, we had mostly perfect, but hot weather. Our stop at Coco Cay was the worst, weather wise, but it didn't stop most of the passengers from going ashore. We opted to stay on the ship, which turned out to be a good thing. At around noon, Capt. Tor came over the P.A. and told everyone that the gangway was closed for anyone wishing to go ashore, and he actually had told the Island Manager to close all facilities and get everyone to the tenders and back onboard. The weather had gotten worse and it was so windy they Capt. was having trouble keeping the ship in position. I watched the tenders come back to the ship and it did not look like fun. They sat out bobbing and rolling for 45 mins while those tied to the ship tried to disembark people back onboard. The waves were literally lifting the tenders up 1 deck and back down, and were slamming against the ship that it took forever to get everyone back onboard. Our next Sea Day was sunny, warm with virtually no wind. St. Thomas was hot and humid as was St. Maarten. Our 2 sea days back to Florida were nice, but a bit windy. The last night of the cruise we went through a storm which the Capt. told us to expect and the seas got a bit rough but that's part of the fun.
Disembarkation: As I didn't have a flight home until the following day, I was in no hurry to leave the ship and instead opted to wait until the Express and other early groups were called. I wound up leaving around 9:30am and didn't encounter too much of a line. I would say it took be about 20-30 mins from ship to car and I was back on the road to Tampa.
All in all this was an excellent cruise and one I would gladly repeat again in a heartbeat.