This was our first transatlantic cruise. We enjoyed it so much that we would not hesitate to book one again, especially considering that it is a real bargain. We spent two days in Barcelona prior to the cruise and it wasn't enough time for a first visit to that beautiful city. We boarded the HOHO bus and toured some of the highlights...Gaudi cathedral and Picasso Museum and participated in a terrific walking tour of the Bari Gothic (old city) that was arranged through the CruiseCritic roll call group.
The cruise stopped at 5 ports in Spain and the Canary Islands, all of which were unique. The tours we took were filled with information on the history and politics of the autonomous regions of Spain. By the end of the 5th port we were ready for the fun and relaxing sea days.
Embarkation: This was the slowest embarkation that we have ever experienced. We were misdirected to the wrong line and then waited over Â½ hour to get to the desk. The camera taking pictures for the sea passes was broken. The representative asked us for another form of ID which we did not have and this frightened us because we were never informed that we needed a picture ID other than a passport. Fortunately, we found out that copies of our passport would suffice. Luggage did arrive in our cabin in record time.
Dining: We chose My Time dining and really enjoyed it. On this cruise line, they prefer that you make a reservation, but it is not set in stone. On most of the days we had the same table by the window with the same servers. Service was excellent and the food at dinner was good with a wide variety of choices. One of us has a special dietary requirement, and each evening they provided us with the following day's menu in order to have the entrÃ©e specially prepared. I do believe that the quality of the food has deteriorated and is not as good as dining on Celebrity or Holland America, but it is generally sufficient for us. On the sea days we ate breakfast in the dining room at shared tables which gave us the chance to meet and chat with many people. There were items available in the dining room for breakfast that are not available in the Windjammer buffet, as well as a specialty item every day. Sometimes we felt that the food was not made to order, but mostly it was a pleasant way to start our day. Once I asked for an omelet with just peppers and onions. The omelet came with mushrooms. I sent it back, but the waitress just picked out the mushrooms and returned the same platter (by now, very cold). This was the one disappointing experience. Be aware that there is always a line for breakfast in the dining room. There was one late night buffet on the pool deck complete with ice sculptures and a dance band.
Activities on Board: On the 8 sea days, there was an abundance of things to do. We were never bored. There were enrichment lectures on history and self-improvement which were very well attended and informative. There was an ad hoc discussion group each day in the Schooner's Bar where a group of about 30 people gathered to discuss issues of the day such as politics and economics. There were many opportunities for trivia, dancing, pool games and exercise classes. We don't recommend the casino because the table odds and payback on the slot machines seemed to be the lowest we have ever experienced on a cruise ship. One important note...We fully expected that this large ship class would have an indoor or covered pool. It did not. There is a very large water park area for children with various sprinklers and water toys. The main pool has a huge screen where movies, sports and music are played almost continuously. The music was very loud at times. The solarium pool is adults only, but is open and does not have a bubble should the weather be cold or raining. On this cruise the weather was warm, but it was extremely windy on the pool deck on several of the sea days. A covered pool would have been an asset. For that reason alone, we would never cruise on the Freedom class again.
Entertainment: In a word: wonderful. Every night there was a different performance ranging from a full scale Broadway style production of Saturday Night Fever to an Elton John impersonator. The ice show requires reservations (which can be done on line before the cruise) but it is well worth signing up for. The music options were numerous, and we especially enjoyed the group called Suave. There were game type shows almost every night where the audience could participate. The cruise director, Mike from Australia, was a bit phony but the activities director, Rich, was top notch. Though there were very few children on this cruise, the Compass newsletter noted many opportunities to meet and greet staff members dressed as Dreamworks cartoon characters.
Excursions: We took excursions sponsored by Royal Caribbean at each of the 5 ports. In Cartegena we were extremely pleased with the city tour (RA06) which took us through the town square and narrow streets as well as into two fascinating museums. One focused on the history and Roman battles and provided access to a catacomb that was uncovered during excavation. The other had artifacts from the many cultures that settled in the area and the museum opened onto the excavated remains of an actual Roman theater where you could walk among the ruins. In Malaga (tour MG01), our guide, Victor, took us through the old city of Marbella and then to Puerto Banus on the Costa del Sol, a beautiful resort town filled with yachts and luxury cars. Victor added much to the tour with his great sense of humor and honest discussion of the politics and financial situation in Spain. The third port was Cadiz (tour CD01). We toured a cathedral plus a museum and several plazas, and found this to be the oldest, most unrestored of the cities. The last two ports were Tenerife and LaPalma, two volcanic islands in the Canary Islands group. On Tenerife we chose the 4x4 adventure (TF21) which we highly recommend. The caravan of jeeps went up into the crater and lava fields of the volcano, which is the 3rd largest in the world. This tour may have been enhanced if, during the long trip, the driver had spoken a little English and could narrate for us. A great experience though! The streets of LaPalma (tour SZ14) are the steepest we have ever seen and the bus navigated them with amazing agility. Our guide, Sheila, was from England and originally came to LaPalma to work in the world famous observatory nestled into the volcano. We had a wonderful walk along the crater of the dormant volcano.
Disembarkation: We were pretty mellow by the end of the trip, but the disembarking process was quite a mess.
The CruiseCritic Meet and Mingle was the largest ever on Royal Caribbean. Though we only participated in several of the activities planned by the roll call group, it was a lot of fun to do the slot pull and gift exchange. A lot of people worked very hard to make this happen.