This was our third cruise on RCI. We had previously sailed to the Bahamas on the Majesty and the Western Caribbean on the Explorer. When we found a great rate for this Eastern Caribbean itinerary October 23 on the Freedom, we grabbed it. My husband and I are in our 50's and have also sailed on HAL to Alaska.
I love this ship. It has so many entertainment venues and dining opportunities. We found the quality and variety to be very good for the price. It was easy to navigate this larger ship although the elevators could be slow during high activity times. While there were many similarities to the Voyager class, there were also many new surprises to explore and enjoy as well. Lots of quiet places to relax, too.
We flew into Orlando the day before and ate lunch in Winter Park at an outside cafe and visited the Morse Fine Arts Museum which has the largest collection of Tiffany glass in the world. Just a short drive from the airport, it was the perfect way to start our vacation before we drove to Cocoa Beach to spend the night before embarking.
We stayed at the Comfort Inn Coca Beach which we found to be a good value. It includes a free extended breakfast, free internet, and a great location just a block off the beach close to many stores and restaurants. We walked along the beach at sunset and ate dinner at a nearby seafood place.
The next morning, we left off our rental car at Avis after taking another walk on the beach and arrived at port via their van service by 10:45. It took maybe 30 minutes from the front door of the terminal to finding a seat in the WJ which was not packed yet but soon became crowded. We enjoyed some huge shrimp in the Paella dish and various salads and sandwiches. Then we checked out the desserts at the Promenade Cafe and Sorrento's Pizza while getting acquainted with the ship's various venues and taking photos.
We changed into our swimsuits when we were allowed into our state room at 1 pm and then spent the afternoon on the pool deck in the hot tubs, reading in the Solarium, looking out at sea, and watching football on the big screen. Afterwards we met our wonderful room steward Sergio who took good care of us throughout the cruise and was always present in the hall to chat. We stayed in an inside cabin on the 9th floor close to the aft elevators and an easy two flight walk up to the pool deck and WJ.
After the muster drill and sail away party on pool deck, we dressed for early dinner and met our dinner mates for the first time. We enjoyed meeting with them each evening to share stories about our days in port. We missed the Welcome Aboard Show because one couple was celebrating a 25th anniversary with a special dessert. But it didn't matter because we were able to see it and other shows staged in the theatre on the TV in our stateroom later.
We ended a long day with cocktails at one of the numerous lounges while catching parts of the World Series in the sports lounge on the 3rd level which became our routine throughout the cruise. This was also where they do karaoke most nights.
It wasn't till the sixth game that the World Series was finally shown on the large screen on pool deck. It was really a challenge being a Cardinals fan and still doing all the other fun things on ship at night, but we did it. There is nothing quie like watching the World Series on a large screen from a lounge chair under the stars at sea. It will be a memory we will cherish for many years to come.
I'm not going to get into so much detail about the rest of the cruise but just give our impressions.
We were blown away by Trunk Bay in St. Johns. Such a beautiful secluded beach with water so clear you could see all kinds of tropical fish without snorkeling. Our Island and Beach tour via Bernard's Tours in St. Marten was also a standout day.
The Butterfly Farm in St. Thomas was overpriced. We would have felt ripped off if there hadn't been a bird show included. Coco Cay turned out well for us but not for everyone. We tendered around 10:30 am and missed the rain the early risers experienced, but the water was too choppy and full of churned up seaweed to swim. So we enjoyed the BBQ and about two hours of sunbathing before the wind and clouds returned. The Captain wisely cut our stay there short before the weather got too bad to tender back to ship.
Our only specialty dining experience was the Making Pasta cooking class/three course lunch at Portifinos for $10. You are served your choice from three menu selections for each course with an optional $10 charge for some exceptional wine pairings with each course. Very well done. It was like getting a $30 dinner in this wonderful restaurant along with a personal interview with several of the ship's chefs. It's offered only once, so watch for the notification in your daily Compass and make a reservation early.
Loved the ice show, production shows, Motown Las Vegas entertainer who had everyone on their feet dancing and singing along, the flow rider, trivia and game shows, dance parties hosted by the cruise director's staff, bartender in the Schooner Bar, and Latin band in Boleros. Sorry we missed the parades as they looked fun when shown on TV.
And did I mention the little sandwiches and desserts at the Cafe Promenade? There is a rum raisin bar there to die for. It was too rich to eat like a brownie. You had to use a fork. And there was an Amaretto chocolate pudding with lots of dark chocolate ribbons on top at Sorrento's Pizza that came in as a close second. The tutti salad in the MDR at lunch on sea days was exceptional. They really piled on the smoked salmon and huge shrimp.
I am proud that I kept a relatively healthy diet until Thursday night, after which I decided to try every luxury item on the menus I could find. You're on vacation right? And we did try to walk on the 4th level wrap around deck at least once a day or evening. There were more than enough items cooked tastefully in the MDR to set me back about 3-5 pounds. I found the food there to be good to very good. The meat portions were usually huge and cooked as requested.
We ended the cruise on Sunday and got another one-way car rental for our overnight stay in Orlando at the Hampton Inn Florida Mall and flight back the next day. Again, this was a nice hotel for the price with all the extras like an extended breakfast, free internet, and well equipped exercise room.
My husband insisted on doing another Old Florida attraction, Gatorland. What a surprise. This was a beautifully maintained property; more like a zoo with several shows and a mile-long boardwalk through a classic FL swampland with birds, reptiles, and an abundance of flora. With the temp in the 70s and low humidity, it was a perfect way to end our vacation. Not sure it would have been as much fun in the summer.
The only weak points in the cruise were boarding and disembarking. We were herded into a special Gold member line for check in with only one person working the desk. It took over twice as long as the regular line which had four staff members on staff. Leaving the ship, someone took one of our suitcases and left it at a different carousel. After searching for almost 15 minutes, a porter finally found it just sitting where someone dumped it when they realized they had the wrong bag. No big deal.
Don't hesitate to book this ship and itinerary. All the staff was super friendly, fun, and dedicated to making your cruise a memorable experience.