Review of the January 29, 2012 voyage of the Freedom of the Seas.
Of the 14 or so cruises my wife and I have taken, we enjoyed this 7 day cruise the least of all. This was the first time we had been on such a large ship, one with a passenger capacity of 3400+ passengers. I feel that the onboard facilities just cannot cope with the number of people.
Our voyage was to include stops at Coco Cay, the RCCL private island, St. Thomas and St. Maarten and three days at sea. As it turned out it was too windy to tender to the private island so that day became another sea day. Counting the Sunday we came onboard, that made five "at sea" days..far too many given the facilities and activities provided.
Elevators..8 elevators were aft serving the dining rooms on decks 3, 4 and 5 plus the Windjammer Cafe on deck 11 that operates all day long. There were eight more elevators all the way forward. Unfortunately, the aft elevators were constantly in use and could not begin to keep up with so many people using them for all the meals plus serving other people just wanting to get to a different deck. The forward elevators were much too far away to draw off any of the crowds. Additional elevators in the middle of the ship would have helped tremendously...but sadly there were none. There were a lot of elderly people on our cruise and many were using electric scooters so that added to the congestion.
Internet..save your money! I paid $35 for 60 minutes of internet time. Unfortunately, the ship-wide wifi runs so slowly that you get maybe 25 minutes of actual time because you are waiting so long for sites to load.
Show reservations..this was a major problem. Because the main showroom has a capacity of 1637, RCCL decided that you must have reservations for any of the headliner or production shows held at 7:00pm and 9:00pm. You can log onto your cruise a few weeks before boarding and make these reservations. When entering the theater a crew member scans your Sea Pass card and it will show if you have the reservation. Sounds simple, but....they don't open the doors to the theater till around 40 minutes before show time and in order to get the best possible seats people have been lining up outside the doors well before that time. The main theater entrance is on deck 3 and there is only a small area in front of the doors for people to wait as stairs from deck 4 lead down to that area. So now you have hundreds of people crowded into the small waiting area in front doors as well as the stairs all filled with people, and with the ship rocking from rough seas, it becomes a very dangerous situation if someone was to lose their balance and fall. When the doors finally open it is a madhouse as passengers are trying to push in and the crew trying to scan the cards for reservations can't keep up. And where would a person who didn't have a reservation go to wait? It was a sea of people all lurching forward. This is a situation that RCCL must quickly correct before a tragedy happens. It's just a matter of time. Saying that, the shows were all excellent and we thoroughly enjoyed them.
Casino...while we didn't win any money on the cruise, it did take us longer to lose what we gambled than on other ships. The big problem we had was that smoking was allowed in the Casino. Other than one cigar lounge, no other interior space allowed smoking. The smell hits you once you got anywhere near the Casino and the smoke removal equipment (if any exists) wasn't doing the job. I am sure that statistics will show that a higher percentage of smokers are gamblers than non-smokers, but many non-smokers refused to go into the Casino or greatly limited their time in there because of the heavy smoke. Oddly enough, the Casino is on deck 4 and that deck has easy access to the outside where smokers could smoke to their heart's content.
The extra cost boutique restaurants...we never use them. Why pay $15 extra for a filet mignon when you are "supposed" to be served comparable food included with your cruise?
Food...very disappointing. On our other 9 cruises on RCCL we have truly enjoyed the food. Not this one. While the prime rib and lobster were delicious, other meals were quite disappointing. They offer a Black Angus sirloin every night if you don't see anything else on the main menu you like. I ordered a beef shoulder cut and it was overcooked so I ordered a sirloin to be cooked medium. It came to me well-done and dry as the desert. Hot dogs and hamburgers at the Windjammer were luke-warm and the buns were half-stale the entire voyage. On the positive side, deck 5 contained the main promenade with all the retail shops plus a few cafes serving pizza, light sandwiches, rolls and desserts as well as coffee, tea, etc. Having these cafes available saved early morning or late evening trips to the Windjammer (and waiting for the elevators). The main promenade was also used for entertainment and parades that were enjoyable. However, you would be wise not to book a cabin overlooking the main promenade because it was always noisy and busy.
Also, in the main dining room for breakfast they set up a buffet of the most common breakfast foods...scrambled eggs, omelets, cereals, rolls, bacon, sausage, etc. You could order from the menu or supplement menu items with the buffet...great idea.
There wasn't a wide enough selection on the dinner menu. I found the desserts to be generally tasteless. Actually, the best food I had onboard was the Indian dishes offered on the menu each night. In speaking to other members of our group of about fifty and to other passengers we got to know, the general opinion was that the food was far below what we had come to expect from RCCL and certainly much below the food quality from recent Holland American and Celebrity cruises. The service by the waiter and assistant waiter was good, but there were some mistakes that we have not had happen in the past. Normally cruise-line service is close to flawless but for this cruise there were enough small miscues to be noticeable.
Friendliness...every crew member was polite, helpful and friendly. The Freedom of the Seas gets high marks in this area.
On board shopping and activities...there certainly wasn't any lack of shopping opportunities on board. On the five days we ended up at sea, it did give you something to do, enough though it was often the same old stuff you saw the day before...mainly costume jewelry, tee shirts, etc. I bought a Citizen watch during the cruise while in St. Maarten. The salesperson aboard ship said that he would have matched the price if I had a business card from the shop on the island. The trouble is those shopkeepers don't like writing down a model number and a price. Rather than taking a chance that the ship would accept my word about a price given to me, I bought the watch off-ship.
It seemed that the ship was heavily pushing all the skin treatments, massages, detox, botox and all the other high-profit health and beauty services. Many of the activities listed in the daily Cruise Compass were for "doctor" so-and-so telling about how to boost your metabolism or reducing wrinkles...all not so much to inform but to sell these services. For a ship carrying upwards of 3400 passengers there just weren't enough activities to go around. Trivia contests were offered a couple of times a day in small bar/lounge areas and some of the same questions were asked at various times. Often, some events that sounded interesting were scheduled just before or during the main dinner seating. One cooking demonstration was held in the Windjammer but you could barely see what was being made and no samples of the completed dishes were offered. I guess the Captain ate well for that lunch because we didn't get any. It seemed like there were not enough larger public areas for activities and what they did offer was shunted in smaller bars and lounges. They had a movie viewing room on deck 2 but the same few movies were repeated. Why weren't more available, especially with that many sea days?
Embarking and disembarking....everything flowed quickly and smoothly. They did a great job of getting us all on and off and getting luggage to our rooms. No complaints. For a large ship with lots of passengers we were able to get on and off on shore days with little or no waiting. Kudos for that!
Our cabin...we were in a balcony room..cabin 6342. This was an excellent location..just off the stairs to the dining rooms and one level away from the main promenade. The room was very quiet and everything worked well. The only complaint was that our bed was so hard it was almost impossible to sleep on. Thanks to the hard work of our room steward we were able to obtain a much more comfortable one.
People told us there was a miniature golf course on one of the top decks. We did not see it on any of the ship's maps which were hard to find. As with almost all cruise lines they offer a free stretching class and/or a free exercise class once a day, usually at 7:00am. Why not offer them at other times in the day? After eating so many meals a day passengers would like the opportunity for an exercise class even in the afternoon or evening.
There were some positive aspects to the Freedom of the Seas but the negatives far outweighed them. My wife and I were actually happy that this cruise was over and we have never felt that way before. Hopefully RCCL will address these problems sooner than later, especially the ones involving passenger safety. For the foreseeable future, we will not be returning to RCCL's mega-ships.