Freedom of the Seas Dining
The three-deck-high dining room (Leonardo, Isaac and Galileo) offers traditional, assigned-seating dinings during two sittings (6:30 and 8:30 p.m.) and My Time Dining, in which you pick a preferred mealtime (anytime between 6 and 9:30 p.m.), but can change your reservations on a daily basis. (Note: Those opting for My Time Dining will need to pre-pay gratuities.)
Though our meals were generally good (we especially liked the surf-themed menu exclusive to Freedom -- try the steak and shrimp with wasabi mashed potatoes), the logistics left much to be desired.
After embarkation, we visited the maitre d' to request a switch from early to late seating, which was handled quickly. Our first batch of dinner pals, a family from Florida, decided after the first night that they wanted a table closer to the middle of the dining room. Not wanting to sit alone at a table for eight, we asked to be moved again and were seated with another group of relatives traveling together, which went swimmingly ... until the next night when we arrived and strangers were in our seats! After forced interaction with two different families, we were loathe to repeat the experience a third time, and on Thanksgiving no less; we visited the maitre d' again who apologized for the "human error," and thankfully made it right. We asked to be seated alone and were placed at an empty four-top (there are just a few tables for two) where we remained for the duration of our cruise.
But who needs this kind of hassle on vacation?
One of the byproducts of table-hopping is the ability to compare service throughout the dining room -- and this was the only place we found service to be inconsistent. Our very first waiter was practically invisible, never cracked a smile and at the end of the day didn't even ask us if we wanted a cup of coffee with dessert. Our last waiter, on the other hand, couldn't do enough for us: When we asked mid-cruise if he could hook us up with Indian food, he said he'd "see what he could do"; on the last night, he brought us a shrimp curry that wasn't on the menu in the dining room or anywhere else on the ship. We're not sure if it came from crew rations, but it was delicious and we sure appreciated it. He was also at the ready with whatever else we needed: more sauce, more vegetables, more whipped cream for our pie....
Our advice? Make sure your travel agent or booking representative puts in any requests you may have pertaining to the main dining room (early or late seating, number of tablemates, etc.) early on.
Lunch and breakfast are served in the dining room open seating. At breakfast, the main attraction is eggs Benedict. Otherwise, we thought the fare in the Windjammer Cafe, Freedom's lido buffet, was far superior for breakfast and lunch. The Windjammer is set up like a food court, with one long self-service line of hot and cold items, plus stations toward the back for salads, pizza, fresh sandwiches, carved meats, petite desserts, etc. In the morning, an omelet station fixes made-to-order eggs; in the afternoons, we particularly like Jade, an area of the Windjammer that specializes in Asian dishes like sweet and sour chicken. A poolside grill offers up burgers, hot dogs and grilled chicken at lunchtime; Sprinkles self-service ice cream machine is open on the lido from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Squeeze is a juice bar that also blends up energy drinks ranging in price from $4 to $6 -- just choose your fruit (banana, strawberry) and your "power" option (fat burning, protein rich).
A casual buffet dinner is served at Windjammer as well; menu options generally mirror what's being served in the main dining room with the exception of Jade -- we visited for "sushi" night and it actually felt like a "specialty" restaurant. The tables were dressed with white cloths and soy sauce; shiny black plates with spaces for ginger and wasabi were at the buffet; and servers were quick to offer drink service.
If you crave a more gourmet experience, be sure to take advantage of Freedom's two specialty restaurants: Portofino is an Italian trattoria, and Chops Grille, a steakhouse-style eatery. Portofino offers caprese salad, fried calamari and carpaccio among its appetizers, with pasta, seafood and veal dishes rounding out the menu. A great option for dessert here is the sampler, which includes a small amount of flourless chocolate cake, tiramisu and panacotta. At Chops, expect tuna tartare and crab cakes among the starters, several cuts of steak, plus other grilled meats and fish like lamb loin and halibut. If you are a chocolate lover, do not, I repeat, do not miss the Mississippi Mud Pie. It is a huge slice of velvety goodness with a cluster of caramel-y nuts in the center.
A cover charge applies for each ($20 in Portofino and $30 in Chops), but is well worth it. If I could splurge on only one, I'd have to pick Chops -- both are intimate, but the cuisine and service there was just a touch more impressive. I loved the warm dark wood paneling and cushy velvet seating (and the Mississippi Mud Pie alone is almost worth the fee to dine there).
Johnny Rockets is identical in layout to those on Voyager-class ships, and serves the same yummy burgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese, chili, tuna sandwiches, onion rings and fries. We waited 30 minutes to eat here, but were given a pager that we were able to take into the arcade with us to painlessly pass the time; we were buzzed when our table was ready. There's a $4.95 cover charge for dine-in or take-out; drinks are charged separately.
Cafe Promenade is open around the clock with complimentary pastries and sandwiches, coffee and tea (the adjacent Seattle's Best coffee bar offers for-fee cappuccinos, lattes, etc.). New to Freedom, on the opposite end of the Promenade, is Sorrento's, an all-day pizzeria (check your Compass for certain times of the day when paninis are pressed -- yum). In addition to a variety of pizzas that switch up daily, there's a front counter where you can choose any combination of seafood salad, grilled Italian veggies, marinated mozzarella or feta cheese, hunks of bread, artichokes, olives, etc. It's a fantastic midday snack spot! Of course, Ben & Jerry's ice cream bar is available to satisfy your sweet tooth; the waffle cones are made fresh -- get one with a scoop (or two) of your choosing. Items are mostly under $5.
Finally, room service is available 24 hours, though the menu consists of just a few salads and sandwiches. We would have liked more options -- the last time I sailed onboard Voyager of the Seas, there were some snacks you could buy a la carte, like chips and guacamole. However, my tuna salad pita was tasty and delivered in the time frame quoted (30 minutes). You can order breakfast in via a doorknob hang card; Royal Caribbean still offers hot items and even omelets on its room service breakfast menu, which we appreciate, as well as Continental fare from cereal to fruit plates. Room service is free from 5 a.m. to midnight; late-night orders incur a $3.95 surcharge.