We flew into San Juan and spent the day prior to the cruise exploring Old San Juan on our own. Old San Juan is gorgeous and filled will all kinds of shopping, dining and historical buildings, and you could easily spend days there doing ... Read More
We flew into San Juan and spent the day prior to the cruise exploring Old San Juan on our own. Old San Juan is gorgeous and filled will all kinds of shopping, dining and historical buildings, and you could easily spend days there doing everything that OSJ has to offer. We stayed at the Hampton Inn near the airport, which was a little noisy due to runway noise from the neighboring airport, but did not disturb us at night due to decent soundproofing.
Saturday morning, embarkation day, we took an Uber to the port, and he dropped us off in front of a massive crowd of people. We started to walk inside and were quickly turned around and told to go to a certain colored column to drop our luggage. Unfortunately, the columns are colored near the bottom, and nearly impossible to see through the crowd, thus turning it into a free for all of people trying to get to the right line, but unable to see where the line goes from the end of the line. Once the luggage was loaded into the carts, we set out for security and check-in. Security, as usual, was questionable at best, and provided little in the way of assurance of actual security, and more of a security theater setting. After security, we were directed to check-in, and were placed in a line for Crown and Anchor guests, which moved no faster than the normal check-in line, and check in was provided by a very soft spoken employee, who did not seem terribly interested in her job. Maybe it was the heat? Security and check in were extremely hot, but it's the tropics, so what can you do? We were then directed up an escalator to the ship, where we were advised that our stateroom was ready.
We proceeded to our stateroom at the front of deck 9 (9504) where we were greeted with a typical stateroom, excluding the large porthole at the front. After some careful moving (pro tip: move the coffee table to the other side of the bed near the porthole for more room to move in the "living room" area) we began to unpack. My wife noticed that the hair dryer did not work, but there was a second one provided in the drawers below. These rooms do lack more than 2-3 outlets total, so don't plan on too many devices charging at once. The colors were, to quote my wife, "atrocious" and the stateroom was done up in a well worn green and peach motif, with yellow patterned curtains. The bed was comfortable, but pillows were lacking, and were very thin (we asked for extras) We spent most of the first day exploring the ship, and trying to get acquainted with the various areas on board. It was at this point we noticed that boarding had continued to fill an already crowded ship to absolute max capacity. When we went down for the muster drill, we filed into a crowded space at the front of the ship to hear the muster drill briefing, but had to listen to it once in English, then again in Spanish, followed by a number of chants, in Spanish, from the mainly Puerto Rican crowd.
When we returned to our stateroom, we were greeted with a paper informing us that our tour for our first port was cancelled. We immediately went to the Shore Excursions desk and were informed that the tour was cancelled due to "lack of participation" from others. We were given an alternate tour with a discount. After a decent dinner with mediocre service in the main dining room, and a reservation for an alternate table the next night with the MyTime desk, we returned to our room to be told that our replacement tour was ALSO cancelled, due to "lack of participation"--we then returned to the Shore Excursions desk to rebook AGAIN, and when questioned on the "lack of participation" on a completely full ship, we were told that the Puerto Rican population did not like to purchase shore excursions, and that we should be prepared for more of the same in other ports. We booked a third excursion that they guaranteed would go out.
Our first port, in the US Virgin Islands was docked at the former US Submarine base, and when we got off the ship, we were greeted with a group of friendly locals, one of whom was the taxi driver for the Champagne Cat Tour that we booked. We piled in with 12 other guests (The absolute bare minimum for the tour to go out) and took a long and winding hour ride to the other side of the island to meet our Catamaran. The tour was pleasant, and Captain Dave, along with Brandon and Esther, made our first half of the day a success, despite the numerous cancellations from the desk. We got back on the ship after noon, and spent most of the rest of the day between the very crowded pool deck and the common areas of the ship. Dinner was in the main dining room, and was highlighted by our new waiter Merlissa and her assistant waiter Kresimir. Both were excellent and very informative. We were informed that night of a tropical storm (Isaac) brewing to the east of us, headed westbound towards the area.
Our second day was spent at sea en route to Curacao, and was fairly uneventful. There was live entertainment all day, but deck space again was at a minimum. The Windjammer was full on this day, and it remained difficult all week to get breakfast in any sort of orderly fashion. Lines went every which way, there was no cohesive direction, and none of the staff tasked to provide any sort of guidance other than the standard of handing out purell like it was going out of style. Tables were at a premium, and lines in the main dining room for breakfast spanned a great stretch of the ship.
Third day in Curacao was punctuated by a trip through the island on a tour bus with a decent tour guide. The tour was informative, as was the trek through Hato Caves and the Curacao distillery. We punctuated this night with a Sunset Harbor Cruise, which we highly recommend. The guide was informative and the views were gorgeous.
Fourth day in Aruba was where the plans began to unravel. The evening of the third day, we found out yet another of our tours (Off Road Land Rover Tour) was cancelled due to "operational concerns" and there was no other tour to take it's place. We were also informed that due to the incoming storms, our fourth port (St. Maarten) was cancelled and that we would instead spend the last two days at sea. Our other tour in Aruba was to Palm Beach, and was a nice ride, but could have spent more time at the beach. Worth doing on your own, rather than taking the RCCL tour for this one. We also stopped and had lunch at a local seafood restaurant to break up the monotony of the windjammer's lunch options--which were repetitive and limited. We went to dinner in the dining room, only to find out that our table had been given away, and we were instead seated contrary to our wishes in the middle of another section. I protested the table choice with the desk, only to be told that they would seat us where they had room, and that we were to go where they sat us. Luckily, our protests seemed to make it across to one of the section leaders, who smoothed things over and got us close to our normal section, with our normal waitress and assistant waiter. At this point, we were stressed out, frustrated and rather annoyed with the service onboard and the lackluster attitudes among some of the staff. The dining room manager came over and we spoke briefly about the issue, and he assured me that it would be handled from that point forward. Our waitress and assistant waiter were apologetic (even though it wasn't their doing!) and said they would work on it from their end as well.
The fifth day was spent at sea, and was generally used by sitting on the pool deck, attempting to get service at crowded pool bars and finally retreating to our stateroom. The activities all week were centered on the latino crowd, and seemed to be more for the benefit of the locals on board than those who had traveled long distance to try to relax. We had a conversation with Gazetty, the guest services manager on this day, reference our complaints, and while she empathized with us, she admitted that there was not much she could do in reference to most of the issues, but did take down our concerns, and seemed to be receptive to our criticisms.
The sixth day was spent similarly to the fifth, as we were still at sea on a packed boat, but winds and waves began to pick up, and we experienced heavy seas and infrequent squalls with driving rain. The staff, at this point, seemed exhausted and that they were more interested in getting off the ship than the passengers were, which did not say much for either side.
Disembarkation was a complete and total disaster, as we had a shore excursion planned, and were told in no uncertain terms that we would be moved off the ship efficiently to get us to our shore excursion. Unfortunately, this was hampered by the flood of people separating the shore excursion group who were instructed to get off the ship immediately and the groups of Puerto Rican locals who were in a scramble to get off as fast as possible. This made for a confusing and difficult time getting off the ship, through customs and reunited with our luggage. The building is not well marked as to the next step, and there was much confusion as to the path to get out of the building.
Eventually, we made it to our tour bus, and our tour guide Hector was a great guide. He shared his experiences, plus stops to Old San Juan and the Bacardi Rum Tour. He navigated the tight streets of San Juan with ease in his bus, and provided good commentary. The tour ended with a drop off at the airport and after going through customs we headed home.
My thoughts on this cruise lead my wife and I to hold on our plans to schedule another cruise, as Royal Caribbean has obviously lowered standards of quality. The highlights were definitely sparse, and the Freedom is in desperate need of a refit and update. The staff is generally young, and lacks experience and polish that we expect on RCCL ships. Though the ship is well maintained, technology seems outdated, with terrible speeds on the onboard internet, and various systems that required repair or replacement, including the public address system in the rooms, Coca-Cola Freestyle machines, various monitors throughout the ship, the lack of outlets near the bed in our cabin, the elevator system and the heating and cooling system. Our room failed to stay cold throughout the day, even with the thermostat on the lowest setting, and air circulation seemed to be non-existent throughout much of the ship. The doors from the pool deck to the interior stairwells seemed to work intermittently, and maintenance staff was frequently seen in the hallways and common areas attempting to repair issues. Read Less