Myself - 47 and DH 49, 7 cruises, 6 RCI and 1 HA, last one 2017 on RCI
Our 4 kids, 2 at home, 2 out of the house;
-DS1 - 24 years old, 3 prior cruises with us, last one 2009
-DD1 - 22 years old and her SO, 3 ... Read More
Myself - 47 and DH 49, 7 cruises, 6 RCI and 1 HA, last one 2017 on RCI
Our 4 kids, 2 at home, 2 out of the house;
-DS1 - 24 years old, 3 prior cruises with us, last one 2009
-DD1 - 22 years old and her SO, 3 prior cruises with us, last one 2009
-DD2 - 18 years old and her friend, 1 prior cruise with us, in 2009
-DS2 - 15 years old, 1 prior cruise with us, in 2009
My parents, 76 and 78, one prior cruise with us in 2009.
We have sailed on Voyager class ships but nothing as large as Freedom of the Seas. Our prior cruise with everyone in 2009 was on Grandeur of the Seas out of Baltimore. DH and I were on Jewel of the Seas on this almost exact same itinerary in 2017. We thoroughly enjoyed the ports and leaving from San Juan. Puerto Rico really has a lot to offer, especially if you are not just there for part of a day on a ship excursion. It does add to the price for airfare, though.
We booked this cruise in February, 2018. So anticipation has been building for a long time! Everyone was very excited about going. And everyone participated in the planning of what we were going to do. I am very lucky to have children, who even though they are grown and out of the house, still enjoy vacationing with their parents and younger siblings. And I am very lucky that my parents are also willing and able to join us in the adventure. I am also very lucky that both my husband and I have jobs that allow us to vacation like this with our family.
My parents and DH and I each had balcony cabins on deck 7. The rest of the folks had interior cabins on deck 7. Usually we stay higher up on the cruise ship. We really liked this level. It was quiet with the library being close by. And it was right in the middle of our dining options (up to Windjammer, down to MDR/Promenade). I think we got more use out of the venues on the promenade since it was just 2 floors down.
Drink packages/Specialty Dining:
On our last cruise in 2017, we bought the Refreshment beverage package. We thoroughly enjoyed it. It definitely added to our enjoyment of the cruise. We did the same thing this time. I was able to get the package for $17 on the Black Friday deal. I also booked the Deluxe package for DD1/SO and DS1. I was able to purchase that for $44 about 2 months before cruise time. We also booked Chops Lunch for everyone on embarkation day. We are at main seating for dinner and don’t have any other specialty dining planned.
Transportation to San Juan:
For our last cruise, we flew Jetblue. For this cruise, we gambled a bit and went with Spirit Airlines. The flight to San Juan was OK. But then my son’s flight was cancelled and Spirit couldn’t get him to San Juan before Monday. So we luckily got him on another flight on Sunday on Jetblue. On our return flight, the seats were incredibly cheesy looking and cheap looking. There wasn’t even a pocket in the back of the seat. Just some elastic. And they were really uncomfortable. From our perspective, the money we saved in booking Spirit Air evaporated with the extra ticket we had to buy for my son. Spirit has the reputation of not being good with cancellations and rebooking and that was definitely our experience. So, I don’t think we will be booking with them again.
We stayed 2 days prior in San Juan at an airbnb and were supposed to do a cave rafting excursion through airbnb. But that got cancelled shortly before we left for San Juan. So we had to come up with a Plan B. We ended up booking another excursion through AirBNB called “Beach, Art and Old San Juan”. It ended up being fantastic. Giovanni, the tour guide, picked us up in Old San Juan and drove us to a beach that was a “locals” beach. Just a bunch of families enjoying the Easter weekend. Everything was already set up for us on the beach. Chairs, umbrellas, coolers with drinks,, snorkel gear, speakers, towels, etc. We swam for a bit and then lunch was delivered to us. Giovanni brought us a variety of food from the local stands that we passed in coming to the beach. It was delicious food; a variety for us all to try. We stayed at the beach a bit more, and then it was time for the art part of the tour. He took us to a local donut shop while he parked the car. Then it was time to do some walking to look at all of the local street art. These are the large paintings that were on the sides of a lot of the buildings. Giovanni knew a lot about each piece and seemed to know a lot of the artists personally. The paintings were amazing as were the stories associated with each. Then it was back to Old San Juan where we took some pictures at El Morro. Giovanni was really amazing. My dad has some mobility issues and he went above and beyond to include him in the day. While we were on the art tour, he had his friend drive my dad around in the car. And at each stop, if my dad wasn’t there when Giovanni told us about the art, Giovanni went and repeated the information to my dad. In addition when we were all done, he drove my dad to the ChocoBar Cortez where we were going to go for an early dinner. It was an amazing day that far exceeded our expectations. If you are looking for something different in San Juan, I would definitely recommend him.
While we were in San Juan, in addition to ChocoBar Cortez, we also ate at a couple of restaurants close by our AirBNB in Condado. One of them was Cafe Tresbe. We went here for dinner. We had a variety of items. The ceviche was the best we have had. My husband and son each had a poke bowl and they were delicious. We also found the best breakfast spot. Although I don’t drink coffee, my folks told me that these were the best lattes they have ever had. The restaurant was Cafe Marquesa. We had breakfast there 2 days in row. The red velvet pancakes were delicious. They bake their own bread. They also had carrot/pecan pancakes on Easter that were delicious. The french toast was also delicious. Everything was good. I strongly recommend both of the restaurants.
Cruise Day 1:
We arrived at the pier at about 10:30 am. We unloaded the large amount of luggage we had, dropped it off with the porters, headed through the security line at the door, then walked right up to the desk and checked in. We waited for another 15-20 minutes or so before they opened the doors. We were on the ship before 11 am or so. Everyone had the drink packages and got a drink at the Solarium Bar. All our luggage arrived by the afternoon, minus one of our suitcases that was down in the “naughty” room with an “ALCOHOL” label on it. After showing the attendant that it was the hot sauce we bought in San Juan, we took it up to our room. We were supposed to have lunch at Chops that day, but since one of our party was not there yet, they allowed us to switch the reservation to day 6 (the only other day it was offered).
This was our itinerary: St Kitts, Antigua, St Lucia, Barbados, Day at Sea, St Maarten
We had one ship based excursion in St Kitts. The rest of the islands, we had private excursions planned.
Day 2 St Kitts
This is the one day that we split off into multiple groups. My parents booked the railway excursion through the ship. They enjoyed it. It was perfect for them. DD2, her friend and I booked the island tour through Thenford Grey. The rest of the gang took Thenford Grey’s Eco Tour of the Volcano. For the island tour, Thenford lived up to the expectations that I had from reading reviews. He clearly knows and loves his island. There were a couple of photo stops along the way. He also gave us water partially through. At a lot of the stops, there was a chance to get something to eat/drink. But if you stopped to eat or drink, it took away from your time to explore. The rest walked up the volcano. DH and I had done this in 2017. It is very strenuous. We underestimated it when we climbed it the first time. This time you couldn’t walk as high up as we could last time. I guess the ladder was broken or something. Overall a good day for everyone.
Day 3 Antigua
Months before the cruise, I contacted Spring Hill Riding Stables for a horseback riding adventure. We don’t have any experience, so that limited our choices. We had a 30 minute trail walk and then some time in the ocean on the horses. This was a great experiences.They knew all of the horses really well. The horses are clearly members of their family. Sue, the owner, did a great job taking pictures and video for us while we were swimming with the horses. Everyone agreed it was a great time. There was no food on this tour, although it was one of the shorter excursions we took. We got back to the ship in time for lunch.
Day 4 St Lucia
We booked Treetop Canopy Adventure for zip lining. This was a good excursion. They did a great job keeping things moving. There are 12 zip lines that you go through and there are lots of stairs to climb. The zip lines varied in difficulty, some small, some large, some faster than others. The surroundings are beautiful. Keep in mind if you book this that there are some stairs to climb, all throughout the course. The folks that took us on the adventure did a great job. The bus ride there was also interesting and our guide did a good job of narrating and entertaining us on the way to the park. There are a couple of other activities to do at the location, but we only did the zip lining. My mom went with us on the excursion. They took extra good care of her all along the way. It was a very strenuous activity for her (the stairs specifically) but she made it through and enjoyed herself, and was very proud of her accomplishment. We didn’t have any food on this tour, although it was offered. But it seemed to only be standard restaurant food. We might have sampled some, if it has been food specific to the area, rather than hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken strips, etc.
Day 5 Barbados
We booked Silvermoon catamaran. DH and I did this same excursion last time we were here on Jewel of the Seas. And we would probably do it again if we go back to Barbados. It was amazing. The crew does a great job. The food is great. The boat is very comfortable. There were 10 of us plus one other couple on the tour. We spent about 90 -120 minutes with the turtles and the 2 other snorkelling spots. Then we travelled to a more secluded bay where we could swim and then they served us lunch. Lunch included appetizers of spinach quiches and vegetarian samoas with a chili dipping sauce. Main dish was a chicken curry, rice, freshly grilled tuna, and a tossed salad. Dessert included banana bread and lemon bars. All were very good.One of the other couple was a vegan and they created a vegetable curry for her. Drinks were flowing the whole time. The crew did a great job with those in our group that were swim challenged. It was such a relaxing and beautiful day. I can’t recommend this tour enough. As we watched some of the other tours, they had to wear life vests and had someone announcing over the loudspeaker of the boat when there was something to look at. And there were at least 30 of them. In our boat, you could wear a life vest if you wanted but you didn’t have to. There were only 12 of us and there were 2 crew from the boat in the water with us. The turtles were swimming amongst us and surfacing right in the middle of our group. We saw the rays at the bottom, flounder at the bottom, and they brought us a pufferfish and a sea cucumber to look at. After the turtles, it was over to the two shipwrecks to snorkel some more. We saw lots of fish, the spots are just great. DH and I had talked a lot about this excursion to our group and we were afraid that we had oversold it, but after the snorkelling, we were told that we did not oversell it. It was way more than anyone had been able to imagine.
Day 6 at sea
We pretty much chilled around and relaxed after so many straight days of excursions. We played some cards, etc. We had lunch at Chops, that was not the best. 2 hours long and way overcooked steaks. I would not do that again. (See dining below)
Day 7 St Maarten
For this day, we decided to visit Pinel Island. We booked kayaks through Caribbean Paddling. We also had one person take the ferry. We booked it with transportation to and from the cruise ship. It is about a 20- 25 minute kayaking trip to the island, about 15 minutes back. You can stop part of the way to the island where there is a large sandbar. There was plenty to look at here. You can then paddle to the island. There are also spots where you can see turtles in the water. You can rent chairs and umbrellas or eat at the 2 restaurants on the island. You can also paddle around the island to another beach where there is some snorkelling. (We didn’t snorkel.) There is also a path to go up on the island or walk to the other side. This was a beautiful area. If I had to do it again, I would bring some shade for the far side of the island so that we could more comfortably stay there. I would also not rent chairs/umbrellas but just find a spot at the restaurant to eat. At one of the restaurants, you could choose your lobster from their catch for the day and they would cook it. We got a large one so that everyone could have some. The food was good. There is also a place to do some souvenir shopping on the island. We paddled back and then rode back to the port. My parents ate at the other restaurant on the island and had burgers that they said were good. I saw some folks with BBQ ribs and it looked and smelled great. Huge plates of food.
We had early seating for dinner. It worked well for us. Everyone was satisfied with the food in the MDR for dinner. We also preferred the MDR for breakfast. It is only open for lunch on the sea day and that day we ate at Chops for lunch. One day when we returned from an excursion, we had lunch in Johnny Rockets. The chili cheese fries and onion rings were good as was the shake. The burger was not great. Very dry and on the cheapest possible bun. When the bun detracts from the burger, you need to get a new bun. It was a lot of food and was late in the afternoon. I don’t think we would chose to do that for lunch again. But it was miles better than our Chops lunch. Our Chops lunch took 2 hours. The steaks were ordered rare and came back medium well. From my perspective, the specialty dining is not worth the extra money. We could always find something in the MDR that we like. I would definitely not do lunch at Chops again, and it doesn’t seem to be worth the extra cost for dinner. Everyone liked the pizza at Sorrentos and the occasional snack from Cafe Promenade. We had a couple who also ate at Ben and Jerry’s, and I was surprised that it was fairly reasonable. It didn’t seem to be any more expensive than you would pay on land.
Our MDR waitstaff was good. They did a good job. Our Asst Waiter, Cyrus had a life lesson for us everyday after dinner. It became a running joke. He has been with Royal Caribbean for 25 years. Our waiter had just moved to Freedom of the Seas, and it was his first week aboard the ship.
On Ship Activities:
DH and I attended only 2 shows - the ice show and the late comedy show on the last evening. Others in our party took part in other activities. There was always something for everyone to do if they wanted. Everyone seemed satisfied with the entertainment. DS2 climbed the rock climbing wall, but no one got to the flowrider. It just wasn’t open enough hours that we had time. I was honestly surprised at how infrequently it was open.
Only DS2 was eligible for any kid activities. Because he was on the cruise with his other siblings, he didn’t feel the need to participate in the teen activities. He attempted to join on one night but was a few minutes late, so he wasn’t allowed to participate. Not a big deal.
Everyone was very friendly on the ship. Arnold, our room attendant did a great job. One day, the toilets were not working in our cabins, and he told my parents that he would put a rush order on their room because my dad had mobility issues and needed to be able to use his cabin bathroom. Every time we turned around, someone was doing something above and beyond. The crew is great.
Other things that worked well:
-Magnetic hooks - I bought some at Amazon for everyone before we left. They worked great. Brought clothespins too but didn’t need those. I would definitely bring the hooks again.
-Tuxedo Rental - I rented a tuxedo for DS2 for formal nights. It was 92.10 with shoes and tax. I would absolutely do it again. He doesn’t have any fancy clothes and would outgrow whatever I bought him before he would wear it again. The tux was to his measurements and fit him great. Saved luggage space.
-Envelopes with excursion info and tips - This worked great for us. Planned out tips in advance, every day just had to pull the envelope out of the safe. I would have underestimated the amount of cash we needed without doing this. I printed out details on the excursion and put that and appropriate tip money in an envelope for each excursion.
-Drink packages - These were great. It added to our cruise experience and I would do it again, no questions asked. We got a great deal on it buying it prior to the cruise.
-Tripcast - prior to the cruise, I researched ways to share photos from a trip. I found a site/app called Tripcast. This allowed us to have a private facebook like feed for our trip. You could invite others to join in. So this allowed us to share photos with those at home while we were on our trip (without broadcasting to the world that we are not at home) and it also allows us to share each others photos. Everyone in the feed can download all the pictures from the feed. It was great.
-Excursions with meals included - I realized after taking all the excursions, that I would prefer to pay more and have some sort of food included. Or a specific food stop. It just makes the day more relaxing. And preferably something local. For both the volcano climbers and the St Kitts tour, we got back to the ship at like 3 pm without having had lunch. If I had just been DH and I, it would not have been as difficult to find something on our own, but with such a large group, when we had to get food on our own, it took significant time. So I would prefer a tour with the meal time built into the schedule.
Things that didn’t work well-
-Internet on ship - We heard a lot about how great the internet is on Freedom of the Seas. If that was great, I would hate to see not great. I don’t know if I am just spoiled by my internet at home, but we were not happy. You really couldn’t do anything with Surf and Stream. We weren’t even trying to stream anything. Downloading an app was impossible. Uploading a picture to SnapChat would time out. We had purchased a 4 pk before we left and we purchased another 4 pk on board. With the 4 pk on board, I was not able to connect another device, I could not switch between my iPad and phone. That made it less than useful to me. We could only upload pictures in the early morning hours (prior to 7 am), after that, it would time out.
-New paper straws - This bothered some people in my group more than others. If I go on another cruise, I would bring some sort of straw to use. The straws just did not hold up in a frozen drink.
Overall, the cruise was fantastic. Everyone had a great time. It had been a long time since my kids had been on a cruise. It was a totally different experience for them this time. We were busy every day but everyone enjoyed what we did. We had a variety of activities scheduled. Every port was different. Read Less