Freedom Annivesary Cruise: Freedom of the Seas Cruise Review by cyclenut

Freedom of the Seas 5
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Freedom Annivesary Cruise

Sail Date: June 2012
Destination: Western Caribbean
Embarkation: Port Canaveral (Orlando)
My wife and I selected the Western Caribbean itinerary aboard Royal Caribbean. Our travel agent recommended the Freedom of the Seas as our ship, which turned out to be the perfect choice. We chose to book our own flights and we flew Virgin American from the West Coast to Orlando. We had never flown Virgin American and were very impressed. Very friendly atmosphere, comfortable leather seating in coach and exceptionally friendly staff. We stayed at the Hampton Inn, Cocoa Beach using their Snooze and Cruise package. That turned out to be an excellent choice as well. It included free shuttle service to and from the airport and the cruise terminal, breakfast on departure day, access to the beach and pool area the day of disembarkation and very friendly staff. We were not even on the ship yet and we were enjoying our vacation!

Embarkation was a breeze. We are Crown and Anchor members but only at the Gold level. When we arrived there was nobody in the Crown and Anchor line More for our deck so they waved us in. We were on board and enjoying lunch within 30 minutes of arriving at the cruise terminal. We noticed that the lines did not appear to be very long and were moving pretty quickly, but were still glad to be on board so easily. We headed straight for the Windjammer and had lunch. The crew was handling the crowds very well with regular announcements asking those who had finished their meal to kindly leave the table for others just arriving. It was crowded but manageable. We finished and left to explore the ship.

This ship is absolutely amazing and RCCL has done an outstanding job of keeping it looking bright and new. As we walked the Royal Promenade it had the appearance of something freshly polished, even though I knew that it was teaming with people just a few hours earlier. We casually walked toward our stateroom on Deck 6 as 1:00 approached. All staterooms were available at 1:00. This is where I pause to say that I wish RCCL did something more spectacular with their boarding experience. The ship is wonderful but you leave the gangway to board and are dumped into a common area without any clue where you are or what you are looking at.

We arrived at our stateroom and found the Grand Romance package and Anniversary package decorations waiting for us. These are available through the RCCL web site and they really helped make the experience feel very special. Our cruise vacation was in full swing and we were enjoying every second!

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the ship and by the time we arrived back in our stateroom, our luggage was tucked safely inside. We unpacked, got ready for dinner and headed to the Main Dining Room for our first dinner, second seating.

We were seated on the third floor in Leonardo's. We were seated with two other couples who turned out to be great table mates. Unfortunately we were not impressed with the service or the food in the MDR. The waiter was somewhat slow and mixed up the orders. The menu is not very extensive and she wrote everything down, but it was done wrong. We talked to her and our assistant server. We made it very clear that this needed to be fixed by the next visit, and it was. Service was still slower than we would have preferred but there were no more errors in the order and the atmosphere remained very friendly. If you have a problem, speak up. Nobody wants to provide poor service but they can't fix it if they don't know about it. Even so, we found the selections to be uninspired and the portion sizes to be barely adequate. We much preferred the windjammer to the MDR. We also tried Chops one night and were unimpressed. The food was good, but not the top quality I expect from a premium restaurant. The service was much better here, but I've had better at land and at sea. The waiter tried real hard but seemed less experienced than I expected for a premium dining location such as this. We wouldn't do it again.

The ship itself is absolutely fabulous. Every venue is well themed and well equipped to handle the 4,000 + passengers. Nothing ever felt crowded, expect may be the muster drill, which is to be expected. There is so much going on at any given time, people are spread all over the ship. The lounges are active early and often, the very large Arcadia theater had plenty of seating for the shows and was occasionally used for Bingo as well. We had trouble finding a suitable lounge chair on the first sea day, but I have that some trouble at the pool area of nice hotels here on land. Those who hung around while enjoying the pool were eventually rewarded with a chair as people cycled out. We really enjoyed the Solarium adult pool area with the cantilevered spas and the very well done pool. There was plenty of room around the family pool area and the kids play area as well. I was surprised it didn't look and feel more crowded that first sea day as we left rain and clouds behind and sailed into the sunshine.

The entertainment on board was first rate. The Broadway style shows were much more Broadway than Vegas, and that is a good thing. We watched every show and enjoyed them all very much. I was a little surprised at when a few of the skaters had trouble landing their tricks. There were at least three falls and several more very shaky landings. The seas were calm and the ship wasn't rolling much. The show was spectacular, but I was surprised at this issue. The best show as "Once Upon A Time" by a fair margin. That is because this show was so good from start to finish I almost wanted to book another cruise, this time with the whole family, just to see this one show again. It really was that good. It compelled us both to visit the Arcadia theater on the last sea day for the backstage tour. If you have any interest in theater or show production, I highly recommend this tour. You meet some of the cast and they show you around. It was an interactive session with lots of questions and some great answers. We were also very impressed with the live musicians on board the ship. They were not just playing the music, they were performing it. You can feel the difference and it created an energy in the room no matter where they were or what type of music they were playing. Having live music for the production shows really added to the overall experience. Top rate in all aspects.

The cruise director was the best we have ever experienced. Fun and witty yet highly organized and informative. He was not just a talking head telling you about what is going on and what is coming up. Graham Seymour may not be the best in the business, but if there is anyone better I would like to meet them. He has the whole package and I believe he influenced the entire ship in a positive way.

We were a little surprised at how much the photographers seemed to take over the ship sometimes. The lines were also long as the photographers took time to take shots of multiple poses and encouraged everyone to take group, sub-group and individual shots, each with multiple poses. This occurred every time. That said, the photos were excellent. Advice, start pulling your pictures early and ask them to place those pictures on hold for you, adding to it throughout the cruise. There isn't enough space to display them all and many prints were placed back in boxes if they were not claimed within in a couple of days to make room for new ones. The day of embarkation and formal night photos remained up all the time, but the port photos and pictures with Dreamworks characters were not. Furthermore, the digital images were a bit hit and miss. The facial recognition software keys off of the original embarkation photo. Almost none of our port photos were included on the digital catalog. In order for them to fix that for you, you had to find the print and bring it to them. Even if you are not planning to buy prints and want to buy the CD, it is a good idea to pull all your prints as you go. I also had a problem with my waterproof camera and purchased on on the ship that worked wonderfully. The staff was very knowledgeable about the limited product they had and how it compared to similar products on the market. Those that I spoke with were photo enthusiasts and loved to share tips and help you with your equipment if you had questions. It wasn't just about the pictures they took for you. That was a nice touch.

Bar service was another pleasant surprise. We are not heavy drinkers but we do have a couple of favorites. We had two or maybe three drinks a day at the most. Some days none at all. Even with that small amount, two different servers recognized us and knew what we liked, even if we encountered them in a different venue. Maybe it was because I added 50 cents additional tip for every drink we ordered or maybe it was just because that is how good they are. If it was the 50 cents, it was the best $10 (over the who cruise) I've spent in a while. I know the drinks area already expensive and I know they already put a 15% gratuity on every receipt, but on at least two occasions we walked in less than 5 minutes before show time to the Arcadia theater and had a drink in hand before the show started. The drinks were mixed very well too. RCCL is not stingy with the alcohol.

Embarkation and Disembarkation at the ports was smooth and hassle free. The only place we had any problem was at Grand Cayman, a tender port. The lines to board the tender to return to the ship were long but moved well. This is somewhat unavoidable but it was hot and not a pleasant experience. We were warned of this the night before, encouraging people to mill about the shops rather than stand in the long line. My suggestion is to do just that. Keep an eye on the line while you visit the shops right in that area and when you see the line get a little shorter, then get in line. Stay in the shops where you can see the line and you'll not have any risk of missing the ship and not have to stand in a long line to get back on board.

The Freedom is the most well run ship we have ever experienced. The cruise exceeded our expectations in almost every aspect. Even the issues we had with the MDR were relatively minor and didn't take anything away. Even our fellow guests were exceptionally friendly and helpful. Perhaps there is something to the infectious nature of a very friendly and highly trained crew. It makes everyone happier, and they pass it along to everyone else. Maybe someday I'll find a vacation experience that tops this one, but I haven't had one yet and if I never do, I won't be disappointed. Less

Published 07/05/12

Cabin review: Q6209 Interior Stateroom

This cabin was almost perfect for us as we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. Being on Deck 6, you are just one deck above the Royal Promenade. This is perfect for the parades and parties as it makes it very easy to take the stairs. Or, you can simply walk out to the open area on Deck 6 and watch from there. This stateroom is located at the very front of the ship, which means it is far enough away from all the action that you didn't hear any noise from the parties going on all over the ship. In this are, just below is the top of the theater. We learned from our back stage tour that the back drops are recessed into the ceiling three decks above the stage, which is on deck 3. There is no noise coming from below at all. There are staterooms above this room on Deck 7. This room is the last inside room at the end of the hallway. Being in the very front of the ship, there was little foot traffic to speak of and it meant that we only shared one wall with another stateroom. We had a hallway to the left, in front and behind our room. In all, it was very quiet. The room is very standard with the torpedo tube shower and small bathroom. There are shelves in the bathroom to the right of the mirror behind a mirrored door. These are just large enough for toiletries and electric razors. There is also a plug especially for electric razors in the ceiling to the left of the mirror. The closet has ample space for our 7 day cruise for two, with two formal nights. We also had a safe that was large enough for an i-Pad, camera lenses, a Kindle and a variety of other smaller items. I even put my digital SLR in there with everything else a couple of times. The close had extra pull down rods to be used like a closet organizer with shirts on the top and pants on the bottom with long dresses to the left. There were also shelves to the far left above and below the safe that were large enough to store carry on bags such as backpacks and camera bags. The counter/desk area in the stateroom is small with three drawers on either side. The mirror here is lighted and this area serves as a makeup area with a blow-dryer in pull out drawer to the right. There are doors that open to the right and left of the mirror to reveal shelves for storing small items such as pill bottles or sunscreen. This is also where the flat-screen TV is located on an articulating arm. Above that is a small shelf to keep things like sunglasses and the like out of the way so they don't clutter the desk area. Below the TV is the minibar which keeps things just a few degrees cooler than the stateroom temperature. The bed was high enough for us to store our luggage underneath the bed, leaving room in the closet for shoes, clothes and other items. Very large luggage won't fit here though. We put two roll-away suitcases and one roll-away garment bag under the bed. There is little room to move around the beds when configured as a single queen. the small couch is nice as is the small coffee table, but combined with the chair at the desk, there is very little floor space. There is a light switch near the bed that turns off the lights in the room and a lamp on either wall that includes both a reading light and a standard bedside lamp. Very handy! There is a small nightstand that includes a lip around the edge so that small change or other items don't roll-off and get lost under the bed. The nightstand includes a small drawer as well. Did I say small too many times? I really can't. This room is small, but it was perfect for us. We don't spend much time in the room and don't care much for a balcony when all you have to look at is open ocean. Nice little place. We'd stay there again!

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Port and Shore Excursions

Jeep Tour

The Jeep tour was both very cool and disappointing at the same time. We booked this as a single Jeep and Snorkel tour. When we arrived at the port meeting area it was a hot concrete area with little shade. It was still morning but it was already hot. We filled out waivers and driving forms and then walked for about 10 minutes to the area where we would snorkel. After that was over we headed across the street to the Jeeps. We organized into groups of four and then headed out for what would be several hours. At no time did we do any off-roading. Which was part of what was disappointing. Note also that the jeeps were all manual transmission. Not a problem for me, but a couple of the younger adults were excluded from driving due to this. Our fist stop was what was billed as Mayan ruins. It was ruined alright and it looked old, but it was a single building that was a Mayan house of worship at one time. You could look at it but not much else. We were given a brief lecture and then turned loose. There were people everywhere asking if you wanted a picture with an Iguana or a donkey or someone made up to look like a Mayan. All working for and asking for tips. Vendors were selling things in small shops as well. This stop was a waste of time. Our second stop came after about 20 minutes or so of driving. This was a very nice beach area that included a restaurant and bar just across the road with a great view of the beach. It was already well after 1:00 and people were starting to ask when we were stopping to eat the lunch that was included with the tour. My wife and I went down to the beach and found it to be just spectacular. Warm and clear water, beautiful sand and a very gradual slope. Very nice, but it was a short visit. Time to round up the jeeps and head out again. This is when we noticed the very large mosquitoes. Our next stop was a Tequila factory tour. Apparently mosquitoes like Tequila too because they were here in droves. The guide provided by the factory rushed through the description of how Tequila is made and the group was too large for everyone to hear. It should have been two groups. People were all too anxious to get to the Tequila tasting. I tried three types and was not very impressed, but I don't drink much and had never had Tequila straight up. It was now pushing 4:00 pm and not only were people asking about lunch but were starting to wonder if we would get back to the ship on time. All aboard was at 6:30. We had one more stop to go and that was lunch. Drivers were advised we would be leaving the country roads and heading into the city. We needed to stay close to the car in front to avoid Taxi's and other drivers from breaking up our caravan. We went through some residential areas of Cozumel that did not put the place in the best light. We then drove past an airport and finally stopped for lunch. Apparently the mosquitoes were interested in lunch as well, because they were here too. It was bad enough that when the guide wrapped up our tour he specially asked that we not hold him responsible for the mosquitoes. Lunch was very good with authentic tacos, quesadillas and the like. It was good eating. They also showed up pictures that they took during snorkeling and driving the jeep. They were pretty good and reasonably priced. Two for $20 or one for $15. We bought both.


This was part one of a two part excursion. We walked about 10 minutes from the pier to the place where we were to snorkel. It was land based and after some good instructions and an opportunity to try out the gear a little, we headed in the water to begin our guided snorkel adventure. We spent more than 30 minutes in the water viewing underwater artifacts and a whole lot of very colorful fish. They guide would take us to a location to show us something of interest under the water. Then we could all swim down for an up close look or watch from above. There was plenty to look at and we appreciated the extra information on what we were looking at and what was interesting about it. There was a photographer nearby that took several pictures. He had bait with him so the fish swarmed around him. I had my own waterproof camera and took some great pictures here. Nice stop.

We chose the Green Grotto Caves and Dunn's River Falls experience. The caves were not what we expected but they were interesting. They were close to the ground with several places where sunlight broke through the ceiling. Being that close to the surface, the caves were hot. There was one areas where we descended into the grotto (lake) area that was really spectacular. It was nice experience but it just wasn't that compelling. The second half of our excursion was Dunn's River Falls, where you start at a beach and climb up the falls as water rushes down around you. While these falls were at one time very natural, much of what is now there has been manipulated and constructed by man to make climbing the falls safer and easier. After the hot caves it was very nice to experience this climbing of the falls. Unfortunately, leaving the area subjects you to a number of very unfriendly vendors trying to push you to purchase from them. It reminded me a bit like a gauntlet. Unpleasant. Worse than that is that RCCL chooses to dock in Falmoth, which is an hour away from any of the real attractions of Jamaica. This makes for a very long bus ride. This ride is a bit unsettling as well as the drivers are very aggressive in Jamaica, frequently tailgating and sometimes forcing each other to the shoulder of the road to avoid a head-on collision (I saw this no less than six times). Fortunately our bus driver was not one of the offenders there, but tailgating is apparently an accepted if not expected practice. If you want to experience Jamaica, find another way to do it. I don't recommend getting off the ship here.
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Stingray Swim

Stingray city was simply amazing. It is hard to describe. Even after reading the description you can't imagine it until you experience it. We took a short bus ride to the docks and then boarded a dive boat for the sandbar. It was about a 30 minute boat ride. Our captain and guide brought us close and we all entered the water to swarms of stingrays. These creaturs know when a boat is approaching they are going to get food and they swarm the arriving boats. You can feed and pet the stingrays and get your picture taken with them as well. Unfortunately it is also very crowded. As new boats arrive, the stingrays scatter to the new boats in hopes of more squid. The tour guide keeps a singray close so you are never without one nearby, but the swarms leave as soon as you run out of food, which is in about 10 minutes. We then boarded the boat again and went to the barrier reef for some snorkeling. Unfortunately our boat had picked up extra passengers from a vessle that had broken down nearby. We did not recieve proper instructions and since this was our first time, we ended up in the water completley unprepared and without a snorkel vest. After about 10 minutes of figuring out how everything was supposed to work and getting a properly fitted snorkel vest we enjoyed viewing the barrier reef and all the life around it. I was able to take numerous pictures and even a one-minute video of this reef, but the time allowed was too short. We were there for about 30 minutes and really needed about an hour at the reef. After the reef we headed back to the dock and onto a bus, but not before we were "encouraged" to look at the pictures taken of us with the stingrays. The cost was $40 for a CD with what amounted to three pictures. That was the only option and we didn't take it, which seemed to upset the guide. After we arrived at the dock we boarded a bus and headed to the beach. We were given tickets for a lunch, a rum punch and a lounge chair. Lunch was excellent. You were given a choice of hamberger or hot dog and you could add grilled chicken with jerk spices. Nicely done. Some of the most excellent chicken I have eaten, but a little spicy for some folks. There was salad as well as water and sweet tea. Even though the bus driver had said we could use the ticket for a local beer, the bartender would only offer the rum punch or regular punch. We discovered that the same buffet lunch and drink was offered as an "all inclusive" to Carnival passengers (also docked there). They had more options than we did. This seemed a bit odd to me. My wife and I found the beach to be a bit unimpressive. We were on a section of what is called 7-mile beach (not sure it was called rum point). The sand turned sharp with shells near the water and you really couldn't go swimming as there was a reef just a few feet away. This was ideal for snorkeling it seemed, but those that did said they were disappointed as there wasn't much color to the reef and no many fish either. We ended up leaving the beach and hour early to get some port shopping in. We really enjoyed the cleanliness and efficiency of the Grand Cayman trip, even though the ride back to the port was met with a lot of traffic. Note too that this is a tender port. Avoid the long lines by getting back to the ship early or stay in the nearby shops until the line gets shorter.

We booked an over-the-water cabana on Nellie's beach. What an amazing experience. It was perfect. After disembarking the ship and walking to the main area we found it somewhat difficult to find the proper place to present out ticket showing our cabana reservation. After asking three different people who were all very friendly, but who all gave different answers, we finally found someone who pointed us in the right direction and we were shuttled over to the cabanas. We were greeted by our host who gave us information we needed to enjoy our stay. The Cabana's were well equipped and included a cooler with bottled water, plenty of towels and floating mats for our use. An upgraded lunch is included with the cabana rental and we took advantage of it. I was a little disappointed though that the gate was closed and left unattended. The lunch is not served at Nellie's beach. You must leave that area and walk to the other beach (not sure the name) where concierge and suite guests are at. It is a short walk, but you must enter through a gate that has a chain around it. Someone should be standing there to check wrist bands and open/close the gate. We spent the entire day basking in the sun, alternating between the water and the cabana. We could feel the stress exiting our bodies as we enjoyed our first port. There was so much else going on but we didn't even look that direction. We were quite happy to relax and unwind.
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