Freedom of the Seas - Western Caribbean: Freedom of the Seas Cruise Review by mason5168
Overall Member Rating
Freedom of the Seas - Western Caribbean
Destination: Western Caribbean
When sailings on Freedom of the Seas were opened to Crown & Anchor members in February 2005, I eagerly signed up and (not so eagerly) paid the premium for sailings in the Inaugural Season. Over the next year, I followed the construction and pre-launch events on RCCLs freedomoftheseas.com web site, watched the May 12th inaugural and christening on the Today show, and looked forward to seeing the ship for the first time in Miami on Sunday, June 11th.
This was my 4th sailing on Royal Caribbean International. Previous voyages included Monarch of the Seas (Sept 2003 Baja), Serenade of the Seas (April 2004 Panama Canal her first westbound transit!), and Radiance of the Seas (May 2005 San Diego/Vancouver).
Sailing with a friend of mine, we were told that Voyage 1 had over 1900 Crown & Anchor members, while Voyage 2 had about 1200 members. Several crew members confirmed the More ship was not full on the first two sailings to give the crew some leeway to work out bugs, but it was expected to be operating closer to capacity on Voyage 3 and beyond. There were approximately 780 children (15%) on the sailing. Pre-Cruise.
We didnt take advantage of air or pre-cruise packages on this sailing. We did our own arrangements and flew into Miami on American Airlines on Wednesday evening, and stayed overnight in South Beach, before driving down to Key West on Thursday. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza La Concha (the tallest hotel in Key West) and took advantage of the roof-top bar for sunset drinks. We visited such local attractions as the Butterfly Gardens and the Lighthouse, and took in the Original Haunted Tour a fascinating and highly entertaining experience.
Fortunately, Tropical Storm Alberto didnt affect our Key West stay except for dumping several inches of rain on the Keys during our drive back to Miami on Saturday. Upon returning to Miami, we stayed overnight at the Intercontinental Miami in a room with a perfect view of the Port of Miami cruise terminal. We awoke on Sunday morning to see Freedom of the Seas docked and awaiting our arrival.
Day 1 (Embarkation).
Prior to our departure from home, we had filled out our pre-boarding information on the Royal Caribbean web site, and printed out our SetSail pass. Compared to past cruises, the new SetSail system dramatically reduces check-in time. All that is required is an identification and credit card check prior to issuance of ones SeaPass.
Although our cruise docs advertised boarding at 2 pm, we boarded about noon. There was no wait, and we were on the ship within 15-20 minutes of arriving at the terminal. It appeared to us that the ship was ready somewhere between 10 and 11 am for pre-boarding. That being said, staterooms were not available until after 1 pm, so most guests were mingling in public areas or eating lunch in the Windjammer buffet (we gave up on eating before 1 pm, as no seating was available).
We toured selected areas of the ship before Alberto started dropping huge amounts of rain outside. Rain cancelled the afternoon Flowrider sessions. Fortunately, the rain subsided before the 4:45 pm Muster Drill. Dinner was casual I think the term was come as you are which was fortunate because of the major baggage delays that plagued both Voyage 1 and 2. We didnt get our last bags until after 10 pm.
Evening entertainment was a comedian (Steve Bruner). The Party Around the World parade was fun, although the balloon/confetti box that was nearest to us malfunctioned. The Flying Bridge that descends from the ceiling above one of the two bridges in the Royal Promenade was amazing.
Day 2 (At Sea).
The remnants of Alberto continued to dump rain on us on Day 2. Outdoor activities were curtailed as a result or postponed to later in the voyage. Tickets for the Freedom Ice.com ice show were distributed in the morning. Within 15 minutes, only tickets for the shows on Thursday were available. Studio B (the ice rink) was open for a short time in the afternoon for free-skate, with sign-ups for the Learn to Skate program prior to the next free-skate on Day 7.
Dinner was the first of two formal nights. This was my first opportunity to rent a tuxedo for use on-board. The tux was in my stateroom closet upon arrival, fit well, and other than not really figuring out how to properly use the cuff links, was well worth it compared to hauling along a suit (and then having to dry clean it after the cruise).
The evening entertainment was a singer/comedy impressionist, Scott Record. His show was incredibly funny, enjoyable, and entertaining definitely a dont miss experience.
Day 3 (Cozumel, Mexico)
Alberto finally moved far enough north to provide partly-cloudy skies with a few sprinkles in Cozumel. The ship was tendered south of town. Transportation for the 3-4 miles to town was by taxi, of which there seemed to be a line several miles long most of the day. Freedom of the Seas was joined by Grandeur of the Seas in Cozumel, still sporting a rather large dent in its hull from the mishap in Costa Maya last year.
We decided to stay on-board, and enjoyed short lines for the Flowrider. The Flowrider staff provided a few helpful hints, as well as assisting lighter children (who surprisingly have a much more difficult time staying on the wave than heavier adults).
The evening entertainment was the Marquee production show, featuring songs from such Broadway shows as A Chorus Line, Sunset Boulevard, Joseph, Cabaret, Phantom of the Opera, and many others. It was definitely a dont miss experience, although Phantom purists will probably object to the All I Ask of You number, in which Raoul is conspicuously missing (his part is sung by the Phantom).
Day 4 (George Town, Grand Cayman)
We stayed on-board in the morning and enjoyed very short lines (4-5 people) for the Flowrider. I managed to master kneeling on the Boogie board with a very helpful hint from one of the staff that one not try to hop up on the board.
We tendered to shore in the afternoon, only to discover rather expensive merchandise for sale. Needless to say, the shopping trip didnt last long. Based on the lack of shopping bags being carried by guests back to the ship, I dont think other guests did much shopping either.
We took the opportunity to stand by for the Freedom Ice.com show in the evening (there was no Arcadia Theater entertainment that evening). Fortunately, there were a sufficient number of no shows that we got right in, and actually had very nice seats for the show. The show was terrific another dont miss experience.
Day 5 (Montego Bay, Jamaica)
We docked in Mo Bay and went ashore for the Chukka Blue Original Canopy Experience shore excursion. This zip-lining experience (6 traverses) was fantastic and is highly recommended. The highlight of the trip is a very long (280 meter) Inter-parish Express traverse, on which one can reach speeds of 35 mph. Two hints remember to brake on the last traverse to avoid crashing into the landing pad, and wear lots of mosquito repellent.
Dinner was the second of two formal nights the Venetian Feast with the dining room staff singing the traditional O Solo Mio. The evening entertainment was the Now You See It magic show featuring Drew Thomas and the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers. I liked the show, although there were a few illusions that were just a little too easy to figure out.
Day 6 (Labadee, Haiti)
We stayed on-board in the morning while at Labadee to enjoy more Flowrider time as well as no lines for Rock Climbing. We had lunch at Johnny Rockets (also no wait and no $3.95/person cover charge thanks to a Crown & Anchor coupon). The waiter wasnt entirely sure how to deal with our request for a turkey burger (one has a choice of beef, turkey, or Boca vegetarian) I guess that most people just get beef burgers& The waiters, cooks, and supervisor did a wonderful dance routine to Stayin Alive by the Bee Gees. All in all, it was a fun time.
We tendered ashore in the afternoon and rented floating mats (they dont have to be reserved in advance you can just present your SeaPass on-shore). We walked the extra 5 minutes to Hideway Beach and enjoyed a remarkably uncrowded, peaceful beach experience. Tenders back to the ship were quick, as security screening is done at Labadee.
The evening entertainment was the Once Upon a Time production show, described as A fairytale with a fun pop music twist. Indeed the music was decidedly hip, with Pinocchio set to N*SYNC and Cinderella set to Gwen Stefani among others. I thoroughly enjoyed the show, but in listening to some older guests after the show, some of them didnt enjoy it as much as the more traditional Marquee a few days earlier.
The Culinary Gala Sensation (Midnight Buffet) opened for viewing at 11:30 pm, with consumption at 12:15 am. I was disappointed compared to the buffet experience on the Radiance-class ships. The buffet was held in the Windjammer (as opposed to the dining room on Radiance ships), and it was rather unimpressive. The desserts were rather ordinary and the bread examples were limited. Perhaps having the buffet so spread out dilutes the visual impact of the presentation on the Radiance ships. In addition, on both Monarch and Serenade, the buffets included the Chocolate Buffet which is just downright awesome.
Day 7 (At Sea)
Our last full day was spent in a morning adult Learn to Skate class thanks Joel of the Ice Crew for putting up with us (!), followed by some free-skate time. Studio B was open for free-skate most of the afternoon. We were thankful for taking in the Flowrider and Rock Wall on the port days, as the Flowrider line averaged 30+ people all day, while the one session of Rock Climbing we saw had 24 people waiting to climb within the first 15 minutes.
Dinner was the Feast of Nations, and the evening entertainment was the Farewell Variety Show with the comedy of Eric Lyden. The entertainment and ship staff joined up on the stage for one final farewell, which was a nice chance for Captain Bill Wright to say his good byes.
Day 8 (Disembarkation).
The ship docked in Miami early by 6 am or so. Departure started with priority departure (i.e., carry your own bags) around 6:30 am and proceeded rapidly from there. Breakfast was offered between 6 am and 8:30 am in the Dining Room, and until 9 am in the Windjammer. Guests were to have vacated rooms by 8 am. A separate departure lounge was provided for Crown & Anchor preferred members, but since they are given the earliest departure times anyway, it was difficult to even get there before our departure color was called.
Our impression of disembarkation was that Royal Caribbean changed their slogan from, Get Out There to just plain Get Out :-). I suppose this rapid departure sequence is what permits the ship to be available for boarding between 10-11 am. Personally, I think Crown & Anchor preferred members should be given an option to select a departure time, rather than automatically getting the earliest departure times.
The slowest part of disembarkation was Immigration, especially for the many guests who were still not traveling with passports (required after 12/31/06).
We purchased transfers to Miami International while on-board ship. After collecting our luggage, we were directed to the waiting coaches. We arrived at the airport early, but flights on Sunday are notoriously full, so were unable to standby for an earlier flight. Fortunately, we were upgraded into First Class (a benefit of frequent business travel), and enjoyed a rather nice meal (nothing like the food on Freedom though) on the way back home.
As we departed to the east from the airport, we flew over the Port of Miami and could see Freedom of the Seas through the clouds. Seeing the ship as we headed back home brought a smile for all the wonderful and memorable experiences of the trip. Some General Impressions
Stateroom: Our cabin was 1538 (E1), one of only two E1 staterooms on Deck 10. Its location just ahead of the forward elevators was remarkably quiet. Our stateroom attendant, Katarzyna (Kasha) from Poland was very nice, and very attentive. Flat screen TVs provide more space in the cabin, as there is no bump out in the desk for the television. The new bedding (pillow top) was incredibly comfortable, although the heavy comforter should probably be replaced by lighter blankets for tropical voyages. Space under the bed was more than sufficient for 4 pieces of luggage. Towels were fluffy, but Royal Caribbean should get their money back on them most of them had horrible runs and loose strings in the terry cloth after just a few weeks of use. Compared to the Radiance vessels, the bathrooms lacked the annoying vent that was the source of some rather interesting odors on Radiance and Serenade. The deeper balconies were a welcome change, although the lack of an ottoman or chaise lounge prevented full enjoyment of the added space. Balcony partitions can be opened between staterooms by staff they were opened one day for cleaning. Surprisingly, the handrails had not yet been varnished. The only problem with our cabin was an ill-fitting balcony door, which despite 2 tries by maintenance to fix it, remained just barely acceptable. The top locking cam mechanism appeared to be malfunctioning, so the top half of the door did not seal properly against the window frame. Fortunately, we werent in heavy seas (as we were on Serenade between Costa Rica and Mexico) where water was splashing balcony doors on Deck 10.
Dining: Food in Windjammer and Jade was good, with the asian-inspired selections in Jade adding some variety to the standard offerings in Windjammer. Morning pastries were improved compared to previous voyages, but desserts were just barely passable. The best dessert I had all week was the Opera Cake served one day at lunch in the Windjammer. Oddly, there were no chocolate dessert selections on most nights in the Main Dining Room. We often resorted to late night trips to the Café Promenade for chocolate mudslide cookies (the only place they were offered). I purchased a soda/juice package, but Windjammer ran out of Diet Coke on more than one occasion. Entrees in the Main Dining room lacked imagination in presentation (perhaps due to the new fleet-wide menus); however, steaks, tenderloin, escargot, and lobster were all excellent. Our waiters (Jimmy and Juhdee) were terrific.
Entertainment: Both comedians were just so-so in my opinion. Mr. Lyden told an Alaska joke that probably offended most older cruisers yikes, my mom wouldve been offended. Production shows and the Ice Show were excellent, as was Scott Records singing/comedy/impressionist act. On the last evening of the cruise, I thoroughly enjoyed a Jazz Cabaret show by the Royal Caribbean Singers in the Olive or Twist night club. The parades were fun, especially the elephant in the Circus parade. I do feel sorry for the Gorilla though that costume must be warm and heavy.
Activities: The larger Fitness Center is incredible, with great quality equipment. It can be busy in the mornings however. Ice skating, rock climbing, Flowrider, miniature golf, etc. are all terrific. The pools (adult-only Solarium, H2O Zone, and Main Pool) are great, deck chairs are plentiful, although towel exchange service was rather marginal. Apparently, there has been a problem keeping a sufficient number of pool towels clean and available. The library is terrific, with an expansive selection of books and a nice seating area. The Casino is typical of other ships, although my friend managed to win a rather large slot jackpot (which I consider unheard of for ship-board gaming).
Shops: The 2 for 1 T-shirt sale on Day 7 was somewhat of a disappointment in terms of selection. We ended up using our Crown & Anchor Logo Merchandise discount instead. The Logo store and the Get Out There sportswear store are quite nice. We did purchase the Cruise in Review video for the first time; it was well done.
Staff: This was Captain Bill Wrights last voyage as master of Freedom of the Seas, as he was returning to his position as Chief of Maritime Operations as well as being on the steering committee for the upcoming Genesis-class ships. I believe he is being replaced by Captain Carlos Pedercini. Cruise Director Ken Rush did a great job.
Ship: Freedom of the Seas has an advertised cruising speed of 21.6 knots. We noted one evening that the ship was making better than 22.4 knots, although an annoying ship-wide vibration is present at speeds over 18 knots.
Wireless Access: CyberCabin has been replaced by (costly) ship-wide wireless. Cost ranges from $0.50/min to $0.33/min (in $50 packages). Cell phone coverage is also ship-wide, which is not always a good thing - I observed one clueless passenger using his cell phone while skating in Studio B. My BlackBerry worked the entire voyage, although I was never able to get the VPN to work on my laptop (it had worked with CyberCabin). Oh well, it was a good excuse not to think about work.
Some Nice Features: I particularly liked the Royal Promenade, with its glass bridge and constantly changing colors very cool. The cruise line provided us with water at all ports as well as insulated lunch bags to take home.
Some Not So Nice Things: Oddly, the neon sign on the port side of the ship was already burned out, reading Fre om of the Seas. Some parents for some reason dont believe their 8-13 year old children need supervision. Besides the obvious concerns about safety on a ship that has over 5000 people on it, watching an unsupervised group of children enjoy a lunch consisting only of French Fries (with ketchup) and another child eat a lunch of 8 desserts was rather unbelievable.
Voyage 2 on Freedom of the Seas was an incredible experience. I purchased Frommers Caribbean Ports of Call book which has useful recommendations on shopping and excursions, along with a brief description of cruise lines. I completely agree with Frommers assessment that Royal Caribbean, has managed to turn the overfed, newly wed, almost dead cruise stereotype on its ear [by creating] a more youthful product that delivers fun, humor, a touch of class, and bit of feel the burn active excitement, all without charging an arm and a leg.
Congratulations, Royal Caribbean. Freedom of the Seas is one amazing ship. Less
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