Freedom of the Seas Cruise Review by Cruisin since the 70s
- Sail Date: March 2014
- Destination: Western Caribbean
The first year had few issues (we figured it would with all new ships it takes a good year to work out the kinks).
The second time we went in 2013 everything was great. The ship was working at 100%, the staff were all polite, the food was excellent especially Chops Grille.
Unfortunately on our last sailing of March 30, 2014, I can't say the experience was as good. It more was like night and day. The ship looked like it hadn't been cleaned in years or painted. The carpets were all stained and torn in some places, the wood on the balconies were splintering, the metal all around the outside of the ship was rusting as was the outside of the ship. The flow rider was working about half the time. One of the cantilever whirlpools was broken, the kids area had about half the fountains working. The windjammer food was par to sub-par. They added the new soda machines and half were out of soda before we even left port and remained that way until we returned so that made it near impossible to use the soda package. Even the photography was so short handed we had to wait over 2 hours just to speak with someone to get our DVD and it still wasn't available before we pulled into port. I understand since that trip they have revitalized the ship. I haven't been on it so I can't really comment. It was upsetting to see how much in less than a year's time that ship went from magnificent to horrible. The ship itself is amazing. The amenities are wonderful, the shows are great, they have something for everyone regardless of age. Areas that are adult only and others for kids only so everyone can relax. The bartenders re heavy handed and become more so the more you tip.
As far as the excursions. If this is your first time to Labadee I suggest you bring a lot of money as all the excursions are quite expensive. When you get off the pier you can go right to some of the excursions or straight to the beach areas. At the far end of this road is where the locals sell art and nik naks. Be kind to these people as they aren't on RCCLs payroll and they work hard. You can get a porter to wheel you around (bring money for tipping). One time there was more than enough for us.
Cozumel is a great place to do some shopping. Of course the ship will recommend their suggested shops (kick backs to the ship places to shop). Since I have been to Mexico many times over the years I will suggest you go off the beaten path and shop at some of the shops a few blocks behind the main areas. Everybody basically carries the same merchandise just those further back are more willing to give better discounts as they don't get the foot traffic the other places do. I will suggest an excursion. There is a company Shoretrips that offers a minisub adventure (I had spoken with RCCL about adding it but they still haven't. Get the earliest run you can. I will tell you it isn't all that expensive and it is a blast. You basically sit on what would be considered an underwater moped and put your head in a large bubble. They pump air from a tank directly into the helmet so you have plenty of oxygen. You go forward, right and left and they take you on a course underwater. It is great. The best part is actually after this. You are at a resort that has several pools, lounge chairs, food, drinks and other amenities and they are all FREE to use for as long as you want. Food and drinks aren't free. They have souvenir shops at the resort and within walking distance. You take a taxi there and back to the port. The cost was $8.00 each way.
We went to Grand Cayman. If you haven't been there it is a lot of water activities and a great place to dive, snorkel or fish. If you haven't done the sting ray beach, this is good place to do it. Again, you don;t necessarily have to use RCCL excursions. There are many different boats that leave at all times you can find at the pier that will take you there.
Another stop was Falmouth Jamaica. This is a newer port that RCCL helped create. It is an overpriced shopping mall with overpriced restaurants. At the end of this area is a large iron gate with police guarding it either trying to keep the passengers corralled in this area or the Jamaicans out. There is even a large sign warning you not to go through it. Of course I did and found great deals on shirts and other items as well as the locals telling me a great place for Jerk food. The only other thing in here is a meeting place for excursions. 90% of them re owned by a company called Chukka. You can find them online. I called them and saved a ton of money going on the same buses to the same excursions that people on the ship paid to RCCL.
Disembarkation was a mess. Long lines to get off the ship and even longer to get to the baggage area. The port needs better system. I have left out of Port of Miami and Port Canaveral and both had a much faster and smoother flow.
Summary: If they have revamped the Freedom of the Seas, I would highly recommend this ship over almost all their others. It has amenities that others don't have (even the newer ships). It is a larger ship and can be intimidating but there are signs all over making it very easy to navigate. Lots to do. We had a balcony room and it was a good sized room with plenty of space for things. I would suggest to forgo the formal nights and use those for eating at Choppe's Grill or Portifinos.
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