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I’m writing a review of the Freedom of the Seas Western Caribbean cruise for May 24th – May 31st. This review will be different than most other reviews because it’s not going to be a travelogue or an opinion based review. I’m going to try to keep it mostly facts. I know that everyone has different opinions regarding different situations so I’m just going to report the facts and let you decide for yourself if you’d like or not like some aspect of this trip. (Except when talking about food because I don’t think there’s any way to talk about food without having an opinion!) I’m also going to organize it into different topics. That way if you’ve been on the Freedom thousands of times, you can skip the section about the ship. If you aren’t visiting the same ports, you can skip the sections about the ports. You get the idea! I’m hoping that my report will help new cruisers and maybe give some experienced cruisers some new ideas. Hope you enjoy reading! Background This section will give you an idea of who we are and how we ended up on this particular cruise. This is a big year for us because my husband and I both turned 40 and we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. We’ve been saving up for the last few years to do a really big vacation with the kids. We have three boys ages 15, 12, and 10. We’re outdoorsy, adventurous people and a cruise was not something we’d really ever considered before. BUT my best friend’s family went on a Royal Caribbean Dreamworks cruise and her boys came back gushing about it to my boys. After that, our kids wouldn’t consider any other suggestions. Eventually my husband and I caved and decided we’d book a cruise. Since we don’t drink, don’t gamble, and have never spent any time sitting beside a pool, we needed a ship with LOTS of on-board activities and plenty of exotic ports. After looking at prices, we knew that we could either fly and take a shorter cruise or drive and take a longer cruise. A family vote decided that we would drive and take the longer cruise. We decided we wanted the 7-day Western Caribbean on the Navigator leaving from Galveston, TX. In September Royal Caribbean offered a special where Kids Sail Free. I called and got the pricing and that night the family decided that this was in fact what we wanted to do. So the next day I called again to book our cruise. To get the Kids Sail Free option, everyone had to be in the same cabin. The Navigator and Freedom only have two interior cabins that house up to 6 people. When I called to book it, ALL of the interior cabins on the Navigator were booked for the entire summer. On the Freedom, the May 24th sailing was the only week available. School ended on May 21st so we decided to go with that cruise. Everything was going smoothly until February. In February, it started snowing and snowing and snowing. School was cancelled over and over again. We used all our snow days and it still kept snowing!! We had 4 extra days that had to be made up at the end of the school year. With a high schooler who had to take final exams, skipping out of the last few days wasn’t going to be an option. In addition to worrying about the school days, I started having issues with our final payment. The high school marching band has a program called Scrip. You buy gift cards online and the participating companies donates a percentage of the gift card to the marching band. Royal Caribbean is one of the participating companies. After emailing them to confirm that I could use the Scrip gift card to pay, I purchased $2200 worth of gift cards and paid my final balance. When the deadline came, I started receiving phone calls and emails saying I hadn’t paid. I called customer service and they told me that it takes up to 30 days to process the gift cards. The representative said I might have to pay an additional $2200 and then once the gift cards were processed, they’d refund my money. I wasn’t interested in loaning Royal Caribbean my money, so I declined that option. They extended the deadline by a week and told me to wait and see if it would get processed in time. That week went by and still nothing happened with the gift cards. I called customer service again and spoke with a supervisor. He assured me that whatever was happening with the gift cards had nothing to do with me. It was between the Scrip company and Royal Caribbean. He put a note on my account stating the balance had been paid in full and assured me the trip wouldn’t be cancelled. It ended up taking 37 days for the gift cards to be credited to my account. A few days later the school announced that they were only adding one day to the end of the year and the remaining three days would be made up by adding time to the beginning and end of the school day. Now I could stop stressing and start actually planning our vacation! Before the Cruise Since we were driving, we came part way after school Friday night and finished the trip on Saturday. We choose to stay at the Comfort Inn and Suite in Cocoa Beach. We picked this hotel because it had suites that would provide beds for 5 people, a park and cruise package, decent reviews and was very close to the beach. This hotel far exceeded our expectations. As you entered the room there was a living room, then a small kitchenette, bathroom, and then the bedroom. Off the bedroom there was a balcony looking over the courtyard. The courtyard included a volleyball court, shuffleboard, ping pong, swimming pool, and hot tub. They gave us a buy one get one coupon for drinks so we bought some non-alcoholic drinks and enjoyed them while soaking in the hot tub after supper. Everything was in perfect condition, the staff was very friendly and explained the shuttle process in great detail, and the beach access was close and easy. For supper, we knew if we were in Florida on the beach, we wanted a seafood restaurant on the water. We decided on Grills, but they were crammed full. You could wait over an hour for an inside table or if you wanted to sit outside you had to find a table that was currently occupied and hover over it until the people were finished. So we walked down to Fishlips which was just a couple of buildings away. We were able to get an outside table overlooking the ocean right away. The menu included a wide variety of seafood options including entrees, sandwiches, salads, etc. The service was very quick and the prices were quite reasonable. There was also a live band playing. Embarkation We were on the 9:30 am shuttle and I had heard that breakfast at the hotel would get very busy right before the shuttle came. So we got up early and went to breakfast as soon as it opened. It was well laid out with two separate service lines, 6 different waffle makers, and lots of seating in a very large room. The selection was quite impressive with fruit, several different flavors of waffle, eggs, sausage, cereal, various pastries, several juices, milk, hot tea and coffee. We returned to the room to finish getting ready, pack up our suitcases, and move our van. The hotel owns several lots and we were instructed to park in a particular lot. That lot was already full, so they told us to just park wherever we could find a spot. We spent the time waiting for the shuttle by playing all the different sports offered in the courtyard. When 9:30 arrived, the bus came with a pull behind trailer. They loaded our luggage into the trailer and we got on the bus. After about a 10 min. drive we arrived at the terminal. The driver unloaded our luggage and made sure we had the right tags. Then the Royal Caribbean employees loaded our luggage onto racks and whisked them away. We got into a line and had to wait because the doors didn’t open until 10 am. By the time 10 am rolled around, the line behind us was quite long. We went through the metal detectors, got our picture taken, received our sea passes, and then went to waiting room. There we enjoyed some free lemonade and water while we waited. They started loading at 11:00 am and we were in the 11th group. We were onboard by 11:30 am. Sail Away We all took Dramamine when we first got on board, but that was the only time we ended up taking it all week. When we entered the ship, we split up and half of us got sandwiches at the Café Promenade and headed straight to the pool and half went to Windjammer and then the pool. Since we were among the first on board, the buffet was not crowded, but by noon it was getting very busy. There weren’t many people in the pool so we enjoyed the relative quiet. The rooms were open at 1:00 pm and we found our room by using the interactive boards next to the elevators. Those boards were very helpful all week to find out what events were happening and getting directions to get to different venues. The muster drill was at 4:00 pm and everyone had a designated area. We had to wait because there were several people who were not where they were supposed to be. The staff had to hunt them down and get them to the right location. At the muster drill people are crammed together in very tight lines and you will wait until everyone is accounted for. Our middle son got overheated and possibly a little seasick and thought he was going to throw up so we moved him to the front. Another lady was starting to have a panic attack from the close quarters so they took her to the front of the line to get in the fresh air. PLEASE go straight to the muster drill so everyone doesn’t have to wait on you to show up!! That evening after dinner and the welcome aboard show, we went to listen to live music at one of the lounges. There were several couples dancing. One couple in particular was very talented and was all over the dance floor doing amazing dance moves. All of a sudden the man stopped and then fell over backwards. We were the closest table and I’m CPR trained so I ran over there. He was having a heart attack, but was still breathing and had a weak pulse. I yelled for the medics. A young couple who were physician assistants came and started monitoring him while we waited. Our family ended up leaving to make room for the medical staff. They had to turn the boat around and head back to Port Canaveral. That evening the wind was strong, and they were running full steam to get him back to the port so the ship was really rocking. That was the only evening we experienced any rough seas. (On a side note, the captain did a great job keeping everyone informed about what was happening and provided updates on his condition) Labadee, Haiti Since we had to make an emergency trip back, we were late arriving at Labadee. As a result they provided dining options on the ship only instead of the beach buffet. This private island was our first experience with a tropical Caribbean Island. So that right there made it a memorable stop! The crystal clear turquoise water, exotic fish, palm trees, and beautiful landscape are exactly what you imagine a tropical paradise looking like. I will admit that when I found out it was fenced off and we wouldn’t get a chance to experience any real Haitian culture, I was disappointed. One of the things I was looking forward to on this route was seeing exotic ports with interesting cultures. This was not a location where we found that experience. We did not purchase any excursion options here. I had the Cultural Walking Tour booked until I read that it isn’t even a real village and the supposedly authentic artisans weren’t actually doing the crafts. We love roller coasters and zip-lining, but we can do that at home. And I didn’t see the point of paying for a cabana when you can use the loungers for free. We had purchased our own snorkeling equipment and used that plus some bread we’d snagged off the ship to lure lots of fish. Plus we brought floating mats from home that we used to float around in the ocean. There is a free trolley that runs the length of the island. We used that to go to Columbus Cove. It’s the farthest (and least crowded) beach on Labadee. It was sandy and was shallow for a few feet, but then there was a large underwater cliff where it dropped off to 30+ feet. Some people were trying to swim to the bottom, but they couldn’t. Probably not the best beach if you have very little children who aren’t strong swimmers. A beach attendant offered to get us chairs, and we requested that they be set up in the shade. We gave him his tip too early though. He set up 4 chairs, and then was going to get another. We gave him the tip before we received the fifth chair and it never came. So you might not want to tip until you have actually received your chairs! My husband struck up a conversation with another beach attendant and he told us that the rocky area in front of the inflatables was the best location for snorkeling. The attendant summed up Labadee quite well when he said “The only free things here are the shuttle and chairs.” We visited the artisan market which stretches on much further than I anticipated. My husband had all the money and I couldn’t find him anywhere. The salesmen are extremely pushy and will pester you as soon as you enter. My middle son said he felt like it was a bunch of sharks circling their prey or moths drawn to light. I personally thought it was fun, but you need to be willing to ignore them and walk away. I would have bought several items because the merchandise was pretty and very reasonably priced, but by the time I found my husband (and money) it was time to get back on the ship. This was our least favorite stop, but any day spent on a tropical island is a good day so it was still nice! Falmouth, Jamaica OH, DO I HAVE AN INTERESTING STORY FOR YOU ABOUT JAMAICA! We looked at the Royal Caribbean excursion offerings and didn’t see anything that appealed to us. We liked the idea of Dunn Falls, but didn’t want the huge crowds. So I started doing online research. I found a place called Turtle River Falls that includes a series of natural waterfalls, rainforest tour, an aviary where you can feed the birds while they land on your head and hands, and a swimming pool. I looked for a company that offered tours to Turtle River Falls. After emailing several, we picked the one with the best rates. The company had a website and tripadvisor review so I thought it seemed legit. But one day sitting at work, I had a very uncomfortable feeling about this excursion. (Thank you Holy Spirit!) I started looking into the company more and saw that they only had 1 tripadvisor review and that reviewer had only 1 review. That seemed a little fishy so I googled the owners name. The search brought back news articles that the police were searching for a man with this name for BEHEADING his wife!!! The Jamaican police had put a plea on Facebook to help find him. I contacted them and gave them the contact information I had for him and promptly cancelled the reservation!! We then found a tour operator named Patrice Bailey that offered the tour. She had numerous great tripadvisor reviews and we took it with her instead. So a word of warning – Make sure you do very detailed research of the tour company before you get in the van with them! My husband joked that there was only one review because he was the only one who returned with his head! When we arrived in Falmouth, we weren’t 100% certain on where to go. So we stopped and asked at the information desk. If you book an independent tour, you will walk down to the white tents for the Royal Caribbean excursions, then turn right. There will be a sign that says independent tours and another white tent. We told them Patrice Bailey and they directed us to her. She is a tour operator who contracts with certified drivers. She put us in a van and the driver offered us bottles of water or Red Stripe beer. Patrice came a few minutes later and asked if we could switch to a smaller van. Our new driver was Jeff. Jeff was a very responsible driver who shared a wealth of knowledge with us. We learned everything you could ever want to know about Jamaica including the school systems, the government, agriculture, politics, food culture, etc. He started out as a driver and ended up as a friend! Turtle River Falls was originally Enchanted Gardens and was opened in the 1980’s as a resort. It fell into disrepair and in 2012 it reopened as Turtle River Falls. The buildings are in pretty sad shape, but the grounds and the falls are absolutely breathtaking! There are 7 natural waterfalls with a set of stairs next to them. As you enter, you will pay $20 for adults and $10 for children 10 and under. There is a tour guide who will tell you the history of the property, show you some of the tropical plants, and lead you along the waterfalls. You can get in the waterfalls and climb up them, and crawl behind them into caves. After the waterfalls, they take you to the aviary. As we entered, a large red parrot was waiting and the tour guide took him on his arm. He put food into our hands and then lots of tropical birds came swooping in to land all over our hands, heads, shoulders, etc. He put the large red parrot on each person’s arm so you could hold him. Around your feet, little hens run around and there were even two itty bitty babies about the size of a marshmallow! In addition to visiting Turtle River Falls, we stopped at Scotchies for authentic Jamaican Jerk. It is an outdoor restaurant where they slow-cook the meat on pimento logs in the traditional way. We ordered chicken, pork, and sausage plus a variety of sides included bammy, roasted sweet potato, and festival (which is a fried sweet bread that is awesome!) We also requested to stop and buy some Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee. We told him we wanted export quality, 100% pure Jamaican Blue and he knew just the spot to take us. It was a little roadside market where we got that and some other souvenirs at half the price they were at the port shops. He had told us about a church that was almost 300 years old. When we returned to the port I asked him if the church was close enough to walk to. He said he had time so he’d take us. Keep in mind, we had already paid and he had already returned us to the port and we were getting ready to get off the bus when he offered to do this for free! Unfortunately the church was closed for the day so we only got to see the outside. When we returned to the port we tried some patties (which are well worth buying!) and some Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee (YUM!!) We felt Jamaica offered the most authentic cultural experience. You really feel like you’re visiting a different world here. Grand Cayman In case you didn’t know, this is the only stop where the ship doesn’t dock at a pier. You have to get on a boat called a tender and take that to the island. Our excursion tickets said it was the 10:30 am tour and the first tender left the boat at 8:30. We were on one of the first tenders. They will hold up to 350 people and there are several boats so it was a very smooth process. We selected the Dolphin Push and Pull Excursion through Royal Caribbean and for what it’s worth, I looked into booking this myself and it was actually cheaper through Royal. So don’t assume that booking the excursions privately always saves you money. We have always wanted to swim with the dolphins so this was a no brainer for us. When you enter the water, you will be instructed on how to do several different tasks. You will be pushed on a boogie board, hold on to the fins while the dolphin pulls you, shake “hands”, and kiss the dolphin. I had seen on other reviews that people were complaining that you couldn’t take photos. That’s not entirely true. You cannot take ANYTHING into the pool with you (watches, cameras, sunglasses, etc.) for the safety of the dolphins. You can however take photos from the side. This is a bucket-list, once-in-a-lifetime type experience for our family and was well worth every penny! The only disappointment was that I thought I had booked the excursion to visit both the dolphins and the turtle farm which was across the street. When we walked across the street the attendant told me we didn’t have the right wrist bands. When I went back to the Dolphin place, I talked to the tour guide there and she said I didn’t have the right wristband to include both locations. I only had the Dolphin excursion. When we returned to the boat, I went to the guest services table and asked them. They looked it up and said I had the Dolphin excursion only. We looked at the excursion options and prices that the ship offered and the price we paid was less than any of the excursions they had offered. So it appeared that booking online was cheaper, but I’d recommend printing out everything from your online excursion booking. Otherwise you might not be getting what you thought you’d booked. Also, the time I had booked online was 9:30 am, but our tickets were for 10:30 am. So make sure you check your tickets for the time you are supposed to arrive. Georgetown, Grand Cayman is what I would consider a typical touristy beach town. They only way you could tell you weren’t in Myrtle Beach, Pensacola, or Clearwater was because they drove on the other side of the road! Streets are crammed with bumper to bumper traffic, sidewalks are full of tourists, and there are more tourist shops than you could ever want to visit! Also I was surprised that the beach near the pier is all rock. You cannot get to a sand beach unless you walk a very long distance (we talked to a young couple on the ship who did this and they said it was very far!) or take a taxi or excursion. We had purchased our own snorkeling gear so we wanted to go snorkeling. Fortunately some of the best snorkeling is right by the boat on those rocky shores. Once you get to the main road, turn right and go to Eden Rock Dive Center. They will rent equipment ($14 for snorkel, mask, and fins) or you can use their entry ladder for free if you have your own equipment. (They request tips if you use their restrooms or shower). The reef is only a few feet from the shore and it is amazingly beautiful with thousands of fish! We had brought cereal boxes to feed the fish, but the staff requested that we not feed the fish so we didn’t disrupt their natural feeding habits. We respected that and didn’t use it for the fish (we ate it as a snack instead ) We didn’t need it anyway because there were all kinds of fish everywhere. We did some shopping, but the stores were crammed full and the prices were fairly high compared to Haiti and Jamaica. Grand Cayman was by far the most affluent and clean port we visited. Cozumel, Mexico The one excursion that we absolutely knew we had to book on a Caribbean cruise was snorkeling. None of us had ever been and it has been on my bucket list since I was a kid. So we looked at all of the snorkeling excursions at all of the ports and picked the Fury Catamaran and Beach Break. We selected this because of the boat ride, the beach activities and the fact that Cozumel is supposed to be one of the best locations on this cruise for snorkeling. Again, after researching prices between the Royal Caribbean excursion and a private party and finding the prices were comparable, we felt it was best to stick with the Royal Caribbean offer. That way there wasn’t any issue with getting back to the boat on time. We had the first time for the excursion and I would recommend that if it’s available because you will be the first boat to the beach and you get first choice of the best seats/beds/hammocks! We went straight from the ship to the catamaran and they handed out the snorkeling gear and life vests. They had free sodas and water as we headed to the snorkeling site. When we arrived at the reef they had us dip our masks in an anti-fog solution and told us to stick together as a group. The guide had a white buoy and we were instructed to follow him. I think he may have been feeding the fish because if you followed him, you saw tons of fish and if you didn’t, you didn’t see very many. It was not nearly as nice going in a large crowd as it had been snorkeling by ourselves in Grand Cayman, but the fish were plentiful and there were a lot of different species. We saw some big schools of fish congregating on the bottom and a giant fish longer than my leg with a mouthful of teeth! Someone said it was a Barracuda and it sure did look like the photos when I googled it! After 45 minutes we got back on board and they offered beer and margaritas in addition to the sodas. My husband enjoyed a beer and I tried the margaritas. I don’t like the taste of alcohol at all and these were very weak. In fact I had two and didn’t have any kind of a buzz even though I have absolutely no tolerance for alcohol. I thought they were very yummy, but people who like alcohol will probably be disappointed! The next stop was the beach. This was similar to Labadee, but everything was included. There were giant inflatable slides, trampolines, obstacle courses, etc., paddleboards, kayaks, and beach mats. Plus there were shaded beds, hammocks, and loungers. They did have burgers with potato salad for sale, but we opted to wait to eat real Mexican food when we returned. I don’t know prices or quality but I did overhear someone say it was the best potato salad they’d ever had. The drinks were included here, too. We stayed for 1 ½ hours here and there were other boats that arrived while we were there. The beach however did not get crowded. Another fun aspect of this location was that they set out food for the animals so there were birds and an iguana near the building. I could have stayed here for the rest of my life so this excursion seemed too short! When we returned we asked the boat captain the best restaurant near the port. He directed us to Ernestos. To get there you will go to the main road and turn left. There is a large three story, pyramid shaped, thatch roof building and Ernestos is a small hole-in-the-wall place across the street from that building. It was about what you’d pay for a sit down Mexican restaurant in America ($12-20 per plate) but the quality was beyond anything you can get here! Homemade chips and salsa, homemade tortilla shells, and fresh seafood! Cozumel is famous for it fresh seafood so we ordered shrimp nachos, Grouper fajitas, and fish tacos. After lunch we took a taxi to a chocolate factory. A friend visited Cozumel for vacation and discovered KaoKao chocolate. They hand grind the cocoa beans on site and it is only available in Cozumel. She had bought 5 chocolate bars, but was down to her last bar. When she found out we were going, she put in a request for more bars. So we had to stop and get some chocolate for her. The store has glass front windows where you can watch them making and wrapping the chocolates and free samples. One of the employees would describe the chocolate and give you a free sample. We tasted 80%, 70%, and 60% dark chocolates, milk chocolate, chocolate with coconut, chocolate with coffee, chocolate with chili pepper, white chocolate, dark chocolate sweetened with Splenda, dark chocolate sweetened with Stevia, chocolate covered cocoa beans, chocolate covered coffee beans, honey with cocoa, and honey with vanilla. We ended up having to use our debit card because we bought too much chocolate!! The taxi driver asked if we were interested in shopping and we told him yes. So he dropped us off at an outdoor market near the ship. We shopped and found some reasonably priced souvenirs. To get there from the port, you would cross the street and turn right. It is a couple of blocks down and extends to the left. We should have switched the order of our stops though because the chocolate was not holding up in the 90 degree temperatures. So we headed back to the ship a little early to put the chocolate away in the cooler. Freedom Of The Seas Since we had never even seen a cruise ship before our jaws dropped when we first saw the ship. Imagine a 14 story building towering above you. Now imagine it being a block long. Now imagine it floating on the water. That will give you a slight idea of just how massive this thing is. Inside the promenade is breathtaking, the art work is exquisite, the common areas are spotless, everything is made to impress. Everything was in working order and stylish. A couple of hints that we discovered during our trip. You can’t get from one end of the ship to the other end on decks 2 and 3. So instead of walking through the smoking casino, go outside on deck 4 to traverse from one end to the other. The starboard side of the ship has red carpet and the port side has blue. Look at the color of the carpet at your cabin to help you remember which direction to turn when you get off the elevator. In the public restrooms, there are two dots of colors on the lock. White is unlocked and red is locked. You can’t see under the doors and they shut on their own, so this will help you determine if a stall is occupied. Here is a little more information about each area that we frequented Pool: We visited the pool a lot during our trip. The kids especially liked the H2O Zone with the waterfalls and squirting features. It gets REALLY crowded on seas days from about 10:00 am -3:00 pm. So we would typically visit after supper when it was nearly empty. That was a great time to get in the cantilevered hot tubs too!! Solarium: This is the adults-only section so it was quiet. The cantilevered hot tubs were in this section and were very hot. You couldn’t stay in them long, but the view is incredible. Spa: I took the spa tour which was a total waste of time. The first day they had a special for $99/single $199 couple massages on the beach in Labadee. We signed up to get the couples massage, but since we were late arriving, they changed it to the on-board spa. The facilities are nice, but not nearly as fancy as I was expecting. It reminded me of just about any other spa I’ve visited. The couples massage was professional and my muscles were relaxed without being sore the next day. Library: This was a major disappointment. We love to read and were planning to spend time here, but as my younger son said, it was about the size of our stateroom and most of the shelves were empty! Chapel: We tried to visit here on the very first day and almost walked in on a wedding! The staff shooed us out and apologized. There was a sign saying that it was closed at the bottom of the stairs. But we hadn’t seen it, so we moved it in front of the stairs to prevent anyone else from making the same mistake. We ended up visiting it the next morning. My husband commented that he thought you’d be able to see out, which you couldn’t, but overall it was a nice quiet place to get away. We spent a few minutes in prayer for the man who’d had the heart attack and for a safe trip. The boys asked why there weren’t any church services and I wondered the same thing. Maybe we need to suggest that to the Royal Caribbean staff! Skating Rink: I was really disappointed in the hours for open skating! The first sea day they offered free skate and my husband took the two younger boys, but my older son wanted to do the flow rider. So I went with him. There weren’t any other open skate times the rest of the trip! So the two of us never got a chance to try this. We had signed the online waiver, but they had waivers there for people who hadn’t filled it out. They have you wear helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, long pants, and socks. So make sure you pack long pants and socks if you want to try this. The rink is small and they limit you to 30 min. but the boys had a good time. Rock Wall: This was my oldest son’s favorite feature. We were here many time during the trip. My son and husband both competed in the speed climb and my son won the second place medal. You must have completely dry clothes (no swim attire) and socks, but they provide special climbing shoes and harnesses. They even have an offer that if you can climb a certain colored “trail” up the wall, they will give you a free cruise. If you fail, you have to buy the attendant a free drink. (He’s never seen anyone accomplish this!) Flowrider: We all tried the Flowrider and some of us were more successful than others! We did both the boogie board and stand up and it was a blast watching both those who are really good and those who have major wipeouts. We attended the champion Flowrider competition which was lots of fun! If you are physically able, I’d recommend it just so you can say you tried! Golf Course: We finally tried this the final day and I wished we’d visited early. We had a great time competing against each other. It’s a small, yet challenging course. Deck 4: Most people don’t go to Deck 4 so it ended up being one of my favorite spots. We watched the sunrise and sunset here, read books during the afternoons on sea days, went for walks, and played shuffle board. The shuffleboard equipment is stored in containers mounted on the walls next to the shuffle board courts. It’s the closest deck to the water so you can hear the ocean. This is the deck to take to the helipad which is the very front of the ship. It was so windy my husband thought it would blow the glasses right off his face. Very exhilarating experience when you’re going full speed! Arcade: They offered a free session the first night on ship. The kids (and my husband) enjoyed the free play, but we never spent any money here on any other night. Promenade: We only used this as a way to get from one end of the ship to the other or to get a snack in the evenings. I never even entered any of the stores or bars here. It was really crowded at night and totally empty during the day. It was pretty and made the ship feel like a small city. Casino: We never spent any time here except for walking through it the first few days before we discovered you can bypass it by walking outside. Smoky, noisy but crowded so I guess there are plenty of people that enjoy it. Each day the steward leaves the Cruise Compass detailing some of the various activities that will be offered the next day. There is constantly something and most of the time there are 4-5 options. There is no way to do everything so you will need to look over the options and decide which items are the most important. We would look the night before and circle the items we wanted to attend. A watch is a good item to pack because there aren’t many clocks onboard and I never had my cell phone with me. Here is little more information about the shows and activities that we participated in: Ice Show: Our very favorite! They offered it 4 times so it wasn’t a problem to find seating. I had to practically drag the boys because they didn’t think they’d like it, but they did. Friendly Feud: This was a fun game show that we enjoyed. Exactly like the tv show except they get audience members to be the contestants so this is your chance to be a star! Meet and Mingle: The meet and mingle part was kind of lame, but the cabin crawl that one member had organized for afterwards was one of my favorite activities. Loved seeing how the upper crust lives! Love and Marriage Game Show: Absolutely hilarious! I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time! They pick the couple who has been married the longest, honeymooners, and one couple in between. The women leave and they ask the men questions. When the women return they ask them the same questions. Then they switch. Casey Pelter is the activities director and he is so quick witted he made all the shows so much fun! Trivia: We went three different times to trivia. You form teams from 2 -6 people and get an answer card. Every team answers as the host read the questions out loud. At the end you trade with a neighboring team and grade each other’s answers when the host tells you the correct answers. Winners will get something like a keychain or pen. 60 Seconds or Less: Just like the Minute to Win It tv show. It was a blast and my husband was one of the audience members selected. He received a gold medal for winning his bobblehead contest! They had 4 different challenges and they picked the participants from the audience members. As the host pointed out, this game is only fun as long as the participants and audience make it fun! And our participants and audience made it super fun! Opening Show: This featured a comedian and aerial acrobats. The aerial acrobats are amazing. The comedian was just so-so. He mumbled and was hard to understand sometimes. Magician: This was a high quality show. The magician is very charismatic and the tricks are pretty amazing. This was also a favorite of ours! Broadway Review: For this show the singers and dancers wear costumes and sing a song from one musical, then change sets and costumes and sing another song, then change and sing another song. We aren’t much into Broadway so we didn’t know very many of the songs. And without any storyline it became a bit boring for me. The singers and dancers are talented and the costumes and staging were impressive. Closing Show: The aerial acrobats were back and that was the main reason we wanted to see the closing show. There was a different comedian which we enjoyed more than the first one. They introduced the staff and there is a lot of cheering and clapping for all their hard work. Live Music: We attended a couple of the live music shows. The talent is amazing and I would recommend making an effort to check it out! In the Star Lounge they had a dance floor if you want to do some ballroom dancing to a live jazz band or rock out with Kronos. Dreamworks Parade: I stood on a little platform next to the elevator on Deck 6 to watch. If you have little kids, it was quite the performance, but it’s very crowded!! Poolside Activities: Zumba: I participated in this a couple of times and it is a fun class to get you up and moving. Simple enough for beginners, but challenging enough to get you sweating. Belly Flop Competition: Don’t volunteer, but do go and watch these poor men put themselves through immense pain! Sexiest Man Competition: I was at the pool when this started and Sonny from North Carolina stole the show!! It wouldn’t have been nearly as funny without him, so I don’t know if I’d recommend seeking this out. But if you just happened to be there, it can be entertaining. WARNING: The following is opinion based only, not based on facts  Our favorite features/areas on the ship were: Rock wall, Flow Rider, H2O Zone, Outside on Deck 4, the attentive and friendly staff, and the wide variety of lounges. Our least favorite features/areas on the ship were: Casino, library, the tiny showers, and the stench that came from the toilet! Our top 10 favorite activities on the ship were: 1. Ice show 2. Audience participation games (trivia, friendly feud, 60 seconds or less, etc.) 3. Magician 4. Watching sunrises/sunsets on Deck 4 5. Rock Wall competitions 6. Flow Rider competition 7. Aerial Acrobats 8. Cabin Crawl (this has to be organized by the Roll Call on Cruise Critic) 9. Couples Massage 10. Musicians Our least favorite aspect of the ship were: • The singers/dancers (not because they aren’t talented, just because that’s not something we’re interested in) • Spa Tour • The insane watch sale where you can’t get through the promenade! Food Okay this section is strictly opinion based because I don’t think there is any way to talk about food without having an opinion about whether it tasted good to you. The food on the ship was beyond my wildest dreams! I have never eaten such delicious, exotic, perfectly created dishes in my life! There may have been one or two things that weren’t fabulous, but there were so many options that if you don’t like, don’t eat it. Just get something else. Main Dining Room – We opted for My Time Dining because we didn’t want to have to be back on the ship in time for the 5:30 pm seating, but we usually eat much earlier than 8:00 pm. We enjoyed that flexibility and arranged reservations when we first boarded so we didn’t have to wait. Two evenings we called and rescheduled our reservations for a later time because there were other activities we wanted to attend. I requested a table for 5 because, even though we wouldn’t have minded getting to know other people, I was worried that some certain types of people would not be too thrilled eating with three boys. I had told them when I booked the trip that we were celebrating our 20th anniversary and they arranged a special dessert for us during the second formal night complete with candles and singing. We ate in the dining room the first two nights and then decided to try the buffet on Tuesday. We arrived on the boat late on Wednesday and were exhausted after Jamaica so we went for the buffet that night also. When we came back for the second formal night our waiter was afraid that we hadn’t been happy with the service. He had been fairly busy the first two night we were there, but this night we were his only table. So he cater to our every whim. He asked my middle son if he liked beef. I said the only beef he likes is hamburger. So the waiter brought him a burger and fries the next two night. The assistant waitress was one of our favorites. She was so sweet and kind. She remembered our drink orders and would go get extra savory bites for us because she claimed we were the only ones who liked them. We really enjoyed getting to know the dining room staff and spent a lot of time learning about their countries, families, and what it was like working on the cruise ship. Even though this list could go on and on, I’ll limit it to our top 10 favorites from the dinners at Main Dining Room: 1. Chocolate Sensation 2. Lamb Shank 3. Shrimp Ravioli 4. Lobster Tails (during 2nd formal night) 5. Key Lime Pie 6. Crème Brule 7. Grilled Salmon 8. Jaffa Cake 9. The Soups 10. The baskets of breads! The only things we had from the Main Dining Room for dinner that weren’t absolutely fabulous were: “Iced Tea” (I’m not sure what it is, but it’s not iced tea!), Seafood Spaghetti (we think they may have accidently brought the linguini instead, but I’m not 100% certain), and the lobster bisque (our waiter warned us that it was very fishy, but we ordered it anyway) Main Dining Room Lunch and Breakfast – We ate here for lunch one day and I enjoyed the Tutti Salad, but we felt the options at the buffet were just too awesome to pass up. So we ate the buffet, Café Promenade or Sorrentos for lunch the other days. We ate breakfast here two days and we LOVED the chocolate breakfast!! Especially the chocolate banana bread and the chocolate milkshakes! The Eggs Benedict and Huevos Rancheros were also favorites on the non-chocolate breakfast day. Windjammer Buffet – With three boys who eat A LOT, we tend to like buffets. I found this buffet to be absolutely the best buffet ever! The choices were limitless and offered a huge variety for all tastes. There was a variety of typical American food and choices that were more global. I especially loved the make your own crepe station at dinner. Just a few examples of the offereings are meat carving stations at all three meals, fresh fruits, cheeses and breads, a huge variety of salads and toppings, soups, hot vegetables and sides, a sundae bar, and table upon table of desserts. Jade – This is basically just another section of the Windjammer Buffet. My family LOVES sushi and we were quite excited to know that there was sushi available every evening. We were slightly disappointed with it, though. There wasn’t any actual seafood inside the rolls. It was mainly carrots, cucumbers, avocado, etc. An Asian family in line behind me referred to it as “fake sushi”. The main dishes were excellent though. I barely made to the other buffets because my plate was always full from Jade! Promenade Café – The café here ended up being one of our favorite spots. We’d stop in and grab a cup of coffee or tea and a sweet almost every evening. We also packed up sandwiches to take to Grand Cayman with us. I took Ziploc bags and a collapsible cooler to tote them ashore. (You can’t do this on Cozumel because they have dogs that sniff your bags and you have to throw away any food). Sorrentos – This is the pizza place that’s included in the price of the cruise. The boys had pizza several times, but I didn’t get around to trying it until the last day. IT WAS SO GOOD! I was disappointed I hadn’t discovered it earlier!! I had a rustic pizza with a crispy crust and fresh arugula and tomatoes on top. Soft-Serve Ice Cream- Free ice cream all day long!! It was good, creamy and cold on those hot afternoons. Is it the very best soft serve I’ve ever had? No. Did that stop us from eating it often? No!! Room Service – We’ve never in our lives ordered room service anywhere and wanted to order it just because we could. We ordered breakfast the first day but it was cold and disappointing. The boys ordered pizza one night as a late night snack. With the other awesome selections elsewhere, we didn’t use it as much I would have thought. Our top 10 favorite foods that weren’t in the Main Dining Room were: 1. Cookies - Mudslide, Coconut Macaroons, Chocolate Chip, they were all super delicious! They offered many varieties so we had cookies every day! 2. Seafood Sandwich from Café Promenade 3. Cheesecake Lollipops from Café Promenade 4. Sorrentos Pizza 5. Create your own crepe station 6. Sandwich spreads (salmon, tuna, and hummus) 7. Fresh Fruit! (Pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, honey dew, grapes, apples, oranges, pears, kiwi, etc.) 8. Ethnic choice from Jade especially Kari Ayam (a chicken curry dish) and Chicken Tandoori 9. Banana pancakes with caramel sauce 10. Cold salads (they offered different salads each night and I would fill a plate with all the different options.) I was going to list the things we didn’t like, but I can’t think of anything worth mentioning! There were a couple of things that didn’t suit our tastes, but nothing that wasn’t prepared properly. Packing We are middle income, Midwesterners and our normal attire is casual. My husband and I both have jobs where we wear jeans most days and we rarely wear dress clothes (even our church is extremely casual). I didn’t want to over-pack, but wanted to make sure we had everything we needed. For excursions and wearing around the boat, I packed what we would normally wear on a day-to-day basis. For dinner we took fancier clothes than we would wear on a normal basis. I was surprised at how fancy people dressed every night. Not just the formal nights. Most evenings, women wore nice dresses (not just cotton sundresses), jewelry, and nice shoes. For the evening entertainment, some people would change into nice slacks. If you really want to skip the formal attire all together, you won’t be the only one wearing t-shirt and shorts to the shows, but you will be in the minority. I did not see anyone in the main dining room who was dressed casually. I wish I had packed warmer clothes for the evenings. I mainly had spaghetti strapped sundresses and the dining room and Arcadia Theater were extremely chilly! I didn’t have the right colored sweaters to layer over all my dresses. So NEXT time, I’ll make sure I have color coordinated layers for all my dresses. I also wish I had packed more in-between outfits. I didn’t have any slacks or capris. After dinner, I didn’t want to wear my formal gown all evening, but people were dressed very nicely in the evenings so shorts and t-shirts looked a little out of place. You will change clothes often. As an example, the first day, I started in exercise clothes to watch the sunrise, eat breakfast and go to the Zumba class, then I changed into a swimsuit and cover up, then at lunch I changed into a nicer shorts outfit, then I dressed in my formal gown for dinner, then I changed back into the nice shorts outfit for the evening show. You can wear the same thing more than once because you won’t have it on very long, but make sure you pack plenty! For those of you who are uber-organized like me, here’s my packing list to help get you started. For my husband and three boys: 2 nice shorts to wear on ship 2 polo or button down shirts to match nice shorts and slacks 5 casual shorts for excursions (exercise or jean) 5 t-shirts 1 set of workout clothes (shirt and shorts) 1 pair of long pants for ice skating 7 underwear 4 pairs of regular socks 1 pair of dress socks same color as dress shoes PJ’s 2 swimming trunks 1 swim shirt Baseball cap Sunglasses Light weight jacket Dress shoes that match your suit Strap-on water shoes Flip-flops Tennis shoes Suit Tie 1 long sleeve button down shirt to wear with tie 1 white undershirt 1 pair dress slacks Belt Here’s what I packed for me: 3 swimming suits 2 cover ups 3 sundresses Formal gown 5 pairs of shorts 5 shirts 1 pair of long pants 1 set of work-out clothes Socks Lightweight sweater Rain jacket 7 sets of undergarments PJ’s Sunhat Sunglasses Jewelry Toiletry Items: CAMERA!! Band-Aids Antibiotic ointment Aspirin Cold medicine Benadryl Seasickness medication Rash ointment Deodorant Toothbrushes Toothpaste Sunscreen Bug spray Make up Face soap Face lotion Shampoo/Conditioner Hair Products Contact stuff Glasses Cellphone/ipod chargers Dry erase board and marker – Great for keeping track of older kids! Extension cord for chargers Over the door hooks Magnets Ziplocs – various sizes – We used these to take sandwiches when we went on shore. Insulated tote – We used this to keep the sandwiches cool. Ask the steward for ice. Small Umbrella Binoculars Small air spray Snorkeling Gear – Highly recommend these at Labadee and Grand Cayman! Inflatable beach floats –Cheaper than renting them at Labadee and I just threw them away when we finished. Things I didn’t use: binoculars, over the door hooks, extension cord, umbrella, magnets, and bug spray. Things I wished I’d packed: long slacks and nice shirts for evenings and more sweaters for layering. Whenever I travel I like to pack things that I won’t miss, then I leave it behind. That way I won’t have to haul as much stuff home, don’t have as much laundry when I get back, and have room for all our souvenirs. I would not advocate wearing anything holey, dirty, offensive, or out of style. You are on a ship with moderately to extremely wealthy people. But since I’m never going to see any of these people again, I don’t think it has to be a fashion show either. Some examples to help you understand what I mean: I packed (and left) a pair of jean shorts and khaki shorts that had to be ironed before you could wear them (I hate ironing so I was happy to get rid of them!), a brand new outfit that was a gift and I just didn’t care for the color, a couple of shirts that were too low-cut for my taste, and old undergarments. There wasn’t really anything wrong with any of the clothes, but they tended to get disregarded when I was deciding what to wear, so I knew I wouldn’t miss them. The only things I packed to leave behind were the casual outfits that I wore for excursions and working out. Since I figured I’d spend most of my time in a swimsuit and cover up, I did buy new swim suits for the whole family, swim shirts for the boys, and a couple of cover ups. I also bought a new formal gown, and a couple of new sundresses. Disembarkation We had a lot of luggage to haul so we set it out the night before. I didn’t want to fight the crowds while wheeling that many suitcases. We took our time leaving the ship that morning. We didn’t have to catch a plane or be anywhere at any certain time. We had a leisurely breakfast at the Windjammer and then went back to the room to get ready and double check that we had everything. We were assigned the 9:30 slot which was the next to last slot. We started that way about 9:15 am and waited in the Café Promenade. They were running about 30 min. behind so we didn’t actually leave until closer to 10:00 am. They called all the last groups together and we were one of the last to leave. We had to stand in line for over an hour to get through customs. I had drank a coffee, hot tea, and a glass of water while we waited and there are NO bathrooms available (I asked!) We actually saw one poor lady who had peed her pants while waiting. So make sure you don’t drink too much while you’re waiting to leave!! Once we were outside, we asked about the shuttle and they directed us to the waiting area. There were more people waiting than there were benches and we had just stood for an hour in line so it seemed like a long wait for the shuttle. There were other people from other hotels so we had to stop and drop them off before we got to our hotel. By the time we got back and loaded our luggage, it was 12:00 pm before we left Cocoa Beach. One that I found humorous was after getting off the ship, our standards for quality of food, friendliness of service, and cleanliness were so high that we HATED the restaurants and hotel on the way home! We kept comparing them to how wonderful it was on the ship and you will never find any place on land that comes anywhere close to the ship!!

Best Vacation Ever!

Freedom of the Seas Cruise Review by Mommyof3sweetboys

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Trip Details
I’m writing a review of the Freedom of the Seas Western Caribbean cruise for May 24th – May 31st. This review will be different than most other reviews because it’s not going to be a travelogue or an opinion based review. I’m going to try to keep it mostly facts. I know that everyone has different opinions regarding different situations so I’m just going to report the facts and let you decide for yourself if you’d like or not like some aspect of this trip. (Except when talking about food because I don’t think there’s any way to talk about food without having an opinion!) I’m also going to organize it into different topics. That way if you’ve been on the Freedom thousands of times, you can skip the section about the ship. If you aren’t visiting the same ports, you can skip the sections about the ports. You get the idea! I’m hoping that my report will help new cruisers and maybe give some experienced cruisers some new ideas. Hope you enjoy reading!

Background

This section will give you an idea of who we are and how we ended up on this particular cruise. This is a big year for us because my husband and I both turned 40 and we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. We’ve been saving up for the last few years to do a really big vacation with the kids. We have three boys ages 15, 12, and 10. We’re outdoorsy, adventurous people and a cruise was not something we’d really ever considered before. BUT my best friend’s family went on a Royal Caribbean Dreamworks cruise and her boys came back gushing about it to my boys. After that, our kids wouldn’t consider any other suggestions. Eventually my husband and I caved and decided we’d book a cruise. Since we don’t drink, don’t gamble, and have never spent any time sitting beside a pool, we needed a ship with LOTS of on-board activities and plenty of exotic ports. After looking at prices, we knew that we could either fly and take a shorter cruise or drive and take a longer cruise. A family vote decided that we would drive and take the longer cruise. We decided we wanted the 7-day Western Caribbean on the Navigator leaving from Galveston, TX. In September Royal Caribbean offered a special where Kids Sail Free. I called and got the pricing and that night the family decided that this was in fact what we wanted to do. So the next day I called again to book our cruise. To get the Kids Sail Free option, everyone had to be in the same cabin. The Navigator and Freedom only have two interior cabins that house up to 6 people. When I called to book it, ALL of the interior cabins on the Navigator were booked for the entire summer. On the Freedom, the May 24th sailing was the only week available. School ended on May 21st so we decided to go with that cruise. Everything was going smoothly until February. In February, it started snowing and snowing and snowing. School was cancelled over and over again. We used all our snow days and it still kept snowing!! We had 4 extra days that had to be made up at the end of the school year. With a high schooler who had to take final exams, skipping out of the last few days wasn’t going to be an option. In addition to worrying about the school days, I started having issues with our final payment. The high school marching band has a program called Scrip. You buy gift cards online and the participating companies donates a percentage of the gift card to the marching band. Royal Caribbean is one of the participating companies. After emailing them to confirm that I could use the Scrip gift card to pay, I purchased $2200 worth of gift cards and paid my final balance. When the deadline came, I started receiving phone calls and emails saying I hadn’t paid. I called customer service and they told me that it takes up to 30 days to process the gift cards. The representative said I might have to pay an additional $2200 and then once the gift cards were processed, they’d refund my money. I wasn’t interested in loaning Royal Caribbean my money, so I declined that option. They extended the deadline by a week and told me to wait and see if it would get processed in time. That week went by and still nothing happened with the gift cards. I called customer service again and spoke with a supervisor. He assured me that whatever was happening with the gift cards had nothing to do with me. It was between the Scrip company and Royal Caribbean. He put a note on my account stating the balance had been paid in full and assured me the trip wouldn’t be cancelled. It ended up taking 37 days for the gift cards to be credited to my account. A few days later the school announced that they were only adding one day to the end of the year and the remaining three days would be made up by adding time to the beginning and end of the school day. Now I could stop stressing and start actually planning our vacation!

Before the Cruise

Since we were driving, we came part way after school Friday night and finished the trip on Saturday. We choose to stay at the Comfort Inn and Suite in Cocoa Beach. We picked this hotel because it had suites that would provide beds for 5 people, a park and cruise package, decent reviews and was very close to the beach. This hotel far exceeded our expectations. As you entered the room there was a living room, then a small kitchenette, bathroom, and then the bedroom. Off the bedroom there was a balcony looking over the courtyard. The courtyard included a volleyball court, shuffleboard, ping pong, swimming pool, and hot tub. They gave us a buy one get one coupon for drinks so we bought some non-alcoholic drinks and enjoyed them while soaking in the hot tub after supper. Everything was in perfect condition, the staff was very friendly and explained the shuttle process in great detail, and the beach access was close and easy.

For supper, we knew if we were in Florida on the beach, we wanted a seafood restaurant on the water. We decided on Grills, but they were crammed full. You could wait over an hour for an inside table or if you wanted to sit outside you had to find a table that was currently occupied and hover over it until the people were finished. So we walked down to Fishlips which was just a couple of buildings away. We were able to get an outside table overlooking the ocean right away. The menu included a wide variety of seafood options including entrees, sandwiches, salads, etc. The service was very quick and the prices were quite reasonable. There was also a live band playing.

Embarkation

We were on the 9:30 am shuttle and I had heard that breakfast at the hotel would get very busy right before the shuttle came. So we got up early and went to breakfast as soon as it opened. It was well laid out with two separate service lines, 6 different waffle makers, and lots of seating in a very large room. The selection was quite impressive with fruit, several different flavors of waffle, eggs, sausage, cereal, various pastries, several juices, milk, hot tea and coffee. We returned to the room to finish getting ready, pack up our suitcases, and move our van. The hotel owns several lots and we were instructed to park in a particular lot. That lot was already full, so they told us to just park wherever we could find a spot. We spent the time waiting for the shuttle by playing all the different sports offered in the courtyard. When 9:30 arrived, the bus came with a pull behind trailer. They loaded our luggage into the trailer and we got on the bus. After about a 10 min. drive we arrived at the terminal. The driver unloaded our luggage and made sure we had the right tags. Then the Royal Caribbean employees loaded our luggage onto racks and whisked them away. We got into a line and had to wait because the doors didn’t open until 10 am. By the time 10 am rolled around, the line behind us was quite long. We went through the metal detectors, got our picture taken, received our sea passes, and then went to waiting room. There we enjoyed some free lemonade and water while we waited. They started loading at 11:00 am and we were in the 11th group. We were onboard by 11:30 am.

Sail Away

We all took Dramamine when we first got on board, but that was the only time we ended up taking it all week. When we entered the ship, we split up and half of us got sandwiches at the Café Promenade and headed straight to the pool and half went to Windjammer and then the pool. Since we were among the first on board, the buffet was not crowded, but by noon it was getting very busy. There weren’t many people in the pool so we enjoyed the relative quiet. The rooms were open at 1:00 pm and we found our room by using the interactive boards next to the elevators. Those boards were very helpful all week to find out what events were happening and getting directions to get to different venues. The muster drill was at 4:00 pm and everyone had a designated area. We had to wait because there were several people who were not where they were supposed to be. The staff had to hunt them down and get them to the right location. At the muster drill people are crammed together in very tight lines and you will wait until everyone is accounted for. Our middle son got overheated and possibly a little seasick and thought he was going to throw up so we moved him to the front. Another lady was starting to have a panic attack from the close quarters so they took her to the front of the line to get in the fresh air. PLEASE go straight to the muster drill so everyone doesn’t have to wait on you to show up!!

That evening after dinner and the welcome aboard show, we went to listen to live music at one of the lounges. There were several couples dancing. One couple in particular was very talented and was all over the dance floor doing amazing dance moves. All of a sudden the man stopped and then fell over backwards. We were the closest table and I’m CPR trained so I ran over there. He was having a heart attack, but was still breathing and had a weak pulse. I yelled for the medics. A young couple who were physician assistants came and started monitoring him while we waited. Our family ended up leaving to make room for the medical staff. They had to turn the boat around and head back to Port Canaveral. That evening the wind was strong, and they were running full steam to get him back to the port so the ship was really rocking. That was the only evening we experienced any rough seas. (On a side note, the captain did a great job keeping everyone informed about what was happening and provided updates on his condition)

Labadee, Haiti

Since we had to make an emergency trip back, we were late arriving at Labadee. As a result they provided dining options on the ship only instead of the beach buffet. This private island was our first experience with a tropical Caribbean Island. So that right there made it a memorable stop! The crystal clear turquoise water, exotic fish, palm trees, and beautiful landscape are exactly what you imagine a tropical paradise looking like. I will admit that when I found out it was fenced off and we wouldn’t get a chance to experience any real Haitian culture, I was disappointed. One of the things I was looking forward to on this route was seeing exotic ports with interesting cultures. This was not a location where we found that experience. We did not purchase any excursion options here. I had the Cultural Walking Tour booked until I read that it isn’t even a real village and the supposedly authentic artisans weren’t actually doing the crafts. We love roller coasters and zip-lining, but we can do that at home. And I didn’t see the point of paying for a cabana when you can use the loungers for free. We had purchased our own snorkeling equipment and used that plus some bread we’d snagged off the ship to lure lots of fish. Plus we brought floating mats from home that we used to float around in the ocean. There is a free trolley that runs the length of the island. We used that to go to Columbus Cove. It’s the farthest (and least crowded) beach on Labadee. It was sandy and was shallow for a few feet, but then there was a large underwater cliff where it dropped off to 30+ feet. Some people were trying to swim to the bottom, but they couldn’t. Probably not the best beach if you have very little children who aren’t strong swimmers. A beach attendant offered to get us chairs, and we requested that they be set up in the shade. We gave him his tip too early though. He set up 4 chairs, and then was going to get another. We gave him the tip before we received the fifth chair and it never came. So you might not want to tip until you have actually received your chairs! My husband struck up a conversation with another beach attendant and he told us that the rocky area in front of the inflatables was the best location for snorkeling. The attendant summed up Labadee quite well when he said “The only free things here are the shuttle and chairs.” We visited the artisan market which stretches on much further than I anticipated. My husband had all the money and I couldn’t find him anywhere. The salesmen are extremely pushy and will pester you as soon as you enter. My middle son said he felt like it was a bunch of sharks circling their prey or moths drawn to light. I personally thought it was fun, but you need to be willing to ignore them and walk away. I would have bought several items because the merchandise was pretty and very reasonably priced, but by the time I found my husband (and money) it was time to get back on the ship. This was our least favorite stop, but any day spent on a tropical island is a good day so it was still nice!

Falmouth, Jamaica

OH, DO I HAVE AN INTERESTING STORY FOR YOU ABOUT JAMAICA! We looked at the Royal Caribbean excursion offerings and didn’t see anything that appealed to us. We liked the idea of Dunn Falls, but didn’t want the huge crowds. So I started doing online research. I found a place called Turtle River Falls that includes a series of natural waterfalls, rainforest tour, an aviary where you can feed the birds while they land on your head and hands, and a swimming pool. I looked for a company that offered tours to Turtle River Falls. After emailing several, we picked the one with the best rates. The company had a website and tripadvisor review so I thought it seemed legit. But one day sitting at work, I had a very uncomfortable feeling about this excursion. (Thank you Holy Spirit!) I started looking into the company more and saw that they only had 1 tripadvisor review and that reviewer had only 1 review. That seemed a little fishy so I googled the owners name. The search brought back news articles that the police were searching for a man with this name for BEHEADING his wife!!! The Jamaican police had put a plea on Facebook to help find him. I contacted them and gave them the contact information I had for him and promptly cancelled the reservation!! We then found a tour operator named Patrice Bailey that offered the tour. She had numerous great tripadvisor reviews and we took it with her instead. So a word of warning – Make sure you do very detailed research of the tour company before you get in the van with them! My husband joked that there was only one review because he was the only one who returned with his head!

When we arrived in Falmouth, we weren’t 100% certain on where to go. So we stopped and asked at the information desk. If you book an independent tour, you will walk down to the white tents for the Royal Caribbean excursions, then turn right. There will be a sign that says independent tours and another white tent. We told them Patrice Bailey and they directed us to her. She is a tour operator who contracts with certified drivers. She put us in a van and the driver offered us bottles of water or Red Stripe beer. Patrice came a few minutes later and asked if we could switch to a smaller van. Our new driver was Jeff. Jeff was a very responsible driver who shared a wealth of knowledge with us. We learned everything you could ever want to know about Jamaica including the school systems, the government, agriculture, politics, food culture, etc. He started out as a driver and ended up as a friend!

Turtle River Falls was originally Enchanted Gardens and was opened in the 1980’s as a resort. It fell into disrepair and in 2012 it reopened as Turtle River Falls. The buildings are in pretty sad shape, but the grounds and the falls are absolutely breathtaking! There are 7 natural waterfalls with a set of stairs next to them. As you enter, you will pay $20 for adults and $10 for children 10 and under. There is a tour guide who will tell you the history of the property, show you some of the tropical plants, and lead you along the waterfalls. You can get in the waterfalls and climb up them, and crawl behind them into caves. After the waterfalls, they take you to the aviary. As we entered, a large red parrot was waiting and the tour guide took him on his arm. He put food into our hands and then lots of tropical birds came swooping in to land all over our hands, heads, shoulders, etc. He put the large red parrot on each person’s arm so you could hold him. Around your feet, little hens run around and there were even two itty bitty babies about the size of a marshmallow! In addition to visiting Turtle River Falls, we stopped at Scotchies for authentic Jamaican Jerk. It is an outdoor restaurant where they slow-cook the meat on pimento logs in the traditional way. We ordered chicken, pork, and sausage plus a variety of sides included bammy, roasted sweet potato, and festival (which is a fried sweet bread that is awesome!) We also requested to stop and buy some Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee. We told him we wanted export quality, 100% pure Jamaican Blue and he knew just the spot to take us. It was a little roadside market where we got that and some other souvenirs at half the price they were at the port shops. He had told us about a church that was almost 300 years old. When we returned to the port I asked him if the church was close enough to walk to. He said he had time so he’d take us. Keep in mind, we had already paid and he had already returned us to the port and we were getting ready to get off the bus when he offered to do this for free! Unfortunately the church was closed for the day so we only got to see the outside. When we returned to the port we tried some patties (which are well worth buying!) and some Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee (YUM!!) We felt Jamaica offered the most authentic cultural experience. You really feel like you’re visiting a different world here.

Grand Cayman

In case you didn’t know, this is the only stop where the ship doesn’t dock at a pier. You have to get on a boat called a tender and take that to the island. Our excursion tickets said it was the 10:30 am tour and the first tender left the boat at 8:30. We were on one of the first tenders. They will hold up to 350 people and there are several boats so it was a very smooth process. We selected the Dolphin Push and Pull Excursion through Royal Caribbean and for what it’s worth, I looked into booking this myself and it was actually cheaper through Royal. So don’t assume that booking the excursions privately always saves you money. We have always wanted to swim with the dolphins so this was a no brainer for us. When you enter the water, you will be instructed on how to do several different tasks. You will be pushed on a boogie board, hold on to the fins while the dolphin pulls you, shake “hands”, and kiss the dolphin. I had seen on other reviews that people were complaining that you couldn’t take photos. That’s not entirely true. You cannot take ANYTHING into the pool with you (watches, cameras, sunglasses, etc.) for the safety of the dolphins. You can however take photos from the side. This is a bucket-list, once-in-a-lifetime type experience for our family and was well worth every penny! The only disappointment was that I thought I had booked the excursion to visit both the dolphins and the turtle farm which was across the street. When we walked across the street the attendant told me we didn’t have the right wrist bands. When I went back to the Dolphin place, I talked to the tour guide there and she said I didn’t have the right wristband to include both locations. I only had the Dolphin excursion. When we returned to the boat, I went to the guest services table and asked them. They looked it up and said I had the Dolphin excursion only. We looked at the excursion options and prices that the ship offered and the price we paid was less than any of the excursions they had offered. So it appeared that booking online was cheaper, but I’d recommend printing out everything from your online excursion booking. Otherwise you might not be getting what you thought you’d booked. Also, the time I had booked online was 9:30 am, but our tickets were for 10:30 am. So make sure you check your tickets for the time you are supposed to arrive.

Georgetown, Grand Cayman is what I would consider a typical touristy beach town. They only way you could tell you weren’t in Myrtle Beach, Pensacola, or Clearwater was because they drove on the other side of the road! Streets are crammed with bumper to bumper traffic, sidewalks are full of tourists, and there are more tourist shops than you could ever want to visit! Also I was surprised that the beach near the pier is all rock. You cannot get to a sand beach unless you walk a very long distance (we talked to a young couple on the ship who did this and they said it was very far!) or take a taxi or excursion. We had purchased our own snorkeling gear so we wanted to go snorkeling. Fortunately some of the best snorkeling is right by the boat on those rocky shores. Once you get to the main road, turn right and go to Eden Rock Dive Center. They will rent equipment ($14 for snorkel, mask, and fins) or you can use their entry ladder for free if you have your own equipment. (They request tips if you use their restrooms or shower). The reef is only a few feet from the shore and it is amazingly beautiful with thousands of fish! We had brought cereal boxes to feed the fish, but the staff requested that we not feed the fish so we didn’t disrupt their natural feeding habits. We respected that and didn’t use it for the fish (we ate it as a snack instead ) We didn’t need it anyway because there were all kinds of fish everywhere. We did some shopping, but the stores were crammed full and the prices were fairly high compared to Haiti and Jamaica. Grand Cayman was by far the most affluent and clean port we visited.

Cozumel, Mexico

The one excursion that we absolutely knew we had to book on a Caribbean cruise was snorkeling. None of us had ever been and it has been on my bucket list since I was a kid. So we looked at all of the snorkeling excursions at all of the ports and picked the Fury Catamaran and Beach Break. We selected this because of the boat ride, the beach activities and the fact that Cozumel is supposed to be one of the best locations on this cruise for snorkeling. Again, after researching prices between the Royal Caribbean excursion and a private party and finding the prices were comparable, we felt it was best to stick with the Royal Caribbean offer. That way there wasn’t any issue with getting back to the boat on time. We had the first time for the excursion and I would recommend that if it’s available because you will be the first boat to the beach and you get first choice of the best seats/beds/hammocks! We went straight from the ship to the catamaran and they handed out the snorkeling gear and life vests. They had free sodas and water as we headed to the snorkeling site. When we arrived at the reef they had us dip our masks in an anti-fog solution and told us to stick together as a group. The guide had a white buoy and we were instructed to follow him. I think he may have been feeding the fish because if you followed him, you saw tons of fish and if you didn’t, you didn’t see very many. It was not nearly as nice going in a large crowd as it had been snorkeling by ourselves in Grand Cayman, but the fish were plentiful and there were a lot of different species. We saw some big schools of fish congregating on the bottom and a giant fish longer than my leg with a mouthful of teeth! Someone said it was a Barracuda and it sure did look like the photos when I googled it! After 45 minutes we got back on board and they offered beer and margaritas in addition to the sodas. My husband enjoyed a beer and I tried the margaritas. I don’t like the taste of alcohol at all and these were very weak. In fact I had two and didn’t have any kind of a buzz even though I have absolutely no tolerance for alcohol. I thought they were very yummy, but people who like alcohol will probably be disappointed! The next stop was the beach. This was similar to Labadee, but everything was included. There were giant inflatable slides, trampolines, obstacle courses, etc., paddleboards, kayaks, and beach mats. Plus there were shaded beds, hammocks, and loungers. They did have burgers with potato salad for sale, but we opted to wait to eat real Mexican food when we returned. I don’t know prices or quality but I did overhear someone say it was the best potato salad they’d ever had. The drinks were included here, too. We stayed for 1 ½ hours here and there were other boats that arrived while we were there. The beach however did not get crowded. Another fun aspect of this location was that they set out food for the animals so there were birds and an iguana near the building. I could have stayed here for the rest of my life so this excursion seemed too short!

When we returned we asked the boat captain the best restaurant near the port. He directed us to Ernestos. To get there you will go to the main road and turn left. There is a large three story, pyramid shaped, thatch roof building and Ernestos is a small hole-in-the-wall place across the street from that building. It was about what you’d pay for a sit down Mexican restaurant in America ($12-20 per plate) but the quality was beyond anything you can get here! Homemade chips and salsa, homemade tortilla shells, and fresh seafood! Cozumel is famous for it fresh seafood so we ordered shrimp nachos, Grouper fajitas, and fish tacos. After lunch we took a taxi to a chocolate factory. A friend visited Cozumel for vacation and discovered KaoKao chocolate. They hand grind the cocoa beans on site and it is only available in Cozumel. She had bought 5 chocolate bars, but was down to her last bar. When she found out we were going, she put in a request for more bars. So we had to stop and get some chocolate for her. The store has glass front windows where you can watch them making and wrapping the chocolates and free samples. One of the employees would describe the chocolate and give you a free sample. We tasted 80%, 70%, and 60% dark chocolates, milk chocolate, chocolate with coconut, chocolate with coffee, chocolate with chili pepper, white chocolate, dark chocolate sweetened with Splenda, dark chocolate sweetened with Stevia, chocolate covered cocoa beans, chocolate covered coffee beans, honey with cocoa, and honey with vanilla. We ended up having to use our debit card because we bought too much chocolate!! The taxi driver asked if we were interested in shopping and we told him yes. So he dropped us off at an outdoor market near the ship. We shopped and found some reasonably priced souvenirs. To get there from the port, you would cross the street and turn right. It is a couple of blocks down and extends to the left. We should have switched the order of our stops though because the chocolate was not holding up in the 90 degree temperatures. So we headed back to the ship a little early to put the chocolate away in the cooler.

Freedom Of The Seas

Since we had never even seen a cruise ship before our jaws dropped when we first saw the ship. Imagine a 14 story building towering above you. Now imagine it being a block long. Now imagine it floating on the water. That will give you a slight idea of just how massive this thing is. Inside the promenade is breathtaking, the art work is exquisite, the common areas are spotless, everything is made to impress. Everything was in working order and stylish. A couple of hints that we discovered during our trip. You can’t get from one end of the ship to the other end on decks 2 and 3. So instead of walking through the smoking casino, go outside on deck 4 to traverse from one end to the other. The starboard side of the ship has red carpet and the port side has blue. Look at the color of the carpet at your cabin to help you remember which direction to turn when you get off the elevator. In the public restrooms, there are two dots of colors on the lock. White is unlocked and red is locked. You can’t see under the doors and they shut on their own, so this will help you determine if a stall is occupied.

Here is a little more information about each area that we frequented

Pool: We visited the pool a lot during our trip. The kids especially liked the H2O Zone with the waterfalls and squirting features. It gets REALLY crowded on seas days from about 10:00 am -3:00 pm. So we would typically visit after supper when it was nearly empty. That was a great time to get in the cantilevered hot tubs too!!

Solarium: This is the adults-only section so it was quiet. The cantilevered hot tubs were in this section and were very hot. You couldn’t stay in them long, but the view is incredible.

Spa: I took the spa tour which was a total waste of time. The first day they had a special for $99/single $199 couple massages on the beach in Labadee. We signed up to get the couples massage, but since we were late arriving, they changed it to the on-board spa. The facilities are nice, but not nearly as fancy as I was expecting. It reminded me of just about any other spa I’ve visited. The couples massage was professional and my muscles were relaxed without being sore the next day.

Library: This was a major disappointment. We love to read and were planning to spend time here, but as my younger son said, it was about the size of our stateroom and most of the shelves were empty!

Chapel: We tried to visit here on the very first day and almost walked in on a wedding! The staff shooed us out and apologized. There was a sign saying that it was closed at the bottom of the stairs. But we hadn’t seen it, so we moved it in front of the stairs to prevent anyone else from making the same mistake. We ended up visiting it the next morning. My husband commented that he thought you’d be able to see out, which you couldn’t, but overall it was a nice quiet place to get away. We spent a few minutes in prayer for the man who’d had the heart attack and for a safe trip. The boys asked why there weren’t any church services and I wondered the same thing. Maybe we need to suggest that to the Royal Caribbean staff!

Skating Rink: I was really disappointed in the hours for open skating! The first sea day they offered free skate and my husband took the two younger boys, but my older son wanted to do the flow rider. So I went with him. There weren’t any other open skate times the rest of the trip! So the two of us never got a chance to try this. We had signed the online waiver, but they had waivers there for people who hadn’t filled it out. They have you wear helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, long pants, and socks. So make sure you pack long pants and socks if you want to try this. The rink is small and they limit you to 30 min. but the boys had a good time.

Rock Wall: This was my oldest son’s favorite feature. We were here many time during the trip. My son and husband both competed in the speed climb and my son won the second place medal. You must have completely dry clothes (no swim attire) and socks, but they provide special climbing shoes and harnesses. They even have an offer that if you can climb a certain colored “trail” up the wall, they will give you a free cruise. If you fail, you have to buy the attendant a free drink. (He’s never seen anyone accomplish this!)

Flowrider: We all tried the Flowrider and some of us were more successful than others! We did both the boogie board and stand up and it was a blast watching both those who are really good and those who have major wipeouts. We attended the champion Flowrider competition which was lots of fun! If you are physically able, I’d recommend it just so you can say you tried!

Golf Course: We finally tried this the final day and I wished we’d visited early. We had a great time competing against each other. It’s a small, yet challenging course.

Deck 4: Most people don’t go to Deck 4 so it ended up being one of my favorite spots. We watched the sunrise and sunset here, read books during the afternoons on sea days, went for walks, and played shuffle board. The shuffleboard equipment is stored in containers mounted on the walls next to the shuffle board courts. It’s the closest deck to the water so you can hear the ocean. This is the deck to take to the helipad which is the very front of the ship. It was so windy my husband thought it would blow the glasses right off his face. Very exhilarating experience when you’re going full speed!

Arcade: They offered a free session the first night on ship. The kids (and my husband) enjoyed the free play, but we never spent any money here on any other night.

Promenade: We only used this as a way to get from one end of the ship to the other or to get a snack in the evenings. I never even entered any of the stores or bars here. It was really crowded at night and totally empty during the day. It was pretty and made the ship feel like a small city.

Casino: We never spent any time here except for walking through it the first few days before we discovered you can bypass it by walking outside. Smoky, noisy but crowded so I guess there are plenty of people that enjoy it.

Each day the steward leaves the Cruise Compass detailing some of the various activities that will be offered the next day. There is constantly something and most of the time there are 4-5 options. There is no way to do everything so you will need to look over the options and decide which items are the most important. We would look the night before and circle the items we wanted to attend. A watch is a good item to pack because there aren’t many clocks onboard and I never had my cell phone with me.

Here is little more information about the shows and activities that we participated in:

Ice Show: Our very favorite! They offered it 4 times so it wasn’t a problem to find seating. I had to practically drag the boys because they didn’t think they’d like it, but they did.

Friendly Feud: This was a fun game show that we enjoyed. Exactly like the tv show except they get audience members to be the contestants so this is your chance to be a star!

Meet and Mingle: The meet and mingle part was kind of lame, but the cabin crawl that one member had organized for afterwards was one of my favorite activities. Loved seeing how the upper crust lives!

Love and Marriage Game Show: Absolutely hilarious! I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time! They pick the couple who has been married the longest, honeymooners, and one couple in between. The women leave and they ask the men questions. When the women return they ask them the same questions. Then they switch. Casey Pelter is the activities director and he is so quick witted he made all the shows so much fun!

Trivia: We went three different times to trivia. You form teams from 2 -6 people and get an answer card. Every team answers as the host read the questions out loud. At the end you trade with a neighboring team and grade each other’s answers when the host tells you the correct answers. Winners will get something like a keychain or pen.

60 Seconds or Less: Just like the Minute to Win It tv show. It was a blast and my husband was one of the audience members selected. He received a gold medal for winning his bobblehead contest! They had 4 different challenges and they picked the participants from the audience members. As the host pointed out, this game is only fun as long as the participants and audience make it fun! And our participants and audience made it super fun!

Opening Show: This featured a comedian and aerial acrobats. The aerial acrobats are amazing. The comedian was just so-so. He mumbled and was hard to understand sometimes.

Magician: This was a high quality show. The magician is very charismatic and the tricks are pretty amazing. This was also a favorite of ours!

Broadway Review: For this show the singers and dancers wear costumes and sing a song from one musical, then change sets and costumes and sing another song, then change and sing another song. We aren’t much into Broadway so we didn’t know very many of the songs. And without any storyline it became a bit boring for me. The singers and dancers are talented and the costumes and staging were impressive.

Closing Show: The aerial acrobats were back and that was the main reason we wanted to see the closing show. There was a different comedian which we enjoyed more than the first one. They introduced the staff and there is a lot of cheering and clapping for all their hard work.

Live Music: We attended a couple of the live music shows. The talent is amazing and I would recommend making an effort to check it out! In the Star Lounge they had a dance floor if you want to do some ballroom dancing to a live jazz band or rock out with Kronos.

Dreamworks Parade: I stood on a little platform next to the elevator on Deck 6 to watch. If you have little kids, it was quite the performance, but it’s very crowded!!

Poolside Activities:

Zumba: I participated in this a couple of times and it is a fun class to get you up and moving. Simple enough for beginners, but challenging enough to get you sweating.

Belly Flop Competition: Don’t volunteer, but do go and watch these poor men put themselves through immense pain!

Sexiest Man Competition: I was at the pool when this started and Sonny from North Carolina stole the show!! It wouldn’t have been nearly as funny without him, so I don’t know if I’d recommend seeking this out. But if you just happened to be there, it can be entertaining.

WARNING: The following is opinion based only, not based on facts 

Our favorite features/areas on the ship were: Rock wall, Flow Rider, H2O Zone, Outside on Deck 4, the attentive and friendly staff, and the wide variety of lounges.

Our least favorite features/areas on the ship were: Casino, library, the tiny showers, and the stench that came from the toilet!

Our top 10 favorite activities on the ship were:

1. Ice show

2. Audience participation games (trivia, friendly feud, 60 seconds or less, etc.)

3. Magician

4. Watching sunrises/sunsets on Deck 4

5. Rock Wall competitions

6. Flow Rider competition

7. Aerial Acrobats

8. Cabin Crawl (this has to be organized by the Roll Call on Cruise Critic)

9. Couples Massage

10. Musicians

Our least favorite aspect of the ship were:

• The singers/dancers (not because they aren’t talented, just because that’s not something we’re interested in)

• Spa Tour

• The insane watch sale where you can’t get through the promenade!

Food

Okay this section is strictly opinion based because I don’t think there is any way to talk about food without having an opinion about whether it tasted good to you. The food on the ship was beyond my wildest dreams! I have never eaten such delicious, exotic, perfectly created dishes in my life! There may have been one or two things that weren’t fabulous, but there were so many options that if you don’t like, don’t eat it. Just get something else.

Main Dining Room – We opted for My Time Dining because we didn’t want to have to be back on the ship in time for the 5:30 pm seating, but we usually eat much earlier than 8:00 pm. We enjoyed that flexibility and arranged reservations when we first boarded so we didn’t have to wait. Two evenings we called and rescheduled our reservations for a later time because there were other activities we wanted to attend. I requested a table for 5 because, even though we wouldn’t have minded getting to know other people, I was worried that some certain types of people would not be too thrilled eating with three boys. I had told them when I booked the trip that we were celebrating our 20th anniversary and they arranged a special dessert for us during the second formal night complete with candles and singing. We ate in the dining room the first two nights and then decided to try the buffet on Tuesday. We arrived on the boat late on Wednesday and were exhausted after Jamaica so we went for the buffet that night also. When we came back for the second formal night our waiter was afraid that we hadn’t been happy with the service. He had been fairly busy the first two night we were there, but this night we were his only table. So he cater to our every whim. He asked my middle son if he liked beef. I said the only beef he likes is hamburger. So the waiter brought him a burger and fries the next two night. The assistant waitress was one of our favorites. She was so sweet and kind. She remembered our drink orders and would go get extra savory bites for us because she claimed we were the only ones who liked them. We really enjoyed getting to know the dining room staff and spent a lot of time learning about their countries, families, and what it was like working on the cruise ship.

Even though this list could go on and on, I’ll limit it to our top 10 favorites from the dinners at Main Dining Room:

1. Chocolate Sensation

2. Lamb Shank

3. Shrimp Ravioli

4. Lobster Tails (during 2nd formal night)

5. Key Lime Pie

6. Crème Brule

7. Grilled Salmon

8. Jaffa Cake

9. The Soups

10. The baskets of breads!

The only things we had from the Main Dining Room for dinner that weren’t absolutely fabulous were: “Iced Tea” (I’m not sure what it is, but it’s not iced tea!), Seafood Spaghetti (we think they may have accidently brought the linguini instead, but I’m not 100% certain), and the lobster bisque (our waiter warned us that it was very fishy, but we ordered it anyway)

Main Dining Room Lunch and Breakfast – We ate here for lunch one day and I enjoyed the Tutti Salad, but we felt the options at the buffet were just too awesome to pass up. So we ate the buffet, Café Promenade or Sorrentos for lunch the other days. We ate breakfast here two days and we LOVED the chocolate breakfast!! Especially the chocolate banana bread and the chocolate milkshakes! The Eggs Benedict and Huevos Rancheros were also favorites on the non-chocolate breakfast day.

Windjammer Buffet – With three boys who eat A LOT, we tend to like buffets. I found this buffet to be absolutely the best buffet ever! The choices were limitless and offered a huge variety for all tastes. There was a variety of typical American food and choices that were more global. I especially loved the make your own crepe station at dinner. Just a few examples of the offereings are meat carving stations at all three meals, fresh fruits, cheeses and breads, a huge variety of salads and toppings, soups, hot vegetables and sides, a sundae bar, and table upon table of desserts.

Jade – This is basically just another section of the Windjammer Buffet. My family LOVES sushi and we were quite excited to know that there was sushi available every evening. We were slightly disappointed with it, though. There wasn’t any actual seafood inside the rolls. It was mainly carrots, cucumbers, avocado, etc. An Asian family in line behind me referred to it as “fake sushi”. The main dishes were excellent though. I barely made to the other buffets because my plate was always full from Jade!

Promenade Café – The café here ended up being one of our favorite spots. We’d stop in and grab a cup of coffee or tea and a sweet almost every evening. We also packed up sandwiches to take to Grand Cayman with us. I took Ziploc bags and a collapsible cooler to tote them ashore. (You can’t do this on Cozumel because they have dogs that sniff your bags and you have to throw away any food).

Sorrentos – This is the pizza place that’s included in the price of the cruise. The boys had pizza several times, but I didn’t get around to trying it until the last day. IT WAS SO GOOD! I was disappointed I hadn’t discovered it earlier!! I had a rustic pizza with a crispy crust and fresh arugula and tomatoes on top.

Soft-Serve Ice Cream- Free ice cream all day long!! It was good, creamy and cold on those hot afternoons. Is it the very best soft serve I’ve ever had? No. Did that stop us from eating it often? No!!

Room Service – We’ve never in our lives ordered room service anywhere and wanted to order it just because we could. We ordered breakfast the first day but it was cold and disappointing. The boys ordered pizza one night as a late night snack. With the other awesome selections elsewhere, we didn’t use it as much I would have thought.

Our top 10 favorite foods that weren’t in the Main Dining Room were:

1. Cookies - Mudslide, Coconut Macaroons, Chocolate Chip, they were all super delicious! They offered many varieties so we had cookies every day!

2. Seafood Sandwich from Café Promenade

3. Cheesecake Lollipops from Café Promenade

4. Sorrentos Pizza

5. Create your own crepe station

6. Sandwich spreads (salmon, tuna, and hummus)

7. Fresh Fruit! (Pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, honey dew, grapes, apples, oranges, pears, kiwi, etc.)

8. Ethnic choice from Jade especially Kari Ayam (a chicken curry dish) and Chicken Tandoori

9. Banana pancakes with caramel sauce

10. Cold salads (they offered different salads each night and I would fill a plate with all the different options.)

I was going to list the things we didn’t like, but I can’t think of anything worth mentioning! There were a couple of things that didn’t suit our tastes, but nothing that wasn’t prepared properly.

Packing

We are middle income, Midwesterners and our normal attire is casual. My husband and I both have jobs where we wear jeans most days and we rarely wear dress clothes (even our church is extremely casual). I didn’t want to over-pack, but wanted to make sure we had everything we needed. For excursions and wearing around the boat, I packed what we would normally wear on a day-to-day basis. For dinner we took fancier clothes than we would wear on a normal basis. I was surprised at how fancy people dressed every night. Not just the formal nights. Most evenings, women wore nice dresses (not just cotton sundresses), jewelry, and nice shoes. For the evening entertainment, some people would change into nice slacks. If you really want to skip the formal attire all together, you won’t be the only one wearing t-shirt and shorts to the shows, but you will be in the minority. I did not see anyone in the main dining room who was dressed casually.

I wish I had packed warmer clothes for the evenings. I mainly had spaghetti strapped sundresses and the dining room and Arcadia Theater were extremely chilly! I didn’t have the right colored sweaters to layer over all my dresses. So NEXT time, I’ll make sure I have color coordinated layers for all my dresses. I also wish I had packed more in-between outfits. I didn’t have any slacks or capris. After dinner, I didn’t want to wear my formal gown all evening, but people were dressed very nicely in the evenings so shorts and t-shirts looked a little out of place.

You will change clothes often. As an example, the first day, I started in exercise clothes to watch the sunrise, eat breakfast and go to the Zumba class, then I changed into a swimsuit and cover up, then at lunch I changed into a nicer shorts outfit, then I dressed in my formal gown for dinner, then I changed back into the nice shorts outfit for the evening show. You can wear the same thing more than once because you won’t have it on very long, but make sure you pack plenty!

For those of you who are uber-organized like me, here’s my packing list to help get you started.

For my husband and three boys:

2 nice shorts to wear on ship

2 polo or button down shirts to match nice shorts and slacks

5 casual shorts for excursions (exercise or jean)

5 t-shirts

1 set of workout clothes (shirt and shorts)

1 pair of long pants for ice skating

7 underwear

4 pairs of regular socks

1 pair of dress socks same color as dress shoes

PJ’s

2 swimming trunks

1 swim shirt

Baseball cap

Sunglasses

Light weight jacket

Dress shoes that match your suit

Strap-on water shoes

Flip-flops

Tennis shoes

Suit

Tie

1 long sleeve button down shirt to wear with tie

1 white undershirt

1 pair dress slacks

Belt

Here’s what I packed for me:

3 swimming suits

2 cover ups

3 sundresses

Formal gown

5 pairs of shorts

5 shirts

1 pair of long pants

1 set of work-out clothes

Socks

Lightweight sweater

Rain jacket

7 sets of undergarments

PJ’s

Sunhat

Sunglasses

Jewelry

Toiletry Items:

CAMERA!!

Band-Aids

Antibiotic ointment

Aspirin

Cold medicine

Benadryl

Seasickness medication

Rash ointment

Deodorant

Toothbrushes

Toothpaste

Sunscreen

Bug spray

Make up

Face soap

Face lotion

Shampoo/Conditioner

Hair Products

Contact stuff

Glasses

Cellphone/ipod chargers

Dry erase board and marker – Great for keeping track of older kids!

Extension cord for chargers

Over the door hooks

Magnets

Ziplocs – various sizes – We used these to take sandwiches when we went on shore.

Insulated tote – We used this to keep the sandwiches cool. Ask the steward for ice.

Small Umbrella

Binoculars

Small air spray

Snorkeling Gear – Highly recommend these at Labadee and Grand Cayman!

Inflatable beach floats –Cheaper than renting them at Labadee and I just threw them away when we finished.

Things I didn’t use: binoculars, over the door hooks, extension cord, umbrella, magnets, and bug spray.

Things I wished I’d packed: long slacks and nice shirts for evenings and more sweaters for layering.

Whenever I travel I like to pack things that I won’t miss, then I leave it behind. That way I won’t have to haul as much stuff home, don’t have as much laundry when I get back, and have room for all our souvenirs. I would not advocate wearing anything holey, dirty, offensive, or out of style. You are on a ship with moderately to extremely wealthy people. But since I’m never going to see any of these people again, I don’t think it has to be a fashion show either. Some examples to help you understand what I mean: I packed (and left) a pair of jean shorts and khaki shorts that had to be ironed before you could wear them (I hate ironing so I was happy to get rid of them!), a brand new outfit that was a gift and I just didn’t care for the color, a couple of shirts that were too low-cut for my taste, and old undergarments. There wasn’t really anything wrong with any of the clothes, but they tended to get disregarded when I was deciding what to wear, so I knew I wouldn’t miss them. The only things I packed to leave behind were the casual outfits that I wore for excursions and working out. Since I figured I’d spend most of my time in a swimsuit and cover up, I did buy new swim suits for the whole family, swim shirts for the boys, and a couple of cover ups. I also bought a new formal gown, and a couple of new sundresses.

Disembarkation

We had a lot of luggage to haul so we set it out the night before. I didn’t want to fight the crowds while wheeling that many suitcases. We took our time leaving the ship that morning. We didn’t have to catch a plane or be anywhere at any certain time. We had a leisurely breakfast at the Windjammer and then went back to the room to get ready and double check that we had everything. We were assigned the 9:30 slot which was the next to last slot. We started that way about 9:15 am and waited in the Café Promenade. They were running about 30 min. behind so we didn’t actually leave until closer to 10:00 am. They called all the last groups together and we were one of the last to leave. We had to stand in line for over an hour to get through customs. I had drank a coffee, hot tea, and a glass of water while we waited and there are NO bathrooms available (I asked!) We actually saw one poor lady who had peed her pants while waiting. So make sure you don’t drink too much while you’re waiting to leave!! Once we were outside, we asked about the shuttle and they directed us to the waiting area. There were more people waiting than there were benches and we had just stood for an hour in line so it seemed like a long wait for the shuttle. There were other people from other hotels so we had to stop and drop them off before we got to our hotel. By the time we got back and loaded our luggage, it was 12:00 pm before we left Cocoa Beach. One that I found humorous was after getting off the ship, our standards for quality of food, friendliness of service, and cleanliness were so high that we HATED the restaurants and hotel on the way home! We kept comparing them to how wonderful it was on the ship and you will never find any place on land that comes anywhere close to the ship!!
Mommyof3sweetboys’s Full Rating Summary
Enrichment Activities
Value For Money
Embarkation
Dining
Public Rooms
Entertainment
Cabin
Fitness & Recreation
Shore Excursions
Ages 10 to 12
Ages 13 to 15
Service
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Cabin Review

Cabin 2313
This is only one of two interior cabins on the ship that house more than four people. I could not find much information about this cabin anywhere, so I’m going to give great detail about it for future cruisers who book this cabin. This room is the size of two rooms combined. It was much larger than I expected and had tons of storage space. We didn’t get anywhere close to using all the storage space. There are beds for 6 people. You can either have two twin beds or have them pushed together to make one king bed. We had them pushed together and this is where my husband and I slept. They put a pad over the bed so you can’t tell that it’s two different beds at all. There is a pull out couch where two more people can sleep. One of the boys slept here each night and they fought over who got it because it was so comfortable. Then there is a small room that houses a set of twin bunk beds. The top bunk is pretty close to the ceiling so a small, agile person needs to sleep here. The bunks are separated from the rest of the room by a curtain. There is another curtain that separates the king bed from the rest of the cabin. As you enter the room, to your left is a closet with shelves. It contains the safe and life vests. It was great place to throw your wet, sandy water shoes after excursions. Straight ahead is a huge walk-in closet with hangers and a lower rack. In the bunk bed room there is another closet with hangers and couple of shelves. On each end of the cabin there are two desks with mirrors, chairs, and 6 drawers. On the end near the king bed the entire wall is storage. There are shelves with doors, drawers, and open shelves. The TV is on this end next to the couch. The bathroom is tiny. We are short, thin people and I can’t imagine being a large person trying to take a shower! I packed a small air freshener and that helped because there isn’t an exhaust fan in the bathroom. We were one of the cabins on the cabin crawl and everyone was very impressed with the cabin. Especially when they found out we had 5 people for the price of 2! We packed a small nightlight because it was an inside cabin and that was very helpful. It is pitch black otherwise. We used our phones to set alarms to get us up in the morning because otherwise you have no idea what time it is! Since we were seldom in the cabin, I don’t think I would pay for an outside room if we went again. I would highly recommend this cabin to anyone with 3-4 children!
  Freedom of the Seas Deck Plans

Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

  • Beach
    One of the absolute favorites of our trip!! So much fun on the inflatables, kayaks, and paddleboards. Kids were disappointed that you had to be 18 to use the paddleboards and kayaks. The beach beds were super comfortable and fun to relax on, too.
    View All 616 Beach Reviews
  • Catamaran tour
    This was very well organized and professional. The staff was friendly and helpful. When we arrived they explained the process to us and helped people entering and exiting the water. As we returned, the ship was really rocking, but they still did dancing. We also enjoyed watching the flying fish on the return trip. Free sodas, beer, and a "margarita" that tasted a lot like limeade.
    View All 125 Catamaran tour Reviews
  • Snorkeling
    We had our own equipment and snorkeled in Grand Cayman. The variety of fish in Cozumel was better, but snorkeling alone was more enjoyable. I got kicked once by another person and it's not as relaxing when you have to always watch where the group is headed. But I still recommend this excursion!
    View All 432 Snorkeling Reviews
  • Turtle River Falls
    We loved our tour with Patrice Bailey to Turtle River Falls. The falls are so gorgeous and the aviary was absolutely thrilling! There were only 7 people in our tour so we could spend as much time as wanted climbing the falls and playing. Having tropical birds landing all over your hands and arms is an experience we'll never forget!
    View All 13,304 Turtle River Falls Reviews
  • Dolphin Swim
    I can't even begin to describe how neat it is to touch a real dolphin! Such amazing, intelligent creatures. Something that everyone should experience at least once!
    View All 81 Dolphin Swim Reviews
  • Labadee
    Nice place to relax on a beach and swim in the ocean, but overpriced and vendors are aggressive. You need to have a firm "no" and be willing to ignore them if you want to shop here.
    View All 1,803 Labadee Cruise Port Reviews
    View Cruise Critic's Labadee Cruise Port Review
  • Port Canaveral (Orlando)
    We arrived too late to do much here except eat at Fishlips. I'd recommend it if you are looking for somewhere to eat the night before your cruise! And when we returned we headed straight home.
    View All 2,157 Port Canaveral (Orlando) Cruise Port Reviews
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