Freedom of the Seas Cruise Review by freelabor
- Sail Date: October 2017
- Destination: Western Mediterranean
We were traveling with friends, celebrating our 50th birthdays. We spent an incredible week prior to the cruise in Barcelona and driving through the beautiful Pyrenees.
Our cabin was oceanview and was larger than most of the oceanview cabins we have stayed in previously. We appreciated the enclosed shower particularly.
Dining and stateroom attendants were fantastic (Shoutout to Mihaela, Nazareth, and RIcardo). Food was great as well.
Only downside to the ship is that there were a lot of smokers on board, and often people were smoking in non-designated areas. At times the smoke was really strong and thick. I realize the ship has to be careful in dealing with customers, but I wish they would have policed it a little bit better. It isn't like no smoking areas is a new concept for anyone.
Getting on/off the tender in Villefranche was crazyville. We were in a line trying to get off the ship and at first there were no ship personnel in sight. People were getting off the elevators and coming up the stairs and cutting in line, it was complete chaos and I thought they'd have a riot on their hands. Finally a kid came and started directing traffic. He did a great job managing the angry crowd, but needed more help. Catching the tender back at the end of the day required a long wait in a long line.
We enjoyed amazing weather for all 10 days and the calmest seas I have ever cruised on.
Here's what we did/port tips:
CARTEGENA - Easy to explore on your own. We walked to the castle ruins, the roman theater, and around the city. Highlight was a little known and easily missed but truly AMAZING House of Fortune - a Roman house dating back to 1st century A.D. All very walkable.
IBIZA - Again we explored on our own. Everyone getting off the ship was herded onto shuttle buses. Most thought it was required. We walked past the buses, another few minutes farther and there were taxis, scooters, rental cars, etc. We rented a car and it was only a little less than it would have cost us to ride the bus shuttle. So I'd recommend doing that. We drove to D'Alt Vil and explored there. There is a cemetery just down the street from D'Alt Vil that is the oldest in Europe (or something like that?) Had wonderful local sandwich-sort-of-things at a cafe, then drove up the coast to a beach. We were wanting to avoid topless/nude beaches, and you have to ask where to go. Found a great beach with waves perfect for body surfing. Dropped the rental car right off by the port, and walked back on board. Very convenient.
MALLORCA - Explored on our own. Grabbed a taxi and went to church, which was fun. Walked around the beautiful old cathedral and museum area. We had initially wondered about walking to/from the cathedral but it's too far - you'll need some sort of transportation. There's not a ton right off the ship. This is a port that if I were to do it again, I might go with an excursion. We didn't have a ton of time to explore. But what we saw we enjoyed.
TOULON - Note that you don't actually stop in Toulon. You stop across the bay at La Seyne Su Mer. It takes some planning and coordination to navigate to where you want to go (if you are going on your own), but you can do it. But this particular port is trickier than most, in my opinion. The Tourist Information place right off the ship was helpful. We planned to take the train to Cassis, but there was a general strike going on, so we took a taxi. Cassis is a charming, picturesque town. We first stopped at a famous lookout (forgot the name). We then took the boat ride to the Calanques. Tip - ask them for an English speaking tour, or you'll be hearing all announcements in French. It was beautiful, regardless, but none of us speak french so it would have been nice to understand a bit more. They do give you a flyer with information in English. Be sure to stop in at the bathroom near the pier, where a loud recorded message gives you dire threats of opening the door if you take longer than 10 minutes. We enjoyed crepes at a cafe overlooking the bay, and then walked around the beach. The beach is rocky not sandy, but beautiful. Our driver to Cassis had arranged for our return trip, which was greatly appreciated as it was not as easy to find taxis in Cassis as it is right off the cruiseship.
VILLEFRANCHE - Again we explored on our own. Villefranche and Nice. The train station was very easy and quick to walk to (just turn right and walk along the coastline road until it curves a bit - the train station is right there... you can also get directions from the people in the TI stations. We found the city's signage confusing, so we took the scenic route there at first. We took the train to Nice. It was a short ride. Nice was enjoyable, and a lovely city with beautiful architecture. But we actually enjoyed our time in Villefranche even more. It has a cool old town area - find all of the old tunnels and walls - and the historic fort on top of the hill is worth the hike. We sat on the wall overlooking the beach and took in the scenic views as well. Great day.
We learned to just laugh at the eye-rolling and disdainful attitude of most of the French people we tried to interact with during our two stops in France. I totally get that we're in France and should speak the language, but I did expect people who worked in the tourism industry to at least give a feeble attempt to be gracious and patient. But if nothing else, it provided us with a lot of entertaining stories.
LA SPEZIA - We explored the towns of Cinque Terre on our own. We were able to purchase our train/tour tickets right at the Tourist Information center right off of the ship. Took a taxi from the ship to the train station. Your ticket allows you to hop on/hop off at the 5 Cinque Terre towns. It is very convenient, but the trains get crowded. We had heard before our trip that the people of Cinque Terre are starting to resent all cruise ship visitors, and I can now see why. They are small cities filled with narrow streets and stairways, and when you get a crowd, it gets tricky. We were off season so it was okay, although still crowded at times. But I wouldn't recommend this during their busy season unless you enjoy Disneyland lines to view a medieval tower. We did not have time for all 5 cities, but visited 3 of the 5. They were lovely and unique and I think we hit something like 22,000 steps that day. We'd planned to walk between the cities but some trails were closed and one was too long for our window of time. We enjoyed eating at a beach cafe in Monterosso and soaking our tired feet in the beautiful clear blue water of Manarola. Hit 5 Terre Gelateria in Manarola - the best gelato of our trip (and we sampled it everywhere!) While we enjoyed Cinque Terre, if I had to do it again, I would save them for a time where we had more time to explore, and would have done an excursion to Florence.
We opted for a private tour here. We booked through ItalyTours.eu, and I highly recommend them. Cristina was responsive and helpful in answering our many questions, and booking online prior to the trip was slick. This was the busiest day of the month at the port, with an insane number of ships and tourists. It would have been a nightmare to try to do on our own. We purchased their Best of Rome private tour, which included skip-the-line Vatican tickets and a personal guide through the Vatican. We also saw the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain. Our driver met us right outside of the ship, and we were on our way in no time. The minivan was spacious and comfortable. (We learned early on that "minivan" generally means something different in Europe than it does in the States.) The traffic was terrible that day, with several closures, and the crowds were thick, so we were not able to see all we had hoped to see. We had booked a private tour because we knew we wanted to cram as much as humanly possible into that single day. But because of the traffic and crowds, we probably saw just as much as we would have on a semi-private tour. So if I were to do it over, I would have booked that and saved quite a bit of money. There were 4 of us, and I think semi-private tours start at 6 persons. Our tour guide at the Vatican was top notch. I recommend buying skip-the-line tickets for everything, because otherwise, you are spending hours of your day in line, and you already spend hours just getting to/from Rome. We knew we would not be able to see all we wanted in a day, but saw less than we'd hoped. So my advice would be to prioritize the top 2 things you want to see, and then everything beyond that will be a bonus. But again, Italy Tours was fantastic to work with and I'd use them again in a heartbeat.
NAPLES - Did our one and only ship excursion here, and it was great. We did the Pompeii/Amalfi Coast by Land and Sea tour. Loved it. Definitely recommend.
Last day at sea was needed to recover from the pace we had been going. Disembarkation was slick until we got to the line for taxis. We waited a very very long time in a long line. I'd maybe recommend the shuttle or making other arrangements.
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Port & Shore Excursion Reviews
BarcelonaBarcelona is a fantastic city. We loved exploring it. We spent a week prior visiting Girona and then driving through the breathtaking mountains and valleys of the Pyrenees. We also visited Montserrat.View All 2,123 Barcelona Cruise Port Reviews
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Cartagena (Spain)Enjoyed this more than we had anticipated. It's very accessible to do on your own. We walked from the ship to the old castle, the Roman theater, and a really cool house from 1st century AD called the House of Fortune. (The latter was the coolest thing we saw and is easy to miss.)View All 398 Cartagena (Spain) Cruise Port Reviews
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IbizaGave tips in my overall cruise review, and too lazy to go into that much detail again. But most important thing to share is that you get off the ship and there are lines for buses to transport you into town. You can pay for those if you want, and perhaps that's what you'll want, but if you walk just a little bit farther, you reach their tourist information center where you can rent cars, scooters, grab taxis, etc. We rented a car for the day (4 of us) for slightly more than the shuttle to town. Visited D'Alt Vil (very cool), walked down the road to Europe's oldest cemetery (?), and drove to an awesome beach. We asked the people at the TI and also locals for beach recommendations. Found a great one. If we'd had more daylight (or spent less time exploring D'Alt Vil) we would have tried to drive all the way around the island.View All 138 Ibiza Cruise Port Reviews
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La Spezia (Cinque Terre)We went on our own and explore the picturesque towns of Cinque Terre. I typed up a bunch of suggestions and a lot of detail in my overall cruise notes and am too lazy to do it all over again. But the main takeaway would be - Cinque Terre is a lot of fun but not built for cruise crowds, so if you are traveling during their peak season, I would recommend you do something else. There's a reason Rick Steves warns cruisers to stay away. But we had a great time nonetheless.View All 248 La Spezia (Cinque Terre) Cruise Port Reviews
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Palma de MallorcaGrabbed a taxi and went to church, which was fun. Walked around the cool plazas and the beautiful historic cathedral and museums. It was a Sunday, so they were closed for tours. This is a town where it's a little harder to explore on your own. You might want to look at cruise excursions or tour providers. Cool town though. We enjoyed it.View All 767 Palma de Mallorca Cruise Port Reviews
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Private TourIt was an extremely crowded day in Rome, which took away from our experience a bit. But we had a very positive experience with Italy Tours EU. I highly recommend them. Booking was slick and Cristina was great to answer all of our many questions. Our driver met us right outside the ship. We packed a lot into our day. Purchased skip-the-line Colosseum, skip-the-line and personal tour guide at the Vatican, and then a visit to Trevi Fountain. See my overall cruise notes for more suggestions - I gave all of my details there.View All 128 Private Tour Reviews
ToulonWent to Cassis on our own. We intended to take the train, but they were striking that day, so we went via taxi. Cassis is picturesque and charming. We took the boat tour of the Calanques, which were beautiful. Be sure to ask if they have the tour in English (unless you are fluent in French). We didn't, and wished we had. But we still could enjoy the beauty of what we were seeing. I have more suggestions and details in my general cruise review - I did it wrong and put all of the port info in that and am too lazy to retype everything. I think the most important thing to note is this is a port where it takes some planning and coordination to explore on your own, but you can do it. It's just not as simple as walking off the boat.View All 282 Toulon Cruise Port Reviews
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VillefrancheWe really liked Villefranche but didn't like the chaos of the tender. We explored Villefranche and Nice on our own. The train station is an easy walk from the port and a quick train ride takes you to Nice. I shared a lot of details in my overall cruise review and am too lazy to retype them all. We enjoyed taking in the lovely architecture and charm of Nice, but also really enjoyed the hidden treasures of walking around Villefranche.View All 321 Villefranche Cruise Port Reviews
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