Freedom of the Seas Cruise Review by Lamar Cheeks
- Sail Date: January 2018
- Destination: Eastern Caribbean
Eight Days, with stops in St. Kitt's, Antigua, Puerto Rico and Labadee (Haiti).
First thing I tell everyone: Weather was great, we got lucky. That makes a big difference.
Our sixth RCCL cruise. We have been on Monarch, Rhapsody, Splendour, Voyager and Mariner, always with family or friends, we have never cruised on RCCL as a couple (but have on Norwegian once and Carnival once).
Note: this was the Armenian Heritage Cruise, with 900 Armenians and Armenian-Americans aboard. They had their own shows, one of which we crashed and loved.
We arrived at Port Everglades on Sunday at 11 a.m. We went through embarkation smoothly (Crown and Anchor platinum), were on board a little after noon and took a long tour of the ship. Luggage for my wife and me arrived in our room by 3, but daughter and SIL didn't get theirs until after dinner thanks to having a pretty bad porter put on the luggage tags at embarkation and probably screwing them up. So they ate at MDR (we had 5:30 seating) in shorts. (I'm not a fan of shorts in the MDR, but people who wore dress shorts are OK. There were a lot of t-shirts and flip-flops in the MDR.)
Our plan on ship was to always eat in the main dining room and go to the shows afterward, and we were delighted with the food and service each night (table 410, waiter Cesar, nervous assistant waiter spilled a few things but was a nice guy) and really enjoyed the shows. Typical RC dancers and singers, but the the comedians and aerialists and outside singers were very entertaining. That comes from me (Springsteen guy), wife (Broadway gal), daughter (rap and country) and SIL (rock).
Daughter and her husband got on the Love and Marriage Show, which was funny, with a cute elderly couple winning the grand prize. Naturally daughter had the most embarrassing moment, talking about making whoopee on the ship when her mother called and she answered, which also caused SIL much embarrassment. For the rest of the cruise they were celebrities, which they kind of enjoyed.
We went to the Ice Show twice, it was great. And we also ice skated at all the open skates to watch people crash.
Three days at sea on this ride. We got good weather all three days. Rock climbing, basketball, golf, wave riding -- try that, it's not that painful, even if you are 60. My wife loved heading around the ship for various activities.
BTW, we bought the photo disc on sale before we sailed, then got our photos taken (believe it or not) 250 times. Four or five poses at every station every night. At the end of the cruise, we gathered up all the prints in the photo gallery and they gave us a great price on them. Formal night, fun stuff, we hammed it up all the time. Was money well spent.
Did not get the unlimited drinks package (after much deliberation) but bought three $75 for 10 drink cards (ends up being $88) so we had 30 drinks on board between the four of us. That was enough and not too much.
Brought four bottles of wine on (two per stateroom). If you bring them to the MDR, they will charge a $15 corkage fee. We got wine glasses from the bars and uncorked the bottles in our rooms.
Windjammer was great. Something for everyone. On lobster night (second formal night), they had lobster tails in the Windjammer too. People who complain about the
Windjammer? No time for that.
We got bumpy one night, sixth night at sea. I got queasy and had to take some bonine.
St. Kitt's: Booked through Thenford Grey. The four of us went on a van for a tour of the island, then a private snorkeling beach for two hours. Snorkeling was fun, the guide went to the bottom and got some funky stuff out for us. They they dropped us off at a beach/beach bar for an hour before we went back to St. John's. Price was reasonable, would highly recommend Mr. Grey's tours.
Antigua: Because of our early departure, wasn't able to book a shore excursion, so ended up taking the RCCL Catamaran Snorkel and Beach. Prepared to not like it, but LOVED it. Great crew, we snorkeled at a fairly busy reef, then went to a beach. The people on board (also from the ship) were great partiers, and they served drinks and let the passengers get behind the bar and have a ton of fun. Most people drank too much, but the beach was outstanding and we all returned tipsy and sunburned. We left Antigua early and we were all sleeping on deck chairs when that happened :)
San Juan: I think most people did what we did, which is get off the ship and walk up to the old fort. Ship was in port from 7-2 ship time (8-3 San Juan time). Enjoyed our stroll around town (again, great weather had something to do with that) and even got to Mass at the old cathedral, which was important to us.
Labadee: RCCL's private beaches. We hung out at Columbus Cove with the Armenian group. RCCL brings all the food to these beaches and sets up bars. The weather on the north side of the peninsula was really windy, so most people came to Columbus Cove and rocked to the Armenian folk songs. Ship listed itinerary as 10-6, but 9-4:30 was more accurate.
Cabin review is below.
We spent some time on the Grand Promenade, but didn't buy anything. The two cafes were both fine, we didn't get many snacks but water and coffee were always available. A lot of older folks camped out there to have coffee and chat (it was that kind of crowd). The Dreamworks characters made their appearances, and it was not crowded to get your pictures with them.
CD Abe Hughes was fantastic, as I suspect most CDs are.
People on the cruise were a lot of fun ... this time of year, the crowd did skew older, but was happy at 60 to still be among the youngsters on the cruise.
We are crown and anchor platinums, so didn't get all the perks of the diamonds, but have noticed a lot of complaints from that group on the message boards, so maybe if you are interested in that stuff, go there. Next cruise were turn "emerald," so look out Dorothy.
Debarkation was absolutely sensational. Walked off with luggage at 8, got to airport by 8:30 for 11:30 flight. A lot of people ask about how early they should fly ... I would say we could have made a 9:30 flight easily. We were at the gate by 8:45, and didn't even hurry.
off-site tips: stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott in Plantation the night before the cruise. They have a free shuttle (before 6 p.m.) from the airport. Also can shuttle you to the cruise for $15 apiece. Recommend this hotel. Was quiet, clean and convenient (right next to a huge mall, a bunch of stores like Target and Kohl's and, of course, Total Wine). We used South Florida Shuttles to get from the hotel to the ship, and from the ship to the airport. If you bundle those two trips, they will give you a private shuttle for the group price, and it's reasonable and, most importantly, reliable. We scheduled a 10:30 departure from the hotel, and the guy was there at 9:30. He waited patiently for us. This hotel is six miles from the cruise ship, and we made it in 15 minutes.
Final thought: We got great weather and fairly calm seas. I think that makes a difference. Have heard from people who cruised in January and had cool/colder weather and rough seas and did not enjoy their cruise.
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Port & Shore Excursion Reviews
Catamaran SailCatamaran sail and snorkel, then dropped at a beach. Pretty good snorkeling (in rough seas, not much variety of fish), then open bar !!! and dropped off at a beach. The only way this could have been better was if it was longer. Fabulous time, great fellow sailors (all from ship), great crew, great rum!!!, great weather. Get the pre-cruise discount on this one; especially important because the time we were in port (ship left at 3) I could not get an independent excursion that would get us back in time. But this one was GREAT.View All 89 Catamaran Sail Reviews
LabadeeRCCL's private beaches. The north side was too windy, but the south side (Columbus beach) was fine. Weather was overcast but warm enough. RCCL sets up the food. Very impressed by this one.View All 1,745 Labadee Cruise Port Reviews
View Cruise Critic's Labadee Cruise Port Review
San JuanJust walked around the old part of San Juan, did some shopping, went to Mass (local time 12:15 p.m.) at the Cathedral, got a free shot at Senor Frogs.View All 3,636 San Juan Cruise Port Reviews
View Cruise Critic's San Juan Cruise Port Review
SnorkelingOutstanding. Private van, history of the island while we were driven to a private beach for two hours of snorkeling over old (but small) shipwrecks. Then driven to a beach/beach bar for as long as we liked. Had an interesting old driver and a young snorkeling guide (Jermaine). Very reasonable (45 bucks each + tip). Picked up right at dock and dropped off whenever we wanted. And ... got great weather, which was a plus. Sunny day, water was nice.View All 67 Snorkeling Reviews