This was our 4th RC sailing and 3rd on this class of ship. We booked this sailing through Casino Royale based on sailing date and itinerary, as we had never visited any of the ports (Bonaire, Aruba, Curacao, St. Maarten). After we booked, three other couples decided to join us, so we were travelling with a party of 8. After reading many reviews prior to our sailing, I'll hit the highlights and my recommendations.
First of all, some passengers are just spoiled and entitled and others are just miserable. If you want the Ritz Carlton, spend a lot more money and sail on one of the high end cruise lines. If you don't like being around a lot of people, don't go on a cruise. We have never and will never sail on Carnival. We live in Houston near the Port of Galveston, so we hear all the horror stories. Royal Caribbean provides a fantastic mid-tier cruising experience at a great value compared to other vacation options.
We sailed out of San Juan, arriving early morning on a red eye flight. We booked it through RC which I highly recommend. If you run into flight delays they will take care of you. This is especially important on an overseas cruise. We spent the morning in Old San Juan with one couple in our party who had arrived the day before. Had we fully understood the logistics, we would not have purchased the inbound transfer, as we ended up not using it and took an Uber from our friends' hotel to the pier. We arrived at the pier around the time check-in opened. I would NOT recommend this. If I had it to do over again, we would have had a leisurely lunch in Old San Juan and waited for the crowd to clear out. As I had read in other reviews, luggage drop off at the pier was extremely disorganized and chaotic and the lines to drop off luggage and get through security were very long. It took us about 45 minutes to get inside the terminal. Thankfully three of the 8 of us are Gold members, so our entire party was able to check in almost immediately, and by the time we got on board just a short time later our cabins were already ready. Be sure to show up with your RC luggage tags printed and already on your bags. Believe it or not you will see people showing up with NO cabin tags which really slowed things down. On the other end, disembarkation is a snap if you purchase an airport transfer AND use the porters. There is an "express lane" for people using the porters to handle and load their luggage onto the trucks that deliver it to you at the airport.
Freedom of the Seas is definitely due for a rehab, which she will be getting in Jan 2020. The common areas are still very nice, but the cabins are showing some wear. Having said that, our cabin was very clean and everything functioned properly. Our cabin steward Dmitry was very sweet, personable, thorough and efficient. We gave him $20 on Day 1 which is our normal practice. This is neither necessary nor expected, and I don't know if it really makes a difference, but we have always had excellent service from all of our cabin attendants. We were in 9504 which is a "spacious oceanview" cabin facing outward on the very front of the ship. We didn't see the need for a balcony on this sailing, loved the cabin location, and would book this exact cabin again in the future if we could. The extra space was nice to have, and I took someone's suggestion to move the coffee table into the corner behind the bed. It turned something that was just in the way into a nice storage area. We never eat in our cabin, so we didn't need it for that purpose. Be sure to bring at least one multiplug or power strip with you. There was only one double outlet in our cabin located at the vanity. We bring one that includes USB ports for device charging.
San Juan has largely recovered from Hurricane Maria with Old San Juan showing no signs of it. Old San Juan is definitely worth exploring before or after your cruise, especially the Fort area.