Highlight ticker for this review:
+++ kent rush to leave rci cruise ships +++ tops &flops +++ port review +++
Freedom of the Seas
09/07/08 – 09/14/08
7 Night Eastern Caribbean
(Miami - day at sea – San Juan, PR
– St. Thomas, USVI – Philipsburgh, Sint Maarten – day at sea – day at sea – Miami)
This time we arrived a little bit earlier than usual because my goal was to get on the ship asap to find a football venue to see my beloved Dolphins lose (again) their home opener. We left the house around 9am, arrived at the port around 9:55am and entered the terminal approx at 10:10. Our normal port arrival time is usually around 10:30/10:45am.
Check-in hasn’t begun yet so we had to wait with about 50 other people in the lobby area. It was there that we met the first roll call couple from the other site (Laura and John). I was thinking “cool, if they are all like that it could be fun”. But more about the roll call later.
During that time it was announced that we will skip San Juan. Later on the ship “the smallest Captain in the world of the biggest ship in the world” announced that we were expecting some wind, rain and swells in the 14-17 foot range. The Freedom couldn’t go full speed and the earliest we could make it to San Juan was between 6 and 8 pm and with a scheduled departure time of 11pm the Captain decided to play it safe and just skip SJ. We later were refunded the port charges.
Check-in began around 10:30/10:45 am and boarding began at 11:15am. It was an extremely smooth procedure. During that time (check-in and boarding) we met even more roll call people. It was kind of neat. I think the earliest we met people from a roll call before was walking around the ship or at the Schooner Bar prior to sailing but never in the terminal.
Smooth as well. Though the line looked long but I don’t think it took longer than 30 to 45 minutes. Miami is just so much better organized and prepared than Ft Lauderdale. I struggled more carrying all the booze (St Thomas has a 12 liter booze allowance) than anything else.
Rather than going day-by-day I will give a general review.
Our first stop was the Windjammer
. The food in the Windjammer throughout the cruise was surprisingly good. Sure it was buffet type of food but it probably was one of the better buffet foods we ate. Staff was helpful, respectful and courteous (though many cruisers treated them like crap – shame on them). Throughout the cruise we ate breakfast, lunch (except port days) and one dinner in the Windjammer.
While in the food department we will jump to the main dining room
Everything we ordered was really good. Fish dinners were cooked as they should, chicken dinners were nice and moist yet done. It was really good. Also one of the better foods I had recently on a cruise.
Chops steak is offered at $14.95 every day but the NY Strip is also offered on one of the nights at no extra charge, Prime Rip is offered on several nights (for all those meat lovers).
Lobster was offered, I believe, on the last night.
I was quite surprised at the dining room attire. I expected more of the “dress” jeans and “dress” shorts generation but overall people adhered to the casual and formal nights (which were on night two and six).
Our waiter and waitress gave us excellent service and were very personable.
For The Sports Fans
Since football season started I know many more people will cruise and want to catch a game here and there. So, this is just for you.
After we had our lunch in the WJ I was desperately searching for a sports bar. On the Navigator Cloud Nine was the sports bar. As 1pm approached I entered the nervous and panic state ot mind. Guest Relations had no clue except to say that I can watch it in the stateroom for sure. At least I was assured to see the game but why not watch with other people as well? It is just so much more fun.
Finally, a waiter in the Bull & Bear lounge told us that the games will most likely be shown in the On Air Club. And right he was.
So for all you sports fans: circle the On Air Club on Deck 3 (you have to take the aft elevators) right in front of Studio B/Center Ice.
The On Air Club is also used for the Karaoke and is used as overflow for Ice Shows and the “The Quest” game.
Schooner Bar, Champagne Bar, Cloud Nine, Seven Hearts and all mass venues such as Royal Promenade, Arcadia Theatre, Pharao’s Lounge are non smoking. Bull & Bear, one side of Bolero’s, one side of the Olive or Twist and The Crypt are smoking areas or have smoking sections. All outside decks (i.e. Promenade Deck, Sun Deck) are starboard designated smoking areas except the pool deck. I am not sure if this was a one time thing or if it is a continuous policy but on the sun deck smoking is on the starboard side and on the pool deck it is port side. Go figure that one out!
Therefore the smoking policy is almost identical to the rest of the fleet. I have not seen one smoker (except on day one by accident on the pool deck) light a cigarette in the wrong area.
I can expect the same courtesy from non smokers or families with kids. The Bolero’s smoking and non smoking sides are clearly separated by a stair case. The non smoking side has the bar, the band stage and a bigger dance floor. The smoking side has just chairs, tables and a small dance floor. Non smokers do not have to walk purposely through the smoking side, roll their eyes and make real stupid comments or the mommies schedule activities for the little brats in the smoking side of Bolero’s. There are plenty of places and venues for everybody. But those were only a handful of people amongst thousands. You get them on both sides usually.
The Casino had two non smoking nights, both on formal night, which in my opinion is fair. I wouldn’t mind if they throw in one more non-smoking night on a 7 Night cruise to somewhat even the 'battle ground'.
The non smoking nights were slightly less busy than the smoking nights but I did see a lot of smokers during the non smoking nights.
We really haven’t seen any of the shows except the ice show, a comedy show and The Quest. All three were not impressive and by far less quality than on other ships. The Ice Show, while good in its set up, suffered under bad ice and during several performances multiple falls were observed. The ice had water layers and looked extremely slushy. On two Navigator cruises we never saw such problems. The skaters did an admirable job though and got a thunderous applause.
Most disappointing was The Quest. I guess, for new cruisers it was interesting but having seen The Quest on several different ship classes this was the weakest one.
I knew there are a few cruisers on the "other" forum who waited for a review on this particular cabin. If you are not interested feel free to skip it. '
I am certainly not fond of the Voyager Class stern balconies (Freedom Class is just an extended Voyager Class). I rather have a smaller room and balcony but have an unobstructed view. The super structure extending out on the stern never appealed to me.
This cruise was a replacement cruise. Initially we planned on going on the Adventure on Sept 21. My BIL and SIL want to do the southern Caribbean as well but couldn’t do it this year. So my wife and I decided to do it next year with them and just switch this year’s cruise to this cruise. By the time I switched, most of the good cabins were gone. My preference on the Voyager Class is: hump, anything close to the elevators, then anything on the side and no stern (in that order). My CVP at RCI who knows my preferences and knows what I think about the stern balconies on the Voyager Class suggested to me to just try 8710. He said that I may like it. I did some research on the stern corner balconies and while I was not too fond of the door with a window and no other window I was still curious. And after all: a cruise on a balcony is a cruise on a balcony.
When we got to deck 8 and looked down the hallway we were like “Oh my goodness. How are we going to make it that far at 3am in the morning?”
When we finally reach 8710 for the first time my wife dubbed our room “the naughty room”. She watches sometimes “The Nanny” and she said the location reminded her of the ‘naughty room’ where they send the bad kids. Shame on you if you thought something different.
8710 is an E1 category but is slightly smaller than a regular E1. It is on the far corner port side. On one side is a cabin and on the other a door which said “service area”.
Initially I was a little nervous about the “service area” and possible noises but nothing like that ever happened. I think it is just a door to the outside maintenance lift when they clean balconies and paint. So do not worry.
The daylight is more than in an Oceanview but less than a regular balcony. You realize that for the first time but it becomes a non factor eventually. It is a cute little room. We loved the balcony which is, by square footage, slightly larger than a regular E1. It is triangular in shape rather than rectangular. You have a stunning 270 degree view (compared to 180 degrees on regular balconies). We had two loungers, two chairs and a table and still enough space to walk around.
The long walk wasn’t that bad either. We always made it safely back to room and it served as some exercise. If you are perfectly able to walk, the distance from elevator to the cabin is absolutely manageable.
We actually liked the balcony door. More often than not, sliders are hard to move. It becomes a problem when you are juggling coffee in the morning. The regular door opened easily and since the balcony had plenty of space it never interfered with chairs and loungers when opened.
The initial four biggest draw backs (cabin size, walk, door instead of slider, one window) became absolute non factors and I would book this cabin any time if nothing else is available. The balcony makes up for everything, the room becomes cozy, the door becomes a big advantage. I almost like this balcony more than a hump balcony. You have sun almost all day and the little overhang also provides you with some shade and cover against rain.
But what is up with the bathroom light switch? Is that common for balcony rooms on the Freedom to have the switch on the wrong side or was it just this room?
If you are booked into 8710, keep it. (picture link at the end of the post)
Tops And Flops
The Quest, 70s Show
Since activities are the responsibility of the CD, Ken Rush gets a double-thumbs down. I never really paid attention to a CD before or who they are but I do know that a lot of people are very fond of him, short of having a Ken Rush Fan Club (I think it actually may exist). I know I will hurt a lot of feelings but I think he is a good CD for 1st time cruisers or for people with less experience in cruising but if I look back at all the cruises we have taken I must say he was the worst. The Quest was a disappointment. It was a watered down version of the The Quest. The 70s show was better on every other ship we have been on including the Sovereign Class and Vision Class. So I am pretty glad I didn't even go to any of the production shows.
In my opinion Kent Rush is the “South Beach of Royal Caribbean”: living on its reputation of the past, stuck in the 80s and 90s, forgot to move on into the new millennium. I am glad he is leaving the cruise ships of Royal Caribbean next year and becomes the CD of the Resort Floater of Royal Caribbean, the Oasis of the Seas. I think he is a perfect match for that.
- Bull & Bear Lounge: This place rocked every night (of course our CC Roll Call helped a lot, especially on one night )
- The Statue in the The Crypt club: She was pretty. (sorry, roll call inside joke)
- Café Promenade: good sandwiches
- Diamond Club: nice atmosphere
- LA Cindy: Yes, I actually finally like an LA.
- Service: everybody from room service, to room attendant, to waiter, assistant waiter, bar tenders
- The Captain: Some little Greek guy, I forgot his name, was the Captain. Very funny fellow who began his daily announcements with “here is an update from the smallest Captain in the world of the biggest cruise ship in the world…”
He ended his last announcement of the cruise with his favorite song (I am sailing) played over the PA. While I am not too fond of Rod Stewart I forgot how beautiful this song was and it was a nice touch by the Captain.
Scott who performed in the Bull & Bear Lounge
Absolute Super Tops
"The other site" Roll Call: it was a stunning roll call, well most anyways. It is hard to express it in words.
Most of us hooked up at 4:30/4:45pm at the Sky Bar and you could feel that it will be a good roll call. Many of us caught up in smaller groups for excursions and the core group (16 of them) organized two slot pulls, a group bingo session for the Jackpot (we came within 2 numbers of $9,000), a cabin crawl (show and tell) and many nights we met at the Bull & Bear lounge, Casino Bar, at The Quest, Ice Show etc.
Because of this roll call the cruise was near perfect. Now I need to combine this roll call with another great roll call (Nov 2007) add Jean and Don (critterchick) and our already new found friends on the roll call for 1-24-09 (Grandeur) to it and I'd go with them on any cruise from EasyCruise to Oasis – the ship would be rocking.
Thanks to you all.
Ports Of Call
I rented a car for St John prior to the cruise and we had a couple from the roll call (Bob and Loren) join us. After a 20 min ride to the Red Hook Pier we took a ferry to St John, eventually got the car and checked out a couple of beaches for Bob and Loren to do some snorkeling. They ended up staying at Trunk Bay and my wife and I toured the island. Wow, some wicked roads but some stunning views along the way.
Just like St John I reserved a Jeep for our island tour. Some members of our roll call wanted to join us as well but unfortunately we missed to connect with each other so it was Bob, Loren my wife and I. We drove towards Maho Bay but of course - in the morning - only little planes land and take off. So we continued on to Orient Beach. Spend a few hours on the beach with some cold drinks, enjoyed the water. Bob and Loren wanted to snorkel a bit and went towards the best snorkeling area (according to the bar tender) near the nude beach. Of course upon their return we heard about the Shlong guy. Since others in our roll call have sighted the same guy he must be some sort of icon. Unfortunately this picture will be off limits to CC and other foren due to the graphic nature.
After Orient Beach we went back to Maho Bay which gave us the opportunity to see the entire island. Upon arrival we had about 45 minutes left and besides a late lunch at Sunset Bar we were lucky enough to see one big plane land and one take off. It is an experience everybody should do once. I am sure Loren has a different opinion.
St Maarten is a beautiful island and I wouldn’t mind spending a few days there.
It was a fantastic cruise with a lot of highlights and a superb roll call (thank you all). I think, when at night you look at the compass and you wonder what did you actually do all day yet the time just flew by you definitely can say: it was a great cruise.
I am glad I did the Freedom. While a beautiful ship with a great crew it also emphasizes my opinion that I am happiest on a Voyager Class and below. There are significant differences between the Voyager Class and the Freedom Class when it comes to full occupancy. I would not hesitate though to go back on a Freedom Class ship if the right itinerary at the right price comes along but otherwise I stick to the smaller classes.
This pretty much summarizes it all for me. If there are any questions I'll try to answer them. So just ask away.
I must say though, we did not do Chops and Portofino and no production shows (except the ice show).
The link to the pictures is just the initial upload of some roll call pics and the cabin. I will add more over the next few days as well as those I receive from the rest of the roll call (they may provide links as well). In webshots I stayed away from names for now until I get permission to add the names to the pics. I honor privacy. But I think for the more graphic pics I have to include a password protected area with age verification.
Thanks for reading.