Once again for the second time the Freedom did not let me down!
The ship is beautiful and just as clean as the 2nd voyage in 6/06. The service was excellent the food was good (however I don't vacation for food and I wish the food was worse because I did put on 2 pounds). Then again those long island ice teas are full of useless calories. The shows were wonderful 2 comedy, 2 production, 1 magic, 1 headliner and of course the farewell show. the CD, Rich Spacey, is the bomb! Rich is soooo funny I never cruised with such a great CD. Rich was not on the Freedom last year. I forgot the CD's name from last year however he was not funny and did not see him much. Rich however is all over the ship and is ready to take pictures and talk to passengers.
The weather was great only 1 hour of rain in Jamaica while we were heading back to the ship. They had over charged me for the wine package when I mentioned it to the head waiter he quickly took care of it. Itwas also nice to see familiar staff faces on the ship. The best bartender is Adrian. We first met him on the Navigator then Voyager then twice on Freedom. He juggles bottles like Tom Cruise in the movie Cocktail. Also has many jokes and tricks for both kids and adults. He works in Bolaros latin niteclub or the disco. However he left in Grand Cayman and is heading over to Liberty. Colin Thompson and Corine both of Jamaica are great bartenders. We are a big time soccer family and we would talk to our cabin steward every day about soccer he would bust our chops because the kids always had a different soccer jersey on everyday but they don't own a costa rica soccer jersey (our cabin steward was from costa rica) well on the last evening of the cruise what do we find when we get back to the cabin - the compass, chocolates, towel monkey and a costa rica soccer jersey brand new with tickets in original package. How about that for excellent friendly staff!
Labadee is the best for me I wish the ship could stay there overnite so I can get another day there.
This was our 3rd cruise, all with RCI, (Rhapsody and Jewel). We enjoyed all our cruises with them and see no valid reason to change besides, trying out Celebrity which is now under RCI. I'll try to be frank and honest with my comments and make it informative and enjoyable to read. We booked the Air/Sea Package with RCI.
FLIGHT: Flew in from Toronto day prior on Air Canada. All connections (Sudbury) and flight were right on the money; smooth and on time. We had transfers included and a hotel stay before boarding ship. (Transfers recommended) PRE CRUISE STAY: Cruiseline booked us @JW Marriott Miami, located in financial district of Miami. Quiet safe area. Good views of Biscayne Bay and surroundings just a peaceful short stroll from hotel. Looking for a fantastic place to eat close by, go to Perricone's. Fabulous food and atmosphere. (Recommended). Hotel was very clean and comfortable. Expensive but we were upgraded to this hotel from the Hyatt Regency, no extra cost to us. Coming in a day early is probably a wise decision for all cruisers, especially those from a distance or far north (Ontario).
EMBARKTION: A littleconfusion @ hotel with transfers. People waiting in lobby for someone to come in and announce bus is ready, did not happen but all were loaded in time and off to the pier we go. What a sight to see ships lined up waiting to depart. The best sight came at the end, you guessed it the 'Freedom of the Seas'. You get out of bus, make sure your luggage has been unloaded and you see it, then you can proceed to the entrance of the pier with your carry-on. While your making your way to the entrance you can see the 'Explorer of the Seas' docked in front of the FOS. The mightiest and most massive sight is staring you in the eye right now the newest and largest cruise ship in the world 'Freedom of the Seas'. In no more than 15 min. you are entering your home for the next 7 days. What a feeling, you are about to embark on possibly the best vacation on earth, a cruise with RCI. OK, sea passes in hand, smile on face; let's begin our fun in the sun. First things first, reservations @ Chops Grille, then book a couple's massage in the spa. You must do this immediately as you enter to avoid disappointment for those of you who did not reserve excursions on-line, you better do it as you enter the ship. Now we go to our room, drop off our carry on and meet our room steward Elvis, intros and welcomes are shared then off to check out our ship. A little tip - in company of your room steward check out your mini bar fridge and note its contents to avoid being wrongfully charged for missing items or items you have not consumed. Well now we both have in our hands the drink of the day, Tequila Sunrise, the sun is shining, island music is playing on pool deck by the Combo Tropicale - what better way to start your vacation, don't be a bloke, let your hair down ,it's time to party and enjoy.
SHIP: Largest cruise ship in the world, massive but quite easily navigatable. All you need is a good pair of legs and a copy of the ship's deck plans. Pamphlet of deck plans available on ship, but a good pair of legs? We'll I'll let you answer that. A large collection of art on ship and many beautiful architecture pieces are part of the framework throughout the ship. Plenty of activities, some come with a charge, most don't. You see the standard - sexy legs, best belly flop, bingos, and volleyball contest etc, always fun to watch. Nothing like taking in an hour and viewing the brave souls trying their best at Hang Ten - that's the Flow Rider folks, some Kodak moments guaranteed at this event. Ladies- be aware a one-piece bathing suit or a tee covering will prevent some embarrassment. The Royal Promenade is definitely the main attraction, where most of the cruisers hang out and events take place. You might begin with an air brushed tattoo, then search for your favorite fragrance in the perfume parlor, mosey on down to the Reebok store and pick up the latest wear. Now for the ladies you can shop for good deals on duty free jewelry, yes the men also can. You have really worked up a thirst doing all that shopping; stop in at the Bull & Bear Pub for a refreshing pint and a smoke, outside for non-smoking. Are you a wine connoisseur? Vintages is the place for you, taste and purchase some of the finer wines available on the ship. TIP; wine lists in Dining Rooms, specialty restaurants and Vintages are all different; view them all for your best choice.
Don't forget your family and friends back home, so stop in the souvenir and general store for anything and everything. You feel hunger coming on, have no fear Sorrento's is here. A slice or 2 of pizza, maybe some prosciutto, pancetta, eggplant, crostini, mushrooms, olives you name it all your Italian favorites are here for you to enjoy, sit inside to view photos of Italy and listen to the Italian music while you munch with gusto. Maybe a glass of vino to compliment, over to vintages and bring your glass to your table at Sorrento's it's that easy. Clothing both dress and casual is available, some nice stuff, sell-off at end of week 50% reduced. It's time to return to your room with a balcony but not before stopping in at the Café Promenade for a purchase of a specialty coffee or just a plain cup of Seattle's Best (no charge) and maybe a little something for your sweet tooth. Ah, it's time to try out RCI new bedding with a short nap. Boy what a comfy bed, best I've ever slept in. Up and about in less than an hour feeling refreshed. There are so many choices of what to do, rock wall climb, mini golf, shuffleboard, cinema, karaoke, whirlpool and I mean whirlpool, two cantilevered pools holding 16 people each overhang the starboard side for a most relaxing and picturesque view, there are also whirlpools on the pool deck, take on a lesson on gaming or napkin folding, art collection, acupuncture, scrap-booking, play bingo, the list goes on and on. TIP: don't try to do everything or see everything on the ship, you will fail as a result of running out of energy or time. Sailing was smooth, there was some motion but mostly unfelt. The ship is definitely set up with the family in mind. Lot's of family activities H2O Zone, basketball courts, adventure programs, vault, etc No lack of things for children (infants to teens) to do. Although not as rich and refined as say the Jewel of the Seas remember this is a fun activity filled ship.
SERVICE: You can't beat RCI in this area. All areas were well responsive to the passenger's need. Genuine smiles and happy faces were always evident. Whether it was our dining room waiter Ben or Gabriel his assistant, Elvis our room steward or being entertained by the talented bartenders @ Boleros while sipping on a Mojito (Fantastic) to all the service staff. A credit to Captain Carlos Pedercini, Master , Michael Rasmussen Hotel Director, Errol Saldanha, Food & Beverage Manager, Rich Spacey, Cruise Director as the staff's exemplary behavior is a true reflection of the above mention people. However there was one incident that was not rectified and I don't know why. I mentioned earlier as a tip to check your mini-bar fridge right away for its contents, which we did not on this cruise. We were charged $12.63 and $8.60 for stuff we did not use. We filed a complaint with the Services desk who intern said the he will forward an e-mail to the supervisor in charge with our complaint. This was Sat day before disembarking. Our statement was at the door the next morning, check it, charge was still on, we left. This did not alter our views regarding service.
ROOMS: Room 1630 D1 balcony Deck 10 Mid ship - perfect location - next to elevators and 1 floor below pool and windjammer. Great for fast exits to these locations. roomy, clean, flat screen, plenty of storage space, king bed, great new bedding (the best). Nice size balcony- 2 chairs & small table. This was an adjoining room; there is no fear of extra noise from other room, just like normal rooms. Remember in your room are 2 brown towels for beach and pool deck use. Don't misplace them; there is a $20 charge if they are missing. You can exchange them for fresh ones anytime.
FOOD/DINING: Standard fare is the best way to describe with basic variety and choice with little to not so bad taste. Tip - always order the waiter recommended choice and you won't go wrong. There are many places to get food, so this is not a concern. No one should go away hungry at any time. Food was well presented in dining rooms, but found only to be lukewarm to warm, never hot. Windjammer has many options in the form of stations satisfying all templates and is sufficient for breakfast and lunches. An appreciated alternative to the main sources was the 50's style diner 'Johnny Rockets' where a sitting fee of $3.50/person and $3.00 milkshakes (worth it) is all that it costs, great hamburgers, delicious onion rings and descent fries as well as an assortment of sandwiches will satisfy all taste buds. The waiters, cooks and all workers in this diner do put on a show to their favorite tune for your pleasure. It's busy at times and fills up quickly, so you may loose out. We went once @ 1PM when in port and had no trouble getting a booth inside. Service in all venues was prompt, courteous and very pleasing.
PORTS OF CALL: We chose this cruise for the ship not the itinerary, so the ports were not much of a factor. Cozumel was not bad, probably one of the best areas in Mexico, typical of Mexico though. We did the Fiesta Party Boat - short ride to Playa Mia Beach for 1 ½ hrs. Beach has not much cover, very hot and not too comfy chairs. Water was beautiful and very clear. On way back to ship is when the party really takes off, lively music, free rum punch and anything goes. Grand Cayman - no excursion just walked around town, very expensive, yes it's an affluent island, but save your dollars for elsewhere. Mo Bay - did the Martha Brae this slow, leisurely, peaceful and possibly romantic ride down the river was mind pleasing and enjoyable. The ride to get there and back was hell. Takes about 1hr15m each way, ridiculous, not enjoyable. I have no answer to this. Labadee - our favorite - you can tell it's RCI's private island, well maintained, your ship is the only people on island, lots of freedom and different beaches to try, plenty of chairs, shade and service. Help was everywhere, BBQ, music entertainment, water activities galore e.g.: wave runners, water park, kayak, thriller boat rides, parasailing; the list goes on and on. Just a wonderful day filled with sun, Labadoozi's, great food and local arts & crafts available at the market, no vendors in hair, just great.
DISEMBARKTION: Smooth, considering amount of people. Always a sad part of the vacation. Color coding tags is the standard system, allowing an organized manner to exit the ship. This is a long drawn out portion for some, but as I said, it prevents chaos. Find a comfortable seat in your designated area and mentally prepare yourself for a wait and try to relax and be patient, you should fair out well. When called, off you go, through US customs at the pier located just as soon as you exit ship; have all your documents ready! Go and retrieve your luggage on carousel, proceed outside to bus parking lot, ensure your luggage is loaded, hop on transfer bus with your transfer papers, to the airport you go, it's as simple as that.
SUMMARY: Fantastic, immensely enjoyed, lots of fun, great service, wonderful ship (We did not think it was too big), excellent features, everything a person would want or expect on a holiday was available on this cruise, very pleasant crew. If I was to use two words to describe this cruise on this ship - 'WOW FACTOR'. Any one with a family or not should try this ship, you will be pleasantly surprised. We are booked for a back to back cruise of the Southern Caribbean in Feb/09 on the Summit and Serenade. This will be our first 2-week cruise and first away from Royal Caribbean on Celebrity's Summit, but still a member of RCI.
REMEMBER: If you're even remotely thinking of a cruise, go and book one. The best vacation on earth.
Freedom of the Seas is the Flag Ship of Royal Caribbean International (RCI) and the world's largest cruise ship. We waited with great anticipation for Oct. 15, 2006 to roll around for our first cruise on the Freedom --- on board this Dream Vacation Ship. We enjoyed the RCI Voyager Class Ships so much (Voyager of the Seas, 1999; Explorer of the Seas, 2000; Adventure of the Seas, 2001; Navigator of the Seas, 2002; and Mariner of the Seas, 2003; that we looked forward to this newer larger ship, with so many amenities for her passengers. We just had to see it for ourselves.
Now, just one week after our cruise, we feel that one week is not enough to see and experience all of the Freedom of the Seas; maybe a back to back cruise would be better so that on debarkation day one wouldn't feel too much was missed. She is designed in the Voyager style, only on a grander scale. RCI is right to stay with a winning design. The magnificent three level Dining Rooms, with the huge crystal chandelier, the rich warm naval colors of navy blue, maroonand gold are both serious and elegant. The Royal Promenade with its village atmosphere is a lovely place to spend a few hours strolling, shopping or seated at a cafe` drinking espresso or tea with scones or Italian cookies from Sorrento's. We met many new friends from all over the world: England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, France and Italy, on this marvelous Promenade.
Needless to say, we had a wonderful cruise again with Commander Captain Erik Tengelsen, whom we met last January on the Voyager. This brilliant Master followed in his seafaring Norwegian family's tradition and now commands on the most magnificent cruise ship in the world.
EMBARKATION On Sunday Oct. 15, 2006, the Port of Miami was easily accessed, no traffic, simple roads off I-95 to Pier G. We dropped off our luggage and were in the terminal in five minutes. Wheelchairs were let in the doors, and after a five minute wait, we took an elevator to the second floor where checkin occurred. At the Crown & Anchor Diamond window, we were processed in five minutes, but had to wait for security clearance about thirty minutes. We were through security in about 15 minutes. In slightly over an hour we were on board and in our stateroom. A bit longer than smaller ships, but understandable since 3,817 passengers were boarding. We had wheelchair assistance all the way to our stateroom. Excellent!
THE SHIP This massive vacation resort cost $800 million and was built in Finland at Aker Finnyards (Kvaerner Masa yards combined with Aker Finnyards in 2005). The Freedom is 158,000 gross tonnage, with maximum passenger capacity of 4,375 and a crew of 1,365 on 15 passenger decks. She came into service in May 2006; her length is 1,112 ft. and her beam is 184 ft. Her average speed is 21.6 knots. The main engines are 6 Wartsila 12V46C with output of 75,600 KW. Propulsion is by 3 Azipods with output of 42,000 KW. There are 4 bow thrusters with 3,300 KW. She is registered in the Bahamas.
The theme of this ship is Earth, Air, Fire and Water and is seen repeated throughout in myriad ways, on the Promenade a larger than life diving woman "Down Under" by David Mach (Britain) is seen as from the bottom of a pool. This is only one combination of Air and Water presented. In the Crypt the stained glass windows have combined Air and Water again and Fire and Earth handsomely.
In addition to all of the innovations introduced in the Voyagers class ships, the Freedom offers a few other innovative features: The amazing FlowRider surf pool, the H2O Zone water park, a boxing ring, a barber shop and two cantilevered, semi circular whirlpools suspended out over the seas. There are 22 bars and many other beautifully decorated public areas including the fabulous Royal Promenade.
On this cruise there were 2,500 Crown & Anchor members, there were 780 Diamond members and 160 Diamond members. About 2/3 of the passengers were C&A Society members, which meant that the Concierge Club was too small in size to accommodate all of the Diamond members, thus complimentary drinks were served every evening in the Pharaoh's Lounge.
Deck 2 has the lower level of the Arcadia Theatre forward and the Screening Room where we saw the movies "Casanova" and "March of the Penguins." Towards midship is the Conference Center, then Studio B with Centre Ice Rink and staterooms in categories H and I.
Deck 3 forward is the Arcadia Theatre, with its beautiful curtain of 13 stunning female "Lyric Musicians" appliquéd on black velvet and sewed with thousands of glass jewels and bugle beads, and hundreds of sequins in five different colors. RCI brochure states that it took 150 yards of material and 846 man hours to complete the curtain, which weighs 325 pounds. It is a stunning, magical design by Linda Carmichael.
Next, there is the lower level of the Crypt with its wonderful stain glass windows representing Fire & Earth and Air & Water by Harry Cardross. Then there is the Forward Centrum, and Studio B with its spectacular Ice Shows, then the On Air Club, the Art Gallery and all the way aft the Leonardo Dining Room. In the aft centrum, looking up, there are Harald Vlugt's "Stop & Go" traffic lights converted to chandeliers in bronze, and very eye catching.
Deck 4 forward has the balcony of the Arcadia Theatre, which has red and gold seats, white sconces, and only six columns; thus, most seats have an excellent view of the stage. Next is the Centrum and the Schooner Bar with its nautical theme: a lovely replica of the Swedish sailing ship the "Kalmar Nyckel" which made round trip crossings of the Atlantic Ocean in the early 1600s, and established a Swedish Colony which was to become Wilmington, Delaware. Next is the entrance to the upper level of the Crypt and midship is the Casino Royale. The Roaring twenties atmosphere is created with larger than life "Silk Stockings and Bootlegged Booze." Next is the Photo Gallery of all pictures taken during the cruise.
Then, there is the Boleros Lounge with "The Tequila Sunrise" collection of art work in glass of exotic colors: green, orange and grenadine. Mixed media of blown glass and hand glazed aluminum by Arts in Architecture (USA). The live music of the wonderful Trio Sol y Arena heightens the whole effect. Finally all the way aft is the Isaac (Newton) Dining Room.
Deck 5 forward is the Pharaoh's Palace Lounge whose entrance is flanked by a series of larger than life Pharaoh statues. The murals on the walls are "Views of the Nile" by Clarissa Parrish. Novidi of France did all of the statues based on museum reproductions. Next is the Connoisseur Club (Cigars and Brandy). The scent of fine tobacco and leather are redolent here. Then there is the forward Centrum from where begins the Royal Promenade, the heart of the Freedom. Sorrento Pizza (Pizzas, sandwiches, salads, and marvelous Italian Cookies) is great any time. Ask John Xavier, he is so kind and helpful. Here are the Fashion Boutiques, Bull & Bear Pub, Perfume Shop, Vintages Wine Shop, Logo Souvenir Shop, Gift and Jewelry Shop, General Store, Ben & Jerry Ice Cream, Cafe` Promenade, "A Clean Shave" barber shop with shoe shine stand, "Get Out There," a sportswear store and Vincent's favorite a beautiful dark blue Morgan Spider. Finally, there is the aft Centrum where the Guest Relations and Tour Desks are located.
A beautiful glass bridge leads to the Galileo Dining Room. Larry Kirkland's designs for the Centrum and Promenade are always unique, and this one is dazzling: He has placed the four elements on lighted columns of varying heights, each one has a gilded angel modeled on the mythic "Vittoria Alata" (Winged Victory), which is part of the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument in Piazza Venezia, Rome, Italy.
Deck 6 has all staterooms and the Business Services.
Deck 7 has all staterooms and the Library.
Deck 8 has all staterooms and RCI On Line Access.
Decks 9 & 10 are all staterooms. But, by the forward elevators are three copies of F-16 and F-18 fighter planes which the artist Antonio Riello has decorated with scenes taken from frescoes found throughout Italy. He "...transforms our ethical perceptions..." of these war planes by seducing us with Tiepolo Frescoes.
Decks 11, 12 and 13 are all public areas.
Deck 11 forward is the Fitness Club. Then there is the Solarium Pool (with perfect temperature) and the two huge whirlpools semicircular in shape cantilevered on both side of the ship. In this area is a huge parrot of ceramic and bronze tiles in hot red and yellow colors and many other exotic birds like South American toucans, etc. Lonngren's "Sun Boat" is a very interesting concept. Midship is the Pool Bar, The Main Pool Zone, whirlpools, Sports Pool and the H2O Zone. Aft is the Jade Restaurant, Windjammer Buffet Cafe`, Chops and Portofino's. The latter two are upscale restaurants, by reservation only. Make a reservation early, preferably the first day or you may not get one.
Deck 12 forward is the Day Spa, the Sky Bar and the Jogging Track. Deck 12 aft is for younger cruisers: Challenger Arcade, Adventure Ocean, Fuel Teen Disco, and Johnny Rockets with its succulent hamburgers and milk shakes (a '50s hamburger joint).
Deck 13 has the Sky Light Chapel and the Sports Complex; Rock Climbing Wall, Basket Ball court, Golf Simulator, Freedom Fairways, the FlowRider (the only surfing on the high seas).
Deck 14 has the Viking Crown Lounge, The Diamond Club, Olive or Twist Bar, Cloud Nine and Seven Hearts a card room.
This is a very Sketchy overview of a very large, beautiful ship which deserves much more. Go see for yourself. It is fascinating and laid out like the rest of the Voyager Class ships, but it is so much roomier and offers many more activities than any other ship on the seas. Yes, it is monumental!
CABIN Cabin #7624 is wheelchair accessible and like all cabins on board a prefab module. It has beige walls of light oak or birch wood cabinetry. Teal, green and gold drapes and sofa. When entering on the left there is a mirrored wall and a triple armoire, the first section is shelves and a personal safe, next there are wooden hangers and more shelves. There is a console TV, a mini refrigerator, and a lighted vanity/desk with several drawers. There are two upholstered chairs, a couch and a coffee table. When entering on the right is the huge bath with safety rails all around. The shower has a fold up seat and is 4 ft. x 6 ft. The corner mirrored medicine cabinet has ample storage space. There is a queen size bed with monogrammed linens, a teal suede head board, two night stands with reading lights. Two pictures of beautiful full Blown white roses (one front view and the other from the back or calyx of the flower). The far wall is all glass with a glass door leading to the large balcony with two chairs, a chaise lounge and a table. Cabin Steward Donald was excellent in every way ****.
The Best Beds at Sea Award goes to RCI for their innovative approach for solving the crater or mountain created when joining two twin beds. They have installed new style bed frames, upgraded mattresses, duvets, towels and linens. Custom designed pillow tops are folded in half when used on twin beds, and opened and placed one on top of the other to create a gap free queen size bed. Excellent! The linens feature the Crown and Anchor Logo and a very heavy puff.
FOOD & SERVICE Hotel Director Bernd Weidacher has the Freedom of the Seas running perfectly; it must be the fact that Mr. Weidacher worked in Austria, England and Switzerland and the Freedom runs like a fine Swiss time piece. Food and Beverage Manager is Michael Ochmann, whom we first met during our cruise on the Norwegian Dream, March 2002, in South America when we traveled around Cape Horn, and again last January on the Voyager. We had a grand time reminiscing about Captain Rolf Sandvik of the Norwegian Dream. This trip we met Jayne Colella Loyalty Ambassador & Cruise Sales Manager. She was very personable and had a wealth of information on future cruises. The service is tip top.
Most cruisers really notice service in the Dining Rooms. We dined in the Isaac (Newton) Room on Deck 4. The other two Dining rooms are named the Leonardo (Da Vinci) and the Galileo (Galilei). This is a magnificent Complex on three levels. At one end there is a graceful curving staircase with a bandstand and a huge mural of acrylic on canvas of these three remarkable men of the "Age of Discovery and Invention" by Barry Rowe (British). The best view of these elegant rooms is from the Captain's table. We dined with Capt. Tengelsen on the second formal night. It was a meal we won't soon forget. Especially the dessert, which was an almond brittle tulip filled with wild berries and cream.
Each night in Isaac's we dined with our friends from Cincinnati, Salvatore and Maria, and were wonderfully served by our waitress Omanda and her assistant Karen. They were friendly and efficient and always anticipating our needs. Food at the Buffet in the Windjammer Cafe` was quite good and the many stations helped in keeping the lines short. The Buffet servers were very helpful, assisting with trays and drinks. There are two Specialty Restaurants, the Chops Grille and the Portofino. We chose Chops Grille with its fantastic Veal Chop and sides of spinach, asparagus, mushrooms and unique salads. Alas, they no longer serve the terrific NE Clam Chowder, now they serve Lobster Bisque. Desserts are still grand: Tiramisu and Mississippi Mud Pie --- Chocolate to die for. Manager Adina Chis and our two waitresses Galina and Genoevva (all from Romania) were very professional and excellent. There was a wonderful selection of T-bone, Filet of Beef, Veal or Pork Chops, Lamb Filet or Halibut fish. They start off with a hot loaf of bread with pimento butter and shrimp appetizers and Crab cakes. The decor is dark Mahogany walls with lotus blossoms and water lilies of white and maroon. There were circles of Mahogany on the ceiling, an open kitchen and lovely silverware. In the main dining rooms the menus were more than adequate. There were nice alternative selections, pastas, and vegetarian options daily. We thoroughly enjoyed our eating adventure.
On the Royal Promenade there are several eating areas. We especially enjoyed Sorrento's with its nostalgic walls of pictures of Italian Singers, Actors and Sports figures. Chef and server John Xavier was a terrific waiter too. One of our friends does not eat cheese, so he made her a special sauce and tomato pizza. He was so kind that after the first time, he knew exactly what she wanted as soon as he saw her. John has a great memory and is eager to please. Bravo!
We did not tender on Labadee, Haiti, RCI's private island resort, but a wonderful Barbecue was enjoyed by our traveling companions Salvatore and Maria. There are many areas for swimming and water sports, and the Artisan Market and the Flea Market where some interesting wood carved pieces can be bought at very reasonable prices.
ENTERTAINMENT Ken Rush is Cruise Director; we saw him many times on RCI. He's fast on his feet and great with funny banter. He hosted a newly wed game where some answers echoed during the whole cruise "Size Forty Long." There were several excellent shows in the Arcadia Theatre: The Comedian Al Katz led the audience in riotous laughter, and Jimmy and Anna did marvelous dancing and acrobatics on silk cloths --- just magical. Many shows were recorded and shown on stateroom TV (channel 41). The best show is the ice skating in Studio B, "Freedom-Ice.Com." The international cast, with special Guest Stars Oxana and Adam, was superb and got standing ovations. RCI clowns did comic routines before the shows and they were wizards with jump ropes. The show "Marquee" honored Broadway musicals.
Vincent felt that ABBA Cadabra was the best concert aboard. Their repertoire had many of his favorites songs. They also received standing ovations. Another comedian was Troy Thirdgill who had a running joke about having to do his laundry, because what he had left conjured up hilarious mental pictures. The magic of Drew Thomas is the best at sea: levitation, disappearance, translocation and the "Now You See It..." tricks. Apart from the shows this ship offers, there is more on board fun than in any other ship: Daily Trivia, Royal Promenade Parades, Dancing in the streets, Bingo, Casino Games, and sports activities like rock climbing, basketball, ice skating and surfing on the FlowRider high above the ocean. There is a golf simulator and a Mini Golf Course. All the amazing array of activities are listed in the Daily Planner Cruise Compass. No chance to be bored here --- the children's and teen's programs are top notch! This is a "rave review" and the Freedom deserves it!
PORTS OF CALL Day 1. Miami, Florida, USA Sail Away at 4:00pm Day 2. At Sea Day 3. Cozumel, Mexico Arrive 7:00am Depart 4:00pm Cozumel has some of the finest scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities. The water is clear and beautiful in color. It has the best shopping opportunities in the Caribbean. Day 4. Georgetown, Grand Caymans Arrive 7:00am Depart 5:30pm The Bubble Sub, once known as SeaMobile, is the most unique underwater adventure; 360 degree of unobstructed view of the reef from inside a glass bubble (www.bubblesub.com). Day 5. Montego Bay, Jamaica Arrive 7:00am Depart 4:00pm There are some tours which include the Dunn's River Falls, but the duration is between 6 and 7 hours, due to the long bus drive to Ocho Rios. Some local tours are the Essence of Montego (4 hrs.), Helmet Diving (3 hrs.) and Horseback Ride N' Swim (3 hrs.). Day 6. Labadee, Haiti Arrive 9:00am Depart 5:00pm Here there are nice beaches for swimming and sun bathing with lots of water sports, such as Parasailing and Waverunners. Enjoy a great picnic on the beach with plenty BBQ and drinks. There is a good Artisan Market and a Flea Market where one can buy carved wood pieces, pottery and artifacts for bargain prices. Day 7. At Sea Day 8. Miami, Florida, USA Arrive 7:00am Debarkation begins at 7:30am
CONCLUSION This was a Crown & Anchor Society Member Cruise with a significant number of "Frequent Floaters" from "Cruise Critic". It was also our 31st cruise on RCI ships and a great one for us. We enjoyed some of the best entertainment at sea, from ice skating to theater production shows, concerts and live music throughout the ship. It was continuous fun all week long. Although at times the long lines and crowded areas (i.e., the long wait for the ice skating show in front of Studio B), did irritate some cruisers, including us. Guess, this is a trade off for the hectic vacation on the largest cruise ship afloat versus more relaxing cruises on smaller ships. However, we like to enjoy them all: the small, the medium, the large and the enormous ships.
Next we'll be cruising the Southern Caribbean on the Carnival Legend, Nov. 8th, the Eastern Caribbean on the Norwegian Jewel, Nov. 26th and the Western Caribbean on the Queen Mary II, Dec. 9th. Happy Cruising!
Wow! where do i begin! Ship is beautiful same layout as the voyager class ships. The new flowrider was fun. shows, food and service all excellent. my boys 11 and 15 will not cruise on any other cruise line. they had so much fun. so much to do for all age groups including adults and seniors. Have cruised before with rccl, carnival and celebrity. Can't wait to book my next Royal Caribbean cruise. Thanks Royal Caribbean for an unforgetable vacation.
Pre-cruise We flew American out of Baltimore direct to Miami the day before departure. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed for mechanical problems, so we missed a planned pre-cruise dinner with friends.
Priceline had been good to us: We got a room at the Royal Palm on South Beach for $110 a night. When they handed us a key to a "suite by the pool," we thought we were REALLY fortunate. In its heyday, this may have been a lovely suite, but now the room was in lousy shape, with badly stained carpeting, an iffy lock, and no refrigerator. There were also college grads partying it up in the pool until the sun came up. Heaven help those who pay the going rate for this room. But it sufficed for one night.
Embarkation Some friends had arranged for a Hummer Limousine to take us to the pier. What a fun time we had! Decked head-to-toe in pink (pre-planned -- men and women both), we were immediately greeted by RCI land employees at the Port of Miami, ushered through check-in, and escorted into the Diamond waiting area. There we were able to meet upwith even more pink-clad friends! The excitement was truly palpable.
At precisely 11 a.m., they ushered us onto the ship, where we were greeted by crew all dressed up in their formal attire and handed a glass of champagne. Four-stars to the Embarkation!
Day One Our cabins would not be available until 1 p.m. (and they actually had crew members in the stateroom areas to enforce this). This is where I was reacquainted with Owmz from the Radiance who quipped, "See you in the Casino!" Since the casino was closed, he lucked out with hall-monitor duty. So we headed to the Windjammer cafe, had a bite to eat, then hit the pool bar for some drinks. We made a quick trip astern to check out the FlowRider, and the time flew quickly until we could get into our cabin.
The Cabin We were in 6332. On the deck plans, this looks like the first forward cabin on the starboard hump, but 6330 actually gets those honors. It is an E2 cabin, and was very tight with the beds separated into twins. There was barely room to squeeze between the wall console and the foot of the first bed.
Rather than give the extra space generated by the curve on the hump to the balcony, they allocated this space to the cabin. It sounds like a good idea on paper, but the shape was odd, and the balcony curtain was placed where it would have been without that extra space. This left an unusable chunk of real estate between the balcony curtain and sliding door. With the beds separated, the same lack of room occurred near the balcony, and we were always getting tangled up in the curtain. The installation of a simple tie-back would go a long way in alleviating this problem.
The beds, however, were fabulous. They made my 3-5 hours of sleep each night go a long way! Storage was at a premium, though. The flat-screen TV is neat, but it eliminates the cabinet area over the TV which normally contains the safe. Instead, the safe takes up a full shelf in the closet. The drawers also seemed smaller than I've experienced in the past.
Day One continued We headed to the muster drill, followed by an uneventful sail-away, and then off to the Welcome Aboard show after acquiring another drink from the pool bar. The show was simply the usual, and there was a funny bit of comedy by Don Friesen. I was upset that I missed his adult show later in the week, as he seemed pretty funny. We made a quick check back to our cabin -- still no luggage. It finally arrived sometime before 11 p.m.
Dinner was at 9 p.m. for late seating on the first night (8:30 on all other nights). I couldn't tell you what I ate, but I will say I was not disappointed with a single meal. The food everywhere was good to very good. Sorrento's interesting and cheesy pizzas really hit the spot at 2 a.m. on several nights!! I'll let others focus on the food in their reviews, but I will tell you not to miss the chocolate-banana cream pie in the dining room.
Day Two This was our first sea day, and jam-packed full of activities. What wasn't jam-packed were the lounge chairs -- it was easy to find prime seating right at the main pool. The Studly Jamaican Bartenders Union seems to have taken over the entire pool area (including the Solarium), and the service was great! It is evident they took the best crew members from each ship to staff Freedom.
The belly-flop contest was the usual good fun, but the Sexy Legs contest took the cake this week! Never have I laughed or shrieked so much in my lifetime. It caused me to lose my voice for the entire week. Our group had a special Pink Boa entry, and he was crowned Mr. Flamingo Legs. It was probably the biggest and funniest Sexy Legs contest ever!!
We also had a scheduled group party at 5 p.m. in the gorgeous Olive or Twist (Viking Crown Lounge). Captain Wright himself attended, gave a lovely speech, and stayed for nearly an hour signing copies of a poem our group presented to him. It was very special to us all. Kudos to Captain Bill and the RCI staff who participated.
The show this night was Once Upon a Time. I am not a show-goer. This was it for me for the week (no parades, no ice shows, etc. -- others will have to tell you about those). But you MUST attend this fabulous show. The premise was new and interesting, the talent was top-notch, and the costume and set-design were gorgeous -- a great job by RCI entertainers and all who had a hand in this production!
Ports Cozumel -- The day is very short in Coz, as the ship sails at 4 p.m. The tender operation was incredibly smooth, so people were able to maximize what little time they had in port. We elected to go downtown, shop a bit, and spend the rest of the day in Carlos 'n' Charlie's. Needless to say, not much goes on in that place that I can share here, but it was an extremely fun afternoon spent with friends and margaritas!
Grand Cayman -- We tagged along with friends who scheduled a private catamaran excursion through Captain Bryan's. The price was reasonable, and we had a fantastic day, with three snorkel stops (one at a very crowded Stingray City) led by competent crew. I would recommend Captain Bryan's in a heartbeat.
Montego Bay -- Jamaica gets a bad rap, and personally, I'll no longer allow it on my watch, after our day at MoBay. They quite literally rolled out the red carpet for our arrival, and we docked to the sound of music. All day long they had music, dancers, free drinks and samples of the local fare. This led up to a concert right there on the dock by Shaggy! The stage was set up in front of our balcony, and it was a great time!
The culmination, however, came at sail-away. A formal brass band was playing, and as the ship began to pull away, everyone stood as they began playing the Star-Spangled Banner. Afterwards, we dried our tears, waved, and repeatedly yelled "Thank you, Jamaica! We love you Jamaica," as we sailed off.
Early that morning, we did the Original Canopy Tour. This tour is awesome! If you are physically able (it does require significant hiking up some steep and iffy terrain), shell out the dollars and get out there! We did six zip lines through the treetops of the Jamaican forest, the last of which was more than 1,000 feet long, at which we reached exhilarating speeds of up to 35 mph. Our guides, Dervon and Sean, made the experience a total blast!
Labadee -- It was a gorgeous (and very hot) day in Labadee. RCI has done a lot of work on this private Haitian beach, and it shows. It was a lovely beach day spent with friends, and the staff handed us cool, wet towels for the tender back to the ship. We opted to head to Hideaway Beach. Partiers, be warned: There isn't very good bar service all the way back there. If anything other than a beer or Labadoozie is your drink of choice, stick closer to the tendering area.
Have I mentioned the tenders? They were plentiful, smooth, and well-orchestrated at every port. People who worry about tendering from such a big ship can worry about something else. Tendering was a breeze!
Debarkation We opted for self-debarkation, in which you can carry your own bags off the ship as early as 6:30 a.m. If you are up for it, I recommend this option. It's like pulling off a Band-aid: You know it will be unpleasant, so do it fast and get it over with. We were through customs by 6:45 a.m., and at Miami Airport before 7:15. It also helps if you numb yourself via sleep-deprivation and alcohol-consumption. Leaving the ship is never fun, no matter how you slice it, but this method was as good as it gets.
Less than perfect Nothing is totally perfect, and it would be neglectful to not mention a few problem areas.
On the pre-inaugural sailings, the Freedom crew did not have to deal with luggage, and it showed. Our bags (and those of most guests I spoke with) arrived much later than usual on the first night. There was also much grumbling about a mess at disembarkation, but we were lucky to have missed it.
The rotating doors between the Windjammer cafe and the pool area are ridiculous. They are very quirky and cause odd traffic jams.
The bar stools in most of the lounges were very high, particularly in Olive or Twist. You literally had to climb up, and then had nowhere to perch your feet.
On a funny note, we seemed to be on the verge of a toilet paper crisis by week's end. I kid you not. I imagine this was simply an accounting error that will be rectified by the logistics staff.
Not such a big list, huh?
Special Mentions Everyone makes their own cruise experience. That is one thing that makes cruising so wonderful. I come from the perspective of a 40-year-old single woman who likes to have a fun time. The fellow passengers and new friends I make play a huge part in that experience, as does the crew. Here are some of the less-celebrated crew who helped make this the trip of a lifetime:
First prize goes to Deddy, the greeter in the Windjammer, and a future institution on the ship. Where he finds the energy and enthusiasm is beyond me. I wanted to wrap him up and take him home. I almost didn't need my morning coffee after a greeting from Deddy!!
I have a friend onboard named Jesus, from the Dominican Republic. He was up at the Viking Crown, a martini bar called Olive or Twist. Olive or Twist is wonderful, and generally has a jazz band playing. It took a while for people to find it and appreciate it, but by the second half of the week it was rocking in there every night.
Our wonderful times in Olive or Twist were in large part due to my adorable friend, as well as the bartenders, Earl and Neville. Stop in and tell them that Tracy sent you. They are wonderful!
If you don't go to Boleros and have Cebe and Adrienne make you a Mojito, you haven't lived! This team of two is a force of nature, and the mojitos are delicious! My biggest complaint about the ship: I went for my last mojito on our final night at about 2 a.m., and they were out of mint and limes. I guess that tells you something about the popularity of this duo!
Pool bar server honors go to Sanji. He won't be there long, however, as he was a last-minute fill in and is off to Explorer in a few weeks. Special kudos go to the Jamaican bartending duo of Bailey and Loren at the main pool and Solarium bars. Wonderful guys! And Loren can make a proper Long Island Ice Tea (do not order one from anywhere else)!
I cannot leave out the dealers in the Casino! I have to give the nod to a wonderful man named Michael. He'll steal your heart (and hopefully not too much of your money). I thought his nametag said he was from Canada, but then he mentioned something about Philly. I dunno...alcohol doesn't help my memory with these sorts of things! There is also Owmz, whom I'd met on Radiance. Both of these guys are wonderful, and actually made losing money a fun experience.
Summary Freedom of the Seas is gorgeous, and a work of art. For her considerable size, she was very easy to navigate once you got your bearings. Every detail of her appointments is top-notch and beautiful. The crew, while still needing to find their rhythm a bit, is the best of the best, and it shows. You've seen the pictures, and they are lovely. They don't compare one iota to actually setting foot on this magnificent ship. I still found myself wondering, however, if she wasn't a little too big. Guess that means I need to go back and make a final determination. Twist my rubber arm!
We were thrilled to receive Royal Caribbean's invitation to preview their new Freedom of the Seas, sailing from Miami to Nowhere. We flew in a day early via American Airlines from Little Rock.
We grabbed a cab at the Fort Lauderdale Airport to the Holiday Inn Bayside in Miami, where we had a complimentary stay with our Priority Club points. We received a complimentary upgrade to a corner suite, which we strongly recommend you book on your next visit to Miami. The suite was large, with a separate sitting/kitchenette area, bedroom, and dressing area/bathroom. The corner windows gave us a great view of both Bayside and the port.
We strolled across the street to Bayside for a relaxing evening, and we ended up eating in the outdoor area next to the water at Lombardi's. What a fabulous meal! We ordered the fresh oyster appetizer, with the freshest oysters we've ever tasted. For our main dish, we shared a live 2 1/2 pound lobster split with a side of linguini ... delicious!
The next morning when we woke up and opened our curtains, we saw Freedom of Seas in port, dwarfing the Florida highway system.The night before, we had a beautiful view of the sunset on the water, and this morning a "building" had moved in overnight. We were thrilled to see our floating resort in port! We had the breakfast buffet at the Holiday Inn before catching a cab to the port of Miami for our cruise.
Promenade-View Cabin Since this was pre-inaugural preview there were no porters to handle our luggage, so we packed light and pulled our luggage right into the terminal. Royal Caribbean did a great job welcoming us at check-in, and we were boarding the ship by 11:30 a.m. They asked us not to visit our stateroom until 1 p.m., but since we weren't given our room number until boarding, we were anxious to see what accommodations we had received. We were thrilled with our inside Promenade views on Deck 6. There was lots of space in our room, with our sofa against our Promenade-view window, making it easy to relax while people-watching from our room ... a great new experience! We highly recommend these inside Promenade staterooms. The new bedding was marvelous as well. The flat Plasma TVs were also very nice, and our room had a small refrigerator.
We enjoyed our first meal in the Windjammer Cafe, but we were too excited to eat. The Royal Suite and the Presidential Family Suite were both open for touring, so we headed there and got lots of great snapshots of these roomy accommodations. Both of these suites would provide a luxury cruise experience for any passenger lucky enough to book them.
We then visited the Promenade, where we had our first drinks and met our new best friends aboard this cruise, Kitty and Sandi. They informed us that there are 12 bars/lounges on the ship, and if we started having one drink an hour, we could visit every bar by midnight -- a great challenge that we weren't up on this short trip!
We toured the ship until about 4 p.m., when I realized I was getting hungry, since we really hadn't eaten that first meal in Windjammer. At that point, the Windjammer had already closed in preparation for the muster drill, but we quickly discovered that Johnny Rockets was still open. So we got a seat in that restaurant, where we had delicious hot dogs -- mine with relish and his with chili -- fries and hot rings, and shakes -- mine chocolate and his strawberry. We strongly recommend a visit to Johnny Rockets ... the food was great, with great service from staff who seemed really happy to be there!
Internet Problems The muster drill was as painless as possible. Immediately after, we checked into the Internet cafe to get our Wi-Fi passwords. The Internet cafe connections were painfully slow throughout our trip; we could only intermittently connect to the Wi-Fi in our rooms and even then it was painfully slow. We usually don't use the Internet and cell phones while cruising, but this was a working trip, previewing the ship and reporting it back to our friends, so we tried! Our Cingular cell phone worked the first 24 hours, but not the second 24, even though they had said it would work throughout the ship.
The ship was so smooth on the seas, we didn't even know it was sailing as we struggled with the slow Internet, so by the time we made it to the outside deck, sail-away was over and the shores of Miami had disappeared.
We dined with our new friends in the Leonardo's dining room. It was open seating, so we had different servers each time, but the service was great. The first night, we had a wonderful escargot appetizer; then I had a pasta dish, and Roger had a rack of lamb. The second evening, we both had a filet, wrapping up our meal with a wonderful Grand Marnier appetizer.
Let It Rain After dinner, we went to the big show, which was great. A band named Rain rocked the place. They started out dressed as the Beatles, playing that music we all know so well we can sing along, then moved on through a couple of decades, with some Monkees costumes and music and others. They were great! If you ever have the change to see Rain perform, grab it and enjoy the fun!
The first morning, we attended Common Ground, where we heard more about what's happening with Royal Caribbean. We were especially excited to hear about the plans to port the Legend of the Seas from the Dominican Republic and the Splendour of the Seas from Brazil in late 2007. We know lots of cruisers like us will enjoy the opportunity to explore these new destinations before and after our cruise, and it gives us some new ports to visit, which is always a goal – to visit one new port each cruise!
The cruise director on this trip was Ken Rush, who did a great job, and we suspect we've met the first American captain -- the handsome Freedom of the Seas Captain Bob.
We visited all the shops along the Promenade, but our favorite stops were Vintages, the wine cafe; and the Bull and Bear, the stop for beer fans. We loved relaxing in one of the sidewalk tables outside either of these great places to people-watch. And both had entertainers playing inside during the evening hours. We especially enjoyed Leandro's guitar music at Vintages, as he played some of our personal favorites by the Eagles.
Even though everyone said the ice show was a must-see, the scheduled shows didn't fit into our schedule, but they say arrive early for a seat! We also missed the show on the second evening, "Once Upon A Time," and everyone who saw it told us it was great!
Fitness/Recreation The Freedom of the Seas gym had the best equipment we've seen on any cruise ship yet, and the boxing ring is a big attraction! You can also work off some of those calories climbing the rock wall or playing basketball on this ship.
The FlowRider, a simulated surfing experience, was so much fun to watch, and we hope to go again to try our luck on the boards. Guests who laid down headfirst on the boogie board were having the best luck staying afloat, but eventually the water swept you back to the backboards every time. Everyone left smiling ... a great adventure. Thanks for the fun, Royal Caribbean!
Early on the first day, teams of 5 to 12 people signed up to compete in The Ultimate Race, and later in the day, we saw these teams racing in various areas of the ship to win the prize! Looked like fun ... we didn't have a team to enter, but we hope to next time.
Sorrento's Pizza was not the best pizza we've had, but a slice of the pizza took the edge off our hunger one afternoon. (I can't believe I said we were ever hungry on this cruise, because we weren't. We ate because it was there!)
Disembarkation was so easy! Since we didn't visit any ports, the ship didn't have to clear customs. Since there were no porters to help with luggage, we didn't have to put our luggage out the night before. So when we woke up, we packed our bags. Before we were done, the announcement came that we could disembark, so we simply walked off the ship with our bags in hand to catch a ride to our next destination, Sandpiper Club Med.
Club Med returned us to Fort Lauderdale, where we spent our last night in the Fort Lauderdale Airport Holiday Inn. They had a complimentary manager's reception that evening with drinks, chicken wings, and sub sandwiches, so we could have eaten there, but we wanted to visit one of Fort Lauderdale's restaurants. The front desk manager recommended the 15th Street Fisheries, so we grabbed a cab to eat there, and it was a fabulous recommendation. We had a table overlooking the waterway, and throughout our meal, we watched yachts sail by. We started with a tuna ceviche appetizer, and were surprised when a young lady approached our table saying she was our "bread girl" serving our bread. She revisited our table all evening with choices of wheat, sourdough, rum raisin, and jalapeno cornbread. For our main courses, I had a Bamboo Steamer with fresh lobster, shrimp, salmon, and crab, while Roger had a tuna filet. And, we finished our meal with a wonderful dessert that tasted like bananas foster, but was called something else. As we waited to pay, the hostess called our cab, and we were back in our hotel quickly with no hassle.
The next morning, we had Holiday Inn's breakfast buffet before heading to the airport for our American Airlines flight home. We're home now, dreaming of our next cruise, but you can check out our Freedom of the Seas pictures at this link: http://community.webshots.com/user/judyjbest.