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sara withecombe

Age: 28

Occupation:police officer

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Freedom of the seas

Sailing Date: 2010-06-1

Itinerary: western caribbean

I am a 28 year old female and went on this cruise with my Mum. We booked it to celebrate her 60th birthday as she had always wanted to go on a cruise but I had been less than eager. Any Brit reading this will understand when I say that the stereotype of a cruise is that it is full of old people! This couldn't have been further from the truth- there were lots of young couples, young families and even groups of lads holidaying on their own. It certainly is for everyone and I think if you want a holiday where you can do as much or as little as you wish, this is perfect for you. The ship was amazing- full of activities and entertainment. The food was exceptional and the service outstanding. The weather was fantastic (although we may have been very lucky in that respect) and the destinations were beautiful.

There is plenty of food available, all times night and day, which is included in the price of the cruise. There is room service (although the charge something like $5 for orders made between approx. 1am and 6am); the windjammer, which has buffet style all-you-can-eat meals all day and evening; cafes along the promenade where you can have pizza, deserts etc; a burger bar on deck 11 and of course the main restaurants, which serve three course dinners every evening. On top of this there are restaurants which cost an extra $25 per person. We didn't actually eat there so I can't comment whether it's worth the additional cost. We ate each night at the main restaurant and found the food to be of a very high standard, albeit slightly similar at times (most meat dishes came with mashed potato for example). Dinner consisted of bread rolls, a starter, an entree, a desert and coffee, although if you want two starters and three deserts there's nothing stopping you! The menu was different every night, with a few exceptions, and generally consisted of several meat two veg options, a pasta dish, some fish/ seafood, a couple veggie options and a healthy set menu which guarantees to be under 800 calories. There would have been a small child's menu too, but I didn't really pay attention to it. We went for the any time dining option, which meant we could chose our meal times on a daily basis instead of sticking to the same time each night- just a little bit more flexible taking excursions etc into account. If you want to eat at the most popular times, which I think is around 7:30, then I recommend you book your slot as you leave the restaurant night before. We always ate at the early slot, about 6- 6:30pm and generally you could just show up without having to queue. You always, unless you request otherwise, sit in the same part of the restaurant. We didn’t specifically ask for a two seater table, but always ended up on one. Whether this was sheer luck I don't know, as others were clearly sat on a large table with the same group of strangers all week. The waiting staff were exceptional and, don’t ask me how, remembered everybody's name from day one!

There are two or three formal nights a week, which suggest you should dress smartly for dinner i.e suits and dresses. I believe men can borrow dinner jackets if necessary and I sometimes saw them worn over polo shirts! Peoples levels of smartness varied greatly so don't worry if you don't like the idea of having to dress up. Having said that we dressed up every night, through choice, and a lot of others did the same. I didn't feel over dressed on non-formal nights, despite sitting a table away from a bloke in a muscle top for instance!

Water and lemonade are free on the ship, but alcoholic drinks and soft drinks aren't. Most of the bars around the pool won't do the free lemonade so you have to walk to the windjammer to get some, although they will serve you water. On day one (only) they have an offer whereby you can purchase a drinks bottle for around $6 ($4 for children) and have unlimited refills for a further $6 a day. We didn't do this but, at ship prices, it did seem like a good deal. Cocktails of the day are available from the bar and from designated waiters carrying them around on trays shouting so nice! They are generally fruity in flavour, mostly rum based and come in a souvenir glass for $7.95, although you can have them without alcohol for $5.95. Alcohol isn't really any more expensive than anywhere else, with a bottle of beer being around $5.95 and bottles of wine starting at $30.
FYI the ship is American so you have to be 21 to buy alcohol on board. Having said this they take your age upon boarding the ship as your age throughout the whole cruise, so if you turn 21 on day 2 you will still not be able to drink alcohol!

We chose an inside cabin, which we did not regret. This obviously means there is no natural light at all, but for the amount of time we spent in there it really wouldn't have been worth upgrading to a room with a balcony for instance. The rooms are, as you would expect, small and compact. You will need to unpack as there is no room to spread out your suitcase on the floor. There are wardrobes with about eight hangers and shoe racks inside. There is also a facility, for a few dollars per item, to have your clothes ironed for you, although I'm sure there is also an ironing board in the room. There is a small safe inside the wardrobe and a hair dryer hidden in the top right hand drawer in the dresser. There is shampoo and soap in the shower, although not conditioner, and obviously plenty of towels. There is a phone which has a wake-up call facility and digital clock display, although it doesn't glow in the dark. Speaking of the dark I found that a small torch was invaluable as it was pitch black in the night due to the lack of windows, which made navigating to the toilet a little tricky! The ships tannoy, which advertises activities etc throughout the day, is also available in the cabins but can be turned off. There is a large television in the room that shows some standard US channels for free and has pay-per-view movies, but they are quite expensive. Each evening the next days itinerary is left in the room by the Housekeeping and is worth looking at before you dock. It lists all the onboard activities and gives information about the port, docking instructions and weather forecast. Each morning there is also a television programme, which airs on loop between 7am and 10am I think, which is hosted by the cruise director, Allan Brooks, and is a funny and informative run down on the days events. Speaking of house keeping it is worth noting that they can enter your cabin, for various reasons, at any time during the day- don't think just because they've cleaned once they won't be back later. Therefore, if you really don't want to be walked in on, use the do not disturb cards provided!

The ship itself was launched in 2006 and is an imposing 13 stories high, carrying approx. 4000 guests and 1500 staff. There are three pools (adult only; fun pool and childrens pool), various restaurants and bars, a casino; an ice rink (for performances and lessons); a theatre; a night club; a library; an internet cafe; a gym; a health spa; a flow rider (kind of surf simulator); two Jacuzzis; a climbing wall; a running track and probably loads of other things that I've forgotten! There are maps etc in the lifts and around most stair wells but basically the promenade (shops, bars and the main restaurant for my time dining is on level 5, the pools and the windjammer are on level 11, the gym is on level 12, the health suit is on level 13 and there are sun chairs all over decks 11, 12 & 13.
(Most things are included but some classes in the gym i.e. yoga cost about $12 and the treatments in the health spa are additional too) The health spa does everything from massages to teeth whitening and can be cheaper than back at home. If you want a treatment it may be worth pricing it up and researching it before you go. They are also quieter on port days, so it's best to either book treatments on port days or well in advance on sailing days.

There are all sorts of activities on board day and night, ranging from quizes, to children's clubs, to karaoke. Don't worry if you hate the idea of this sort of thing, it won't impose on you unless you want it to! There is a show on every night and they are of a very high standard. They are only about an hour long and are generally shown twice a night. It's worth planning your evening before you go out to make sure you don't miss anything and know where you're going in plenty of time. You can't book the shows (except the ice performance), so I recommend getting there fifteen minutes before its starts.

The sun loungers get busy on sailing days, so it's worth getting up on deck early to ensure good seats. The saving of seats for longer than half an hour is not appreciated though. It can get really windy on deck so bring a sarong or something to cover up and keep topping up with sun cream as its really easy to burn without realising it.

Excursions can either be booked in advance on line (at least five days prior to departure I believe) or whilst on board the ship. There are pros and cons to both. Pre booking means you don't have to queue but if you wait you may speak with people who have already experienced some of the excursions who can give you recommendations. We also found that you could, sometimes, specify departure times for the excursions (as many were staggered) when booking on board although this option was not available on line. Some trips include lunch but those that don't will often take you to a local restaurant or something. We actually took lunch with us as it gave us more time to explore. We brought sandwich bags from home and filled bagels or bread rolls with meat or cheese at breakfast time and took them with us. This isn’t frowned upon because, don’t forget, it is all you can eat. You can borrow beach towels from stations by the pools on deck 11, which are free but require a $20 deposit (paid on your sea pass card). You are also allowed, encouraged in fact, to take them off the ship during excursions, so no need to bring your own from home taking up unnecessary luggage space.
Most days we were told to carry photo ID when we left the ship, although we were never actually asked to produce it at any point. We were told that passports or drivers license were acceptable so, if you're worried about losing your passport, I would suggest carrying your photo drivers license card instead.
I would recommend getting off the ship as early as possible on port days. The queues can get really big with people backed up the stairs all the way to deck 5 one day! When getting off look out for the stands displaying leaflets etc as there will be maps of the area, which are really useful. Also try and be prompt getting back to the ship as, although I have no evidence one way or another, they do threaten to leave people behind if they are not back on the ship on time.
Carry a pocket full of $1 bills for tipping etc whilst off the ship as it saves you getting your wallet out in front of people.
Each port has around 40 to 70 different excursions to chose from but I can only really comment on the ones we chose, as below.

Labadee is a private island owned by RC. You will see that all but one of the ‘excursions’ are activity based, i.e. zip wire, water slides, and this is because the island is there solely because of the cruise liner. There is a market and stalls dotted around but they were, understandably in their current climate, very pushy. The ship lay on a buffet lunch at two locations on the island, but food is still served on the ship if you prefer. Labadee has a couple of pretty sandy beaches with cordoned off areas in the sea for swimming and there are beach bars and waiters on hand. Everything is well within walking distance so its definitely worth getting off for the day.
Dunn River Falls is a must in Jamaica but there are several trips to choose from which include this. We picked Coyaba River Gardens, Museum and Dunns Falls (OR62), which I would recommend, although we didn't actually go to a museum! A sixteen seater air conditioned bus with local guide took us the short distance to the gardens, which we were guided around. Very beautiful, but obviously depends if it's your sort of thing as it's not very cultural if I'm honest. The road trip does show areas of Ocho Rios, but not in any great detail. The Dunns River Falls can either be walked up, literally, or walked along side. If you chose to climb it (which takes about an hour and does require you to be quite nimble) you will need water shoes (which you can hire them for about $7), clothes you donâ't mind getting wet (bikini is acceptable or shorts and T-shirt, whatever you're comfortable in), a change of clothes and a towel. They say valuables can be left in the bus, but that's down to your discretion. If you wear glasses you will need a cord or something to secure them to you else they will almost definitely get washed away. A water proof camera is a great idea- don’t buy photos or DVD’s from the guides, they promise that they will deliver them to the ship but they just take your money and you never see them again. After this the bus took us to the nearest shopping centre and would either leave you there or come back for you an hour later. We stayed as it was only a 5- 10 minute walk back to the port. There were plenty of taxis constantly offering to drive you back, but I don’t know how much they cost and really don’t expect its worth it. The shops sell a lot of local products and souvenirs and generally I didn’t find them too pushy. There is definitely room for negotiations on price.
This ship is too big to dock here so they use a tender (small boat used to ferry people back and forth). Due to the size it can be a little choppy even on a calm day. Because people can only leave the ship every fifteen minutes when the tender leaves the queue is even bigger than normal. The last few tenders returning to the ship are crammed full so I wouldn’t suggest leaving it to the last minute to go back.
Most people would say that Stingray City and Seven Mile beach are must see’s. We chose a trip that took us to Stingray City and then back to the port, but if you pay extra for the trip to Seven Mile beach you are on the same bus. On our trip they were just taking anybody who wanted to go to the beach regardless of which trip they had paid for, as the beach is en route to Stingray City. Whether or not this is always the case I cannot say, but it seems you could have gone to the beach for free. I did speak to people who independently got a taxi to and from the beach and they said it was cheaper than the excursion, which did include a drink and lunch but which most people said wasn’t worth it. Stingray City was fabulous- a boat takes you out to a bar about fifteen minutes away and stays there for an hour or so. Despite the distance the water is only waist deep so non swimmers will be fine. Mask and snorkel are included. (On our boat cold water was free from a cooler, but I didn’t know this until after I had bought bottles from the shop) The stingrays are completely safe to be around as they are, basically, pretty tame after all the years of being fed by these boats on a daily basis. They are so used to people that they will swim quite literally swim right through you and brush past you, you can also feed them and have your back ‘massaged’ by them- if you don’t like the idea of this then it may not be for you! People are on board to video the whole experience and sell the DVD’s for $50 but a waterproof camera would save you a lot of money. The shops at the port are predominately expensive jewellery stores and, although there are a few other retailers around, we did find that there wasn’t as much to see here as elsewhere. Having said that if you do wish to purchase jewellery then it’s worth attending the jewellery ‘conference’ which took place on the ship on day two, I think, as they recommend which shops to use and hand out discount cards etc. There is a post office near to the port, just a few streets away (which can be seen on the map), so this is a good place to send your post cards from.
Once again we were lucky in picking a good trip- Punto Sur Eco Park and snorkel safari (CZA3). This was an open sided jeep which took you, a guide and a dozen other passengers to an ecological park, which has crocodiles, an Inca building a light house and beautiful beaches and scenery. Snorkelling is included but there are sun loungers etc for those who don’t want to participate. How much you enjoy the snorkelling depends on your expectations of it I guess. It is very structured and no one in the group is allowed further than about 15 yards from the guide. They are extremely safety conscious and required everyone to wear life jackets and also had a jet ski ready to transport anyone that got tired back to the shore- ideal for children and beginners. This was generally enjoyed by those who were new to snorkelling but anyone with previous experience was quite disappointed. Poor visibility on the day in question didn’t help admittedly. This particular stop also had a beach side ‘restaurant’ where you could purchase a buffet lunch and the tour bus had free water, soft drinks and beer on board. This trip was about 4 ½ hours in total and I would say was good value. Other people we met went on the ‘cultural and shopping tour’ and said it was terrible- minimal amount of culture and lots of samey shops. There are loads of shops around the port and I would say it was much better then George Town in that respect, much more suitable for finding gifts and souvenirs.

The ship docks at about 3am on the last morning and everything, except the passengers!, are unloaded during the night. Depending on the next leg of your journey you can either carry your luggage off yourself at about 6am (especially useful for Americans who are driving themselves home) or you can leave your luggage outside your room before 11pm the night before and it will be ready for you to collect from the baggage carousel. You can request that your luggage be taken straight to the airport if you wish, but I think this needs organising during the week, so look out for details. Make sure you read all the documents that are left in your room the night before departure as it includes the luggage labels and your designated exit times etc. You have to leave promptly at you allocated time (which I think ranges between 6:45am and 9:45am) to ensure that your luggage is in the right place at the right time and to keep everything running smoothly and on time. We found it best to get up, take everything from our room (bearing in mind this is only hand luggage at this time) and carry it to breakfast with us. This meant we were ready to leave as soon as the tannoy called your colour.
Once again the procedure for the transfers left a little to be desired. It seems the bus driver had to go out of his way to take us to our hotel, after his scheduled trip to the airport, as our stop didn't appear on any drivers list. But we got there in the end!

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