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Beth

Age: 53

Occupation:Clerical

Number of Cruises: 11

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Freedom of the seas

Sailing Date: 2013-12-15

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

This was our 3rd cruise on Royal Caribbean, our 1st on Freedom of the Seas. Last year we sailed on the Carnival Valor, our first time on Carnival, so we couldn't help but make comparisons between the two cruises.

Generally we had more fun on Carnival. The live music was more rock, while on Freedom of the Seas, it was more dance: in the disco it was Miley Cirus and Robin Thicke, the dancing under the stars night was music like The Electric Slide and other wedding and bar mitzvah reception songs, the lounge next to the casino played latin cha-cha. We found the Freedom of the Seas rolled up for the night no later than 1am, while on our Carnival cruise, we got to bed only once before 3am.

On Carnival only about 50% of the guests dressed up for formal night, on Royal Caribbean it was closer to 80% and the guests dressed very elegantly.

To be fair, our sailing on Freedom of the Seas was filled with young families and seniors, so the demographics likely drove the tone of the sailing.

The dining room dinners were very good. I have advised friends going on their first cruises to expect food that is equitable to decent banquet hall faire. We had My Time dining at 8:15pm each night, and were able to have Norbert as our waiter. He and his partner got to know our prefences quickly, so we didn't need to ask for iced tea or a second serving of rolls past the first night.

Room service has a limited menu and charges a fee if you order past midnight. We ordered room service for breakfast twice and twice for a "picnic" lunch on our balcony. The food was good, it arrived hot and quickly. On our Carnival cruise last year, we were able to order a continental breakfast for delivery the last morning as we pulled into port. Royal Caribbean does not offer room service the last morning, so you either have to be up and dressed early for the dining room or battle the throngs in the Windjammer.

The Windjammer was a lesson in frustration many times. Too many times we had to search around and around for an open table. The traffic flow around the food stations just doesn't work very well. Since my first Royal Caribbean cruise in 2000 on the Enchantment of the Seas, this has been something that needs to be improved. Patience is need to navigate the lines and crowds.

The Windjammer breakfast was tasty- I enjoyed having smoked salmon and made-to-order omelettes. The standout food on the Freedom of the Seas is the fresh breads, rolls, and pastries. They had a delicious fresh bread with cranberries that has to be the best bread I've had in many years. The coffee is very good, and the staff works very hard to bus the tables and make certain you have drink refills or a new utensil.

For lunch and dinner, the Windjammer wasn't a good choice for me. I have a food allergy, to bell peppers. Just the oil from a bell pepper will make me sick, so I can't just pick out the peppers. Sadly, the tuna salad, egg salad, and many hot entrees and soups had bell pepper. The one night we chose to dine at the Windjammer instead of the dining room, literally every hot entree was made with bell pepper. I can't be the only person with this problem, so how about have a couple of choices with no bell pepper?

We were in room 7410, a balcony room on the aft end of the ship, facing the back. On our Carnival cruise, we discovered the joy of the aft rooms. The balconies are larger, and the view into infinity with less wind than side-facing balconies is peaceful. What I didn't know is that on the Freedom of the Seas, the aft rooms have a view obstructed by curved steel beams. On the Valor, there is no obstruction- the view is wide open. If given the choice, I'd choose cain 7408, which has a smaller door than the slider we had, but has a larger balcony with both a side and aft view.

The room was clean with some wear evident on the carpet and couch. There was adequate closet and storage space. The bathroom is tight, but as others have pointed out, the shower doors making a tube is much easier than fighting with a shower curtain. Twice our toilet clogged up- once the maintenance came right away, the other time (as we were getting ready for formal night), they took their time.

Our cabin steward was Dexter. He took good care of us. We requested he fill our ice bucket- it won't be filled unless you ask. There is a minibar- but don't use it except for emergency- the one soda I pulled out of it (in the middle of the night when I had an upset stomach) cost over $3.00.

The nice thing about a cruise is that you can do as much or as little as you wish and there's no right or wrong. The activities were family-friendly mostly. Bingo was expensive and the sessions were short. The shows were better than shows on Carnival. The showroom band is excellent, the magic show was eh, pretty good, the comedians were funny. There is a lot of shopping and selling. The spa is expensive, but how can you beat getting a massage on a cruise ship? When it comes to upcharges and opportunities to spend money, you have to pick and choose carefully or blow your budget. There are very few truly free things on a cruise ship these days. The passenger participation shows are musts: Love and Marriage, The Battle of the Sexes, and The Quest. Please people, The Quest is really for ages 18 and up. I felt embarrassed for the children whose parents brought them to this show even though it was clearly stated in the Cruise Compass it was for 18+. No one's child needs to see a man in a jingle bells thong dancing a ballet.

Regarding children- there were many on this sailing. The staff must do a great job of entertaining them as we didn't run into too many playing in elevators or running amok. The only time we were almost run over by kids was in the Windjammer restaurant, and that's a product of lack of parental supervision.

It's not advertised, but if you ask and are willing to pay $150 per person for the 3 1/2 hours, there is a ship's tour called "All Access." My husband and adult children did this and thought it was awesome to get a tour behind the scenes of the bridge, the theater, galley, and engine room.

We did no formal excursions on shore. In San Juan, we walked all over the old city and self-toured the fortress. In St Martin, we took a taxi to Maho beach to frolick in the surf and watch the jets land just a few feet away. There's good shopping on St Martin if you want jewelry, perfume, and alcohol.

My husband and I, while more in the Royal Caribbean demographic, would lean more toward Carnival for our next cruise. It's wilder, louder, bawdier, and just more fun. Now, that's not to take anything away from Royal Caribbean. They have a good product, perfect for families with younger children and large groups with a diverse age range. We also don't use the Royal Caribbean things like the rock climbing wall or surfing simulator.

You really can't go wrong with Royal Caribbean- they have a winning formula.

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