Number of Cruises: 4
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Freedom of the seas
Sailing Date: September 30th, 2007
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean
First up we got to the port area in Miami within about an hour of the gates closing which was good because the staff informed us that it was total chaos and completely out of control which we are very grateful that we missed. As a result embarkation was pretty swift considering we were so late getting to the terminal. But unfortunately we didn’t miss the evacuation drill which was fine except for our fellow cruisers were already getting testy and they hadn’t even been on ship all that long.
We had a deluxe balcony stateroom. Now was this any bigger than the standard balcony stateroom? Not by much other than the price. It was well appointed which made two people living in it for a week relatively comfortable. The bathroom was great because it had a shower door rather than a shower curtain that stuck to you when you bathed. Thumbs up for that!! Hands down one of the best beds I have ever slept on on ship so that was a total plus because we ended up spending most of our time in our cabin. I will explain why later.
Let me say that this is one of the most beautiful ships I have ever seen. You couldn't ask for a better set up ever on a ship. There were some really classy elements to the Freedom OTS. First up, the service staff was fantastic whether it was in the rooms, on the deck or in the dining room, you just couldn’t get better than the wonderful staff who took great care of us save for a few small items.
The Promenade layout is a really neat concept for a ship. It made for easy transit from bow to aft and was an enjoyable place to kick your feet up and people watch. However, on formal nights it was nearly impossible to transit the promenade because of the constant bottle neck of people trying to take their pictures with or of friends while standing half way across the “street” and they routinely got very surly when the crowd wouldn’t comply with the constant stopping.
Hands down the best thing about this ship is that there were no transit points to or from any attractions on the boat through a dining area. This time there was no eating your lunch and having a man walk by in a Speedo with his groin at eye level to your plate. Also, the staff was very insistent in reminding people that they needed to be covered to dine and that was a really awesome change from previous cruises we have taken.
Food, lets talk about food. Chops is hands down one of the best places we have eaten ship or shore so we feel it was a real treat to dine in such a great atmosphere with such great service. The Windjammer was also a great place to eat as well. The food selections were adequate and some what healthy (who diets on a cruise anyway?) the staff again was a dream however I wish our fellow cruisers were better behaved. I noticed a lot of snipping at the wait staff, ordering them around as if they were servants and we saw very little in the way of "please" and "thank you" despite their great level of service. Our group of 7 tended to over compensate on our praise of the wait staff as a result we had people who would see us and automatically find us a table in their section so that was a wonderful result of the kindness on our parts.
Ports of call:
Our first stop of Labadee was incredible. It was a great opportunity to get off the ship and relax and enjoy the water. I will be honest even in this beautiful setting people managed to infringe upon our space with cigarettes. At one point people were standing in the water up to their waist and were still smoking. I was so incensed when someone just came over, lay down next to me and lit up without asking me if it was okay that the first chance I got I chucked their pack of cigarettes in the bushes beyond my lounge chair. Yup, it was me and I did it more than once too and given the same situation I would do it again.
Ocho Rios was an interesting experience. They never tell you on the ship that the admission to Dunn’s River Falls is a near fortune at $15.00 a head plus the $15.00 cab ride (which you could walk to if you took the time) other than that there isn’t much too see in Ocho Rios however there is some pretty decent shopping and unlike a lot of other islands most are willing to negotiate on their prices to move merchandise. This is the place to buy your cigars too because Grand Cayman duty on tobacco will kill you and there is no price negotiation at all on cigars in Cozumel. So if you want cigars buy them here!!
Grand Cayman is always a favorite of our traveling group. Time spent out at sting ray city is well worth the energy however don’t feel obligated to book your adventure through the ship. Both times we have been here we have walked out of the duty free plaza and hired a local non-ship contracted charter service and we haven’t been disappointed yet. Be sure you have adjusted your watch to reflect the ships time table though, the last think you want to be doing is paying someone to speed boat you out to the ship after the last tender leaves the pier.
Cozumel is one in credible place to visit and since the island isn’t very big consider renting a scooter and tooling about off the common route of downtown shopping row. We had done ChanKanab state park last time in town which was well worth the time on our first venture into Cozumel. This time around however we decided to tour on the hoof and had a great time once we got off the shopping row and into the real downtown of Cozumel. We took a hard right off the row of bars and jewelry shops and were lucky to find a beautiful little restaurant that was the hang out of a lot of locals. It was great to watch them pull obviously very fresh fish out of coolers sitting in front of the kitchen. To say the food was great would be a lie, it was fantastic, but keep in mind this in to fancy eating your going to experience and its not the run of the mill Carlos and Charlie’s this is true Anthony Bourdain traveler food. Simple, good and lots of it, the Abuello Gerardo was well worth the time it took to find it.
The downsides of cruising on the Freedom OTS were few but profound.
First and foremost there was an absolute over abundance of cigarette smoking on this ship. Had we known that there were very few smoke free zones on this ship we would have NEVER booked a cruise for 7 with two asthmatics and two health nuts among us. It was overwhelming and I don’t use that word lightly. At no time was there a point where we felt we could be free of cigarette smoke except in our rooms. This is why we stayed in them so much of the time. Even the hallways were inundated with cigarette smoke even though they were not a designated smoking area. Getting in an elevator with multiple people who were just saturated with the stench of smoke was very overwhelming to people with asthma. This was ultimately a horrible disappointment to us and unfortunately it was also a sticking point with the staff as there was very little if any enforcement of the non-smoking areas.
Second, I love kids, but there were children everywhere on this ship including 18 and over shows, in bars, clubs and 90% of the time they were completely unsupervised. I know that there were lots of events geared for kids of all ages and still can’t figure out how people could just blindly let their children’s ill behavior impede the comfort of others. Such as children screaming bloody murder in the dining room while people around them cringed or left and the parents just sat there and ate as if nothing was going on or they just didn’t care about the impact that their child was having on the diners around them.
There were multiple times that I was run over in the hallways by pre-teens running the halls jumping up to swat the fire sprinkler valves as they ran past and over me. What really steamed me is that on multiple occasions I had to ask the staff to ask parents to take their kids out of the adult’s only hot tubs and solarium areas. I had pulled a muscle in my back shortly after getting on board and all I wanted to do was float peacefully in the AO (adults only) hot tub to relieve my discomfort and what I got instead was children splashing and jumping in and out even though the area was plainly marked as being an adults only area. Again this is another sticking point where enforcement was a huge issue on this ship. Constantly having to ask staff to enforce plainly marked rules was tiring and ultimately we just stopped going out on the decks.
Last, what ever you do, do not get sick on one of these ships. Make sure that you pack a “just in case” supply of Pepto, Alka Seltzer, Bandaids, Tylenol or other pain reliever, Imodium and anything else you can think of that you may need to stave off any cough cold or potential infection you may get because you will pay a minimum of $1.00 for a single serving of any of these items in the infirmary. My suggestion is you just don’t get sick here is why…
A group of us ate at the Johnny Rockets onboard and within 2 hours the ones who ate beef hamburgers were horribly sick with intestinal issues. One of us was so sick that he sought treatment at the infirmary. It was just after 8 pm when he went and after 20 minutes of filing out paperwork and many inferences of “oh you ate in Cozumel yesterday” he got up and walked out because they considered his case an emergency since he was there after the two hour window of general admin hours that ended at 6 pm and the purposed cost of this visit? An immediate $168.00 charge to his sail and sign card before ever seeing the doctor and before any medications were administered. Fortunately he was with a group of former ER nurses because when the medical staff said they wanted to draw his blood there was a very audible round of protest as to just why were they wanting to do that for an intestinal issue? All in all he ended up staying in his room and “gutting” it out over the next 8 hours. But he was in misery the whole time.
So, was Freedom of the Seas and Royal Caribbean a line that I would consider booking on again? In a one word answer, no. Ultimately we felt that the price of the cruise fare, the horrid amount of smoking, out of control children and the feeling of being constantly nickel and dime'd by the cruise line for any and everything was way over the top.
We LOVE cruising but this was a trip none of us wants to experience again and because of it we are considering taking a year off of cruising and renting a villa in Aruba for all of us to share and give a cruise another try in 2009.
All in all, the boat was beautiful and the staff was stellar but the experience over all was very poor and disappointing.