We just returned from the 11/12 - 11/19 Freedom cruise of the Western Caribbean (Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Montego Bay & Labadee). Everyone here was so helpful with advice before we left that I wanted to return the favor with some up to date info. So here goes...
All of the crew/staff were extemely helpful, courteous and gracious...absolutely fabulous! If you need anything, just ask any crew member and if they can't help you they will point you to someone that can. About the only exception is "Guest Services" on the final day of the cruise. If you have a discrepency with your Seapass account they aren't in any great hurry to help you on the last day.
DO DO DO! keep track of your Seapass account daily and your Seapass card. We were in line at Guest Services next to a couple who had their Seapass card stolen (and used prolifically by someone else) and Guest Services really didn't care.... they were told that they had to pay up prior to disembarking and that if they did not the local police would be called prior to their disembarking, and RCI would file a felony fraud complaint. Yikes!
If you are not happy with your dinner seating ask to have it changed right away! Find the Maitre de and make your request the first night. This happened a lot, (including by us), and they will accomodate you if they can, but it's first come, first serve. The food and service was GREAT by the way!
Freedom does sell genuine cuban cigars on board in the cigar lounge. "Pedro", the bartender in that lounge is very knowledgeable and has contacts at Churchills and the LCDH in Grand Cayman (that I personally verified) and keeps them in the ship's humidor for sale at only $2.00 more than what you will pay in port. If you're looking for genuine cuban cigars on the western caribbean trip ONLY buy from Pedro onboard, Churchill's or the La Casa Del Habanos in Grand Cayman....I'm pretty knowledgeable about cuban cigars and did a lot of research prior to our trip and these were the ONLY places where I found genuine cuban cigars, although many vendors offered fake cuban cigars elsewhere.
DO charge your tips to your Seapass account by 6:00 p.m. on the next to last night of the cruise, or pre-pay them. It will save you time on the last day of the cruise. If you get exceptional service you can hand out cash on the last day if you wish. The last night is kind of hectic and it's one less thing to consume your play-time on the last night.
DO put everything that you may need from the time that you board to 8-9:00 p.m. in a carry on bag. This includes bathing suits, dinner clothes, medication, toiletries, baby formula, diapers, etc. You are supposed to have your luggage delivered to your room by 5:00 but we, and many others did not receive ours until about 8:30. So, we had to eat dinner in the clothes that we had been traveling in all day! The lady next to us had no baby formula or fresh diapers for her baby and none were to be found on board. Talk about one cranky kid!
Parents....control your kids in the dining room! If you don't you will be politely asked to leave by the head waiter or Maitre de! I witnessed this a number of times when parents ignored their screaming babies or allowed their toddlers to run around the dining room at will. A very good policy in my opinion.
Book your excursions through RCI either onboard or in advance. If you don't do it in advance do it AS SOON as you board! Don't go to your room, the pool or the bar, go to Guest Services immediately and book your excursions. You'll pay about $20.00 more but if the excursion doesn't end in time for you to re-board the ship before it departs port RCI will either wait for you, or pay for you to rejoin the ship at the next available point.
Likewise, if you want reservations at Chops or Portofino (Both of which I highly recommend) call and make reservations as soon as you get to your stateroom.
Excursions - We did the Jeep tour on Cozumel, Jungle canopy tour in Montego and parasailing on Labadee. Grand Cayman was a shopping and beach day. The Jeep tour was a cluster! You will snorkel, have an authentic mexican lunch, spend time at the beach getting bitten by mosquitos and visit the ruins of a small mayan temple in a little village. Cozumel inland is still simply devastated from the last hurricane. You will only have about 40-50 minutes for each activity on the tour and you are very rushed. The rest of the time is spend driving your jeep from destination to destination. Driving in Cozumel is SCARY! I'm a former U.S. Army paratrooper, whitewater river guide, walked the streets of Detroit and Atlanta late at night, and I've never been as scared as I was driving in Cozumel!
The jungle canopy tour in Montego is great! Very safe, and the guides are top notch. You will do some moderately strenous hiking from point to point, but nothing major if you're in slightly better than couch potato shape. A very exciting excursion that I will definitely do again.
Parasailing in Labadee was likewise terrific. You're only up for 8-10 minutes, but it's definitely a great time. If you visit the market in Labadee be prepared to be accosted by vendors at every step. Never pay full price and be firm but polite and you'll be o.k.
My last bit of advice is about taxi drivers on all of the island (and Miami), except Labadee (no taxis). These people are major con-artists! A taxi from Miami International should only cost you $24.00 period. But you will have unscrupulous drivers that will try to charge you more. ALWAYS NEGOTIATE THE PRICE BEFORE YOU GET IN THE CAB!!! (We paid for transfers in advance, but the transfer lines at the airport were so long that we decided to take a taxi instead) The same is true on the islands. And when you're on the islands most drivers have vans/mini-vans for taxis. The drivers want to fill up the taxi before they will leave, so they go around looking for people to fill up the cab, take their money and put them in the cab and then go out looking for additional passengers while you wait in the cab, sometimes 10-15 minutes, which is annoying when you have limited time in port. ALWAYS ask the driver how much to your destination and tell them "Go now." You may pay a little more to "go now" but at least you won't be sitting in a cab waiting for the driver to fill it up.
Finally, if you have a balcony stateroom be aware that the dividers between balconys are somewhat translucent....good to know if you want to stand naked or engage in some other private activity on your balcony for some reason....enough said.
All in all a teriffic time and we'll do it again. I highly recommend Freedom and RCI to anyone interested in a cruise. If you guys have any other questions just post them and I'll reply to them as I see them.