I already posted a review in the reviews area (as "Michael") for "Freedom of the Seas, October 3." This may take a couple days to post, so for those that can't wait, here's a review for the discussion boards.
Both embarkation and debarkation went smoothly for me. I arrived at Orlando Airport around 11:30, and didn't see the RCI representative right away at the baggage carousel after I got my luggage, but did after about 10 minutes. I was on the transfer shuttle at about 12:45, and got to the port around 1:45. The check in line was very long, but moved fast. I think I was onboard by 3:00 pm, and I had just enough time to drop my bags off in my room, have a snack at the Windjammer, and go back to my room to get ready for the muster drill. Life jackets are not necessary at the drill, but the crew will demonstrate how to use them.
The Freedom of the Seas is an amazing ship, and the largest cruise ship I have been on so far. Until the Oasis was built, it was the largest in the world. There was definitely a "wow factor" for me when I boarded. It may be intimidating, and it took me most of that first day to get my bearings on board the ship as to where everything was and which way I needed to go.
On that note, certain areas of the ship are most easily accessible by using either the elevators in the front or aft of the ship, and not both. Example, the Arcadia Theater on deck 3 (where most of the shows are) is easily accessible by using the FORWARD ELEVATORS. If you use the aft elevators, you cannot get to the theater if you go to deck 3 on the aft elevators. You need to go to deck 5, walk the length of the Royal Promenade, then use the stairs or elevators in the front of the ship and go down to deck 3.
There are self serve soda fountains for those that purchased the soda package. These are located on the pool deck, which is deck 11. However, there were a couple issues I found when using these. First of all, the mug had to be placed just right in order for the fountain to work. Even if you place the mug flat where you think it should be placed, you may have to turn it, move it slightly, etc. in order for the chip to realize that it is there. The other issue is the wind on the pool deck may spray the soda, so it won't go straight down into the mug, causing you to move the mug so the soda will go into the mug. Personally I found it easier just to go to a bar and have them fill it. They may ask to see your SeaPass card for verification that you got the soda package.
It is not necessary for you to have your soda mug if you purchased the package. They will give you fountain soda in a glass if you do not have your mug with you; that's not a problem.
Towels for the pool and shore excursions can be checked out on the pool deck (Deck 11) at the towel stand near the middle of the ship on either side. You will need to present your SeaPass card. If you wish to exchange your towels for clean ones after a port of call that's fine, just make sure you bring back as many towels as you wish to exchange, and also make sure at the end you return as many as you checked out, otherwise $25 per towel will be charged to your SeaPass card.
Personally, my favorite activites were the ice skating (both the show and open skating), and the rock wall. Tickets ARE STILL BEING ISSUED for the ice skating show. Check your daily planner (referred to as the cruise compass on Royal Caribbean) for the day that tickets will be issued. The location for my cruise was on the Royal Promenade (Deck 5), in front of Sorrento's Pizza. Get there early to maximize the chances of getting the time of the show you want to see. It is not necessary for your entire party to go down; just one member from your party. Also, know what dinner seating you have, as this has an impact on what time you see the show. I chose the 3:00 pm show on Monday, as I had the early seating for dinner. The other show that day was at 5:00, which didn't work for me, since I had the early seating for dinner.
Open ice skating was another great experience for me. I don't ice skate competitively, but do like to do it once in awhile just as recreation. I can't do spins or jumps, but just skating around the rink. If you do this, you must wear long pants and socks, mainly for your safety in case you fall.
The FlowRider was another new experience for me. If you have not done this before, I would recommend starting with a boogie boarding (or body boarding) session, and then if you want, try the stand up surfing, as this is tougher than boogie or body boarding. I just did one time boogie boarding, and that was enough for me. It was still a fun experience, but a little hard for me also.
There is also a 9 hole mini golf course onboard, open 24 hours. I did one round of this. Be careful if it's windy, as the ball may not stay in one place after you hit it, and you may have to go quickly to hit your next shot. Don't putt it too hard, or otherwise it will be right next to the bushes or edge of the hole, and will be difficult for you to hit your next shot.
One thing that I did not get to, was the cantilevered whirlpools on the side of the ship. You are looking straight down at the water. This seemed like a cool concept, but again, having not tried them, I can't offer any opinion on that.
Before I get to the ports of call, just one note. The arrival time listed on your documents / cruise compass may actually be the time that the ship will be cleared, and you can start to go ashore. Example, in Jamaica, the documents stated arrival at 9:00 am. We were actually cleared to go ashore at 9:00 am, and docked shortly after 8:30.
Another important note. MAKE SURE YOU STAY ON SHIP TIME. You must be onboard 30 minutes prior to departure. Example, if the documents say depart 5:00 pm, you need to be back onboard at 4:30 SHIP TIME. THEY WILL NOT WAIT if you are late getting back, unless you're on an excursion booked through Royal Caribbean. Most ports of call in the western caribbean may be one hour BEHIND ship time, and it is up to the captain whether or not to change the time to match local island time. In this case, he did not, but on my previous cruise, he did. If the ship does change the time, it will be mentioned in your cruise compass.
PORTS OF CALL / ITINERARY
This was the 7 night Western Caribbean cruise. The first day (Monday) we are at sea, so this is a good day for you to get the lay of the land, so to speak, and a good day to explore the ship to see all it has to offer.
On Tuesday, we were in Labadee Haiti. This is RCI's private destination, so regardless of which ship you are on that stops here, you should be the only ship there. This was my first time to Labadee, and our port and shopping guide stated this is probably his favorite port now that they built the dock there. If you've been here before, it may look or appear different, as the dock is in a different area than where the ships used to anchor. At this port, I did the roller coaster, zip line, and parasailing. All of these were great excursions, and my favorite one at this port was probably the zip line. This is the world's longest zip line over water, at 2600 feet long and 500 feet high. They take you on a small zip line first as a warm up, and if you like it, you then are transported by Land Rover to the top of the big zip line. All of my excursions here were well worth it, even the zip line, even though that is expensive.
On Wednesday, we were in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. I did an excursion through Shore Trips which was a beach horseback riding excursion, where the horses actually ride in the water. Saddles remain on the horses while they are in the water. This was an experience of a lifetime for me. After, I did the Dunn's River Falls add on, again, through Shore Trips. However, I was the only one that did the add on trip in my group. The falls were amazing, however, you will probably get haggled by the merchants there. I can understand this, as Ocho Rios is only visited by 2 or 3 ships a week according to our port and shopping guide onboard the ship. Also, you need to walk through a craft market in order to exit, and again, you will get hounded by the merchants. Just say "no thanks" if you're not interested, and keep moving. The excursions were great, but not all the hounding I experienced. I'll be honest, it wasn't my favorite port for that reason, but the excursions themselves were nice.
On Thursday, we were SUPPOSED TO go to Grand Cayman Island. However, due to rough seas, rain, and high winds, it was too dangerous for the tenders to run. There are no docking facilities in Grand Cayman, and ships must anchor in the harbor, and have passengers tendered ashore. This for us turned into a day at sea. Should this happen, the port fees will be refunded by means of an onboard credit, and any excursions you booked through RCI will also get refunded as an onboard credit.
On Friday, we were in Cozumel, Mexico. We ended up getting there at 3:00 am, partially due to the unscheduled sea day Thursday, but because there was also a medical emergency, which I'll get to later. I was a little confused as to whether it was a passenger or crew member, as I heard different things. Maybe someone here was on this cruise and can confirm one way or another. I went on my own to Paradise Beach. This is a $13 cab ride from the International Cruise Pier, where the Royal Caribbean ships dock. There is no entry fee for Paradise Beach, as they think you'll spend money while you're there. I did, and got the $12 wristband, which includes use of the aqua park, floating beach mat, and snorkel equipment for the day. There is also a restaurant / bar on the premises, and other activities, such as parasailing, are available for an additional cost.
Saturday was our last day at sea, as we start to head home. Again, lots to do onboard the ship, so you should not get bored. Check your daily planner for activities that you may want to do.
Our cruise director, Graham Seymour, was a funny guy and would make a great comedian someday if he chooses to leave the cruising industry. Sometimes I think he was a bit too funny in explaining things, and sometimes you may not know if he is a comedian or your cruise director.
Captain Tor Olsen is the captain, and is from Norway. He was also funny, but not to the extent that Graham was. He will come on at least once each day, and twice if you are in a port of call. He will come on to tell you that the ship has been cleared when you arrive at a port of call, and you are welcome to go ashore when you're ready. He will also come on shortly after you set sail from the ports, and give a run down of how long it will take to get to the next port, average speed necessary to get to the next port on time, etc. On the days at sea, he will come on right around noon and give his daily speech. I'm hesitant to call it a briefing, as he may talk for 5 or 10 minutes. You'll know it's him, because the first thing out of his mouth when he does the speeches is "Ding Dong!" Also, you will only hear him in certain public areas of the ship, so he will not disturb you in your stateroom, or in the Arcadia Theater during the show. PA announcements were not heard in the Arcadia Theater.
As was the case with my previous 2 RCI cruises, the food was great, and with the exception of one instance, I was not disappointed. The instance I am talking about was when I ordered Room Service for breakfast. This was on Thursday, and on the breakfast room service menu (which is a door hanger you hang on your door), and it was not delivered at all, or at least not in the time frame I had specified, and did not receive any notification as to why). However, that night, an general apology was typed on a notecard, as well as chocolate and vanilla covered strawberries. This was a minor issue, and won't keep me from cruising with RCI again in the future.
There were two other unexpected issue on the ship. On Thursday at dinner, over the PA, we hear "Alpha, location 3279," or something like that. After the show that night, we actually got to see the "serious" side of Graham. He stated that if we heard that announcement, "alpha" is their code word for a medical emergency. Again, this was an unexpected day at sea due to bad weather in Grand Cayman. Graham stated we were going full speed to Cozumel, and our ETA would be 3:00 am. At the time of his announcement, it was 10:00 pm or so. After the show let out, the captain came on unexpectedly, asking for type O- blood donors to make themselves known to Guest Relations. Again, I've heard conflicting reports to whether it was a passenger or a crew member. The last report coming from our dining room waiter, was that it was a member of the ice skating cast. She fell right on her head, and was unconscious and bleeding while practicing for a show. Not sure why, as all the ice skating shows for that sailing were over, unless they were practicing for the next voyage. I never know who to believe in these instances. She was supposedly taken to a clinic in Mexico, which was the need to get to Cozumel ASAP. She was supposedly back on the ship, and once we docked this morning, would go to a US Hospital. Again, if it's a crew member, I'm not sure if anyone can confirm this, since only the crew would know, as opposed to a passenger, someone on this voyage may have seen this happen.
If it was an ice skater, that just goes to prove how dangerous that sport is. I like watching both shows and competitions on TV, and some people at first glance may not think that ice skating is a dangerous sport, but it is. Whoever had the emergency, I hope they're okay.
The other issue, rather romantic, happened on Friday, although I didn't actually see this happen, but based on the reaction, it appeared that someone proposed, and she accepted. This was at the end of the main seating of dinner on Friday, but because of my table location, didn't see this happen. It appeared it was on the stairs leading from the third floor to the fourth floor of the main dining room.
Okay, I know I've probably gone on way too long. Any other questions you may have feel free to ask, and I'll see if I can answer them. I'll try to post photos soon.
2007 - Majesty of the Seas (Bahamas)
2009 - Enchantment of the Seas (Western Caribbean)
2010 - Freedom of the Seas (Western Caribbean)
2013 - Golden Princess (Alaska, roundtrip from Seattle)