This was the first of the 3 Freedom Class ships, Freedom of the Seas, and she's spectacular! We did this cruise during our wedding anniversary week with our great friends and cruise buddies, Kim and Steve. Embarkation was somewhat sloppy due to bad weather and a bunch of non-passengers attending a meeting aboard as "Day-Passes" ... but once aboard, everything was as smooth as could be.
We began this cruise exactly to the day and from the same port and with most of the same ports-of-call as our very first cruise twelve years ago aboard the Carnival Holiday. Things sure have changed tremendously in the cruise industry since 1994. Back then, Holiday was considered fair sized at 46k tons and 70k ton ships were just being announced. Freedom of the Seas is 160k tons... or about 4 times more massive then the comparatively tiny Carnival Holiday.
A good way to start to describe Freedom is to read my Navigator review... Freedom is basically a "stretch-limo" or "deluxe" version of Navigator (a Voyager class ship) with everything aboard just larger. Add to that some beautiful and striking colors and conservative appointments, and you get the sophisticated feel of the Radiance class ships, like the Jewel of the Seas. That's my call on Freedom, all of the best things from Navigator and Jewel meshed into one with the addition of some things found on neither...
You can surf on the Flowrider surfing simulator... or you can sit in a hot tub (one of two!) that's cantilevered out from the sides of the ship affording views straight down some 11 decks to the open sea... or you can play in the huge waterpark called the H2O zone... or you can climb the fleet's tallest rock wall! There's even a boxing ring (in case you want to fight someone on a cruise?) in the gym!
Of course, there's also all of the signature Voyager class stuff to do and see: the Royal Promenade (longer then any other with more shopping, a barber shop and Sorrento's Pizza to name a few)... the ice skating rink... the alternative dining venues of Portofino's and Chops Grille... the Windjammer Buffett... miniature golf... basketball... internet surfing (throughout the ship wirelessly, no less- but for a fee)... discos, bars, casino... the whole enchilada! It's all there and even more. As I said, Navigator but bigger!
Speaking of the cabin, for the first time, RCCL uses real mattresses (rather then the old cot style beds) with higher quality sheets and linens. This bed felt more like a bed in a nice hotel then a cruise ship's bed! (Update 2009: RCCL has upgraded the beds and linens on the entire fleet since this was written) Your suitcase still fits under the bed. Further, all cabins now feature Samsung flatscreen TVs. I never measured it but it's bigger then the old tube TVs in the older ships. Watching TV in the cabin is more fun now... and of course, the TV is linked to the ship's ordering system. Anything from day excursions to room service can be ordered up directly from the screen. I also LOVE RCCL's RetroTV channel where you can watch episodes of Bewitched, I Dream Of Jeannie, The Jeffersons, etc. So much nostalgia! (Update 2009: Alas, RetroTV is no more...)
Getting out there ("Get Out There" is the official slogan of RCCL) and moving about the ship was pretty easy. There was the occasional wait for elevators depending on traffic about the ship, but for a ship with 3600 passengers, it sure didn't seem like there were that many people aboard (except during embarkation and debarkation). The Royal Promenade is heady with aromas of food from one end to the other- especially when passing "Ben & Jerry's" Ice Cream Parlor where the smell of baking waffle cones is mesmerizing.
Food aboard was anywhere from okay (Johnny Rockets) to real good (Windjammer) to very good (the main dining room) to outstanding (Portofino's and Chops Grille). I do recommend that when eating in the main dining room you order the Chef's signature selections; I did, and I never went wrong. As always, if a dish doesn't delight you, always ask for something else rather then settling on something you don't like. Food selections in the Royal Promenade (mostly snacks, pizza and sandwiches) were, as always, spectacular. (Steve did complain about some of the deli meats used on a few sandwiches, so take note if you're a connoisseur of such delicacies!) I was especially pleased to find my obscure favorite pizza at Sorrento's one night: BBQ-Chicken Pizza! Normally this is something I can only find at California Pizza Kitchen or Cheesecake Factory on land. (CPK's is still my favorite)
Our itinerary was the typical western Caribbean stops that we've been to on many cruises, but we still managed to have fun in them all!
Our first day out from Miami was a day at sea to take us from Miami to Cozumel. It was a gorgeous day that we spent in the Sun on the upper main pool deck (deck 12) near the starboard external hot tub's upper dome. There were plenty of seats available in these areas as people tended to gather closer to the pools down on deck 11. We were ideally located for the main pool's deck 12 bar.
At Cozumel, we were forced to cancel our planned excursion to Passion Island due to thunder storms and drizzles and clouds that persisted until about 1pm. Although the cruise lines are always reluctant to refund excursion tickets, there was no arguing on their part with the fact that sitting out on a beach during a thunderstorm was not something we wanted. So, after some discussion of this with the Excursions desk, I got all four of us our refunds. Kim and Steve and Diane and I shopped around in the town where the water shuttles dropped us off. (Freedom's too big to dock here) This is one port where I would not recommend buying liquor in bottles. We purchased a small bottle of Bacardi Rum here and found out it contained some watered down, nasty swill inside instead.
At Grand Cayman the next day, we all took a Taxi to the Courtyard Marriott's choice segment of Seven Mile Beach where we rented chairs and grabbed sodas... a gorgeous spot and one I'll return to again. The cab fair over was about $5/person... not bad at all. The day was absolutely beautiful.
At Jamaica the next day, the girls went horseback riding while Steve and I did Canopy Jungle flying zipline tour. Basically you're hooked up to two cables and you fly about 100' above the jungle floor! This was one of the coolest things I've ever done in my life. If you're relatively fit, I highly recommend it! Jamaica was the only stop where the ship was actually able to dock. The day was sunny and wonderful.
Our last island stop was at RCCL's private section of Haiti called Labadee. There are several beaches within walking distance, and RCCL sets up BBQ lunches all around. It's a spectacular stop now... far more so then it was when we were there on the Grandeur cruise back in 2000. I'm actually going to look forward to any cruise making a stop here in the future! Again, the day was sunny and hot!
Our final day, another day at sea, was spent sitting around in lounge chairs watching the ocean drift by... peaceful and relaxing as Kim said. I never did climb that rock wall or try the flow rider. Obviously, another trip aboard Freedom (or her sisters) will be a must!
Our cabin steward, Cesil was wonderful. She always had our cabin cleaned up and spotless in record time and she never got in our way. She was a pleasure. Our waiter, Wan, was somewhat harried, but he always made great recommendations for our meals... and the assistant waiter, Julius, always got me my diet Cokes. I was very happy with my service overall.
We had a lot of fun with the waiter team in Chops... in fact, they thanked me in particular for giving them all a bunch of laughs with my running commentary. One said she hadn't laughed so hard in so long... it made me feel good to cheer up people that work so hard for our cruising pleasure.
Our waitress in Portofino's was very sweet, but I got the impression she didn't want us to leave. Sometimes I think they are trained to make the dining experience a lengthy one at Portofino's. The team at Johnny Rockets put on a more-enthusiastic-then-usual show for everyone (which made up for the typically so-so food in all Johnny Rockets restaurants) on the afternoon that we ate there and one passenger got up and started dancing with the waiters in their typical routines between serving. This isn't that uncommon except for the fact that he didn't seem to want to sit down... so they just kept the dance music going. For all I know, the old guy's still twisting up there at JR's.
Disembarkation was very easy (except for the fact that I didn't want to leave) and in a short time I was back at the Biscayne Bay Marriott looking back wistfully at the wonderful Freedom of the Seas loading her next group of passengers. It was fun though to see her departing (something you never want to see when you're on your cruise week!), sailing majestically out to sea. I can't wait to cruise her again someday!
~Cruise Review Menu~
To see more photos from this terrific cruise, press HERE!
All photography on this page done by Paul and Diane McCullough except where noted.