November 2013 - Freedom of the Seas to Caribbean - Western
"from Port Canaveral"
We are Diamond Plus members with RCCL and this was our third cruise on Freedom. As with the two previous cruises, the ship departed Port Canaveral on time after the muster drill. One thing we enjoy these days is not having to actually wear the life vest during the drill - that was always so hot. This being our 20th or so cruise, we still don't understand why people think they don't have to come to the muster drill - causing the rest of us to wait until the crew rounds them up. What a bunch of jerks!
We traveled on this third Freedom cruise in the same room, Owner's Suite 1340. It's important to point out that cruising as Diamond Plus members in an Owner Suite is probably a different cruise experience than other cruisers may experience. We don't see many reviews from the higher level Crown and Anchor (CA) members so we thought some readers might enjoy learning about some of the subtle differences as they make their way to the top tiers of CA membership.
Probably the best part of our cruise is always the room - we'll post some pictures if we can. Suite 1340 has a monster 47" TV that spins around for viewing from either the living room or the bedroom. Although the programming is extremely limited, there is always something to watch - maybe a movie, the news, a video camera in the Promenade, a replay of a show from a previous night, or sometimes just watching the view from the front of the ship or the map showing the ship's location and navigational information. If not, there is a DVD player if we feel like watching a movie.
The specs of "our" Owner's Suite on Freedom include a 594 sq. ft of lounging area and a 204 sq. ft. balcony. The room has four (4) full-length mirrored closet doors, a dry bar area with glasses, ice bucket and bar tools, a table with four chairs, a sectional sofa and two sliding glass doors. The bathroom is all marble and has double sinks, a nice sized shower, a Jacuzzi tub, bidet, and is fully stocked by the Suite Room Attendant on a daily basis. Suite 1340 is amidships with the Concierge Club, elevators and stairways just outside the door.
The bedroom has a queen bed, full operating draperies covering the sliding glass door, a very large vanity along one wall with lots of lights, cabinets, drawers and a safe. There are plenty of electrical outlets for charging all of our electronics overnight as well as a nightstand on each side of the bed - with even more drawers. There are lights all over the suite including the bedroom.
The very large balcony is furnished with two chaise loungers, a round table and two chairs. When looking from ashore, you can see that the balcony is as wide as three regular balconies. There is plenty of room to walk around and to look both forward and astern without obstruction. Some of our more relaxing days include falling asleep on a chaise lounge with nothing but blue water and a few islands in the horizon.
We spend a couple hundred bucks before the cruise ordering room party favors from the RCCL website, We usually have a few bottles of champagne (we still love the departures) fruit and cheese basket, chocolate covered strawberries and bottled water upon departure. We have kids living in Port Canaveral and always enjoy waiving to them and little Katie-bug as Freedom makes her way past Milliken's Reef and Fishlips restaurants on our way out to sea.
A few of the perks of being Diamond Plus include expedited boarding line and designated departure waiting area in some ports. Once onboard, there is a gift from the C&AS (usually wine, soda, pins, bags, and other trinkets). There are also invitations to several private affairs. One of them is the return party - for all C&AS members. Others include a hosted party by the Captain and Officers of Freedom, invitations to special tours such as the bridge tour, the galleys or kitchens and other parts of the ship. There is also a reserved seating area for the nightly show and other special events. On some ships there is a reserved Diamond Lounge that serves breakfast in the morning and drinks/hors d'oeuvres in the afternoon in a very quiet setting.
There are also perks associated with being a "Suite" guest; these perks require purchasing a room in the Grand Suite or higher categories. We don't think they include Junior Suite guests anymore, but they used to. Sometimes the perks provided by Diamond Club and Suite guests gets a little fuzzy, but we'll try to do our best. There is a Suite Concierge onboard for the Suite guests and a Concierge Club room that offers afternoon drinks, reservation help and assistance with just about anything else you want to do on board during your cruise. Tickets to the Ice Skating shows see to be a big item.
Ashore, the concierge will set up the Suite Guests with access to the special lunch area on Coco Cay well as reserving the special cabanas - you still have to pay for the cabana, though. On Labadee, there is a special beach set aside for the Suite guests. We don't think our C&AS Diamond status can get us into either of those areas, but we don't really know for sure. We've always cruised in a suite, not because we are loaded with cash, but because we like the experience and the special attention. I think we got spoiled one time early in our cruising careers when Grand Cayman was totally loaded with people trying to get to the tenders. The line was really long and we were wondering how long we would be standing in line on a very hot day. The concierge saw us and took us up past security and directly onto the tender. That's why the concierge is so important!
On our November 2013 cruise aboard Freedom, we invited four other couples to join us. Everyone had a good time in spite the fact that we couldn't stop in Grand Cayman due to weather - that happens. We were able to get one big table so we could eat together every night. Dinners were great and the food fabulous as usual. I laugh at the people who complain about the food on RCCL cruises because it is always good. If people are really that picky about every meal they eat, they should go on a food trip to 5-star restaurants for a week instead of a cruise. For the rest of us, the food is just fine - some days are better than others, but we never go hungry. My wife has a gluten allergy and between the Head Waiter and the chefs, she is always take care of. Even her meals (everything is made without wheat) are very good and she enjoys being able to eat "regular" food. She eats from the same menu, they just make it gluten-free for her.
On this trip my brother slowly became ill during the week. On day 5 we were in Cozumel and while we were out on an excursion with the other couples, my brother was seen by the ship's doctor who insisted that he leave the ship and go to a hospital. Of course, he didn't want to leave the ship - can you imagine? He was taken off the ship in an ambulance and transported to a special hospital in Cozumel that is set up for ship passengers, as we understand it. Upon our return to the ship, we had a message from the Medical Department requesting that we come down and talk to the doctor.
Royal Caribbean once again showed their professionalism and excellent service. The doctor gave us his card and the phone number for the hospital in Cozumel. He explained that RCCL has people in port who would check up on my brother and his wife and make sure they got home okay to the USA. We struggled with the decision whether or not to get off the ship and decided to stay aboard; we could always fly back to Cozumel after the ship docked in Florida. Upon learning of my brother's condition, the Head Waiter went to the customer service desk and arranged for us to be able to call the hospital in Cozumel at any time during the rest of the cruise...at no charge! We probably called 10-15 times and we are very grateful to RCCL for allowing us that convenience - it was going way above and beyond.
It turned out that my brother had a problem with his electrolytes; he had extremely low levels of sodium and potassium. We later learned that there was a good chance he wouldn't have made it back to the USA if he had stayed on the ship. Looking back, it was very odd that my brother walked aboard the ship just fine, and by the fourth day his wife was pushing him around in a wheelchair because he was struggling to stand up. Turns out that sodium helps the muscles contract - helping a person to stand up. By the way, luckily he bought trip insurance and was reimbursed for ALL of his expenses associated with his stay on Cozumel and his trip home - several thousands of dollars.
So, to say the least, we are extremely happy with the service we get from RCCL, their personnel aboard the ships and their personnel in port. And true to their word, an RCCL agent in Cozumel came to the hospital several times and helped arrange for their flight home. The RCCL agent even drove them to the airport. Now that's really good service!
Thank you to the crew and agents of RCCL!