Freedom of the Seas was my second-ever cruise, following up my maiden voyage on Oasis in April of 2014. As far as my cruising life goes I am still in my infancy, you could say, but Royal Caribbean once again provided an amazing product and has certainly convinced me to come back for more!
ON BOARD EXPERIENCE: Some of my comments in this arena will already be out of date, as Freedom went through an extensive dry dock in January 2015 that changed a few things around. Regardless, Freedom is a beautiful ship! Embarkation at Port Canaveral was swift - we arrived early and, once check-in began, went straight from the curb to the counter to the ship very quickly. First impressions upon stepping aboard were wow! Everything shines, gleams, and gives off a very luxe feel. Getting beyond the superb physical appearance of the ship gets us to the real stars of this cruise, the staff and crew! They clearly love working here and were instrumental in making this a truly special experience for my friends and I. We had no less than three places on this ship where we were welcomed like old friends by the staff. The Bull & Bear pub on the promenade was the first. I truly regret that I cannot remember the woman's name, but every time we walked up and down the promenade we were greeted with a smile and a wave (and a cold beer!). Next was Boleros, the Latin-themed bar and dance area on the 4th deck. Here we found our true home for the cruise. "Boozy Suzie" and Danielle took care of us like we had known them for years. We would laugh, joke, and simply order "the usual" and within a minute they would have it in front of us! It quickly became our go-to spot every night, to have a drink while talking about our day with them and listening to some live Latin dance music. Last, but certainly not least, was the Main Dining Room. Our waitress Rose and her assistance Joseph were, without doubt, the best servers I have had in my life. Rose always welcomed us with a big smile, a "what did you do today?" and a few recommendations from tonight's menu. You know you've had great service when you are truly saddened to bid them goodbye on your last night. While I realize it is these peoples' jobs to make guests feel welcome and happy, the level to which they went in achieving this goal was simply extraordinary.
Outside of this, the public spaces on Freedom are okay. The pool does get crowded on sea days. The mini golf course was fun, if a little unimaginative, and the flow-rider is situated in a great spot with bleachers on either side. There are ping pong tables, but it was frequently too windy to play a real game. The promenade is great, as is the afore-mentioned Bull & Bear pub. Sorrentos was conveniently located right by the forward elevators which was very convenient to our cabins. Vintages looked nice, though we only went in once and it was quite empty. The casino was large and had a great variety of slot machines. One feature which we very much enjoyed was the night club, The Crypt. It was a great late-night spot to go if you are into the club vibe. Unfortunately, it was removed during Freedom's dry dock. One of the best spots on the ship, hands down, was the helipad. It is technically on Deck 5, but you have to access it from Deck 4. Go to the outside promenade deck (the one where the lifeboats are and where you do the muster drill) and walk all the way forward. You will find a rather big stair case. Go up, keep walking forward and you will wind up at the helipad. This is THE spot for sail away from Port Canaveral and frankly any sail away. It is also special at night. The wind is blowing and, since all the lights are behind you, there is a special view of the open ocean ahead.
DINING: As I already mentioned, the Main Dining Room service was impeccable. The food was great. I am not the biggest seafood fan and though I felt that a lot of the daily specials were seafood-based, I could always find something to order. Freedom's specialty restaurants were, to my mind, the only real shortcoming I can think of. On the first night of the cruise we took part in the Mystery Dinner Theater. It starts in the Olive or Twist (Viking Crown) Lounge for Part 1, then makes its way down to Portofino for the actual dinner portion of the show. Unfortunately for us, we were seated at a table very much cut off from the rest of the show. Portofino is split into two rooms, the first containing the entrance, a smaller dining space, and an open pass-through to the kitchen. The second room is larger and all dining tables. We were in the latter (the only table in this section in fact), and the whole show took place in the former. It was hard to hear any of the performance and frankly the physical distance between us and the action took us right out of the mood. It was a big miss. Royal Caribbean, don't over-book this event! The menu for the Mystery Dinner is pre-set, so I cannot comment on Portofino's own menu, though it has now been replaced by Giovanni's Table anyway. We dined at Chops Grille for a special event (my one-year anniversary to my partner) and we all came away very underwhelmed by this one as well. Chops on Oasis of the Seas was superb, but something was just missing on Freedom here. The restaurant was for the most part empty, and the service was a little slow and lackluster.
CABIN: We stayed in a standard balcony cabin on Deck 10, #1236 and our friends in the connected room, #1238. Deck 10 is shared by the ship's bridge and officer's quarters, which due to the separation and fewer passenger cabins might have made it a little quieter in my opinion. The room was in great shape and, since we had the connecting cabin as well, we were able to open the door in between and have our own little mini-suite. Our stateroom attendant John also opened the partition between the two balconies, so we had a double balcony. I highly recommend this trick if you are traveling in multiple staterooms. Another nice perk is that a lot of the rooms on Deck 10 are suites. This means, I understand, that the stateroom attendants are the cream of the crop.
PORTS OF CALL: Freedom's Western Caribbean itinerary sails to Labadee, Haiti; Falmouth, Jamaica; Grand Cayman; and Cozumel, Mexico. In Labadee we booked a private cabana (over the water). I highly recommend doing this! It is great for groups, especially. You have your own private area to stash your stuff, an attendant to bring drinks, and are steps from the water. Additionally we did the Dragon's Breath Flight Line. It was a little pricey at $100 per person, but WOW! This is a must-do. The views are incredible and the whole experience was great. After a brief training run down a smaller line, you are loaded into a truck and actually go outside of RCI's Labadee compound briefly in order to make it up to the start of the zip line. We actually appreciated getting to see this interaction between the "real" island and Labadee. Locals were gathered at the gate, attempting to get a day pass to come in and work, sell their crafts, etc. It made us realize that Labadee can be a great resource for the locals, to come and work, earn some money, etc. We were in the truck the whole time and we never felt unsafe or anything like that.
In Falmouth, we did not have any excursions or trips planned. We had some fore-warning that the area around Falmouth port was not very well developed and can frankly be a bit sketchy. We got off the ship to walk around the port area, which is quite nice. It has plenty of little souvenir shops and a Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. The real star of Falmouth port, though, are the local vendors. There are many tents and stalls set up for the locals to come in and set up their work. The woodwork was truly amazing! We appreciated just being able to walk through the stalls and look at the fine work. True works of art! I wish now that I would have bought a piece or two.
Grand Cayman was the only tender port of this trip. That means that the ship cannot dock at a pier, but must anchor offshore and have small tender boats shuttle people to and from shore. We went to Seven Mile Beach for the day, specifically to Calico Jack's restaurant area. If you do not book a specific excursion, once you get off the tender you can just walk over to the taxi area and ask to be taken over to Seven Mile Beach. We did not know specifically where to ask them to take us (it really is a seven mile beach!) but we ended up at Calico Jack's and liked it. You can rent chairs and umbrellas for the day and they also offer various water sports and activities like banana boat rides, jet skis, wind surfing, etc. There is a bar run by a few American ex-pats and the food was good as well.
In Cozumel we pre-booked a day pass at Nachi Cocom beach club. I HIGHLY recommend this place! For about $65pp for the day, you get a private palapa with loungers on the beach, access to their pool, and unlimited food and drink (including alcohol)! Similar to Grand Cayman, there are jet skis, banana boat rides, etc. offered. It was very peaceful and the surroundings are just perfect. We really appreciated that we had our own area with chairs and shade prepared for our arrival. The only catch is that transportation is not included, but there is a taxi stand right at the pier once you get off the ship. Nachi Cocom will also call a cab for you when you tell them you are ready to go.
Oasis of the Seas was my first cruise, and what a way to introduce myself to the world of cruising! The ship is a marvel, it truly feels like you are becoming a part of something special when you step on board. She is the star of every port she sails into, and guests sailing on other ships can frequently be seen staring in awe at our magnificent ride
ON BOARD EXPERIENCE: There is no shortage of things to do on board, and for a pre-planner like myself it provides one with plenty of research and reservation options to occupy the time leading up to sail-away day. While I found the ship very well appointed and stunning in some areas (Central Park, Promenade, Dazzles, Solarium) the over-all decor and feel left the slightest bit to be desired, in my mind. I feel that this comes out of trying to please a mass audience, as opposed to tailoring the decor to a more specific clientele. Sea days (of which there were 3 on my sailing) left the pool areas quite crowded, and we had to go up a deck to the area overlooking the pool to find loungers. That being said, there are so many great areas to spend time on this ship, sea days were quite welcome! One of my favorite spots was all the way aft, between the Flow-Riders (deck 14 I believe?) The railing overlooks the aqua theater at the aft of the ship and gives a stunning panoramic view of the ship's wake. This is a prime spot for sail aways. I will never forget standing in that spot as we steamed away from St. Maarten, frozen cocktail in hand, gazing back at the island as the sun set on the horizon.
DINING: Oasis provides so many options for dining, I barely saw the Main Dining Room or the Windjammer buffet. It is not only the variety that is so appealing, but the way in which the options are presented. Rather than having a specialty "restaurant" just shoved into whatever part of the ship it could fit, Oasis' size allows her to give these restaurants the space they deserve. It truly makes these specialty dining venues different and unique venues. This is best exhibited in Central Park. Restaurants line the stone paths like a city street, and even provide some outdoor seating. You truly feel like you are sitting in a land-based restaurant. Giovanni's Table on the first night of the cruise was especially memorable, we shared delicious Italian wine and food outside, while we watched people walk the tree-lined paths and breathed in the amazing sea breeze.
CABIN: When we booked this trip we went with a Balcony Guarantee, so we had no real choice in our cabin location. That being said, the cabin we were given was great. 10312 is port-side aft, quite near to the aqua theater suite on that deck. The view was spectacular and the location nice and quiet. Were I to book Oasis again, and get my own choice of cabin location, I would most definitely target something closer to a stairwell or elevator bank. Otherwise, everything was perfect. There is nothing like waking up and walking out to your balcony with a cup of coffee to watch the sea slip by quietly beneath you as the sun rises.
PORTS OF CALL: Oasis' Eastern Caribbean run features stops in Nassau, St. Thomas and St. Maarten. This being my first cruise it was also my first time in each of these places. We did not book any excursions in Nassau, and the time spent in port is minimal (only until 2pm) so my exposure to Nassau consisted of leaving the port area, walking up and down one street, then returning to port. In St. Thomas, Oasis docks in an area a little ways away from what I think is considered the "main" cruise ship pier. A short cab ride gets you to the charming downtown area of Charlotte Amalie. It is a pleasure to stroll through the streets and window shop there. Afterwards we went snorkeling in Turtle Cove. The ride out there was a little long and wet (get your valuables securely sealed in something water-tight BEFORE leaving shore!) but the crew had a good sense of fun. Snorkeling was good (saw a few sea turtles!) but overall underwhelming once you got past the turtles. The coral and underwater formations were sort of dull. In St. Maarten we rented a car for the day and did our own excursions. Maho Beach (Sunset Bar & Grill if you are trying to Google Maps it) is a MUST! Standing on the beach as an airplane essentially lands on top of your head is quite the rush. After Maho we went over to the French side of the island and had lunch at a charming little restaurant which fronts the most beautiful beach I have ever seen, Grand Case Beach. The water is tranquil and crystal clear. Afterwards we drove up, up, up into the hills, all the way up to Pic Paradis (Paradise Peak). The roads were a little choppy to get up here (I wouldn't recommend driving yourself unless you are comfortable with near-offroading conditions) but the views were SPECTACULAR. You feel like you are on top of the world. You can also see the cruise ships from one or two spots, looking like little toys down below. A relatively obscure place that I did not hear much about while doing research, but I cannot imagine why it doesn't get more buzz, it is unreal.
uploaded a photo album from their Oasis of the Seas cruise on 2014-04-05
reviewed their Caribbean - Eastern cruise on Oasis of the Seas and gave it 4 stars!
shared a quick tip for Oasis of the Seas"If you want to explore the dining options outside of the MDR, go immediately up to Central Park once you get onboard the ship, and stop in at 150 Central Park restaurant. From there you can make reservations for specialty dining venues (often at a discounted price) for the whole week!"
added Aug 31, 2014 cruise on Freedom of the Seas to their profile.
added Apr 5, 2014 cruise on Oasis of the Seas to their profile.