May 2014 - Freedom of the Seas to Caribbean - Western
As former travel agents, we have sailed on every cruise line, and on most of the ships. Freedom of the Seas has been our favorite Go-To ship, for many years. The port is less than an hour away, and for the price, it was a fun ship, offering a variety of amenities, appealing to all ages. It has almost everything the larger Allure and Oasis ships offer, but, in a smaller more intimate atmosphere. The May 11th cruise was our 4th on Freedom, in the past 2.5 years. And, sadly, it will be our last. It may even be our last on RCCL as well.
We cruised on Freedom 7 months ago. Whether it is RCCL in general, or just the Freedom, over the past year and a half we have noticed a substantial decline in overall standards and appearances on this ship; but, particularly on Freedom, compared to 6 months ago. New RCCL cruisers will not know there has a been change. However, as Crown and Anchor Gold members we have seen the difference and we are extremely disappointed.
The biggest disappointment was learning the dining room no longer requires a minimum dress code. For some cruisers, this is no big deal. We, however appreciate minimum standards when dining in the main dining room. Although a sign is clearly posted on all 3 decks stating requirements; dining room attire is not even remotely adhered to. We saw subtle changes on our last Freedom cruise, but, this time, less than 1/4 of the passengers wore even Sunday-best on regular nights, and formal attire was almost non-existent on the 2 formal nights, In fact, proper dress codes for the dining room was NOT enforced at any meal. Routine attire consisted of camisoles, shorts, even short shorts, with heels for the women; and flowered shirts, flip flops, cargo pants and/or shorts were the norm for the guys every night, including on formal nights. This type of apparel should be unacceptable in the dining room, and would not be tolerated on ships such as Cunard! Bathing suits were allowed in the dining room during breakfast and lunch. We asked staff about the change in dress codes, and by their response, it is obvious, RCCL doesn't remotely expect compliance. The meals in the main dining room were also below standard, and the choices were very disappointing. The cordon bleau and steak were the worst meals we've ever had, on any cruise line. The shrimp cocktail was rubbery, not crisp and tasty. The duck was tough. By the 4th night, we decided to just dine in the Windjammer. The food was better at the buffet, there were more choices and the service was just as good.
Stateroom standards have also declined. Mints are no longer placed on the bed; and paper and pens are not included in the staterooms, any longer. Towel animals made an appearance ONLY twice, all cruise. The sheets weren't changed once. We ran out of toilet tissue and coffee, and had to snag items off the cart. The toiletries and soap were never replenished or replaced, even though we used all of them the first night. For a 2nd time, we had a Jr Suite. Our glass railing on the balcony was filthy when we boarded and was never cleaned. For the entire cruise we were unable to even see clear enough to look out. The wood railing was faded, stained, with splinters sticking out. Balcony furniture was broken and torn, with paint actually chipping off and falling on the floor – which was NOT removed until I picked it up on Day 4. The balcony floor was torn, with sections loose and sticking up, making it easy to catch your foot. We avoided the entire one side of the balcony, as it was dangerous and hazardous to walk on.
The entertainment in the theater and for the Ice arena has been the same for many years. They are beautifully performed and exceptional ... when offered. If you don’t know you need to make a reservation to see the Ice Show, you lose out and miss it. And, as an FYI to RCCL ....MOST passengers DO NOT pay to go on a cruise to watch movies in the theater - 3-D, or otherwise - in lieu of live entertainment. Passengers also want more than bingo and trivia for activities. The 'paperless' coupon books and account information was not available at all, until the last day of the cruise. We had to continually go stand in line to get a print out from the service desk. This happened the last time we cruised on Freedom, 6 months ago. Likewise, lines at the service desk were inexcusably long the entire cruise. We waited at least 45 minutes every time b/c less than half the terminals were manned. The TV channel choices have also been reduced. Freedom has eliminated FOX News and 2 movie channels. Instead, they have added more RCCL channels - in Spanish and English - to advertise their products. Staff at the service desk told us RCCL only wants a contract with CNN and it is a waste of time to complain about anything to RCCL. Based on what we saw this past cruise, I can believe it.
I was quarantined to my cabin the day the ship docked at Falmouth. I sat all day on our balcony and watched the comings and goings on Freedom, and Disney's ship, The Fantasy. Disney's maintenance crew spent the entire day cleaning, scrubbing and painting their ship's exterior. Freedom did nothing to the exterior of their ship! Nothing!!! And they should have. Paint is chipping off, all over the ship. Freedom's anchor is rusty enough that it looks like it will fall off. The exterior is dirty and needs serious painting along the water line. It is actually embarrassing to stand in front of the ship for pictures. The paint on the pool deck and along the walkway areas is peeling and rusty. Carpeting along the walls is fraying in many areas of the ship. Windows and mirrors are dirty. Elevators are dirty most of the time. The schooner bar has furniture that is worn, torn and faded. On Sea Days, Freedom offers merchandise that is either high end, or cheap, junk; with the Promenade kiosks pathetically boring!
In the past 2.5 years, we have witnessed a slow, but, noticeable decline in Freedom’s appearance and services. Complaints were plentiful, and have increased substantially among Crown and Anchor members. The lack of decorum, combined with waning standards, left many feeling as if we were cruising on Carnival or NCL, but, at RCCL's higher prices.
My husband and I are veteran cruisers. We cruise 2 or 3 times a year. We do not expect a high end cruise like on Cunard, when we pay RCCL prices. Likewise, we do not expect a bare bones cruise, when we have paid for an RCCL Jr Suite, either. We cruise because we enjoy the experience. We appreciate the formality at dinner; the elegance of being served at meals; attending shows in the theater every night; sitting on our private balcony and enjoying a glass of wine. We look forward to, and relish the overall ambiance of being on a ship at sea. Unfortunately, we did NOT experience these things on Freedom, this past cruise. Compared to previous cruises on Freedom, we experienced few of the things we really look forward to. RCCL appears to be targeting a new type of cruiser. A more budget minded clientele, one less interested in traditional cruise standards. This is not what we are looking for in a cruise. As compensation for the quarantine, RCCL gave me a $200 credit toward another cruise. More than likely, I will never use it. For the price we paid for this cruise, we could easily have cruised on Celebrity or Holland America. For not much more, we could have cruised on Disney. The next time we will. The cost will be worth it.