We have done a couple of Western Caribbean and one Eastern Caribbean cruises so we decided to try a Southern Caribbean cruise for something different. We had been on Mariner of the Seas back in '08 and enjoyed ourselves and Freedom is supposed to be a bigger and better version of the Explorer class ships so why not try Freedom. Our most recent RC cruising experience had been on Oasis so that jaded my perspective somewhat as it turns out.
Flew into San Juan a day early so we could sample the city and found Old San Juan neat and charming. The rest of the city was ok with some "sketchyness" mixed in. The big advantage of San Juan is that you are already so close to the rest of the Southern Caribbean that you will not have to waste a day a getting there meaning you have plenty of port days. I found out that I might actually prefer sea days as they are so much more relaxing. I might have to try staying on the boat to see what it is like.
The weather was great and everything else was as expected with the Windjammer being a notable disappointment and the great attitude and demeanor of the entire crew a huge plus. Our future son-in-law was joining us for his first cruise so it was interesting to see things through his perspective. I found little disappointments when comparing the ship to Oasis but his fresher perspective kept me in check. It was a great example of how a cruise (or any vacation) is what you make it.
4 out of 5
Sail away was after 6pm so we decided to not rush to the ship as we wanted to see San Juan a bit. We also are Platinum C&A so we got priority embarkation. It was only a matter of minutes before we were checked in and on the way to the ship. Not having to sit and wait after checking in was nice. It was also nice to go strait to our room and put the carry-ons away. Not getting to the port early seemed like a really good idea. Windjammer was packed but nothing new there. Priority embarkation is a definite C&A perk as even the line for the Gold folks was nice and short. Those without priority had a long wait.
Food and Dining
3 out of 5
We went to the Windjammer a few times for breakfast and a few times for lunch and I eventually told my wife that I really see no reason to go back. The food was edible but not even good. The selection was the same day after day and the crowds and chaos sucked any enjoyment out of it. Maybe I am just getting old but I don't remember it being that way in the past. The last 4 days we paid for our lunch instead of getting a free buffet at the Windjammer. 2 days at Johnny Rockets where you can mix it up with a different burger or go with a grilled chicken sandwich like I did and then a day at Sabor where it was $20 a person for lunch but was more food than you can handle and it was pretty good. The last day we ate lunch in St. Maarten.
As for breakfast we ended up switching to the MDR for breakfast as the choice is pretty much the buffet or you can order omelets or made-to-order eggs from the menu. Pastry choices were the same. But there is way less chaos. The only advantage WJ has is that it is open later.
MDR dinner was fine and I can't say anything was bad or disappointing (except my daughter's fiancee had to send back his NY Strip as it was way overcooked) but I sometimes would struggle to find a dish to get excited about. It is an attempt at upscale dining on a massive scale and that is bound to limit the potential of the experience.
We ate at Chops once and the food was amazing but our waiter seemed to be stretched a bit as he seemed to be working his tail off but we were often left waiting for the next serving or a refill or dirty plates to be cleared.
Drink was drink with my only complaint being the one I have every cruise. When is RC going to get with the program and recognize Sam Adams as the best tasting mass appeal beer there is? It is my "go to" beer I would have several per cruise if they had it.
4 out of 5
I do enjoy trying to burn off the massive calorie dump of each day's feeding so I try to walk as much as possible and hit the gym when it makes sense. Freedom has a 2/3 ship walking/jogging track on deck 12 and if you go anytime other than early morning then forget about running as it so crowded. I was able to walk it but got frustrated by all of the people getting in and out of their deck chairs (not their fault). You can walk around deck 4 but you have to go up some steep stairs up to the help pad on deck 5 and then back down just as steep stairs if you want to walk in a circuit.
The gym is big and never seemed crowded. It has all of the "stuff" the majority of people could want.
5 out of 5
We went to every show and RC never disappoints with first class entertainment. They had three different comedians and all were very good and top notch. We are not usually into the club/dance scene but we do find Karaoke sessions quite entertaining and they had several on the first few nights but curiously they were non-existent the last few. Schooner Bar had a piano singer and he seemed quite good.
No kids in our party
Service and Staff
5 out of 5
Everyone we encountered had a great attitude and was as friendly as could be. I know this can be hit or miss but it was a definite hit on this cruise. Good job, RC!
4 out of 5
Had zero issue with presentation or cleanliness of the ship and we are big fans of the Royal Promenade. Went on a Holland cruise last year and realized how much we miss it. My only real gripe is with the elevators or lack thereof. In the aft section of the boat where all of the eating venues are there are 2 banks of elevators on each side. Each bank had 4 elevators. With almost 4k people often at the same end of the boat we constantly found ourselves waiting and waiting for elevators. I am admittedly impatient but even the most patient person would get frustrated when the elevator would finally come only to be jam packed full. I gladly took the stairs but my wife and her bad knee did not have that option. We went on Oasis with its 6k people and I don't remember cursing the elevators like I did on this cruise. Looking at their deck plans it looks like they had 6 elevators in each bank instead of 4.
Cabin / Stateroom
4 out of 5
We had a Junior Suite which we get mainly for the large bathroom and walk-in closet. Room was clean but mattress was hard. Didn't notice it at first but I started waking up with stiff backs by day 3. Shower head on the shower was missing something to regulate pressure so it blasted water out like a fire hose. Took a while to get used to and my daughter said her cabin was the same way.
The ship is nice and there are plenty of things to do. When sailing from San Juan there will undoubtedly be a large contingent (70-75% was the estimate) of Puerto Ricans on board. We had zero issue with anyone on board but RC is not stupid and they cater to this large spanish speaking constituent. All announcements were made in both languages and many of the activities and people running those activities are chosen with this in mind. Most Americans are used to having everything centered around them and some in our party felt uncomfortable in this environment. Clearly not used to being in the minority had something to do with it. Not a big deal in the big picture but something to be aware of.
Really enjoyed Old San Juan and the El Morro fort. Wish we had stayed down in that area but I had a free hotel room. The ride from the airport to the hotel was a little rough and you see a lot of depressed areas.
We did an excursion to Coral Sea and Land. Didn't see much Coral and I thought the park was ok but not a can't miss (typical of cruise excursions). The ride from the ship to the park was long and only mildly scenic. Should have gone to Meagans (sp?) Bay.
Did not have a pre-planned excursion so we got off the boat and planned to just walk around. Stumbled into the high pressure trap of tour operators as you get off the boat. We decided to try a 2 hour tour that took you all kinds of places. How bad could it be? Horrible is the answer. We were the last 2 to get on a dilapidated mini-van sized bus with no power and a barely working AC. It was uncomfortable and not informative as I could not understand our driver/tour guide. St. Lucia looked beautiful and the little downtown area by the port was not industrial but quaint. I think our horrible tour experience kept us from appreciating St. Lucia for the gem she might be.
We did a rum tour excursion through the ship. If you are interested in the history of rum and how the caribbean became rum central then this is your tour. If you want a few free swigs of different rum then this your tour. If you want to really see how they make rum and what makes one better than another then this is not your tour. We have done a few craft beer brewery tours in the US and this was nothing like those and left some in our party disappointed. Island was beautiful and our brief stop at a beach yielded the prettiest beach of the cruise.
We took a cab to Maho Beach to see the planes land and it was a very unique experience. Te bar there evidently had been rebuilt so it was a nice clean place with good (but expensive) food. Traffic getting back to the ship was no fun.
5 out of 5
We always do self-assist and it was smooth and straight-forward as usual.
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