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Everything posted by TerpsBball

  1. Looking at the Caribbean for the summer of 2021....prices seem WAY high. Wow.
  2. Did my very first cruise in July 1987 aboard the Song of America out of Miami. The stops were San Juan, St. Thomas, and a brand new RCCL private place called Labadee. There were no SeaPass cards, it was a cash cruise. Great ship to hook me on cruising.
  3. Question...When we go to CoCo Cay, our son will be 19 and our daughter will be 17. Will he be able to escort her in or do either my wife or I still have to go with her?
  4. Just off the Freedom 2 weeks ago. JR was $11.95/person and included soda. Milk shakes were $4.95.
  5. The menu changes seem to be they are offering more of the same "classic" choices each night. For example, shrimp cocktail is always one of the appetizers (as are about 3 others). Same with entrees and deserts. That said, there are new choices each night, just not as much variety as before. The ship didn't seem crowded. There are so many public places that we didn't wait much for anything.
  6. As a new Diamond member, are the drinks/food free in the Diamond Lounge? - Yep, to a point. There is light food served in the morning and at the reception each evening (5-8, I believe). You cannot get frozen drinks, but you can get standard well drinks, some beers, and sodas (Coke, Diet, Sprite). The coffee machine, my wife's favorite, is available all day. Did you purchase liquor/wine in the SJ terminal before boarding the ship? - No, we didn't purchase anything. Sorry, cannot help out on this one. Also, is the Day at the Beach by Boat a RCCL excursion? - Yes, this is an RCCL excursion. What is the attire for main dining hall on formal night? I think you mentioned it was more casual, than formal? What is the attire for main dining hall every other night? Can I get away with shorts and button up shirt without getting glares? - It was casual for us every night. For the 2 formal nights (sea days), there were still many people in suits. Those are the nights that many portraits are taken. The rest of the nights are casual. A few cruises ago, we just decided to go casual each night. It saves room in the luggage. We, personally, don't wear shorts in the dining room, but we saw some who did. I would say the number of people in shorts was small. I typically take 3 pairs of khaki-type pants and mix a polo/button down shirt with each. One pair of casual shoes matches it all. As long as I don't spill something on myself, I have no issue with repeating outfits.
  7. Hello, We recently returned from our Freedom of the Seas cruise to the southern Caribbean. My apologies, but I don’t have photos to accompany this narrative. Hopefully, this does provide some information, and questions are welcome. To start, we are a family of 4 from Maryland (me, wife, son, and daughter). Both our kids are teens. We’ve cruised before, all but one on Royal. ************************************************************************************* Planning: We booked this cruise as soon as it opened almost 2 years ago. We like the idea paying by installments each month. We monitor the price and call if we see a price drop. I think there was just one. We reserved 2 adjoining inside cabins (9th floor, aft). For us, this works best. We’ve had balcony cabins and outside rooms before, but the prospect of having twice the storage and 2 bathrooms are the greatest selling points over a big balcony. Being on the 9th floor also puts us close to the Windjammer, pool deck, and Diamond Lounge. We always fly in a day early. We make our own flight arrangements and did so on Southwest as soon as the schedule opened. I think the cost for 4 of us was around $1600. (BWI to San Juan). A month or so ago, Southwest changed our itinerary, but it worked out for the best. Initially, we did not have a non-stop either way. We were able to rebook to a non-stop flight from BWI at no additional charge. Our flight left at noon and arrived at 4. We were scheduled to return on Monday (versus Sunday). Doing so saved us nearly $800, as the cost to fly back Sunday were outrageous, and the times were great. So, we kept the same flight times for Monday that we originally had. We don’t pay for early-bird check in, so when we checked in 24 hours in advance, our boarding numbers were B49-B52. Previously, we have stayed a few times at the Embassy Suites in Isla Verde, but we decided to try our luck at Condado in the Best Western. We had reservations for the nights of the June 15th and June 23rd. We paid about $210 for the 15th and $175 for the 23rd. We always take rental cars to/from BWI. We use Budget (they are close to where we live). This way, our cars stay in the garage. This isn’t too big of a deal in the summer, but we’ve traveled in the winter and have returned to snow. So, not having to trudge through a parking lot covered in snow is a plus. ************************************************************************************* Packing: We have a set packing list, so it flowed smoothly. We really like packing cubes and plan on buying some more. We took 4 carry-ons and 2 checked bags. We dress casually (no shorts or t-shirts, but casual according to Royal’s attire suggestion) for dinners now, so we don’t take formal clothes anymore. We also travel with a digital scale to make sure we don’t exceed the 50-pound limit. We also purchased the luggage tag holders that are made for Royal’s tags. We put these on the bags once we get to the pre-cruise hotel. ************************************************************************************* June 15th (Travel Day): We left the house early, as we had to drop off our dog to the sitter. We flew out of BWI. We had to stop on the way to the airport for gas, so we also got some subs to eat for our lunch. The trip to BWI was uneventful, and we dropped off the rental car and took the shuttle to the terminal. We are TSA Pre-Check and getting through Security was not an issue. Once through Security, we bought some drinks and had lunch. The flight was on time. We were able to get exit row seating, even with our less-than-ideal boarding numbers. We noticed the flight attendants stand in the exit row as people board, so many people just walk by them. We were happy to sit there. The WiFi on the flight was good, and we watched some TV/movies. After landing and a quick bathroom break, we went to luggage claim. No kidding, we were out of there in 5 minutes. When we first arrived, one of our bags was already on the carousel, and the other quickly followed. We then proceeded to the taxi stand. There were about 5-6 groups in front of us, but they move people very quickly. The cost to travel to Condado (4 people, 6 bags) was $26. Taxi fares are regulated. The ride took about 15 minutes. We checked into the hotel and were given a room on the 9th floor. The Best Western is clean and sits across from a Walgreens and CVS. Down the street is a Chili’s and a Buns Burger Shop. The Best Western was nice, but there were a few points that will make us go back to the Embassy Suites. Mostly, the surrounding area was disappointing. Granted, we had walking distance to many amenities and felt safe doing so, but we didn’t like the traffic noise and the 3-5 homeless people doing drugs across the street from the hotel. At least 1 person was there all day and all night. There is also a decent amount of trash around on the street next to the hotel (cans, bottles, etc.). The room on the night of the 15th had a musty smell, but we bought some air freshener, which helped. Otherwise, the room was clean and had a microwave and mini-fridge. The hotel isn’t a 5-star, but it does fit the bill for a pre-cruise stay. We then walked to Buns Burger Shop and had a really nice meal (about $50 for the 4 of us). After dinner, we got water in CVS. The new rules state 12 bottles per cabin. CVS had 15-packs of Dasani, so we got 2 of those (1 per cabin). We figured if we were told 15 was too much, we’d take out 3 in their presence. ************************************************************************************* June 16th (Embarkation Day): We awoke and headed downstairs for breakfast. The Best Western had bagels, toast, dry cereal, mini pancakes, hardboiled eggs, and fruit. It was good, although the bagels really had no taste. The place to sit was nice and up to date. A light breakfast was fine, as we knew were we going to eat again after boarding. The Best Western is about 10 minutes (max) to the Pan American Pier. Taxis are at the hotel, and we left at about 9:45. Arriving at the pier, we handed off our 2 checked bags to the porter. Luggage is collected by deck number. We then got in line for the terminal, which wasn’t long. Within 10 minutes, we entered through Security. We checked in and were sent to the Diamond area. There were some chairs, and the terminal was well-kept and clean. There is a store there to purchase liquor/wine. Our 15-packs of water were never questioned. Boarding started at 11:00, and we went to the Windjammer. The Windjammer opened at 11:30, so we had to wait about 15 minutes. We then had a nice lunch. The Windjammer food, if you’re familiar, hasn’t changed. There are a lot of different selections. I did notice a gluten-free area, as well as desserts marked gluten-free. While eating, we were approached at least 3 times about buying a specialty restaurant package. This has happened before, but for some reason, this cruise seemed like they were really pushing those. As we walked around after lunch, we were asked at least 3-4 more times. Cabins were opened at 1:30, and we started to unpack. We were able to get our luggage quickly, as I spotted the bags down the hall at the area where bags are placed for distribution. After exploring some, we headed for the muster drill, which was at 5:45. Our station was in the dining room, which was convenient. The drill took about 20 minutes. Early seating dinner on embarkation day is at 6:30. All other days, it is at 6. We then headed up to the Diamond Lounge and enjoyed the drinks/light food there. My wife REALLY enjoys the coffee machine there. Dinner for us was on Deck 4 with Roxanne and Gemmuel. Both were OUTSTANDING. I’ll talk about the food in a later section. ************************************************************************************* June 17th (Sea Day): After breakfast at the Windjammer, we checked out some of the shops on the Promenade and headed to the Solarium. We hung out there for a while, and then our son did some rock climbing. The only waivers you need to sign are for ice skating and the Flow Rider. Both are available at their respective locations. For ice skating, the line starts early, so when we arrived, we were scheduled for a later session. The same applies for the ice show. I cannot recall which night we saw it (I think it was the 18th), but it was FANTASTIC. It began at 8pm, and we lined up around 7:30. There was a line, but many other passengers didn’t respect that and just jumped ahead of others when the doors opened. There was another show later in the week. We took advantage of the ice cream station by the pool often. It had two sides. One side was chocolate, vanilla, and a mix of the two. The other was strawberry, vanilla, and a mix of those two. It was quite good. ************************************************************************************* June 18th (Aruba): We took the horseback riding excursion. My wife is an experienced rider, and commented she thought the horses looked too thin and were not properly cooled down after our ride. The ride was nice and long (about 2 hours) and included some time along the beach. You did not go into the water with the horses. The guides were also very nice. We take our excursions in the morning to avoid the heat. So, after lunch in the Windjammer, we walked back out into town and went into several stores. The stores are within easy walking distance from the port. There were also some local vendors, but they sell the same touristy-type stuff that’s made in China. I don’t think there’s much local-made stuff. ************************************************************************************* June 19th (Curacao): Initially, we reserved an ATV excursion we had taken a few years ago visiting the island. Unfortunately, about 2 months before the cruise, we received an email stating it had been canceled. So, we took the Day at the Beach by Boat. We were bussed from the port to another dock and boarded. The cool thing was they had to open the swing bridge for us. That was neat to see. The boat dropped us off at a resort, where each person received a nice beach chair and a coupon for a soda. The water was a sheltered harbor, so there were no waves. It was very clean and relaxing. There were some stores there and places to eat, too. It was a very relaxing time. We spent 3 hours on the beach. We then returned to the ship by the same route (boat/bus). After lunch, we walked back into town. The stores here are a bit farther of a walk than in Aruba. However, there are more of them. We needed to buy a comb, and there was a drug store nearby, too. We also walked over the swing bridge. Again, another nice port. ************************************************************************************* June 20th (Bonaire): We took the Segway tour. A van took us from the ship to the Segway location. We received some instruction (Segways are very easy to ride) and rode along a beach road. The guide pointed out many of the local landmarks. The water here is beautiful, as was the scenery. We’ve Segwayed before, but that was in a city (San Francisco). So, I think we unfairly compared the two. We spent less time on the Segways in Bonaire than in San Francisco. We had a nice ride, but we did think it could have been a little longer. We Segwayed on a straight road out and back. After lunch, we took in some local stores. If you’ve been to St. Maarten, the shopping area in Bonaire is a smaller version of that. There are local stores, and we found are really nice one with some cool wood crafts. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the name. ************************************************************************************* June 21st (Sea Day): The kids didn’t feel like hanging too much at the pool, so this might have been the day my son did some rock climbing. We also visited the shops. The 2/$20 t-shirt sale was also today. There were very many styles to choose from, and we got several. We also used this as our second free internet day (both my wife and I get 1 free day). The Wifi isn’t too fast, but it does serve the need for checking the net, texting our family back home, etc. We also checked out the picture gallery. The photos were well-organized and finding ours was easy. We took in Johnny Rockets this day. It opens at 11:30, but I got there around 11:10 to get in line. By 11:30, there is a line waiting to get in. The charge is now $11.95/person. That’s about a $4 increase. We had buy 1, get 1 milk shake coupons, which we used. I believe the shakes are $5. They are really good. The food is also quite good, but we thought the increase in price was a bit steep. Two years ago, it was $6.95/person. Sorry, I probably sound cheap. ************************************************************************************ June 22nd (St. Maarten): First, St. Maarten looks great since the devastation it suffered in 2017. There are new buildings around the port area. We took the Kayak and Snorkel excursion. A bus took us to a beach with kayaks. After some instruction, we took the snorkel gear (we didn’t bring our own, but some people did) and started to paddle. It was a nice paddle, not very strenuous. We then stopped at another beach, where we left the kayaks and snorkeled. The snorkeling was quite nice. There was no one else in the area but us (about 20 of us on the tour). We snorkeled for about 30-40 minutes and then headed back to shore. We kayaked back to the original spot and were given a free drink (several choices, including rum punch and beer). The bus then returned us to the ship, but it also stopped in town for anyone who wanted to get off there. We rode back to the ship and changed. After lunch, we headed back into town. You can either walk back into the shopping area (about a 10-minute walk) or take the ferry. I believe the ferry cost is $7 for all day. We walked, as it isn’t too bad. Shopping in St. Maarten is nice. Even though we’ve been there before, we didn’t know that you can negotiate in most stores. Our son wanted a watch and was able to get the one he was searching for at a good price. ************************************************************************************* June 23rd (Debarkation): Since the airfare cost of flying Monday was significantly less than flying Sunday, we stayed in San Juan an extra day. We always do self-assist when we leave the ship, so this time, we just stayed on until around 9. Breakfast began at 5:30 at the Café Promenade, 6 in the Windjammer, and I believe 6:30 in the Dining Room. After we ate, we hung out in the cabin. Our stateroom attendant (Joel, who was GREAT) came by around 8 to see if we had left. He said cabins needed to be cleared by 8:30-9 and everyone must be off the ship by 10. We totally understand, as they need to turn everything around for the next group of passengers. So, we gathered our stuff and left around 8:30. Getting through Customs was a snap. We did not get a porter, and the line wasn’t that long. We were through in about 10 minutes. There are also no forms to fill out. They just ask you if you have anything to declare. We then grabbed a cab back to the Best Western in Condado ($20 fare). We got to the hotel around 9:45 but couldn’t check in until about 2, so we dropped off our bags and took a walk. We found a nice whole foods grocery store that had really good frozen fruit gelato-type stuff. The Best Western has computers (3) in the lobby area, so we waited there for about an hour so we could check in for our flight the next day. There was a printer there, too, so we could print the boarding passes. Our flight back to BWI stopped in Orlando. We got A-group boarding for each flight. By this time, we were ready for lunch, so we walked to Chili’s. After lunch, we checked into our room and reconfigured our checked bags so we didn’t exceed the 50-pound limit. Our room was on the 3rd floor. The traffic noise was definitely noticeable, and the homeless people were still there. They hang out in front of the CVS. We saw people using drugs openly. It’s sad. The staff at the hotel is very, very nice. We received a nice note from the manager after we got home. We told him it was nothing in his control, as he cannot do anything about the surrounding area. Regardless, he was very kind to reach out to us. Unfortunately, we will not stay there again. ************************************************************************************* June 24th (Travel Day): The front desk staff (again, VERY nice) made sure we had a cab big enough for us and our luggage. We were at the airport in about 15 minutes ($24). After passing through the USDA inspection (don’t forget this, or you cannot check your bags), we checked our bags and proceeded through Security. There are some food options and some stores to browse in. The rest of the trip home was smooth, and we landed at BWI on time. ************************************************************************************* General Observations: The entertainment on the ship was quite good. We saw a magician, a comic (Steve McGrew…hysterical), and an acrobat team. There were other performers, too, but we didn’t catch their performances. As stated before, the ice show was phenomenal. Make a point to see it. The food is always subjective. We had the newest menus, but we really miss the cold fruit soups. However, Roxie, our server, got the chef to make us some. AWESOME! With the ordering of the entire meal at once and the bread being already on the table, the speed in the dining room has increased dramatically. Dinner was usually done in under an hour. We also enjoyed breakfast in the dining room a few times. My wife and son particularly liked the French toast. There were some hits and misses with the food, but we certainly didn’t go hungry. The same goes for the Windjammer. We thought the deserts in both the dining room and Windjammer weren’t quite as tasty as cruises in the past. Again, we didn’t hesitate to try several. There seemed to be more locals on this cruise than on others we’ve taken out of San Juan. We saw a couple quincenaeras. The only thing we noticed about the passengers were some of the teens liked to sit on the steps, often blocking the movement of people using them. They didn’t volunteer to move unless asked. There was also some line jumping from time to time and a lack of saying “excuse me” if someone bumped into you. We certainly enjoyed ourselves on the trip and look forward to sailing Royal again. Please let me know if you have any specific questions.
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