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Freedom of the Seas - Photo Review - 3/30 to 4/6 - Western Caribbean

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The Back Story: While my wife and I have sailed Royal Caribbean loyally seven times in the past decade, fate and serendipity saw us sampling other cruise lines recently. While those cruises turned out fine, throughout it all I'd had a hankering to get back to RCL. We had finally achieved Diamond status (for what that's worth these days!) and we hadn't yet taken advantage of a voyage where we could start using the perks and amenities associated with D-class. So when call of the sea was heard once again in our home in the frigid Northeast, I put in the big push with my wife that we make it a Royal C cruise this time. I wanted to finally don my Diamond pin and command instant respect and grovelling from both the RCL staff and lower status C&A members! (Uh, this is sarcasm btw) Fortunately, it didn't take much persuasion on my part since my wife missed travelling the RC line, as well.

 

After some strategic negotiating and begging at work, we found a time we could both escape from employment obligations and then had our TA hunt down a reasonably priced voyage.

 

We'd sailed once on the Liberty of the Seas and I have to admit, candidly, that I'm not a big fan of this class of ship. It's too kid and sports oriented for my taste (we have no young ones at home anymore). But the deal and itinerary our TA found was amenable, so I put aside my aversion for the Sports Deck and signed-up on the dotted line. One of the consolations prizes for choosing the Freedom? We ended up reserving a Grand Suite. Having been bumped into one in the past, we knew this was THE way to travel if at all possible. So with our Gold Card Grand Suite, concierge lounge and our freshly bestowed Diamond status, we knew that on this ship, we would be unstoppable! (Sarcasm again).

 

Tossed into the mix was the added bonus of disembarking from a port that was new for us: Port Canaveral. And while I didn't cherish the thought of being stuck on a Spring break flight full of kids and contagion bound for Orlando, I decided from the get-go it was time to just go with the flow.

 

 

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Embarkation Day:This is where having a niece who goes to school in Orlando comes in handy. Bless her soul, she agreed to get up early on a Sunday morning and pick us up when our flight landed at MCO at 9:30am. Our bags barely fit into her Honda's trunk, but after some shuffling items around, we were finally on our way East for the 50 minute ride to Cocoa Beach.

 

Since she knew the area pretty well, she let us know we could make a pit-stop at the Publix grocery chain which was located a mile or so down A1A from the port. There we picked up last minute toiletries and some water (and the Port Canaveral postcard you see at the top of this post). She also knew which liquor store would be open that early on a Sunday - where we could pick up a bottle of wine and champagne - our legal alcohol carry-on. Such a well educated young lady!

 

Now suitably provisioned for our voyage, we made our way back up the strip to where the Freedom lay in her berth waiting for us!

 

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It was the typical organized chaos unloading the car at the dock. Things moved hectically but in an organized fashion, and before we knew it we were hugging our niece goodbye (thanking her profusely for the ride!) and seeing our bags tossed onto a luggage cart... not to be seen for a few more hours.

 

 

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By this time, it was shortly before noon. The port didn't seem overly busy, but when we got to the cruise terminal building we found the line was spilling out of the building and onto the street. Our Priority Boarding status didn't mean squat as we joined a long, slow moving line. Later, we learned that the ship had undergone a Coast Guard inspection that morning and all departments were running late, including the security and embarkation teams.

 

Thwarted that my dream of speeding past the huddled masses through the use Diamond Members Only lines were dashed, it was only a minor hiccup. After about 15 minutes of waiting, we were finally in the terminal where the process sped up significantly.

 

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Finally, the Diamond status meant something, as we joined our own, exclusive, line in the terminal where we had to wait just a couple of parties before us before checking in. While we're waiting, this would be a good time to mention the plastic luggage tags we ordered through the links on this site. We had ordered the ones specially sized for RCL baggage tag print-outs and they worked out real well. (see photo above left).

 

Soon we were swiping the ole credit card and being issued our (exclusive) Gold cards that let everyone know we were in a Grand Suite. I was also reassured that the word Diamond appeared on the card - so there would be no questioning our regaled status on this voyage and the appreciation it should elicit from all we encountered.

 

After a quick walk over gang plank and a welcome aboard picture, it was up to the Windjammer for lunch. It was busy there, but not an issue finding a free table. They were making annoying announcements over the PA that guests should vacate their tables after completing their meals and not to hang out. This is a little tough, since state rooms (even Grand Suites for some inexcusable reason) wouldn't be accessible until 2pm. This is where some other cruise lines (cough, Princess) have it over Royal. Their staterooms are generally good to go at boarding.

 

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A very good beginning...we will be sailing on Freedom two weeks from tomorrow....it has been a very long with here in eastern Canada and looking forward to some sun and a cruise...will be following along as we are also doing the western Caribbean..

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FOS is my favourite ship so far- and we also stayed in a Grand Suite so I look forward to hearing your review to see if you had a similar spectacular experience.

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I was on your sailing...it took us an hour and a half to go from getting in the long line outside until boarding and I guess the inspection must have contributed to the slowness which was a very rocky start to our cruise!!

 

Looking forward to your review! We certainly had great weather on this voyage! And did I say a lot of kids??!!

Edited by sunsetbeachgal

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So excited for another Freedom Western Caribbean review! Our first RCL cruise leaves in June!

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Thanks for your kind remarks, Cool Cruisers. Those of you getting ready to depart on a future Freedom voyage are in for a genuine experience of a lifetime. The ship is in grand shape and the crew is in good spirits. There are plenty of new things to do and see. The Western itinerary is fun.

 

So, back to the review: Sitting with my head in my hands in the Windjammer after lunch and waiting impatiently for our cabins to finally be readied (behind the scenes housekeeping was working in full force to play catch-up, thanks to intrusive delays caused by the morning's Coast Guard inspection) I had plenty of time to ruminate which I was more upset by: the fact that I was a newly anointed Diamond member or the fact that I was Gold Card carrying Suite Guest and being subjected to this, regardless of which status, level of substandard treatment. And whom the best person to complain to was: the concierge, a guest services desk manager, or right to the top with a scathing letter to good ole Adam himself.

 

That's when my wife, who is less preoccupied by such quandaries, grabbed my arm and gleefully proclaimed it was time to "get out there" and explore the ship! A washy-washy dispense later, and we were out on the decks where I quickly noticed some changes that Royal has incorporated since last we cruised with her.

 

First up... the ample use of interactive digital signage.

 

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These large, colorful and bright signs could be found one each deck. For first timers, they can be used merely to ascertain where the heck you are in relation to your cabin or some activity center. For more seasoned cruisers, it's a quick way to check the Cruise Compass to make sure you're not missing your shot at the belly-flop contest or simply to see if the mens room is port or starboard side. I thought it was a very useful addition to the ship logistics and saw passengers, young and old, making use of them.

 

Another addition was the ship-wide installation of soda-pop dispensers.

 

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We're from New York where the battle against super-sized cola consumption is never ending. I can just imagine the war our former Mayor Bloomberg would wage against this new service amenity. Folks on the carbonated beverage package were making liberal use of these machines... and the variety of drink choices was mind boggling (adding perplexing depth to the term "pick your poison"). Topping off or refilling one's soft drink every time they were in eye shot of one of these caffeine pumping behemoths became a stylized ritual, especially among the younger set. And as I sat in the Promenade at Vintages reaching for another glass of wine and observing it all, I wondered about the darker consequences these unlimited drink packages portend.

 

If soda wasn't enough, there was also the proliferation of Dreamworks characters to keep you hyped up and happy...

 

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Back in my cruising days, you took your picture with the ship's topless figurehead down by the Schooner bar and considered it an accomplishment. Now, we were accosted by no less than Shrek, Mrs. Shrek, a lion, a penguin and this panda big boy... even for photos on formal nights! The character breakfasts and other Dreamwork branding opportunities are starting to give me the Disney Cruise willies. Fortunately, it isn't pervasive enough to really effect the overall experience. Not yet, anyway. But I miss the time when the Captain was the only animated character you stood in line for.

 

I'm going to predict the faddish, cash-grab, Cupcake emporium will eventually go the way of the on-board barber shop - a service it replaced.

 

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Initially, like on the first few days of the voyage, this bakery didn't seem to be doing a very robust business. But by day 5 or so... dietary caution was thrown to the wind and there was a lot more action crossing over the display case. The cake decorating classes also appeared well attended.

 

As a Suite Guest (but less so as a Diamond member), the next horrific change ripped a big hole in my pounding Loyal to Royal heart. It turns out that the "bleacher" seating overlooking the pool - an area was once reserved for the Gold Card carrying elite to separate themselves from the chair hogging heathens and their towel-hoarding ilk - has now been replaced by even a higher class of service: the private family cabana! Hoe Noes!

 

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You can just imagine my dismay at this. Especially when we learned that the Suite Guests / Gold Card Only reserved section had now been relegated to a roof of the Pool Bar... a place they probably used to store deck cleaning tools and window washer supplies. This new area isn't even stanchioned off from other cruisers - meaning most any order of riff-raff can make their way up there "accidentally", of course - and you can forget about being on display, as you were before this change. Where people could ogle at your Diamond shininess and awe at the untouchable.

 

I guess it's a good thing I don't sun bathe... or this would have been the deal breaker for me.

 

Upon seeing I was visibly upset by this culmination of demeaning changes, my wife figured she'd best get me situated into our Suite for a much needed time out and decompression opportunity... where, at least for a little while, I could pretend that Gold meant Gold.... and Diamond meant Diamond.

 

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And for a few precious minutes that afternoon... before the horrors of muster ruined the illusion, I was able to live that gold means gold dream, as I was able to savor the amenities of Suite life in cabin 1560.

 

Edited by WinksCruises

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WOW! Your cabin looks beautiful! DH and I are RCI newbies (we've only done one other cruise and that was on Carnival). We're doing this itinerary in September and are really looking forward to it! Anxiously awaiting the rest of your pictorial review!

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wait a sec...family cabana reserved seating? I don't remember seeing this. Is it new? What's the deal? I can only imagine the demand on a sea day for these!

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They keep the demand on the poolside cabanas in check with the pricing. I think it was over 200$ to rent one. And that might have been for 1/2 day! But yes, this platformed area by the pool - that used to be reserved for Suite Guests - can now be reserved by anyone who coughs up the cash and the desire.

 

The Suite Guest Only "sanctuary" is now a roof top sundeck above the pool bar... Quiet, but usually windy. See pic below:

 

Suite_Seating.jpg

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They keep the demand on the poolside cabanas in check with the pricing. I think it was over 200$ to rent one. And that might have been for 1/2 day! But yes, this platformed area by the pool - that used to be reserved for Suite Guests - can now be reserved by anyone who coughs up the cash and the desire.

 

The Suite Guest Only "sanctuary" is now a roof top sundeck above the pool bar... Quiet, but usually windy. See pic below:

 

Suite_Seating.jpg

 

I must have been there when they were preparing for the introduction of the cabanas. The suite sundeck had already been moved up top (we didn't use it because it was blazing hot sunshine with hurricane-like winds. It generally uncomfortable in every way, and no people watching! I love the entertainment of peoplewatching). There were no family cabanas set up. It was all regular seating.

Edited by K L B

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Can't wait to follow this review. I was on this cruise and am prepping my own review and am curious to see how we agree or differ on things!

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When the Freedom docked at Royal's private "island" of Labadee, we discovered a few physical changes had taken place since last time we visited several years ago. One of the nicest changes was that the cruise ship COULD dock at all. It's a long pier, for sure, but it beats the heck out of having to tender every passenger off the ship.

 

There'd been a rumor circulating around the pool decks that the Explorer was going to be docking at Labadee the same day, as well... and that beach space on the island might be tight. So right after a quick breakfast at Portofino's, we headed over to the concierge lounge where our man Bertie gathered a small group of suite guests, commandeered an elevator and proceeded to Do-Not-Pass-Go us directly off the ship. It was a nice perk. He even arranged for golf carts to take guests to the Barefoot Beach... but we decided to walk our way so we could take in some of the new infrastructure changes.

 

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Of course, the rumor about the Explorer being in port was totally false. And in the end, the area felt very open and carefree. No overcrowding at all.

 

As we strolled along to Barefoot Beach, we found RCCL had built some new dining venues and provided some new service shops right off the pier. They had also paved some new hiking trails in and about the wooded areas - so you didn't have confine yourself to the one main thoroughfare. More cabanas had been constructed, not only at Barefoot Beach but along the shores of one of the "commoners" beaches as well. (The nerve of them!) Everything appeared clean and well maintained. And the weather was just spectacular - making this quite a gorgeous beach day.

 

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I'm a fair skinned fellow who heeds all the warnings about melanoma, so we opted for a cabana at Barefoot Beach. Interestingly enough, I really wanted to try one of the structures situated on the rocks above the water, but my wife reserved one set back a little from the beach. It turned out fine, because the noise level was less there and I found I could read and doze pretty much undisturbed.

 

DW headed for the lagoon immediately, forgetting she had stuck her Sea Pass into her bathing suit top. Frivolity and panic ensued, when she returned to purchase a cocktail and realized she had somehow misplaced her precious Gold card. Grabbing the snorkel gear, she proceeded to try to find the card. Fortunately, during her time canvassing the inlet, she bumped into another bather (literally). When she apologized and explained her predicament, the bather replied, "Oh, some people found a Gold card in the water a little while ago. They turned it in at the security gate." Crisis resolved, Pina Colada ordered... and that evening, surprisingly, the card had maintained its magnetic properties and worked just find on the stateroom door.

 

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The barbecue lunch was one part of the Labadee experience that hadn't seemed to change much since our first visit. The Windjammer goes to the beach. Food was fine. No one keeled over from poisoning, but it was fairly mediocre. I would have preferred the salad bar in the main dining room if it were open.

 

After lunch we headed off our private reserve to explore more of the area. We followed trails up past the Spa where we got some great views of the ship... then past the pier area where more terrific scenery availed itself to our camera lenses... then finally out to Dragon's point... where waves were crashing down on the rocky terrain and there was an interesting perspective on the zip-liners who were ending their adrenaline pumping rides down on the beach in front of this point.

 

For me, this walk made for the best part of the day and is a great improvement to the property. I would recommend anyone take the time out to do some free style exploring of this wondrous property.

 

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Sorry, we didn't take part in any of the "action" activities, so can't fairly comment on the zip-lining, aqua-park or dragon coaster. But overall, we did enjoy the day doing our own thing on Labadee and are happy with the improvements. Even have to rate it better than a similar port called Princess Cays.

 

As usual, we found most people packing up and heading back to the ship shortly after lunch - even though there were still several hours of quality island time to go before the ship's departure.

 

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Edited by WinksCruises

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I always like to be surprised by the menus and Cruise Compasses, but understand that lots of people enjoy seeing them ahead of time. So read if you want... skip by if you hate spoilers... and remember this is from an early April 2014 cruise. Your mileage is sure to differ...

 

CompassDay1.jpg

 

CompassDay2.jpg

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Very much enjoying reading your review! Looking forward to more.

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk

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Enjoying the review. We were on Freedom the week prior for the Easter Caribbean itinerary.

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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Wife and I enjoy walking out to Dragon Point. Usually only ones there. :)

Dragon point is way cool! We even heard the dragon breathing; something we had read about - but didn't realize was an actual phenomenon that occurs when air whips up through the blow holes.

 

To me, the sites and sounds on the stunning walk out to Dragon Point are just as exciting as the pay-for-thrill options available at this stop. And like you, am surprised, but happy, more people aren't out there taking it all in.

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I am enjoying your review. We are on the Freedom on June 29th, our 1st Royal cruise (we are Carnival people). I LOVE to plan everything out, so please keep posting the compass and menus. It will be my 1st time cruising since needing to eat gluten free, so studying up on the menus is important to me.

 

 

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Melody

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Thanks for the review. I was on this cruise also and am working on my review, I'll be able to give the commoner's perspective ;)

 

Should be up in a few days.

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Thanks for the review. I was on this cruise also and am working on my review, I'll be able to give the commoner's perspective ;)

 

Should be up in a few days.

 

Dr D....I'm a commoner, so looking forward to reading yours as well! Although it nice to read this review and dream.....

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I liked seeing the checkin facilities and area around Port Canaveral, I've been on Freedom many years ago, but haven't sailed out of this port yet. I'n all likelyhood I'll be one point short of Diamond when I board Freedom, so I will definitely be a commoner and most likely not in a suite either. :)

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Thanks for all your readership! Please know all the Suite / Commoners references are made tongue in cheek and are really meant to poke fun at those who think having Diamond or Suite amenities confers some sort of elevated status or on-ship entitlements beyond what's spelled out in black & white. We've sailed all level of accommodations... do we like Suite level perks? Heck yeah! But we love all cruisers no matter in which stateroom they lay their head at night on the ship. (except of course for the ones who can't control their little monsters!)

 

Unfortunately, a pressing social obligation with some well bred people (but not gold card carriers or even one-time cruisers, ugh) prevents me from continuing the review today. But I'll pick up again tomorrow - Tuesday.

 

For now, here's some rather boring video... but it's of an event I failed to mention as we prepared to cast off from Labadee; there was a medical emergency with one of the passengers and it was decided they would need to be hospitalized. A helicopter was requested from a Dominican Republic hospital and the video here is of it coming in for a landing. It actually landed on the Labadee pier, rather than the ship's landing pad on the bow. Apparently it is much safer and easier to to a pier landing, but for most of us watching it seemed like a pretty tricky maneuver.

 

Watch video on YouTube by clicking below...

 

I'll post more on life at sea, tomorrow.

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I know you're kidding and please continue with it, it's very entertaining!!! Thanks so much for posting the compasses, I love knowing what's happening!!

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Forums mobile app

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I am enjoying your review of the FOTS, and the great pictures. We will be on this ship for the "first time," the end of this month. :) I like reading reviews, and seeing the pictures, as that gives me an idea (even though we have an inner room:(, we will still be on this SAME ship:)) of what we have to look forward to.

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Thank you for such a fun beginning to your review!!! I am enjoying the review and pictures hoping it will help me make it to our thanksgiving cruise on FOS!!

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Forums

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Loving your review, looking forward to the rest!

 

I'm very surprised about that poolside cabana thing though... is that new? Anybody know if it is exclusive to FOS? Haven't seen or heard of that before on RCI.

Edited by Dave85

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Thank you so much. I am especially interested in the Daily Compass.

Looking forward to my Freedom cruise.

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