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Freedom of the Seas 6-night MEGA REVIEW!!! (3/25/18 - 3/31/18)

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Our family of 5 had the pleasure of sailing the 6-night Western Caribbean cruise (3/25-3/31) last week. So for all of you interested, here is a detailed review of our trip. We’re your typical suburban family, kids ages 8, 5, and 5. Keep in mind my last cruise was seven years ago on Princess, and I have not been on an RCI ship since 16 years ago. If you’re expecting pictures, sorry… I don’t have time for all that. Besides, there’s plenty of photos of the ship out there as it is.

If you make it through all of this, hats off to you! Any questions? I'll do my best to answer them. Here goes...

Embarkation

Easy-peasy. A reasonable $20 UberXL ride from FLL after we landed around 10:30am (we planned to fly in on Saturday but our flight was cancelled due to a snowstorm… that’s a whole other story!). Security was quick, check in was painless, and we were on the ship in no time. Negatives? Despite dropping our bags off before 11:00am at the port, they didn’t arrive to our room until 5:00pm. But hey, at least they got there before dinner.

The Ship

One of the comments I’ve seen pop up now and then from negative reviews is that the ship is showing signs of age, worn, tired, blah blah wah waaaah. Know that those complaints are extremely overstated as the ship is in fine shape. I will say that there are some minor signs of wear, but keep in mind “some” and “minor” is hardly anything to be concerned with. To be honest if it weren’t for the complaints I read ahead of time, I wouldn’t have noticed. Overall the ship looks great and it didn’t take long for us to figure out how to navigate it. Pro tip: If you’re trying to get to the Arcadia Theatre from the opposite side of the ship, we found it easiest to get to Deck 5 and cross the promenade, then take the fancy set of stairs down from there.While we’re on that topic, take the stairs as often as possible. The elevators are AWFUL. There are two sets at each end of the ship, 4 elevators both port and starboard side of the ship (there may only be 3 each side at the forward end of the ship… I can’t remember exactly). Let me tell you, they need more. After the first day and a half we gave up on them and took the stairs everywhere. Probably not a bad thing to work off all the food we ate! The one exception to this was boarding the ship after a day in port. Strangely enough we had no trouble getting an elevator from Deck 1 to our rooms on Deck 9 all three port days.

Pools and Rec

Kids had a field day in the splash zone area. A sort of whirlpool type of pool around 3 feet deep, plenty of spraying geysers, and various pools for all ages anywhere from just 2 inches to 2 feet deep with a nice waterfall flowing into one of them. Add in a couple hot tubs and there was plenty to enjoy. I would love to see them add a couple water slides in the future but honestly I'm not sure how they would fit them in. Opposite of that were the two main pools and hot tubs, and further from that were what I think were adult only pools and hot tubs… we didn’t make it down that way much.

This should come as no surprise to anyone but on sea days the pools get crowded and chairs are snatched up quickly. Shocker, I know. 3,600 passengers and most of them want to be in the warm sun. Who would’ve thunk it? The good news is we were always able to find at least one lounger throughout the week, sometimes two.

Towels are found mid ship by the main pools. They scan your card and you get as many towels as you want. Just return them by the end of the week, swap them out for new ones as often as you like, take them off the ship… it’s a simple system and couldn’t be better.

Other quick notes on the pool deck: Free ice cream cones! The catch? This is the world’s slowest self serve machine on the planet. You could time that thing with a sun dial. There were very few servers taking drink orders… you’re better off just going to the bar yourself. The drinks are made well and they don’t skimp on the booze. Just be prepared to wait… while the bartenders are busting their tails, it’s clear to me they could use another body or two.

Sports area is great, with a full court basketball court that is also used for soccer and volleyball, a 9-hole mini golf course, a rock wall with a speedy crew, and of course the ever popular Flow Rider. Surprisingly we spent more time here than I thought we would, so get up to Deck 13 and have at it! Ice skating is down on deck 3 at various times during the cruise. Our kids couldn’t get the hang of it and it was very frustrating for them but hey… can’t win ‘em all.

Rooms

We had two interior connecting rooms on Deck 9, mid ship. I’m amazed at the number of balcony rooms on this ship, and that there is enough of a demand to pay the premium for it. We spend little time in our room so we’ll spend our cash elsewhere. Anyway, it was an excellent location, just a quick hop up two floors to the pool deck and buffet. Rooms were quiet, standard size with plenty of shelves and drawers for all of your stuff. If you find the glass coffee table to just be in the way like we did, it fits nicely inside the closet. I think two adults and a kid is about the max you would want in a single room. Any more than that… well… good luck to you.

Much has been made about the hard mattresses on RCI these days and I have to say they are quite firm. I requested a mattress topper before our trip; I checked the bed and there was a thin pad of some sort on top of each bed… though I’m not sure if that is standard or not. Our cabin steward placed a folded duvet on top of that. My wife said it was fine, but I found it to be firm though I slept ok anyway. But if you are used to a very soft mattress, this may be a problem for you. On the flip side the sheets were heavenly. Climbing into bed each night can only be described as “Ahhhhhhhh”… soft and smooth. In fact, I want to know how I can get a set on my bed at home. Seriously.

Service

Overall the service was great. At worst, maybe you’ll have someone just going through the motions like the guy checking out towels (I mean, that job must be boring). At it’s best, the service can be exceptional. Our room steward (Kenroy) was always around the hallways (does this guy sleep?!), friendly as can be, and made awesome towel animals in the evenings. The kids thought he was a god, LOL. Service in the MDR (Cesar and Jovan) was just as good. No complaints on the service here. Even our 8 year old noticed: "Can we go back to the restaurant with the really good service?" LOL. I about fell off my chair!

As for our cruise director, Drew... eh, I wasn’t feeling it. To me, Drew felt more like a radio DJ putting on a show… just felt overly polished. There’s nothing wrong with that, it just isn’t my cup of tea and you may love his style. All that aside, it didn’t detract from the cruise and if nothing else he has plenty of energy. Personally I thought the Activities Director (I can’t remember his name) was more personable interacting with guests and I expect him to be a cruise director soon.

Entertainment

We didn’t see all the shows but saw the headliners. The comedian at the welcome show was hilarious, and the couple (I forget their names) that put on a show of dance, human strength, balance, and agility were phenomenal.

Hats off to the ice skaters. There were a couple falls but other than that, wow. How they are able to do what they do on that small of a rink is amazing.

Liverpool Legends (a Beatles tribute) was billed as an interactive show filled with non-stop laughter. It was neither. Despite that, I would say it’s a must see. It was more like a concert with some audience participation. Not only do they sound like the Beatles, the guy playing Paul McCartney was a dead ringer. Looks, mannerisms… he had it down. Just ignore the description in the cruise compass. You’ll want to see this show; these guys are good.

The final show of the week, “Once Upon a Time” is a musical with a creative mash up of several fairytales. Now I’m not one for musicals. But even I was impressed by this. If I had to be critical the singing from the male leads could have been better but everything else was very well done. Based on the standing ovation by several members of the audience, everyone else loved it as well.

The casino leaves much to be desired. I can tolerate single pass line odds at the Craps table, but blackjacks only paying 6:5? Boooooooooo. At least offer a $5 table if you’re going to spread that garbage. 3-card poker also has the stingiest Pairs Plus payout of 40/30/6/3/1-to-1 for a house edge of 7.28%. By far the worst I’ve seen anywhere. I assume this is the norm across the fleet and if so, that’s a shame. I don’t play slots so I can’t comment on those.

Food

The moment you’ve all been waiting for. The buffet was just ok and the food was hot. The Cuban Pork at the carving station looks nice, but that’s about where the positives end. Kind of like a Kardashian! Breakfast was decent, though I’m surprised about the complaints regarding the “same old thing everyday”. I’m not sure what those people expect. They had fruits, meats, cheeses, donuts, rolls, pancakes, cereal, oatmeal, eggs, made to order omelettes… the list goes on. I’m not sure how they could add more variety if they offer EVERY possible item as it is. I do wish there was more room in the food area as it can be a nut house in the morning. However, we never had a problem finding a table regardless of what time we ate.

We did not eat in the specialty restaurants. We ate every dinner in the MDR (except one) at the 5:30 seating and found the food to be… drumroll please… pretty good! My only complaint was the Prime Rib was bland, but at least it was tender. My wife had similar comments about the steak. Other than that I was pleased. I can’t comment on the fish as we’re not fish eaters, but our favorites were the french onion soup, fresh fruit plate, strawberry bisque, Lamb shank, roasted chicken, chocolate hazelnut cake with ice cream, and strawberry cheesecake to name a few. Sure, it’s “not as good as it used to be”, but we looked forward to dinner each night. Food that is supposed to be hot was just that. No problems with cold food like I’ve read about.

To our surprise, we deemed the pizza at Sorento’s to be “not bad!” Sure, there’s better pizza out there but for a quick snack in the evening it did the job. I read comparisons that it is worse than Cici’s pizza buffet and that’s getting ridiculous. I’d rather clean the bathroom with my tongue than eat Cici’s again.

Port 1 – Grand Cayman

Also known as: I hope I never see a tendered port again. Good grief.

We booked the Turtle Encounter tour (8:30-12:30). We were to meet in the Arcadia Theater at 8:30am. We got down there around 8:15 to find a long line into the theater, and it wasn’t clear if we should be in that line or not (Another pro tip: you are). Eventually we were seated as we waiting for our group to be called. Waiting, and waiting… finally at 9:00am we were called, 30 minutes after getting in the waiting area. There was much rejoicing in the crowd, only to be tempered by being lead onto the tender and waiting for that to fill up. By the time we finally made it on shore it was 9:30. So a 75 minute wait just to get to shore. Here I thought those with RCI excursions were supposed to be given priority off the ship. If that’s considered priority, I’d hate to know what those without anything booked had to deal with. Knowing we had to board a bus and had a 20 minute drive ahead of us I’ll admit I was getting frustrated.

Anyway, on the way to the turtle farm our driver gave a nice informal tour, cracking jokes along the way before we made a brief stop in Hell to see the coral rock formations. A pretty cool stop; even the kids were impressed by the rocks! Eventually we made it to the Turtle farm, which was fantastic. The best part? The bus wouldn’t leave until 1:30, ship time! Suddenly all that waiting around earlier that morning didn’t matter so much. Great for us since we didn’t have anything else planned. But I could see if you wanted to do some shopping after the tour you might be put off by this.

We were lead on a short tour, were able to briefly hold a baby sea turtle, then explore the rest of the place as we wished. (Pro tip: negotiate the prices on photos) After a quick lunch (pricey, as expected) with speedy service, we opted to swim/snorkel the lagoon. It’s a manmade salt water lagoon, with some fish and turtles throughout. It’s quite impressive; large, well landscaped, and they supply very nice snorkel equipment (no flippers). We loved it, and highly recommend it. Despite the warnings from our driver, there were still 4 people missing at our 1:30 departure time. They waited a bit, then by 1:40… bye Felicia!

Port 2 – Costa Maya (11:00-7:00)

There was a minor delay in getting off the ship but just a 10 minute wait and we were off; no big deal. We went out on our own 100% here to visit the beaches in Mahahual. If you are planning to do the same, navigate the maze of buildings and follow the signs for the trolley. Once you get there GO RIGHT PAST IT and exit the port gates. About 50 yards up the road taxis are plentiful, faster, and only cost $2 or $3 per person.

We spent the day at Tropicante, which in and of itself was fine. All these people writing 5-star reviews though must have had too much tequila. It’s a small place with a little beach out front, the majority of it packed in with beach chairs. It’s not a bad place, there’s just nothing exceptional about it. The upside? You can email the owner (Steve) and reserve loungers ahead of time which is a big plus. Food was ok… while my steak tacos were bland, the nachos were good and my wife enjoyed here chicken burrito. The $5 Margaritas were delicious.

Despite a lot of seaweed in the area that day (which is not the norm this time of year), most of it was on the beach. So you could swim the crystal clear waters and only brush up against bits and pieces of it. They had a few guys raking it up which may explain why it took a while for someone to take our food order, but once it was placed the food came quick.

They offered banana boat rides at $15/person which I thought was a steep price, but to be fair they gave a long ride and went as wild or mild as you wanted. My oldest son and I also did the snorkel tour ($25/pp) which is a must do activity here. We took a boat out to the reef where we geared up with the best snorkel rental equipment I have ever used. It was all in great shape, and they must have had the goggles soaking in baby shampoo. Those things were crystal clear and didn’t get a speck of fog the entire time. There were tons of fish, and so many sea turtles spread out in the area I lost count. Trust me, if you find yourself at Tropicante you HAVE to do the snorkel tour.

Keep in mind that everything here (and much of Costa Maya) is cash only.

Port 3 – Cozumel (8:00-5:00)

Walked right off the ship at 7:45… Now that’s more like it! We booked the semi-sub explorer and it turns out 90 minutes might have been a little long for the kids, but they enjoyed it for the first 30 or 40 minutes before losing interest. It’s a nice tour, with large windows under the deck for easy viewing.

After that we took a taxi ($21) to Paradise Beach. Oh. My. Goodness. As soon as you pull up you are greeted by your server for the day. They’ll walk you to the pool or beach (beach of course, I have pools at home!), set you up with beach loungers and umbrellas for your family. Service is phenomenal, facilities are clean, grounds are immaculate, and the a la carte food and drinks are delicious. Order the Mojito…best I’ve had anywhere.

Entry is $3. For an extra $18/pp you get an activities pass, which gets you use of the inflatable water obstacles, paddle boats, and snorkel gear (not much to see though). A nice bonus for us was since our twins are only 5 years old, they were free! You can also take a banana boat ride or rent jet skis for an additional fee. We did a jet ski rental and took turns taking the kids for a ride and had a blast doing so. We had an amazing day here; this place is perfect for families. I’ve seen some comments about needing water shoes, and we didn’t find that to be the case at all, nor did we see anyone wearing them. Negatives? Uh… I guess the sand is course if I had to nitpick, but really… this place is 5 stars all the way.

Disembarking:

We opted for the express checkout with an 11:30 flight. We walked off the ship around 7:40am, and after a brief hold up with the ship in customs, we were at FLL after a $16.50 UberXL ride by 8:30am. The whole process was faster than I anticipated so if you have an early flight, this is the way to go.

All said and done we had a week of great fun and even better weather. All of the complaints you read about a run down ship, bad service and horrible food is completely out of left field. Given the opportunity to sail Freedom of the Seas again I would jump on it in a heartbeat. I forgot how much fun cruising is… really the overall experience is hard to beat. Overall I give the ship 4 out of 5 stars, so book it. You won’t be disappointed.

Any questions? Fire away!

Edited by projectx

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We were on the same cruise. I agree with you about the ship. It was in good shape. We played a lot of shuffleboard and they were constantly painting on decks 4 and 5. I am sure that is a never ending job.

 

The food was good and the service great. If you do MTD and have Turkessa for your server, she is great! I agree about the pizza. It is massed produced pizza. It is decent for what it is. There were always people in line.

 

We didn't have as good as luck with our excursions, but you can't control the weather. We ended up going back to the ship early on Grand Cayman and practically had the ship to ourselves it was great. (We caught the 7.30 tender and didn't wait at all).

 

It was a great cruise.

 

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We didn't have as good as luck with our excursions, but you can't control the weather. We ended up going back to the ship early on Grand Cayman and practically had the ship to ourselves it was great. (We caught the 7.30 tender and didn't wait at all).

 

Did you book the Sting Ray City excursion? I talked with some others who had theirs cancelled due to choppy waters. That must be so disappointing. Still... Other than that we had great weather all week. Sunny and 84 degrees is as good as it gets!

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Did you book the Sting Ray City excursion? I talked with some others who had theirs cancelled due to choppy waters. That must be so disappointing. Still... Other than that we had great weather all week. Sunny and 84 degrees is as good as it gets!
Yes sting rays. They closed the sand bar right as we got to the marina. The sea grass was overwhelming in Costa maya. I wish we had done the ruins. And cozumel we were doing some more snorkeling and it was windy/wavy. BUT considering we are in the midst of another snowstorm right now, it was all good.

 

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Did you book the Sting Ray City excursion? I talked with some others who had theirs cancelled due to choppy waters. That must be so disappointing. Still... Other than that we had great weather all week. Sunny and 84 degrees is as good as it gets!

 

I was on the same cruise.

 

Eight of 14 in my party had booked the Sting Ray City excursion with snorkeling and it was canceled. They did some shopping near port and got back on the ship to swim for the remainder of the day. Three went bike riding. I went for a long walk by myself, swam in the ocean, talked and did some shots of rum with the locals and ate a great lunch at the Cracked Conch. Last two just hung out at 7 Mile Beach for the day and liked it. Agreed that I would not want to go back to this port.

 

My daughter-in-law is Mexican, so in Costa Maya she stopped by a local shop and asked where a local would go to the beach. The 4 that went to Barefoot Beach had what they describe as the best day of their lives. The pics are amazing. Wish I had gone with them.

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We are boarding her for the Eastern 8 day the 14th.

Back to some of our favorite ports that we haven't seen since the hurricane.

Glad you had a nice cruise !

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I was on the same cruise.

Agreed that I would not want to go back to this port.

 

Was it GC itself or just the hassle of the tenders? I'd like to go back for a chance to visit Sting Ray City but the hassle of getting on and off the ship... I don't know. I've only visited one other tendered port: Princess Cays. There they used the ship's life boats and it was pretty painless. The process at Grand Cayman however, both getting to and from the island was a dumpster fire.

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Did you book the snorkel tour at Tropicante ahead of time or when you arrived?

 

I'd be surprised if booking ahead of time is even an option. We booked while we were there; no problem getting out. It was a guided tour with just seven of us.

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