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Freedom of the Seas: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

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Back from the Freedom of the Seas and figured I would share my thoughts and tips.  This itinerary is one of my favourites: Curacao, Aruba, Bonaire, St Marten.  I love each of these ports of call and would return to any of them in a heart beat.

 

Since we were a group of 13, we opted to use Puerto Rico Green Transportation for our transfers this trip.  We had a luxury Sprinter van for all three trips (to the hotel, to the seaport, to the airport) and our drivers Fico, Jesus, & Harold were all super friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable.  Harold had the most work to do because on the way back we did a 3 hour tour of Old San Juan before heading to the airport and we were all a little frazzled after getting off the ship (more on that later).  I still love Old San Juan.  I would recommend Puerto Rico Green Transportation. They were punctual, friendly, prices were reasonable and it removed all stress.  

 

Pre-Cruise we stayed at the AC Hotel San Juan Condado.  We got a great deal, the hotel was clean and modern.  Rey and Gigi were really helpful and accommodated all of our groups requests.  The location was great with many restaurants and bars near by.  And the added perks of the Marriott Stellaris were a great bonus.  This is a good value and precruise hotel option! 

 

Curacao - We rented a car through Celestino at Advance Car Rental and explored the island on our own.  I would highly recommend this.  Celestino was so easy to work with and for $75 you get a small car (very clean and well maintained), GPS, cell phone and he personally goes through a map and recommends stops.  It was a fantastic day, we snorkelled at 3 stops and saw a ton of sea turtles.  I did notice that the coral was bleached at most spots but there was still a lot of fish to see.

 

Aruba - We took the local bus to Eagle Beach ($5 roundtrip) in the morning and then an UTV tour with ABC tours in the afternoon. We did the Blackstone Treasures tour and it was a blast. $199 USD/UTV.  Promo code N18 got us an extra $10 off,  currently they have a 10% off promo so always check for a discount code. We had a group of 10 and it did end up being a private tour.  Patrick our guide was great and the sights were incredible.  It was exhilarating.  We got really dirty and I'm glad that we brought goggles and bandanas from home.  Everyone loved it - varying ages, sizes, activity levels.  Side note - they offer insurance for $50 but honestly the UTVs take a heck of a beating and we didn't bother.

 

Bonaire - This little island has held a special place in my heart since we visited almost a decade ago.  I was so excited to come back.  We did a tour with Bonaire Vista Tours ($35/person) in the morning and I'm so glad we did.  We saw flamingos, salt flats and some unbelievable views.  We saw parts of the island that we wouldn't have otherwise.  Our guide , Joliene, was wonderful and her love of Bonaire came through in every sentence.    I would highly recommend this tour.  In the afternoon, we did a snorkel tour with Woodwind.  Our group's guide was Dee and she was amazing.  That woman swims like a mermaid (hard to believe she didn't learn to swim until she was 27), she was patient and did a really good job navigating the varied levels of experience in our group of 8.  The catamaran was great, they had food and drinks.  Not to mention that Bonaire has done a remarkable job at protecting their reefs - the snorkelling here was AMAZING.  The reefs were beautiful and colourful and a ton of sea life.  If there's a tour to sign up for, Woodwind is it!

 

St Maarten - We've been here many times before so we took a water taxi into town ($7 roundtrip), shopped a little (this is still the best place to buy alcohol), and hit up a beach.  

 

Now to the not so good and the just plain ugly...

 

Pan American Pier = Total Chaos.  The process at this pier needs to be seriously reevaluated.  It was so unorganized.  People were not following directions, being pushy, cutting lines.  Lines were long.  It was hot.  Staff were not readily available to help.  On the return, we used two porters and it was a LIFESAVER and shaved so much time off.  Use a porter, be kind and tip generously and get the heck out of there.  It was frustrating and not an ideal way to start or end a vacation. 

 

The Ship - Maintained well but truthfully we were not able to experience it to the fullest or utilize the amenities.  A large number of passengers were groups from Puerto Rico and they took over.  I don't know if there were cultural differences or bad behaviour encourages more bad behaviour but there was a serious lack of etiquette on this trip.  Staff were treated terribly.  People were pushy and rude, crowding and cutting lines.  No excuse me's, no pleases or thank you's.  No respect for rules - chair hogs, children in the solarium, children in the casino, children at quest, curfew meant nothing, non-stop talking and use of walkie talkies during shows.  Just a total disregard for the people around them.  We avoided the Windjammer, didn't use the elevators, weren't able to see the ice show, the shows we did watch were tainted by rude people talking throughout, crowding, pushing and cutting lines.  We didn't need to complain, staff were apologizing to non-Spanish guests all week.  Rules couldn't be enforced and respect can't be taught.  So unfortunately, there was nothing to be done and I felt awful for the staff.  Service did suffer as a result and by the end of the week I was frankly tired of being patient, understanding and smiling through the inconveniences and disappointments. I have never experienced anything like this before and honestly if this was my first cruise it would turn me off completely.  

 

Dining - Baiju and Helen were the saving grace of our vacation!  I looked forward to seeing them.  They did their best and always had a smile.  The food quality and selection in the main dining room have declined quite a bit.  My Time Dining with a large group basically forces you into an early or late seating even if you have online reservations so we ate at 8PM each day.  It turned out well with how busy our days were.  We ordered room service once and the food arrived hot and it was actually quite good.  Took an hour and it is a bit of an insult to add 18% gratuity to a $7.95 delivery charge but to us it was worth it to avoid the crowds at Sorrentos and Cafe promenade after our excursion.  Cafe promenade was good in the early morning before the masses were awake.  Sorrentos was fine for a late night snack.  Windjammer was crowded and there was no seating.  Despite having a decent selection, the experience was unpleasant so we avoided it.  Breakfast and lunch were in the main dining room and that was good enough for us.  

 

Bar Service - We all had the drink packages.  Sky Bar was a good spot for us.  I was grateful for the roaming servers on Deck 12.  Schooner's makes a great drink and service was good.   

 

Stateroom - Our attendant was friendly and did a decent job.  If I left a note and a small tip asking for something, it got taken care of.  We've had better attendants and worse so it's all good. 

 

All in all, we had a great vacation. We were there for the ABC islands and we loved every minute on them.  Royal Caribbean still offers a solid cruise vacation. I will likely not cruise out of San Juan again but rather opt for a longer cruise out of Florida to hit up more Southern itineraries.  

 

I've attached the cruise compasses for anyone who is interested.  I'm sorry if they are out of order at all, can't seem to get them organized on my phone. 

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Thank you for sharing.  Great review.  Bonaire is wonderful and cannot wait to go back. They were still in the process of building their 2nd pier.  We also went to Eagle Beach in Aruba (was not impressed) but the water was beautiful.  The "ugly" part of your review is why we have never, nor will we ever, cruise out of PR.  Lots of people have said the same thing you did!

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9 minutes ago, champagne123 said:

Thank you for sharing.  Great review.  Bonaire is wonderful and cannot wait to go back. They were still in the process of building their 2nd pier.  We also went to Eagle Beach in Aruba (was not impressed) but the water was beautiful.  The "ugly" part of your review is why we have never, nor will we ever, cruise out of PR.  Lots of people have said the same thing you did!

 

We cruised out of Puerto Rico about 10 years ago and although the pier was just as bad.  Our experience onboard was completely different.  Maybe because it was a smaller Princess ship? I'm not really sure but it was much better.  I had read reviews but went in hopeful and dismissed first impressions as "day 1 confusion" but the reality is that that it didn't improve as the week went on.  

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Thanks for taking us along on your cruise. We've cruised out of San Juan many times and have never experienced what you did at the terminal or the ship. Our last San Juan B2B cruise was on the Jewel March/April 2017. We are looking forward to our March 2019 B2B cruise on the Freedom. 

Edited by davekathy

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Thank you so much for taking the time to write this review!  We are sailing on Freedom in May with the opposite itinerary and are looking forward to it, but a little hesitantly because of all the reviews like this. My thought is that since we have 5 ports and only 1 sea day...how bad could it be?  I guess we will find out! I purchased signature lunch on embarkation day and 3 night specialty package but now I am wondering if we should have done the ultimate dining package when it was deeply discounted. This would be another way to avoid pushy crowds...

 

Can you please tell us what time you arrived at the Pan Am Pier? My plan was to get there between 10:30 and 11 to arrive ahead of the chaos.

 

Thanks again for your time and thoughts.

 

Eeyore

 

 

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2 minutes ago, EeyoreRN said:

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this review!  We are sailing on Freedom in May with the opposite itinerary and are looking forward to it, but a little hesitantly because of all the reviews like this. My thought is that since we have 5 ports and only 1 sea day...how bad could it be?  I guess we will find out! I purchased signature lunch on embarkation day and 3 night specialty package but now I am wondering if we should have done the ultimate dining package when it was deeply discounted. This would be another way to avoid pushy crowds...

 

Can you please tell us what time you arrived at the Pan Am Pier? My plan was to get there between 10:30 and 11 to arrive ahead of the chaos.

 

Thanks again for your time and thoughts.

 

Eeyore

 

 

We were told earlier is worse and arrived at 1:30PM lol.  It didn't really help haha. 

 

We disembarked at 9 and it took 45 minutes to get out with porters, had we not it probably would have been another hour.  So showing up early, you'd have to contend with those disembarking.  

 

We did the main dining room for breakfast and lunch (sea days only) and that helped.  Some of our group did Johnny Rockets.  The specialty restaurants are less crowded for sure.  If you have my time dining make reservations.  Honestly, we otherwise had a great time. I was very grateful for the solitude of our balcony. We were there for the ports. It is what it is.  Try not to sweat the small stuff, if you really want to see or do something get there early and enjoy!

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You couldn't have summed up the week any better!  I have been waiting to see if anyone would write about the utter chaos we called a vacation.  As you, we completely avoided the Windjammer after the first two days.  Who ever says they go hungry on a cruise?  I can honestly say I did.  We completely skipped lunch and dinner because it was't worth the battle to get to the food and then worse, get to a table.  Come 7:00 AM on Sunday, bags were in hand, and we were off the ship, not because we had two (in fact, our flight didn't leave until Monday), but because I couldn't get off the ship fast enough and couldn't imagine what disembarkation would be like if we waited any later.  By the end of the week I had no patience.  I had been looking forward to this cruise for two years and I can only say, it was disappointing.  It was my 4th cruise (first with Royal Caribbean) and as of today, I can say it was my last cruise.  People who cruised before promised me they have never seen anything close to what we experience before with RC and said it wasn't  normal.  I don't care.  I realized that I pay way too much money to retreat to my room or a quiet bar because of the chaos that was on this ship. Besides for the things you spoke of, another common annoyance was the speakers.  I really don't care to hear your music!  It was a great itinerary!  The islands were great, but like you, did't get to enjoy the amenities of the ship.    

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***typo.  We skipped breakfast and lunch.  Dinner was good!  

 

Also, I think its difficult to say there was cutting in lines, because there were no lines!  It was a free for all! 

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I was on the cruise right before you Dec 2-9th on FOS and I totally agree with you about the crowds and the pushy no thank you and excuse me.  I didn't mind being in the minority of English speaking guests but the windjammer was just nuts...we stayed away and lucky for the quietness of chops thanks go our gold cards!

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2 hours ago, lmlamp said:

***typo.  We skipped breakfast and lunch.  Dinner was good!  

 

Also, I think its difficult to say there was cutting in lines, because there were no lines!  It was a free for all! 

That’s probably more accurate lol 

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As far as the "ugly"...We were on a B2B this past September and found it to be the same...maybe even worse. Very sad that so many of us are finding this onboard experience with Freedom out of San Juan so disappointing.

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I have done several cruises out of San Juan on Adventure and never experienced what is described on this thread. Freedom is a great ship and it is sad and concerning to read that this is what is happening aboard these days.

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On 12/17/2018 at 9:19 AM, EeyoreRN said:

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this review!  We are sailing on Freedom in May with the opposite itinerary and are looking forward to it, but a little hesitantly because of all the reviews like this. My thought is that since we have 5 ports and only 1 sea day...how bad could it be?  I guess we will find out! I purchased signature lunch on embarkation day and 3 night specialty package but now I am wondering if we should have done the ultimate dining package when it was deeply discounted. This would be another way to avoid pushy crowds...

 

Can you please tell us what time you arrived at the Pan Am Pier? My plan was to get there between 10:30 and 11 to arrive ahead of the chaos.

 

Thanks again for your time and thoughts.

 

Eeyore

 

 

Hey Eeyore,  I don’t know if it will make a difference but I believe Royal Caribbean was offering children sale free for families from PR. However we are going during a holiday week and that offer is not available during holiday weeks so maybe the experience might be a little different?   Just a thought.    I personally love the diversity of the culture the last time I sailed out of Puerto Rico. I sailed on a carnival cruise and didn’t experience any of that.  Guess we shall see, but your thought about having five ports and only one Sea day should make it better    

Edited by skidawg79
Typed everything twice

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You guys are seriously scaring me. Freedom of the Seas was my first cruise 10 years ago when it sailed out of Fort Lauderdale. That was a great experience. What you are describing is not what a vacation should be. I hope RC is monitoring these boards and do something to protect their reputation as a class act organization. All my cruises to date have been with RC and I have never experienced anything like what you described in PR. I sincerely hope they get FOS and the port up to the standards I expect of Royal Carribean. Especially by the time we cruise in May.

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I'm also disappointed with my recent sailing on Freedom earlier this month (St. Kitts/St. Thomas itinerary), it was my first time out of San Juan, and my first on a Freedom Class. I felt the ship extremely crowded, I think the layout doesn't deliver to the quantity of passengers it actually carries... The waiting time for any elevator is insanely long and the Windjammer is chaotic, many people had to eat standing, because there were not enough tables with chairs. It was impossible to get into an ice-skating show, out of the 4 shows offered during the whole week, I couldn't make it to any of them, Studio B was already full 30 minutes before the shows.

The ship is clearly showing her age all around: damaged elevators, carpeting in bad condition, our shower was not properly sealed on the gap between the rolling door and the floor, making huge damps of water, and the external frame was severely rusted (we called maintenance and they fixed it with silicone). I think they are letting the ship just die till it goes to dry dock in April.

The only highlight was the MDR food. EXTREMELY well prepared, none of the dishes I tried disappointed me, all of them were top class.

 

Regarding embarkation/departure, our check-in was quite fast, we boarded around 2pm.

Departure was a whole different story, I have never went thru such a long wait/line after a cruise as this one, it was a terrible experience.

 

There I really missed Oasis class. I think I won't sail on a Freedom Class ship ever again in my life.

Edited by Pipo

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The Freedom was the first cruise ship we ever sailed on also. I was amazed at the time, 2012. I sure hope the negatives mentioned in this thread don’t become the norm for sailings out of Puerto Rico. 

 

Freedom class is our favorite class so far.

 

Dan

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4 hours ago, FieldGoodCouple said:

I hope RC is monitoring these boards and do something to protect their reputation as a class act organization.

🤔😂🤣😂🤣

They sure are a class act! 👍

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You will have a great cruise as long as you understand the cultural differences of people all over the world. Relax, enjoy your vacation, don’t mind what other people are doing, keep your mind open. 

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3 hours ago, DISFANS3 said:

Going on the Freedom in March, First time for us to sail out of San juan. Hope for a great cruise...

 

We've enjoyed all our cruises out of San Juan.  There's something special about starting the cruise already in the Caribbean.

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Our only cruise out of Puerto Rico was Jewel two years ago.  We experienced none of the problems that the OP outlined.  Prior to our cruise all the reviews we read about departing San Juan urged "USE A PORTER."  I can't stress tt more. It is the best $$$ spent on the cruise.  We are on Freedom Sunday out of San Juan and will see which cruise shows up. 

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11 hours ago, Ocean Boy said:

I have done several cruises out of San Juan on Adventure and never experienced what is described on this thread. Freedom is a great ship and it is sad and concerning to read that this is what is happening aboard these days.

We, too, have sailed many times out of San Juan, and have not encountered the issues.  Including the Freedom over the summer.

 

It must be related to the sales and time of the year- given we are way over 10 sailings from San Juan without any issues about culture shock.  Then again, I've also seen posts where kids from other ports take over the ship, so I don't think the issue is with Puerto Rico as much as it is about parents.

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