We were thrilled to receive Royal Caribbean's invitation to preview their new Freedom of the Seas, sailing from Miami to Nowhere. We flew in a day early via American Airlines from Little Rock.
We grabbed a cab at the Fort Lauderdale Airport to the Holiday Inn Bayside in Miami, where we had a complimentary stay with our Priority Club points. We received a complimentary upgrade to a corner suite, which we strongly recommend you book on your next visit to Miami. The suite was large, with a separate sitting/kitchenette area, bedroom, and dressing area/bathroom. The corner windows gave us a great view of both Bayside and the port.
We strolled across the street to Bayside for a relaxing evening, and we ended up eating in the outdoor area next to the water at Lombardi's. What a fabulous meal! We ordered the fresh oyster appetizer, with the freshest oysters we've ever tasted. For our main dish, we shared a live 2 1/2 pound lobster split with a side of linguini ... delicious!
The next morning when we woke up and opened our curtains, we saw Freedom of Seas in port, dwarfing the Florida highway system. The night before, we had a beautiful view of the sunset on the water, and this morning a "building" had moved in overnight. We were thrilled to see our floating resort in port! We had the breakfast buffet at the Holiday Inn before catching a cab to the port of Miami for our cruise.
Promenade-View Cabin Since this was pre-inaugural preview there were no porters to handle our luggage, so we packed light and pulled our luggage right into the terminal. Royal Caribbean did a great job welcoming us at check-in, and we were boarding the ship by 11:30 a.m. They asked us not to visit our stateroom until 1 p.m., but since we weren't given our room number until boarding, we were anxious to see what accommodations we had received. We were thrilled with our inside Promenade views on Deck 6. There was lots of space in our room, with our sofa against our Promenade-view window, making it easy to relax while people-watching from our room ... a great new experience! We highly recommend these inside Promenade staterooms. The new bedding was marvelous as well. The flat Plasma TVs were also very nice, and our room had a small refrigerator.
We enjoyed our first meal in the Windjammer Cafe, but we were too excited to eat. The Royal Suite and the Presidential Family Suite were both open for touring, so we headed there and got lots of great snapshots of these roomy accommodations. Both of these suites would provide a luxury cruise experience for any passenger lucky enough to book them.
We then visited the Promenade, where we had our first drinks and met our new best friends aboard this cruise, Kitty and Sandi. They informed us that there are 12 bars/lounges on the ship, and if we started having one drink an hour, we could visit every bar by midnight -- a great challenge that we weren't up on this short trip!
We toured the ship until about 4 p.m., when I realized I was getting hungry, since we really hadn't eaten that first meal in Windjammer. At that point, the Windjammer had already closed in preparation for the muster drill, but we quickly discovered that Johnny Rockets was still open. So we got a seat in that restaurant, where we had delicious hot dogs -- mine with relish and his with chili -- fries and hot rings, and shakes -- mine chocolate and his strawberry. We strongly recommend a visit to Johnny Rockets ... the food was great, with great service from staff who seemed really happy to be there!
Internet Problems The muster drill was as painless as possible. Immediately after, we checked into the Internet cafe to get our Wi-Fi passwords. The Internet cafe connections were painfully slow throughout our trip; we could only intermittently connect to the Wi-Fi in our rooms and even then it was painfully slow. We usually don't use the Internet and cell phones while cruising, but this was a working trip, previewing the ship and reporting it back to our friends, so we tried! Our Cingular cell phone worked the first 24 hours, but not the second 24, even though they had said it would work throughout the ship.
The ship was so smooth on the seas, we didn't even know it was sailing as we struggled with the slow Internet, so by the time we made it to the outside deck, sail-away was over and the shores of Miami had disappeared.
We dined with our new friends in the Leonardo's dining room. It was open seating, so we had different servers each time, but the service was great. The first night, we had a wonderful escargot appetizer; then I had a pasta dish, and Roger had a rack of lamb. The second evening, we both had a filet, wrapping up our meal with a wonderful Grand Marnier appetizer.
Let It Rain After dinner, we went to the big show, which was great. A band named Rain rocked the place. They started out dressed as the Beatles, playing that music we all know so well we can sing along, then moved on through a couple of decades, with some Monkees costumes and music and others. They were great! If you ever have the change to see Rain perform, grab it and enjoy the fun!
The first morning, we attended Common Ground, where we heard more about what's happening with Royal Caribbean. We were especially excited to hear about the plans to port the Legend of the Seas from the Dominican Republic and the Splendour of the Seas from Brazil in late 2007. We know lots of cruisers like us will enjoy the opportunity to explore these new destinations before and after our cruise, and it gives us some new ports to visit, which is always a goal – to visit one new port each cruise!
The cruise director on this trip was Ken Rush, who did a great job, and we suspect we've met the first American captain -- the handsome Freedom of the Seas Captain Bob.
We visited all the shops along the Promenade, but our favorite stops were Vintages, the wine cafe; and the Bull and Bear, the stop for beer fans. We loved relaxing in one of the sidewalk tables outside either of these great places to people-watch. And both had entertainers playing inside during the evening hours. We especially enjoyed Leandro's guitar music at Vintages, as he played some of our personal favorites by the Eagles.
Even though everyone said the ice show was a must-see, the scheduled shows didn't fit into our schedule, but they say arrive early for a seat! We also missed the show on the second evening, "Once Upon A Time," and everyone who saw it told us it was great!
Fitness/Recreation The Freedom of the Seas gym had the best equipment we've seen on any cruise ship yet, and the boxing ring is a big attraction! You can also work off some of those calories climbing the rock wall or playing basketball on this ship.
The FlowRider, a simulated surfing experience, was so much fun to watch, and we hope to go again to try our luck on the boards. Guests who laid down headfirst on the boogie board were having the best luck staying afloat, but eventually the water swept you back to the backboards every time. Everyone left smiling ... a great adventure. Thanks for the fun, Royal Caribbean!
Early on the first day, teams of 5 to 12 people signed up to compete in The Ultimate Race, and later in the day, we saw these teams racing in various areas of the ship to win the prize! Looked like fun ... we didn't have a team to enter, but we hope to next time.
Sorrento's Pizza was not the best pizza we've had, but a slice of the pizza took the edge off our hunger one afternoon. (I can't believe I said we were ever hungry on this cruise, because we weren't. We ate because it was there!)
Disembarkation was so easy! Since we didn't visit any ports, the ship didn't have to clear customs. Since there were no porters to help with luggage, we didn't have to put our luggage out the night before. So when we woke up, we packed our bags. Before we were done, the announcement came that we could disembark, so we simply walked off the ship with our bags in hand to catch a ride to our next destination, Sandpiper Club Med.
Club Med returned us to Fort Lauderdale, where we spent our last night in the Fort Lauderdale Airport Holiday Inn. They had a complimentary manager's reception that evening with drinks, chicken wings, and sub sandwiches, so we could have eaten there, but we wanted to visit one of Fort Lauderdale's restaurants. The front desk manager recommended the 15th Street Fisheries, so we grabbed a cab to eat there, and it was a fabulous recommendation. We had a table overlooking the waterway, and throughout our meal, we watched yachts sail by. We started with a tuna ceviche appetizer, and were surprised when a young lady approached our table saying she was our "bread girl" serving our bread. She revisited our table all evening with choices of wheat, sourdough, rum raisin, and jalapeno cornbread. For our main courses, I had a Bamboo Steamer with fresh lobster, shrimp, salmon, and crab, while Roger had a tuna filet. And, we finished our meal with a wonderful dessert that tasted like bananas foster, but was called something else. As we waited to pay, the hostess called our cab, and we were back in our hotel quickly with no hassle.
The next morning, we had Holiday Inn's breakfast buffet before heading to the airport for our American Airlines flight home. We're home now, dreaming of our next cruise, but you can check out our Freedom of the Seas pictures at this link: http://community.webshots.com/user/judyjbest.