31 of us boarded the Freedom of the Seas for a 7-night W. Caribbean cruise starting August 17, 2008. The oldest family member was 80 years old and the youngest was 2, spanning 3 generations.
Pre-Cruise Stayed at Hyatt Summerfield Suites (close to Miami airport) and were all upgraded to two-bedroom suites upon arrival. Summerfield Suites provided free hot breakfast buffet, free internet, and taking the shuttle from the hotel to the port was only $10 per person, and $3 for each bag. The journey took less than 20 minutes on a Sunday morning.
Embarkation and Cabins We arrived at the port at about 11:30 a.m. and were able to get on the ship before 12:30 p.m. Our 10 cabins (6 D1 on Deck 10, 1 interior on Deck 10, 2 E1 on Deck 8 & 1 Promenade-interior family stateroom that can house up to 6 pp. on Deck 8 with almost 400 sq-ft) were all great. Each of the 3 aft cabins (1400, 1402 & 1404) had a huge balcony with 2 lounge (bed) chairs, 2 regular chairs and 1 round table. Taking afternoon naps on the lounge chairs on our own private balconies was added luxury that only suite guests would experience. Rooms were all ready at 1 p.m. but luggage was delivered close to dinner time at around 5:15 p.m.
Dining and Food We had 4 tables in Leonardo Dining Room on Deck 3 by the window. Food was quite good, considering they had to prepare over 1000 meals at the same time. Dinners at Portofino ($20 extra) and Chops Grille ($25 extra) were exceptional and well worth the extra bucks. The setting, the food presentation, the food quality and taste & the service (everybody had their own personal waiter that brought the food out at the same time!) all contributed to an extremely satisfying fine dining experience. Chops Grille was able to accommodate all 31 of us at the same time. Food at Windjammer was regular buffet food but they had Jade that offered some kinds of pretty authentic Chinese food. The sandwiches and pizzas (especially the Seafood Pizza) offered on Deck 5's Promenade were mouth-watering. Kids (they are 14-20 years old) said Johnny Rocket was so good that they had to give them extra tips.
The Midnight Buffet (now they call it family get-together night club) was downsized & didn't even offer viewing time. There were only a few ice sculptures and the food presentation was only average. Selection was very limited too.
Entertainment It was surprisingly good (way better than last year's Mediterranean cruise onboard Voyager of the Seas). The solo entertainer, the RCI singers, and the magic show were all worth watching. However, the Ice Show was not as good as the ones on Navigator or Voyager. It was probably because we have seen similar shows so many times before & it was not thrilling any more, even with the wheels, wings, etc.
The 70's & 80's dance parties and the parades were great!
We loved to sing Karaoke & met some friends too. The Quest & Love-&-Marriage show were fun to watch. Ken Rush, our Cruise Director, was quite good.
Outdoor Activities We played in the H2O zone, the Flowrider, rock climbing, mini golf & different types of ball games & had a lot of fun. The Adventure Ocean (kids program) was so good that all 4 to 17 year olds enjoyed that very much.
Ports & Excursions This was the part that made this cruise so much more fun, enjoyable and memorable. In beautiful Labadee we went on the waverunners, then did kayaking & parasailing -- expensive but a lot of fun. Local magnets with a list price of $5 could be bargained to $1 in the Labadee market.
As we were a big group, we boarded a 28-seater van that took us to Ocho Rios' Dunns River Falls and went on an island tour (5 hours in total & $20 each person including tip). We got the van from the white info booth located right outside the pier. Admission to Dunns River was $15 each. It was a blast & half of us climbed the whole 650-ft. falls. It was tiring but we had great fun & didn't feel the heat as we were in water the whole time. We bought the video (quality was below average but still worth it as a big group) for $40. Bring your own Aqua shoes so you don't have to pay $5 to rent them or $15 to buy a pair ($9 at Wal-Mart).
Grand Cayman was the best as we had a private group tour to Stingray City & Coral Gardens for snorkeling. We had our own private boat so we didn't have to worry about our belongings when we were in water playing with the Stingrays. There were 4 guides for the 31 of us and they brought the stingrays for us to touch, to take photos & to feed them with squids. One guide took a lot of photos for us and sent them to our e-mail addresses for a reasonable cost (about $5 to $15 per picture, the more we bought the cheaper per pic). We also had our own water cameras & that's a must. No shoes were allowed at Stingray City so you wouldn't step on the stingrays and hurt them. Watch their tails as they're hard & could sting you if you are not being careful. Our 2-year old had a real fun time with the stingrays & he was not scared at all. We booked the tour through Best Value Water Sports & it's about $30 cheaper per person than booking the same tour with RCI.
We didn't book any excursions in Cozumel so we just went downtown ($6 per cab ride) for shopping. Carnival parked very close to the shops but RCI docked way further. The head-bobbing colourful turtles & other sea creatures for $1 each were great souvenirs. Last time we were in Cozumel we rented a jeep to a private beach with big waves and yummy barbecues, so it's great to see Cozumel with the locals this time. Street sellers had hand-crafted 3-D baskets (pushed down to one flat piece of wood or push up to form a basket), we had the biggest size for $10 each. They were gorgeous!
Spa The ladies of our group enjoyed the "Happy Hour" with facial, massage and champagne. We felt so relaxed that most of us slept through the soothing and relaxing treatment.
Parking at Port and Disembarkation Parking is now $20 per day, so parking cost us $140, yet it's extremely handy to have our own vehicle after disembarkation & we were able to leave the port in less than 10 minutes after collecting our luggage from the carousel. We were given colour tags Beige 1, that was called at 6:40 to get off the ship, though we chose not to leave the ship till 7:20 a.m. The line got quite long & we actually had to stand & wait to go through immigration for about 20 minutes. We left the port at 8 a.m. and were able to arrive at the awesome Miami Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort (between North & South Beach in Aventura) at 8:30 a.m.
The hotel was wonderful & we were upgraded to a big room (almost 600 sq. ft) with a sitting area and golf course view right away. We were able to sleep for a few hours before lunch.
This was the 6th cruise we took with RCI & it was the best. We loved the big ship and we enjoyed the time to chill with our friends and relatives. It was a pity that Oasis was not open for public booking yet when we were on the ship, we just can't wait to get on board the even bigger Oasis of the Seas. We're hoping that next year's 12-night Scandinavian Cruise on Jewel of the Seas will be another wonderful and positive cruise experience.