My wife, Ginny, and I sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas to the Eastern Caribbean in December. We sailed on the Freedom of the Seas to the Western Caribbean in September, a back-to-back cruise with two months in between. We live only 40 minutes drive from Port Canaveral so getting to the port is very easy.
WESTERN vs. EASTERN CARIBBEAN
We like both itineraries but sailing to the Caribbean is mostly about the ship for us therefore we prefer the Eastern Caribbean on the Freedom because the Eastern itinerary has three sea days versus two for the Western. The Western “private island”, Labadee, is more picturesque than the Eastern’s Coco Cay. The Mayan ruins are a special excursion on the Western. We shop so we like St. Thomas and St Maarten on the Eastern although Grand Cayman is also very nice. Sea days make the difference for us because we enjoy the ship’s amenities, more of which are available on sea days.
Port Canaveral is an excellent cruise ship port! It is easy to navigate, easy to park, clean and safe. Getting on the ship takes about 15 to 20 minutes from parking the car to clearing security, checking in, and boarding. Lines are amazingly short for a ship the size of the Freedom of the Seas. Checking in on-line is a must because security checks the “set sail” passes at the first step in the process. Parking is $15 per day in a multi-story parking garage next to the very modern terminal. We usually sail with friends so we split the cost plus it is a huge convenience to have your car immediately available when you disembark.
You have to experience it to understand just how grand and unique it actually is. It is now the second largest cruise ship sailing but “big” is not a good descriptor. The centerpiece for us is the Royal Promenade on deck 5 with its Café Promenade, Shops of several types, barber shop, Sorrento’s pizza, Bull and Bear Pub, Vintages Wine Bar, Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and much more. Coffee in the early morning at the café Promenade is a great way to start the day. A Murphy’s Stout at the Pub is also nice in the afternoon. The Royal Promenade was decorated for Christmas on our cruise which was very pretty.
Decks 3 ,4, and 5 hold the leisurely attractions like the dining rooms, ice rink, Royal promenade, casino, photo center, lounges, show room, and much more. Decks 11-13 hold the action venues like the pools, rock climbing, flow rider, spa, basketball, golf and a lot more. The Windjammer Café, specialty restaurants, and Jade are on deck 11.
If you want to be close to the internet café book a cabin on deck 8. The library is on deck 7.
The Royal Caribbean people in every venue were very friendly, always trying to accommodate and please. It is a special treat to hear about their adventures, families and experiences. They can offer a lot of assistance if you need any.
The food options rage from the Café promenade with its coffee, pastries and sandwiches through the main dining rooms to Pizza at Sorrentos, the steakhouse, Italian themed specialty restaurant, the buffet, the Brasserie lunches and ice cream specialties. The quality, selection and presentations are very good. The Windjammer and Jade on deck 11 serve buffet style breakfasts, lunches and dinners with a large selection. It pays to look around before you make selections the first time or two. You will miss something you really like if you don’t. Fresh vegetables and fruits, oriental pizza, and English bacon are all there along with a large display of other foods. Seating is seldom a concern. Most guests eat in the buffet on embarkation day at lunch time so it can get crowded.
We enjoyed "Sprinkles" self serve ice cream on the pool deck and scones in the café as special treats during the day.
The highlight for us is the ice show. We have seen a few of the Royal Caribbean ice shows and they are all great. You do need tickets because the seating is somewhat limited. No cost for the tickets. The theater and lounges have live entertainment and there is something for everyone starting in the evening and going until the late hours. The cruise director and staff schedule activities on the ship all day long, especially on sea days. Then there is the Casino Royale on deck 4, a fun casino with slots and table games.
BARS AND LOUNGES
There are twenty of them scattered from deck 3 to deck 11. Most are themed. Several have dancing to live music. The “Olive or Twist” on deck 14 has great music and a terrific view. We like the Schooner Bar on deck 4 where we gather when we have a large group that wants to gather. The Pub is great for people watching on the Royal Promenade.
It is as easy to get off as it is to get on. You can pretty much schedule your time to get off by requesting the proper color bag tags. Starting at 6:00 AM with express departure you carry off your own bags to a later time where colored tags determine your time so the ship stays on schedule. It took us 35 minutes from the time our color was called to depart the ship, clear customs, retrieve our bags and be in our van. Bags are put on carousels, very similar to airports, so you need to be timely when your color is called.
Great ship. Great experience. Great staff. We believe bigger is better and the ships just get better and better. We will return in May for our third Freedom of the Seas experience.