This was our 3rd cruise, all with RCI, (Rhapsody and Jewel). We enjoyed all our cruises with them and see no valid reason to change besides, trying out Celebrity which is now under RCI. I'll try to be frank and honest with my comments and make it informative and enjoyable to read. We booked the Air/Sea Package with RCI.
FLIGHT: Flew in from Toronto day prior on Air Canada. All connections (Sudbury) and flight were right on the money; smooth and on time. We had transfers included and a hotel stay before boarding ship. (Transfers recommended) PRE CRUISE STAY: Cruiseline booked us @JW Marriott Miami, located in financial district of Miami. Quiet safe area. Good views of Biscayne Bay and surroundings just a peaceful short stroll from hotel. Looking for a fantastic place to eat close by, go to Perricone's. Fabulous food and atmosphere. (Recommended). Hotel was very clean and comfortable. Expensive but we were upgraded to this hotel from the Hyatt Regency, no extra cost to us. Coming in a day early is probably a wise decision for all cruisers, especially those from a distance or far north (Ontario).
EMBARKTION: A little confusion @ hotel with transfers. People waiting in lobby for someone to come in and announce bus is ready, did not happen but all were loaded in time and off to the pier we go. What a sight to see ships lined up waiting to depart. The best sight came at the end, you guessed it the 'Freedom of the Seas'. You get out of bus, make sure your luggage has been unloaded and you see it, then you can proceed to the entrance of the pier with your carry-on. While your making your way to the entrance you can see the 'Explorer of the Seas' docked in front of the FOS. The mightiest and most massive sight is staring you in the eye right now the newest and largest cruise ship in the world 'Freedom of the Seas'. In no more than 15 min. you are entering your home for the next 7 days. What a feeling, you are about to embark on possibly the best vacation on earth, a cruise with RCI. OK, sea passes in hand, smile on face; let's begin our fun in the sun. First things first, reservations @ Chops Grille, then book a couple's massage in the spa. You must do this immediately as you enter to avoid disappointment for those of you who did not reserve excursions on-line, you better do it as you enter the ship. Now we go to our room, drop off our carry on and meet our room steward Elvis, intros and welcomes are shared then off to check out our ship. A little tip - in company of your room steward check out your mini bar fridge and note its contents to avoid being wrongfully charged for missing items or items you have not consumed. Well now we both have in our hands the drink of the day, Tequila Sunrise, the sun is shining, island music is playing on pool deck by the Combo Tropicale - what better way to start your vacation, don't be a bloke, let your hair down ,it's time to party and enjoy.
SHIP: Largest cruise ship in the world, massive but quite easily navigatable. All you need is a good pair of legs and a copy of the ship's deck plans. Pamphlet of deck plans available on ship, but a good pair of legs? We'll I'll let you answer that. A large collection of art on ship and many beautiful architecture pieces are part of the framework throughout the ship. Plenty of activities, some come with a charge, most don't. You see the standard - sexy legs, best belly flop, bingos, and volleyball contest etc, always fun to watch. Nothing like taking in an hour and viewing the brave souls trying their best at Hang Ten - that's the Flow Rider folks, some Kodak moments guaranteed at this event. Ladies- be aware a one-piece bathing suit or a tee covering will prevent some embarrassment. The Royal Promenade is definitely the main attraction, where most of the cruisers hang out and events take place. You might begin with an air brushed tattoo, then search for your favorite fragrance in the perfume parlor, mosey on down to the Reebok store and pick up the latest wear. Now for the ladies you can shop for good deals on duty free jewelry, yes the men also can. You have really worked up a thirst doing all that shopping; stop in at the Bull & Bear Pub for a refreshing pint and a smoke, outside for non-smoking. Are you a wine connoisseur? Vintages is the place for you, taste and purchase some of the finer wines available on the ship. TIP; wine lists in Dining Rooms, specialty restaurants and Vintages are all different; view them all for your best choice.
Don't forget your family and friends back home, so stop in the souvenir and general store for anything and everything. You feel hunger coming on, have no fear Sorrento's is here. A slice or 2 of pizza, maybe some prosciutto, pancetta, eggplant, crostini, mushrooms, olives you name it all your Italian favorites are here for you to enjoy, sit inside to view photos of Italy and listen to the Italian music while you munch with gusto. Maybe a glass of vino to compliment, over to vintages and bring your glass to your table at Sorrento's it's that easy. Clothing both dress and casual is available, some nice stuff, sell-off at end of week 50% reduced. It's time to return to your room with a balcony but not before stopping in at the Café Promenade for a purchase of a specialty coffee or just a plain cup of Seattle's Best (no charge) and maybe a little something for your sweet tooth. Ah, it's time to try out RCI new bedding with a short nap. Boy what a comfy bed, best I've ever slept in. Up and about in less than an hour feeling refreshed. There are so many choices of what to do, rock wall climb, mini golf, shuffleboard, cinema, karaoke, whirlpool and I mean whirlpool, two cantilevered pools holding 16 people each overhang the starboard side for a most relaxing and picturesque view, there are also whirlpools on the pool deck, take on a lesson on gaming or napkin folding, art collection, acupuncture, scrap-booking, play bingo, the list goes on and on. TIP: don't try to do everything or see everything on the ship, you will fail as a result of running out of energy or time. Sailing was smooth, there was some motion but mostly unfelt. The ship is definitely set up with the family in mind. Lot's of family activities H2O Zone, basketball courts, adventure programs, vault, etc No lack of things for children (infants to teens) to do. Although not as rich and refined as say the Jewel of the Seas remember this is a fun activity filled ship.
SERVICE: You can't beat RCI in this area. All areas were well responsive to the passenger's need. Genuine smiles and happy faces were always evident. Whether it was our dining room waiter Ben or Gabriel his assistant, Elvis our room steward or being entertained by the talented bartenders @ Boleros while sipping on a Mojito (Fantastic) to all the service staff. A credit to Captain Carlos Pedercini, Master , Michael Rasmussen Hotel Director, Errol Saldanha, Food & Beverage Manager, Rich Spacey, Cruise Director as the staff's exemplary behavior is a true reflection of the above mention people. However there was one incident that was not rectified and I don't know why. I mentioned earlier as a tip to check your mini-bar fridge right away for its contents, which we did not on this cruise. We were charged $12.63 and $8.60 for stuff we did not use. We filed a complaint with the Services desk who intern said the he will forward an e-mail to the supervisor in charge with our complaint. This was Sat day before disembarking. Our statement was at the door the next morning, check it, charge was still on, we left. This did not alter our views regarding service.
ROOMS: Room 1630 D1 balcony Deck 10 Mid ship - perfect location - next to elevators and 1 floor below pool and windjammer. Great for fast exits to these locations. roomy, clean, flat screen, plenty of storage space, king bed, great new bedding (the best). Nice size balcony- 2 chairs & small table. This was an adjoining room; there is no fear of extra noise from other room, just like normal rooms. Remember in your room are 2 brown towels for beach and pool deck use. Don't misplace them; there is a $20 charge if they are missing. You can exchange them for fresh ones anytime.
FOOD/DINING: Standard fare is the best way to describe with basic variety and choice with little to not so bad taste. Tip - always order the waiter recommended choice and you won't go wrong. There are many places to get food, so this is not a concern. No one should go away hungry at any time. Food was well presented in dining rooms, but found only to be lukewarm to warm, never hot. Windjammer has many options in the form of stations satisfying all templates and is sufficient for breakfast and lunches. An appreciated alternative to the main sources was the 50's style diner 'Johnny Rockets' where a sitting fee of $3.50/person and $3.00 milkshakes (worth it) is all that it costs, great hamburgers, delicious onion rings and descent fries as well as an assortment of sandwiches will satisfy all taste buds. The waiters, cooks and all workers in this diner do put on a show to their favorite tune for your pleasure. It's busy at times and fills up quickly, so you may loose out. We went once @ 1PM when in port and had no trouble getting a booth inside. Service in all venues was prompt, courteous and very pleasing.
PORTS OF CALL: We chose this cruise for the ship not the itinerary, so the ports were not much of a factor. Cozumel was not bad, probably one of the best areas in Mexico, typical of Mexico though. We did the Fiesta Party Boat - short ride to Playa Mia Beach for 1 ½ hrs. Beach has not much cover, very hot and not too comfy chairs. Water was beautiful and very clear. On way back to ship is when the party really takes off, lively music, free rum punch and anything goes. Grand Cayman - no excursion just walked around town, very expensive, yes it's an affluent island, but save your dollars for elsewhere. Mo Bay - did the Martha Brae this slow, leisurely, peaceful and possibly romantic ride down the river was mind pleasing and enjoyable. The ride to get there and back was hell. Takes about 1hr15m each way, ridiculous, not enjoyable. I have no answer to this. Labadee - our favorite - you can tell it's RCI's private island, well maintained, your ship is the only people on island, lots of freedom and different beaches to try, plenty of chairs, shade and service. Help was everywhere, BBQ, music entertainment, water activities galore e.g.: wave runners, water park, kayak, thriller boat rides, parasailing; the list goes on and on. Just a wonderful day filled with sun, Labadoozi's, great food and local arts & crafts available at the market, no vendors in hair, just great.
DISEMBARKTION: Smooth, considering amount of people. Always a sad part of the vacation. Color coding tags is the standard system, allowing an organized manner to exit the ship. This is a long drawn out portion for some, but as I said, it prevents chaos. Find a comfortable seat in your designated area and mentally prepare yourself for a wait and try to relax and be patient, you should fair out well. When called, off you go, through US customs at the pier located just as soon as you exit ship; have all your documents ready! Go and retrieve your luggage on carousel, proceed outside to bus parking lot, ensure your luggage is loaded, hop on transfer bus with your transfer papers, to the airport you go, it's as simple as that.
SUMMARY: Fantastic, immensely enjoyed, lots of fun, great service, wonderful ship (We did not think it was too big), excellent features, everything a person would want or expect on a holiday was available on this cruise, very pleasant crew. If I was to use two words to describe this cruise on this ship - 'WOW FACTOR'. Any one with a family or not should try this ship, you will be pleasantly surprised. We are booked for a back to back cruise of the Southern Caribbean in Feb/09 on the Summit and Serenade. This will be our first 2-week cruise and first away from Royal Caribbean on Celebrity's Summit, but still a member of RCI.
REMEMBER: If you're even remotely thinking of a cruise, go and book one. The best vacation on earth.