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Main topic: Veronica and I discussed Royal Caribbean’s policy change that as of March 1, 2013, all passengers would be charged an automatic daily gratuity for the crew members in the dining room and housekeeping.
Sub topic: We talk about the merits of the Knee Defenders. Knee Defender was developed by a tall frequent traveler who got tired of ending up bent into a pretzel because of small seats and inconsiderate passengers in the seat in front of him.
Host: Jamie Snyder and Veronica Snyder
Today was our second port stop, St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. We had booked a tour after reading some favorable reviews across the Internet. The tour would take us around the island to see various well-known spots and then conclude with a beach stop.
Freedom was the last of seven ships to dock in St Thomas. We didn't get there until 11am ship time (noon local time). I had gotten up at 6am for some reason and couldn't sleep (7am local time) so I tried listening to music and sitting on the balcony but eventually decided to let my wife and daughter sleep while I tried something new.
I've always wanted to try spinning at the gym and Freedom of the Seas offers it almost everyday in their gym. The cost of the class is $12 per person and there was enough room for about 12 stationary bikes or so but I think our class had only 8 people in it. The class lasted about 40 minutes or so and consisted of the instructor directing us how fast we should go and what we should be doing while biking. We would do “push ups” off the bike, do standing bike runs (where you stand up like you are going up hill) and speed trials.
This was my first time doing spin at all and my mistake was trying to keep up with everyone else who clearly had done spin before. I certainly worked up a good sweat and burned a lot of calories but almost immediately after I felt nauseous and that lasted a good hour or so. I figured I had become dehydrated so I drank a lot of water at the Windjammer. Within an hour I was feeling better and ready to tackle St Thomas.
Our ship docked at around 11 but we didn't make it off the ship until about 11:30 because of delays in getting the ship cleared and the sheer amount of people that are also trying to get out of the ship. The good thing about an 11am arrival is you can sleep late but by the same token, the bad thing about an 11am arrival is EVERYONE tries to get off at the same time, whereas with early dockings things get spread out more.
We used Godfreys Tour and met Godfrey himself at the gate as we got off. There were 4 other people from our ship on the tour, which seemed like a great number but then we heard they had another van full of people from Carnival (there were actually 7 cruise ships docked in St Thomas today). We left the port area, picked up the other people from downtown and started on our tour.
The tour provided complimentary soft drinks and water although no food. The cost was $25 per person if you wanted just the tour and $30 per person if you wanted the tour and a beach stop. We opted for the beach stop as well. Off we went and stopped at various photo spots along the long and winding roads that go all over the very mountainous St Thomas. The spots were picturesque and beautiful but my issue was with such a large group, I felt like we spent too much time at each place. Personally, I'm the kind of guy that looks around for about 10 seconds, takes a photo or two and is ready to go. Minor stops lasted about 5 minutes while the longest stop at the mountain top (located at the top of St Thomas) was closer to 20. I could complain about the amount of people on the tour and the slow pace, but then again I also paid significantly less than say the ship sponsored excursion.
Eventually we had the option of beaches to go to and we selected Magen's Bay. It's well known and seemed good for us. The beach is beautiful, although very narrow (meaning not a lot of space from the start of the beach to the water's edge). We had no problem finding a spot and my daughter absolutely loved her time swimming here. There was a snack shack with rather expensive prices so we opted for just fries and onion rings (we had taken a few drinks from the tour bus).
Our driver gave us about 2 hours to swim at the beach, which was fine for our needs. When we arrived the beach was rather full but by the time we left, the beach was nearly empty since all those other cruise ships had left already. Magen's Bay is a beautiful location and you can't beat the surroundings. The water is a pretty shade of turquoise although we found it not that clear. Nitpicking, I'm sure but with the beach's reputation it was a slight disappointment. Nonetheless, this was a great place for a swim and it certainly was quite beautiful.
Our driver returned promptly and we got on the van and picked up the other people at the other beach option and started making our way back with a few drive-by photo opportunities. There was considerable traffic getting back but he got everyone back with enough time to make their ships.
Overall I enjoyed the tour but I'm not sure if I'd recommend it or not. On the one hand, you can't beat the price for what you get. On the other hand, I'd much rather prefer a more personal tour that allows us to move at our pace. Also some of the stops along the way were definite “tourist traps”, which I don't care for. If you want an affordable tour of the island, it's a great choice but just be aware what you pay for.
After getting back to the ship, we showered and dropped my daughter at the nursery so my wife and I could eat at Chops, the specialty steakhouse on Freedom of the Seas. The last time we ate at Chops was aboard Mariner of the Seas for our honeymoon in 2008 so it's been a while but we loved it back then. The cost is $20 per person and you can order as much food as you want once there.
The restaurant was a little more than half full and one change that was first noted by friends of ours on another cruise was Chops has gone from 2 servers per table (main waiter and assistant waiter) to just one waiter and the by-product of this change has been a noticeable delay in service. It's not terrible or unbearable, you can simply tell things would go faster with more help and our server continuously apologized for delays (I think she thought we were bothered by it, but we really were not).
Food wise, Chops offers a good selection of choices. I wanted to order more but I wasn't that hungry for some reason so I limited myself. We opted for the Asian tuna and caesar salad for our starters and both were quite good. The tuna was very small, which worked for my limited appetite but most days I could have easily had a second appetizer.
I wanted to order the New York Strip steak but my waiter actually talked me out of it. She told me many guests had complained the steak was too chewy/tough and so I asked for her recommendation and she pointed me towards the porterhouse or the filet mignon. I opted for the porterhouse while my wife took the filet.
I freely admit I am not a steak expert. To me, a steak from Outback Steakhouse is the epitome of a good steak so did the steaks here taste good? Yes, I enjoyed it as did my wife. I just can't comment if it's the best steak ever. Both steaks were certainly better than the steaks we've had in the main dining room.
The real standout were the sides. We ordered mashed potatoes, cheesy potatoes with prosciutto and parmesan & fried onion rings. My wife says she loved the cheesy potatoes and all the sides were really quite good. Definitely branch out and try a lot since it's all included in the price.
Of course, we had to order dessert so we each chose something to taste and of course, the desserts were really good. Both cakes we ordered were moist and had a great taste to them. Definite candidates for what to eat when the world comes to an end and we have a 30 minute warning.
I'll write up a more formal review of Chops for the site at a later date but I thought Chops was a good choice for steak lovers.
After dinner we lost more money in the casino (I sense a trend developing) and decided to call it an early night since we are going to have an early start tomorrow morning.
Tomorrow is St Maarten and our last island (insert sad face here). No firm plans, just going to explore and see what comes to us!
Thank you for the great comments and questions, be sure to post your thoughts below and I'll answer them for you!
Today was our first sea day and that means there is LOTS to do onboard Freedom of the Seas. The sad thing is we always have lofty goals of “doing it all” and we end up just taking it slow to relax. We still have fun, but part of me is always disappointed we aren't doing more. Oh well, either way we are having a great time!
Since we left CocoCay yesterday the ship has been moving. Nothing terrible, but you can definitely feel the ship moving a lot. It's GREAT for sleeping because you are literally rocked to sleep and when you are awake, well, you get used to doing the stutter step. What's interesting is the ship is going with the wind, so with the ship's speed plus the speed of the wind, the perceived wind speed on deck is 50 miles per hour! Walking on the top pool deck (Deck 12) is certainly...challenging.
Aside from the wind, the weather has been great. Sunny and warm temperatures so as you might imagine on a sea day, lots of people out on the pool deck enjoying it.
We slept in today and didn't get up until about 9am. I think the early mornings the last 2 days caught up with us so we decided to take it easy. Naturally we went up to the Windjammer for breakfast and I had my “breakfast of champions” of a custom omelette from the omelette bar with breakfast potatoes. The omelette bar is a must for me for breakfast and it's fairly quick...usually waiting about 5 minutes for it.
Following breakfast we went to the Cruise Critic Meet n Mingle. For those unaware, the mega message board CruiseCritic.com allows its members cruising to have a meet onboard the ship that is sanctioned by Royal Caribbean. I wont bore you with the details of how a meet n mingle happens but you need to basically go to the cruisecritic website and register with Royal Caribbean. At any rate, we went up there and met up with a group of about 30-40 people I'd estimate. Royal Caribbean does a quick speech about the importance of the online community and then does a raffle for some small Royal Caribbean swag (bags, pens, etc).
I met Kris and his family from Canada who are also readers of RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com and we had a great conversation about cruising. It was a fun little meet up and very informal. Frankly, I'm impressed with how cooperative Royal Caribbean is with this because my background is working with Walt Disney World and Disney Cruise Line and this is something they would NEVER do, let alone condone. Bravo Royal Caribbean.
Following the meet up, we decided it was time to hit the pool. This was around 11am or so and as you might imagine most of the pool chairs were taken. We did manage to find some chairs near the kids pool but I think the high winds helped reduce the amount of chairs that were taken up. My 2 year old went in the baby pool and interestingly the “pool patrol” Royal Caribbean employees are certain to keep kids that are not wearing diapers out of the area.
Following a swim we changed and went to the main dining room for lunch. I've always enjoyed the main dining room for lunch and the selections here were good. I had a Lebanese salad and a fish enchilada, both of which were quite good (I apologize for not remembering to take a photo of the menu). There's also a large salad bar which my wife enjoyed. We met a nice couple from Florida who were also big cruisers and we had a good conversation.
After lunch it was time go back to the room for my daughter to nap, which turned into the whole family taking a nap. Again, the rocking of the ship makes sleeping soooo easy.
After our nap, it was time for the ice skating show called “Freedom-Ice.com”. We arrived 30 minutes early and there was a HUGE line already. We had booked tickets ahead of time on the Royal Caribbean web site and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND booking your tickets in advance as well.
This was the third or fourth time we've seen the show and I believe there were some new songs/sequences. Regardless, it's a fun show and I'd recommend seeing it regardless of your opinion of ice skating shows. Ice skating doesn't excite me but it's a fun show set to popular music and everyone enjoyed it. Two thumbs up!
Dinner was again in the main dining room tonight and once more, the food here was great. Someone in an earlier blog post commented that I thought the food here wasn't great but truthfully the food in the main dining room has ranged from “okay” to “very good”. I really cannot think of anything I or anyone at my table got that was anything less than acceptable. Tonight I had the New England Clam Chowder and Hot Harira Soup. Both were very good, with the harira soup standing out. Even the clam chowder was certainly better than anything in a can so I was happy with it. I tried the conchiglioni pasta, which in layman's terms was stuffed pasta shells. Not bad either.
This is given to kids every day in the main dining room as they are seated
Following dinner we put my daughter in the Royal Tots Nursery again and once again she LOVED it. Each time we come to get her she insists on staying longer. Best $8 per hour I've ever spent.
We went to the Crown and Anchor Society Member Thank You event, which is always well received. It might have something to do with the free alcohol they serve but it's always a fun event. The crew mentioned there was about 1700 Crown and Anchor members onboard. Also of note, the loyalty officer mentioned Crown and Anchor members could start booking Quantum of the Seas in April and to look for an email for more information. No other news about Quantum divulged, with most of the rest of the event spent on discussing what Freedom's crew has done to help the people of Haiti.
The rest of the evening we spent in the casino using our Crown and Anchor coupons and just having fun. I'm fairly certain we lost more than we won but we enjoyed it for what it was worth.
We had intentions to see the entertainment tonight, which was an Abba cover band, but decided to just gamble a little bit more and to walk around the ship. Definitely one of those moments on the walk in the evening when you realize how special cruises are.
Our cabin (don't think we posted a photo of this before)
Our towel animal (a sting ray)
Tomorrow we're docking in St Thomas at 11am and we've got LOTS planned. We will also have cell service tomorrow so expect plenty of photo updates throughout the day on the Royal Caribbean Blog twitter.
As always, feel free to post your comments and questions below and I'll try my best to answer them for you!
We got up this morning at 7:30 so we could get ourselves moving because today is CocoCay day. We were tired but since there are 3 sea days on this cruise, we feel there will be other mornings we can sleep in.
CocoCay as seen from Freedom of the Seas
After getting dressed, we headed up to the Windjammer for breakfast. By the time we got there it was already fairly busy and we had to wait a few minutes for a table. Our breakfast there was about what you'd expect from the Windjammer breakfast and no issues.
Weather was perfect today, with temperatures in low 80s and a slight breeze. CocoCay has a reputation for rough seas that hamper attempts to use the tenders to get to the island but today was not anything like that. We made our way down to Deck 1 to get on a tender and luckily got on one that was almost full.
After a quick ride, we arrived at CocoCay and got onto the island. CocoCay feels smaller than Labadee but our experience felt the same as any other cruise line island. We got a few chairs for us and rented an umbrella, which was cheaper than I thought ($8) but I had to install it myself. I recall in Labadee an army of employees who would gladly do the work for you for a modest tip.
Beach at CocoCay
The water was cool, but after a few minutes you'd get used to it. Certainly warm enough for anyone that wanted to swim. My daughter was content playing in the sand where the surf comes in. We let her play for a while before deciding we did not want to bother with the island lunch, which have always been rather uninspiring. We took a quick walk to the straw market but nothing really caught our eye so we grabbed a tender back to Freedom.
Lunch was back in Windjammer, which was quite empty. There's something serene about a cruise ship on a port day and enjoying the relative quietness onboard when most are somewhere else is nice. Like last night, the international foods available in the Windjammer were to my liking. There was a Morrocan couscous and vegetables along with a great beef stir fry. Definitely better than burgers and hot dogs back on the island.
By now my daughter was getting tired (although refusing to admit it) so we decided to head back to the cabin for a nap.
Tonight was the first formal night, so we decided to get dressed up early and then walk around the ship a little prior to dinner and take some photos. My daughter was thrilled to meet King Julian and Alex from Madagascar on the Royal Promenade. Neither had much of a line and it was pretty easy to meet the characters, which is in stark contrast to meeting characters in Disney World or even on the Disney Cruise ships.
Speaking of kids, there's definitely not a lot of children on this ship. We knew there was going to be a gay group and a Parkinson's Disease group, although neither group thus far has been that visible. I will say there's a lot of older people onboard, which is just interesting since most cruises we've gone on with Royal Caribbean have been more families than any other age group. I guess that's what happens when you cruise during the school year; You never know who will be onboard. All the guests we've met have been very nice so I really cannot complain.
Dinner tonight was good, although the menu wasn't as good in terms of selection as last night I felt. The filet of beef was the big dish tonight and I had it medium rare and it wasn't bad at all. I did bring my own bottle of wine to dinner and had it opened for me. At least thus far, I have not been charged a corkage fee, but it's not like they can't find me.
Following dinner we took a few more photos and then dropped my daughter off at the Royal Tots Nursery. There was just one other kid there and they had my daughter's favorite movie on (Tangled) so we had no concerns leaving her there.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat in the Windjammer and also stopped by Chops to make a reservation there for later this week. More on that later when we get to check it out.
The wife and I did a little gambling in the casino, which was busy but not full. They do have some newer slot machines that look 3D. Always nice to not have to gamble on what look like older machines. We tried to go see the Marquee show tonight in the Acadia Theater but when we arrived about 15 minutes early, the entire theater was full! Yes, top and bottom decks which was a surprise to us. We joked that the older demographic onboard contributed to the bigger crowd.
In lieu of the show, we went to the Viking Lounge for a few drinks and then collected my daughter who was having an awesome time. We had to almost drag her out, but I was glad to see she enjoyed her time there because I'd like to utilize the nursery more on this cruise.
Tomorrow is a sea day and we've got lots planned already. Thanks for reading and check in for my future posts soon!
If you have any questions, feel free to post it in the comments below and I'll do my best to answer them.
Royal Caribbean announced during the Academy Awards that actress Kristen Chenoweth will be the godmother for the brand new Quantum of the Seas cruise ship that will debut in late 2014.
Chenoweth is a Tony and Emmy award winning actress, and will continue the maritime tradition of appointing a godmother for the cruise ship. Chenoweth was chosen for her effervescent personality and ability to wow audiences. Her versatile range of roles made her a natural fit, given that Quantum of the Seas, set to debut in fall 2014, is poised to introduce unprecedented experiences and amenities only attainable on Royal Caribbean.
“Kristin’s effortless grace and dynamic performances align perfectly with our newest class of ships and we could not be more honored to have her represent Quantum of the Seas,” said Richard D. Fain, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. “Working with such a remarkable and versatile woman for one of maritime’s longest standing traditions is an exciting experience.”
“I am so excited to be named godmother of Royal Caribbean International’s newest ship, Quantum of the Seas. I have been lucky to play many roles and I am looking forward to this one,” stated Kristin Chenoweth. “I think the Royal Caribbean brand is the perfect match for me, especially with their history of providing exceptional entertainment experiences to their guests.”
“Our ships have always been designed for WOW and with Quantum of Seas, we are excited to introduce Quantum cruising and the ‘at sea’ firsts that our guests have come to expect from Royal Caribbean,” said Adam Goldstein, President and CEO, Royal Caribbean International. “We look forward to working with Kristen and having her officially name our ship when she is delivered in the fall of 2014.”
Today our adventure on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas begins. We woke up earlier than expected (pre cruise excitement!) and finished our packing and getting everything loaded in the car.
Our basic plan was to be in Port Canaveral by 10:30. We left the house at 9:20 or so and after a quick car ride from Orlando, made it to the port at 10:15. To my surprise, passengers were able to drive right in (I thought they would make us wait). We had arranged to park the car at the Radisson hotel for the week to save some money, so our plan was to drop off the luggage and then park the car at the Radisson and take the shuttle back. Luggage drop off could not have been easier and we made our way to the Radisson. As we got there we saw no less than 30-40 people waiting for the shuttle too! I made an "executive decision" to just park near the ship and avoid what seemed like a long wait. In this case, I was willing to pay a little more to get my vacation started sooner.
Check in for the cruise was simple and quick. After a short wait we were onboard Freedom and on our way!
We went to Windjammer first (of course) and had a light lunch. We sat in Chops and met a very nice waiter named Vuk, who exemplified the quality service I've come to expect from Royal Caribbean. We also decided to buy the soda package for my wife to try out (she loves the Coke Freestyle Machines).
Our cabin was ready a few minutes before 1pm and our E1 balcony is lovely. Weather is cloudy with on and off rain but honestly we could not care less. It's vacation and just being onboard is enough for cheek to cheek smiles.
Freedom of the Seas as we arrived
Promenade (Sorry for blurriness)
Premium Alcohol Package description
Day 1 cruise compass activities
Seven day activity planner
View from the Viking Lounge
One of the things we did once we got onboard was change our dining seating from second seating to first seating. We had been waitlisted for first seating but never got through. We went down to Leonardo's (Main Dining Room) and asked if we could get moved to first seating. Sure enough, they offered us something at a table for 10 and we took it.
With dinner now earlier, following the muster drill we went back to our cabin to watch sail away although we had to get ready for dinner pretty quickly thereafter.
This was our first time with the new menu that Royal Caribbean recently rolled out and it certainly is a little heavy on the seafood (at least on day one). Nonetheless, we found the food to be pretty good all around. I had ordered the lamb broth, soft shell tortillas and the linguini pomodoro.
The lamb broth and linguini were both about what I expected and good but the highlight was the soft shell tortillas were the highlight. A mixture of black beans and grilled vegetables, it was tasty and as someone who enjoys “adventurous eating”, it was a treat.
Dessert was the usual. My wife and table mate had the crème brulee and reported it was good, although too much banana and not enough Baileys. That being said, they both finished it off so...
Following dinner we took a walk on Deck 4 and the weather was just perfect. Slight breeze, warm temperatures and low humidity. It was a pleasure to walk the ship.
We swung by the Royal Tots nursery to register my two year old daughter. They reported they had a max of 8 kids at any given time for this cruise as they just had 4 staff members onboard. Not sure if that's high or low but thought I'd mention it. We have used the nursery on a previous cruise so we were fairly familiar with everything so just got her in the system and now we just need to figure out when we will drop her off there.
I decided I wasn't quite full from dinner so went up to the Windjammer to see what was available. My first stop was the Jade section to see their sushi. Most rolls were vegetarian (no fish) and the quality was pretty poor. Poor as in it made supermarket sushi look good.
To my surprise I did find an AMAZING selection of Indian food available. I've always liked Royal Caribbean's Indian food and the selection of chicken curry, lamb curry, aloo gobi, mango chutney and more was really, really good. Great flavor and plenty of spice, it was the kind of food that after eating it I had wished I just ate that exclusively earlier in the evening.
The first day onboard was exactly what we expected and we loved it. My daughter loves it and we're hoping she's going to branch out a little on this cruise and try some new things to her. For us, we're excited to get the cruise going and begin our little adventure. Tomorrow is CocoCay and weather looks good. I'll post an update tomorrow!
Day 2 cruise compass activity schedule
Carnival Cruise Lines has announced on select five-night sailings of its Carnival Fascination will swap out a stop at Key West for the private island of Little Stirrup Cay, which is better known to Royal Caribbean fans as Coco Cay.
The Fascination sailings that will stop at CocoCay are scheduled for 03/11/2013, 04/08/2013, 05/06/2013, 05/27/2013, 06/10/2013, 06/24/2013, 07/08/2013, 07/22/2013, 08/05/2013, 08/19/2013, 09/02/2013, 09/16/2013, 09/30/2013, 10/14/2013, 10/28/2013, 11/25/2013, 12/09/2013, 01/20/2014, 03/03/2014, 03/17/2014, 04/14/2014 & 04/28/2014.
The news of Carnival stopping at Coco Cay came via emails sent to Carnival passengers that had booked the cruise previously.
The exact details of the agreement between Carnival and Royal Caribbean are unknown at this time. Royal Caribbean has an existing agreement with the Bahamas for exclusive access to the island via its lease. Many are speculating that Carnival will pay Royal Caribbean for access to the island because Carnival's private island of Half Moon Cay is booked up already.
Royal Caribbean received yesterday an award from the CruiseNews Media Group for "Best entertainment onboard" in the Excellence Awards ceremony held at the Museo Picasso in Malaga, Spain. The event brought together more than 200 professionals between shippers, carriers, ports and destinations in the Mediterranean.
Wangüemert Bethlehem, CEO of Royal Caribbean in Spain said: " At Royal Caribbean, we constantly strive to provide the most innovative ships and a very important part of this lies in the leisure and entertainment on board. The company continues relentless seeking agreements with exclusive partners who make a cruise an unforgettable experience.'s one of the premises of the company."
This is not the first time that Royal Caribbean has won an award in Excellence. In previous years, Royal Caribbean has won awards for "Best Popular-Family Company" as well as several awards for its cruise ships, such as Liberty of the Seas being selected "Best Ship"..
Hi everyone! As you may already know, we're embarking on a seven night cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas. We've already posted a few video blog posts talking about our plans for the cruise, the ship and the eastern Caribbean itinerary.
It is my hope to provide to our readers a daily look at what this cruise will be like and share our experiences with you. This means I will try to post photos every day along with a written report of how things are going (internet permitting).
Our plan for day one is simple. We live in the Orlando, Florida area so early Sunday morning we will get the family loaded in the car and drive to Port Canaveral. We'll drop the wife and kid off at the port with the luggage, and then I'll drive the car to the Radisson Hotel to park it for the week (saving a few dollars in parking) and then take the shuttle back to the ship.
We're looking forward to a fun cruise and can't wait to begin our Eastern Caribbean adventure in less than two days. The weather forecast looks good and the whole family is excited.
Who is going
Matt (me), Marissa (wife) & Gabriella (2 year old daughter)
Next update should be on our embarkation day, Sunday February 24. Stay tuned for all of our live blog updates right here.
Royal Caribbean has announced its first WOW Sale of 2013, with offers of up to $200 onboard credit and 50 percent reduced deposits for sailings departing on or after May 1, 2013.
This WOW sale is valid on all worldwide sailings of three nights or longer departing after May 1, 2013.
- Cruises of 3 to 5 nights get US$50 onboard credit per stateroom
- Cruises of 6 to 9 nights get US$100 onboard credit per stateroom
- Cruises of 10 nights or more get US$200 onboard credit per stateroom
The onboard credit and 50 percent reduced deposit offers are applicable to all Royal Caribbean International cruises that sail on or after May 1, 2013, including cruisetours. Offer is available only in the U.S. and Canada and applies to all categories available. All bookings must be made and the required deposit must be paid by February 27, 2013, by 11:59 p.m. local time to qualify for the promotion.
What is a WOW Sale? Are WOW Sales good deals? Read our Cruise 101: WOW Sale post to get information on what this deal is all about.