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WAAAYTOOO

Musings From My Recent Freedom Cruise (26 Jun - 3 July)

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I am not one to produce lengthy cruise reviews but there are a couple of things from my cruise last week on Freedom that are worth passing on.

 

My streak is in tact !  I still have never had a bad cruise !  WHEW !

 

1.  Diamond Plus members are no longer invited to the reserved section of seats at the ice shows.  We had no problem at all finding a good seat but I was surprised that the reserved seating no longer includes D+ - Gold card holders only.

 

2.  D+ were welcome in both the D Lounge and the Concierge Lounge although all of our voice messages came from the Diamond Lounge Concierge.  We did not receive any voice or written correspondence whatsoever from the Concierge Club Concierge.

 

3.  D+ are still included in the reserved seating area of the main theater.

 

4.  Even though we were only in a Junior Suite, we were allowed to go to the express disembark line for Suites.  I was very surprised at this.  It has been my experience in the past that the express line for Suites only included Gold card suites but it was a very welcome and unexpected benefit as the disembark line was endless by the time we got downstairs.  This was our own fault.  We had a disembark number of 3....but chose to wait until later to disembark since we had a later flight.  What a mistake that turned out to be - until they moved us from that endless line into the express line where NOBODY was.  We were very fortunate.

 

5.  The seas were some of the calmest we have ever experienced.  We almost NEVER cruise in the summer but since we were repeat victims of Empress Gate this was what we got.  Cruising during the summer can be very risky but we got lucky.  The seas were like glass.

 

6.  While on Grand Cayman, we heard from some locals that they are going to be building a pier next year !  Finally !  I know that they had resisted building any kind of dock or pier b/c of the unavoidable damage to the reef.  I guess finances finally overcame the environmental concerns.  While I heard that this construction had been approved, there is still significant resistance to the plan - primarily from environmentalists and those financially impacted (primarily those that operate the tenders, I am guessing).

 

7.   While snorkeling on GC, Dan saw an (approx.) 8' Nurse Shark.  He was so tickled.  Of course, rather than being afraid, he followed the thing as far as he could.  When he returned to shore, the locals (same ones who told us about the pier) said that it was a very, very rare occurrence.  This young man had lived in GC all of his life and said that he could count the number of times he had seen a Nurse shark on 1 hand.

 

8.  The casino gods were not favorable to me. 

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4.  Even though we were only in a Junior Suite, we were allowed to go to the express disembark line for Suites.  I was very surprised at this.  It has been my experience in the past that the express line for Suites only included Gold card suites but it was a very welcome and unexpected benefit as the disembark line was endless by the time we got downstairs.  This was our own fault.  We had a disembark number of 3....but chose to wait until later to disembark since we had a later flight.  What a mistake that turned out to be - until they moved us from that endless line into the express line where NOBODY was.  We were very fortunate.

When I was in a JS on Navigator, we had priority embarkation but told we did not qualify for priority disembarkation.  Guest Services gave me whatever number I wanted for disembarkation, but it was made quite clear that JS did not qualify.

 

I reported that in my live blog and some other folks told me that was an error.  

 

Interested to read your experience.

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I agree with you, Matt.  I have never been offered express disembark when we have traveled in a JS in the past.

 

The man who was "line monitor" took a long, hard look at our sea pass cards and ushered us from the eternally long line into the express line.  It's not as if we tried to cheat or confuse him.  He looked at our cards and told us to move over into the suites line.

 

I don't know whether he was mistaken or whether he was just trying to thin that line out in any way he could.  Whichever is the case, we were very happy to oblige !

 

Now that I take a look at my sea pass card, the word "Suite" doesn't even appear ANYwhere on the card.  I think perhaps he was just looking for an excuse to move some people out of that long line and we just got VERY lucky.  I guess it's true that it never hurts to ask !

 

I certainly won't expect it to happen the next time !

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VOOM worked fine. We had very good reception right in our suite. Now granted, we did not do any live streaming but we updated a couple of apps and had no problems. We didn't pay for anything...we just took our 2 free days each and we're happy with the service.

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I will admit that I cheated on this one.  I managed to wrangle an invitation to join the suites for priority tendering.  We were able to board the first tender along with those who were meeting very early excursions on the pier.

 

Honestly, I don't know if they had tender tickets or what.  I totally bypassed that whole process (thankfully).  From what I could see, the tendering went very smoothly even though it was POURING rain while we were getting to shore.  Luckily we were going snorkeling anyway so who cares if you're wet !  After the deluge, the sun came out and it was beautiful.  It was the best snorkeling we've ever had and it was almost free ! (all we paid for was $18 ea to rent mask, fins and snorkel).  If anyone is interested I will pass on information.  We were snorkeling at the same location that others who were on expensive excursions were snorkeling !!

 

We had a very short wait to get on the tender coming back but we didn't wait until late in the afternoon, either.

 

I absolutely HATE tendering so I am so happy to hear that GC will be building a pier !

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How was your overall experience?  Did you notice any degradation of overall service?  Did you get a towel thingie every night?

 

 

 

And I'm glad you didn't get Boom while on Freedom; methinks that would be beddy beddy bad.

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My overall experience was very good.  It always is.

 

Service in the MDR was a little slow the first night but after that, we were in and out in under an hour (we aren't ones to hang out and lollygag - gotsta get to the casino !  LOL).

 

Degradation of overall service is a tricky one.  Yes, over the years I have noticed a few things.  I miss the midnight buffets, beautiful ice sculptures and carved fruit tables and no, I did not get a towel animal every night.  I have definitely noticed a reduced number of servers in almost all of the venues.  For instance, for the past several cruises, there is no longer a bar service person in the MDR.  Any drinks you order (which, BTW, we NEVER do) will be attended to by your table waiters now.  The bar servers in the casino are definitely rarer than they used to be but it is very rare that I need one, so I don't really miss them like some do.  I don't lay out by the pool so I haven't personally experienced the shortage of servers that I hear so much about in the pool area.  There are definitely fewer servers scattered around the Windjammer, but I usually try and avoid the WJ anyway, so it doesn't impact me that much.

 

Have I noticed a reduction in service over the years ?  Yes.  Does it negatively impact my experience ?  Not really.  I guess the question you have to ask is, would I be willing to pay to get some of those things back ?  The answer, from me, is definitely, NO.  While the ice sculptures were beautiful, I saw them a couple of times during a cruise and I'm fairly sure that the fruit sculptures probably went to waste.  That's never a good thing.  Towel animals ?  Well....not that big a deal.  They are usually in my way and end up on the floor soon anyway.  I am an acknowledged decapitator of towel animals (never on purpose, of course).  Once the head is gone, it's pretty hard to salvage it !

 

So my experience was wonderful as it always is.  I will say (selfishly) that I missed my suite perks.  I will not be making that mistake again soon !

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Hi WAAYTOOO,

 

You told me you were busy for the next couple of months but I have missed your postings that you do every day. What did you think of the Freedom, itself. I am on the same exact cruise next year. Everyone here talked about how wonderful this ship is so I finally booked a cruise on her. Since I am a solo cruiser, I can't afford a suite, way out of my price range, so usually an OceanView or Balcony. I think I got a Balcony on this one. Anyways, like you, clear me a path to the casino because it is calling to me.

 

Let me know your thoughts on this ship.

 

Sorry you didn't win. I went back to Vegas, gave them a nice chunk of my $5000 mega slot win back.

 

Candie

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Hey, Candie -

 

The ship is in good condition.  I did notice a slight vibration every once in a while.  I think Freedom has known propeller problems that they have been tweaking on and off.  I was afraid that it might be worse in our cabin (aft balcony JS) but it wasn't at all.  I only noticed it a couple of times during the whole cruise and always somewhere other than our room.

 

I didn't notice any signs of age or maintenance needed. She was in pretty good shape.  I will also admit that I don't do the whole ship inspection thing anymore.  I only go to a few places on the ship and it it's not on the route from my room to the dining room to the casino I am likely NOT to see it !  The shows were as good as any.  I don't really enjoy the shows much.  The only reason we went to the one we did was b/c the comedian (Jimmy Chicken!) played poker with us the night before the show and we wanted to see his show.  Otherwise, I'm sure I would have skipped it.  He is actually quite talented and in the end, I was glad I went. I have seen the ice show twice before so it wasn't all that exciting...but we went.

 

One thing that we did this time that had never been offered to us before was a behind the scenes tour of Studio B (ice rink).  I had been on all of the bridge tours and galley tours and entertainment back stage tours before so we weren't interested in that at all but when we saw that they were offering a back stage tour of Studio B, we went.  It was very interesting and the Entertainment Manager (Wayne) did a good tour.  Needless to say, a lot of work and coordination goes into those shows and keeping the ice prepped.   One tidbit.  The skaters/performers have NO creative license whatsoever.  Every move that they make on the ice is choreographed in Miami.  They cannot improvise at all.  That goes for all of the ice shows on all of the ships.  I found that interesting.

 

The casino manager (Carlos Sanchez) is one of the best I have come across recently. He was ever-present and always smiling.  He always spoke to Dan and me.  The Casino host was Alexander (sorry...cannot recall his last name) and while he was very friendly, he was obviously new.  He ran good tournaments and was ok but nothing like Carlos.  I only saw him on the floor a couple of times the whole cruise.  On some cruises I never even know who the Casino Manager IS b/c they don't actually come out on the floor and WORK but Carlos was supervising an area nearly every night.  Don't know if they were short-handed or what....but he was always running around somewhere.

 

We both got FCC which is the first time that has happened.  Of course, we cannot take any of the "free" cruises that they are pushing so we will have to convert ours into some other form of revenue - most likely paying down cruises we already have on the books.  That's good enough for us.  I am already booked SOLID !

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Raye,

 

Glad you are doing good. Is FCC free cruise credit? I would love to get that some time. I am still receiving discounted casino cruises from RCCL but nothing else.

 

I can't wait to get on the Freedom.

 

I am booked solid too. I have a cruise every month, with the exception of December 2016, all the way through May of 2017. That is 10 months and 9 cruises. 

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I will admit that I cheated on this one.  I managed to wrangle an invitation to join the suites for priority tendering.  We were able to board the first tender along with those who were meeting very early excursions on the pier.

 

Honestly, I don't know if they had tender tickets or what.  I totally bypassed that whole process (thankfully).  From what I could see, the tendering went very smoothly even though it was POURING rain while we were getting to shore.  Luckily we were going snorkeling anyway so who cares if you're wet !  After the deluge, the sun came out and it was beautiful.  It was the best snorkeling we've ever had and it was almost free ! (all we paid for was $18 ea to rent mask, fins and snorkel).  If anyone is interested I will pass on information.  We were snorkeling at the same location that others who were on expensive excursions were snorkeling !!

 

We had a very short wait to get on the tender coming back but we didn't wait until late in the afternoon, either.

 

I absolutely HATE tendering so I am so happy to hear that GC will be building a pier !

 

I am interested!  We will be there in 8 days (next Tuesday) and are considering either the Turtle Farm, Crystal Caves and/or snorkeling somewhere.  

 

Thank you in advance!

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I have never done the Crystal Caves so I cannot give you any feedback on that.  We did the Turtle Farm once and I really enjoyed it !  It was a much bigger operation than I ever imagined and I really enjoyed the tour.  It is, unfortunately, on the opposite end of the island from where we were snorkeling so I don't know that you could do both in one port call unless you are there a very long time and have lots of energy !

 

So...if you want to do some excellent snorkeling for a VERY low cost, here are the details.

 

It is a very walkable distance from the port/compound or you can have a taxi take you (tell them you want to go to Paradise)....but we always walk.

 

You will be going to Paradise.  How nice, right  ?  Just think....you can visit both Paradise and Hell in 1 day !

 

Turn right, out of the port/compound and stay on the sea wall road.  You will pass Margaritaville, and The Hard Rock and eventually you will see the Harley Davidson distributor (these are all on the left hand side of the road across the street from the sea wall).  Start looking (ocean side of the road) for a building with a green roof.  It will be Paradise dive shop and Paradise Restaurant.

 

Go up to the dive office and tell them that you want to rent snorkel gear.  It cost us $18/pp and included standard stuff - snorkel, mask and fins.  Not sure if there is a children's rate or not.  I think they gave us BC vests too but we didn't use them.  Along with the snorkel gear, your $18 gets you a very nice table in the shade from which to operate.  I think they have lockers (probably for rent) but honestly, unless you have some expensive camera equipment or something, your stuff will be fine just left near your table.  There are always people in and out of the water and I just asked a nice lady if she could keep her eye on my stuff while I went in the water and I did the same for her when she went.  I was never afraid of someone taking anything.

 

There are some steps down to the water and a very sturdy ladder to get back out of the water.  It was very accessible. 

 

There are 4 - 6 foot tarpon that just hang out right there by the restaurant (I'm sure they get fed plentifully and that's why they hang out there !).  The tarpon are BIG but harmless and make for a very interesting snorkel right there at the foot of the ladder !!!  There are thousands of little sun fish or clown fish...not sure what they are...but they're very cute and if you bring some dry cereal from the boat, they will eat it.  The tarpon are too snooty to bother with dried cereal but the little ones love it !

 

So the guy at the dive shop (I can't remember his name at the moment but very nice guy) will give you pointers on where to go...but I will tell you now that the BEST snorkeling is out towards the "white" buoy.  If you assume 180 degrees from left to right, the "white" buoy is about 90 degrees from the point where you enter the water...basically almost directly in the direction towards the cruise ships.  The swim is a couple of 100 yards or so (I'm not very good at distances... but it's an easy swim).  There was virtually no current whatsoever when we were there and we swam all over that area.  There are thousands of fish, an interesting shelf (NOT "The Wall" that you hear so much about at GC...but a nice little drop-off) and that's where Dan saw the nurse shark.  Very nice snorkeling.  AND you will find that the people that purchased the expensive snorkeling excursions will be pulling up at the same exact buoy with their boats.  You're getting the same thing they are getting for a fraction of the cost !

 

Then when you get back and want to take a break, the waitress will bring you a menu and you can enjoy some good food.  Not GREAT food, Not CHEAP food, but good enough.  It's considered good luck to eat conch when you're on GC so you should try the conch fritters.  At least you can say you had some conch !

 

Whatever you decide to do, I hope you have a wonderful time !  I spent a week diving in GC more than 30 years ago and it is indeed one of the best diving and snorkeling places in the world.

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I have snorkels there, too, and simply found it by accident. One of the best places to snorkel for the price and convenience. It's nice not having to take a boat out somewhere.

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