Freedom of the Seas Live Blog

Freedom of the Seas Live Blog Day Five - Grand Cayman

In:
08Sep2016

After a many year absence, I have returned to Grand Cayman today and I had grandiose plans.

There is no dock at Grand Cayman, so Royal Caribbean tenders guests to port and in order to avoid any kind of delay, I was first line line for the tenders at about 7:15am and literally first person onboard at 7:30.

The tender ride to Grand Cayman was  shorter than I remembered and I was in Georgetown shortly thereafter.  Since Grand Cayman is an hour behind ship time, not much was open at that hour, so I found a coffee shop to sit and relax in until it was time for our plans.

Our plans were simple: we reserved a private 55' yacht for everyone that booked into the Royal Caribbean Blog group cruise group. I did this to reward folks that support this blog by supporting our sponsors, and this was a joint, "thank you" on behalf of Royal Caribbean Blog and MEI-Travel.

Promptly at 9am we boarded our beautiful yacht for a day's worth of adventure.  

The yacht was, well, wonderful and the crew were at our service for the day.  We basically indicated what we were interested in doing, and they made it happen.

We made four stops on an absolutely stunning day.  We went to Starfish beach, snorkeled, went to Stingray City and then snorkeled again.  

Everyone had such a fun time onboard swimming, talking, exploring and enjoying the fabulous weather.

After the excursion was over, it was time to head back to the ship in order to get on one of the last few tenders.

My late afternoon activities mostly consisted of going in and out of napping in our room.   I think the sun and swimming caught up with me and no level of my kids playing could disturb me.  

For dinner this evening, we decided to go back to Sabor because, well, we love it there and wanted another opportunity to eat there without the kids.

The food was just as good, and I was able to try two new menu items that I had never tried.  Don't worry, I also went with my tried and true favorites as well.

The first was the Mezcal margarita, which is not on the regular menu but had a wonderful smoky flavor to it.  

I also tried the duck burrito, and I am not a big duck fan, but this had really awesome flavor to it.

All in all, another great meal at one of my favorite Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants!

To round out our evening, we took in a classic Royal Caribbean show, the Quest!

Tomorrow, we will be in Cozumel.

Stray Observations

  • The tendering was very easy and no one reported much of a wait across many times.
  • Speaking of tendering, there evidently was a special line to return tender for Diamond, Diamond Plus, Pinnacle and Suite guests, although I did not see it in action.
  • I learned today one can make a NextCruise reservation for someone not on the cruise.  So you can buy cruises for friends or family without having them onboard or you in the reservation.
  • I mentioned I was on the first tender of the day.  I got in line about 7:15 and was on the 7:30 tender.

Drink Count

5 drinks, 1 coffee and 1 bottle of water.

Freedom of the Seas Live Blog Day Four - Falmouth

In:
07Sep2016

Today we are in Falmouth, Jamaica and we did not have any excursions planned so we decided to just "go with the flow."  

On our last visit to Falmouth, we tried a nearby beach excursion but the kids did not love it and wanted to take it easier this time. 

Our ship did not dock in Falmouth until 10am, and so we took this opportunity to sleep in and take a little slower.

After breakfast in the Windjammer, it was time to head down to Falmouth.  Disembarkation was simple and we were able to get ashore with no wait.

Once in Falmouth, we went to Margaritaville, which is right inside the port area and has no cost for entry. Plus, it has a nice pool for the kids.

This was our first time here, and it was about what we expected. The pool was nice, although it lacked a shallow end (3 feet deep everywhere), but it has a fun waterfall feature.

We had a few drink and some chips, but the kids started to get crabby around lunch so we decided to head back to the ship for lunch at 1pm.  

Lunch was in the Windjammer, and they had some interesting choices, like an Asian soup station and a make-your-own pasta station.

After lunch, we stayed on the ship but the weather started to go from cloudy to rain.  It rained the rest of the day, making a return to Falmouth unlikely.

I did get off the ship to head to Dairy Queen for our "Blizzards in Jamaica" meet!  

All in attendance enjoyed a Dairy Queen blizzard treat and it tasted great!

The rest of my afternoon we spent back in the afternoon and took it easy. I think a lot of the fun from the last few days started to catch up with all of us.

Our evening was pretty similar to past few evenings: Fed the kids, brought them to Adventure Ocean and then enjoyed some drinks and dinner (not necessarily in that order).

Stray Observations

  • We discovered today that one can order guacamole from Sabor at the Schooner Bar without paying the cover charge. It costs $15 and consists of two servings and it's only available during regular Sabor hours.


  • The Cruise Compass lists tonight's dress code as "Tropical Casual". Not only have I never seen this dress code mentioned before, I have no idea what it means.
  • The schedule of activities today reminds me of embarkation day because of how few there are.  Our late departure (6:30pm) seems to be the likely reason.

Drink count

There is a phenomenon among drink package guests that I call "drink fatigue," where after a few days you start to lack the desire to order drinks because they may have indulged so much earlier in the cruise. The reason I bring this up is because it has started to hit me.  I did not have a drink today until the evening and today I felt less inclined to order a drink.

4 drinks + 2 coffees

Freedom of the Seas Live Blog Day Three - Labadee

In:
06Sep2016

Today might have been our family's best day in Labadee!

We arrived in Labadee just around 8am and our family got up around that time to get ready to for a day of sun, beach and ocean fun.  

Breakfast was in the Windjammer at around 8:30am, and it was busy, but we opted once again to dine in Giovanni's Table because it is reserved for Diamond and Diamond Plus guests.

Our plan was simple for today, we reserved a beach cabana at Nellie's Beach.  Usually, I opted for the over the water cabanas but with the young kids, the beach cabanas are a better choice because the over the water cabanas have steep stairs between the cabana and the ocean, whereas the beach cabana has much easier ocean access.

We walked off the ship and right to the golf carts waiting to take us directly to Nellie's Beach.  I love the private transportation service you get with the cabanas, especially with the kids.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the beach cabanas were on the beach, but at the back of the beach in a reserved area.  Whereas the beach cabanas at Barefoot Beach are right on the beach near other guests laying on the beach, these cabanas at Nellie's Beach were in the back to provide more privacy.

We got settled in quickly with our cabana attendant and then it was straight to the ocean!

Our group cruise meet for today was a meeting of the "Labadoozie Appreciation Society." I was surprised to see a brand new Labadoozie cup design that came in four colors, although it does not have the word "Labadee" written on it anymore.

We enjoyed our Labadoozies and headed back to Nellie's Beach for another swim.  

Lunch was the usual Labadee BBQ, and I ordered veggie burgers, which I enjoyed quite a bit.  

After lunch, we went to the beach for some more relaxing and swimming.  The kids enjoyed alternating between time in the ocean and playing in the sand.  It seemed like we struck the right chord on this visit of fun, good weather and the ultimate X-Factor, kids in a good mood.

I also took this opportunity to walk over to Columbus Cove and check out the water slide, water park and the new beach bungalows.

The bungalows look quite nice, and are very similar to the cabanas.  Coming in at $225, they are cheaper than the cabanas, but the trade-off here with the bungalows is they are spaced closer to each other and lack a third wall.  Not a big deal, and the beach views are quite nice.

 

By about 1:30pm, the kids were starting to "hit the wall" and we decided to bail before any meltdowns.

I know the cabanas are expensive ($399 for what we reserved), but considering the fact we split the cabana with friends, and had it for the entire day, the breakdown in hourly cost per person is more than a deal. And having a private retreat to enjoy was really nice, especially with our terrific cabana attendant.

Back onboard, everyone showered and I made a quick stop to Starbucks for much-needed caffeine. 

This evening was the Top Tier Crown and Anchor Society event, which is a welcome-back party for the Platinum and above members.

I really enjoy these events because I find it refreshing as a customer to have the company take time to recognize its most loyal customers.  Sure there are some complimentary alcoholic drinks here, but the idea of the event is what brings me back.  Plus, sometimes you pick up interesting tidbits or news from the Captain or another officer.

Following the event, I took my daughters for dinner at Sorrentos (of course) and then dropped them off at Adventure Ocean and the Nursery for the evening.

Prior to dinner, we opted to enjoy drinks in my favorite bar on Freedom of the Seas, R-Bar.  I love the hand crafted cocktails here and it is one of the best bars for people watching.

Dinner in the main dining room was lovely, and I enjoyed the Greek moussaka. 

Our evening activity was checking out the 80's dance party in Studio B.  I had never seen one before and it was fun to hear songs we all known the words to and watch folks dancing. 

Tomorrow we will be visiting Falmouth, Jamaica.

Stray Observations

  • The Labadoozie cup with the drink package is an out-of-pocket cost of $3.50.
  • When in the Labadee BBQ line, look for shorter lines because there are multiple lines at each BBQ station.  
  • Always remember to bring cash for tipping non-Royal Caribbean staff at Labadee.
  • The best, yet under appreciated, reasons to book a cabana: towels provided for you, so no hauling them back and forth from the ship.  This means our beach bag is about half the size it might otherwise be.  Also, the golf cart shuttle to/from your cabana is just plain awesome, especially with kids.
  • I was concerned about it being oppressively hot and humid today, but the humidity felt lower than what I was expecting and a nice breeze made for a fabulous weather day, especially for this time of year.
  • I was informed that if you are from England and have a English hair dryer, be sure to bring a European power adapter to make it work.

Drink count

8 drinks + 1 coffee

Freedom of the Seas Live Blog Day Two - Sea Day

In:
05Sep2016

Sea days are something I have come to love over the years because of the variety of activities available onboard.  In fact, Royal Caribbean ships really "come to life" on sea days because of the plethora of activities.

Being in an inside stateroom (Promenade view), there is no natural light, so when I woke up, I had no idea if it was 2am or 2pm.  My phone said it was 8:30am, which was a surprise because that meant my children actually slept in!  Shortly thereafter, the kids woke up and we got ourselves going for the day.

Breakfast was in the Windjammer and we took advantage of a private dining area just for Diamond and Diamond Plus guests in Giovanni's Table.  Honestly, I had no idea this was a perk, but it was nice having a quieter spot without to search for a seat.

Naturally, I indulged in my favorite breakfast item in the Windjammer, by visiting the omelet station.  I noticed there were two omelet stations that face the aft of the ship, and even at 9amish, there was no big lines.

Following breakfast, I stopped by Cafe Promenade to grab a Starbucks beverage (thank you Ultimate Package) and then took my five year old to morning trivia in the Schooner Bar.

She did not want to go to Adventure Ocean, so I took her to trivia and this was her first time.  It was general trivia and she actually knew the answers to two questions that I had no clue about.  She knew how many hearts an Octopus has (3) and what ran away with the spoon in the nursery rhyme (plate).  

We lost, but it was still fun and she greatly enjoyed scoring the other team's answer sheet.

Next was our first meet of the day, which was the Key Master game in the Casino.  Basically, we tried to beat the Key Master machine and lost terribly.

We also tried our hand at the cash crane and managed to see someone actually win (it was not the person pictured)!  

After losing enough cash in the casino, it was time for lunch at Sabor.

This Sabor meal was a thank you to everyone that booked into our group from our partners at MEI Travel.  We took over the back half of the restaurant and indulged in some of my favorite meals.

The guacamole, margaritas and basically everything there was as good as I remember and a grand time was had by all.  

There was a bit of a discrepancy about which margaritas were included in the drink package, but in the end, we were able to use the drink package benefits for all the margaritas on the menu.  By far, the avocado margarita is my personal favorite.  I doubt this will be our last visit here on this cruise.

Following lunch, I walked around a bit and right to our next meet of the day, which was "The Most Civilized Bar Crawl" meet.  

We visited the Pub, R-Bar, Boleros and the Schooner Bar.  

Great drinks, great friends and a great time! It was the perfect opportunity to talk about cruising, life and get to know everyone.

I then headed up to Adventure Ocean to grab my daughter (she ended up going to the afternoon session) and went for a swim in the pool with her.

She had a blast in the kids pool practicing her jumps and swimming and late afternoons are a great time because the pools in general are all less crowded.

After the swim, it was time to head back to the room for showers and getting dressed. Tonight is our first formal night and we enjoy getting dressed up, just because outside of weddings and funerals, we never really have the opportunity.

My wife went with some of her friends to see the Broadway show, Marquee, in the Royal Theater and I was in charge of feeding the kids prior to dropping them off at Adventure Ocean. Feeding my kids these days means a stop at Sorrento's for some pizza.

After being fed, I brought the kids up to Adventure Ocean and then did what any sensible adult would do when left alone for about an hour: used my drink package benefits!  There was quite a crowd on the Royal Promenade because of it being formal night and plenty of people enjoying the festivities.

Dinner was back in the main dining room and another fun evening.  Great meal and service was great. 

Tomorrow is our first port stop in Labadee and I am excited for another day in paradise!

Stray Observations

  • Best bar for a less crowded experience: Olive or Twist Bar
  • I have a working theory about getting reservations for the Nursery, but will wait for it to be verified before reporting about it. 
  • Friends of ours reported if you are in the market for individual packs of cigarettes, you can get them at pretty much any bar if you ask.

Drink Count

Sea days are a drink package guest's best friend, and managed to get 10 drinks plus one Starbucks coffee in today.  I am doing much better than I thought I would be doing, although I freely admit it is easier to get two drinks at a restaurant or bar, where if I was paying cash I might have just had one.

Freedom of the Seas Live Blog Day One- Embarkation Day

In:
04Sep2016

It is finally here! After months of waiting, our next Royal Caribbean begins on a Royal Caribbean ship I have been on the most, Freedom of the Seas.

We arrived in the Cocoa Beach area yesterday, following through with a piece of advice I always dole out, which is to arrive to your embarkation port at least a day early.  This ensures any travel delays will not impact your cruise and your vacation begins a little earlier!

This morning, we woke up bright and early and got to Terminal One of Port Canaveral at 9:30am.  To my surprise, the terminal was open for check-in and after parking the car, we went in to check-in and get situated. 

Check-in was simple enough and as you might imagine, no lines at that time of day.  I heard from other cruisers later on that the lines for security got significantly longer as the day wore on, so arriving early to the terminal on embarkation day is a good idea.

Also surprising was the fact that we were let onboard pretty early.  I was onboard at 10:30 and at the Windjammer by 10:45.  Love it!

We had our traditional first meal onboard, enjoying the great variety of food available and without much fuss.

Following lunch, we walked around the Royal Promenade and just waited for the room to be ready. Traveling with a family, we tend to pack similarly to the Army of the Potomac, so it is easier to find a spot onboard to relax and wait for staterooms to be open at 1pm. We found such a spot at Boleros on deck 4.

I also took this opportunity to enjoy our first drinks of the cruise, a frozen mojito for myself and a margarita for my wife. 

We sipped our cocktails while the kids played somewhat quietly.  I would love to hear any reader suggestions for what to do in these hours before the room is ready from other parents.  We did have swimsuits, but the idea of getting changed in a restroom did not really appeal to me.

The staterooms were promptly ready at 1pm and we checked out our new home for the next seven nights.  We reserved connecting Promenade View rooms, which is our first time staying in this category.

With two rooms, we have a good amount of space for us and most importantly, separation from the kids when it comes to sleeping.

We headed up to Adventure Ocean to register the kids for that and the Nursery.  Royal Caribbean limits the nursery reservation of time to 16 hours, but after day 4, they allow more reservations. My wife is apprehensive that there may not be enough reservable time as we like, but based on prior experience, I am reasonably optimistic.  Granted, our group alone has brought about 4-5 toddlers onboard.

Next was time for our first meet of the cruise, the Go with the (Lava) Flow meet in the Olive Or Twist lounge. Great drinks with a great view and perfect way to kick off our cruise.

Muster drill was the usual event, and I appreciated the crew members that stood our kids at the front of the line and allowed us to leave a minute sooner than everyone to beat the crowd with kids!

For sail away, we organized another meet up at the helipad.  Great idea, but it was so hot out!  Luckily, we found some shade nearby.

I took this opportunity to stop by Cafe Promenade and grab my first Starbucks of the cruise.  Suddenly, the ultimate drink package is wonderful!

Back outside for sail away, we were delayed a bit because of some late luggage, but we left soon enough and on our way!

I headed back to the room after sail away for us to shower and get ready for dinner and our evening events.

While my wife got ready for dinner, I took the kids down to eat some food and to meet Po from Kung Fu Panda. Mission:accomplished! And for those keeping score at home, they do have 3D films in the Royal Theater, with Kung Fu Panda 3 shown tonight.

Along the way, I happened to run across the Izumi Express sushi available on Freedom of the Seas.  Earlier this summer, Royal Caribbean started offering Izumi-quality sushi for purchase.  On Freedom of the Seas, it is available from Sorrentos.

The sushi options were similar to what I saw on other ships and definitely an improvement what I have ever had at the Jade area of the Windjammer on previous cruises in the Windjammer. That being said, there is no more complimentary sushi available in the Jade section.

Adventure Ocean on day one is always a little odd in terms of scheduling but on this sailing, Adventure Ocean opened at 8:30pm, which is great.  We dropped my youngest off at the nursery at 8 and took my oldest daughter came with us for dinner in the main dining room for just about 20 minutes and then dropped her off after the appetizers.

Dinner in the main dining room was great, as usual, and the highlight of my meal was the coffee ice cream.  Perfect!

After dinner, we picked up the kids and headed back up to the room for an early evening.  We need energy for tomorrow.

Tomorrow is a sea day, with lots of exploring to do!

Stray Observations

  • Embarkation was among the quickest I have ever experienced, although I do admit I got there super early.  Still, the key is to arrive early to avoid those lines.
  • Check out the pricing for Sabor and Giovanni's Table.  $1 cheaper than usual, and I think it is because they want to make the price look more attractive at being just under the usual price point. Kind of like why things are $19.99 instead of $20.

  • Interestingly, I spotted on the Cruise Compass there is a note that Royal Caribbean's security officers now wear body cameras.  I spotted one officer wearing it when we boarded.  Definitely something new (to me).
  • The main dining room has a new kids menu, or at least a new presentation.
  • There are always embarkation day deals for specialty restaurants, but today at Sabor they were offering 20% off plus a free margarita. 

 

I wanted to tally the drinks I had each day to figure out how close I am coming to breaking even.  So at the end of every blog post, you will find my drink count.  Today's count is 7 alcoholic cocktails and 1 Starbucks drink. I came out a bit ahead, although I freely admit 2-3 drinks were drinks I ordered for the sake of ordering.  Still, off to a good start!

Freedom of the Seas 2016 Live Blog - Cruise Preview

In:
30Aug2016

Our next adventure is coming up on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas and we will be LIVE blogging every day of the cruise, to share with you what it is like to experience this amazing ship.

Our cruise begins later this week, but here is a cruise preview to share with you what to expect on our trip!

Our cruise

This sailing aboard Freedom of the Seas happens to be the third Royal Caribbean Blog Group Cruise, which is an event we set up earlier this year to invite everyone that enjoys this blog to sail together on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

We chose Freedom of the Seas because it is a very popular ship.  In fact, Freedom of the Seas is the ship I have been on the most across Royal Caribbean's entire fleet.  She is a large ship that offers a lot of great activities and options, and comes in at a terrific price.  In addition, we are sailing over Labor Day weekend in the United States, which means many of us will only have to take 4 vacation days.

Part of the reason I find myself coming back to Freedom of the Seas time and time again is the great variety of what she offers. Fabulous specialty dining, a fun pool deck and great entertainment every day of the cruise stacks up to offer one of the best values.  It is amusing to consider that despite the ship being barely 10 years old, her pricing relative to the newer ships in the fleet has lead to one of the best bang-for-the-buck anyone can find.

Sharing this cruise experience with my friends from Royal Caribbean Blog means that there will be lots of friendly faces aboard the ship. As I mentioned, this is our third group cruise, and each one has been even more fun than a normal cruise because we run into friends all over and that means we get to cruise with other Royal Caribbean fans that "get" just how fun and amazing a Royal Caribbean cruise can be.

Our stateroom

For this cruise, we are trying something new and different to us, a Promenade view stateroom.  We reserved two connecting Promenade view rooms because we wanted to keep our cruise fare low, without compromising on having a view.  

I have two children, ages 1 and 5, and I think they will love the endless viewing opportunities a room like this offers.  Plus, the bay window in Promenade view rooms provides a little extra living space with that couch near the window.

As a parent, we chose two connecting rooms instead of one larger room to provide extra living space, get an extra bathroom and get separation from our children (especially at night time). We love our kids, but need sharing a room with two young children is not always preferable, so having that extra room means they can sleep on their schedule and they also have their own space to play together.

Our itinerary

We are sailing on a 7-night Western Caribbean cruise aboard Freedom of the Seas, that will take us to cruise ports we love.  While there are no ports of call that are new to us, we are getting a chance to re-visit some favorites.

DayPorts of CallArrivalDeparture
Sunday, September 4, 2016Orlando (Port Canaveral), Fl--4:30 pm
Monday, September 5, 2016Cruising----
Tuesday, September 6, 2016Labadee, Haiti8:00 am4:00 pm
Wednesday, September 7, 2016Falmouth, Jamaica10:00 am7:00 pm
Thursday, September 8, 2016George Town, Grand Cayman8:00 am4:00 pm
Friday, September 9, 2016Cozumel, Mexico10:00 am7:00 pm
Saturday, September 10, 2016Cruising----
Sunday, September 11, 2016Orlando (Port Canaveral), Fl6:00 am--

Two of my favorite Caribbean ports are Labadee and Cozumel.  In Labadee, we rented a beach cabana so that the kids can have a comfortable place to relax and have easy access to the beach.  I love the cabanas at Labadee for the privacy and perks they provide.  I prefer the over the water cabanas for the added privacy, but with the kids being as young as they are, a beach cabana makes it far easier for them to get to and from the beach.

When I visit Cozumel, we just explore San Miguel and do a combination of eating, shopping, more eating and generally wandering the town (with some eating along the way).

On this cruise, we are visiting Grand Cayman for the first time in a while, and we have something super fun planned. I have invited everyone that booked into our Royal Caribbean Blog Group Cruise to join us on a private yacht excursion.  We found a great chartering service in Grand Cayman, that has a 55' yacht that offers three staterooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, jet ski, sun loungers, stereo and a whole lot more.  Plus, we get to go wherever we want around the island! This is going to be such an incredible experience that I get to share with my friends from Royal Caribbean Blog!

Three things I am excited to try

I have a lot of plans for this cruise, but here are the top five experiences and activities that I am most excited to do on this sailing.

3. Eat at Sabor

Hi, my name is Matt and I am a Sabor addict.

Hi Matt.

I make no apologies about how much I really, really love Sabor Modern Mexican, and cruising on Freedom of the Seas means I get yet another chance to eat here a few times. Between the amazing guacamole, hand-crafted margaritas and tuna tacos, not sure how I will be able to bring myself to dine anywhere else onboard.

2. Try the ultimate drink package

For this cruise, I booked Royal Caribbean's ultimate drink package prior to my cruise.  I generally do not buy the drink packages because I do not feel I can get my money's worth from them to make it worth my while.  But I changed my tune for this sailing for a few reasons. 

First, the drink package was discounted 20%, which means the difference in price between the premium drink package and ultimate drink package was $5 per day.  That means I have to drink just one coffee from Cafe Promenade a day to break even.  I was planning on doing that anyway, even before the drink package.  

Second, the drink package allows me to lock-in my beverage costs for this cruise, and that means my SeaPass bill at the end of the cruise will be much smaller. Breaking up the total cost of the cruise is a major benefit of all the drink packages.

Third, I have never tried the ultimate drink package, so this will be an opportunity to see how I do with it.  One of the top reasons I avoid the drink packages is because I feel that I drink for the sake of drinking when I have them, so we will see if that holds up or not.  I plan on documenting in each live blog post how many drinks I had that day to account for the value the drink package provided me.

1. Promenade view room

As I noted earlier, this will be my first time staying in a Promenade view stateroom.  While I have poked my head in a few over the years, this is the first time I will stay in one.  

My hope is the kids will really enjoy the view, especially when there is the first parade on the Royal Promenade that is often late at night. Moreover, I want them to find their own value from being able to see all the action on the Royal Promenade from the comfort of their room.

Personally, I am excited to see what the experience is like and have convenient access to the Royal Promenade. I seem to spend more time on the Royal Promenade than other places onboard, so being close by makes sense.

What's next

Our Freedom of the Seas cruise begins on Sunday, September 4th and I will be sharing the details on the blog, as well as across my social media channels.  Be sure to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Periscope for live updates throughout the day.

I invite you to share in this experience with me, by posting in the comments for any blog post questions and comments you may have.  I try to make these live blogs as interactive as I can, so I want everyone to feel welcome to share their thoughts.

Thanks for reading all of this and welcome aboard our next fun live blog experience!

Freedom of the Seas Live Blog - Day Seven - Sea Day

In:
02Aug2015

It's our last day onboard Freedom of the Seas and the last day is always bittersweet.  

Yes, it's another day on a cruise and one less day at home but the end of this cruise is looming over us like a dark cloud approaching shore.

Today we mostly ran around and got things done, like paying down our SeaPass account and making some last purchases onboard.

Here are some photos from around the ship...

Jimmy Buffett tribute at Schooner Bar

A look down deck 4 

We hit the Guest Services desk early to avoid the lines later

Starbucks menu at Cafe Promenade

Trivia in Schooner Bar

Souvenir cups for sale

Looking up at the decks in the Atrium

Cake in Windjammer

Parade preperations in Royal Promenade

Typical last day lines at Guest Relations.  Get it done early or before the last day!

Me with the ship's officers

Photos from FreedomFest

Tutti Salad on the menu at Main Dining Room for lunch

Slot tournament in Casino Royale

Rather than describe my various stops around the ship, I wrote up some conclusions and observations from this cruise to share.  I think it will provide more insight into the Freedom of the Seas experience.

  • To begin with, I really enjoyed this cruise.  Freedom of the Seas is a wonderful ship and our family had a great time onboard.  Even with this being our third time on her, it's still a pleasure to take a cruise on her.
  • The refurbishment earlier this year added some nice touches.  We loved Sabor and R-Bar.  Other guests we spoke to and overheard also echoed their love of these newly added venues.
  • Our fears of last week's fire affecting the cruise experience were greatly exaggerated.  I have gotten A LOT of questions about the fire and its effects but it may as well never have happened.  If you have an upcoming sailing, do not worry one bit about it.  I've often said, if you had no idea there was a fire last week, you would not have known it based on the condition of the ship.
  • Maybe it is just me, but I do not recall feeling so much motion with so little waves or wind.  The motion is NOT anywhere near the level of getting sea sick but I just felt the motion the entire cruise.  Based on my experience on other ships, it seems rather odd.  Again, maybe I am just sensitive.
  • Kids programs were great.  Our kids did really well with Adventure Ocean and the Nursery.  If you ask me, the key to a positive experience in either is setting the right expectations with your kids.  Letting them know about it, telling them about the activities and even hyping the experience a bit all contribute to having fun.  Granted, with my 6 month old there was much more luck but the entire experience is a testament to the staff.
  • Cruising in July, there were a lot of kids.  The Nursery staff told us over 1000 kids on this sailing.  It did not bother me at all but compared to sailing in September and February, it is a noticeable difference.  
  • Speaking of July, it is really, really hot in the Caribbean. CocoCay and St Maarten were exceptionally warm and being outside for more than a few minutes lead to lots of sweating.  Be prepared for plenty of wardrobe changes.
  • I'm really impressed by the crew.  They go out of their way to help and make a better experience.  Does Royal Caribbean get everything right off the bat? No, but if you ask or inquire, they are very accommodating.  The worst thing you can do is not say anything and "suck it up" and let it sour your cruise.  Ask in a nice way and you will be amazed by the results.
  • I am always disappointed in how little I do onboard in terms of activities but we did have a great time.  I always wish we did more events onboard but at the end of the day, I had a great time.  Royal Caribbean cruises are what you make of them and if you go 6am to 3am doing all the events or just sit by the pool, ultimately it is your choice and Royal Caribbean does provide a lot for folks to see and do.
  • I like second seating dinner for its time but I have to admit it makes seeing the shows more difficult.  It seems like we were always getting ready for dinner around those times.  I think that means we have to get ready earlier but then it seems like there is no benefit of second seating dining.  Having said all this, I do not think we will change our dining preference.
  • Best onboard entertainment: Once Upon A Time, Karaoke at On-Air Club, Live music
  • The internet onboard was mostly acceptable. It's slow and I cannot wait for Voom to arrive but it was tolerable.  I think speeds get worse as the week goes on and more and more people buy packages.
  • The main dining room was what I expected and we had a good time there.  Food is very subjective but I found the food to be somewhere between okay and excellent.  Most were between good and very good.  Service was outstanding.
  • Best dining experience: Sabor
  • Best bar: R-Bar for drinks. Schooner Bar or Pub for experience.  Honorable mention to On-Air Club
  • Places I never went: Ice skating rink, mini-golf (or anything in that vicinity not counting the FlowRider), Solarium (unless you count walking through it), Johnny Rockets
  • Stateroom we had was great and splurging for 2 rooms was the best idea ever.  Having 2 bathrooms and the extra space was important.  It was not as much space as I thought but I cannot imagine what would have happened if we had just one room.
  • It is really easy to meet the Dreamworks characters onboard.  There is rarely a line and if there is a line, it is just one or two people usually.  That being said, each character's set is usually quite short (about 20 minutes max).
  • There is no question I saved money by not getting an unlimited alcohol package.  Speaking with folks who did get it, by about day 4 or 5, many were telling me they were simply ordering drinks for the sake of ordering drinks.  
  • Things I miss from not being on a cruise ship: high speed internet, full use of my phone, access to more of my wardrobe.  Otherwise, let's keep sailing!

I also wanted to make sure I thank all of you that have been reading and commenting here, on Facebook, Instragram and Twitter.  Having your feedback and questions has been wonderful and it made my cruise much more interesting.  THANK YOU for letting me take you on a virtual cruise with me and I cannot wait to do this again!

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Freedom of the Seas Live Blog - Day Six - Sea Day

In:
31Jul2015

You know what they say about the best laid plans? That's what happened this morning.

Yesterday evening my wife and I stopped by the Vitality Spa to schedule a massage for her.  It is a cruising tradition for my wife to forget many months of woes by indulging in a massage.

With just two sea days left, there were not many spots available but they did have an early morning spot at 8am.  We thought she should book that because it will be early enough for the kids to sleep through it and even I could get some extra shut eye.

What ended up happening was the spa called with a wake up call (that we did not schedule) and that woke up the baby and there went my sleep and her sleep.

Nonetheless, my wife went to get her massage while me and the baby sat in bed with the baby toys for a while.

Eventually my 4 year old daughter woke up and we got dressed up and went up the Windjammer for breakfast.

My wife met us up there and we dropped my 4 year old off at Adventure Ocean while the rest of us went back to our stateroom for the baby to sleep and my wife and I to take a nap too.

We got back up around 11:30am and went to get my daughter for lunch.  We decided to try Giovanni's Table for lunch today based on some positive reviews from others onboard.

My ever picky daughter wanted to eat at the Windjammer so we got her a plate of food to eat there and then went to Giovanni's Table.

We showed up a few minutes after 12pm and were seated (no prior reservations).   Giovanni's Table replaced Portofino's and there were probably three other tables of guests inside.

The menu at Giovanni's Table was similar to other Giovanni Table restaurants I have been to and we placed our orders.

What seemed odd is it took a good 20-30 minutes for our appetizers to show up.  Luckily, the entrees did not take as long for them to arrive.

My favorite dishes at Giovanni's Table were the lasagna and Caprese salad.  My wife seemed to like her food more than I did but for $15 per person at lunch, it's a good deal.

Following lunch, my wife and 4 year old daughter went to the theater to watch the Dreamworks film, "Home" while I took the baby around the ship for some photos and then back to the stateroom for her to play.

Interestingly, we received this certificate delivered to our stateroom today.  I'm happy to get it but it was completely unexpected.  Anyone else get these? 

We all got dressed for dinner early as it was formal night and we wanted to get some family photos taken onboard.  Royal Caribbean cruises are our defacto place to get good family photos.

Before it was time for photos or dinner, we were invited to the Top Tier Crown and Anchor Society welcome back party.  

On my way, I met up with a fellow that enjoys eating on cruises as much as me!

This was the first of these parties on the cruise that I saw or was invited to. Usually there is one large event for everyone and then the top tier event later.  Unless there is one for tomorrow, guess only one.

The reason to go to these events is for the free alcohol and recognition for being Loyal to Royal.  I really enjoy them and on this one, the hotel director divulged that all the new build ships coming out will have water slides, including Ovation of the Seas.

There was also more food than I remember having at the event.  

It was held in the Star Lounge and the loyalty ambassador, hotel director and Captain all spoke. 

After the party we headed to take photos.  We timed it well because we went on the tail end of first dining so the lines were quite small.  We will go tomorrow to see how they all came out.  I think we will order a few.

For dinner, half the Windjammer was closed for some odd reason so we brought my 4 year old daughter to Sorrento's for dinner.  She has likely consumed 94% pizza on this cruise.

My wife went to our stateroom to grab something around this time and we were pleasantly surprised to have a voicemail indicating that there was an opening at the nursery for our 6 month old. Huzzah!

As you may recall, guests can only reserve time for one formal night and we picked the first formal night.  Luckily there was availability tonight and we could enjoy our dinner kid free!

After consuming mass quantities of pizza, we brought the kids upstairs to be dropped off and the wife and I headed back to the Royal Promenade.

We picked to go to R-Bar for drinks and it was a great choice. 

We sat at the bar and tried a few new drinks out.  Between the great bar service and the people watching, we had a good time in our pre-dinner entertainment.

Dinner tonight in the main dining room was formal night and we had another good meal.  Our waiters are quite nice and they have been very attentive.  

Following dinner, we played a little bit at the casino and then took in some drinks at the pub.  As per usual, 10pm hit and we started feeling tired so we got the kids back and headed to bed.

Stray Observations

  • The second most depressing thing to see on your cruise (tomorrow night is the worst):

  • The chapel and one of the card rooms are closed for the air scrubber upgrades 

  • I do not recall this piece of art having lights and/or lighting up

 

Tomorrow is our last day and a sea day.  It may be the last day but it is still better than not being on a cruise!

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Freedom of the Seas Live Blog - Day Five - St Martin

In:
30Jul2015

Toay we are visiting one of my favorite spots in the Caribbean, St Martin.

We set our alarm for 7:30am to get ready but getting ready seemed to take longer than we anticipated so we decided to skip breakfast on the ship and have it on the island.

For our tour of the island, we hired a local driver that we have used 3 or 4 times now, Leo Brown.  Leo is a taxi driver we found by chance one cruise to St Martin and he has proven to be extremely nice, reliable and knowledgeable.

We met up with him right at 9am and he was waiting for us where we had planned.  We told him about our breakfast "problem" and he asked if we wanted local cuisine or American food.  Knowing my daughter and wife, I said American food and off we went.

After a 5 minute car ride, Leo brought us to the Devis Resort, which is a time share resort on the Dutch side right on the ocean.  Leo brought us to the restaurant and we had a fabulous breakfast buffet.

There was fruit, omelette station, hot foods, yogurts, juice, cereal and some bread to choose from.  I was impressed by the variety and the quality of the buffet.  

The price was $18 per person and I thought it was a great choice.

We packed into his van and off we went to our next stop, Le Galion beach on the French side.

Le Galion beach is an ideal beach for kids because it is a small bay that has rocks that not only protect the bay from waves but it is extremely shallow too.  

My 4 year old spent the entire time in the ocean and my 6 month old fared better today than yesterday (thanks to a long nap on mommy).

The beach has no fee but it is $5 per chair or umbrella.  You can also rent things like kayaks or wind surf for an additional fee.

New since our last visit is a large floating platform that allows swimmers a spot to jump.  The locals tell us it was built for kids to learn to swim but it's there if you want to use as well.

Here's an example of why we love having Leo as our guide.  At the beach my wife realized as the baby was screaming her head off that she had forgotten the bottles back on the ship.  Instantly Leo shot up from his chair and without accepting any money from me, drove to a nearby pharmacy and got us a bottle.  

We spent a few hours here and as lunch approached, we decided that we would get my 4 year old daughter a burger at the beach and then venture further into the French side for something else to eat for us.

Once the burger was eaten, we drove to the town of Grand Case and Leo brought us to a place that offered fresh Caribbean food.

I had the Mahi Mahi and my wife opted for chicken.  Both tasted great and it was right on the beach too!

I wish we had a little more time but we had to get back to the ship, so Leo brought us to the port with a small tour of the French side along the way.

We said goodbye to Leo, hoping to see him again soon, and got back on Freedom of the Seas.

My wife took the baby back to the room for a nap while I took my 4 year old daughter to the H2O Zone for a quick swim.

Afterwards, it was back to the room for showers and getting dressed for dinner.

Tonight we have our "big night out", or at least we hope for a big night out.  We reserved time for both kids to stay until midnight at their respective clubs while my wife and I enjoy dinner at Sabor and some time  around the ship.

Quick tip, we had a reservation at Sabor at 8 but wanted to eat earlier.  If you are in a similar situation, feel free to go to the restaurant and ask if you can be seated now.  It never fails to work, especially since there seems to be open tables.   Granted, this tip probably works best with smaller tables.

Sabor tonight was quite impressive and I really enjoyed my meal there. Tonight's experience re-affirmed my love of this specialty restaurant.

As may you recall, we had Sabor for lunch earlier this cruise while it was really good, it was not quite what I remembered on Navigator.  Clearly, I did not order the right food.

This time around I asked for extra guac with extra lime juice (let's call this the Matt special) and opted for the ahi tuna tacos and red snapper.  The good was amazing and I wish I had just ordered the tacos a few times.

We asked for our same waiter, Juan, and when he saw us he commented, "Are you the guy that posted a photo of me on Instagram?".  Busted!

I also tried the horizontal tequila flight, which was phenomenal.   Add some hand crafted margaritas and you have a really, really good experience.

Essentially the food at Sabor is really good and if you try their drinks, I think you will find one of the better Mexican meals out there.   My wife and I really enjoyed our time there.

Following Sabor, we did a bit of bar hopping between Schooner Bar, R-Bar, Pub and Viking Crown Lounge.  

Proving we are older than we think, we got to about 10:30pm and decided to call it a night early.  The drinking caught up with us and we wanted to be rested for a full day tomorrow.

I am hoping to get a lot done tomorrow on our second to last day, so hoping for a great day!

Stray Observations

  • Someone asked about the new staterooms on deck 12. I stopped by and took some photos.  There is a door that lets out directly on deck 12 and there is access to the elevator lobby.

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Freedom of the Seas Live Blog - Day Four - St Thomas

In:
29Jul2015

We began today much like our other days, with a wake up around 8am and then subsequently getting the kids ready to get going.

We ate breakfast at the Windjammer, which was packed today.  I think everyone had the plan to sleep in given our noon arrival in St Thomas.

We dropped off our 4 year old daughter in Adventure Ocean and then went to the helicopter pad to watch Freedom of the Seas pull into St Thomas.  

As it turned out, we got in early and were cleared to go ashore by 10:30am.  That's an hour and a half early!  Thanks Captain Ron!

Our early arrival presented a small problem because we had just left our daughter in Adventure Ocean 30 minutes or so ago and if we went to pick her up now, she would have a mini-heart attack.

We decided to give her the choice of coming with us or staying and sure enough, she did not bat an eye about wanting to stay in Adventure Ocean.  She absolutely loves it in there and everytime we pick her up, we are the bad guys. 

With one less child, we headed back to the stateroom to get ready and then went ashore.  

Our first stop was the Sky ride to Paradise Point.  It is a gondola-style cable car ride up a mountain to the top of a mountain that overlooks the port area.

We booked the excursion through Royal Caribbean (About $20 per adult and $10 per kid. 6 month old was free).  It is really close to the port and is about a 5-10 minute walk.

We got to the base of the sky ride and got our wristband (your admission allows you to go back as many times as you want during the day).

I will have a more in-depth review of the sky ride in another blog post but we really enjoyed it.  It was a fun ride up the mountain and the view is quite lovely.  The whole thing took about 30 minutes, unless you spend time at the top at the bar or shopping more than we did.

Next up we took a taxi to downtown Charotte Amalie to do some shopping and have lunch.  

We walked by a few shops and found a nice pearl necklace for my wife.  I have been promising my wife jewelry for a few cruises but we never find anything we like.  This time, we found a nice piece at a good price and we bought it.

By now it was 12:30pm and we were getting hungry.   Since we had cell service in St Thomas (it is part of the United States), I took my cell phone out and pulled up the Yelp app to find a restaurant.

The #1 restaurant in our area was Cuzzin's Caribbean and we went there.  As the name implies, it serves up Caribbean food but there were also burgers and sandwiches. And it has air conditioning!

I ordered the curried chicken while my wife ordered the cheeseburger.  Her burger was good and freshly made but my curried chicken was really, really good.  The meat was falling off the bone and I really like it.

On top of that, a blog reader Michael from Tampa, recommended the lambada boomer drink and let's just say my day got a lot better very quickly!

Next up we took a cab to the beach.  I wanted to go to to Lindquist Beach on the east end of the island but the taxi driver we found convinced us to go to Emerald Beach instead.  He had a good point: Both beaches are quite lovely but this one is closer and cheaper.  He offered to let us scope it out first so I obliged and off we went.

Emerald Beach is about a 5 minute drive from downtown and there is a Best Western Plus hotel.  Once you get there, you can walk straight to the beach and there is no fee for the beach, chairs or anything.  Granted, there is no service either in terms of waiters.

The beach and water were beautiful and it was a quiet piece of beach to enjoy.  

This would have been perfect if not for my 6 month old losing her mind because she was over tired and refused to nap.  We fought it for a while but ultimately we had to leave and go back because if the baby was screaming, no one is having fun.

Overall, it was a fun day and we got a lot done in my opinion.  We spent far less money than I thought we would and it was good seeing a few different spots on the island.  I just wish the baby would have cooperated a little bit more.  C'est la vie!

You can see the piece of the top of Freedom of the Seas missing due to the fire

Back onboard, we rested up and got ready for dinner.  The kids went to Adventure Ocean and the nursery and we headed to the dining room.

Dinner was good, unfortunately not as good as last night but we enjoyed our time there and it was a pleasant evening.

After dinner we got out early enough that we got into the Once Upon A Time show in the Royal Theater.

This was the first evening show we managed to see and it's a mashup of classic fairytales to contemporary music.  

I really enjoyed it and thought the songs they chose were spot on and overall it was a really good performance.

Tomorrow, we are going to St Martin with all the kids and hoping they both can work in some naps!

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