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Freedom of the Seas Live Blog

Freedom of the Seas Live Blog - Day One

In:
15Jun2015

Royal Caribbean Blog contributor Michael Poole is on Freedom of the Seas this week reporting all about his cruise experience.

Pre Cruise

I arrived to Cape Canaveral around 1:00pm, so we had the whole afternoon ahead of us. 

For lunch, I wanted to head down to the restaurants on the water and watch the cruise ships sailaway.  We ended up going to The Grill on the water; it had live music and right beside the new terminal 1.  If you are looking for a fun way to start the vacation, I would suggest their patio on Saturday afternoons. 

Hotel

There was a group of 20 staying at the Radisson resort at the port.  The best thing about this hotel is the location, its right across the street from the pier; we could actually see the Freedom.  They have a beautiful swimming pool, tennis courts; only downfall is the layout of the resort. 

More often than not, I was lost I couldn’t find my room, very few signs directing you where to go, but we managed.  Also a good perk of this hotel is 0.2 miles from hertz rental car. 

This morning I dropped the car off at 7am, and walked back to the hotel and it took less than 10 minuets.  If you can grab a good rate on the rental car, this might be the best way to travel the 45 miles to Cape Canaveral. 

Embarkation  

We arrived to the pier at 11:30am and there was no line until we made it to the check-in desk to receive our sea pass cards, but didn’t take more than 15 minutes.  The terminal is beautiful with such a modern look, though it does not feel larger than the one Oasis of the Seas is currently using in Fort. Lauderdale. 

By noon, we were walking onboard and headed straight to the Windjammer for the signature first meal. 

It didn’t feel that over crowded that it usually does on day 1, and we were able to get a table for our group, which is 11 people. 

Cabin

The staterooms are ready at 1:00pm and I’m in an inside cabin, where the nightclub used to be on deck 3. 

The cabin is actually great, if not the best inside cabin I’ve had.  I’m sorry I haven’t taken pictures yet, but I will. 

Everything has that blue theme color, where the other inside cabin’s have the green tint.  It looks like the cabins on the new Quantum ship.

I would book this cabin again if I was returning to the Freedom, it’s 3543. 

Pre Dinner

Before dinner we went to vintages for some wine, it’s located on the royal promenade on deck 5.  They did have a shortage of almost every wine we asked for, they said the guest on Saturday night wiped them out and they would be restocked on Monday. 

Not a big deal, but we actually ran into the same issue at the new R Bar.  They couldn’t make a few drinks because they were out of everything, including bottles of water that are included in the drink package. 

Dinner

Tonight my brother treated the whole group to dinner at Chops Grill.  The cost of this dinner is $35 pp, which includes the gratuity. 

The service was really great, especially for such a large group. 

I started out with the French onion soup and it’s so full of flavor, one of my favorite items on the new menu.  I also had the shrimp cocktail, and the shrimp were so large almost a meal within themselves. 

For the main course I had the filet mignon, with the red wine sauce.  This is always such an amazing steak, no matter what ship you are on and I would recommend everyone to try it out. 

Our waiter surprised my brother and his new husband with a desert at the end of the meal, one more reason I love Royal Caribbean so much.  Shortly after dinner we all headed to bed, it was a really long day for everyone. 

Internet Package

The cost of the Internet package for 1 device is $140 and 2 devices was $220.  This is before any crown and anchor discount. For Diamond members, it’s $40 off. 

The speeds are extremely slow; I was so spoiled from the Internet speeds on Oasis of the Seas.  When you send a text (imessage) they are pretty fast, but pictures almost can’t go through. 

Also, I cannot pick up a WiFi signal in my stateroom.

That about wraps up my day 1 on board the Freedom of the Seas, up next is Coco Cay! 

Feel free to comment below and let me know if you want to see pictures of anything onboard.  

Live Blogging from Freedom of the Seas - Preamble

In:
12Jun2015

Royal Caribbean Blog contributor Michael Poole is about to go on Freedom of the Seas this weekend and here's his preview of his cruise!

Hi Loyal to Royal Cruisers, its Michael Poole again for another live review onboard Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas. If you didn’t get a chance to read my review from March onboard Oasis of the Seas, you can click here to hold you over until sail away.

This cruise is a 7 day, Eastern Caribbean sailing, visiting: Coco Cay, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten.

This cruise is unlike any cruise I’ve ever taken because I am sailing as group; in fact it’s a wedding group. My brother Jason Poole is getting married Sunday morning at 10AM, and then we are headed to board the Freedom of The Seas around noon. We have a range from grandparents, parents, and friends we have met of previous cruises joining us. My brother is lucky enough to stay onboard for two weeks, but the whole group is just sailing on the first sailing.

Outside of this being my first cruise sailing as a group, it will actually be my first time onboard Freedom of the Seas. I still find it hard to believe after 22 cruises I’ve never found my way on one of their flag ship vessels in the fleet. With that being said, I have sailed on her sisters Liberty of the Seas twice and Independence of the Seas, so I know what to expect. However, the Freedom will be a little different since her recent dry dock in January 2015. During the dry dock they added R Bar, Giovanni’s Table, and Sabor, but removed the night club.

My stateroom is one of the recently added cabins, where the night club was on deck 3 and I’m staying in it solo, chasing those Crown and Anchor points! For those unaware, if you stay in a cabin solo you received double points and suites you received triple points.

Some of the topics I’ll be including during this live review are: the drink package vs A la carte, specialty dining, stateroom, actives off shore and general info around the ship. Please feel free to join in on the comments and I’ll respond promptly.

Sunday will be upon us shortly and I can’t wait to share my first time onboard The Freedom of the Seas with you, well virtually!

Freedom of the Seas Live Blog - Day Seven

In:
02Mar2013

The last day of any cruise is bittersweet but I wanted to make sure I got a lot out of it today so I could go home feeling like I tried a few new things. Today is another sea day and the weather today is less than cruise like; Cloudy, windy with a cold rain.

With bad weather like this, most of the activities we're going to do are limited to the indoors. Starting with breakfast, we headed up to the Windjammer for our traditional breakfast start. Breakfast seems to have the least variety in terms of the day-to-day menu at Windjammer. Aside from what's offered in the Jade section, very little else changes.

Following breakfast we headed down to Deck 6 to see the Loyalty Officer to get our NextCruise certificates. In my opinion, the NextCruise certificates are the best value for booking a Royal Caribbean cruise and it's really the only way I book new cruises. As expected, all of the officers were busy with appointments so we simply filled out the NextCruise certificate form and dropped it off to ensure we'd be all set.

Next up I had an interview with the Spa manager on Freedom of the Seas. I'll be posting the full interview in an upcoming blog post, but it was an insightful look at how the spa works and which services are the most popular.

My wife suggested we try the Make-A-Wish Foundation “Walk for Wishes” event. This is a charity event on all Royal Caribbean cruises where you can donate $10 per person and get a Walk for Wishes t-shirt, followed by a group walk around the pool deck. It was quick and fun and all for a great cause.

For lunch we wanted to try Johnny Rockets, which is a 50's style burger restaurant that may be available near you. Before I describe my experience here, let me say that I've never been a fan of Johnny Rockets on the Royal Caribbean ships because they usually have mediocre food and long waits.

This time we arrived about five or ten minutes before Johnny Rockets opened to avoid a long wait. The good news was we were the second group in line. The bad news was the first group was about 20 people or so. We were seated promptly and ordered up. Once again, I'll save my formal review of Johnny Rockets for a future blog post but let's just say my experience here was pretty much the same of every other time I've eaten at Johnny Rockets. None of the food really “rocked my world”, with the best part of the meal being the milkshake, but that actually costs extra on top of the $4.95 cover charge. I feel confident in my recommendation of skipping Johnny Rockets until further notice.

With the poor weather outside, a lot of the activities moved to the Royal Promenade. On our way back to our cabin I saw a cooking demonstration, a ice sculpture being made, towel folding demonstration and a buffet of food choices all along the Promenade. Needless to say it was crowded but it was interesting to see it all. Most of these demos could be seen in probably a minute or two but in aggregate, there's enough going on here to spend a little while.

With the poor weather, it made sense for us all to take a nap again and relax. We also needed to start packing so we got everything in order in our stateroom and packed up our stuff. It's the one thing no one ever enjoys about their cruise but all good things must come to an end, right?

Before dinner we wanted to see the Dreamworks parade because the other showing was on day one and was quite late. We got a spot on the Royal Promenade for the showing about 30 minutes early and I have to say the process is a little less than organized. We just picked a spot and hoped it wasn't in the way. In fact, the crew didn't set up barriers until a few minutes before the show.

The parade setup is a little odd in that the procession does not begin at one end and go to the other. Rather, half the parade starts at one end and the other half of the parade at the other end and it all just goes back and forth. So as a result you have to keep an eye on what's happening on either side of you.

As for the parade itself, it was okay. My daughter enjoyed it as did most of the other kids but I don't think it comes close to comparing to the gold-standard of character parades that you find at a place like Walt Disney World. Considering the individual character meets have very short lines usually, I'd recommend seeing the characters there and bypass the parade if your goal is to see the characters.

Tonight's dinner was back in the main dining room and say what you will about the main dining room, I really enjoy eating here. I like how the servers know how we like everything and we lucked out with some very good table-mates. To me, this is as integral a part of the cruise experience as the pool.

Overall, this was a great cruise for me and my family. In the last 5 years or so, cruising has emerged our favorite way to travel and this week's cruise reaffirmed that passion. Royal Caribbean is always changing but the good news is it still has, to borrow one of their marketing terms, that “WOW factor”. For me, I don't necessarily see WOW in individual instances, but rather it's when I look back on all the great memories from our trip I can't help but think to myself, “Wow, that was fun!”.

We've made memories on this cruise that I think our family will talk about for many, many years to come. Credit for that goes to the crew for constantly looking for ways to improve our vacation and it shows. I also believe that part of what makes a great vacation is proper planning ahead of time, which I think sites like this help in some small part to accomplish.

I'd like to thank everyone who has been reading these blog posts and sharing their thoughts and questions with me. It's been a great way to share in the cruise experience and I've enjoyed documenting as much of it as I could. You've all been great virtual cruise mates and I hope we can do this again some time!

Disclosure: Royal Caribbean provided this cruise for evaluation and review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

Freedom of the Seas Live Blog - Day Six

In:
02Mar2013

Today was our second sea day and it was certainly the tale of two cities to say the least. Let me explain what I mean by this. We woke up around 8am or so for my wife to get her massage for the cruise. She had scheduled her hot stone massage for 9am, which was her traditional gift to herself of getting pampered. Meanwhile I had woken up but felt like a zombie, specifically just walking around feeling like I could fall asleep at any time.

I'm not sure why I was so tired but me and my daughter went up to the Windjammer for breakfast and ate a little and then returned to the stateroom to watch TV until my wife returned. When she did around 11, we eventually made our way to the Windjammer again for an early lunch but we were all feeling a little run down. After lunch we returned to our stateroom and started watching TV but very quickly we decided on a nap.

Fast forward 4 hours, yes 4 hours, and we woke up at about 4:30. I guess this is where I tell you about one advantage of a cruise vacation is you can choose to do as little or as much as you want and I think running around for the last 5 days finally caught up with us because we were all pretty tired. Part of me lamented in the fact we didn't do more but truthfully I knew that we needed to relax like we did and just take it easy.

By now it was about 5pm and our evening plans were to have dinner at Portofino, the speciality Italian restaurant onboard, and to have a night out for me and my wife. We dropped my daughter off at the daycare and arrived at Portofino a little early for our reservation, which was not a problem.

This was our first time at Portofino and we were excited to try it all. The menu was mostly what I would consider to be traditional Italian fare. We had eaten at Gionvanni's Table on Oasis of the Seas and I felt like Portofinio on Freedom of the Seas was more formal than Gionvanni's. It felt upscale and I'll have more on our dinner here on a future restaurant review to dive into our experience here.

The food at Portofinos was quite good and compared to our dinner at Chops the other night, I enjoyed dinner here more. It's hard to compare the two but if I had to eat at just one, I'd lean towards Portofino honestly.

I opted for the Minestrone soup and the tuna carpaccio for my appetizers. I loved the soup but didn't enjoy the carpaccio as much just because it was heavy on citrus (oranges, limes) and didn't do it for me. A+ for presentation for both.

For entrees I chose the tuna steak and the pesto pasta. These were both really good and something I would order again.

In addition to the food, the service here was quite good and the cost here seemed to definitely be worth it. Like Chops, if you've never eaten at Chops or Portifinos, I'd definitely recommend eating at both for the experience. They offer good menus and Portofinos is slightly cheaper so hard to go wrong.

After dinner, we decided to do a bit of a bar crawl. What follows is a review of each bar we went to and what we had to drink.

Bolleros: This is a Spanish themed bar with some dancing available. We opted to go for what the bar promotes the most, which are margaritas and we were not disappointed. Bolleros seems to be the place to go for pre-dinner drinks prior to going to the main dining room. There is live music here too so it's quaint.

Schooner Bar: This is definitely a bar that benefits from some sort activity going on, such as trivia. When we went there there was nothing going on and maybe a half dozen people at the bar so as you might imagine, it wasn't that “happening”.

Bear and Bull: When we arrived at the Bear and Bull, it was like the Schooner Bar and not that exciting. They do offer a WIDE array of beers to choose from. They are all bottled (no draft beers available) but I love the selection here. Within about an hour or so, some live music started and the bar really picked up. It may have been the aggregate effect of drinking for the past couple of hours but I had a great time trying new beers and enjoying the music.

Tomorrow it's our last day on the cruise and another sea day. I've got a lot of things planned, and assuming I don't sleep all day (again), should have a lot to report!

Be sure to post your comments and questions in the comments below! 

Freedom of the Seas Live Blog - Day Five

In:
28Feb2013

Today's cruise itinerary was a stop at the island of St Martin, which is split between the French and Dutch. Our ships docks in Phillipsburg, which is on the Dutch side but the French side is a quick car ride.

We set our alarm for 7am to get ready to go right when we docked. In reality, by the time we got everyone ready, dressed and on our way to breakfast, we were behind schedule but it was fine. We contemplated ordering breakfast to our room from room service (it's free) but opted not to because the menu was fairly limited.

Following our “breakfast of champions”, we finally made our way to the gangway and off the ship. This was my second time in St Martin and my wife and daughter's first time. We had absolutely no plan for the island. We figured we would see where the day took us and improvise on the spot.

We decided to walk from the pier area to downtown Phillipsburg. It's a walkable distance but truthfully we could have benefited from a taxi. At any rate, once we got downtown my daughter started crying, which quickly turned into a full blown temper tantrum. We think she was just tired since we woke her up this morning but there wasn't much we could do to stop her from crying. So we decided to forego shopping and go to a beach where she could play in the water and hopefully cheer up.

We walked a little to find some taxi drivers but most drivers were uninterested in just two people. They wanted to fill their vans and maximize the fare so we got frustrated. We were about to just go to the beach in Phillipsburg when another taxi driver offered to take us. We told him we wanted to go Orient Beach on the French side of the island and he offered to take us for $20 total. Great. We piled into his van and off we went. The driver, Leo, was a nice man who said he was about to turn 50 and talked a lot on the way.

After crossing over the French side, I saw a sign for “Le Galion”. I had remembered that name from random internet searches because it was the name of a beach in St Martin that was famous for its quiet cove that is perfect for little kids. I told Leo to go to Le Galion instead and he nicely offfered to drive us there and let us scout things out before deciding if we really wanted to go there or not.

We pulled up to the beach and I took a quick look around and it definitely looked nice enough so we arranged for Leo to come get us 2 hours from then.

Let me tell you, this is the perfect beach for families with young children who cannot swim or are not strong swimmers. It's basically a cove with a great beach that has tiny waves that is perfect for my 2 year old daughter who cannot swim but loves to be in the water.

There were beach chairs and umbrella already set up so we picked one and it cost us $15 for their use. There's also a small restaurant and bar on the beach that offers food and drinks as well as free Wi-Fi.

My daughter loved her time here and I'm fairly certain was in the water for the entire 2 hours. There's 2 docks in the water, once pretty close to land for the not-so-strong swimmers and a dock further out for the bigger kids. Nothing else in the way of toys but it's beautiful and perfect for kids. I will mention this beach is clothing optional. 98% of people here wore regular swim wear but there were probably 4 or 5 women who were sunbathing topless. I really didn't think it was a big deal and they all were together at one end of the beach so it was a moot point.

After our 2 hours (which flew by), Leo came and told us to take our time getting ready. We got all of our stuff together and got back in the car. I asked him to take us somewhere to eat for lunch where the locals go. He recommended a Guyanese restaurant back on the Dutch side where he and lots of others like to go. It sounded good to us so off we went.

We arrived at the small restaurant and Leo took us inside and talked to the owner. Leo and the owner showed us all the food available and we picked out a few things that sounded good. None of it was anything I've had before but it smelled wonderfully. We tried a little of everything including their specialty which is called roti. Roti is like a burrito of slow cooked meat, potatoes and sauce. It was delicious as was all the food we tried.

The roti

It was the perfect local food adventure that I relish in trying when I travel. After lunch our daughter was already falling asleep and we decided we had to go back to the ship for her to nap. It was only about 1pm but we had no choice really. Leo dropped us back at the pier. In total he charged us $20 to go to Le Galion and then $25 to go from Le Galion to lunch and back to the pier. I gave him a healthy gratuity above that for his time and help. He was a great help and worth every penny.

After getting back on the ship, we basically just relaxed in our cabin until dinner. We were pretty tired from getting up early and swimming so we just took it easy. The ship left St Martin and we got ready for dinner.

Quick story about dessert, there's always a special flavor of ice cream and tonight was coffee ice cream and I LOVE coffee ice cream, so I told my waiter to bring me as much coffee ice cream as he can.  He actually went to the chef to ask how much he could get me and the magic answer is 6 scoops.  Best dessert ever!

During dinner, my daughter fell asleep on my wife so we let her take a power nap and then dropped her off at the nursery for us to enjoy a little time together. Don't get excited, we're boring people.

We first went to an event for Crown and Anchor Society members that are Platinum or Emerald status. It was hosted by the ship's Captain and Hotel Manager and they shared some humorous stories and anecdotes. It was fun and quick and there were free alcoholic beverages served so it was worth our time.

Next we walked the Royal Promenade to see what was happening and for my wife to scope out the sales. We didn't buy anything but just enjoyed the walk. After we went up to the Windjammer to check out their spread. Didn't eat anything but I always enjoy just seeing what they offer.

We finally did commit to doing something when we decided to play a round of mini-golf on the Sports Deck. It's a 9-hole course and with the movement of the ship and wind, it was certainly an entertaining round of golf. That being said, we had a good time and while I wouldn't say the mini golf is a reason to book a Royal Caribbean cruise, it's great having it available to do onboard and I love having plenty to choose from.

We were all feeling pretty tired after our long day so we decided to call it a night.

Tomorrow is a sea day and we've got a few things planned but our day is fairly wide open. Tune in tomorrow to see what we end up doing!

Thanks for all the great comments and be sure to post any questions in the comments below! 

Freedom of the Seas Live Blog - Day Four

In:
27Feb2013

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! 

Freedom of the Seas Live Blog - Day Three

In:
26Feb2013

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! 

Freedom of the Seas Live Blog - Day Two

In:
25Feb2013

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. 

Freedom of the Seas Live Blog - Day One

In:
24Feb2013

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

Live Blogging from Freedom of the Seas - Preamble

In:
22Feb2013

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)

Our itinerary

Our ship

Next update should be on our embarkation day, Sunday February 24.  Stay tuned for all of our live blog updates right here.

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