Thursday, January 15, 2009

Freedom of the Seas December 2008

Sometimes it is hard to put into words or it is hard to describe some of the wonderful and beautiful things you see during your travels. Such is the case with with our recent trip. Our latest journey took us on a 7 night cruise to the Eastern Caribbean with stops in San Juan PR, St. Thomas and St Maarten.

The ship of choice was Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas (FOS). The FOS is considered a mega class ship (over 130,000 gross tons). It is longer than the Eiffel Tower. It is BIG!! That originally was a concern when we booked the trip. Would it be too big? Since it can hold over 4000 passengers, would it feel extremely crowded? Would we spend our time walking aimlessly just trying to find our dinner table?

None of those original concerns were concerns anymore once we boarded the ship. We embarked on Sunday December the 14th. The embarkation process took a little over an hour and that was due to the ship undergoing a "deep cleaning" after the previous cruise pulled into port earlier that day. Some passengers from the previous cruise had shown signs of the Norovirus which dictated a thorough cleaning of the ship between sailings so we were not upset about the short embarkation delay. We were on board shortly after 1:00PM and we headed straight for the Windjammer Cafe for lunch. My wife was thrilled to see that Royal Caribbean has the same french fry recipe for all of their sailings and ships. She loves their fries. Since the most of the staterooms were still being cleaned and not open for passengers, the restaurant was crowded which meant that passengers were being allowed to seat themselves in Chop's and Portofino's (more on them later).

After lunch we headed out to explore the ship. I can't say enough about the aesthetics of the ship. It is a beautiful vessel. We went to check out our seating assignment in main dining room which is broken down into 3 sections; Galileo's, Issac's and Leonardo's. We were on the second level which was Issac's. Elegant is the word I would use to describe the overall decor and feel of the dining areas.

We then headed out to walk down one of Royal Caribbean's most unique feature on their larger vessels, the Royal Promenade. For the lack of a better description, this is a mall down the center of the ship lined with shops and restaurants. It is designed to have the feel of a small street in Europe where you can sit outside of a cafe and watch the day and the crowds go by. Besides the shops, there are several eating and drinking venues set up along the Promenade; The Promenade Cafe for desserts and coffee, Sorrento's for Pizza and other Italian favorites, Vintages for a glass of fine wine and The Bull and the Bear which is an English styled pub. What I like about this area of the ship is that it offers a great place to hang out on the ship if there happens to be any bad weather during your cruise. Can't say enough good things about the Promenade. The Promenade was also a venue for parades and live music during the cruise and one of our favorites was a show called "Dancin' in the Streets" which was a 70's themed show which brought back some great memories.

We have no complaints about any of the public areas of the ship (except for the spa) and I will post a link at the end of the review where you can go to see pictures and judge how beautiful the ship is for yourself. The spa was our only disappointment. Our previous cruise on Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas had set our expectation for what we thought we would see on this newer, larger Royal Caribbean ship. The spa on the Radiance was far and above better than the one of the FOS. The spa this time was really just a bunch of treatment rooms. There was not really a relaxation area or a sauna and steam area like we were accustomed to. The only steam and sauna room was down in the male and female locker areas next to the fitness area which really removes it from being associated with the spa upstairs. I was beginning to think that nice spa areas on ships might be a thing of the past until we pulled up next to Celebrity's newest ship, The Solstice, while we were in San Juan. We looked across and could see their spa area through these huge floor to ceiling windows and it far surpassed what we had on the FOS. I hope Royal Caribbean has improved this area on the newest ship which is scheduled to sail in just a few more months.

Other areas that will interest a lot of potential passengers are the ice skating rink on board called Studio B, the only wave simulator at sea called Flowrider and the 43 ft rock climbing wall which I am proud to say I tried and conquered.

Now onto the stateroom. We booked a PR category stateroom on deck 6. The PR category rooms are staterooms that are inside cabins, but overlook the Royal Promenade with a nice sized bay window. The room was a bit smaller than what we were hoping for and storage demanded some unpacking strategy. The space was a little cramped when we were both trying to get ready for dinner etc., but it wasn't too bad. We probably will not book another PR category room but I would not hesitate in recommending it to folks who like some view from their room but do not want to pay for an outside cabin.

Now let's discuss dining. As I mentioned, our main dining seat assignment was in Issac's Dining Room which the second floor of the 3 floor main dining room. We had excellent table mates from North Carolina. Their company each night made the cruise and our dinners extra special. The food every night was well prepared and the service was fantastic. The food and service was by far better than the Disney Cruise we had taken the year prior.

We also made arrangements to dine in one of Royal Caribbean's specialty restaurants, Chops Grille. Chops is known for their steaks and they did not disappoint. I had the 16 oz T-Bone and it was fantastic. You could cut it with a butter knife. My wife had the small fillet and it too was wonderful and tender. The specialty restaurants require an additional $25 per person and I can say it was well worth it when you consider that the cost covers any appetizer, main course and also a dessert. The same meal would cost near $100 at most good steak restaurants back on land.

The other, less expensive specialty restaurant on board is Johnny Rockets. Johnny Rockets is known in the U.S. for their great hamburgers and fun atmosphere. The cost extra cost is a low $3.50 per person which also covers appetizers, a burger or sandwich choice and also dessert. It was kind of surreal to be on board a huge ship in the middle of the Atlantic and be sitting in a Johnny Rockets eatery listening and watching the staff sing and dance to the Bee Gee's Staying Alive.

I forgot to mention that the Royal Promenade also offers another very popular eatery, Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream. It was a popular spot along with the Royal Promenade Cafe which we frequented often.

To view photos of the ship and the on this link.

I am going to continue my review in part 2 where I will discuss the entertainment as well as the ports of call.

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