Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Freedom of the Seas - Cruise Review

In keeping with all things blog worthy- here is my review of our Cruise with Royal Caribbean on the 7 day Freedom of the Seas sailing. For those of you that are experienced cruise passengers this may be too in depth for your liking, but for my readers that want to take FULL advantage of the steals and deals in an all inclusive boat ride, keep reading here!

You should know that the closer you get to the sailing date, the lower the prices will go, based on availability. The ship is going to sail whether it is fully booked or not, so with cabins available, the prices will drop. I have used www.vacationstogo.com to check their 90 day ticker on discounted rates. They will categorize the options based on ports, length of trip, cruise lines, specific boats, and dates of travel. It is easy to find the right cruise when you have various options. Winter break, Spring Break, and holidays are typically the peak season but there are still some great prices for a 7 day or even longer vacation.

For example, our week long cruise included a balcony cabin with a well appointed configuration that made the most of the small space. It was based on double occupancy and for an off peak week you can book the same trip for about $1200 a person. This includes port charges, tax, all meals and snacks, and the standard cruise amenities like work-out facilities and major pool time. It does not include, alcohol, premium coffee drinks (lattes and espressos) special port excursions like para sailing, horseback riding, scuba diving etc etc- those are extra. If you are looking at this from a business standpoint here is the bottom line. The cruise lines do not make money if you find a total bargain and you just do the included basics- feeding and housing you for a week at sea will cost them about the price listed if you eat well and enjoy yourself on board. It takes a staff of over a thousand employees to make the experience so stellar. The company is counting on you to add-on Big Time. They are hoping you will indulge your week with wine and beers or premium cocktails & liquors, pricey professional photographs of the great vacation, spa services, internet access or ship to shore telecom, casino play, up charge restaurants (ours were Johnny Rockets, Chops Steakhouse, or the 5 Star Italian bistro, Portofino) boutique shops on board, Royal Caribbean logo souvenirs and other profit centers for their financial benefit. It would be easy to just have fun for the price listed but it is tempting to spend more once you are at sea and are exposed to the opportunity to embellish.

The Freedom of the Seas is the world's largest ship. It can accommodate 4000 guests plus the crew. The only time it felt crowded was during the boarding process- when you have anxious travelers ready to start their party. Once on board there are so many activities, pools, and restaurant choices that you can pick from what tickles your fancy. The Promenade has you feeling like you are in a big mall while sailing the seas!
It is a neon sensory overload of activity every day.

Freedom of the Seas is Royal Caribbean's International masterpiece of naval engineering featuring the first-ever on board surf park at sea where you can ride the waves on deck 14; cantilevered whirlpools that extend 12 feet beyond the sides of the ship- a giant hot tub with a view; the H20Zone water park,
complete with interactive sculpture fountains, ground geysers and a cascading waterfall; the largest rock-climbing wall, and no ship is complete without Extensive WiFi capabilities and connectivity for cell phones as well as flat-screen TVs in every stateroom. You've got to see this ship to believe it.

I was totally impressed with the options at meal times- both in menu selection and food quality.
There is something for everyone (tons of Vegetarian items, Kosher wines, and made to order requests!) The themed menus include a healthy Vitality item in each category. The dining room staff could not have been more pleasant in serving us.

I was a bit homesick when I saw all the kids enjoying the children's programming. It is like preschool at sea. There are special areas on board exclusively for kids- including a soft serve ice cream machine, water sports, and an ice skating rink

with family geared shows. The supervised kiddie camp looked amazing and I wonder how long it will be before I can convince Jeff that we MUST take the kids on this ship!

Here is my short list of must haves in a cruise:

Sail and return to the same port- this makes it easy to book your own airfare if necessary, and makes it relatively inexpensive or simple to use frequent flier miles for the air portion if needed.

7 day sailing or more- to me anything less is not worth the time and energy. By the time you pack,unpack and get into the mode, you should have a few days to relax and fully enjoy yourself. What other vacation allows you to unpack one time and still visit several cities, countries and have beach access?

Cabin upgrades- Clearly you will want the most bang for the buck. You will spend very little waking time in the cabin but when you are there it is best to have a view- outside cabins have a window so you won't feel like you are in a cave, and balcony cabins are even better because there is usable square footage with a view.

The photos opps from your private balcony are breathtaking! We love sleeping with the sliding glass door ajar- better than a sound machine from Sharper Image any day. Try to get the best cabin you can afford and ask about family cabins if you are bringing the kids.

Dining- We absolutely HATE sitting with other passengers for meals. Who wants to spend precious vacation time with idiot strangers over dinner- ugh- not us. We specifically request a dining room assignment or reservation for just our party. For example this time we were a group of four- My sister and Nat joined us for the trip, so our table sat only 4 people. We did not want to be seated at a table for 8 with four new weirdos. Make sure to see the dining room manager to confirm your restaurant situation, The last thing I want to do is eat while making small talk with some yayhoos. Snobbish bitch? Why yes- I am thank you so much.

I bring every possible anticipated medication, sunscreen, and batteries for all our gear- I would die before I would pay retail plus 70% in the shops on the ship. I also make sure to bring plenty of layers of clothing just in case the weather is not as expected. Duty free on board is retail without sales tax- big whoop! Gimme the clearance rack at TJ Maxx plus good old USA Sales tax at a fraction of the price.

Additional goodies....if the ship is offering deals some of the best ones include- gratuities included pricing, upgraded cabins, and on board ship credit (actual money to spend on board for above listed extras) so be sure to price it all ways to see how you can benefit best.

If you are going to sail on Freedom of the Seas be sure to check out my photos (will post a slide show later) and email me directly if you want my inside 4-1-1 scoop- I live for this shit. If I did not have a million kids and responsibilities I would quit my overworked and underpaid day job, join forces with my BIL Nat Milgram and become a cruise critic couple- of course our spouses would have to accompany us so that there would be a his and her, his and her perspective. For now, I am keeping with the New Albany gig and blogging about cruises part time. So take my free advice now before I start charging a premium.

1 comment:

Evelyn and Marty said...

Would you tell us what was done about gluten free menus. We have two gluten free grandchildren and one gluten free and diabetic grandchild ...we would love to take them on a cruise. we prefer smaller ships but this clearly has something for every age.

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