Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas: Passenger Tips – Part One
June 30, 2010 1 Comment
In late May/early June, our family went on a one-week cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas. The cruise left Port Canaveral in Florida and went to RC’s private beach in Labadee, Haiti, to Jamaica, to Grand Cayman, and to Cozumel. There were also two days at sea. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and recommended the cruise to families and couples.
The Freedom of the Seas is one of the Freedom Class of ships from Royal Caribbean and was the largest cruise ship in operations from its launch in 2006 until the Oasis of the Seas was launched in 2009. The Freedom of the Seas has a capacity of 3,634 passengers and 1,300 crew. It cost $800 million to build.
Rather that do a straight review (there are 412 such reviews at Cruise Critic), I thought I would share with you, over two posts, some tips for after you decide to take a cruise on this ship. Let’s start with food, since that is often (always?) the central point of cruises:
1. Buy Bottles of Wine Not Individual Glasses
My colleague Mike told me about this before we left, and he was right. Glasses of wine in the dining room can be expensive – in the $15 range. However, if you know that you want wine every night and don’t mind the same wine for two nights or more in a row, buy a bottle. At the end of the meal, your waiter marks the cork with your table number, takes it away, and then brings it back the next night for you to finish. Since we had only two drinkers (my wife and I), this worked better than the RC Wine Plan, where the fewest number of bottles you can buy is five. The per bottle cost of the Wine Plan is less than we paid, but we couldn’t have possibly drunk five bottles in a week.
2. Try the Buffet for Dinner
The food in the dining room is generally very good, and the service has a nice pace to it. However, I urge you to try the buffet for dinner at least once. After a long day in Cozumel, we decided to hit the buffet for dinner and were pleasantly surprised. Before even considering the food, there are four clear pluses of the buffet: 1) you can wear whatever you want (no need for long pants), 2) you can eat as fast or as slow as you want, 3) you can try a lot more things, and 4) you get a great view up on the 11th floor, compared to the 3rd, 4th, or 5th floor views from the dining rooms. We found the food to be of great variety and very tasty. They had everything from sushi to Indian to pasta to burgers and pizza. I had an ice cream sundae for desert. It was a great way to start a relaxing evening.
3. Get the Early Dining Seating for Dinner
Yes, this tip may just reflect our preference, but 8:30pm is just too late for dinner for us. If you get the 6:00pm seating, you can go as late as 6:30 and have no problems. Since it takes at least 15 minutes to get your food, you are really eating at 6:45. As far as the “My Time Dining,” which gives you flexibility: we found that there was a lot of scrambling by those families to pick a time every day. 6:00pm dining also means you see the shows after dinner, which fit our schedule.
4. Get the Fountain Soda Package
This worked for us, but we are pretty big Diet Coke/Diet Pepsi drinkers. The cost is $6 per day for adults and $4 per day for kids. If you don’t buy the package, each soda is $1.50 plus 15% gratuity. On the first day of the cruise, they offered the soda package at a discount, so I would wait to buy on board. Unfortunately, there’s no self-serve soda, although I hear that’s coming. Instead, you have to go to one of the bars and show your room key with a sticker that identifies you as having purchased the soda package. We bought two – one for my wife and me and one for our two kids. You could always flash someone else’s card with the sticker to get a soda, so sharing is definitely possible. $6 per day = 4 sodas per day or 2 sodas per person, which is well below our normal drinking rate. We certainly exceeded that and got our money’s worth.
That’s it for food tips.
Let me add one other tip and then save the rest for next Wednesday:
5. Prepare to be Disconnected
Royal Caribbean claims to have mobile phone service for those whose phones support GPRS. However, I found the data service on my iPhone to be very spotty and completely unavailable for the last day or so. I could make calls, in theory, but any data service from email to texting to Twitter just didn’t work most of the time. In my case, work paid for the international service, but I would check your rates to see if it is even worth it. As far as Internet, you can get access, but it is very expensive — $0.65 per minute or packages such as $150 for 500 minutes. Those minutes go fast if you have two kids like mine that live on Facebook. There are no newspapers on board, so the best you can do is CNN Headline News, which gets boring after a while.
Next week – tips on activities and excursions.