My wife and I recently took a Caribbean cruise for our honeymoon. Neither of us had ever been on a cruise before, and figured now was as good a time as any to do it.
Shopping for a cruise line was actually way more difficult than I had expected. There was Princess, Norwegian, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Disney – they all look really nice. After doing a lot of research, and asking as many people as we knew who had taken cruises, we settled on Royal Caribbean. Our friends had great experiences with them, and the reviews were generally very favorable.
Picking the cruise line was only the beginning; then we needed to pick the ship and where we wanted to go. I liked this part of the planning very much. In fact, it was way easier than settling on the cruise line. Clearly I wanted the biggest, most lavish ship available. Royal Caribbean has some pretty awesome ships, including: “Adventure Of The Seas”, “Liberty Of The Seas”, “Jewel Of The Seas” and more. All of these looked spectacular, but I wanted the biggest and the best – it had to be the “Freedom of the Seas”.
The Freedom was available to board the day after our wedding! We booked an eight-day, seven-night western Caribbean tour aboard “the worlds biggest cruise ship.” I was incredible exited, yet reserved. I mean, I didn’t want to seem “too” excited. After all, I was getting married – the cruise was just a bonus. But, I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t pretty much occupy my mind in the weeks and days leading up to our wedding.
Finally my wedding day came, and all I had to do was stand up, look pretty, say I do, smoosh some cake in my new wife’s face, sleep for an hour or so, and head to the airport! All had a great time, and the wedding went off without a hitch.
I woke up the next morning in the hotel room. Actually, saying that insinuates that I actually slept. While I may have shut my eyes for a bit, I’d hardly call what I did sleep. It was like 5am. I was grubby, exhausted, hungry, and maybe had a little bit of a headache. Maybe ;)
We gathered our things and headed to the airport to catch our flight to Fort Lauderdale, the port where we were boarding the ship. I swilled some coffee, rubbed my eyes, and somehow found myself sitting on the plane.
The flight was easy, and I actually came to life a bit as it went on. There was something relaxing, maybe even therapeutic about the constant hum of jet engines just outside the window, and the glow of the sunrise from thirty-two thousand feet. The airline (Jetblue) was just awesome. We flew for three hours and landed in Florida.
After wandering around for a bit in an unfamiliar airport, we found our luggage and located the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line information area. Actually, it was just a bench by the luggage carousel with an older gentlemen standing there holding a little Royal Caribbean sign. All the major cruise lines where represented somewhere near by. We signed in, and sat for about half an hour before being herded out to our bus. The people in charge of getting us signed-in were all very polite, and more that willing to answer any questions we had. I tried not to come off like a total dork, but I kept asking him questions about the boat, where we where headed, the food, entertainment… blah blah blah. I think he knew it was my first cruise.
I was coming off my second wind, and the previous night’s debauchery was definitely catching up with me. The bus ride was the better part of an hour, and a little cramped, but it landed us at the nautical marvel that I had been so excited to see. The same thing I had been researching, watching videos about, reading blogs on, and basically talking non-stop about since I booked the trip – the worlds biggest cruise ship, The Freedom Of The Seas.
[Picture: Boarding the Freedom - note the size of the people]
Have you ever eaten something really good? Like so good, that you try and tell people just how good it was, but no matter how many times they say “yeah, I understand” you just say with no… you don’t, you just don’t get how good it was!
Well, the Freedom Of The Seas is big. Like really big. I’m not talking like “wow, that’s a big boat” kind of big, but more like “Oh, my.. god!” You may have seen big boats, but this was literally the biggest.
Standing next to it is a little dizzying. It’s so high, and so long, that your mind just can’t accept the fact that it floats. It simply does not seem possible, and defies everything your common sense is trying rationalize. I expected a big ship, but this seemed a little ridicules. We checked in, got our room card and boarded the ship.
While cruising on the ship, you don’t use your credit cards or cash. You are given a personal Royal Caribbean room-card that is tied to your account, which you use for all purchases on board. You don’t “have” to buy much on board, because the food and basic drink is included. But you can get extra items such as delicious rum drinks, trinkets, and any excursions you plan while in a port. At first I liked this idea, but paying with a little plastic room card was, um, a little too easy to do. It didn’t feel like real money, until the last day when you “cash out”. Yeah, that was funny…
[Picture: The view from our stateroom, leaving Miami]
We unpacked, got settled, and my (very new) wife took a nap while I wandered around the Freedom to scope out what was going to be my floating home for the next week. It took about three minutes from leaving the room until I was sitting on the top deck, in the sun, poolside and ordering two frozen rum drinks to bring back to our room. I mean honestly, we had not even left the dock yet.
I expected the service to be decent, but the level of detail is amazing. Every person on the Freedom staff has one goal; to make sure every passenger is happy and that they have everything they need. I never talked to anyone that was not smiling, pleasant, and offered to get me anything I would like. I felt like royalty, it was pretty cool.
As soon as we left Miami, it was as if someone simply clicked the “vacation” switch. There was music piped around the pools, the buffets were all stocked and fresh, and the staff was attentive (but not intrusive) to your every need. We wanted to join the party, but were struggling to stay awake, so the first night was early to bed for us…
The next day we checked out the rest of the ship. Here are some shots we took over the trip of some of attractions:
[Picture: There are like four pools on the main deck, this was just the kids pool. The adult pools have a poolside-bar, and water fountains! There were also two hot tubs called "Solariums" that actually hung over the side of the ship. I spent a decent amount of time in each one.]
[Picture: The Royal Promenade - yes, this inside the ship! Coffee shops, pizza parlors, gift shops, live music. On some nights there are "street shows" that are performed down the main strip. ]
[Picture: This is a view from one of the many glass-walled elevators that over looked the Royal Promenade. Each deck had a series of elevators.]
[Picture: Walking out of one of the dining hall - look at the detail in this place!]
[Picture: This little sports bar was down by the skating ring. I didn't even find this bar until the last day.]
[Picture: Yes, that is a skating rink... let me repeat, a skating rink! I didn't see too much here, but we caught the end of a show.]
[Picture: Another view of the Royal Promenade from the upper balcony to show the grandeur.]
[Picture: Again, this really shows the scale of the inside of the ship. You can walk to the balcony from almost any deck on the ship and look down over the main areas.]
[Picture: Acadia Theater - great vegas-style shows. We saw a musician that was pretty decent.]
[Picture: Just one of many little wine and jazz bars with live music. There really is a nook for all types of entertainment.]
To showcase all of the features of the Freedom is way beyond the scope of this post, but all i can say is it really lived up to my expectations. I never got seasick, or bored. While on the boat, either in port or at sea, there is always so much to do. Other things included:
- Flowrider wave pool
- Mini-golf course
- Massive rock-climbing wall
- Modern gym
- Running Track
- and way, way more
The next seven days landed us at four exotic destinations. Way to much happened at each, but I try to sum up each:
We stopped at a gorgeous little retreat that appeared to be exclusive to the cruise line. I’m not certain that is was, but it was surrounded by a big fence and there was a bit of a “don’t leave this area” vibe. It was a decent sized white sandy beach with live calypso music all around.
At this port we did the infamous “zip-line”. The zip starts at the top of a little mountain overlooking our retreat, runs down over an incredible blue-green cove and stops back in the fenced in area. It was an incredible opportunity, so we signed up. We climbed on the back of a truck in order to take a ride out of the resort area and up the mountain to the zip-line platform. Here’s the thing, there was a guy with a shotgun in his hands standing at the gate as we approached. I assumed (well, hoped) he was a security guard, which he was, and we drove through. Just outside the gates there were people on either side of the road, watching us drive past and up the rough road.
Overall I really liked this area, but I ended up buy a really, really bad hat from a very, very tenacious merchant. Go me.
I have two strong memories of Jamaica.
1 – We tried to walk around and do some shopping, but were absolutely bombarded by local people trying to sell us things or offer us rides. I don’t mean they would talk to you as you walk by, but these guys actually ran across the street to intercept you. If you started talking to them, you were all done, they would not leave us alone. I felt pretty uncomfortable walking with my wife in town.
Jamaica ATV2 – Chukka ATV Safari = loads of fun and totally awesome. A short bus ride from the boat brings you to a location where you get on ATVs and race around in the jungle for a couple hours. During this ATV trip, we stopped at a local schoolhouse so we could check out a bit of the real Jamaica back country. It was very cool, but also very humbling to see the kids in a tiny little “kindergarten” shack. After the stop at the school, we headed back to where we started the ATV tour so we could jump off a pretty high rock ledge into the ocean. The tour guide was a blast, the ATVs were fun, and we had a really great time.
Rain… $40 nachos… Meh. I was actually really looking forward to coming here. I wanted to snorkel or fish or something, but the weather put the kibosh on all that. All we did was walk around a bit and get some lunch. I was not that impressed. Once you take away the water activities, Grand Cayman is really nothing much to see.
At this stop we did another ATV adventure around a national park. I liked this trip a lot. We got to drive a two-person vehicle, climb a lighthouse, sit on a white sandy beach, snorkel, and got to see some very crazy-cool ruins. I didn’t spend much time in town, but the stuff we did was very cool. Very touristy, but nothing different to the other ports.
Selecting Royal Caribbean was the best decision we could have made. The people were incredibly polite, the food was outstanding, the ship was surreal, and the travel was awesome. I am already trying to find a way to get on another cruise as soon as I can. From what I gather, there is even a bigger, more impressive boat called the “Oasis of the Seas” that is now cruising. I am SO on that!
We also got to meet a very nice couple from Sweden who became our “cruise buddies” named were Frederick and Jessica. We met on the Tender in Haiti, sitting in the sweltering sun, and later met up on the ship for a “fruity drink” by the pool. Real nice folks, and we ended up spending a lot of time together during the cruise. We still keep in touch and I reckon we may have to cruise together again, in fact I DEMAND IT! ;)
NOTE – there is a lot I want to cover in this post, so I reckon I will be updating it as I get time.