The best thing about the holidays is spending time with family. The best way to enjoy holiday time with family is on a cruise. So, this past Christmas we did just that, and it was fantastic!
Our son, Jason, was married February 27, 2016 to the love of his life, Heidi. She is a wonderful lady, and she truly has made Jason complete by being his wife. While my husband, Mark, and I have gotten to know her over the last several years, spending eight nights on Royal Caribbean International’s Freedom of the Seas allowed us to get to know her even better! We had a lot of good quality time to be with Jason and Heidi, be it at meals, playing cards or just relaxing at RCI’s private resort at Labadee on Haiti.
Freedom of the Seas is a great family ship with activities for every member. The ship’s activities can really keep you busy if you choose to participate in everything that interests you. You can also choose to just relax in the Viking Crown Lounge high atop the ship, at a window-side chair or even in the spa. We chose a blend of both.
We all love trivia, so we pooled our mental resources and played several of the games that interested us such as TV Themes, Movie Themes and a few others. We came close to winning several times, and all in all, we did well and had fun playing along. Activities abound for all ages and are too many to list here. There is a casino onboard but be prepared to endure a massive amount of cigarette smoke! It is suffocating if you are a non-smoker!
We enjoyed some time in the ports too! We grabbed a quick lunch at Tijuana’s in San Juan, Puerto Rico where life at the cruise docks seem almost back to normal after a devastating hurricane season hit the island in 2017. Sadly, some of the island still has yet to restore power, leaving life in drastic disarray for many islanders.
We all decided to visit St. Kitts. Heidi and Jason had been there before and loved it. They told us we had to do a tour of this lovely island. They opted to buy a day pass at the Marriott St. Kitts Hotel and Casino and spent time at the pool as well as lunch at the hotel’s seaside restaurant. It was extremely windy the day we were there, so it was hard to enjoy the beach with sand blowing everywhere. Mark and I took the three-hour-long island tour and saw why Heidi and Jason loved this island so much! It is really beautiful and very similar to Kauai, Hawaii with its lush greenery and lovely beaches.
The northern part of the island is where the waters of the Caribbean Sea meet the Atlantic Ocean. This part of the island is really exposed to the elements and was by far the windiest place on the island. (It was in fact so windy, that the day after we were in St. Kitts, another cruise ship was unable to dock here. This was unfortunate for the ship’s passengers as they truly missed seeing a great treasure!) St. Kitts is home to the dyeing process known as batik, developed by a woman named Caribelle Batik. It is a very lengthy and arduous production using wax and vibrantly colorful dyes which result in beautiful designs on fine fabrics. We, of course, had to purchase a few items to enjoy in our own home!
By far our favorite port of call, was the private RCI beach area on Haiti! Jason and Heidi had rented a private cabana for the day and allowed us to share it with them. We had decided to have a go at Dragon’s Tail Coaster, a toboggan type of ride that we had previously ridden in Germany several months ago. This course was even longer than the other one we had so enjoyed. It has several sharp u-turns in a row allowing you to really gain some speed. In fact, my speed demon of a husband was flagged to slow down at one part of the course! The sleds you ride on can be for one or two people. We always rode as singles so we could have the chance to better control the speed we were going without feeling like we had to slow down for the comfort of our passenger. Our pass gave us unlimited riding privileges for the entire day but we decided we’d better get there early to get in as many runs as possible before it got busy. We had a blast getting in 6 runs before the number of other riders increased to a point that it would take almost an hour in line between each ride. We felt we really got our money’s worth!
The rest of the day we spent relaxing in a couple of lounge chairs at our cabana or out in the warm water of the bay. We had use of several unreserved loungers closer to the water, and an attendant made sure that only the cabana users were allowed at this part of the beach. Lunch was served nearby and it was quite good! As the day wore on though, the humidity increased and we felt ready to return to the cool air of the ship. This was a day we will long remember and have a great desire to return someday soon!
Christmas was celebrated while we were onboard, so we decided to join other passengers at a church service in the main show lounge on Christmas day. While it was stated as being an interdenominational service, it was very much Catholic instead. The priest who performed this service and an earlier Catholic service was of Italian descent, and, while he spoke in English, the service followed more Catholic doctrine and liturgy. The taped Christmas carols the priest asked us to sing along with were in fact in Italian so needless to say we could not easily enjoy the chance to sing out a few favorite tunes. Sadly, we actually felt disappointed as we left this gathering. I truly think that RCI could have chosen a religious leader who was much more able to adapt to the needs of the multi-religion passengers, especially at Christmas time.
The production shows onboard were very well done with highly talented singers and dancers. Two production shows were performed on our 8-night cruise. The show, “Once Upon a Time” was cleverly done as a “comedy musical of classic fairy tales.” We really liked this show! Other cabaret type acts filled in on the other nights such as a magician/comedian, a Star Search winning vocalist and another comedian. Some of these acts were better than others.
Exclusive to RCI is the ice rink onboard many of their ships. This is a really amazing venue that allows passengers to skate several times a day, each day of the cruise. The best part, however, is the ice show spectacular “Freedom-Ice.com.” It is a 35-minute production consisting of top-notch skaters performing in several different musical numbers. These required artistry and athleticism at the same time. We had front row seats (no reservations were required, and it is first-come-first-served seating) and felt very much a part of the show!
The best place to relax and enjoy the passing scenery or to read a good book was by far the Viking Crown Lounge. This lounge sits high atop the ship on deck 14, and during the day it is as quiet as a library. At night, it becomes a fairly secluded bar serving drinks before mealtimes. The Diamond Lounge is just adjacent and is available to RCI frequent cruisers with 140 days or more of cruising on its ships. This lounge offers complimentary drinks and tapas during happy hour. We had a fun time using the game lounges, two of which are located next to the Viking Crown Lounge. Each of these rooms has several card or board game tables available to passengers for use while onboard.
Meals are always a big part of any cruise. On Christmas Eve we decided to try out the steak restaurant called Chops Grille. The price was higher on this night only, but unlimited champagne was offered as well as a better choice of entrees such as steak and lobster. This meal was by far the best we had onboard and rivaled any other steak restaurant on the high seas. We ate Christmas dinner in the main dining room. The ham and turkey entree choices were tasty but not great. Spending our Christmas meal with our family members is what made the evening special though!
We enjoyed staying casually dressed on several evenings and thus opted for the buffet in the Windjammer Cafe on deck 11. These meals were very good with a lot of different types of food to choose from. We tried the Cupcake Cupboard, and its cupcakes were a bit dry. Ben and Jerry’s ice cream parlor was what one would expect of them – in a word, yummy! Both of these places were an extra charge. The pizza was an included item but was not very good.
We enjoyed a soda package which allowed us to use the variety of sodas available at several Freestyle machines scattered throughout the ship. This was a good deal if you enjoy unlimited soda. While some say you can be nickel-and-dimed on RCI ships, we found there to be plenty that is included. One can easily enjoy its cruises without needing to pay for any extras. For those who feel they want to enjoy the bonus goodies, they just have to know they will need to also pay the extra cost.
For us, we had a nice cruise with our family and we are ready to do it again! We disembarked knowing our daughter-in-law even better than when we boarded and feel even more blessed that she is a part of our family! Thank you Freedom of the Seas for our fantastic holiday cruise in the Caribbean! See you again soon!