Royal Caribbean’s newest amplified ship, Freedom of the Seas, has just set sail from San Juan, Puerto Rico. This revolutionary ship has received a number of new upgrades and enhancements during its recent $100+ million dollar revitalization. The Princess and I have just sailed on the inaugural cruise on this updated ship (the only cruise on this ship before the cruise industry came to a halt). Over the 7-night Southern Caribbean itinerary, we tested out the new features, venues, and dining options. Now, we are back and have compiled our ratings in this latest Freedom of the Seas ship scorecard review!
Freedom of the Seas Ship Scorecard Review
Boarding in San Juan, Puerto Rico was smooth and effortless. As this was the first cruise, there was no waiting when we arrived to the port around 10:30 am. Even with the enhanced health screening, including non-invasive temperature checks, we walked on to the ship within 15 minutes of arrival at the terminal. At each of our ports of call, getting on and off the ship was equally as easy. All security procedures were efficient, and we never encountered more than a short line to exit or return to the ship. Given the national situation, we had a change in disembarkation port and two extra days at sea. This made getting off the ship on Tuesday a bit arduous, taking close to 1.5 hours to go from ship to airport shuttle. Again, this was no fault to Royal Caribbean.
We love the new Caribbean pool deck found on Navigator of the Seas. Happily, the redesign of Freedom of the Seas also has this vibrant layout and feel. The new casitas and comfy chairs and sofas were also a welcomed addition. Although, the pool deck did feel exceptionally crowded, with chairs stacked very close to each other. The loungers were also close to the pools and walkways, making it difficult to navigate the area at peak times. Unless you were out claiming deck chairs before 8 am, you were left with slim pickings during our cruise. This was especially true in the Solarium.
In contrast, the new Splashaway Bay for the little ones is massive. It certainly dwarfs the aqua park updates on Mariner of the Seas or Navigator of the Seas. There were fewer children on our cruise than you would typically find in the summer, so it never seemed really busy. We expect that this new area would be quite lively during the busy season.
Honestly, we did not use many of the sports deck offerings given the port intensive itinerary. There was a full sized basketball court and a rock climbing wall. These areas felt under utilized during our cruise. The Flowrider and two new Perfect Storm waterslides provided more options for those looking for activity outdoors. Relocating the mini-golf course to deck 13 forward provided some much appreciated extra space. Though, the jogging track on deck 12 was tight giving runners and walkers little room to comfortably share the path. Given this was our 16th Royal Caribbean cruise, the sports deck was on par with our baseline for comparison, so Freedom of the Seas delivered on our (admittedly) high standards.
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For the most part, the cruise delivered what we have come to anticipate from a Royal Caribbean cruise. Our waiter Rafael provided reliable and friendly service, and our barista Donald was another jovial team member who always greeted us with a smile along with our morning coffee. At other venues throughout the ship, service varied from pleasant to indifferent. Of course, we know how hard the staff work, especially with the current global situation, so we always give them the benefit of the doubt. Still, we never waited long at bars, restaurants, or the MDR. Crew were constantly sanitizing areas and assisting cruisers during a time of uncertainty, so what they might have lacked in personality, they more than made up for in promptness and attention to detail.
This Southern Caribbean cruise on Freedom of the Seas was rather port intense with four long port days. The Cruise Director Elvis and the activities staff offered what felt like a slimmed down version of the typical daytime activities. Yes, there was the Belly Flop contest and the World’s Sexiest Man contest as well as some poolside games. There were also other organized events like trivia, dance classes, laser tag, and up-charge activities such as wine tasting, cocktail classes, and Bingo. Given the beautiful weather, we were more than content just relaxing poolside during our sea days. Though, when compared to our most recent cruise on Carnival Panorama, the cruisers seemed less engaged and the activities staff less lively.
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Main Dining Room
For the original 7 nights of our cruise, we dined in the main dining room five of those nights. We had traditional dining at 6 pm with a requested table for two. Our aforementioned waitstaff provided reliable and prompt service, even if we did not always arrive on time. The courses were adequately paced as well. We were a bit disappointed in the bar service during dinner however. We were lucky to get one drink as the staff appeared to be serving large sections of the main dining room. Honestly, the food was slightly disappointing for a Royal Caribbean cruise ship as well. The dinner menus offered some departures from what we are used to on other ships, leaving the Princess with limited choices. Menu highlights included the lamb shank and broiled lobster tail. While, some of the disappointments were the Princess’ favorite turkey dinner and the southern fried chicken as they were very dry.
For this trip, we pre-booked a dinner for the first formal night at Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen. As part of our booking, we also received a free specialty dining credit that we used at Chops Grille on night 5.
Giovanni’s delivered a fabulous meal and overall dining experience. In fact, we decided to return again on night 9, given the extended length of our cruise. Among our favorites for the starters were the truffle caprese salad with rich and creamy burrata and the Giovanni’s pizza. For entrees, we sampled the Chicken Parm, Osso Buco, and two of the pasta selections, which all received our seal of approval. The desserts were equally tasty including the traditional style Tiramisu, as well as the massive cannolis.
Our dinner at Chops Grille was one of our better experiences at this Royal Caribbean staple. My ribeye was flavorful and perfectly seared medium. The crab cake had a lighter consistency and was better than previous versions. The sides, including the sauteed mushrooms and truffle fries, were ideal accompaniments to the main course. While the Princess’ chicken and our desserts were pretty average, it was an overall solid experience.
Did Not Meet Expectations
During the amplification, Royal Caribbean added El Loco Fresh to Freedom of the Seas. Open for lunch and afternoon snacks, this casual poolside venue is one of our new favorite dining spots on Royal Caribbean cruise ships. We enjoyed the tacos and nachos from this casual eatery. Honestly though, El Loco Fresh was really the only bright spot when it came to casual dining. Given that we are normally not huge fans of the Windjammer, and further that we wanted to reduce the risk of virus, we only ate here once for breakfast. It was mostly standard breakfast fare, including an omelet station and some new additions like avocado toast. We can not attest to the selections for lunch and dinner. The only other complimentary casual spots were the 24 hour Cafe Promenade and Sorrento’s Pizza. The ship certainly could have benefited from a Park Cafe or a Dog House to add more variety. Of course, there are up-charge venues for lunch like Johnny Rockets and Playmakers.
Freedom of the Seas does not have a Broadway show. During our cruise, there were two production shows featuring the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers. The first show, Marquee, felt very dated. The second show was a standard on Royal Caribbean ships, Once Upon a Time. While we have seen this show several times, we both enjoyed the performance. In addition, there were two comedians and two headliners. The first headliner was a magician who did some pretty standard illusions with an impressionistic performance style. The other headliner was the a cappella group Mo5aic. This is at least the fourth time that we have seen these talented performers. Their show is not to be missed; although, it has been the same exact set a few times in a row now.
Throughout the ship, there were other activities like music trivia in the Schooner Bar, karaoke, and the Hush Silent Party. There were also game shows like Love and Marriage, Finish that Lyric, Liar’s Club, and of course, the Crazy Quest. Not to mention, there was live music, with a Latin Band in Boleros, a pub guitarist in the Bull and Bear, and a piano player in the Schooner Bar. While we made the rounds to all the bars, these performers provided a nice backdrop to our drinks. If you are a night owl, there is also a DJ spinning music in the Viking Crown Lounge until late.
Bars and Lounges
The line up of bars and lounges on Freedom of the Seas reads like a greatest hits of venues found throughout the fleet. Many of these venues feature signature menus. Our favorite indoor venue is the resident martini bar and piano lounge, the Schooner Bar. It is home to two of our favorite cocktails on the ship, the lavender daiquiri and the sidecar. Other popular indoor venues include the Latin-themed Boleros, the R Bar, and the newly added Playmakers Sports Bar and Arcade. We really like the location and open feel of this venue. In addition, the ship has updated its outdoor bars near the pool. With the amplification, the cruise line added the Lime and Coconut, a two-story venue with a signature menu. Other bars like the Solarium Bar, Olive and Twist, and the Star Lounge all offer the standard menu which is organized by spirit.
The only venue missing on Freedom of the Seas is the Bamboo Room. This is one of my favorite Royal Caribbean bars, and I was hoping that Vintages would be swapped out for this tiki-inspired venue. Alas, that was not the case.
We booked a guaranteed balcony with a super low rate from our travel agent. We lucked out with a deck 6 balcony, room 6638. The stateroom was located on the second hump, giving us a larger balcony. Inside the cabin was spacious, but you could tell the room had not been updated. It featured the older green color palette, and our furniture definitely showed signs of wear. The room did not receive any updates as far as technology either. There were no additional power outlets or USBs added. The key entry system still required you to insert a card, and there was no energy saving portal in the room either. Royal Caribbean missed the opportunity to update the cabins to make them sleeker and more modern like the newer vessels. Still, we had plenty of storage space, and the bed provided the usual comfort.
While there were still plenty of cruisers on the ship, we doubt that it was sailing at full capacity given the situation. For the most part, the cruise never felt crowded. There were small lines at popular venues at peak times; although, we never waited more than a few minutes for items such as our morning coffee or a slice of pizza after returning from a port. During the day, waitstaff were constantly circling the main pool decks to take your drink order. The same could be said about the main theater. Although, you did have to wake up early to “claim” a lounger if you wanted one right next to the main pools. However, there were usually plenty of seats on deck 12 or the virtually empty deck 13 forward if you wanted a quieter spot away from the crowds. The shows, nightly entertainment, and parties were moderately attended. So, showing up 15 minutes early meant you could find seats without much issue.
Overall Freedom of the Seas Ship Scorecard Review
Our 7-night Southern Caribbean cruise on the newly amplified Freedom of the Seas provided the perfect mix of exotic ports of call, new features, and familiar Royal Caribbean favorites. We enjoyed having long calls in port as we had not visited the ABC islands since 2015. We love the new Caribbean poolscape with the vibrant colors and trendy furniture, as well as the Lime and Coconut Bar. We were happy to see Playmakers as an addition to the bar line up but wish the cruise line had added the Bamboo Room too. We also really liked the “new” Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen. This casual, yet traditional Italian eatery offered so many delicious menu items that we actually dined here twice. Service was on par with what we have come to expect on Royal Caribbean cruise ships.
One of the biggest letdowns for us was the lack of complimentary casual dining options. While we did pay to dine at Playmakers one day, we would have liked to see a bit more variety. Also, we would have liked to see a few more updates to the staterooms, perhaps new carpet and furniture.
Given the nature of our cruise, there were certain hiccups that were beyond the cruise line’s control. Namely that we could not disembark in Puerto Rico as planned due to port closure. However, Royal Caribbean handled the situation swiftly and kept us safe and healthy the entire cruise despite the coronavirus situation at hand.
Do you have plans to cruise on the newly amplified Freedom of the Seas? Which updates are you looking forward to experiencing on this Royal Caribbean ship? Drop us an anchor below to share your thoughts on our Freedom of the Seas ship scorecard review.