BY KATHERINE K. WALDEN NOV 2014
FROM NEARBY CAPE CANAVERAL, CRUISE OVER FOR A ONE-DAY STOP AT ST. THOMAS, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
After taking photographs of last February’s snowstorm, packing for a getaway to warmer climates was liberating! We left the cold behind to be pampered and coddled by the expert staff on Freedom of the Seas, one of the many luxurious vessels of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines! In recent years, many of the major cruise lines have made Cape Canaveral (on the Florida coast not far from Orlando) into one of their main ports. Seeing the enormity of the ship and the narrow berth she occupied made leaving the dock an engineering and navigational feat all on board were anxious to witness as we left land behind and our vacation began.
When she was launched in 2006, Freedom of the Seas was the largest ship among what is referred to as the “voyager class”. Indeed, she is the size of a small city, but a very well organized one. From the time you enter the embarkation zone at the docks, uniformed staff members guide you from identification and document check-in to your cabin, where you will usually find that your luggage has arrived ahead of you. We were ready to relax on the deck within a half hour of our afternoon arrival.
Why you cruise, where you want to go, and who is joining you on the journey factor into the decision on which cruise to take. Traveling with adults means ports of call and onboard entertainment are important; having children with you adds another dimension to your wish list. Aboard Freedom of the Seas, there was an abundance of activities for adults including swimming, water sports, gambling in the casinos, dancing, and outstanding comics and musicians. There was also one deck almost entirely devoted to keeping children of all ages busy from sun up to bedtime. A surf simulator was added to the rock climbing wall in 2011, destined to wear out the most daring
of children and adults. Located on the same deck is the track where we spent mornings power-walking before heading to the well-appointed gym.
The elegant two story formal dining room is used for breakfast and dinner, the latter of which offers a menu sure to please the finest culinary artist. Musicians entertained during dinner from the mezzanine level with selections which were the ideal accompaniment to fine dining. Under the glitter of crystal chandeliers, we became acquainted with our tablemates and regaled one another with the day’s adventures. The options for dining are numerous and serve excellent American, European, and Caribbean cuisine from the simplest hamburger or Cuban sandwich to delicate salads garnished with seafood. The Windjammer overlooks the water on all sides, or you can go to the top deck of the ship and wait for the delectable onion rings at Johnny Rockets.
Shore excursions included a one-day stop in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, and a day visit to a private island frequented by cruise aficionados for sunbathing, swimming, and relaxing under the palms. Although the trips ashore were a delightful distraction, it was then that we felt jostled by the crowds of other tourists. It was a relief to return to the ship for a calmer dinner followed by lively entertainment. Each lounge featured a
Latin trio who would remember the dance music you preferred. Similarly, the
bartenders would know what you wanted to drink before you asked.
Disembarkation was the only other unpleasant part of the experience. The tunnel-like exits were hot and crowded. Everyone had all of their luggage, which had to be hoisted onto a table for examination and then hauled to the final checkout. It could have been handled more efficiently. Fortunately, the memories of perfect weather, a balcony view from the cabin, new friendships, and non-stop fun relegated disembarkation to a minor glitch in an otherwise idyllic voyage. By the way, the outside cabin option is not an unreasonable expense, and having your coffee overlooking the inky blue of the Caribbean is the way to start your day. #