Elisse & Dan's Excellent Adventure! Part Two: Cruisin'!
From Savannah, we drove down to Florida to met our Royal Caribbean ship, "Freedom of the Seas", having a seafood lunch at a "Fish Camp" on the way. We stopped at a Marshall's in Savannah, as I had a $100 gift card I'd won in a http://www.brickfish,com/ contest, and I badly needed a bathing suit that fit my fat little body... Dan got himself a pair of flipflops, and then talked me into buying a fabulous pair of high-heeled summer sandals! Cuisewear in February: Woot! We spent the night at the Hilton in Orlando (on our Hilton Honors points), as due to the shuttle launch (supposedly "the last night shuttle launch ever"), there was NOTHING available anywhere near Cape Canaveral. As I wrote in my previous post, we had No Clue about cruising (with Royal Caribbean or anything else), and had never used CheapCaribbean.com, and we were Totally delighted by both! We boarded "Freedom of the Seas" at the Cape Canaveral Cruise Terminal, and were amazed at how smoothly and quickly everything went- absolutely no chaos! Our 5 (!) suitcases were whisked away curbside and wound up in front of our stateroom, and the next thing you know, we were happily ensconced up in the "Olive or Twist" bar, with its view of the Niki de Saint Phalle-esque sculpture-filled pool, Gin-&-Tonics in hand, & Officially On Vacation!
Since I'd booked the cheapest package possible, we steeled ourselves for a depressingly tiny closet of a window-less stateroom, but were pleasantly surprised by a romantic little room with a giant bed & a lovely hot shower big enough for two :-), that to be honest, we spent very little time in. I will say that, smartly, the lady I booked with at http://www.cheapcaribbean.com "lowered our expectations", which is probably why we were so pleased! Yes, I would have loved to have a stateroom with a balcony, and hopefully some day we will, but to me it wasn't worth an additional $2000 that we didn't have! What money we did have to spend we chose to spend on "adventures" and foodie/drinky fun! After boarding, we took the "tour" of the ship's spa (because they cleverly offered "first day" savings & the chance to win spa treatments & products!), and my wonderful husband not only indulged me in a mani-pedi, mini-facial and shampoo-&-style, but asked me to book him the Men's Spa Package! Woo-hoo! I also booked us hot stone massages for our last day at sea, and, with his encouragement (twist my arm and make me go to the spa!) had my hair done again for the ship's second "Formal Night" AND added a facial and seaweed detox body wrap to our massages!
All gussied up on our first night at sea, we did the fun Murder Mystery Dinner, starting up in "Olive or Twist" with champagne and hors d'oeurves, and then moving down to the Portofino Restaurant. Steeled for truly medicore food we were actually amazed by the fine quality! My filet mignon was actually "Pittsburgh" the way I ordered it- seared on the outside and Rare inside- and the desert of Tiramisu served in a paper-thin swirl of a chocolate bowl & topped with chocolate "antlers" blew us away! Although we intended to eat at Portofino again, we wound up dining in the regular dining room every night thereafter- a magnificent "Titanic-esque" chandelier-lit space with the requisite spiral staircase- as the food turned out to be great, and our table mates were delightful!
After dinner, we found the Connoisseur Cigar Bar, and then the Arcade, where we rode motorcycles and shot big guns!
When we got back to our stateroom we were delighted to find that fabulous, fun cruise staple: amazing towel sculpture! The charming gentleman who cared for our stateroom created a fun, new creature every evening, and even used my sunglasses to adorn them!
"Freedom of the Seas" is one of the largest cruise ships out there, with some 4500 guests and a crew of 1500! It really is an amazing thing to behold, with a climbing wall, surfing pool, mini-golf, and even an ice skating ring with a troupe of professional ice skaters! (My only regrets are that I didn't have the chance to climb the wall or ice skate at sea- so we HAVE to go back!) There were numerous shows, including the "Las Vegas Tenors", and the jazz quintet that played up in "Olive Or Twist" our last night at sea was excellent. We were particularly impressed with the spotless cleanliness of the ship (We never encountered a dirty or messy bathroom- even by the pool!) and a multi-national crew that was, almost without exception, extraordinary: helpful, charming, gracious, and good-humored. (We also loved the fact that Security was in the hands of an Israeli- and slept peacefully at night knowing it. :-)
We were VERY happy that the ship makes smokers welcome- basically THE reason we booked this cruise- and judging from the full smoking bars and empty non-smoking ones, it was crystal clear that a great portion of our fellow cruisers were smokers.
There was something to do for everyone, 24/7: kiddie programs, teen programs, family programs, elegant "Formal" dinners, card games, a choice of dining options, a spa as well as a sports center with a sauna, Casino Royale, the gaming arcade, bars & clubs & shows, numerous pools & hot tubs, and 100s of fun shore excursions to choose from, as well as Serious Shopping- and from the looks of it, there ware at least 500 Serious shoppers on our ship! I went to the "Shopping Event", lured by raffles & sweepstakes, but only lasted 5 minutes before my eyes glazed over from the hard sell & I took off to meet Dan in the hot tub! Believe it or not I'm really Not a shopaholic!
In short: Cruising is about as far removed from "reality" as you can get and still be on planet earth. And it is GREAT for just that reason. It Truly enabled us to have a totally relaxing, romantic, and stress-free holiday that was nothing but fun- something we Badly needed!
My next post will be about our "adventures" at our 3 ports of call: Labadee, Haiti, Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and Cozeumel, Mexico...
Our one main quibble with Royal Caribbean was the feeling that they "nickle-and-dimed" us to death for tons of little things that we should not have been charged for, & which thus left a sour taste in our mouths. We have 100s of receipts for all sorts of little, piddly things that we had to sign for, such as fresh-squeezed orange juice, cappuchinos and espressos with our meals, and most grating of all, bottled water. Drinking water is NOT a luxury, especially in the tropics, and Especially in places like Labadee where there is NO potable drinking water. To charge for it is WRONG, and to charge $3.75 per bottle is criminal. There should have been cases of bottled water on the pier at each port, and it should have been given out gratis when we disembarked. Period. We booked all our shore excursions through the Royal Caribbean website, and they were not inexpensive, and so we were unpleasantly surprised to learn that we had to pay $10 for a locker here, $3.75 for a bottle of water there, and so on.
Our other Big Problem was with the ship's internet service, for which we also paid extra (again, in our opinion, wrong), but which didn't work. Buying a $28 internet card (@49 cents/minute), we were NEVER able to get a message to our Inn Sitter. Given an 888 "free" phone number for shore-to-ship calling, we left numerous messages (@ $8.00 a minute!) on our home phone's answering machine, only to learn later that when it was called, a credit card was demanded! This is, quite simply, WRONG.
Another issue was that neither we nor our dinner companions- all experienced cruisers- knew- until the last day at sea- that we could have had fine cooked-to-order breakfasts and lunches in the dining room, or that we could have had breakfast in bed each morning at no additional charge! The ship's buffet, where we had breakfast most mornings, while decent, was no match for the dining room's fine food; it was what we had originally expected on a cruise, lots & lots of mediocre food.
That being said, and assuming they rectify these issues, we'd definitely cruise with Royal Caribbean again, and will def utilize http://www.cheapcaribbean.com/