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Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Freedom of the Seas - Final Thoughts

The decision to sail in the early stages of the return to cruising – Happy We Did

Admittedly, I was never really that nervous about this one. For me, the pros far outweighed the cons. I felt that the biggest headache at the time of booking our cruise all the way up until we boarded the ship was the constantly changing protocols. The protocols that were in place when I first started shopping for a cruise were different from the protocols when I booked, when I boarded, and when I returned from my cruise. You might remember from my first post that I was exclusively looking at 3 and 4 day sailings, the reason being that at the time (late July), no Covid-19 testing was required for fully vaccinated passengers on sailings less than 7 days. That protocol ended up changing before we even booked our cruise. Our cruise planning took place in the stretch where NCL sued the Florida Surgeon General regarding the Florida law that prohibited companies from requiring customers and employees to provide documentation of Covid-19 vaccination status. NCL won the lawsuit and set sail on the first 100% vaccinated cruise from Miami on August 15. While NCL is currently still the only major cruise line sailing fully vaccinated from the US, the outcome of their lawsuit has changed other cruise line’s policies. In my opinion, things have gotten more streamlined since then. While exact protocols still vary by cruise line, embarkation port, and ports of call, all of the necessary information is now much easier to find, and dare I say, changing less rapidly.


Vaccination Wristband

The decision to NOT purchase a drink package – Happy We Did (not)

I went back and forth on this a LOT. Royal Caribbean recently changed their loyalty perks related to free drinks. Previously, Diamond members and above had access to the Diamond Lounge, which included a complimentary happy hour from 5pm-8pm each evening. Now, instead of a happy hour, drink vouchers are loaded on to your SeaPass card and can be used anytime, anywhere. Diamond members get 4 drinks, Diamond Plus get 5, and Pinnacle get 6. With the happy hour situation, I really wouldn’t have questioned buying the drink package. Obviously, I want to get drinks outside of the hours of 5pm-8pm and at other bars than the Diamond Lounge. The new voucher system complicated things. If I purchased the drink package, I would essentially be forfeiting my 4 free drinks per day. The lowest price I saw offered for the drink package for our sailing was $62 per day. At that price, you break even around 5 cocktails per day. But wait! What about those 4 free drinks? Factor those in and I’m breaking even around 9 cocktails per day?! That definitely changes things. But wait again! What about the specialty coffees, sodas, and bottled water that are included with the drink package? You can see why I went back and forth on this. Ultimately, we opted not to purchase the drink package, and we both were happy with this decision! I will say our satisfaction is skewed by our upgraded stateroom, which came with access to the Suite Lounge. I’m sure I will once again be debating whether or not to purchase a drink package on our next Royal Caribbean cruise. While we’re discussing drink packages and loyalty perks…


Our thoughts on the switch from Diamond Lounge Happy Hour to Drink Vouchers – Neutral 

This was my first cruise since achieving Diamond status, so I never experienced the previous version of the Diamond Lounge, but Judy did. And she had mentioned several times, even before the loyalty perks changed, that Victoria and I would not enjoy the Diamond Lounge. In Judy’s words, “the Diamond lounge makes me feel young.” That being said, we both love the switch to drink vouchers that can be used anytime, anywhere. What prevented us from being able to say that we love the change as a whole is the fact that you immediately lose the perk if you choose to purchase a beverage package. Personally, I just love the vacation mindset of a drink package. Order a drink you don’t like? Get a new one. Want a specialty coffee with dessert? Order it! Want to order what you want when you want without having to worry about what you might want later? Do it! The vouchers felt a bit restrictive to us. Granted, it’s all in your mindset. For some it might be easier to not worry about maximizing the value of your drink vouchers. I’d love to see Royal Caribbean change the drink voucher perk to X Number of Free Drinks per day OR % off the Drink Package….but something tells me you’d have to wait to purchase the drink package onboard, and I’d bet the price will be the same or slightly higher than pre-sail prices. And on the subject of the Diamond Lounge…it was pretty much non-existent on the Freedom.


We think this was it…there was no one there


Sailing without a Specialty Dining Package – Neutral 

Much like the Drink Package, I did a lot of debating on Dining Packages as well. While dragging my feet to make a decision between the Unlimited Dining Package or the Chops+1, both became unavailable, and I opted to book a single dinner at Giovanni’s Kitchen instead. Ultimately, Judy and I decided that on a short sailing like this one, unlimited specialty dining just isn’t something we needed. Our one dinner at Giovanni’s Kitchen + our spur-of-the-moment dinner at Playmakers were the perfect amount of specialty dining for us. So I guess that Chops+1 package would’ve been ideal. Side note: on a mega-ship like the Harmony of the Seas, I will DEFINITELY be buying the Unlimited Dining Package. But for 4 days on the Freedom, 2 was plenty.


Thoughts on Perfect Day Cococay – LOVED IT 

Judy and I both absolutely loved CocoCay. I would love to meet the CocoCay renovation team, specifically the person who came up with the idea of the helium balloon. I must confess, until I visited CocoCay this is one thing that had me scratching my head. What is the point of going up in a tethered helium balloon to look around at the vast ocean when you have been sailing on a ship…through the vast ocean. I did not get it. Now, I get it. MARKETING! Hot take – Royal Caribbean probably doesn’t even care how many balloon rides they sell, what they care about is how many people sitting across the water at Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island go home and research Royal Caribbean cruises because they saw that balloon. Genius. Here’s NCL’s Great Stirrup Cay for reference –


Marketing aside, Royal Caribbean truly did a fantastic job with Perfect Day CocoCay. I could go on and on, but my top favorites include Harbor Beach, Oasis Lagoon Pool, the quick-service, non-buffet food at the Snack Shack, and the live music at Captain Jack’s. I cannot wait to go back to CocoCay!


Overall Thoughts… We had a GREAT cruise. 

We definitely got spoiled by the low capacity and our Suite Upgrade, but I’m excited to see cruising inching its way back to normal. Disney Cruise Line just announced last week that they will be implementing the vaccination policy for guests ages 5-11 starting on January 13, 2022, and I expect other cruise lines will likely follow suit. What’s next for me? I’m excited to experience one of Norwegian Cruise Line’s fully vaccinated sailings this Christmas with ALL the Shinglebells!

Ship Selfie

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