Our Royal Caribbean Experience
So, just to preface, this was our first cruise with Royal Caribbean Cruise lines. Paul and I have collectively been on over a dozen cruises, all with Carnival Cruise lines, so we wanted a change. This was the longest cruise we’ve even been on, and the first cruise as a “family”, our Baby Man included! I want to use this as a record about the pros and cons of Royal Caribbean versus Carnival.
We planned this cruise with one of my best friends, Kristen (Storey) and her husband Steven. It was their honeymoon cruise, and our first cruise as a family. There were a hand full of priorities we were looking for in this cruise…
- Longer cruise – we’ve only really done max 5 night cruises, and this one was 7 nights
- Destination – we’ve been to Cozumel and Nassau more times that we’d ever want, so we wanted to go somewhere we’ve never been before.
- Baby friendly – I did a good bit of research before we planned the cruise, and wanted to be sure there was plenty of options for Liam from activities to babysitting, to family friendly dining.
- Party Atmosphere – Paul, as many of your know is all about the night life, so we wanted to be able to cut loose when possible.
- Awesome Food – We wanted to experience a variety of options relative to dining! That’s what cruising is about right?
So to start, when we booked the cruise, Royal Caribbean was offering a promotion in which the 3rd and 4th stateroom guest get to stay free, so we only paid for Liam’s taxes, fees and gratuity. That was a huge perk! We had heard so many great things about Royal Caribbean, so we were ready to book!
From sailing day, we could tell immediately this ship was pretty grand! Freedom of the Seas can hold 3600 guests plus another 1300 crew members. It’s pretty amazing. We had a nice array of dining options, from the buffet style in WindJammer, Fine Dining in the various dining rooms, a 24 hour café, not to mention the Pizzeria and room service of course! This was all included, but there were additional dining options like a Steak House, Italian Restaurant, and more! On top of this, there was a very cool shopping mall area and awesome pools on deck 11.
We booked an interior room, cause we figured we wouldn’t be in the room, and for some reason the room felt a LOT smaller than what we’ve experience on Carnival. It might have been that we also had a pack and play in the room, but we have decided in the future we would definitely want to do an outer room, whether it’s an ocean view or a balcony. And now that we are on the rooms, let’s address the stateroom service. Our attendant was very cool, and would open our door for us on many occasions when he was nearby and we were juggling the baby. We only wished he had a little more practice and creativity with the towel animals, definitely room for improvement there! 😉
Now onto excursions! First stop was COCO CAY! This island is owned by Royal Caribbean, and it was a great option to be able to get off the boat and relax on the a gorgeous Caribbean beach. They had a food area where you could get burgers, hot dogs, fruit and other easy options. They also had waiters walking around the island with drinks, and you just handed them the sail and sign card and you’re golden! They had plenty of activities, but we took this time to chill on the beach. The water was shallow and there were barely any waves, so it was great for letting Liam roam without worry!
We had to take a water taxi from the boat to the island, so that was my only complaint. When we were headed back to the ship there was a ridiculous line for people waiting to catch the boat back to the ship (we estimated waiting over an hour)! Liam was not a happy camper for sure! But we survived and were happy to get back for more play!
Next stop was San Juan, Puerto Rico. This was a detour to our original plan which was St. Thomas. Unfortunately there was a crew member that was ill and they had to get them medical assistance right away – ironically the fastest option was to stop in Nassau, which didn’t leave us the time to get to St. Thomas. So, San Juan it was! We didn’t dock until late afternoon, so it was a short trip. We decided to just wander the city a bit, hit up some shops – Specifically Pandora! Happy Birthday to me! 😉 and then we just walked around some more before we headed back to the boat. There was some beautiful architecture. Definitely a cool place to visit. Obviously we would have liked to have more time here, but that was an uncontrollable, and we made the best of the time we had.
Next stop St. Maarten! I’ve heard mixed reviews about this island by people that have stayed at resorts here – specifically how safe it was, so we decided to leave Liam on the ship in the nursery for this day. Paul wanted to use this stop to get some beautiful shots of the island and get a taste of local food. We decided once we got off the boat, to see if we couldn’t get a cab to some random spots and ended up doing a tour around the entire island! St. Maarten is divided into the Dutch side and the French side, and we checked out both sides! Our tour guide did an awesome job with two 20-30 minute stops in which we could grab lunch and walk around. We stopped by the airport and there were planes taking off right over the beach where people were in the water…
…Marigot Market for lunch, and back around the island to our starting point… we learned a lot about the island. Of course Paul saw a couple that was riding around on ATVs and said “next time that’s what we’re getting!” We shall see… haha
We ended this island day with some more shopping! Paul has been on a kick about getting a new watch – thank you Matthew Levine. No really, THANK YOU, cause I made out even better than Paul! We both walked away with some awesome watches, but I got the better end of the deal there! Another Happy Birthday to me! And of course it’s duty-free, so you can’t beat that!
Now for our Days at Sea! I decided to leave those to last cause we did have three and a half days at sea. The pools were great, but one HUGE disappointment was the fact that Liam was confined to a lousy baby pool with a non-functioning fountain. It was a huge bummer when you see the awesome H20 Zone they have. I know it’s regulation, but I guess some cruises are a little more strict than others, and in this case very strict! If we wanted to enjoy the pools, Liam was in daycare. Don’t get me wrong, Liam had fun in the baby pool.. for about 15-20 minutes and then he wanted more… Below is the cool H20 zone that Liam wasn’t allowed in.
Two of our 3.5 days at sea, we used the daycare for 4-5 hours so we could get some baby free pool time, and I will say the daycare was AMAZING! I was very concerned going on a cruise/vacation with the baby feeling like I wouldn’t get any relaxation time, but we did and it was wonderful! The daycare staff was great and while Liam wasn’t always very happy when he realized we were leaving him, he quickly started playing and calmed down!
That is one thing I have been very torn about going back to Carnival with the baby, is that they seem to have limited daycare hours, the Camp Carnival is only for ages 2+, and they don’t offer any in-room baby sitting. We didn’t use that option with Carnival but, it’s nice to know we would have that option!
Next on our list of wants was a party atmosphere, and I have say that was lacking on Royal Caribbean. It was obviously a family style cruise, but the clubs were very dispersed and almost seemed hard to find. On Carnival they were all grouped together. We did see a comedy show which was very good, but even that ended earlier than we expected! The daycare closed at 12PM (Midnight), and it seemed like a lot of other things closed not long after that! But we did get out and have a good time. They did have a casino, which also adds to the cruise experience, but on this ship it felt oddly placed.
We did however enjoy the wide variety of dining options! Liam was welcome in all the dining areas, even though there were times we decided daycare was a better option. Liam loved the pizzeria, and we were in the Windjammer for several breakfast, lunches and dinners! But the highlight was definitely the fine dining, and we were especially pleased with the second formal dinner! We had some lobster tail, filet mignon, rich cheese ravioli and some decadent deserts. We also checked out some of the paid options, including Johnny Rockets, for a traditional burger and sundaes, and our last evening we splurged on Chops steak restaurant. That was definitely the premium dining experience!
In comparison between the Royal Caribbean and Carnival dining experiences, we think that the food is on par with each other. I feel like you get a little more “American” style dining with Carnival, and a more European dining experience with Royal Caribbean. They were both delicious. I will say the room service options on Carnival definitely hit the spot more. Carnival seemed to have more options, but both are pretty wonderful.
I did like with Royal Caribbean we could order room service through our TV, but I think because of that system, room service took longer and they had horrible phone operation services. I don’t know how many times I tried to call room service, or one of the dining rooms or even the guest services and it would just ring and ring and ring. But it wasn’t the end of the world, and we thoroughly enjoyed our experience!!
Check out some of more photos from our last night!
You can see the rest of the photos here!