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"We're definitely cruise converts…"
I embarked on a cruise on board the Freedom of the Seas with my DH and three and five year old DSs to explore the Eastern Caribbean islands.
The Freedom of the Seas is big, all 15 decks of her. However despite her size, and the number of fellow cruisers, she provides a surprisingly intimate experience. Royal Caribbean ensure this by the relationship that you build up with your room attendant and waiter team who provide a constant in your week long stay onboard.
One aspect of cruising that will concern all is safety. I, like any parent of small boys, was worried that one of my sons would manage to find a way to fall overboard. However falling overboard would take very great effort from the passenger and is practically unheard of. All children are tagged as soon as they come on board so when not in your care you know they'd be taken to the appropriate meeting point in case of any emergency. Boys being boys, we did have a visit to the infirmary for DS1 and so we were also able to experience the medical facilities - which were excellent.
We all fitted in quite snugly in our ocean view stateroom. There was a huge double bed for me and DH, and the sofa bed converted into another huge double for our sons to share, indeed DS2 loved seeing the cabin transformed every night as the sofa became a bed. The room attendant was attentive and friendly, and the kids were enchanted every night by his towel sculptures.
The childcare on board the Freedom is exceptional for all ages, with the Adventure Ocean club catering for kids from 3 to 11, in three different age groups, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-11. If you wanted to leave your kids from 9 in the morning until 10pm you could (but that would perhaps be a little extreme). For those with offspring under 3 there are playgroups available, and for parents of teenagers - well, you probably won't see them for the duration of the cruise so full is their programme. Most of all the kids loved the H2O zone, the children's water play area on deck - what could be more fun than running through crazy fountains and following it with a dip in a hot tub?
Food - gosh where to start? The free flowing ice cream on deck? The endless buffets? The speciality restaurants? The food was invariably of a high standard (and was never ever in short supply) and both DH and I definitely came back a couple of pounds heavier. Meals in the stunning 3 level dining room were always a joy with waiters who made it their mission to make sure their younger guests were entertained and fed well.
The Eastern Caribbean Cruise takes in three stops: Coco Cay, St Thomas and St Maarten (St Martin). Coco Cay is a kind of desert island playground in the Bahamas which the kids loved, and I loved upmarket St Maarten , where we lucked out in our choice of excursion with a ride in a semi-submersible over the coral reef which was perfect for those too young to snorkel.
The price of the cruise itself is not cheap, but is good value, as it offers all basic food and childcare for free. For first-time cruisers, do take into account the cost of gratuities (paid to your waiter team and room attendant), as these, although well-earned, do add up.
Most importantly the main part of the childcare is completely free which is so much more than you would expect from a 5* hotel, and it is this that really sets Royal Caribbean apart, as it is not only free, but of a very high standard.
Royal Caribbean have made passenger satisfaction into an art - small touches like the offer to do a bag of laundry mid-cruise are very welcome. They really do anticipate your every need. DH and I are definitely cruise converts, and I do find myself surfing the Royal Caribbean website thinking, hmm...next year perhaps...maybe the Western Caribbean?
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