Monday, 22 February 2010

Caribbean Cruise Review /Freedom of the Seas Part 1

We had an absolutely fabulous time on our cruise on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas!

Our trip started out with flying to Orlando the day before the cruise. Thankfully we had a great flight departure time (2pm) so we had a leisurely morning with the kids. We happened to meet 2 of my uncles at the airport so we got to chat with them as we waited for our first flight of the day. We had only one layover and everything went perfect. We got to our hotel (Country Inn and Suites Airport) and ordered in pizza for a late supper.

The next morning we caught the hotel shuttle back to the airport to catch our pre-paid Royal Caribbean bus transportation to Port Canaveral, about 45 mins away. I was a bit nervous about how this would go because normally they meet travellers in baggage claim as soon as you arrive at the airport, but since we had already arrived the day before, we would have to find them. Turned out to be very simple and I had worried for nothing - big surprise! :)

We arrived at the port around noon and we were onboard the ship in under an hour. Our room was 6374 (on Deck 6) and was in a perfect location. We were in the back of the ship, and virtually all the food was located in the back of the ship (on Decks 3-5 and 11 & 12). Due to the size of this vessel (we had over 4000 passengers compared to approx 2500 on our first Royal Caribbean cruise) there are 3 main dining rooms - Galileo's, Leonardo's and Isaac's. We were assigned to Galileo's which was on Deck 5 - a very short walk down only one flight of stairs. Deck 5 also contained the Royal Promenade which felt like a 6 deck high mall with shops, restaurants and bars lining either side. All food is included in the price of the cruise (unless otherwise noted) as well as coffee, tea and juice - soft drinks and alcohol are extra (we bought an "all you can drink soft drink" package). The restaurants included Ben & Jerry's (nominal fee), Sorrento's Pizza, Seattle's Best Coffee (nominal fee for specialty coffees) and Cafe Promenade which served coffee, tea, juice, pastries and sandwhiches 24/7.

The other eating options were located up on Decks 11 & 12. The Windjammer Cafe is the huge buffet restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and supper. Despite the huge numbers of people onboard this ship, we never had trouble finding an available seat by the windows, even on at-sea days. We ate breakfast here every morning and had lunch here a few times. We ate lunch here a couple of times, as well as at Sorrento's Pizza (on Deck 5) and we tried Johnny Rockets one day as well. There is a $4.95 cover charge to get into Johnny Rockets and then you can eat as much food as you want (including dessert), but you do have to pay for milkshakes, soft drinks or alcohol. The burgers were great, but they had fat fries (yup, I'm a picky eater and I don't like potatoes which means I only like skinny fries that don't taste like potatoes:). It was very good, and a neat retro atmosphere but we only went once.

For supper we ate in our main dining room (Galileo's on Deck 5) four times and the other 3 suppers we dined in the ships fine dining restaurants, an Italian restaurant called Portofino ($20/person) and the most amazing steak house ever called Chops Grille ($25/person).

There was also an ice cream cone machine located by the pool on Deck 11.

The food was delicious all around! Nathan had steak and lobster several times that week - and it's always all you can eat!

On the opposite end of the ship from our room is where the majority of the entertainment was. The Arcadia Theatre was on Decks 3 & 4 - all evening shows took place here, as well as numerous other activities (like Bingo!). The fitness centre, boxing ring, spa, rock climbing wall, FlowRider (surfing simulator), full size sports court, mini-golf course were all located on Decks 11 & 12.

They had an ice rink located in the middle of the ship on Deck 3, Casino Royale was on Deck 4 (and 5? I don't know, we walked through it once but never did any gambling), photo gallery was on Deck 4, and numerous other lounges and bars (karaoke!) were scattered throughout the ship. Deck 15 was a small wedding chapel - there was at least one wedding that took place while we were there - the bridal party ate dinner in our dining room that night.

Deck 11 also contained the 3 different pool areas. The kid pool was located near the Windjammer cafe.

The middle pool was for both children and adults (this is where the ice cream machine was).

The far pool was for adults only (for quiet reasons not for any other activities:) The adult pool also had way comfier poolchairs!

The adult pool also had two whirlpools cantilevered off the sides of the ship!

Sunday was cold in Florida and we spent the day familiarizing ourselves with this huge ship. We were onboard by 1 and the ship left at 5. (Picture is taken from our balcony as we depart the pier at Port Canaveral) It is laid out extremely well and I found that I didn't get lost nearly as often as I have on previous cruises - not sure if that's due to layout, where our cabin was located, or simply cruise experience - but it was nice all the same!

We went to Galileo's for supper Sunday evening. We had signed up for "My Time Dining" which meant we could show up whatever time we wanted to! They also had the regular 5:30 and 8:00 seatings, but we love the flexibility of My Time. Some days we like to eat earlier and some days later depending on what we did during the day, so this was perfect.

After dinner we went to the Welcome Aboard Show (there was a high quality show every evening in the Arcadia Theatre and we went every single night). This show featured comedian Rodney Johnson and the aerial artistry of Agnes & Peter - they were amazing! After the show we went to the Party Around the World parade (left picture) they had on the Royal Promenade and then we went and had coffee (well, I had tea) like we did every evening at Cafe Promenade or Sorrento's.

Monday was supposed to be our first port of call at Coco Cay, Bahamas - Royal Caribbean's private island. I was looking forward to this stop a lot as we had planned to go on the hiking trail and then just lie on the beach all day - the only free beach day we could have. At normal ports of call you can purchase a beach excursion (often for $50/person!), or you can hire a taxi yourself, but they you still need to pay for a beach lounge chair and you have to make sure you can find a taxi to drive you back in time to catch the ship! Anyway, as Coco Cay is RC's island, there's no one else there and was the perfect opportunity to go to the beach.

Unfortunately it So that was disappointing. But, the one good thing about being on a ship is - you can leave! So we left early to try to find some sun. By later in the day it had stopped raining but it was a bit of a write off as far as beach or poolside was concerned.

That evening we ate at Galileo's for the first of two formal nights, and then took in the show which was The Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers in a production show called Marquee. They did a great job.

Tuesday was an at-sea day. The weather wasn't as hot as we had expected yet, but still nice enough to lay by the pool - though we were a deck higher than the pool as the poolside chairs were all taken. We ate lunch at Johnny Rockets. In the evening we had made reservations for the Italian restaurant Portofino.

Nathan had lobster tail and I had Pappardelle Mantecate con crema al Mascarpone, Funghi arrosto e timo - aka ribbon pasta with roasted mushrooms and fresh thyme lightly tossed in a mascarpone cream sauce. It was delicious!

After dinner we went to the show - Bowzer's Rock 'n' Roll Party (formerly of Sha Na Na), followed by a dancin' in the street 70's style party on the Royal Promenade.

Wednesday was our stop in St. Thomas! Because we left Coco Cay early on Monday, we made it to St Thomas 3 hrs earlier than originally expected so we were there for almost 11 hrs! We went onshore and took a tram called the Skyride to Paradise Point - 700' above the town of Charlotte Amalie.

It was a beautiful spot to take pictures and had restaurant/bar as well as the requisite gift shops.

The afternoon was spent lying by the pool in the hot, hot sun!

In the evening we went to the Freedom Ice show which was spectacular! The ice surface is 1/5 the size of a regular skating ice surface and there were up to 10 cast members performing tricks at the same time. There was also a guest entertainer, Alexey Sirota, who performed crazy tricks on a German Wheel.

Well, that's it for Part 1 - stay tuned for Part 2!

Saturday, 6 February 2010

"The Choice" by Suzanne Woods Fisher - Book Review

About the Book
One moment Carrie Weaver was looking forward to running away with Lancaster Barnstormers pitcher Solomon Riehl - plans that included leaving the Amish community where they grew up. The next moment she was staring into a future as broken as her heart. Now, Carrie is faced with a choice. But will this opportunity be all she hoped? Or will this decision, this moment in time, change her life forever?

A tender story of love, forgiveness, and looking below the surface, The Choice uncovers the sweet simplicity of the Amish world - and shows that it's never too late to find your way back to God.

About the Author
Suzanne is a wife and mom, raiser of puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind, and an author of Christian books, both non-fiction and fiction.

Her relatives on her mother's side are Old Order German Baptist Brethren, also known as Dunkards. That's where her interest in Anabaptist traditions began. Suzanne's grandfather was born into a family of 13 children, started his career as a teacher in a one-room school house in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and ended it as one of the very first publishers of Christianity Today. "We called him "Deardad" even though he was a very stern fellow. Still, Deardad's life inspired me to write."

After college, Suzanne was a freelance writer for magazines and became a contributing editor to Christian Parenting Today. Her work has been featured in Today's Christian Woman, Marriage Partnership, Worldwide Challenge, among others. She took the plunge into books a few years ago and now she's hooked. To learn more about Suzanne, visit her website.

My Review

If you enjoy books by Beverley Lewis, pick up a copy of this book! The storyline is compelling and, unlike a lot of Christian fiction, not predictable. The book is aptly titled and is, in fact, about numerous choices made by Carrie and how they affected both her life and the lives of those around her. It's a story of growth - in age, maturity, wisdom and faith.

I often read fiction simply for the escape or for the simple enjoyment of it. This book provided those things, but it also provided food for thought. Counting the cost of our decisions, justice vs vengeance, responsibility or duty vs personal happiness; these are just a few of the topics brought up in The Choice.

This book is the first in the Lancaster County Secrets series and I'm looking forward to reading the 2nd book, The Waiting, coming out in October 2010.

Disclaimer - I received my copy of The Choice for free by LitFuse Publicity Group in exchange for my honest review of the book.


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