Sunday, June 11, 2006

Great cruise, painful debarkation

General review on the Freedom of the Seas's inaugural cruise: A big thumbs up from most voyagers. (For more details, see my review on June 25 at www.MiamiHerald.com/travel.)

Yup, there are some start up problems -- dining service is uneven, especially in the casual Windjammer buffet. There are some size challenges -- it's hard to find a seat in the Windjammer during busy morning hours, and the wait for the Flowrider can be as long as 45 minutes. And there are some policy changes that made past cruisers uphappy: Royal Caribbean has instituted a $3.95 cover charge in Johnny Rockets (free on previous ships) and has eliminated unlimited-use Internet passes (particularly irritating since the Web connections are REALLY slow.)

But all in all, a great experience. Great activities, fun shows, friendly staff, beautiful ship, decent-to-better food.

What wasn't great was luggage handling today at debarkation.

Debarkation is assigned in groups, designated by color. Theoretically, when your color is called, you're good to go. But today, groups were cleared well before luggage was ready shoreside.

Example: At 7:30, my group, Orange, was cleared. Add in 20 minutes to exit the ship, move through immigration and customs, and I was standing at the luggage conveyor belt at 8 a.m. But it was after 9 a.m. when the first Orange bags were put on the belt, and it was 9:30 before my bags came around. Royal Caribbean supervisors were invisible.

Result: Huge groups of people were standing or sitting on the floor for over an hour (there are no chairs in the luggage pick-up area.) And since the Port of Miami has no staging area for drivers, passengers being picked up by local residents, and those who had one person in the party run ahead to move their car out of the parking lot, were left circling with no place to wait.

The situation didn't make sense. Royal Caribbean is limiting the number of passengers on the Freedom's first half-dozen voyages to 3,600 -- the same number it loads and unloads weekly off its Voyager of the Seas in Miami. They have a good reputation for getting those bags handled smoothly.

Said one man next to me, "Why didn't they just let us sit on the ship until the bags were ready?''

6 comments:

Michael said...

I've got to wonder if your luggage delays were because it's the first time that baggage service has been offered by Freedom in Miami...

Don't know about the Bayonne to Miami repositioning, but all of the preview cruises that Freedom sailed prior to your 7 day didn't offer baggage service. The luggage service is quite possibly the only service offered by the ship that wasn't exercised prior to your cruise...

Jane said...

It's a good point, and I do expect them to get this straightened out. But Royal Caribbean has done hundreds of sailings with that passenger count into Miami, and I believe the system is the same for all their Miami ships. Still, that's on my list of things to chat with them about in the next day or two...I"ll report back here. Thanks again.

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