Surely you witnessed the big splash as Royal Caribbean launched the largest cruise ship in the world. Maybe you caught a glimpse of The Freedom of the Seas on national television as she debuted this spring of 2006. Looming as tall as two Statues of Liberty placed head to toe, and nearly four football fields long, the question, “is bigger better?”
I say unequivocally, “yes,” having had the opportunity to get on board for a two-day preview voyage out of Boston. This feat of engineering from Finland that took two years and $800 million to build is a marvel to explore and a must see at sea.
Royal Caribbean’s new mother ship (or should I say “monster ship”) Freedom holds 1,000 more passengers than the previous Mum of all pleasure vessels, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2.
Royal Caribbean was hard pressed to improve upon their own Voyager class series, and cruisers will find pleasing similarities in the new Freedom, with some seriously ramped up recreation – like the first-ever shipboard surfing park and tons to do on board amongst all this gross tonnage (160,000).
Royal Caribbean President Adam Goldstein said, “We feel continual pressure to come up with the next best thing. We are the most innovative cruise ship company in the world and the Flow Rider is an iconic representation of that, its vibrant, high-energy and goes with our “Get Out There” theme.” Goldstein said that Royal Caribbean was the first cruise line to have a real ice rink and a rock-climbing wall. “What drives ship size larger and larger is that our guests want a bigger array of offerings on board for an unmatched experience.”
My husband Greg and I decided we better get on board this latest wave of innovation and try the Flow Rider, located near the stern of the ship with bleachers to watch if you don’t want to get wet on this wild new ride. Not being a surfer, I mustered my courage to try the body board method on the 40-foot long wave simulator. I was not prepared for the 30mph surge of 34,000-gallons of water pumping at me. It only took one “Wipe Out” (the name of the Bar overlooking the wave venue), which plastered me against the back wall like a mackerel, before I got the hang-ten of it.
We both managed to boogie board three rides and decided it was thrilling and chilling – the water should feel warmer when the ship sails from its homeport of Miami. My personal recommendation: don’t try this if you are at all timid (the 2-page waiver is a clue), or if you wish to stay dry and dignified.
Having had our adrenaline rush, we bee-lined to the next showcase amenity: the cantilevered hot tub. Two highly scenic spacious spa tubs bubble out 12-feet from the ship offering an incredibly unique view 112-feet above the ocean – genius.
The third novelty is a Boxing Ring in the center of the mega-equipped ShipShape Fitness Center – needless to say, we did not see the appeal of cruising for a bruising, and passed on punching.
cruising is no longer just lounging in a chaise between buffets, and I can attest to that as a recent cruise convert. Families and fitness nuts can go from Salsa aerobics, to Power Boxing or Pilates, mini-golf to full swing in the golf simulator. The Freedom Sports Deck has basketball, volleyball, paddleball, ping-pong, plus the radical rock wall (the biggest of course). Kids have a full activities program plus a colorful water-squirting H2O Zone pool. For adults only, a serene Solarium pool, plus numerous hot tubs, provide resort style relaxation for those at-sea days.
Goldstein confirmed that the average cruiser is now 42, down dramatically from 59 just over a decade ago. For this active clientele, Freedom provides a floating playground from dawn till the wee-hours. There’s the customary Casino with black jack, or you can have your teeth whitened at the full-service Spa.
As for the reputed cruise ship’s bounty of food, it takes a week to experience all of Freedom’s 10 restaurants and 16 bars. Classic formal meals are served in the elegant three-level chandelier draped dining room, but you can also sample half a dozen specialty restaurants, or munch 1950’s diner fare at Johnny Rockets. Some specialty restaurants are an up-charge from your all-inclusive cruise package.
One of my favorite parts of the ship is the Royal Promenade, a veritable marketplace mall in the heart of the ship with shops, an English pub, a wine cellar, cafés serving gourmet coffee and treats, a Champagne bar, Barber Shop, even a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlor.
While you may not find time to read a novel, a nap is a good idea since the ship rocks with live entertainment at night. Every evening is a Broadway caliber show, no special admission fee to see musicals, dancing and dazzling ice shows. After the shows, take your pick of live salsa, televised Karaoke, dancing in the dark and mysterious Crypt nightclub, or partying by the pool to an island band.
While Freedom is incredibly innovative and impressive, and simply – the biggest, it will also be in highest demand during this inaugural year of Eastern and Western Caribbean 7-day cruises. All that Freedom may be at a premium, so if you can’t get on board, you can experience an equally fantastic cruise on the Voyager class ships – missing out only on the Flow Rider, the cantilevered hot tubs and flat screen TV’s in each cabin.
Besides, Royal Caribbean is already building the next generation of even bigger ships – the Genesis line. “Our goal is to be the state-of-the-art global cruising brand,” said Goldstein. Bigger appears to be the trend.
Fascinating Facts about Freedom:
Freedom’s swimming pools hold 530 tons of water.
Freedom produces 78,000 pounds of ice cubes daily, for all those drinks by the pool.
Surprisingly, with all this abundance afloat, Freedom is more fuel-efficient than its “smaller” predecessors, due to enhancements in operating systems and an improved hull design.
Freedom holds 4,000 metric tons of fuel (you do the math) and has 57,000 horsepower. Just in the bow, she thrusts 19,000 horsepower.
According to Royal Caribbean Captain William Wright, “Freedom is incredibly nimble. She can come to a full stop in three ship lengths and we can maneuver her around isolated storm patterns to keep our decks dry for the guests.”