Cruising Royal Caribbean

Have you found Freedom on the Seas? Royal Caribbean’s The Freedom of the Seas made a big splash when she debuted as the largest ship in the world in 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 voyage. 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 mother ship (or should I say “monster ship”) Freedom and sister ship Independence hold 1,000 more passengers than the previous Mum of all pleasure vessels, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. Of course, since that debut – The Quantum, Oasis and Allure of the Seas are even bigger and potentially better.

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. Being an amateur surfer from the sandy beaches on the Southern Maine Coast, 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 warm when the ship sails from its homeport of Fort Lauderdale or Miami Florida. 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.

Clearly, cruising is no longer just lounging in a chaise between buffets, and I can attest to that as a recent cruise convert. You can climb the ship’s stack on an amazing Climbing Wall, with a great view – by the way. 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 Ship Spa – see our review of Cruise Ship Spa and Salon Treatments with prices.

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, Chops and Portofino, 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, jewelry boutiques, an English pub, Vintages wine cellar, cafés serving gourmet coffee and treats, a Champagne bar, Cupcake Shop, 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 Labrynthe nightclub, or partying by the pool to an island band.

While Freedom and Independence are incredibly innovative and impressive, and simply – among the biggest, they also offer some of the best Eastern and Western Caribbean 7-day cruises. All that Royal Caribbean cruising may come 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 has already gone beyond to the next generation with Quantum of the Seas, following the Genesis line of Allure and Oasis of the Sea. “Our goal is to be the state-of-the-art global cruising brand,” said Goldstein. Bigger appears to be the trend. See more about Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas.
See our Cruise Tips for Families
Reviews of Ports of Call:
Labadee, Haiti – Royal Caribbean’s Private Island
Roatan Honduras Cruise Ship Port Review
Cozumel Mexico Cruise Excursions
Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas
Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas

Fascinating Facts about Freedom and Independence:

Freedom’s three swimming pools hold 530 tons of water, and are freshened daily.

Freedom and Independence produce 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.”