Freedom's Fun Family Facilities

| September 1, 2006

There are two ways for youngsters to experience the many top-rate youth and teen facilities and activities aboard the world's largest cruise ship, Freedom of the Seas. The route my five-year-old son Ethan took was to be a constant fixture at the line's complimentary, fun, and interactive youth program, Adventure Ocean. When the youth program was closed for meals, he loved to go to H2O Zone water play area with us as well as the ship's large pools.

My 13-year-old daughter Alex, on the other hand, preferred to check out the manifold family activities with me or my husband. From rock wall climbing, to ice skating, playing mini golf, enjoying the pool and watching Flowrider surfing, there were so many active facilities she enjoyed. Additionally, she participated in many family games and activities with us including a family scavenger hunt, watching a festive parade on the huge Royal Promenade, and viewing all the nightly shows. That said, between trailing both of my children, I was able to experience ALL that Freedom of the Seas offers kids, teens, and families and it's truly impressive. You'll never hear the dreaded phrase, "I'm bored!" on this ship!

FAMILY FUN Our family is probably like most others these days - working parents who don't get to spend enough quality time with their kids. While it's nice to have some down time on cruises when my children are participating in the youth and teen programs, it's also welcome to get some time to do fun activities together. Thus, I was pleased that my daughter wanted to check out so much of the family programming that the ship offered.

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Each day the daily program and Adventure Ocean Compass (program of activities that kids receive) listed many inter-generational things to do under the heading of family activities. Some of these include: Wacky Water Games by the Sports Pool; Family Bingo; Parent Trap game show; Family Scavenger Hunt; Family Quest; and the Adventure Ocean Talent Show on the last day. We checked many of these out and saw some of the same families there each time. Our favorite was Family Quest, which is a high-energy type of scavenger hunt held in one lounge. Since we had never played this before, my daughter wanted to just watch it at first, but before we knew it we were both running around participating. (Literally, you do run around in this game!) In the Kids' Talent show, my five-year-old son got into the spirit of things and sang two songs which were very endearing.

Most of the ship's entertainment appealed to all ages too. We enjoyed lining up along the Royal Promenade for Circus of the Seas parade, complete with clowns, stilt walkers and aerialists. Each day and night there were two clowns, called Krooze Komics, who performed along the Royal Promenade too. Another favorite of ours was the skating show called We were amazed at how many stunts the skaters could perform on such a small rink; the music and skaters were all high energy.

After having been on dozens of cruises, I don't frequent too many stage shows at sea anymore. However, my daughter wanted to attend them each night so my husband and I took turns going with her. We were pleasantly pleased with the caliber and variety of the entertainers, from revues to acappella singers, magicians, and a stage show which was a modern twist on fairy tales.

"WOW" FACILITIES The vastness of the ship and all its bells and whistles lends itself to tons of active family pursuits. While my daughter didn't try Flowrider, my husband did and was able to stand on a surf board after a few tries. We enjoyed sitting in the stadium style seats by Flowrider watching him. (Note that there is a height restriction of at least 52" for boogie boarding and 58" for surfing.) I advise going to Flowrider early on a port day (check daily program for opening times) since it's not crowded then and personnel have time to give you some instruction.

Alex is a big fan of rock walls and she and my husband enjoyed a number of fast climbs up to the top. At 43 feet high, Freedom's rock wall is the tallest at sea. Children must: be at least six years old to climb; wear socks; and have parents present and sign a waiver. Right by the rock wall is a basketball court as well as nine-hole miniature golf course too. I thought it was rather ironic that my son's first time on skates was at sea! Not the typical venue for your first skate, especially since we live in the Northeast where ice is plentiful in the winter. Make sure you bring socks and long pants for those in your family wishing to skate at the open skate sessions.

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While we are not arcade junkies, Freedom's huge games arcade is worth mentioning. With approximately 50 different games to choose from, this large venue is very popular with kids and teens and it is conveniently located by the youth and teen rooms. Deck 11, with its myriad water options, was the only place on the ship where it ever felt a bit crowded. H2O Zone is a huge hit with kids and includes large, colorful statues that squirt water; a very small lazy river current pool; tipping buckets; water cannons; and water arches that kids can run through. When Adventure Ocean was not in session, this was Ethan's favorite place. This deck features four pools - one in the Solarium is adults-only; one is in the H2O Zone; and the other two are very large (by cruise ship standards) and feature water volleyball games, pool aerobics classes, and lap swims. I enjoy swimming and was pleased that there were finally pools at sea big enough to swim laps daily.

ADVENTURE OCEAN With 1,200 children aboard Freedom (from infants to 17 years old) on our cruise, the ship's youth counselors did a great job of keeping them happy and entertained. Royal Caribbean's youth counselors are very energetic, loving, yet firm. This is a hard line to walk - empathetic and down to earth yet commanding enough so that kids respect them. I have found the counselors aboard all our Royal Caribbean cruises over the years possessing these wonderful qualities and those aboard Freedom were no exception. My son adored the youth counselors as well as the fun, active programming. In fact, he often cried and got mad at us when we'd come pick him up before the session officially ended.

Children are broken into the following age groups: Aquanauts, aged three to five years; Explorers, aged six to eight; and Voyagers, aged nine to 11. Youngsters must be fully potty trained to participate. Each age group has their own dedicated kids' room equipped with seven to 10 computers with age appropriate software; carpeted areas to play group games; tables and couches for crafts; and large screen for watching movies. Additionally, the Aquanaut room has a replica ship with a slide on it and a Lego table; the Explorers and Voyagers rooms have foosball tables and a mini-basketball net.

Some of the fun activities for the Aquanauts included an animal-themed afternoon that my son loved, complete with animal face painting; a game whereby they had to imitate animal actions; a Crayola Art project which entailed painting lizards and butterflies; and a Sail Into Storytime reading of the well-loved book, "Where the Wild Things Are." Since the Aquanaut room is next to deck space, a few times during the cruise the counselors took the kids outside to pop bubbles from a bubble machine, since the little ones needed to periodically blow off steam.

The Explorers had a dinosaur-themed day, whereby they checked out fossils and amber with magnifying glasses; made replica DNA; played a raptor walk game as well as a T-Rex activity. This age group also has a session with the ship's resident clowns and all were given costumes for an endearing circus they performed on the Royal Promenade for parents. The Voyagers participate in a lot of games, including group scavenger hunts; a themed night around gladiators, complete with making Roman shields, gladiator challenges, mock chariot races; and a Wide World of Extreme Games night, featuring three legged and wheel barrow races.

Teens are broken into two groups: 12 to 14 years and 15 to 17 years. Teens have extensive facilities on Freedom of the Seas, similar to the Navigator and Mariner of the Seas. These include The Living Room, which is a hang-out and meeting room for the 12 to 14 year olds; Fuel, which is the spot for the 15 to 17 year olds; and the Back Deck, an outdoor area with modern chairs. There are a number of computers in the teens' rooms which have internet access, along with a disco floor, large screen wall for music videos and movies, and bar area for "mock"tails. Some of the teen activities include: scratch DJ academy; teen karaoke; teen pool party; teen rock climbing and Flowrider; and hip hop classes. Once per cruise, teens get to have The Crypt adult disco to themselves, whereby no adults except for youth counselors are allowed.

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LITTLE PEOPLE For over a year now, Royal Caribbean International has had a partnership with Fisher-Price. My son loved the Fisher-Price programming on the in-cabin television which included "Little People" television shows based on the Little People toys. Recently, Royal Caribbean introduced some new Fisher-Price themes and toys to the three to five-year-old group.

Additionally, last year Royal Caribbean introduced Aqua Babies (for infants six to 18 months) and Aqua Tots (for 18 to 36-month-olds), in conjunction with Fisher-Price. Each day fleet wide, the line offers 45-minute sessions of Aqua Babies and Aqua Tots. A youth counselor oversees the sessions (parents or a caregiver must attend) which revolve around a theme and include a story, songs and free play with Fisher-Price toys.

Parents with children under three years old on Freedom of the Seas can also bring them to a "Baby Play, Parent Chat" session. Offered daily from 3 to 5 p.m., this is an informal session where little ones can play with Fisher-Price toys and parents get to touch base with other adults who have infants and toddlers.

All Royal Caribbean ships offer private, in-room babysitting for children over one year old. The fee is $8 per hour for up to two children in one family, with a minimum of two hours. The cost for three children is $10 per hour. You should request babysitting early on during your cruise at the guest relations desk.

Group babysitting is available for those over three years old and potty trained from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. only in Adventure Ocean center. The fee is $5 per hour per child.

GET OUT THERE With all the various activities for kids to do in the youth program as well as with their parents, the "Get Out There" R motto of Royal Caribbean is appropriate for children as well as adults. Our Freedom cruise was a very energetic and exciting trip - certainly a cruise that we'll remember. Just make sure you pack running shoes for the whole family since you are going to need them!

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