The first of the larger "Freedom-class' ships - just upgraded with Dreamworks, new entertainment and eateries
Best For People Who Want
A bigger-than-life cruise experience with nearly unlimited activities; the feeling of being in a city-at-sea; family members of many ages to have a grand time; non-stop nightlife
Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
A small ship with lots of quiet; large inside/outside standard cabins; single, open seating or intimate dining; a close-to-the-sea cruise.
Freedom of the Seas, at 160,000-ton, was the biggest cruise ship in the world before 220,000-ton Oasis arrived. She is an expanded, though nearly identical version, of RCI's popular Voyager-class ships, but with more happening on the top sports and pool decks.
One of the first differences you will notice is the H20 Zone, a children's water park with enormous, brightly colored figurines spouting sprays of water. The adults-only pool area has two cantilevered whirlpools extending out from the side of the ship. Each holds at least a dozen people plus four hammocks. The next attraction is the "FlowRider" a water wave generating machine that send a constant curl down a hill that an expert surfer can (supposedly) ride until the power runs out. The rock climbing wall is taller than on the earlier ships, with more toe-holds.
At 445 feet long, the Freedom Royal Promenade is a bit longer and a bit wider than the little sister ships. Here you'll find the boutiques found on the Voyager class vessels, including a Ben and Jerry's ice cream stand ($2.50 per cone); a wine bar; Seattle's Finest Coffee ($2.50 per cappuccino) but pleanty of delicious free pastry and sandwiches; the Book Nook, with best sellers and guidebooks for sale; and A Close Shave, charging an outrageous $72 for a shave. The English-style Bull and Bear is for beer lovers, it features a live acoustic guitarist playing favorites, and Sorrento is a pizzeria.
This is a real people-watching ship; even those who can't do all of what the Freedom offers seem to enjoy watching those who can. The 40-foot-high rock-climbing walls are busy all day. There is an ice-skating rink for recreational skating as well as for Ice Capades-type shows. There's a three-story dining room, one of among the biggest casinos at sea, and a 9-hole miniature golf course.
There are a full three miles of public corridors, but the hallways are occasionally "jiggered" so you don't get a sense of the full distance, plus excellent signage precludes anyone getting too grievously lost. However, after a simple "let's go see the ship!" comment leads you out the door, by the time you return to your cabin you will feel like Marco Polo. The 500-foot-long, over three-lanes-wide four-deck-high Royal Promenade is all too evocative of an onshore mall. The promenade is lined with the Cork & Kettle English Pub, a 24-hour cafe for pizza and pastries; a champagne bar; and shops displaying their ship's logo items outside to designer merchandise by Versace, Bulgari, and Lladro inside.
There is a $4.25-per-scoop Ben & Jerry's. Pay-per-view in-cabin movies are $11.95, and there's actually an admission charge to Johnny Rockets (although the burgers are free, and worth every cent). There's a $20 surcharge for each of two alternative restaurants Portofino's and Chops Grill. There is a clubby cigar lounge; the nautical-inspired Schooner Bar; a well-stocked library; the Card Room; the Champagne Bar; and the Skylight Wedding Chapel (at the highest point on the ship, on Deck 15). An Internet Center, royalcaribbeanonline, is open 24 hours. (basic charge is 50 cents a minute). There is no self-service launderette.
Clean, simple and tasteful, featuring a lot of Art Nouveau influence, seems just right for a ship this size. The atrium boasts modern sculpture based on your typical red, yellow and green traffic signals at one end and a more abstract display at the other. Glass elevators in the verticle atriums at each end of the promendae make for breathtaking views of the interior of the ship.
The breathtaking Royal Promenade -- four decks high, longer than a football field, wider than three lanes of traffic -- has no windows to the outside, but several windows to inside (promenade view) staterooms. Those windows are almost always shuttered however, so people on the outside cannot see what is happening on the inside (picture). The mall is always dazzlingly illuminated, unless the lighting effects are turned on for the Mardi Gras-style parades complete with stilt walkers, a swaying inflatable dancer, streamers and confetti.
Video: Promenade Parade
The enormous Casino Royale, through which passengers must pass on deck four to get to the main show lounge, is gilded to within an inch of its life, with nearly 300 slots and tables for blackjack, craps, roulette and Caribbean Stud Poker. The "Crypt" which is an '80s style gothic disco pulses into the wee hours. The well-stocked library, which feels like an urban bookshop, provides seating along its glass wall for an overview of the Royal Promenade. The Viking Crown Lounge is perched 14 decks above the ocean. You can get married in port in the ship's Wedding Chapel, bringing up to 60 of your closest friends and families.
The gorgeous La Scala Theater, a state-of-the-art 1,350-seat show lounge, features such decorative elements as a Murano glass chandelier and a jewel-bedecked velvet stage curtain.
That ice rink you hear so much about is a two decks below the atrium and right in the middle of the ship, which means some fancy footwork is sometimes required to get to other public areas. In fact, the great and spacious interior of the ship is almost completely surrounded by private cabins, so to get any look at the ocean at all you'll have to head for the cluster of lounges on the upper decks or outside on the decks themselves.
Video: Freedom.com Ice Show
Amply decked out with recliners, the pool areas bustle with activity and also are the staging area for fashion shows and planned games. The real action takes place on the sports deck, where fitness fans work up a sweat playing ping-pong or basketball or rock-climbing. Families flock to the open-air 9-hole miniature golf course
The best spots for being alone with a book during days at sea are the sea view Seven of Hearts card room and Cloud Nine Lounge on Deck 14. Serious misanthropes can retreat all the way up the curving stairway to Deck 15's Skylight Chapel, where no one ever ventures, and where no music is piped in.
Mouthwatering descriptions on the menus notwithstanding, you just won't hear people raving about the food. In fact, some of the menu names can be downright deceiving, for example a chocolate fondue came out looking and tasting much more like a vanilla mousse. However, the service is surprisingly efficient for a ship this size.
The ship's elegant main restaurant features a crystal chandelier a grand, three deck staircase. The three decks it spans are separately named for famous operas; Carmen, La Boheme and the Magic Flute. The ship's second most popular dining venue (though it is more of a lunching venue) is Johnny Rockets, which now carries a $3.95 service charge, and in which you might have to wait to be seated. The vast Lido deck restaurant for casual buffet-style meals is cleverly designed to look like two individual eateries, minimizing the sense of size and crowds. Portofino, the alternative Italian restaurant, is a lovely intimately-lit venue, though you might, if you're not attentive, realize you've got your fork in an adjacent diner's salad; the tables are that close together. The other alternative dining venue, Chop's, is for grilled entrees and large lavish desserts. Well worth the service fee.
It's obvious that the multinational staff and crew enjoy watching their passengers enjoy themselves. They're uniformly cheerful, knowledgeable, and eager to help. The wait staff in every restaurant is noticeably solicitous and conscientious.
Cabin service staff is efficient but unobtrusive. The purser's desk is notably responsive, especially in view of how much troubleshooting they must have to do on a ship this size. Room service was surprisingly efficient, usually telling us delievery would be a lot later than it actually was. Be prepared to tip on delivery even though there is nothing to sign.
Royal Caribbean suggests a per person per day gratuity of $3.50 for the stateroom attendant ($5.75 if sailing in a suite); $3.50 for the waiter; $2.50 for the Assistant Waiter; .75 Head Waiter. These gratuities may be paid in cash or charged to your onboard account. For children sailing as third or fourth passenger in the stateroom, tipping is at the parents' discretion.
A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage tabs. Gratuities for room service, spa, casino and other staff are at your discretion.
The main showroom has stage shows but surprisingly Royal Caribbean chose not to add a "Broadway"-book show with the upgrade because the shows on the ship were already popular enough.
Freedom also now has the DreamWork Experience - an agreement with the maker of such animated hits as Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Megamind and others. There is a full 3D movie theater onboard to show these movies in their original format. The movie's star characters also make appearances during the Grand Promendae parades and at certain functions for the kids.
Aside from those options you have nighttime Karaoke, a comedy club, and a funnier solo singer/guitarist in the Pub on the Royal Promenade.
Royal Caribbean is known for small cabins, inside cabins are just about big enough to turn around in. Hats off to Royal Caribbean, though, for not skimping on balcony cabins. Actually, cabins are roomier than elsewhere in RCI's fleet. Inside cabins do measure a stingy 160 sq. ft; but outside cabins range from 180 to 265 sq. ft. and suites from 610 to 1188 sq. ft. Moreover, there's lots of storage, especially nice for a ship that is essentially a destination unto itself. Standard amenities include flat panel color TV with CNN and movies; a safe; individual temperature controls for the air conditioning; and RCI's first hair dryers. There are tubs only in the highest category staterooms' bathrooms; most have just showers (though unexpectedly large ones.
Some of the more interesting cabins are the inside promenade cabins with (non-opening) windows looking down upon the interior promenade. During the day these add plenty of space to the room, although you have to sit on the couch to look out at the action. The probems occur at night when the light in your stateroom become brighter than what;s outside, essentially making your cabin a fishbowl for the world to watch.
The most noticable thing is the boxing ring, a first on a cruise ship with sister ship Freedom. There was actually an staff boxing instructor during our cruise. The ship's well-equipped gym still draws serious fitness buffs with its full range of state-of-the-art machines. The two-level Steiner Spa, with its winding staircase, looks more like the lobby of a boutique hotel, albeit with a Greek motif. It houses a small attractive thalassotherapy-like pool in an airy glass-enclosed but private semi-circular room. The Solarium's serene outdoor pool area nestles behind the spa; you're surrounded there by fountains, foliage, and statues, with a retractable glass ceiling overhead. A obvious addition to this class of ships are the cantilevered jacuzzi spas that actually hang over the sides of the ship. They look most dramatic from the outside than the inside, still, its an interesting novelty.
Royal Caribbean has made a number of improvements to youth and teen programming. One new program is Adventure Theater, developed by Camp Broadway in New York City to give kids an immersion into the performing arts. On each RCI sailing, teens and kids can learn acting fundamentals, vocalization, and dance techniques during a series of three 45-minute Adventure Theater sessions.
Another innovative program is Scratch DJ101 classes, which are available to all ages, along with special two-hour sessions just for teens on Liberty of the Seas. After their lessons, teens can showcase their music mixing knowledge in a graduation performance that friends and family can attend.
RCI has added new activities for those three to five years old in conjunction with Fisher-Price. Some of the new themes include Chefs on Deck, which involves role playing for pre-schoolers; Dino Adventure; and Train-O-Mania.
Lastly, RCI unveiled a Youth Loyalty Program this summer. Children and teens can now also enjoy Crown & Anchor Society repeat passenger benefits. Rewards for youngsters on their second or more RCI cruise include Crayola Twistable crayons or a Royal Caribbean bag. All repeating youth receive a Youth Ultimate Value Booklet with coloring pages, games and discounts for onboard amenities such as Ben & Jerry's, Airbrush Tattoo, and arcade games. Parents can enroll their children (if they have already cruised with RCI) via the line's website: www.royalcaribbean.com/youth.
A new program for infants and toddlers 6 months to 3 years, in partnership with toy maker Fisher-Price, offers 45-minute playgroups for children accompanied by an adult, involving storytelling, creative arts, music and a variety of Fisher-Price learning toys and games.
The new Royal Babies and Tots Nursery comes with specially designed Fisher-Price® activities. Other kids features include:
•Complimentary Adventure Ocean Youth Program
•Expanded teen-only hangout areas
•Splash Deck with interactive play fountain
•Bungee trampoline area for kids of all ages
•Family-friendly activities including games, contests, enrichment classes and lectures
Private babysitting is offered from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., provided sitters are available, for children from one year old. The rate is usually between $8.00 and $10 per per hour depending on the number of children in the family. Cash payment is made directly to the sitter. Arrange through Guest Services at least 24 hours in advance.
There are two formal nights per cruise. Maybe it's this ship's particularly festive reputation that induced most men onboard our sailing to don actual tuxedos for formal nights. A dark suit is just as appropriate. In fact, you will feel slightly out of place if you are not dressed appropriately n formal night. In general, though, this ship offers so much to do onboard that passengers don't all dress alike.