FREEDOM OF THE SEAS Western Caribbean Oct. 15 - 22, 2006 By Mary & Vincent Finelli
Freedom of the Seas is the Flag Ship of Royal Caribbean International (RCI) and the world's largest cruise ship. We waited with great anticipation for Oct. 15, 2006 to roll around for our first cruise on the Freedom --- on board this Dream Vacation Ship. We enjoyed the RCI Voyager Class Ships so much (Voyager of the Seas, 1999; Explorer of the Seas, 2000; Adventure of the Seas, 2001; Navigator of the Seas, 2002; and Mariner of the Seas, 2003; that we looked forward to this newer larger ship, with so many amenities for her passengers. We just had to see it for ourselves.
Now, just one week after our cruise, we feel that one week is not enough to see and experience all of the Freedom of the Seas; maybe a back to back cruise would be better so that on debarkation day one wouldn't feel too much was missed. She is designed in the Voyager style, only on a grander scale. RCI is right to stay with a winning design. The magnificent three level Dining Rooms, with the huge crystal chandelier, the rich warm naval colors of navy blue, maroon and gold are both serious and elegant. The Royal Promenade with its village atmosphere is a lovely place to spend a few hours strolling, shopping or seated at a cafe` drinking espresso or tea with scones or Italian cookies from Sorrento's. We met many new friends from all over the world: England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, France and Italy, on this marvelous Promenade.
Needless to say, we had a wonderful cruise again with Commander Captain Erik Tengelsen, whom we met last January on the Voyager. This brilliant Master followed in his seafaring Norwegian family's tradition and now commands on the most magnificent cruise ship in the world.
EMBARKATION On Sunday Oct. 15, 2006, the Port of Miami was easily accessed, no traffic, simple roads off I-95 to Pier G. We dropped off our luggage and were in the terminal in five minutes. Wheelchairs were let in the doors, and after a five minute wait, we took an elevator to the second floor where checkin occurred. At the Crown & Anchor Diamond window, we were processed in five minutes, but had to wait for security clearance about thirty minutes. We were through security in about 15 minutes. In slightly over an hour we were on board and in our stateroom. A bit longer than smaller ships, but understandable since 3,817 passengers were boarding. We had wheelchair assistance all the way to our stateroom. Excellent!
THE SHIP This massive vacation resort cost $800 million and was built in Finland at Aker Finnyards (Kvaerner Masa yards combined with Aker Finnyards in 2005). The Freedom is 158,000 gross tonnage, with maximum passenger capacity of 4,375 and a crew of 1,365 on 15 passenger decks. She came into service in May 2006; her length is 1,112 ft. and her beam is 184 ft. Her average speed is 21.6 knots. The main engines are 6 Wartsila 12V46C with output of 75,600 KW. Propulsion is by 3 Azipods with output of 42,000 KW. There are 4 bow thrusters with 3,300 KW. She is registered in the Bahamas.
The theme of this ship is Earth, Air, Fire and Water and is seen repeated throughout in myriad ways, on the Promenade a larger than life diving woman "Down Under" by David Mach (Britain) is seen as from the bottom of a pool. This is only one combination of Air and Water presented. In the Crypt the stained glass windows have combined Air and Water again and Fire and Earth handsomely.
In addition to all of the innovations introduced in the Voyagers class ships, the Freedom offers a few other innovative features: The amazing FlowRider surf pool, the H2O Zone water park, a boxing ring, a barber shop and two cantilevered, semi circular whirlpools suspended out over the seas. There are 22 bars and many other beautifully decorated public areas including the fabulous Royal Promenade.
On this cruise there were 2,500 Crown & Anchor members, there were 780 Diamond members and 160 Diamond members. About 2/3 of the passengers were C&A Society members, which meant that the Concierge Club was too small in size to accommodate all of the Diamond members, thus complimentary drinks were served every evening in the Pharaoh's Lounge.
Deck 2 has the lower level of the Arcadia Theatre forward and the Screening Room where we saw the movies "Casanova" and "March of the Penguins." Towards midship is the Conference Center, then Studio B with Centre Ice Rink and staterooms in categories H and I.
Deck 3 forward is the Arcadia Theatre, with its beautiful curtain of 13 stunning female "Lyric Musicians" appliqued on black velvet and sewed with thousands of glass jewels and bugle beads, and hundreds of sequins in five different colors. RCI brochure states that it took 150 yards of material and 846 man hours to complete the curtain, which weighs 325 pounds. It is a stunning, magical design by Linda Carmichael.
Next, there is the lower level of the Crypt with its wonderful stain glass windows representing Fire & Earth and Air & Water by Harry Cardross. Then there is the Forward Centrum, and Studio B with its spectacular Ice Shows, then the On Air Club, the Art Gallery and all the way aft the Leonardo Dining Room. In the aft centrum, looking up, there are Harald Vlugt's "Stop & Go" traffic lights converted to chandeliers in bronze, and very eye catching.
Deck 4 forward has the balcony of the Arcadia Theatre, which has red and gold seats, white sconces, and only six columns; thus, most seats have an excellent view of the stage. Next is the Centrum and the Schooner Bar with its nautical theme: a lovely replica of the Swedish sailing ship the "Kalmar Nyckel" which made round trip crossings of the Atlantic Ocean in the early 1600s, and established a Swedish Colony which was to become Wilmington, Delaware. Next is the entrance to the upper level of the Crypt and midship is the Casino Royale. The Roaring twenties atmosphere is created with larger than life "Silk Stockings and Bootlegged Booze." Next is the Photo Gallery of all pictures taken during the cruise.
Then, there is the Boleros Lounge with "The Tequila Sunrise" collection of art work in glass of exotic colors: green, orange and grenadine. Mixed media of blown glass and hand glazed aluminum by Arts in Architecture (USA). The live music of the wonderful Trio Sol y Arena heightens the whole effect. Finally all the way aft is the Isaac (Newton) Dining Room. Deck 5 forward is the Pharaoh's Palace Lounge whose entrance is flanked by a series of larger than life Pharaoh statues. The murals on the walls are "Views of the Nile" by Clarissa Parrish. Novidi of France did all of the statues based on museum reproductions. Next is the Connoisseur Club (Cigars and Brandy). The scent of fine tobacco and leather are redolent here. Then there is the forward Centrum from where begins the Royal Promenade, the heart of the Freedom. Sorrento Pizza (Pizzas, sandwiches, salads, and marvelous Italian Cookies) is great any time. Ask John Xavier, he is so kind and helpful. Here are the Fashion Boutiques, Bull & Bear Pub, Perfume Shop, Vintages Wine Shop, Logo Souvenir Shop, Gift and Jewelry Shop, General Store, Ben & Jerry Ice Cream, Cafe` Promenade, "A Clean Shave" barber shop with shoe shine stand, "Get Out There," a sportswear store and Vincent's favorite a beautiful dark blue Morgan Spider. Finally, there is the aft Centrum where the Guest Relations and Tour Desks are located.
A beautiful glass bridge leads to the Galileo Dining Room. Larry Kirkland's designs for the Centrum and Promenade are always unique, and this one is dazzling: He has placed the four elements on lighted columns of varying heights, each one has a gilded angel modeled on the mythic "Vittoria Alata" (Winged Victory), which is part of the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument in Piazza Venezia, Rome, Italy. Deck 6 has all staterooms and the Business Services.
Deck 7 has all staterooms and the Library.
Deck 8 has all staterooms and RCI On Line Access.
Decks 9 & 10 are all staterooms. But, by the forward elevators are three copies of F-16 and F-18 fighter planes which the artist Antonio Riello has decorated with scenes taken from frescoes found throughout Italy. He "...transforms our ethical perceptions..." of these war planes by seducing us with Tiepolo Frescoes.
Decks 11, 12 and 13 are all public areas.
Deck 11 forward is the Fitness Club. Then there is the Solarium Pool (with perfect temperature) and the two huge whirlpools semicircular in shape cantilevered on both side of the ship. In this area is a huge parrot of ceramic and bronze tiles in hot red and yellow colors and many other exotic birds like South American toucans, etc. Lonngren's "Sun Boat" is a very interesting concept. Midship is the Pool Bar, The Main Pool Zone, whirlpools, Sports Pool and the H2O Zone. Aft is the Jade Restaurant, Windjammer Buffet Cafe`, Chops and Portofino's. The latter two are upscale restaurants, by reservation only. Make a reservation early, preferably the first day or you may not get one.
Deck 12 forward is the Day Spa, the Sky Bar and the Jogging Track. Deck 12 aft is for younger cruisers: Challenger Arcade, Adventure Ocean, Fuel Teen Disco, and Johnny Rockets with its succulent hamburgers and milk shakes (a '50s hamburger joint).
Deck 13 has the Sky Light Chapel and the Sports Complex; Rock Climbing Wall, Basket Ball court, Golf Simulator, Freedom Fairways, the FlowRider (the only surfing on the high seas).
Deck 14 has the Viking Crown Lounge, The Diamond Club, Olive or Twist Bar, Cloud Nine and Seven Hearts a card room.
This is a very Sketchy overview of a very large, beautiful ship which deserves much more. Go see for yourself. It is fascinating and laid out like the rest of the Voyager Class ships, but it is so much roomier and offers many more activities than any other ship on the seas. Yes, it is monumental!
CABIN Cabin #7624 is wheelchair accessible and like all cabins on board a prefab module. It has beige walls of light oak or birch wood cabinetry. Teal, green and gold drapes and sofa. When entering on the left there is a mirrored wall and a triple armoire, the first section is shelves and a personal safe, next there are wooden hangers and more shelves. There is a console TV, a mini refrigerator, and a lighted vanity/desk with several drawers. There are two upholstered chairs, a couch and a coffee table. When entering on the right is the huge bath with safety rails all around. The shower has a fold up seat and is 4 ft. x 6 ft. The corner mirrored medicine cabinet has ample storage space. There is a queen size bed with monogrammed linens, a teal suede head board, two night stands with reading lights. Two pictures of beautiful full Blown white roses (one front view and the other from the back or calyx of the flower). The far wall is all glass with a glass door leading to the large balcony with two chairs, a chaise lounge and a table. Cabin Steward Donald was excellent in every way ****.
The Best Beds at Sea Award goes to RCI for their innovative approach for solving the crater or mountain created when joining two twin beds. They have installed new style bed frames, upgraded mattresses, duvets, towels and linens. Custom designed pillow tops are folded in half when used on twin beds, and opened and placed one on top of the other to create a gap free queen size bed. Excellent! The linens feature the Crown and Anchor Logo and a very heavy puff.
FOOD & SERVICE Hotel Director Bernd Weidacher has the Freedom of the Seas running perfectly; it must be the fact that Mr. Weidacher worked in Austria, England and Switzerland and the Freedom runs like a fine Swiss time piece. Food and Beverage Manager is Michael Ochmann, whom we first met during our cruise on the Norwegian Dream, March 2002, in South America when we traveled around Cape Horn, and again last January on the Voyager. We had a grand time reminiscing about Captain Rolf Sandvik of the Norwegian Dream. This trip we met Jayne Colella Loyalty Ambassador & Cruise Sales Manager. She was very personable and had a wealth of information on future cruises. The service is tip top.
Most cruisers really notice service in the Dining Rooms. We dined in the Isaac (Newton) Room on Deck 4. The other two Dining rooms are named the Leonardo (Da Vinci) and the Galileo (Galilei). This is a magnificent Complex on three levels. At one end there is a graceful curving staircase with a bandstand and a huge mural of acrylic on canvas of these three remarkable men of the "Age of Discovery and Invention" by Barry Rowe (British). The best view of these elegant rooms is from the Captain's table. We dined with Capt. Tengelsen on the second formal night. It was a meal we won't soon forget. Especially the dessert, which was an almond brittle tulip filled with wild berries and cream.
Each night in Isaac's we dined with our friends from Cincinnati, Salvatore and Maria, and were wonderfully served by our waitress Omanda and her assistant Karen. They were friendly and efficient and always anticipating our needs. Food at the Buffet in the Windjammer Cafe` was quite good and the many stations helped in keeping the lines short. The Buffet servers were very helpful, assisting with trays and drinks. There are two Specialty Restaurants, the Chops Grille and the Portofino. We chose Chops Grille with its fantastic Veal Chop and sides of spinach, asparagus, mushrooms and unique salads. Alas, they no longer serve the terrific NE Clam Chowder, now they serve Lobster Bisque. Desserts are still grand: Tiramisu and Mississippi Mud Pie --- Chocolate to die for. Manager Adina Chis and our two waitresses Galina and Genoevva (all from Romania) were very professional and excellent. There was a wonderful selection of T-bone, Filet of Beef, Veal or Pork Chops, Lamb Filet or Halibut fish. They start off with a hot loaf of bread with pimento butter and shrimp appetizers and Crab cakes. The decor is dark Mahogany walls with lotus blossoms and water lilies of white and maroon. There were circles of Mahogany on the ceiling, an open kitchen and lovely silverware. In the main dining rooms the menus were more than adequate. There were nice alternative selections, pastas, and vegetarian options daily. We thoroughly enjoyed our eating adventure.
On the Royal Promenade there are several eating areas. We especially enjoyed Sorrento's with its nostalgic walls of pictures of Italian Singers, Actors and Sports figures. Chef and server John Xavier was a terrific waiter too. One of our friends does not eat cheese, so he made her a special sauce and tomato pizza. He was so kind that after the first time, he knew exactly what she wanted as soon as he saw her. John has a great memory and is eager to please. Bravo!
We did not tender on Labadee, Haiti, RCI's private island resort, but a wonderful Barbecue was enjoyed by our traveling companions Salvatore and Maria. There are many areas for swimming and water sports, and the Artisan Market and the Flea Market where some interesting wood carved pieces can be bought at very reasonable prices.
ENTERTAINMENT Ken Rush is Cruise Director; we saw him many times on RCI. He's fast on his feet and great with funny banter. He hosted a newly wed game where some answers echoed during the whole cruise "Size Forty Long." There were several excellent shows in the Arcadia Theatre: The Comedian Al Katz led the audience in riotous laughter, and Jimmy and Anna did marvelous dancing and acrobatics on silk cloths --- just magical. Many shows were recorded and shown on stateroom TV (channel 41). The best show is the ice skating in Studio B, "Freedom-Ice.Com." The international cast, with special Guest Stars Oxana and Adam, was superb and got standing ovations. RCI clowns did comic routines before the shows and they were wizards with jump ropes. The show "Marquee" honored Broadway musicals.
Vincent felt that ABBA Cadabra was the best concert aboard. Their repertoire had many of his favorites songs. They also received standing ovations. Another comedian was Troy Thirdgill who had a running joke about having to do his laundry, because what he had left conjured up hilarious mental pictures. The magic of Drew Thomas is the best at sea: levitation, disappearance, translocation and the "Now You See It..." tricks. Apart from the shows this ship offers, there is more on board fun than in any other ship: Daily Trivia, Royal Promenade Parades, Dancing in the streets, Bingo, Casino Games, and sports activities like rock climbing, basketball, ice skating and surfing on the FlowRider high above the ocean. There is a golf simulator and a Mini Golf Course. All the amazing array of activities are listed in the Daily Planner Cruise Compass. No chance to be bored here --- the children's and teen's programs are top notch! This is a "rave review" and the Freedom deserves it!
PORTS OF CALL Day 1. Miami, Florida, USA Sail Away at 4:00pm
Day 2. At Sea
Day 3. Cozumel, Mexico Arrive 7:00am Depart 4:00pm Cozumel has some of the finest scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities. The water is clear and beautiful in color. It has the best shopping opportunities in the Caribbean.
Day 4. Georgetown, Grand Caymans Arrive 7:00am Depart 5:30pm The Bubble Sub, once known as SeaMobile, is the most unique underwater adventure; 360 degree of unobstructed view of the reef from inside a glass bubble (www.bubblesub.com).
Day 5. Montego Bay, Jamaica Arrive 7:00am Depart 4:00pm There are some tours which include the Dunn's River Falls, but the duration is between 6 and 7 hours, due to the long bus drive to Ocho Rios. Some local tours are the Essence of Montego (4 hrs.), Helmet Diving (3 hrs.) and Horseback Ride N' Swim (3 hrs.).
Day 6. Labadee, Haiti Arrive 9:00am Depart 5:00pm Here there are nice beaches for swimming and sun bathing with lots of water sports, such as Parasailing and Waverunners. Enjoy a great picnic on the beach with plenty BBQ and drinks. There is a good Artisan Market and a Flea Market where one can buy carved wood pieces, pottery and artifacts for bargain prices.
Day 7. At Sea
Day 8. Miami, Florida, USA Arrive 7:00am Debarkation begins at 7:30am
CONCLUSION This was a Crown & Anchor Society Member Cruise with a significant number of "Frequent Floaters" from "Cruise Critic". It was also our 31st cruise on RCI ships and a great one for us. We enjoyed some of the best entertainment at sea, from ice skating to theater production shows, concerts and live music throughout the ship. It was continuous fun all week long. Although at times the long lines and crowded areas (i.e., the long wait for the ice skating show in front of Studio B), did irritate some cruisers, including us. Guess, this is a trade off for the hectic vacation on the largest cruise ship afloat versus more relaxing cruises on smaller ships. However, we like to enjoy them all: the small, the medium, the large and the enormous ships.
Next we'll be cruising the Southern Caribbean on the Carnival Legend, Nov. 8th, the Eastern Caribbean on the Norwegian Jewel, Nov. 26th and the Western Caribbean on the Queen Mary II, Dec. 9th. Happy Cruising!