The big question is: How different will it be from the 138,000-ton, 3,114-passenger Voyager-class of ships (which, in addition to Voyager of the Seas, includes Explorer, Adventure, Navigator and Mariner)?
Alas, the answer is still unclear, though we saw some interesting innovations in the areas of Freedom of the Seas' pool deck as well as in its accommodations. Talk about teasing: The company showcased a huge ship model but only uncovered half of it, saying that more details would be revealed (primarily about indoor features) later this summer.
While this ship will feature many Voyager-class signatures -- ice skating rink, indoor promenade, rock climbing wall -- the 158,000-ton, 3,600-passenger ship also offers some unique-to-cruising features. Easily the most impressive sight we saw today -- and remember that there are more innovations to be unveiled -- was the pool deck area. Freedom of the Seas will have three separate pool "regions" (Voyager class ships have just two). In detail:
Absolutely, the coolest new spot will be the H2O Zone, a fabulous interactive water park. Whimsical and playful -- and most definitely aimed at families -- features include numerous water-spouting contraptions, such as a waterfall, umbrella jets, a cone spill bucket, spray cannons, spray loops and pipefalls, all decorated as colorful sculptures. There are two splash pools as well, one of which will have a current that shoots water around a central island. At night, this area, with the integration of a fantastic and dynamic lighting system, will be transformed into a sculpture garden.
Another first-ever feature is a dedicated sports pool in the main pool area. Like Voyager-class vessels, there are two side-by-side pools that comprise that part of the deck, but in this case one will be used almost exclusively for athletic pool games, ranging from basketball and volleyball to (really) pole jousting and synchronized swimming. Other times, it will have designated lanes for lap swimming.
At night, designers hope to entice passengers back to the main pool area with an open-air nightclub. There's a large dance floor between the two pools and Royal Caribbean anticipates themed parties and disco events.
The solarium pool is more than just a "stretched" version of those found on Voyager-class ships. While similar in look, and featuring an additional row of loungers, the big news here is the creation of two cantilevered whirlpools that are tucked into a bow-like window some 112 ft. above the water. They're pretty gigantic; each one holds 16. Just as nifty -- though not as techno-trendy -- is a series of free-standing hammocks scattered about the solarium.
The rock-climbing wall has expanded, going from the 30 x 33 ft. model on Voyager-class ships to one that's 43 x 44 ft., and this one will have additional spire for climbing. In all there are 11 routes to climb.
Beyond the pool areas, the only real details Royal Caribbean would share concerned some new ideas about staterooms. Cruise Critic has already reported that staterooms on Freedom of the Seas will be larger, on average, than those found throughout the rest of the fleet and that all will be outfitted with flat-screen televisions.
But what was revealed today was the creation of new concepts in staterooms (popular and familiar sizes, such as royal suites, will continue to be featured).
Family travelers should be pretty excited to hear that Freedom of the Seas will offer family-friendly cabins in a variety of categories, from insides (really!) to promenade view to ocean view. These will feature alcoves with bunk beds for kids and some will feature bathrooms with tubs, not just showers.
And in the over-the-top money's-no-object category, start saving your pennies for a stay in the presidential suite, the largest ever on a Royal Caribbean ship. Not only does it clock in at 1,215 square ft. (and that's just inside – the balcony measures an additional 810 square ft.), it has four bedrooms, four full baths. The verandah is a destination in its own right, complete with whirlpool, wet bar, alfresco dining and loungers for just about everyone.
Overall, Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean Cruises' top honcho, told the assembled gatherers today that Freedom of the Seas "emphasizes an all-inclusive" something-for-everyone atmosphere in which freedom of choice is the mantra. We'll be interested to see how that applies to interior features -- from Adventure Ocean and the teens' Living Room to alternative restaurants and shops -- and will feature those innovations as soon as they're unveiled.