The 32-foot-wide by 40-foot-long FlowRider looks a bit like a swim-against-the-current pool that's been propped up on a 45-degree angle; a three-inch sheet of water actually flows up the incline to create a wave-like reverse waterfall. Riders can surf or body board against the continuous flow of water moving at an impressive speed of 30,000 gallons per minute. The FlowRider, created by WaveLoch, Inc., will be free to use and is just one of many hot spots to grace Freedom's pool deck (the debut of H20 Zone, an interactive water park, is also hotly anticipated).
Chairman and CEO Richard Fain and Royal Caribbean International President Adam Goldstein were on hand to make the formal announcement at a festive gathering of media folks, travel agents and Crown & Anchor members. We say "formal" because rumors of a new-to-cruising novelty (a few interesting guesses we heard were Ferris wheel and bowling alley) have been circulating for some time now.
In fact, they say the toughest part of the project was keeping it a secret for so long. "I didn't tell my own children for two years," says Goldstein, sporting a boarding T-shirt and casual khaki shorts.
With the secret finally out, a tiki bar served up tropical drinks, a live band played Beach Boys tunes, and demonstrators -- ranging from an ESPN announcer to the young son of Tom Lochtefeld, the president of WaveLoch -- rode the waves on an actual FlowRider brought to the pier for the event.
We were impressed by how long they seemed to stay upright (one kid did a handstand on his board!) until Lochtefeld told us they'd been practicing ... for a long time. However, watching them wipe out and get whooshed back up to the top by the current was even better, proof that all -- or at least most -- of us could have fun giving it a shot. The crowd particularly enjoyed seeing one ambitious photographer get drenched after tiptoeing a little too close to the edge.
Once onboard, onlookers will have more to do than get splashed; a sports bar adjacent to the FlowRider will be equipped with flat-screen televisions showing a live feed of the surf park, and a boutique will sell surfing gear.
Is it safe? Absolutely. A soft trampoline-esque material below the water adds "a little bounce" so riders don't get hurt when they wipe out, according to Lochtefeld, and he assures us it's impossible to fly off the side (or off the ship). All guests must participate in a safety session before riding.
If you are still wary, you may find comfort in this: Even the captain is willing to "hang ten." William Wright, who will take the helm of the world's largest cruise ship when it launches next May, told us he'll be the first one in line to experience the FlowRider: "I can't wait to get onboard and try it out!"