Freedom Officially Christened on NBC's "Today"
May 12, 2006
Early morning joggers aside, cruise ships are usually quiet at 6 in the morning. Well, not Freedom of the Seas -- at least not when there's a show to produce!
NBC's "Today" broadcasted this morning's entire episode live from the ship. The most important event that took place within the three-hour program was the final part of Freedom of the Seas' two-day naming ceremony (see our coverage of last night's festivities). "Today" host Katie Couric handed godmother Katherine Louise Calder a pair of scissors, which she used to cut the ceremonial ribbon. This simultaneously released the bottle of bubbly positioned to smash against the hull -- and it broke on the first try.
So what else went on during the three hours of taping? Film "sets" were easy to spot as crew spent all of yesterday setting up in various public areas (on the Promenade, by the pool, at the FlowRider, etc.), which were also listed on a letter left in staterooms last night encouraging folks onboard to check them out. The challenge was figuring out when to be where. Our tactic was to befriend a cameraman with the official schedule, but even on a ship this size it would have been hard not to see the huge crowd of people migrating from segment to segment!
And even with the cloudy, cool weather, most of the outside filming went off as planned. The only major change: Barry Manilow's poolside performance was moved to the Olive Or Twist bar at the Viking Crown Lounge. But rocky seas did make for a rough entrance for "Today"'s Katie Couric and Matt Lauer, and Manilow -- tender boats brought them to the ship, which remained anchored near the Statue of Liberty overnight, and they had to climb aboard the ship quite literally via a rope ladder. We heard that seasickness-prone Manilow, who expected to be brought out by helicopter, was ready to call the whole thing off but was eventually coaxed into it (guess we've debunked the rumor that he was onboard last night)!
"Oh Barry ... You Came and You Gave Without Taking"
Leading up to Freedom's launch, New York area radio station 103.5 KTU invited listeners to call up and sing a Barry song to win their way onboard to hear him live. In fact, the doting fans you saw singing along with Barry in the Olive Or Twist were all contest winners. Try as I might, I could not get near the stage -- but watched the broadcast from the Promenade.
Afterward I ran into two contest members I met at dinner last night, Liz and Paul of Staten Island. Liz (a huge fan) said he was very sweet and beautiful (wearing lip gloss); he signed a photo she brought along of her and him at a Radio City Music Hall performance in 1982. Her husband Paul, who works in sanitation for New York City, brought Manilow a T-shirt from his department; Manilow, thinking at first that Paul wanted it signed, was touched when he realized it was actually a gift for him.
Surf's Up, Dude
Up at the FlowRider, "Today"'s Natalie Morales tried her hand at boogie boarding (and later, actual surfing) with Al Roker, camera crew and plenty of fans watching. We'd like to give Morales a little morale boost -- though America saw her wipe out (and not just once), she actually stayed above water for decent stretches of time during the warm-up! And if the water looked cold on TV, well, it was. This intrepid reporter got a little too close to the action ... and got soaked (ring-out-your-pants soaked).
While prepping for a segment under an overhang on the lido deck, Katie Couric noticed two little girls lounging in the hot tub and suggested filming there instead. When Couric talks, people listen -- the whole crew shuffled over, and she rolled up the legs of her white pants and hopped into the water. "I didn't shave my legs this morning!" she warned everyone. She also very politely made the little girls promise not to splash her (too much). Shortly after, swimsuits were showcased on the Promenade by some very buff models....
Everyone Loves a Parade
Al Roker was on the Royal Promenade to host the "Freedom Circus of the Seas" parade complete with acrobats and clowns -- one even put his squishy red nose right on Roker's face.
Climb Every Mountain
Matt Lauer gave the rock-climbing wall a try, but after swinging about comically on the harness for a bit, came down to terra firma (or at least the Sports Deck) to finish out "Today" in a less adventurous way.
It's noon as I sit typing on my laptop at the Cafe Promenade when the call finally comes to disembark the vessel. For this Voyager of the Seas veteran, sailing onboard Freedom of the Seas was a bit like seeing an old friend (who has gained a little weight in all the right places). Freedom of the Seas is everything that makes the Voyager-class ships special -- and then some. And like a good friend, I'll know I'll see Freedom again one day.