By Melissa Paloti, Cruise Critic contributor, updated by Carrie Calzaretta
Freedom of the Seas Overview
Freedom of the Seas launched in May 2006 as the world's biggest cruise ship. The vessel introduced a new class of ship for Royal Caribbean, measuring just shy of 155,000 tons with a double occupancy capacity of 3,634 passengers (siblings Liberty and Independence of the Seas debuted in May 2007 and 2008, respectively). It surpassed Cunard's gargantuan Queen Mary 2 by 7,000 tons and carried 1,014 more passengers. (Of course, the Freedom-class ships have since been, er, belittled by Oasis of the Seas, the massive 225,282-ton, 5,400 passenger beast that debuted in fall 2009.)
Besides its size, Freedom of the Seas also made waves in other ways. It was the first ship to feature a surf simulator, a regulation-sized boxing ring, an interactive water park for kids and even a barbershop. Yet in many ways, Freedom was merely an evolution, not a revolution, of the Voyager class that made its own headlines when it launched with biggest-at-sea status back in 1999. The layout is nearly identical and the promenade is back, as is the rock-climbing wall, the ice-skating rink, Johnny Rockets, the Promenade Cafe, Ben & Jerry's, etc. It is almost as if Voyager of the Seas was simply super-sized, and beefed up with innovative spaces and concepts.
Which brings us back to our original quandary: Would the extra space, extra people, extra "everything" live up to the hype ... or leave us feeling claustrophobic?
We got off to a rough start: Embarkation took nearly two hours from curb to cabin, and because so many people were late coming on, the lido buffet was kept open an extra half hour and the time for the muster drill was pushed back; dinner was also delayed 15 minutes so everyone could settle in and get ready.
Surprisingly, in terms of lines and congestion, this was the first and last time we felt truly frustrated. Crowds elsewhere -- at the pool, waiting for elevators -- were equal to if not less than what we've experienced on Voyager-class ships. That's not to say that the ship (as well as Voyager and its siblings) wouldn't benefit from another bank of elevators. It's still a mass-market, big-ship experience, and there will almost always be a half hour or so wait to eat at Johnny Rockets on a sea day. You'll wait in a line (a short line, but a line nonetheless) to disembark at tender ports, and dinnertime can be a bit noisy with hundreds of others chowing down around you. At the same time, it's never hard to find quiet, private nooks -- we loved Cafe Promenade, Vintages wine bar and even the Solarium pool for getting-away-from-it-all moments.
We were also amazed by how personal the service was in general, despite the number of passengers. The two bartenders who worked every night at Boleros, Royal Caribbean's Latin-themed bar, remembered our names and our poisons, and on the last night swapped heartfelt goodbyes and hugs with numerous passengers who had imbibed there throughout the week. When our cabin steward noticed us coming down the hallway, he'd pop his key in the door and hold it open for us -- a nice gesture, particularly when we were coming back from shore with tote bags and purchases.
Size does matter, and in Freedom's case it is a plus, not a negative -- especially for families, first-timers and fans of Voyager-class ships that are ready for the next "big" thing.
Freedom of the Seas Fellow Passengers
With the FlowRider, H2O Zone, and age-specific children's facilities, Freedom of the Seas is an obvious choice for families. However, the ship also appeals to active couples, mainly in their 30's to 50's; we met plenty of fun-loving seniors as well. Our sailing attracted a large number of repeat Royal Caribbean cruisers (over 1,000). The majority of passengers hail from North America, though many guests on our cruise came from South America and Europe.
Freedom of the Seas Dress Code
Seven-night cruises typically feature two formal nights, and five casual nights (theme outfits are encouraged, but seldom seen). Many men don tuxedos for formal dining, though suits are just fine and quite common; women opt for cocktail dresses or gowns.
Freedom of the Seas Gratuity
Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $12 per person, per day ($14.25 for suite guests). Gratuities can be prepaid or will be added on a daily basis to passengers' SeaPass accounts during the cruise. Passengers can modify or remove gratuities by visiting the guest services desk while onboard. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.
This was my second cruise and 2nd time on the Freedom of the Seas. Many say the Cruise Director can make or break the week, and Richard Spacey brought the house down with his zany entertainment. His constant side kick Jamie Fenterin (and future ...continue
Port terminal- Royal Caribbean wins when it comes to the port terminal and embarkation. Our party arrived by local taxi and had to only deal with carry-on items as the luggage was taken away as we stepped out of the van. We waited in what looked ...continue
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We drove from Atlanta and picked up our friends in Orlando. We stayed at the Hampton Inn Port Canaveral. The accommodations were more than satisfactory. We were able to leave our car and get transportation both ways to ship[ for a very ...continue