Updated by Andrea Bennett, Cruise Critic contributor
Freedom of the Seas Overview
Freedom of the Seas has an identity crisis. The 155,000-ton, 3,634-passenger vessel launched in May 2006 as the world's biggest cruise ship at the time, dwarfing the Voyager-class ships that influenced its design and introducing a new class of ship for Royal Caribbean. (Siblings Liberty of the Seas and Independence of the Seas debuted in 2007 and 2008, respectively). But in 2009, it was forced to hand over its "world's largest" title to sister Oasis of the Seas (and later to Allure of the Seas), Royal Caribbean's massive 225,282-ton, 5,400-passenger mega-ship.
So where does that leave Freedom? The ship -- which made waves when it launched with cruising's first surf simulator, a regulation-sized boxing ring and an interactive water park for kids -- received a makeover in 2011 to keep it current with Royal Caribbean's newest innovations and favorite features from the Oasis-class ships. Part of the first wave of the line's fleetwide revitalization program, Freedom got upgrades like a new nursery, an LCD Wayfinder system, a huge video screen over the family pool, a cupcake shop and DreamWorks characters roaming the ship, much to the delight of the youngest cruisers.
Plus, it retains Royal Caribbean hallmarks, such as the promenade and Promenade Cafe, rock-climbing wall, ice-skating rink, Johnny Rockets and Ben & Jerry's.
We weren't sure how Freedom would feel post-refurb and post-Oasis. Would it feel daunting and crowded, as it's still a huge mega-ship -- now with even more going on -- or would it feel just big enough after the immensity of Oasis?
The cruise didn't start off well. Embarkation took more than two hours from curb to cabin, with some frustrating lines and congestion, and cranky passengers-to-be.
Yet, surprisingly, in terms of lines and congestion, this was the first and last time the ship felt crowded. Crowds elsewhere -- at the pool, waiting for elevators -- were equal to if not lighter than what we'd experienced on Oasis. That's not to say that the ship felt empty or small. 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. Cafe Promenade, Vintages wine bar and even the Solarium pool are great for getting-away-from-it-all moments, particularly on port days.
In general, service is very personal, since there are so many spaces in which you can become a "regular." Baristas at Cafe Promenade (now serving Starbucks coffee drinks) remember complicated beverage orders; the bartenders at Boleros, Royal Caribbean's Latin-themed bar, remember names and poisons; and even the waitstaff in Windjammer, the casual buffet, treat kids as the highest-order V.I.P.'s.
The upgrades on Freedom definitely help -- our favorites were the family pool movies and the easy LCD Wayfinder system -- but those who have enjoyed the neighborhood feel of the tree-lined Central Park on Oasis and Allure, where you can escape the madding crowds, will miss it if they really want some private time on sea days. As one of the main inside hangout places on Freedom, Cafe Promenade felt a little too small to accommodate all the people who just wanted to relax with a coffee and pastry out of the beating rays.
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; there were nearly 800 kids younger than 17 on our sailing. However, the ship also appeals to active couples, mainly ranging from their 30's to 50's, and plenty of fun-loving seniors. (We eavesdropped on some World War II vets exchanging fascinating stories.) Many Royal Caribbean cruisers are repeat passengers. The majority hail from North America, though many 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. No one looks askance if you don't observe a formal night; plenty of families opt for a more casual experience, bypassing the formal nights for laid-back dinners in Windjammer.
Freedom of the Seas Gratuity
Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $12 per person, per day ($14.25 for those in suites). Gratuities can be prepaid or added on a daily basis to passengers' SeaPass accounts during the cruise. (Passengers opting for My Time Dining must pre-pay gratuities.) Passengers can modify or remove gratuities by visiting the guest services desk while onboard. A 15 percent tip is automatically added to bar tabs. Gratuity envelopes for those who wish to reward extra service are delivered to staterooms on the last day.
My first cruise ever was on RCCL back in 2003 - on Voyager of the Seas. We loved it. Had a great time, and have cruised 15 times since (Princess, Celebrity, Carnival), and never with RCCL again - because we shop on itinerary and date...and ...continue
This was one of the enjoyable vacations that I've had in a while On this 7 night cruise, I experienced as much as possible that Freedom of the Seas had to offer.
The first few days it was raining, so any outdoor activities were out of the ...continue
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This was the cruise from hell. We were not informed that there would be over 1600 bikers on the cruise. The previous cruise was late getting in so we had to wait 1-1/2 hours before being allowed to board. The shower was moldy, the glass was ...continue