Freedom of the Seas Entertainment
Afternoon activities include the ubiquitous pool games and trivia contests; Vintages wine bar hosts several tasting sessions throughout the week (we attended one that was $15, and much more intimate than the dining room variety; we were part of a 12-person group). Al fresco bars include the Pool Bar, Sky Bar and Wipe Out! bar, and the drink of the day in a souvenir glass will run you $5.95; Casino Royale is open whenever the ship is at sea, and features slot machines in a range of denominations, table games and a bar; this area can get pretty smoky at night -- if you are sensitive to cigarettes, you may not want to pass through.
The main Arcadia Theater seats more than 1,300 guests over two levels and is the venue for nighttime productions; on our sailing, shows included "Once Upon a Time," a beautifully done Broadway-style fairy tale; a concert featuring the Nelson brothers and the popular newlywed contest, which was side splittingly funny as always (how can you not laugh when a woman who has been married for 50 years discusses her coconut bra in front of a live audience?). Late-night comedians and magicians fill out the roster; Pharaoh's Palace is a secondary show lounge for musical combos and private parties.
The ice rink at Studio B also doubles as a secondary show lounge (it was the spot for the Crown & Anchor welcome back party, as well as the Quest, an adult scavenger hunt). There are free skate hours listed in the Compass. Freedom-Ice.com, the professional ice show, was the best I've seen at sea. Even though our ship was moving due to rough weather, nobody fell -- and the amount and speed of wardrobe changes were mind-boggling. Tickets are free, but they need to be obtained in advance; check your Compass for details on your sailing.
After hours, Boleros -- the hip Latin lounge that Royal Caribbean has begun installing on its ships -- is one of my favorite bars at sea. Though the location (in a hallway outside the casino near a staircase) is not nearly as cozy as the stand-alone bar on, say, Empress of the Seas, the two bartenders there were absolutely fantastic, made a mean mojito, and juggled bottles and shakers for us. It felt like "Cocktail" without Tom Cruise. This venue also draws major crowds with live music and merengue dancing.
Nightly music is found in other areas of the ship as well. A guitarist/soloist performs rock tunes in the Bull & Bear Pub, and a pianist packs Royal Caribbean's nautical-themed Schooner Bar, taking requests until the wee hours. If you'd like to do the singing yourself, swing by the On Air bar outside Studio B; there are open-mic hours where you can strut your stuff onstage, as well as private booths for those a little less confident. The big screen here is the place to catch sporting events, too. For late night dancing, there's the two-deck Crypt nightclub, whose spooky decor features bar stools shaped like headstones.
Even with all of these options, we can never resist pre-dinner bubbly at the Champagne Bar, or a nightcap at Royal Caribbean's signature top-of-the-ship Viking Crown Lounge, here called Olive or Twist (there's a special martini menu, and it is a jazz club at night).
Freedom of the Seas Public Rooms
The main artery that runs throughout the ship is the Royal Promenade, a Main Street USA type thoroughfare where you can visit the purser's or excursions desk, grab a drink or a snack, people-watch, or shop. At A Clean Shave, gentleman can get a haircut, shave or shoe shine, and all of the ship's galleries and stores are located here. The general store sells incidentals, duty-free liquor and edible souvenirs like rum cakes; a separate venue specializes in perfume and cosmetics, and there's a gift shop as well selling logo items, T-shirts, Christmas ornaments, key chains and other odds and ends. You can buy workout wear at the Get Out There store (FlowRider paraphernalia is for sale up on the Sports Deck).
A library with a view of the Promenade through floor-to-ceiling glass windows contains three walls of bookshelves, and several cozy leather chairs for a quiet read. Above the library is Royal Caribbean Online, the ship's Internet cafe. The actual connection is touch-and-go; expect slowness unless you log on while most folks are sleeping or sightseeing. The charge is 55 cents a minute; however, if you buy packages you can pay as little as 37 cents a minute. The same rates apply to Wi-Fi, which is available in cabins and in various public area "hot spots."
Cloud Nine, next to the Seven Hearts card and game room near the Viking Crown Lounge, can be used for private meetings or parties; the Skylight Chapel one deck up is the spot for onboard weddings.
Shameless plug: On Deck 5, across from the cruise director's office, look for the framed poem "Ode to Freedom," written by Cruise Critic members!
Freedom of the Seas Spa & Fitness
There are two main pools on the lido -- one for swimming and one for sports -- flanked by three roomy Jacuzzis. Here, as on balconies, tacky plastic ribbon deck chairs from earlier ships are replaced with nice mesh loungers. Just aft, children get a colorful water park, H2O Zone, complete with a kids-only pool, a cascading waterfall, and sculpture fountains and ground geysers that spew water. The setup is frankly so cool I wanted to splash around myself -- and it kept kids out of adult pool areas for the most part. The Solarium pool area is where you'll find peaceful hammocks and two whirlpools that are cantilevered, meaning they hang over the side of the ship; wide panels of glass give an incredible view of the ocean you're dangling above!
Grand old favorites like the rock-climbing wall and mini-golf course are back, and there's also a sports court, shuffleboard, Ping-Pong and a jogging/walking track. But the main attraction is the FlowRider -- the first surf park at sea. A three-inch sheet of water flows up the 32-ft.-wide by 40-ft.-long incline to create a wave-like reverse waterfall. There are designated hours each day for stand up surfing and boogie boarding (check on the Sports Deck for your itinerary's schedule). There's no signup sheet; however, passengers (and guardians for those under the age of 18) must sign a waiver every day to obtain the wristband needed to "hang ten."
Even if you are more of a sunbather than a swimmer, our advice is to get off the bleachers and try the easier boogie boarding option at least once. I was convinced to give it a go after watching a woman much older than me -- who walked with a cane -- jump right on in. Trust me: Once you're up there, it doesn't look nearly as steep (or frightening)! Professional photographers will be snapping away so your sopping-wet self can be immortalized pre-wipeout for a mere $15 ... it was worth every penny.
Really want to master onboard surfing? Passenger can book one-on-one private FlowRider lessons for $75 per person, per hour (up to 8 people per session). Individuals, or groups looking to "free-surf" without an instructor can book the FlowRider for $350 per hour, with no limit to the total number of participants (50 percent no-show fee will be charged if you don't cancel at least 24 hours in advance).
The Shipshape Fitness Center encompasses the entire forward area of the lido, and is packed with free weights, stationary bikes, treadmills and elliptical machines. Though we never had to wait for a piece of equipment, the gym does get packed before lunch, particularly on sea days. Get up early for prime real estate at the floor-to-ceiling windows. Within the fitness center is another first for Freedom, and the industry: a boxing ring. The boxing program is intended to promote physical conditioning (meaning you can't just throw your husband in there for kicks); sadly, it was empty on my two visits to the fitness center. It could be because it is not cheap: A personal one-hour session was $83. There are scheduled group workouts, however, for $10.
Additional fitness classes are offered -- some free (stretching, aerobics), some levying a $10 charge (yoga, Pilates).
One deck up is the full-service Freedom Day Spa, operated by London's Steiner Leisure. There's nothing new and unusual about the decor or the roster of treatments, which run the gamut from simple wraps and massages to acupuncture and teeth whitening. The prices, however, seemed high: The "entry level" facial was $120. We opted instead for pedicures at the adjacent salon. Look for discounts on port days, but ask questions -- oftentimes these treatments cost less because they are shorter in length.