Cruise Critic Community Sets Sail on Freedom (Sigh) at Last!

June 2, 2006

It was a momentous occasion for Cruise Critic member Tagman who on February 28 (that's 2005 mind you) created a new thread on the boards that he simply called "Freedom of the Seas, June 4th, 2006." Wrote Tagman, "I just booked for Freedom's maiden voyage on June 4th 2006. I was apparently the first to book this morning at 8:00AM. I can't wait to get aboard. The prices are quite high although I can't say it's very surprising. Anybody else book for June 4th?"

Indeed, following suit were at least 132 Cruise Critic members (this we know is the number registered to attend the ship's first official "Meet 'n' Mingle" on Monday, June 5) who booked cabins on Freedom of the Seas' first "real" voyage. More scintillating is the relationship that has since developed over the thread, which, as we write at 5:10 p.m. on Friday, extends some 672 pages and a total of 13,420 posts over the 15-month period.

"It really does amaze me," says Laura Sterling, who oversees Cruise Critic's Community. "It's almost as if the community they have created has become as important as the cruise itself."

Along the way, participants shared their life events (from celebration of anniversaries to christenings), and bonded over the best places to buy pink feather boas -- and how to encourage a reluctant "dear hubby" to wear a pink shirt; more on that below. There was inside information on freebies in port (such as the best way to get a complimentary margarita at one of Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville restaurants in Jamaica) and experienced advice on whether Grand Cayman's Stingray excursion was worth the money. And frustration, too, over numerous different cabin assignments along with confusion over price drops (one poster reported that Royal Caribbean reduced prices four times since he originally booked the cruise).

The bonds made on this thread go way beyond simply taking a cruise. Sterling reports that one group of "friends" -- who, mind you, have mostly met only on the thread rather than in person -- will be wearing either pink boas (ladies only, please) or pink shirts (men) when they embark -- and plan for their hotel-to-port pick-up in a rented Hummer limousine. There's the Cruise Critic meet 'n' mingle, of course, but also many have made plans for a joint dinner at Chops (reservations permitting).

Will it all pay off in the best cruise ever -- not to mention the making of lifelong friends? We look forward to reports from the ship that will appear both on this thread and on our "Live From ... Freedom of the Seas' Maiden Voyage!" feature, which will include a twice-daily blog by Miami Herald travel editor Jane Wooldridge and a "postcards" feature incorporating comments from the ship. Stay tuned!