Arcadia Theater (Decks 3 and 4): The main Arcadia Theater, done up in red and gold, seats more than 1,300 people over two decks and is the venue for nighttime productions, both song-and-dance shows by Royal Caribbean's troupe and performances by guest entertainers, including aerialists, comedians and magicians.
Star Lounge (Deck 5): Nighttime gameshows like Friendly Feud and Finish that Lyric are held in Star Lounge, the secondary show lounge.
Studio B (Deck 3): The ice rink at Studio B also doubles as a secondary show lounge; it's the spot for the onboard ice show and Battle of the Sexes, as well as Quest, an adult scavenger hunt. There are free skate hours listed in the onboard daily schedule. Freedom-Ice.com, the professional ice show, was the best we've seen at sea.
Daytime activities include the ubiquitous pool games (bellyflop and cannonball contests and trivia contests, while Vintages wine bar hosts several tasting sessions throughout the week. Passengers can also find a video arcade, health and port "lectures" (which are mostly just sales pitches), art auctions, cupcake decorating, mini-golf tournaments, basketball shoot-outs, surf competitions, dance classes, bingo and photo scavenger hunts, as well as movies, concerts and sporting events shown on the poolside big screen.
Royal Caribbean's partnership with DreamWorks includes the DreamWorks Experience -- life-sized characters from "Shrek," "Madagascar" and "Kung Fu Panda" that meet, greet and take photos with passengers. A kick-off event on the first day found them in the Royal Promenade, singing and dancing for the kids. (Royal Caribbean will end its partnership with DreamWorks, starting with all sailings that depart on or after April 1, 2019.)
On the evening of our last sea day, the "Move It! Move It!" parade brought everyone back to the Royal Promenade, where characters included Shrek and Fiona, King Julian, Puss in Boots, Gloria from "Madagascar" and Po from "Kung Fu Panda," plus princesses and dragon dancers. The excitement is virtually impossible to resist; we saw everyone, from the oldest and youngest to the surliest teen, dancing along with the music. (Royal Caribbean will end its partnership with DreamWorks, starting with all sailings that depart on or after April 1, 2019.)
The casino is open whenever the ship is at sea and features slot machines in a range of denominations, table games, including craps, blackjack and two types of poker, and a bar. This area can get pretty smoky; if you are sensitive to cigarettes, you might not want to pass through. (Note that smoking is only allowed in the casino and on designated outdoor decks on the port side of the ship.) Promotions, such as "double points on slots," are offered on select evenings. Theme nights, such as Pirate Night in the casino, and tournaments -- poker, couples' slots -- take place throughout each sailing.
After hours, Boleros -- the hip Latin lounge found on many Royal Caribbean ships -- is one of our favorite bars at sea. Though the location (in a hallway, outside the casino, near a staircase) is not ideal, this venue draws major crowds with live music and merengue dancing.
Nightly music is found in other areas of the ship, too. 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 when you can strut your stuff onstage, as well as private booths for those a little less confident. The TVs there are the spot to catch sporting events.
Royal Caribbean offers a plethora of drink packages, which can be purchased from $8 per person, per day (soda only) to $59 per person, per day (unlimited soda, premium tea and coffee, bottled water, fresh-squeezed juice, nonalcoholic cocktails, most alcoholic beverages and 20 percent off bottles of wine). Note that the drinking age onboard is 21, and each passenger of drinking age is permitted to bring up to two bottles of wine onboard. Free drinks available include tap water, iced tea, lemonade and flavored-infused waters. (We tried the iced tea twice, and it tasted like water both times.)
On Air Bar (Deck 3): Offering nighttime karaoke -- in the open and in private booths -- and sports viewing throughout the day (satellites permitting), On Air is a hybrid karaoke and sports venue that leads the way to Studio B.
Schooner Bar (Deck 4): This nautical-themed bar is a Royal Caribbean staple, often hosting trivia and piano music throughout the day.
Bolero's (Deck 4): This Latin-themed bar is the place to be for lively music and Latin-style dancing.
Star Lounge (Deck 5): The secondary show lounge is used for hosting trivia, live music and private functions, among other activities.
R Bar (Deck 5, Royal Promenade): Added to the ship in 2015, the R Bar -- the closest thing Freedom has to an atrium bar -- replaced the former Champagne Bar and is located directly across the Royal Promenade from the passenger services desk.
Bull & Bear Pub (Deck 5, Royal Promenade): Head to Bull & Bear for live music and a glass, bottle or can of your favorite brew. (Choose from 40 different types of beer carried onboard.)
Vintages (Deck 5, Royal Promenade): A low-key wine bar, Vintages offers tastings, plenty of cushy seating and even Enomatic dispensers that can pour your vino for you when the bar is unattended.
Plaza Bar (Deck 11, Windjammer): This is where you can snag your drink of choice during meals in the Windjammer buffet.
Pool Bar (Deck 11): Feeling like a tipple while you sunbathe? The Pool Bar is your closest bet.
Squeeze (Deck 11): We were disappointed to find that this former smoothie and energy drink bar, located by the pool, now only serves alcohol and juice drinks made from concentrates that come in a carton.
Sky Bar (Deck 12): A nondescript bar overlooking the main pool area, the Sky Bar serves mainly as a secondary pool bar and the place for evening singles meetups.
Olive or Twist (Deck 14, Viking Crown Lounge): Set high atop the front of the ship, boasting floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows, the Viking Crown Lounge is another Royal Caribbean favorite. On Freedom of the Seas, this venue is home to Olive or Twist. Billed as and designed with the ambiance of a martini bar, it's odd to us that it also acts as the ship's disco. It's the place to be for late-night dancing to music from all decades. On one night of our sailing, there was even a "silent" disco, where passengers use supplied headphones to hear the music that's playing. (Even if you're not a dancer, it's worth a peek, just to see an entire crowd of people dancing in what appears to be total silence.)
Cloud Nine (Deck 14): This little private event space, which shares Deck 14 with the Viking Crown Lounge and Seven Hearts card and game room, was being used when we tried to check it out.
Main and Sports Pools (Deck 11): There are two main pools on the Lido -- one for swimming and one for sports like water volleyball -- flanked by three roomy hot tubs. The area can get crowded on sea days, particularly when movies or sporting events are shown on the giant screen. Mesh deck chairs are available throughout the area.
H20 Zone (Deck 11): Just aft of the main pools is the colorful H2O Zone water park, complete with a kids-only pool, a cascading waterfall, and sculpture fountains and ground geysers that spew water. Frankly, the setup is so cool it keeps kids out of adult pool areas for the most part (though the water was very cold on our sailing, so kids didn't stay in long).
Solarium (Deck 11): The adults-only Solarium pool area is where you'll find shaded deck chairs with ocean views, as well as many in the sun. Two cantilevered whirlpools -- meaning they hang over the side of the ship -- also offer sea views, and wide panels of glass give an incredible view of the ocean directly below, as well.
Rock Wall (Deck 13): This outdoor wall offers rock climbing for anyone who meets the height requirements and signs a waiver. Activities staff help to fit you into a helmet, climbing shoes and a safety harness and offer pointers for an easy climb. Hours of operation are posted in the daily Cruise Compass; time slots are sometimes blocked off for use by the onboard kids clubs.
FlowRider (Deck 13): FlowRider debuted on Freedom of the Seas as the first surf park at sea. A three-inch sheet of water flows up the 32-foot-wide by 40-foot-long incline to create a wave-like reverse waterfall. There are designated hours each day for standup surfing and boogie-boarding; check on the Sports Deck for your itinerary's schedule. There's no signup sheet, but passengers (and guardians for those younger than 18) must sign waivers to obtain the wristband needed to "hang ten." Height requirements also apply (58 inches for surfing, 52 inches for boogie boarding).
Even if you're 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. When you're up there, it doesn't look nearly as steep (or frightening).
Really want to master onboard surfing? Passengers can book one-on-one private FlowRider lessons for $69 per person, per hour (up to eight people per session with a minimum of four required). Individuals or groups looking to "free-surf" without an instructor, can book the FlowRider for $345 per hour with no limit to the total number of participants. It can also be rented out with instruction for $552 per hour. (A 50 percent no-show fee will be charged if you don't cancel at least 24 hours in advance.)
Fair warning: There are wooden bleachers surrounding the FlowRider area, and it's likely you'll have an audience. You have a roughly 50 percent chance of losing your bathing suit; if you're a guy, tighten your trunks, and consider wearing a one-piece suit or leggings and sports bra if you're a woman.
Sports Court (Deck 13): The sports court is open for use during set hours. (Check your daily Cruise Compass.) Activities like free-throw contests and three-point shoot-outs take place throughout each sailing.
Freedom Fairways (Deck 13): This 24-hour nine-hole miniature golf course sits next to a giant golf ball on a tee. Mini-golf tournaments are held during each voyage.
Table Tennis (Deck 13): Visit the FlowRider window on the Sports Deck to snag paddles and extra balls for table tennis.
Shuffleboard (Deck 5): If you're itching for some shuffleboard, you'll find your fix on Deck 5's outdoor decks.
There is only one main sun deck aboard Freedom of the Seas -- Deck 11 -- although it's tiered in places and divided into separate areas for both kids and adults. From the Solarium to the main pool, passengers can find plenty of loungers to work on their tans.
The LCD Wayfinder system utilizes a series of touch screens, placed throughout the ship, that not only show you how to get where you want to go, but also tell you what's going on at that very moment.
The main "front" desk, also known as passenger services (located at the back of the ship on Deck 5), is where you go to resolve issues with your onboard account, get change and ask general questions you might have throughout your sailing. You'll find an ATM there, as well. (Note: On Deck 5, across from the cruise director's office, look for the framed poem "Ode to Freedom," written by Cruise Critic members.)
Shore excursions can be purchased at a desk that shares a wall with the passenger services desk on Deck 5. On our sailing, we tried a fantastic horseback riding tour in St. Maarten, which provided transportation, equipment, a 90-minute ride that ended with us riding our horses waist-deep into the ocean, and rum punch. Excursions like glass-bottom boat tours and parasailing in the Bahamas filled up quickly, as did open-air vehicle tours of St. Thomas and a whole-day sail to Christmas and Honeymoon Coves on a schooner.
Cruisers looking to purchase a future cruise can stop by the NextCruise "store" on Deck 5. Discounts are often offered if you book while onboard. There are racks of brochures to browse through while you wait to meet with a representative.
Need a fresh towel after a day of swimming or lounging in the sun? Trade yours in at the towel exchange kiosks near the pools on the lido. Note: Your card will be swiped when you obtain a towel. Be sure to return it (and have your card swiped again) by the last day of your cruise, or you'll be charged a $25 fee. If you're guilty of chair hogging and someone has removed your belongings, chances are good you'll find them at the pool deck lost and found kiosks, located near the pool area.
The Wilhelmsen Library, on Deck 7, offers a view of the Promenade through floor-to-ceiling glass windows, contains two walls of bookshelves, a wall of board games and several cozy leather chairs for a quiet read. If you left your reading material at home, just arrive early to check out a book from the rather scant selection. (Just remember to return it before you leave; all books are borrowed on an honor system.)
Located one deck above the library, the ship's Royal Caribbean Online Internet cafe houses about 20 computers and a printer. Passengers can access the Web, use email and post to social media through an Internet package that costs $15 per day for unlimited use with one device. (You can use the same package for more than one device, but you have to log out on one before logging in on the other, and you will automatically be logged out after long periods of inactivity.) Access for a second device comes at a 50 percent discount. We found the connection to be considerably faster than we've experienced on other ships, even during peak times. Freedom of the Seas is slated to receive Voom, Royal Caribbean's high-speed Internet, in May 2016.
There's no self-service laundry facility onboard, but laundry and dry cleaning can be sent out, and it's not cost prohibitive. We paid about $5 to launder a favorite baby blanket.
Contemporary art-lovers might enjoy the art gallery on Deck 3, run by well-known art dealers Park West; there's often a seminar to take in and a revolving selection of works to buy.
Even if you don't buy your pictures, it's a fun diversion to visit the photo gallery on Deck 4, where the staff display all the photos, from your boarding photo to formal nights. You can buy a picture photo CD or even design your own photobook (a combination of your own photos and Royal Caribbean stock photos).
Among the stores you'll find on Deck 5 along the Royal Promenade are a dedicated Michael Kors shop that sells the famous designer's handbags (watch for sales mid-cruise.), a perfume and cosmetics shop, and a general store selling duty-free alcohol and sundries like candy and toiletry items. You can also stop in at the Logo Souvenir shop for all things Royal Caribbean-branded -- T-shirts, mugs, keychains -- you get the idea. You'll also find non-Royal Caribbean clothing from brands like Newport News and Tommy Bahama, as well as shot glasses, flip-flops and various items designed by artist Romero Britto. For higher-end jewelry, pop into Regalia to pick up some designer accessories like watches. And check out Get Out There for all things nautical. Forgot your bathing suit or sunscreen? Not a problem. But with brands like Roxy, you'll pay a premium.
Have questions about shopping in port? The port shopping kiosk along the Royal Promenade can help.
Up by the Viking Crown Lounge, you'll find the Seven Hearts card and game room, which can be used for private meetings or parties.
The Skylight Chapel, the only public space on the ship's highest deck, is the spot for onboard weddings.
Three conference rooms (Barbados, Jamaica and St. Thomas) are available on Deck 2, and a business services desk is stationed on Deck 6.
The onboard medical center is located on the ship's lowest deck. The vessel has a helipad at its bow, and passengers are able to access the area for amazing views from the front of the ship. Be careful, though: The area is oddly dark and deserted at night, which struck us as creepy and possibly dangerous.
On Deck 12, connected to the Shipshape Fitness Center by a glass staircase, is the full-service Vitality Spa, which houses an impressive 17 treatment rooms. There's nothing special about the decor or the roster of treatments, which run the gamut from wraps, facials and massages to acupuncture, teeth-whitening and even medispa treatments like injectables and fillers. The prices, however, seemed high. The "entry level" facial was $120. The spa runs daily discounted specials, so keep an eye out for them.
We tried an Elemis Tri-Enzyme Resurfacing Facial, discounted to $99 from the usual $125, and were disappointed with what could have been a relaxing experience that turned into a lecture about our "traumatized" skin, an aggressive sales pitch for $250 in skin products and a chatty discussion about crew shenanigans below deck. Likewise, what was advertised as a group anti-aging seminar felt like a bit of a bait-and-switch. Attendees were taken individually into a room for a consultation (read: a hard sell for injectables and products). Don't forgo a spa treatment at sea if you're yearning for one, but we'd recommend telling the therapist straight up if you're not interested in buying products and want to avoid the hard sell. (Ours even called our stateroom the next day to ask when we'd be making our purchase!)
The Shipshape Fitness Center encompasses the entire forward area of the Lido Deck, and it's packed with Hammer Strength and Life Fitness machines that include stationary bikes, treadmills and ellipticals, as well as weight machines, free weights up to 70 pounds and curling bars up to 100 pounds. There's also a studio for stretching, yoga and fitness classes; inside, passengers can find yoga mats, exercise balls and light dumbbells. 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.
Fitness classes are offered -- some free (stretching, aerobics), some levying a charge of about $10 (yoga, Pilates).
Other fitness center facilities include separate men's and women's locker rooms, steam rooms and saunas, which passengers can use free of charge.
Freedom of the Seas is a terrific ship for families. The H2O Zone is a favorite feature, day-to-night activities on the sports deck keep kids occupied, Adventure Ocean not only entertains but also challenges kids with science experiments.
Children are separated into five different age groups; each group has its activities and private rooms on Deck 12.
The Adventure Ocean Program includes several different groups: Aquanauts (3 to 5) might color and play games while Explorers (6 to 8) learn to make their own candies or kites. Voyagers (9 to 11) might take a backstage tour of the Arcadia Theater or participate in sports activities. Note: Children must be potty trained to participate in Aquanauts.
Challenger's Arcade, which fills a long corridor between Adventure Ocean, the Nursery, the Living Room and Johnny Rockets, offers more modern games like Dance Dance Revolution, as well as classics like Ms. Pac Man. There are also racecar games and three air hockey tables. It's a great place for families to get some in-depth kid time; both adults and kids are welcome.
Parents with kids in Adventure Ocean receive cell phones, which they can use to check on their children or to receive calls from the youth staff, should there be any problems. Although the evening session ends at 10 p.m., there's an extra-fee Late Night Party Zone for kids (10 p.m. to 2 a.m.), a group babysitting arrangement that costs $7 per hour, per child. On certain days, you can arrange for your child to accompany the Adventure Ocean staff to dinner. Plus, for those on My Time Family Dining or on the early seating, staff collect your child from the dining room after 40 minutes so you don't have to leave dinner early.
Tie-ins with Crayola and Fisher-Price provide the latest in learning toys and creative materials, and an "Adventure Science" program by High Touch High Tech teaches kids through fun, hands-on science experiments at sea. The Imaginocean! puppet show is a black-light show that takes kids on an adventure through the depths of the ocean to find treasure. Highlights for kids and parents include a pirate parade: Aquanauts (3 to 5) dress up and paint their faces, and Adventure Ocean staff march them on a spirited pirate parade down The Promenade.
Navigators (12 to 14) and older teens (15 to 17) can attend parties at Fuel, the teens-only club; hang out in the Living Room, a posh teen lounge that often looked packed; or chill on the Back Deck, a private outdoor area for teens. Chunks of time are also blocked off for these age groups to use things like the rock wall and FlowRider.
There are no free, supervised programs for children younger than 3 or for non-potty-trained tykes. However, complimentary Royal Babies (6 to 18 months) and Royal Tots (18 to 36 months) programs in the nursery on Deck 12 -- offered in conjunction with Fisher-Price and Royal Caribbean's youth staff -- are scheduled throughout the cruise for parents to attend with their wee ones. (If you have a 3-year-old who's not toilet trained, you might be able to take him or her to these parent-supervised sessions in the nursery.)
In addition, the nursery offers drop-off group babysitting for kids of 6 to 36 months at $8 per hour. Open hours vary by ship and day and are found in the daily schedule. On port days, the nursery opens at least 30 minutes prior to the first excursion and stays open until 30 minutes after the last excursion returns. It's also open nightly from 8 p.m. to midnight.