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Cruise Ship Information

MS Freedom of the Seas is a cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean International. It is the namesake of Royal Caribbean's Freedom class, and can accommodate 3,634 passengers and 1,300 crew[citation needed] on fifteen passenger decks. Freedom of the Seas was the largest passenger ship ever built (by gross tonnage) from 2006 until construction of the Royal Caribbean International's Oasis-class ships in late 2009.

Although the ship is registered in Nassau, The Bahamas, it is home ported in Port Canaveral, Florida, United States, after moving from the Port of Miami.

Atmosphere on board

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.

Past Passenger Programs

What's nifty about this ship is there is no one recurrent theme. Feel like an Asian atmosphere? Head for the Imperial Lounge. In the mood for Gothic? Try Jester's nightclub. Feel the urge for a clubby, elegant salon? With or without the cigar smokers, the Connoisseur's Cigar Club is a peaceful hideaway. Most of the major indoor venues are located off or along the Royal Promenade, which tends to really come alive at night. There you'll find shops (the usual cruise-style boutiques that sell logo items, duty-free liquor, perfume and cruisewear) and bars like the Duck & Dog British style pub (though many of its draught beer choices are puzzlingly non-Brit), the Gravity Sports Bar (which seemed empty most of the time) and the somewhat-elegant-but-mostly-bland Champagne Bar. However, the highlight is the 24-hour Cafe at the Promenade, which is a great place to snack and people watch.

Off the main promenade, in various directions, are the Imperial Lounge (the ship's secondary theater with entertainment ranging from line-dancing classes to cooking workshops) and the Connoisseur Club (a very elegant, cozy cigar bar). Connected to the Promenade, via various stairways, are additional entertainment arenas, including Casino Royale, the Schooner Bar, the Aquarium Bar (with its huge fish tanks), the Lyric Theatre and the Jester's nightclub. Tucked away on Deck 2 -- easy to miss -- are the ship's intimate cinema and conference facilities. Each of the performance venues -- Lyric Theatre and Imperial Lounge, for instance -- has its own bar as does Studio B, the phenomenal ice-skating rink/show lounge on deck three.

Overlooking the Royal Promenade is the Library, with an adequate collection of books and comfy leather chairs, and an area for future cruise bookings. The ship has an Internet cafe and cabins are wired for Internet usage. The cost for Internet access, via Wi-Fi or at a work station, is 55 cents a minute, or you can buy packages of 60, 90 or 150 minutes for $28, $38 or $55, respectively.

The Photo Gallery on Deck 3 is the place to giggle over silly photos of your shipmates and buy your own for outlandish prices ($19.95 for 8x10's, often a smaller photo of you surrounded by generic ship images).

Blue Moon Jazz Club, the name on this ship for the traditionally styled Viking Crown Lounge, has the usual fabulous vistas. On the same deck you'll find Seven Hearts Card Room, 19th Hole Golf Bar and Cloud Nine. Freedom Of The Seas has a nondenominational chapel called the Skylight Wedding Chapel.

Fitness And Spa

Even on sea days, everyone has plenty of room around the two pools -- an admirable feat. One interesting feature about the hot tubs is some are double-sized, which again makes room for more folks. Tiered decks surround an outdoor theater, where everything from "men's sexiest legs" contests to live dance band performances take place. There are two bars by the main pool. The Solarium pool and whirlpools are situated in a quieter, more laid-back setting; the area is adults-only.

All of the major (outdoor) athletic activities -- the nine-hole miniature golf course, rollerblading rink, full-size basketball/volleyball court, golf simulator and rock-climbing wall -- are tucked into a "sports center" that lies aft. The pocket-sized ice skating rink is tucked well below, into the bowels of the ship. Note that some of the more specialized activities -- rock climbing, rollerblading and ice skating -- are offered only at specified times so check your daily compass for available hours. The ship's jogging/power walking track winds around the main pool area.

One nice touch: Royal Caribbean does not layer on a lot of extra fees for equipment "rental" -- there is no charge for using everything from ice skates (you can choose between hockey and figure models) to rollerblades.

The 15,000-square-foot spa -- the usual Steiner, Ltd., production -- spans two levels. One houses the quite ample fitness facility (no overcrowding here) and a workout room where classes are offered. Upstairs in the spa and salon facility, a wide range of treatment programs are offered, such as facials, massages, manicures and hair-styling.

A couple of caveats: The prices for treatments have risen to breathtaking levels, with a basic 50-minute massage now costing $119 or more. (The industry average is $99.) A manicure starts from $29, a pedicure from $45. The spa did offer "discounts" on port-of-call days (and as the cruise wound down), but that just brought the prices down to industry-normal levels. In addition, treatment employees will engage, way too aggressively, in the much-loathed "Steiner Product Pitch" at the end of your appointment. The products are also over-priced. Just say no.

Food & Dining

From the meals in the dining room to the buffet choices in the Windjammer Cafe to the options available at the 24-hour Cafe Promenade, the food is consistent and well prepared, especially considering the capacity of the ship. And options are pretty plentiful.

Three main dining rooms offer Royal Caribbean's flexible My Time Dining program during dinner. Passengers can choose between assigned early (6 p.m.) or late (8:30 p.m.) dining, or opt for flexible dining, in which you pick a preferred mealtime (anytime between 6 and 9:30 p.m.), but can change your reservations on a daily basis or walk in when you're hungry. (Note: Those choosing My Time Dining must pre-pay gratuities -- Royal Caribbean does not automatically add gratuities to your final bill if you've elected set-seating.) Cuisine is generally well prepared, if not innovative; Royal Caribbean doesn't pretend to be a gourmet-dining cruise line. Each menu includes healthy fare options, vegetarian dishes (at least one, like vegetarian chili, but sometimes there's an Indian vegetarian dish in addition) and a standard in-case-nothing-else-appeals selection of entrees (rigatoni with marinara sauce, Atlantic cod, chicken breast and black angus top sirloin). Breakfast and lunch are open-seating, though you shouldn't take that to mean that you can always snare a quiet little table for two.

The Windjammer, Freedom Of The Seas' buffet restaurant, is open for breakfast and lunch, and it features mediocre, steam-table cuisine. Kudos must be given, however, to the egg station at breakfast (where you can request a variety of prepared-to-order dishes) and the carving station at lunch. Baked goods are consistently excellent. Vegetarians will do much better in the main dining room at lunch.

The Windjammer is also open for dinner and is an option for those nights when flexibility is preferred. The buffet features the same items as are on the main dining room menu. Another complimentary option is Jade Sushi and Asian-Fusion, with self-explanatory cuisine.

Specialty eateries include Johnny Rockets, the 1950's-style burger joint; passengers can indulge in burgers, hot dogs, chili fries, apple pie and onion rings. Royal Caribbean has instituted a $4.95 per-person cover charge for both in-restaurant and take-out dining (and beverages are additionally charged).

On the Royal Promenade, the Cafe Promenade features light fare at all times (pastries in the morning, sandwiches at night); try the pizza, it's excellent.

Portofino is Freedom Of The Seas' specialty restaurant. The Italian-themed restaurant, which charges a $20 per-person cover (specialty beverages, beer, wine and soda are sold separately), offers a leisurely multi-course meal. The menu did not change at all on our trip, but that didn't seem to matter to a number of folks who were back for repeat dinners. Note, however, that you need to make reservations as early as possible in your cruise or you may get locked out.

Royal Caribbean's room service options are available around the clock via 24-hour menus that offer a range of snacks and sandwiches. At breakfast, Continental dishes, along with a handful of egg entrees, are available both in cabins and suites. Items off the main dining room menu can be ordered at dinner. There is no charge for room service between 5 a.m. and midnight (though a buck or two gratuity is recommended); orders made between midnight and 5 a.m. incur a $3.95 fee.

Entertainment

Where do you even begin? It can be very hard to relax on Freedom Of The Seas -- even on sea days -- because of the head-spinning array of activities that run from dawn to dusk and beyond! The ship's entertainment staff offers an intriguing blend of options, and everyone, from the most traditional passenger to the completely contemporary traveler, will find something to do.

Highlights? During the day, you'll find plenty of traditional cruise activities, such as bingo, dance lessons (line-dancing), rock-climbing wall competitions, horse racing, art auctions, seminars (on everything from healthy eating to gemstones), Mr. Sexy Legs contests, bridge pairing, art and craft workshops and films in the tiny cinema. Poolside, throughout the day, a live band plays a blend of Caribbean and American songs. Royal Caribbean does not offer much in the way of onboard enrichment.

Throughout the day and night, there's often some type of performance along the Promenade, either a parade or jugglers and comics who wander through the giant mall-like space and perform with the crowd.

At night, there are two kinds of entertainment -- the traditional-style cruise productions -- singing and dancing shows in The Lyric, such as "Velvet Rope"-- and goofy passenger-inspired episodes like "Love and Marriage" (a tired idea, perhaps, but still, on our cruise it was screamingly funny). Bar venues, of course, offer a variety of musical performances that are aimed to please just about everybody at any time -- classical guitar, country/western, jazz.

Beyond the usual, where this ship excels is the unique. Studio B (the ice rink) hosts "Cool Art -- Hot Ice," which is phenomenal and worth the effort to get a ticket. (There is no charge but the venue is small so tickets are limited. They make announcements about when you can pick them up.)

Fellow Passengers

Passengers range in age from 35 - 55-plus with a large number of families onboard. Freedom Of The Seas is a great option for couples and families -- particularly multi-generational groups. Speaking of groups, this a terrific cruise choice for them, whether it's a business group (there's a fully equipped conference center along with meeting space) or an extended family because there's lots to do for all age groups.

We offer the recommendation with one caveat: The sprawling ship and its plethora of options may be bewildering to folks who prefer more traditional styles of cruises.

Speaking of a mix of people, one of the more interesting facets of passenger demographics on this ship is international diversity (the daily Compass is printed in six languages). Freedom Of The Seas, which is based in San Juan, also attracts a strong contingent from Puerto Rico and Caribbean islands beyond, which can make for a more varied blend.

Tipping

Tips on the Adventure are automatically charged to your shipboard account (Sea Pass Account) unless you make alternative arrangements with the Guest Services desk. Tipping guidance is as follows:

The total amount is $12.00 per stateroom guest, and $15.00 per suite guest. Your gratuity is for housekeeping services, your stateroom attendant, and dining services.

For beverage purchases, fifteen percent of the bill is automatically added to the onboard account. Room Service staff may be tipped at your discretion. Tipping your maître d' of your dining room is at your discretion. You should tip if you received special attention or services from the maître d'.

Our recommendation

The Freedom Of The Seas" is a huge cruise ship with great offers on board. Be it the skating rink, miniature golf or a climbing wall 50 m above sea level: Almost anything is possible on board. The food is good and plentiful. The audience is international and the main language on board is English. Overall, you can expect a professionally organized cruise experience of good quality.