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Review - Freedom of the Seas

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After months of interest and weeks of hype, all culminating in a frenzy last week, Freedom of the Seas is finally here. I had the good fortune to sail on the 2 night pre-inaugural cruise from Bayonne by gracious invitation from RCI to Diamond Plus members. The cruise was mostly for travel agents, and it was fun to sail with them and compare experiences.

The Cruise

I flew from Jacksonville, FL to Newark. Boarding for Freedom was slated to begin at 6pm. Transfers were provided free of charge and didn’t start until 4pm. By 3:30pm, a large group of folks had assembled at the meeting area at EWR. RCI officials showed up around 3:45, surprised to see so many people and a bit concerned that if there were enough busses. After a bit of confusion, we all made it on the short ride over to Bayonne.

Arriving at the terminal, we passed through security and then checked in. Our invitations stated that we would have oceanview rooms, and that no upgrades would be available; however, we were auto-upgraded to balcony rooms. Our party had 9618 and 8358. After a smooth check-in, we moved into the terminal to wait for Freedom to dock, as it was coming over from Manhattan. The terminal sported a circus theme, with sodas, water, pretzels, sandwiches, cotton candy, candied apples and other goodies provided free of charge.

Freedom docked around 5:30, and around 6pm the boarding process began. With a full ship of passengers, the terminal was packed and the initial boarding process was a bit hectic, but RCI handled it as well as can be expected. Passengers were called by group number (small cards were handed out at the check-in line) to board the shuttle bus over to the ship. Upon boarding, we quickly found our staterooms, where we found a Cruise Compass outlining the night’s activities. Dinner was open seating from 6:30 – 10pm, but we immediately “got out there” to see what we were really there for.

I will do a deck-by-deck run down of the ship later on in the review, but in short, Freedom OTS is very impressive. The vessel was spotless and surprisingly did have a “new ship smell.” We toured the ship for about 2 hours, had dinner at 8 (standard first night’s menu), and then did more exploring. Sailaway was at 9:30pm, with highlighted by a fairly impressive 10 minute fireworks display from a nearby barge on the Hudson at 9:50pm. We did not make it to either the ice show or the production show, so I can’t comment on them. After a long day of travel (up at 4am), I was in bed by 11pm.

Day 2 started with breakfast in the Windjammer followed by the muster drill at 10:30am. The drill was fairly painless, given all of the people involved; however, Freedom has new lifejackets equipped with a very annoying neck collar that I’m sure is very effective if you’re in the water, but a bit uncomfortable if you’re not. Our course took us down the eastern seaboard about to the point where we were parallel with Norfolk. At 11am, I went to an hour-long meeting for TAs where RCI provided updates about their product. The afternoon was spent checking out the new ship and its features, particularly the Flowrider, which was open for use. Most of the shops and facilities were open as well. The parade was at 1:30pm; it is circus-themed and features “Freida the Freedom” elephant. From 5:30- 6:30pm, we attended a reception for D+ members, where Capt Bill Wright and Adam Goldstein did a quick Q&A, and then had dinner at 6:30pm (new waiter and location; Captain’s Gala menu). Jon Secada was the evening’s headline entertainment and the ice show was repeated at 10pm (still didn’t make it). Upon returning to our staterooms, 2 gifts had been delivered – a commerative FOS Inaugural Season glass plate / plaque, and a signed copy of Jon Secada’s new CD.

The Ship

Keep in mind that I love big ships and Voyager class is by far my favorite. Assume Navigator / Mariner as a baseline, if you are familiar with them, and then imagine the changes from there. I will only comment on things that vary. Freedom is very similar to these ships, but is more than just a glorified version of them. The extra width and length of the ship are very noticeable to those familiar with Voyager-ships and many of the public areas have been streamlined and opened up.

Staterooms: No really changes here except for the following:

- Flat screen TVs. The TV twists and turns for easy viewing with a decent, clear picture. The back of the TV can be easily accessed to plug in DVD players, Playstation, etc.

- Bedding. The big improvement we have all been hoping for.

- Deeper balconies. No big deal one way or another, but still nice.

Dining Room. Same set-up, but the dining room does feel slightly smaller than the Voyager class ones, and I found it a challenge to get around with the tables being closer together than usual.

Arcadia Theatre. Incredible sound system and acoustics.

Deck 3. The Photo Gallery has been relocated to Deck 4, replaced by “On the Air,” a karaoke bar that leads into Studio B.

Deck 4. The Photo Gallery has kiosks where you can buy photos and download ones you’ve taken. The casino is larger and better organized. Gaming tables are located both at the entrance of the room (which is wider for improved traffic flow) and on the port side. The machines also provide slips when you win or cash out – no coins – which are then redeemed at the cashier (similar to NCL system).

Deck 5. It’s on the Royal Promenade that you really realize how long FOS really is. It features an expanded Ben and Jerry with a great selection of ice cream. Get Out There is a new logo store, selling activewear and New Balance sneakers (a new RCI partner). Sorrentos serves decent quality pizza similar to that of other RCI ships, but with some new flavors. A Clean Shave provides haircuts and shaves for men in classic barbershop setting. It will be interesting to see how popular this feature is and if it makes into the Liberty design.

Deck 11. Lot’s to talk about here, starting front to aft.

- ShipShapeCenter. Awesome state-of-the-art equipment. The room really benefits from the additional width, improving traffic flow. The boxing ring is a kind of gimmicky, replacing the Thalossotherapy pool. It will be interesting to see if this is carried onto future ships. Passengers can only box trained crew, not each other.

- Solarium. Standard design with a few Radiance class feature blended in, but this area feels a bit smaller than usual and may fill up quickly, featuring 4 hammocks and beautiful wooden deck chairs. The pool has 8 underwater stools for people to sit in.

- H2O Zone. Flowrider gets all the attention, but this will likely be just a big a hit, especially with the kids.The area is bigger than I thought it would be, and has lots of water toys and fun, similar to Luc’s Splash Bash on Labadee. The H2O Zone is divided from the Main Poof by a bridge that crosses the width of the ship. The new deck chairs are very nice and feature a pillow.

- Juice Bar. It wasn’t open so I can’t comment on it, but I like the concept and the selection looks great.

- Access to the Windjammer. The path between the outdoor pool and the indoor Windjammer has been streamlined and improved for better traffic flow.

Deck 13. Old favorites, along with a new one.

- Rock Wall. The rock wall features a new, 3d-type design along with more “trails”, in addition to being higher.

- Mini Golf. The golf course has been reduced to a small section on the port side. The course is still decent and challenging, but will struggle to accommodate crowds.

- Flowrider. I thought this would be another gimmick – one of those features that looks better in a brochure but is really only used by only a handful of people. I was wrong. The set-up is very impressive, fun to both watch and participate in, and seemingly accessible to folks of all ages. RCI is going to have to have a plan to handle crowds, as this will be a big draw. Be careful though – the flow of the water is so strong that it pulled tops and bottoms off of several surfers!

Deck 14. The big change here is the addition of the Diamond Club, which is the concierge lounge for D / D+ members, replacing the 19th Hole. The room is incredible with lots of glass and a great view. Think Radiance class concierge lounge but bigger.

Downside

As I said, I love big ships. After cruising Freedom, I realize there is such a thing as too big. Now, I’m not saying that FOS is too big, and her size will not prevent me from sailing her; but if you think Freedom is too large for you, it probably is. There’s lots of walking involved, and it was evident that capacity will be an issue at peak times in the following areas:

- Windjammer. There’s a bit more seating than the Navigator version, but not enough to offset the crowds that will gather for breakfast and lunch.

- Elevators. Freedom could really benefit from a third group of elevators. The existing ones fill up fast.

- Hot Tubs. They were always PACKED on our short cruise, especially the cantilever ones in the Solarium (which were not as impressive from a design perspective as I hoped they would be).

- Sorrentos / Café Promenade. Traffic flow in both Sorrentos and Café Promenade is constrictive and prone to lines.

All in all, we had a great time and I’m sure Freedom will be wildly popular. I’m looking forward to sailing on the inaugural cruise on 6/4, and really thank RCI for the complementary cruise.

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RCI is going to have to have a plan to handle crowds, as this will be a big draw. Be careful though – the flow of the water is so strong that it pulled tops and bottoms off of several surfers!

 

Patrick,

 

Well, if the flowrider wasn't a big enough draw on its own merits, it certainly will be NOW, after your review! ROFL

 

Thanks for all of the detail! Can hardly wait for the next few weeks to pass! You'll have to give me a tour. :)

 

Tracy

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Thanks for your review. It is nice to hear your perspective of the ship. Sounds like you had a good time though.

 

I do, however, find it interesting that you noticed an increased width of the ship. I have been told by many people that Freedom is actually not wider that Voyager class. The extra width is the 24 ft that the solarium whirpools add to the ship. Other than that, if you subtract the 24 or 25 feet they add you are at the same width as the Voyager class. But, in the beginning when I booked her last July, I was told that it was wider. Now I am confused. I had resigned to the fact that she was not wider, only longer. I would like to know if it IS actually wider?

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Deck 4. The Photo Gallery has kiosks where you can buy photos and download ones you’ve taken.

 

These kiosks you mentioned--Are they the type of thing where you can order pictures digitally? I mean, do they have something other than the people working there to hand your photos to? In other words, instead of wandering all over the photo store, trying to pick out your photo from thousands of others, can you somehow find yours on a screen at the kiosk & then order it there? Just hoping....

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Thanks for the review. I think I am booking this week.

 

By elephant you mean?????

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RE: FREEDOM MINI INAGURAL OUT OF BAYONNE 16-18

We are curious to know what passengers were wearing when you were onboard at embarkation, during the day, and for dinner each night.

Our invitation says "Black Tie" for dinner the last night.....we would like to bring formalwear....will we be out of place?

Did you handle your own luggage on and off?

What was the weather / temperature like?

Thanks for your wonderful critique!

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thanks for the review of FOS- we love voyager class ships and hope to sail FOS in 07-

Sounds like we will love it from your description-

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Also, on your previous post "Live from Freedom OTS", you mentioned executive comments about future smoking policies & West Coast departures. Can you fill us in?? I'm dying to hear what they said about West Coast departures!!

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Patrick - thanks for a great review and for confirming that the Diamond Club is indeed the concierge lounge for diamond and diamond plus members. Does this mean that there are two concierges onboard? I really am pleased that diamond members get the room with windows and spectacular view. (Will we hear complaints from the guests who have suites and are assigned to the indoor concierge lounge on Deck 10?;)

Diamond Club should be a great location for evening cocktails and watching the sunsets.

I know that the next three days will pass very slowly and the following:) three will just fly by, but I am very grateful that RCI has chosen to reward loyal past cruisers with this pre-inaugural trip.

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Patrick, what news did you hear about a possible third private destination and also what changes are they looking to make regarding the smoking policies?

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-Hot Tubs. They were always PACKED on our short cruise, especially the cantilever ones in the Solarium (which were not as impressive from a design perspective as I hoped they would be).

 

 

How many people did they fit?

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RE: FREEDOM MINI INAGURAL OUT OF BAYONNE 16-18

We are curious to know what passengers were wearing when you were onboard at embarkation, during the day, and for dinner each night.

Our invitation says "Black Tie" for dinner the last night.....we would like to bring formalwear....will we be out of place?

Did you handle your own luggage on and off?

What was the weather / temperature like?

Thanks for your wonderful critique!

 

If it says "Black Tie" then you will not be out of place at all. They don't say Black Tie for the regular cruises, so it must mean that they WANT you to wear formal wear. Have a great time!

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Many, many thanks for that detailed review. I really appreciate it. I told Hubby about the little Flowrider problem amd he can't wait to check it out. :D

 

We'll be on Freedom's second Western Caribbean cruise. It made me really excited to read your comments and try to imagine what it is going to be like on the ship.

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These kiosks you mentioned--Are they the type of thing where you can order pictures digitally? I mean, do they have something other than the people working there to hand your photos to? In other words, instead of wandering all over the photo store, trying to pick out your photo from thousands of others, can you somehow find yours on a screen at the kiosk & then order it there? Just hoping....

 

Hi Jane - I'm not 100% sure how the kiosks work, as there were really no pictures taken and the kiosks were not totally up and running. There are about 6 of them, and they are equipped with a card reader. It looks like you swipe your Sea Pass, follow the instructions on the touch screen, and then buy or download. I like you was hoping that it's an improvement on the existing process. Maybe we will know more after the inaugural. Sorry I can't be of more help.

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Thanks for the review. I think I am booking this week.

 

By elephant you mean?????

 

Staff members dressed up in an elephant costume. :) Freida comes through the Promenade at the start of the parade to clear the path.

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RE: FREEDOM MINI INAGURAL OUT OF BAYONNE 16-18

We are curious to know what passengers were wearing when you were onboard at embarkation, during the day, and for dinner each night.

Our invitation says "Black Tie" for dinner the last night.....we would like to bring formalwear....will we be out of place?

Did you handle your own luggage on and off?

What was the weather / temperature like?

Thanks for your wonderful critique!

 

1. There were very few folks in true formalwear, but if you want to wear it, bring it!

 

2. There were no porters in Bayonne. You handle all of your own luggage on pre-inaugurals.

 

3. Weather in Bayonne was good for departure, chilly in the evening but bearable and then sunny and about 65 as we cruised the coast.

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Patrick, thanks! That really was helpful! On Mariner they only had two desks with people at them. So having 6 kiosks already sounds like an improvement. I'm sure we'll find out soon enough how they work when people come back from the first couple of inaugural cruises.

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Also, on your previous post "Live from Freedom OTS", you mentioned executive comments about future smoking policies & West Coast departures. Can you fill us in?? I'm dying to hear what they said about West Coast departures!!

 

I promise I will post on this tomorrow when I am less tired and can put together a coherent thread. :)

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Patrick - thanks for a great review and for confirming that the Diamond Club is indeed the concierge lounge for diamond and diamond plus members. Does this mean that there are two concierges onboard? I really am pleased that diamond members get the room with windows and spectacular view. (Will we hear complaints from the guests who have suites and are assigned to the indoor concierge lounge on Deck 10?;)

Diamond Club should be a great location for evening cocktails and watching the sunsets.

I know that the next three days will pass very slowly and the following:) three will just fly by, but I am very grateful that RCI has chosen to reward loyal past cruisers with this pre-inaugural trip.

 

Hi Bill - I was very pleased with the arrangement and I think you will be too. Francois Roux will be the concierge on deck 9 for suite guests. We asked him who will run the D / D+ lounge, and it sounds like that will be handled by committee and not a single dedicated person, with the Loyalty Ambassador, her assistant and Guest Realtions staff all pitching in. I'll be interested to read your opinions when you return; have fun!

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Patrick, what news did you hear about a possible third private destination and also what changes are they looking to make regarding the smoking policies?

 

Will post on this tomorrow. Sorry for the delay.

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Patrick,

 

Well, if the flowrider wasn't a big enough draw on its own merits, it certainly will be NOW, after your review! ROFL

 

Thanks for all of the detail! Can hardly wait for the next few weeks to pass! You'll have to give me a tour. :)

 

Tracy

 

Tracy - We are going to have a GREAT time in June. I did not see our friend BTW.

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-Hot Tubs. They were always PACKED on our short cruise, especially the cantilever ones in the Solarium (which were not as impressive from a design perspective as I hoped they would be).

 

 

How many people did they fit?

I'd guesstimate that they fit 8 - 10 comfortably, but I often saw 12 - 15 in them. To clarify, they aren't bad, they just aren't what I envisioned.

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In my haste, I left a few details on Freedom that may be of interest:

 

+ We had uniquely designed Sea Passes that said "Inaugural Season 2006" on them. I'm sure they will use those for some time to come.

 

+ RCI Execs were all over the ship and very visible, including Richard Fain and Adam Goldstein. I give these guys a lot of credit of "getting out there," meeting and talking to passengers and being excellent ambassadors for the company. Richard Fain actually did the Flowrider in a Chairman's competition.

 

+ Similarly, Godmother Louise was all over the ship greeting folks. She is very personable and genuine.

 

+ The bridge that crosses the Royal Promenade actually moves up and down. You'll see it during the parade.

 

+ Only 2 rooms were open for viewing: the Royal Suite and the Presidential Suite. Royal Suite is very similar to the standard Voyager class room. I was not really impressed by the PFS. It's nice, don't get me wrong, it's just not anything special (say like NCL's Garden Villas).

 

+ They have some fancy new Pilates equipment in the gym.

 

+ The artwork throughout the ship is great. I know nothing about and have no appreciation of art, but everytime you turn around there's something new and interesting to look at.

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Patrick,

 

Well, if the flowrider wasn't a big enough draw on its own merits, it certainly will be NOW, after your review! ROFL

 

Thanks for all of the detail! Can hardly wait for the next few weeks to pass! You'll have to give me a tour. :)

 

Tracy

 

 

Tracy,

I was thinking the same thing! I have a feeling you and I will have to trade off between the solarium pool and the flowrider ... with cocktail in hand of course! Nothing like a free show! ;)

 

Ernie

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Tracy - We are going to have a GREAT time in June. I did not see our friend BTW.

 

It can't get here soon enough! Hmmmm, maybe I should allow you entry back into the "hunt for the hottie" contest, although you DO have more clues than everyone else! LOL

 

T

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Tracy,

I was thinking the same thing! I have a feeling you and I will have to trade off between the solarium pool and the flowrider ... with cocktail in hand of course! Nothing like a free show! ;)

 

Ernie,

Great Minds Think Alike! LOL See you in a very few (hopefully) short weeks!

T

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Staff members dressed up in an elephant costume. :) Freida comes through the Promenade at the start of the parade to clear the path.

 

OK good. I was trying to picture an actual elephant onboard. Stranger things have happened. :)

 

Thanks.

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Patrick, thanks! That really was helpful! On Mariner they only had two desks with people at them. So having 6 kiosks already sounds like an improvement. I'm sure we'll find out soon enough how they work when people come back from the first couple of inaugural cruises.

 

From what I understand the digital photo kiosks are Royal Caribbean's version of what you'd see in a drugstore or supermarket photo center where you can insert the memory card from your digital camera in order to print images from it or burn them to a CD to give to fellow passengers while you're on the ship. I may be wrong, but it is my understanding that these kiosks won't have anything to do with the photos taken of you by ship photographers. Sorry to let you down, but for now you'll still have to search through all of the pictures on display to find yours!!

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From what I understand the digital photo kiosks are Royal Caribbean's version of what you'd see in a drugstore or supermarket photo center where you can insert the memory card from your digital camera in order to print images from it or burn them to a CD to give to fellow passengers while you're on the ship. I may be wrong, but it is my understanding that these kiosks won't have anything to do with the photos taken of you by ship photographers. Sorry to let you down, but for now you'll still have to search through all of the pictures on display to find yours!!

 

You may be correct, but if I recall correctly, the screen display clearly said pictures could be purchased through the kiosk, as well as download your own digitial images.

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How was the flow rider?

 

Did you go on it?

 

If not, can you please tell us why?

 

How come you never answer my questions Patrick?

 

You are so mean to me!

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the flow of the water is so strong that it pulled tops and bottoms off of several surfers!

 

 

Now I see why they built grandstands to watch the flowrider;) .

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You may be correct, but if I recall correctly, the screen display clearly said pictures could be purchased through the kiosk, as well as download your own digitial images.

 

It's funny--I was looking at my pictures from the ship last night and found one that I took of the kiosk. As soon as I saw it I remembered my post and wanted to let everyone know that I apologize for my earlier statement because it was incorrect.

 

The kiosk screens say "Welcome to the Royal Caribbean International Photo Kiosk. This will enable you to view the images taken by our onboard photograpers, or download your own images and print. For assistance please contact any available photo staff member."

 

Hope I was able to clear things up!

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The kiosk screens say "Welcome to the Royal Caribbean International Photo Kiosk. This will enable you to view the images taken by our onboard photograpers, or download your own images and print. For assistance please contact any available photo staff member."

 

Thanks cookieboy1! That helps clear things up! I'm SO glad they've done this & can't wait to hear from our fellow Cruise Critic passengers once the regular cruising schedule starts, to hear how well these work!

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It's funny--I was looking at my pictures from the ship last night and found one that I took of the kiosk. As soon as I saw it I remembered my post and wanted to let everyone know that I apologize for my earlier statement because it was incorrect.

 

The kiosk screens say "Welcome to the Royal Caribbean International Photo Kiosk. This will enable you to view the images taken by our onboard photograpers, or download your own images and print. For assistance please contact any available photo staff member."

 

Hope I was able to clear things up!

 

Care to share your wonderful photos.

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