The Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas was once the holder of the Guinness World Records for largest cruise ship in the world. While that title has been handed off since its debut in 2006, it's still the largest cruise ship sailing out of Port Canaveral, Fla., and it recently got a few nips and tucks as part of a 24-day dry-dock overhaul.
"If you came on board this ship a few days ago, you wouldn't believe what it looked like," said Michael Bailey, new president of Royal Caribbean International. "They've been working 24 hours a day to get this ship ready."
So what's new on the ship? Well, for one, its maximum capacity increased from 4,375 to 4,515 as new staterooms were added. The ship's premium dining options were revamped, with Chops steak house getting a new look and new menu, the old Portofino Italian dining option changing to Giovanni's Table, and a brand-new dining venue in the form of Sabor's Modern Mexican.
"Originally, Portofino was an a la carte northern Italian experience, and Giovanni's is more of a family-oriented, modern Italian experience," said Royal Caribbean spokesman Harrison Liu. "While Chops Grille kept the name, the menu is completely different. It was a '90s-style Chicago steak house, but it's now a more modernized American steak house."
Sabor's took the place of the ship's two-floor Gothic-themed nightclub, the Crypt. Sabor's took the top floor, and the space on the bottom floor went to additional cabins. The new restaurant offers a vivid and loud atmosphere, with family-style touches such as tableside crafting of guacamole. Sharing of appetizers is encouraged by the staff.
The three specialty dining locations are in addition to a Johnny Rockets, which costs cruisers extra. Complimentary dining locations include three main dining rooms, a Sorrento's pizza parlor, the Windjammer Cafe, and Cafe Promenade. Other extra-cost venues include a Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlor and a high-end cupcake venue.
For those interested in a before- or after-dinner beverage, what was once the Champagne Bar has been replaced with the R Bar, a '60s-era venue that serves unique cocktails such as the Texas Collins, which involves watermelon and jalapeño. Other imbibing options on Freedom include Vintages wine bar, English-inspired Bull & Bear Pub, and Latin-inspired Boleros, among a half-dozen other watering holes.
Also new to the ship is a new class of stateroom called panoramic ocean view located on Deck 12 in front of the spa. The 26 bow-facing staterooms feature floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows that once were part of a walkway around the ship's spa. Their addition, as well as new inside staterooms where the Crypt used to be, brings the ship's total to 1,891 staterooms, which means 3,782 passengers at double capacity.
The rest of the ship received the standard makeover for a cruise-ship dry dock, which occurs no later than every five years as required by maritime law. During the dry dock, the line replaced mattresses and reupholstered furnishings in all the cabins, as well as the sundry sitting locations around the ship, including the main theater. The line did not disclose how much the dry-dock enhancements cost.
The changes to Freedom of the Seas are part of Royal Caribbean's ship-revitalization program that began in 2011. The program was designed to take some of the most popular features of the Oasis of the Seas and roll them out fleetwide. The Freedom of the Seas actually was one of the first ships to get Oasis-style upgrades in 2011, with the addition of touchscreen digital signage; shipwide Wi-Fi; and a large, poolside movie screen.
The program means that ships don't have much in the way of original features, except for the new Quantum of the Seas that launched in the fall and sails out of New York.
"This is really taking what Royal Caribbean is known for - the innovation and the wow features and bringing them to all of our other ships," said Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade support, and service.
Among existing features on Freedom of the Seas that can be found on other Royal Caribbean ships are the FlowRider surf simulator, rock-climbing wall, mini-golf, ice rink, and 3-D-movie capability.
That isn't to say Freedom of the Seas has no individuality.
"The entertainment options on Freedom," Liu said, "that's what sets it apart."
The ice rink is the home for "Freedom-Ice.com," for instance, a new 60-minute show featuring 12 professional skaters performing thematic routines, some set to popular music such as a version of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire." One notable routine in the show is a magician-inspired performance by a duo, in which the female skater's outfit changes in split-second moves.
Liu said each of the 10 Royal Caribbean ships that has a skating rink has its own skating show. Other shows on Freedom of the Seas include the Broadway-inspired Once Upon a Time that sets fairy tales to a pop-music score, as well as Fan Halen, a Van Halen tribute concert.
The ship is also one of only seven offering the DreamWorks Experience, with characters from films such as Shrek and Madagascar making appearances during sailing. The ship also offers pre- and post-sailing packages with Universal Orlando.
Freedom of the Seas is one of three Royal Caribbean ships sailing out of Port Canaveral. The ship will continue alternating year-round seven-night eastern and western Caribbean itineraries through at least April 2016. Inside staterooms go from about $600 to $700 a night for most spring sailings, with prices climbing to more than $900 in the summer.