If you’re taking a cruise for the first time, you really can’t go wrong sailing on one of the largest ships at sea. That’s exactly what I did.
Early this year, Royal Caribbean International®’s Freedom of the Seas® spent 24 days in dry dock for some upgrades. New staterooms were added, premium dining venues were revamped, and a new outdoor poolside movie screen and 3-D movie theater were installed. I was invited to sail on a preview cruise to check out all of the new bells and whistles.
It was a bit chilly in January to try my hand at surfing on the FlowRider® wave pool, but I had great fun watching some of my fellow passengers catch some waves. I did manage to take in a round of miniature golf—I lost—before heading to the ice rink to catch the new, 60-minute Freedom-Ice.com figure skating revue, which stars a dozen professional skaters. After dark, I grabbed a drink at the Sky Bar and watched Edge of Tomorrow on the new big screen poolside.
As for Freedom of the Seas®’ premium dining options, the hallmark Chops Grille kept its name but got an entirely new menu; it’s now more of a modernized American steakhouse. (My tip for an appetizer to try: Grilled Black Pepper Bacon!) The old Portofino restaurant is now Giovanni’s Table, where classic Italian dishes are served family-style. Sabor Modern Mexican is a brand-new premium dining option. Guacamole is prepared tableside, tortillas and chips are made from scratch in-house, and I couldn’t get enough of the Chicken-Stuffed Jalapeños.
What was once the Champagne Bar has been replaced with the retro-chic R Bar, where you can get a classic cocktail with a modern twist. For the best selection of tequilas and rums on board Freedom of the Seas®, head to the Latin-inspired Boleros. (Try a pisco sour or classic mojito.) Fine wines from around the world are served at Vintages wine bar, and the English-style Bull and Bear Pub has an impressive selection of craft brews and an intriguing drink menu that includes cocktails made with beer.
The improvements on Freedom of the Seas® are impressive and definitely deliver on the wow factor.
If you’re a first-time cruiser, here are some tips I took away from my trip:
- As soon as the ship leaves port, switch your smartphone to airplane mode (to avoid roaming charges).
- Pack a sweater or jacket because ocean breezes can be cool at night.
- If you’re arriving a day early for your cruise, ask your AAA Travel Counselor about hotels in the area that offer a park and cruise package. Parking at the port can be pricey.
- The day you’re disembarking, leave the banana on the buffet. It looks like a good snack for the trip home, but it won’t make it through customs.