Freedom for Teens By Dan Polulak
CruiseMates Teen Editor July 4, 2006
I have always been an advocate of Royal Caribbean's Voyager class ships, and now I can add my endorsement to the line's new Freedom of the Seas, the largest ship ever built. I was recently invited on a two-night cruise aboard Freedom of the Seas after she reached her home port of Miami. Two days is not nearly enough to experience all that Freedom of the Seas has to offer, but I was able to get a nice sampling of all her new and improved features for teens.
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Anyone who has sailed on any of the Voyager class ships will definitely feel at home on this ship. It is based on the deck plans of the Voyager class vessels; not much has been changed, but some things have been extended.
Many new venues were added along the Royal Promenade, and plenty of them cater to teens. Instead of just a Cafe Promenade, another fast-food type restaurant has been added -- Sorrento's. This is a pizza parlor with plenty of space for you and your friends to meet up and enjoy some of the best pizza (yes, Royal Caribbean has improved the pizza), desserts and antipasti, right along the promenade. There's also a Ben and Jerry's (which was free during my short cruise), a new shop creatively named Get Out There, and a barbershop called A Clean Shave. (Next time you're on the promenade of Freedom, take a look at the Ben and Jerry's logo and notice how the butts of the cows are positioned toward promenade cabin #6305. If you are lucky enough to be in that room, you get free Ben and Jerry's for the whole week! Not a bad tradeoff for having some plastic cow butts in your window!) The usual Johnny Rockets is still featured on Deck 12 by the arcade.
The teen areas on Freedom of the Seas are set up exactly as they were on Navigator and Mariner of the Seas. They include both the Living Room and Fuel. (Since my cruise was a press and travel agent cruise, I was one of the only teens onboard, so the teen program was nonexistent.) Located on Deck 12, the Living Room is a chill hang out during the day. It features plasma TVs, a foosball table, a bar for non-alcoholic drinks, Internet stations (check up on that Myspace), and some tight-looking chairs. Going further aft you will find Fuel, open for teens 15-17 at night to dance and have a good time. Like the Living Room, Fuel features an even larger teen bar, Internet stations and a huge dance floor. Since most teens will not be able to get into the Crypt, Fuel is an awesome alternative. On all of my past Royal Caribbean cruises, teens flocked to Fuel at night, so be sure not to miss it.
Moving aft, you come to the teens-only tanning area -- probably one of the simplest but most popular concepts added for teens -- a place just to chill in their own reserved area. Now we don't have to worry about finding a chair by the pool, among all the parents and families who inhabit the pool on sea days; this is all for us, and only us! I have pretty much moved from the lower decks to the upper teen areas, and now (as if we were walking the length of the ship) here is where you would find the FlowRider.
This is the best activity that has been added to a ship. Ever.
I totally opposed to the concept of the FlowRider when it was announced. I figured it was just a way for Royal Caribbean to brag about how they had so many new ideas. That was before I saw some pictures and videos; then I decided it was an OK idea. But when I finally had the chance to try it, I was like a kid in a candy shop! It is a blast! It is amazing; everyone gets involved -- even the audience, because there are bleachers all around the FlowRider.
You have a choice of boogie-boarding or surfing. It's not as easy as it looks. You see those professionals in the commercials zig-zagging through the wake, but one of the trainers informed me that some of them have been doing it for five years! In any case, everyone around you who tries it is awful at it, which just makes it more fun. There is no competition because everyone wipes out; people start to cheer if you can stay on the boogie board more then 25 seconds!
So here are some hints I picked up:
Boogie Boarding- This is the easiest way to try the FlowRider. On my cruise, boogie boarding was open a lot more then the surfing was. When you first flop into the stream, put your weight in the back; if not, you will get caught too far onto the blue mat in front. Always make sure you have your elbows on the board or you will get blown back faster then I did, which will cause you to wipe out. If you think you can, attempt some challenging tricks such as a barrel roll, or try to stand up (I only saw one person that was able to do it).
Surfing - This is ten times harder then boogie boarding, but even more fun. Its one of those things you know you're able to do -- you just need more time to get good at it (and I guess one hour wasn't cutting it for me). Basically you latch hands with someone on the edge, and they help push you into the stream. Sound easy? Think again! Once your board catches that stream, you're at war with yourself for balance, and eventually you will lose the battle. The pros told me to keep my weight all on the back of the board! I didn't last very long, but it still is fun because everyone else is wiping out, and the audience really gets into it too.
I really think Royal Caribbean should consider adding FlowRiders to all its ships - in fact; I want one in my backyard! However, heard a rumor that Freedom of the Seas will be the only ship in the Freedom class to get a FlowRider, with Liberty and Endeavor each featuring different specialties.
If riding the waves or partying in Fuel isn't your thing, Freedom still offers a variety of things for teens to do. Take the H2O Zone, for instance -- it might look like a kid's pool, but I thought it was really cool. I haven't gone swimming on a ship in probably seven cruises, just because I was too busy doing other things, but I had to test this out. The H2O zone is loaded with fountains, squirt guns, mini-pools, waterfalls -- you name it. It's like a small water park. There is even a lazy river simulator! Hot tubs more your style? Check out the cantilevered hot tubs in the Solarium. Fixed over the side of the ship, these tubs are huge compared to your average hot tub and give an amazing view of the ocean.
You can fight dirty in the Ship Shape Spa, which features a full size boxing ring. I really liked the gym and spa area on Freedom of the Seas; it was huge! Decked out with plasma TVs hanging from the ceiling, the gym and spa always had decent music playing, too - and we all know that's important when you work out. The boxing ring was really cool to see on a cruise ship; it even had the Royal Caribbean logo in the center of the ring.
Another great addition is a place called On Air, a karaoke bar created solely for karaoke. Teens can congregate down here and dare each other to face the crowd and try karaoke. I think this will be a popular lounge for both teens and adults.
Freedom of the Seas is an all-around amazing ship. Its features so much for teens to do,
it's hard to imagine you would ever be bored. I wish my cruise had been longer so I could become a pro at the FlowRider and take advantage of our Owners Suite, but I guess I will just have to book one of her seven-night Western Caribbean cruises. Teens sailing on the Freedom of the Seas will have an unforgettable experience!