Well, it's here: In Hamburg, Germany, this week, Royal Caribbean (tel. 800/398-9819; took delivery of the 160,000-ton Freedom of the Seas, the largest passenger vessel ever built. Designed to carry 3,634 guests, Freedom is a supersized version of Royal Caribbean's popular Voyager-class vessels, with onboard attractions that include an onboard surfinig simulator, an interactive top-deck water park for kids, whirlpools positioned on overhangs twelve feet beyond the sides of the ship (112 feet above sea level), a full-scale boxing gym, a 3,600-volume library, a pizzeria, a juice bar, an on-deck surf shack, a neighborhood-style barbershop for men (offering traditional shaves plus scalp and shoulder massages, haircuts, and shoe-shining), and six different types of family-friendly staterooms, including a huge 1,215-square-foot Presidential Suite that sleeps fourteen in four bedrooms (with four baths and a 810-square-foot outdoor living area with whirlpool, wet bar, and al fresco dining table).

Got all that? Well, there's probably a lot more. Stay tuned for a full review of the ship following her U.S. debut in mid-May, following which she'll sail 7-night western Caribbean itineraries from Miami, visiting Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Montego Bay (Jamaica), and Labadee (Haiti), Royal Caribbean's private beach resort.

That's just the start of the news coming out of Royal Caribbean this week, so let's get to it . . .

Explorer of the Seas to Sail from New York Harbor Year-Round

Beginning in May 2007, RCI's 3,114-passenger Explorer of the Seas will begin homeporting the Cape Liberty cruise port in Bayonne, NJ, just across the harbor from Manhattan. She'll sail alternating 5-night Bermuda and 9-night Caribbean itineraries in summer, head north for 9-night Canada/New England sailings in fall, then remain in Jersey all winter long, offering 9-night Eastern Caribbean sailings (calling at Labadee, Haiti; Casa De Campo, Dominican Republic; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; and San Juan, Puerto Rico) and 12-night Southern Caribbean itineraries (calling at Philipsburg, St. Maarten; St. John's, Antigua; Roseau, Dominica; Bridgetown, Barbados; Basseterre, St. Kitts; Charlotte Amalie; and San Juan).

Empress of the Seas to Sail Bermuda from Philly and Norfolk

Empress of the Seas, which is currently embarking on a summer/fall schedule of Bermuda cruises from Philadelphia, will continue offering Bermuda sailings, but will split her homeports in 2007 between the City of Brotherly Love and Norfolk, Virginia.

Grandeur of the Seas to Sail Canada/New England from Baltimore

Beginning May 13, 2007, Grandeur of the Seas will begin alternating between three completely different itineraries: 9-night Canada/New England sailings (calling on Portland and Bar Harbor, Maine; Saint John's, New Brunswick; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Boston), 5-night Bermuda itineraries, and 9-night Eastern Caribbean itineraries.

Navigator of the Seas to Offer Short Cruises from Florida

In a first, one of Royal Caribbean's Voyager-class ships, the 3,114-passenger Navigator of the Seas, will begin offering short 4- and 5-night western Caribbean cruises from Miami in summer 2007, visiting Ocho Rios (Jamaica), George Town (Grand Cayman), Key West, Cozumel (Mexico), and Belize City (Belize). The 2,252-passenger Enchantment of the Seas will sail similar Western Caribbean itineraries from Ft. Lauderdale and then from Tampa in winter 2007.

Voyager of the Seas to Sail from Galveston

In fall 2007, the cruise industry's first super-megaship, 1999's Voyager of the Seas, will begin sailing from Galveston, Texas, offering alternating 7-night western Caribbean itineraries, calling one week at Montego Bay (Jamaica), Grand Cayman, and Cozumel and the next at Cozumel, Roatan (Honduras), and Costa Maya and Progreso (Mexico).

Rhapsody of the Seas, which currently sails from Galveston, will return there for summer 2007, but in winter will sail from New Orleans.

Splendour of the Seas to Sail from the Dominican Republic

From December 2007 through March 2008, the 1,804-passenger Splendour of the Seas will sail from a brand new homeport in the Dominican Republic. The ship will offer two 7-night Southern Caribbean itineraries, one offering calls at St. Maarten, Dominica, Grenada, Margarita Island (Venezuela), and Aruba, the other sailing to St. Kitts, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Barbados, and St. Lucia.

Vision of the Seas to Sail Alaska, with a New British Columbia Port

Vision of the Seas will return to Seattle in May 2007 to offer 7-night round-trip Alaska sailings through the summer, with calls at Prince Rupert, British Columbia, on the mainland about forty miles south of the U.S./Canada border, set amid the gorgeous BC mountains and forests.

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