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Freedom of the Seas: Big as a House, and then Some

A Cadillac Escalade is big. A 24-ounce porterhouse steak is big. Kirstie Ally was really big.

But Freedom of the Seas? There's nothing in Webster's to even describe it.

Let's just go with monster ship.

The first of Royal Caribbean's new class of giant 158,000-ton ships will be called Freedom of the Seas. When the ship debuts next April, she'll grab the title of largest cruise ship in the world from the QM2 -- who will actually remain the longest cruise ship in the world by about 20 feet. But who's counting?

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The Freedom of the Seas can carry 3,600 passengers double occupancy and an eyebrow raising 4,370 if all beds are filled. That's not including some 1,360 crewmembers. To make room for all those bodies, the ship will be 1,112 feet long, 184 feet wide and have 15 passenger decks.

Can we say, get in line?

Cause you'll find 'em on a ship this big.

But then there are lines to get into Disney World and Star Wars: Episode III, and that doesn't seem to take away their appeal to millions of people.

In fact, because the Freedom is, shall we say, so fat she's got a lot of space to play with. And that makes for some downright phat features.

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In New York last week, Royal Caribbean executives unveiled the first tantalizing details about the ship, which is under construction in Finland.

The most impressive news to this mommy is the ship's H2O Zone water park up on the pool deck. Set off from the deck's other two massive pool areas, colorful cartoonish statues are the props for water canons, jets, buckets and sprays that will keep the kids plenty wet. The area includes two wading pools -- one geared to toddlers (though no child still in diapers will be allowed in the area) -- and two hot tubs, a great place for mom and dad to soak while the kiddos are having ball in the "sprayground," as one witty colleague has called it.

While the Freedom's indoor kids' playroom complex will be the same size as the facilities on the slightly smaller Voyager-class sisters, Charly McDonald, Royal Caribbean's Manager of Guest Vacation & Leisure Activities says, "there's nothing like the H2O Zone on any other ship today."

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Indeed, nothing even comes close.

"We wanted it all," explains Harri Kulovaara, Royal Caribbean's Executive Vice President, Maritime.

No kidding. Check this out: The ship's jungle-themed Solarium pool area will have a pair of giant cantilevered hot tubs extending 12 feet out over the edge of the ship and some 112 feet above the sea. Relaxing in these hot tubs practically qualifies as an extreme sport. Other ultra-innovative features here include a pool with views down into the ship's main atrium.

The main pool area will have two pools, one dedicated to sporting pursuits like volleyball tournaments, lap swimming, and synchronized swimming contests.

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It's obvious Freedom of the Seas will be exceedingly appealing to families. Given the size, McDonald says 1,500 to 1,800 kids and teens at a shot won't be unusual on the huge ship. To accommodate them, Freedom will offer six different categories of family-style cabins sleeping six to eight passengers, with the Presidential Suite sleeping 14 in four bedrooms. This 1,215-square-foot palace will have four bathrooms and a huge 810-square-foot verandah with a hot tub, wet bar and a large dining table.

In the spirit of bigger is bigger, the ship will also have a larger outdoor rock-climbing wall than her fleetmates -- 43 feet tall and 44 feet wide -- and a longer Royal Promenade, the indoor entertainment boulevard lined with shops, dining outlets and bars. Like the fleet's five Voyager-class ships, Freedom of the Seas will also have an indoor ice-skating rink, miniature golf course and multiple dining outlets.

Freedom will sail round-trip out of Miami on 7-night Caribbean cruises calling on Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica and Labadee, the line's private beach resort along Haiti's remote north coast. Two more Freedom-class vessels are under construction for delivery in 2007 and 2008.

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For comparison's sake, here are stats on the next most gigantic cruise ships at sea.

Queen Mary 2

  • Cunard: tel. 800/7-CUNARD; www.cunard.com
  • GRT (gross registered tons): 151,400
  • Length: 1,132 feet long
  • Passenger Capacity (double occupancy/every bed filled): 2,620/3,090
  • Crew: 1,253
  • Built: 2004

She's large yes, but the QM2 comes across as down right petite compared to the big, bulky Freedom of the Seas. The lean QM2 is still the longest cruise ship afloat and has a much smaller waistline. The ship's width (or beam, is it's technically called), is just 135 feet, compared to the Freedom's 184 feet. The QM2 carries about 1,000 fewer passengers than Freedom of the Seas, but almost the same number of crew.

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You do the math.

Big draws: Planetarium; Canyon Ranch spa; diverse enrichment lecture program; varied dining options include the grand 3-deck-high Brittania and cozy Todd English restaurants; most extensive library and book shop at sea; itineraries that include 20+ transatlantic crossings a year, and kids playroom and complimentary supervised activities for ages 1+ daily until midnight.

Voyager, Explorer, Adventure, Navigator and Mariner of the Seas

  • Royal Caribbean: tel. 800/398-9819; www.royalcaribbean.com
  • GRT: 142,000
  • Length: 1,020 feet
  • Passenger Capacity: 3,114/3,838
  • Crew: 1,176
  • Built: 1999/2000/2001/2002/2003
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These 5 sisters held the title of biggest cruise ships in the world until the QM2 was launched, but they still hold sway over the industry with a raft of innovations and their sheer size.

Big draws: Indoor ice-skating rink; outdoor rock-climbing wall; miniature golf course; inline skating track; cell phone access; extensive kids and teens facilities and programming include playgroups for parents and toddlers and private in-cabin and group babysitting evenings; and many dining and entertainment options.

Diamond, Sapphire and Caribbean Princess

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  • Princess Cruises: tel. 800/PRINCESS; www.princess.com
  • GRT: 116,000 (Diamond/Sapphire); 113,000 (Caribbean)
  • Length: 952 feet (Diamond/Sapphire); 951 feet (Caribbean)
  • Passenger Capacity: 2,670/3,286 (Diamond/Sapphire); 3,100/3,782 (Caribbean)
  • Crew: 1,100 to 1,200
  • Built: 2004

With the exception of the QM2, this trio is the most elegant of the ultra large cruise ships. Still, they're casual and have a broad appeal like the other jumbo ships. If you want to cruise with fewer kids, Princess is a good choice, as you'll rarely see more than 600 per sailing (compared to double that on Royal Caribbean's and Carnival's biggest ships).

Big draws. Flexible dining set-up allows you to eat the traditional way -- at fixed times with assigned tablemates -- or the whenever-you-want way among the ships' many restaurants; very attractive spas and pool areas; wifi Internet access; well-designed kids indoor/outdoor play areas; Caribbean Princess has a giant outdoor movie screen on the top deck showing first-run movies.

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Carnival Conquest, Glory, Valor and Liberty

  • Carnival: tel. 888/227-6482; www.carnival.com
  • GRT: 110,000
  • Length: 952 feet
  • Passenger Capacity: 2,974/3,700
  • Crew: 1,160
  • Built: 2002/2003/2004/2005

These four sisters are Carnival's newest and largest ships, so it's no surprise they're the line's best equipped to please all walks of life -- families with kids, couples without and everyone in between. Carnival continues to be the ultimate equalizer. Pass me a Bud and some Chateaubriand already!

Big draws: Extensive digs for kids and teens include a giant video arcade and corkscrew water slide; kids as young as two are included in the supervised activities and programming, and children as young as 4 months are welcome in the group babysitting service; multiple dining outlets include a sushi bar; wifi Internet access throughout ship; and d├ęcor is big on whimsy, with fun design touches ranging from bar stools that look like bats and baseballs to lighting fixtures in the disco made to look like moon craters.

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Do you have a question or comment on this column? Head to our Cruise Message Boards to join in the discussions with fellow Frommer's travelers.


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