Splashy new vessel is making waves

Cruise liner offers kid, adult pools and bigger suites

Cruising

June 05, 2005|By Arline Bleecker | Arline Bleecker,ORLANDO SENTINEL

Building for the future isn't easy.

At least that's what Royal Caribbean International's Harri Kulovaara said at a recent event, unveiling details about the line's latest city-sized behemoth, Freedom of the Seas.

When Freedom launches next May, the 158,000-ton, 4,370-passenger vessel will wrest the title of world's largest cruise ship from Cunard's 150,000-ton Queen Mary 2.

Freedom is the first of three planned vessels in this monster-of-the-seas category. It will be more than a fifth of a mile long, 184 feet wide, 15 decks tall and 75 feet longer than RCI's leviathan Voyager-class ships.

From penciled blueprint to champagne-anointed ship takes about three years, said Kulovaara, RCI's maritime executive vice president. In that time, the world can change drastically.

Competing lines may change the ground rules for innovation. And passenger tastes rise and fall with trendy tides. With a ship's useful life lasting about 25 years, Kulovaara said, lines must build in longevity.

Because RCI's biggest ships already sport ice-skating rinks, rock-climbing walls and miniature-golf courses, you have to wonder what's missing. What innovations possibly could crop up in that extra room in the belly of this beast?

According to Kulovaara, it's what couldn't be accommodated on Voyager-class ships: for example, Freedom's top-deck aquatic environment, which, in concept, is not unlike Disney's separate beach areas on Mickey's private island.

Freedom will have a kids'-only pool district, dubbed H2O Zone, and a separate adult area, along with other pools. These features add more sloshing space than exists on Voyager vessels, and about 1.5 million more pounds to the ship.

"That's what we needed the extra real estate for," Kulovaara said.

The H2O Zone gives new meaning to the word splashy. The whimsical interactive water park will feature large, brightly colored sculptures that spray, spurt and sprinkle water in every direction. Kids can choose from three pools there: one with a circular current for drifting lazily around a central island; another with a waterfall; and a wading pool for toddlers.

Elsewhere, the secluded adults-only Solarium will contain two side-by-side pools amid tropical foliage, giant sculptures and even hammocks. One pool incorporates a photo collage to impart the sense of swimming in a coral reef.

The main pool area will include one pool dedicated to such water sports as volleyball, jousting tournaments and floating golf. Two glass-enwrapped 24-foot semicircular hot tubs will overhang the sides of the vessel by 12 feet, giving passengers an unparalleled, if not scary, view of the sea 14 decks and 112 feet below.

Freedom's increased size also allowed the line to increase the size of suites, and the ship's accommodations fit nicely into today's trend for multigenerational travel.

In addition to the ship's standard multiple-passenger cabins, there will be 19 other family-friendly cabins in five categories: two-bedroom Royal Family Suites (which can be expanded by connecting to a neighboring stateroom), a handicapped-accessible suite, ocean-view suites, promenade-view suites and inside suites.

Kulovaara also noted that Freedom will boast a Ben and Jerry's ice-cream shop, be equipped with wireless Internet connections and include a flat-panel TV in every cabin.

Freedom will use Miami as home port for one-week cruises to Cozumel, Mexico; Grand Cayman; Jamaica; and Labadee, RCI's private island on Hispaniola.

For more information: 800-398-9819 or visit www.royalcaribbean.com.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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