(9:35 a.m. EST) — In 2015, Freedom of the Seas underwent a refurbishment that included propeller work, new carpeting, the addition of two restaurants, a new disco and a handful of cabins. We joined the vessel for a seven-night Eastern Caribbean sailing and tried out the offerings for ourselves. Here’s a list of things — both new and old — that either blew us away or left us frustrated.
Hit: Giovanni’s Table
We were initially skeptical of this Freedom of the Seas addition, which replaced Portofino on Deck 11. It seemed weird that one Italian restaurant would be added in place of another, but after one step inside, we understood. Tables made of wood and black wrought iron overlook the ocean via an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. On the opposite wall, lit by hanging stainless steel lamps, is a large open area that allows diners to watch as their food is prepared in the kitchen. Dark wood and gray brick add to the classy, contemporary vibe, as does an entire wall of wine at the back of the venue.
For $25 per person, passengers can choose from a five-course dinner menu that includes appetizers, soups, pastas, entrees and desserts. Our favorites included prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella cheese with ciabatta, mixed greens and a Dijon mustard drizzle; vegetarian lentil and root vegetable soup; potato gnocchi with bleu cheese sauce; an 8-ounce grilled beef tenderloin that was so well prepared we could’ve cut it with a butter knife; and a chocolate-cream-filled cannoli. (Our waiter didn’t even flinch when we asked to try a second appetizer.) Bread is placed on the tables, as well, along with oil for dipping. Passengers can also enjoy lunch at Giovanni’s on sea days for $15 per person. Reservations are recommended.
Miss: Royal Promenade Kiosks
Although they aren’t new, the kiosks that are scattered throughout Deck 5’s Royal Promenade, the ship’s main drag and shopping mall-esque retail center, are still annoying. Traffic flow can be infuriating, especially if all you’re trying to do is go somewhere than the Royal Promenade. For example, for those with cabins at the front of the ship, the Promenade is the best way to get to Deck 3’s aft-located Studio B (which hosts ice shows and games like Battle of the Sexes) if you don’t want to walk through the smoke-filled casino on Deck 4. But pop-up kiosks, selling everything from watches to Michael Kors purses, plant themselves in the middle of the thoroughfare daily, causing crowds of passengers to cluster and block the way for those just trying to pass through on their way to dinner or guest services.
Hit: New Family Cabins
In 2015, Freedom of the Seas shortened and rerouted part of its Deck 12 jogging track to make room for 44 new cabins across three categories, two of which are for families. We snuck a peek at a family ocean-view stateroom shortly before disembarkation, and we were thoroughly impressed. Decor is modern with touches of white, blue and tan — a far cry from Freedom’s older cabins, which are done up in outdated teal and peach — and there’s room to sleep six with a king-sized bed, two twin bunks in a separate closet-sized room with a curtain serving as a door, and a pull-out sofa. The room we saw also had plenty of space for a crib. Closet space is ample, and, taking a page from Disney Cruise Line’s book, Royal Caribbean has added a split bathroom concept — one room with a toilet and sink and another with a shower and sink.
Miss: Olive or Twist
During Freedom’s dry dock, Royal Caribbean removed The Crypt, the ship’s former spooky-themed nightclub, which spanned decks 3 and 4. Frankly, we’re sad to see it go. The new nightclub, Olive or Twist, is instead housed on Deck 14 in what used to be known as the Viking Crown Lounge. It’s still a great space for drinks, dancing and killer sea views, but it seems strange to dance to hip-hop in what’s often billed as a martini bar. We did, however, enjoy the silent disco — only people wearing supplied headphones can hear the music — that was offered one night of our sailing. (Even if nightclubs aren’t your scene, it’s worth poking your head in to see people dancing in what appears to be complete silence.)
We know we’re being hypocritical because Sabor wouldn’t exist without the removal of The Crypt, but we simply adore this new restaurant, added in on Deck 4 (formerly the upper level of the nightclub). For a reasonable $15, we had lunch there, where a waitress made fresh guacamole tableside and the tortilla chips — made onboard — were replenished freely, along with homemade salsa. After a bowl of chicken tortilla soup, rice and beans, three barbacoa tacos and a six-item dessert medley (including churros with chocolate sauce, a banana-chocolate chimichanga, chocolate crepes and coconut flan), we practically had to ask to be carried back to our cabin. Side note: The three-glass tequila flight is a great value at $18, and the drinks are delicious. Dinner is also served at Sabor for a cost of $25. (We’re told that the dinner menu includes beef burritos and ceviche, while the lunch menu does not.) Reservations are recommended.