This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver comments on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas which will be christened this week in New York and is the largest cruise ship ever.
Re-run of the Seas
By now you have almost certainly read about Royal Caribbean's giant new vessel 'Freedom Of the Seas'. At 160,000 Gross tons she is now the world's biggest cruise ship, eclipsing the Queen Mary 2 in size, although arguably not in taste. Brunel would have been gob smacked by her size!
Now big ships generate their own publicity and a lot of people do get extremely excited about them. I suppose that is exactly why they build them. I must admit that I have a passion for both big and small ships, as they both have their advantages. The big ones offer a vast choice of facilities and public rooms, the smaller ones offer personality and intimacy. However, Freedom Of the Seas does not excite me.
It's not because I think she is too big, although some critics do. In fact I have no idea what 'too big' is, in terms of a cruise ship design. A lot of industry pundits though 90,000 gross ton ships were too big when they were first floated out, but now they viewed as mid sized. Likewise many considered the Queen Mary 2 too big, but many have since come to terms with her scale.
In order to help you understand why FOS does not light my fire, I ask you to join me in taking a step backwards in time. In my opinion, Royal Caribbean's 'Voyager Class' of ships (Voyager, Navigator, Explorer, Adventure and Mariner) are simply amazing ships. In fact they are not ships at all; they are floating state-of-the art resorts, complete with Ice Skating rinks and Rock Climbing walls. The first, 'Voyager of the Seas', floated out in 1999 and was breathtaking> As the first of the series she too was the worlds biggest cruise ships at the time. The market had not seen anything quite like it. What was even more remarkable, was that RCI had the financial confidence to build her four sisters.
Freedom of the Seas is basically a 'stretched' version of the 'Voyager' class design. From what I have seen, the public rooms and facilities on board Freedom of the Seas are very similar to the Voyager Class, with a few exceptions. There are a couple of whirlpools which overhand the superstructure, offering sea views. There is also a 'water park' on the sun deck, but the main innovation, and quite a selling point it is too, is the 'flow-rider'. This is a surf simulator with real water, on the stern of the upper deck.
Although I'm sure that watching the Flow Rider will make an interesting spectator sport, I doubt if too many of the 3000 passengers on board will be competent enough to actually ride the artificial wave. Anyway, just imagine the length of the line to wait your turn.
In fairness to RCI they always said that Freedom of the Seas would be 'evolutionary not revolutionary'. RCI are market leaders at building amazing ships and Freedom of the Seas is yet another one, but she's not very original, is she? She's a bit like a TV re-run. It does not matter how much you enjoyed it the first time, it is simply not as good when you see it again.
Hundreds of thousands of people have already cruised on a Voyager class ship. RCI would have to come up with a brand new design of ship to really excite me. However these 'gods' of cruising are doing exactly that and are working on the very apt named 'Genesis' project as we speak - cue the X-files theme music.
In contrast to all this news about the 'biggest' the world, the gossip on the street is that Norwegian Cruise Line's 'Norwegian Crown' has been sold to UK-based Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. Olsen already has a small fleet of intimate ships all under 35,000 tons.
You will not find this ship on the front of your newspaper or a headline story on the TV news. However, it is refreshing to find a family run cruise line still investing in smaller vessels. Big is not always best in my book.