Freewheeling on the open seas
You’ll get no argument from me. Thanksgiving is the traditional time to spend with family. But my wife and I decided we wanted a nontraditional backdrop for last year’s holiday. So, along with my son, daughter-in-law and 7-month-old grandson, we signed up for a pampering voyage on the Caribbean — and we’ll be forever thankful.
We chose Royal Caribbean’s new Freedom of the Seas, a cruise ship with more innovations than you’re likely to find on anything else afloat. At 160,000 tons, it’s the world’s largest cruise ship, surpassing even the Queen Mary 2.
From Miami, we cruised for seven days, with stops in Cozumel, Mexico, and Labadee, Haiti (a private beach operated by Royal Caribbean). We were scheduled to stop in Grand Cayman, but the weather in the harbor was too rough, so we had an extra day at sea.
Royal Caribbean is proud of its facilities for guests with disabilities. Among the people with special needs they can accommodate are those who use wheelchairs or scooters, people with visual and hearing disabilities, guests with service animals, and people requiring special diets. In addition, there are facilities for dialysis and oxygen therapy (liquid oxygen, compressed-gas oxygen or oxygen concentration).
There are 32 accessible staterooms on Freedom of the Seas. All are located conveniently near elevators and have 32-inch-wide doors and allow a 5-foot turning radius. Sleeping areas, bathrooms and sitting areas are equipped with portable phones. The bathrooms all have extra space and 32-inch-wide doors, grab bars, built-in showers and a lowered sink and vanity. Raised toilet seats are also available.
One of the difficulties many of us scooter and wheelchair users have is turning around in corridors. Not on this ship! Even the narrowest passage allowed us to turn around.
Fun and relaxation
Let’s take a quick tour of the ship and see some of the other highlights we encountered. The spa is everything you would expect and more. Both the sauna and steam baths have wide, accessible doors and flat entrances with special roll-in showers with shower seats right outside. The pool, of course, has a lift, so just about anyone can get in the water with the help of the readily available crew.
In addition to an accessible mini golf course, there’s the Royal Promenade Entertainment Boulevard, the hub for dining, shopping, bars, lounges and the Midnight Parade. The Freedom Fitness Center features the first boxing ring on a cruise ship.
Some highlights might be out of reach for some of us, but they’re still fun and exciting to watch, like the surfing simulator. Or there’s Studio B, an ice rink for skating during the day, and a stage for an ice show in the evenings.
The children’s play area and the supervised programs for tots to teens are more than you’d expect on a cruise ship where the average passenger age is 49. In other words, there are lots of baby boomers with lots of kids and grandkids accompanying them.
Finally, let’s talk food: There’s too much to eat on the ship and too many places to eat it!
If that sounds like a complaint, it’s not. From Ben & Jerry’s to Johnny Rockets, from Chops Grill to Portifino, you’ll never go hungry.
But this isn’t just any food. I’m very fussy about food, and I thought the cuisine on this ship — even in the two main dining rooms and in the buffets on the lido deck — was terrific. Royal Caribbean pulled out all the stops for Thanksgiving.
Like every Royal Caribbean ship, this one has the trademark Viking Crown lounge on top where they made my favorite piña coladas and margaritas. Freedom of the Seas has at least a dozen other lounges including a champagne bar and Vintages, an intimate wine bar that offers wine-tasting classes several times a day.
No, it wasn’t your traditional Thanksgiving, but it was a Thanksgiving our family won’t soon forget.