LIBERTY OF THE SEAS’ ‘WOW’ FACTOR

Royal Caribbean’s Ship is A Marvel of Modern Engineering

By Karen Rubin

Royal Caribbean International’s newest ship, Liberty of the Seas, is a marvel of modern engineering and a source of constant “wow.”

At 160,000 tons, Liberty of the Seas, which launched in May 2007 is the current holder of the title, world’s largest ship (along with its sister-ship, the identically constructed Freedom of the Seas).

To give you some idea of just how large Liberty of the Seas is – if the ship were lined up against the Empire State Building, it would come up only a few feet shorter.

The view of Liberty of the Seas anchored in the harbor at Labadee, Royal Caribbean's private retreat in Haiti, from the 500-foot high platform of the Dragon Flight zipline (©2008 Karen Rubin).

How human beings could get something so large to float so smoothly and gracefully as if it were a mere stick upon the waves, or steer it to a pier as nimbly as if it were a car backing into a parking spot, are just two of the aspects of this miracle of engineering.

Or how 239 chefs and assistants prepare and serve 80,000 plates of food each day – 105,000 meals per cruise – with only the same 24 hours the rest of us have; how, in fact, they can bring aboard all that food to last for a week away from homeport.

How they get some 10,000 pieces of luggage for more than 4,000 passengers on/off so efficiently (it took less than 30 minutes to depart the ship, claim luggage, go through Customs & Immigration and leave the Miami terminal – a feat that Miami International Airport should take note) – all of these things are marvels.

Or how the ship makes 1,200 tons of fresh water each day by desalinating seawater.

How is it possible to have an ice skating rink and FlowRider, a surf simulator machine, and even the cantilevered whirlpools, that extend 12 feet out from the sides of the ship so you are suspended 112 feet above the ocean? Or, for that matter, how do they build a Royal Promenade, which looks and feels like a main street in a European village, extending 445-feet long and three decks high?

Kids frolic in the sprays in the only waterpark onboard a ship, H2O Zone (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

But the real marvel is how something the size of a floating football stadium, can be made to feel so cozy and intimate.

This struck me as I explored Liberty of the Seas over the course of a one-week cruise from Miami to the Eastern Caribbean.

There are what might strike other people as almost inconsequential details – the artwork, design elements, furnishings. But these are ingenious mechanisms that that keep you interested, help orient you to where you are on the ship so that you do not feel anxious or even panicked at getting lost (all the art work is different; there are cut-outs of the ship to help locate you), and that you don’t get the sense of being confined, like “island fever”. The design is so clever that even though the ship is so large, it is easy and fast to get around. They even put the name of the day in each of the elevators (half of them picture windows so you look out to the decks), so you can be reminded what day of the week it is.

In the days before jet airplanes, passenger ships were transportation linking faraway places; then, as “cruising” became a vacation concept, ships became floating hotels that took you grandly but conveniently from port of call to port of call (no unpacking!); then, with more and more amenities and activities, they were floating resorts.

Royal Caribbean has taken the concept even further: the ships are floating destinations, themselves – Las Vegas, the Catskills, Canyon Ranch, DisneyWorld, all rolled into one. Days at sea pass as busily and engagingly as time spent in port – playing sports, going for spa treatments, nightclubbing, going to movies and workshops. The ports of call are like icing on the cake – adding immeasurably to the travel experience, to be sure, but no longer the primary focus.

Explorer Weddings

Increasingly, that cake is a wedding cake.

Wow Factor: "Encore," a spectacular ice skating show onboard Liberty of the Seas, one of three major productions during a week-long cruise (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

Along with bringing cruising to its next level, Royal Caribbean is tapping into a trend toward destination weddings and the fact that wedding ceremonies aren’t just for the very young and ‘just married’ anymore. Indeed, half of couples today say they prefer a destination wedding over the traditional home-based wedding.

Royal Caribbean has “married” the growing desire for exciting and innovative experiences with the growing demand for destination weddings, and has unveiled a new Explorer Weddings program.

Couples saying “I do” for the first time or renewing their vows can take advantage of the distinctive settings and experiences afforded by the ship – the FlowRider surf simulator, rock-climbing wall or ice-skating rink onboard, or shoreside settings like being married on top of an Alaskan glacier or a volcano, in a rainforest, a vineyard or a medieval castle, or mid-air in a hot-air balloon, each decorated thematically for the ceremony.

A marvel of modern engineering: Captain Charles Teige shows how Liberty of the Seas' state-of-the-art steering system enables him to park the world's largest ship at a pier as smoothly as parking a car in a parking space(© 2008 Karen Rubin).

An extension of Royal Caribbean’s Royal Romance program, Explorer Weddings was created in partnership with The Wedding Experience and is part of a series of guest program enhancements that debuted with the launch of Liberty of the Seas.(The Vitality fitness program is another).

Explorer Weddings coordinators work closely with the bride and groom to customize their wedding or vow renewal. They arrange all the transportation and priority check-in for the couple and their guests, and even meet the couple at the pier and escort them to their stateroom to address any last minute questions.

As part of the basic Explorer Weddings package, the bride and groom receive a bouquet and a boutonniere with matching bloom; traditional or customized music accompaniment; champagne and wedding cake, and a keepsake Explorer Weddings marriage certificate. The ceremony is performed by a nondenominational officiant and a professional photographer will be on hand. The wedding planner can arrange any other special requests. For details and pricing, contact royal Romance Wedding Consultants at 888-933-7225 or royalromance@theweddingexperience.com.

An advantage of the cruise-based destination wedding is the myriad of dining and entertainment options available to guests and family throughout the cruise – spectacular Broadway-style theater productions, nightclubs and lounges, even karaoke – plus the range of sports, spa and activities that bring families and friends together during the day.

Family Programs

For the same reason that Liberty of the Seas is ideal for a family occasion as cherished as a wedding, it is a superb venue for family celebrations, reunions, or a family holiday.

On our sailing, there were 80th birthday, 50th wedding anniversary celebrations, and as best we could judge, a couple of dozen families came together to celebrate mutual “Quinceaneras” (Sweet 15) of their daughters. All of us in the three-tier dining room joined in the celebration, as the young ladies made their formal “debut,” each wearing a white gown.

Here, too, Royal Caribbean has introduced many new facilities and programs that families can enjoy together, or kids and parents can enjoy on their own.

The Adventure Ocean supervised activities program for young cruises has been enhanced with Adventure Theater by Camp Broadway, New York City’s famed children’s theater group, that introduces kids and teens to the world of theater arts by weaving folktales, music, dance and cultural elements. Tots can take the first steps to becoming tomorrow’s culinary superstars in Fisher-Price’s Chefs on Deck, and families can come together to construct their own ship in Build & Grow with Lowe’s.

Adventure Ocean is a wonderful children’s play area where you can drop off kids for scheduled activities that include science, drama, arts and games (free during the day); from 10 p.m. to 1 p.m., there is a late-night program, at $5/hour per child.

Poolside on Liberty of the Seas (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

Kids have a ball at H2O Zone waterpark (Royal Caribbean is the only line to offer it). Designed by a Swedish company, the series of sprays has embedded sensors that spray when tripped.

Each day, there are a slew of activities, all published in a daily Cruise Compass: Fisher-Price Aqua Babies & Tots, Family Name that Cartoon Theme, Adventure Ocean Circus (the kids put on their own show), Family Beach Olympics (on Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s private retreat in Haiti), to list just a few.

There is an entire sports deck – a nine hole miniature golf course, a basketball court, ping-pong table, jogging path, that also keep you busy.

Each day there are also Explorer Academy programs – a Backstage tour, scrapbooking workshop, and a “We Are All Made of Stardust” Astronomy class, for example.

Teens are Supreme

It says a lot that Royal Caribbean seems to have figured out how to entice a smile out of the impossible to please teen market.

Dramatic lighting in the walkways adds to the atmosphere of excitement on Liberty of the Seas (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

On our cruise, the off-limits Catacombs, the two-level disco delightfully Gothically themed that is normally adults only, was taken over first for pre-teens, and later for teens, while Twenty-and-Above enjoyed dancing around the pool.

On another evening, they had full run of the rock-climbing wall and the FlowRider surf simulator.

Teens can also hone their turntable skills in Scratch DJ Academy, another new offering.

There are also Karaoke and talent competitions, as well as athletic activities centered around the line’s signature amenities, such as the rock-climbing wall, sports deck and ice skating rink.

On any night, the Living Room, a teen-only “hangout” furnished with TVs, coffee bar and games, cleverly located adjacent to Challenger’s video arcade, and Johnny Rockets, the 1950s-themed burger joint, were all hopping.

None of this has happened by chance, but Royal Caribbean has made a dutiful effort to actually study teens, and has gone so far as form the industry’s first Teen Advisory Board, involving teens in the programming development process.

Some of the recommendations have already been implemented with the launch of Liberty of the Seas: teen icebreakers such as musical instruments on board for jam sessions and two themed entertainment experiences: Dance Dance Revolution and competitive Nintendo Wii video gaming.

Throughout the cruise, teens stay informed of special activities, network with other teens and arrange their own get-togethers through communication channels. The ship also offers teen-only dining in the Windjammer Caf�.

A carnival-like atmosphere during the parades onboard Liberty of the Seas (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

The line is also acknowledging the importance of the teen and pre-teens, both as significant components of family vacation decision-making and also as future cruisers, in introducing the first loyalty program specifically designed for cruisers below the age of 18. Launched on Liberty of the Seas, the Crown & Anchor Society Youth Program offers membership benefits for younger guests every time they sail with the cruise line.

This means that the youths earn cruise credits with the cruise line. Children automatically attain their parent’s membership level, whether gold, Platinum, Diamond or Diamond Plus, when they enroll. This entitles them to special offers for onboard amenities, including Ben & Jerry’s, Airbrush Tattoo, arcade games, and Y-Spa, Royal Caribbean’s teen spa treatment menu. (Parents can enroll their children at www.RoyalCaribbean.com/youth or through Crown & Anchor Society customer service line, 800-526-9723).

The Wow Factor

Walking through the gangplank to the interior of Liberty of the Seas elicits an immediate, “Wow.” But that is only the beginning of the “Wow Factor” onboard the ship.

You immediately come upon the Royal Promenade – an architectural triumph consisting of a huge atrium that rises three decks high and through most of the interior, which creates the feeling of a small village or town square, with lighting that changes from day to night. There are shops, pubs, eateries. It is where they hold Disneyesque street parades, with exciting surprises, like aerialists that descend from the ceiling, stiltwalkers and costumed characters, concluding with a burst of confetti.

Everywhere you look, there is artwork that is very engaging. The Centrum and Royal Promenade feature dramatic artwork by Miguel Chevalier, a renowned French artist and pioneer of interactive digital art, incorporating color, video and light projection for an experience that is ever-changing and immersive.

Spectacular shows, that combine Cirque d'Soleil, Broadway and Las Vegas, are a hallmark on Royal Caribbean cruises (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

A distinctive theme, “Illusion or Reality”, runs through the ship, that is whimsical and fun. Even the ship’s three dining rooms are graced with portraits of the three artists for which they are named (Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Rembrandt) whose eyes follow you.

What gets a resounding “Wow” is the entertainment. One show after another (there were three major productions during the week) was absolutely spectacular – a combination of Las Vegas, Cirque d’Soleil, Broadway with definite touches of Disney (especially the three different parades down the Royal Promenade during the cruise), all produced by Royal Caribbean’s own in-house production company, based in Hollywood. Florida.

Like Disney, there are several parades during the cruise -marvelous colorful carnival-like events down the Royal Promenade during the cruise, with stilt-walkers, aerialists, confetti – pure delight.

In fact, your most difficult choice during the course of your cruise will be which of 11 different venues for live music to spend your time (or how to fit in as many as possible) – Karaoke drew its regulars at the On Air Club, to the point that by the end of the cruise, these guys were like a family. Then there were those who loved the Latin rhythms that got everybody dancing at Boleros. Guitar/Folk singer Jimmy Blakemore always had his following at the Hoof & Claw, a British-style Pub. Then there were more intimate music places like The Schooner Bar for piano music, the Viking Crown Lounge, the Sphinx (an Egyptian motif).

A poolside dance party for Twenty-and-Above (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

Dining onboard Liberty of the Seas also is a “wow” – and not just for the stunning presentations, but delectable and creative flavor combinations (like roasted pumpkin apple soup with fresh cream), even for those keeping to the health-oriented Vitality program.

In addition to the main dining rooms (a stunning, three-tier affair), Royal Caribbean offers two specialty restaurants where you pay $20 per person premium (including gratuities) – well worth it: Chops Grill, specializing in choice meat entrees and Portofino, specializing in Italian cuisine (you need to make reservations early in the cruise because these intimate restaurants fill up fast).

I happened to love the concept of the Windjammer Caf� – a buffet style but with stations that offered different styles of cuisine, from Asian and Fusion to American favorites. The seating areas – all with floor to ceiling picture windows, were like intimate restaurant areas, so you never feel overwhelmed.

That is one of the most impressive qualities of the ship – when you consider how many different activities, events, programs go on at any one time, you are still able to find a pace that is comfortable for you.

At the “farewell show” of our cruise, Cruise Director James Andrews asks, “How many met a new friend, did something new?” It is remarkable how many hands go up. The passengers have actually bonded, they have reached into the smorgasbord of experiences that have been put out for them.

Royal Caribbean has wowed the industry with unusual features like Flowrider(© 2008 Karen Rubin).

It wasn’t just the facilities and programs, though. There is a very pleasant, comfortable atmosphere to the whole ship, that comes from the genuine warmth of the crew. So when James brought on stage for that final show members of the performers, musicians, wait staff, sports and fitness staff, they were greeted with enthusiastic appreciation.

Perhaps Royal Caribbean’s greatest marvel is how a ship accommodating 4,000 passengers (there are 1,817 staterooms), can be this intimate, and have equal appeal across ages, classes, ethnic backgrounds – in its design, furnishings, color choices, quality of service. Liberty of the Seas is elegant and sophisticated, yet casual and comfortable, accessible.

Liberty of the Seas predominantly sails from Miami on seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries.

Royal Caribbean is working on its next marvel, with a new class of ship, code-named Genesis, that will make Liberty of the Seas, now the largest ship in the world at 160,000 tons, seem puny. The new ship will be 220,000 tons and carry 5000 passengers. The launch date: 2009.

For information, contact Royal Caribbean International, call 800-327-6700, visit www.royalcaribbean.com, or visit your travel agent.

Wednesday, 24 January, 2008

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© 2008 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit us online at www.travelwritersmagazine.com and at www.familytravelnetwork.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

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About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including examiner.com, Huffington Post and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate and blogs at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at FamTravLtr@aol.com. 'Like' us at www.facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

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