Carnival Freedom ~ 1/8-1/14/2012
Ship Overall: Carnival Freedom is in excellent condition. Public areas do not show signs of wear that we noticed. Almost no burnt out light bulbs throughout the ship – which is an impressive accomplishment! The Atrium’s wood floor was beautiful and a perfect dance floor for the music played throughout the week. The Serenity adult area could be double the size as chairs were very difficult to find at any time. The rest of the deck got very full on the sea days as we watched many people turn into lobsters.
Cabin: We elected to take an ocean view Category 6C (Cabin #2279) for this sailing and we were very pleasantly reminded why we send so many first-timers on Carnival. The ocean view cabin was so spacious with tons of storage! A family of 3 or 4 would be very comfortable in these cabins. Compared to our ocean view cabin on a Norwegian Pearl sailing six weeks prior, this felt like a mini-suite! There was plenty of counter and shelf storage in the bathroom. Four decent size drawers in the desk along with 2 shelves and a shallow cabinet allowed plenty of hiding places for our stuff. Even under the couch were two large drawers. Three closets – one with convertible shelves so you could hang more if you’d like – provided more than enough space. Beds were a little firm, and the duvet was getting a little flat, but still decent bedding. Towels were thick and in good condition. Bathrooms come with the standard shampoo and shower gel on the wall along with bar soap. A little treat is the complimentary amenity basket that includes sample size goodies (razors, aspirins, toothpaste, etc) from various sponsors who probably pay a lot of money to have Carnival distribute their products for them.
Dining: We had a group of 18 dining together, so we chose fixed dining with late seating. They assigned us two large tables side by side on the upper level of the Posh dining room. We were tucked in the back corner by the window, so it was difficult to see/participate in all the dining room entertainment/activities, but we still had fun.
Dining Room Food: The food quality was very good with many excellent dishes. With all of the buzz on the comment boards we were worried about what the menu would have; well, rest assured, there are PLENTY of choices each night in addition to the “always available” fare. The person who complained that all they have is “meatloaf every night” must have been on a different cruise line. We had fish dishes, lobster (nice lobster, too), prime rib, and the available everyday steak is very good – if you order medium or medium rare. Order medium well or more and you might not be able to cut it. They offered “comfort food” including fried chicken that my table mates said was delicious! Pasta dishes were surprisingly good and dessert choices were yummy including the warm melting chocolate cake.
Dining Room Service: This is where we noticed some changes. The servers are definitely there to move you through, not to “serve” you. There was actually less silverware for each course than in the past, and the waiters would actually take your “used” silver off the plate and put it back on the table for your next course instead of just bringing you new silverware. A couple of times they didn’t even bring our soup spoons. At one point I had to ask for a knife as mine was removed with an appetizer course. Also, they didn’t offer fresh ground pepper or parmesan cheese, but if we asked they would bring it out for us. While these things are noticeable to a long time cruiser, the first-timers in our group loved the dining experience! Admittedly, some of the confusion came from having our assistant waiter out due to illness after the second night. They tried to replace him with others, but the replacements did not support the waiter very effectively.
Buffet: Carnival does offer a lot of options on their buffets with the various stations including the Mongolian wok, Pizza, Indian, Deli, Grill, and the Taste of Nations which changes in theme daily. Food quality was very good, but really the healthier options (besides salad and fruit) were not plentiful. People tended to wait in long lines to move through the buffet stations. We realized how nice Norwegian’s “freestyle” buffet is where they have fewer “line” buffets and more “stations” and encourage you to go directly to whatever you are after.
Breakfast selections were okay as expected, nothing special, with scrambled eggs, potatoes and sausages that changed varieties daily, waffles, pancakes, and various toasted breads. They did have some cold cuts and cheese and several fruit and pastry choices as well. Made to order omelets were available and prepared quickly. This is what we ate most mornings just to avoid the longer lines for everything else.
Onboard Activities: Lots to choose from including a murder mystery that lasted throughout the cruise. Clues were found in cryptogram puzzles in the newsletter and by asking the “suspects” (the Cruise Director and his staff) for additional clues. This was something new for us and we had fun participating! They did have ice carving by the pool, hairy chest contest and several trivia options, too. One of our favorites was the cooking demonstration in the Sun King Steakhouse, Carnival Freedom’s specialty dining restaurant ($30pp cover charge). The demonstration was free and they prepared a four course meal in front of us; plus they served us sampler portions of each fantastic dish! We didn’t expect them to feed the entire audience, but they kept bringing out more food and every item was beautifully presented and tasted delicious. We realize this was a nice sales pitch to get people to book the specialty dining, but it was well done and we recommend watching your daily Fun Times for this event!
Entertainment: We were offered three full production shows on this sailing. “Ticket To Ride” a very energetic and entertaining Beatles Tribute; “The Big Easy” a New Orleans themed show that ended with a Mardi Gras Parade into the Atrium; and “Jump, Jive & Wail” featuring music of the 40’s/Big Band era. All were enjoyable with songs that you can sing along to. The live orchestra is a very nice feature, but we heard rumors that Carnival may be downsizing their on-board bands and phasing out any “featured” performers, sticking with their own onboard entertainers in lieu of other one-night features.
The comedy shows were scheduled at awkward times making it difficult to see both the production show and the comedians. On our previous Carnival cruises this was scheduled where you could really get it all in, but not so on this particular ship and sailing. They scheduled five comedy shows in one night instead of moving them around on different nights and times. We speculate it was because they use the same lounge for the Superstar Live – karaoke with the live band – which was very popular.
Another interesting thing we noticed regarding entertainment was that they had no one scheduled in the Piano Bar until the second-to-last night of the cruise. This lounge was empty and unused for the first four nights. In addition, the Swingtime Lounge was rarely used and only occasionally was any entertainment scheduled there.
Other onboard entertainers included the “rock band”, a duo singing light hits, and a salsa group that kept many guests dancing in the Atrium on a few nights.
Gym/Spa: The gym is not one of the largest at sea but it had several options including exercise bikes, elliptical machines, stair climbers and free weights. It was a little awkward to access the gym as you had to go through the locker rooms to get there. They had a “shared” hot tub (that wasn’t very hot) behind glass in the middle of the gym, while the individual locker rooms each included a nice sauna and steam room with windows overlooking the ocean. Lockers were available by asking at the spa desk for a key. Spa prices were typical, but they offered many discounts and special deals throughout the sailing.
Service: In general, the crew was very pleasant saying “hello” and “have a good day” in most instances. The reception staff was one of the friendliest we’ve encountered in several cruises. We rarely saw our stateroom attendant but our room was cleaned promptly and thoroughly. The sushi and buffet staff were polite and efficient. One particular cook at the pizza station was justifiably proud of his calzones and recommended them to guests who took the time to chat with him.
Itinerary: Western Caribbean from Ft. Lauderdale with stops at Key West, Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios. While these ports are “old hat” to many, we actually found an EXCELLENT guide in Ocho Rios and had a tour to many places we’d never seen – like Wassi Arts where we watched pottery being made and painted – and heard some great new information. The guide’s name is Michelle and she can arrange a private, personalized tour for you. She was fantastic – she even sang us some songs. We will definitely be working with Michelle for our clients and our own personal return visits to Ocho Rios! Contact us and we’ll put you in touch with her.
Summary: We found this to be a very enjoyable six-day itinerary. We still believe that Carnival offers some of the best values available for cruising and continue to recommend them to our clients who are the right fit. Carnival Freedom is a nice ship with a great crew offering a solid vacation value. We would sail on this ship again without question.