Recently refurbished to include all-new amenities and venues (at a cost of $70 million), Carnival Freedom represents a small but refreshing shift for the line: retrofitting ships to include Camp Ocean (replacing Camp Carnival as the children’s facility), Seuss at Sea (interactive parade and character breakfast) and other key partnerships including an EA-branded sports bar and Hasbro game show.
In my first 24 hours onboard my very first Carnival cruise, five things stood out:
Most dining is included.
In a market increasingly dominated by specialty restaurants with added fees, Carnival has managed to reduce that notion of feeling nickeled-and-dimed without sacrificing dining options. The only true for-fee restaurant onboard Freedom is the Sun King steakhouse. Virtually anything else you care to ingest is free (and plentiful).
Sprinkled throughout the extensive buffet-style Freedom Restaurant (with more dining decisions than you’re prepared to make) are smaller stations specializing in fish and chips, deli sandwiches (with all the fixings) and Asian-inspired stir-fry cooked to order. Pizza Pirate and a decent assortment of snacks and sandwiches from room service are complimentary 24 hours a day. The Lido is a goldmine for grabbing a bite; Guy’s Burgers truly serves up some bangin’ beef (rated higher in customer satisfaction than even the high-end steakhouse), and the BlueIguana Cantina makes all your wildest burrito dreams come true. Try the breakfast burritos — even the salsa selection puts Chipotle to shame.
None of the decor makes sense … but it works.
Carnival ship designer Joe Farcus is renowned for his lavish (some might say gaudy) design choices, so I was prepared for the neon pink bulbs lining the atrium. Yet I am continually surprised by artwork in the stairwells and even tiny Egyptian statuettes atop the casino. Sure, the confetti-patterned glass panels paired with the faux-grain zebra wood paneling and maroon and green carpet made me seriously question the thought process. But after wandering the ship, I realized there is something aesthetically pleasing tucked away for everyone. I’m not sure the wall-to-wall nature scenes are my thing, but the aft stairwell collection featuring pastel oil figures dancing or in a quiet beach setting is delightfully strange and lovely.
Another series focuses each on famous innovators in pop culture from the Beatles to Charlie Chaplin to Walt Disney — a somewhat modern touch among arbitrary wall murals of 60s flower-power patterns. My takeaway from Freedom is that although it doesn’t have a discernible theme, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and somehow, that’s totally OK.
Cruising is a no-brainer for families.
As mainstream cruise lines vie to attract the business of multigenerational family vacationers, Carnival is easily keeping up. Multiple ships in accessible homeports make the journey less of a challenge for large groups and a more realistic option for planning family reunions. I spoke with folks who were sailing with up to four generations. Newly realized children’s facilities cater to specific age groups, and family-focused venues such as Seuss’ Bookville encourage families to convene for storytime or a game. Comedy for children and adults is offered, and the PlayList Productions variety shows run an attention-keeping 30 minutes (meaning the kids won’t have much time to complain, parents can attend multiple after-dinner activities and grandparents won’t have much time to wait before they doze off).
A sprawling casino and an impressive number of daytime demonstrations, contests and events ensure there is something to look forward to, no matter what your interest or ability. Onboard Freedom, the adults-only Serenity sun deck is located just outside of the kids’ club; convenient for parents looking to bliss out in no time after drop-off.
Carnival takes fun and sun very seriously.
I was among the earliest groups to board, and somehow there were already people splashing in the pool, reclining on loungers and smiling into the sun, tropical drinks in hand. Carnival makes it clear it wants you to spend your time onboard having nothing but fun — as soon as possible.
From crewmember smiles to signage, the atmosphere is light and friendly at every turn. RedFrog Rum Bar and BlueIguana Tequila Bar were added as part of the recent refurbishment. Whether it’s a beer to wash down your burger or a margarita to complement your burrito, the venues blend nicely into the outdoor dining areas and fit in naturally poolside, where live acoustic entertainment can be found. The giant outdoor movie screen, centerpiece of the Seaside Theater, routinely shows morning news, sports or evening blockbusters. If the main pool area is a bit too chaotic, a small adults-only aft pool with two hot tubs is on Deck 9.
Alchemy Bar stands apart.
Forget sports bars, pool bars, main lounges and atriums; Carnival’s concept for Alchemy Bar is born out of a serious amount of attention to the art of imbibing and current trends. Developed in conjunction with a top team of South Beach mixologists, the small but thoughtful space — tucked to the side of the nightclub on Deck 5 — offers cocktails (and cocktails only) that draw upon fruits, herbs and other fresh ingredients. Dark marble countertops and chocolate-colored chairs pair well with the “old apothecary” front of the bar, tended by drink experts in white coats. Drinks cost less than what you’d pay in New York City and are made to order.
Used to waiting in a crowd three-deep just to get a drink at a chic city bar? Not here. A waiter immediately came to where we were seated to take our order — and returned with a signature flaming orange peel garnish. I haven’t found the bar to be too crowded — even within its small space.
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