I'm about 10 months late getting my review in, but since I will be sailing on the Freedom again in 2 months I thought I would boost morale a bit. Being a writer, I naturally took about 20 pages of notes so that is how I'm able to remember all of this for the review.
To start off, I made about 40 friends through Cruise Critic (AND another social media site) and we got to know each other for 2 months prior to the cruise. I highly suggest this because then you have plenty of friends to have a great time with and create lasting memories. Most of us booked the same excursions and hotel in FLL.
We arrived in FLL the day before and stayed at the Cambria Suites. Wonderful experience! Clean and polite staff. My mom, sister, and I also headed over to the Hard Rock in a cab to catch a comedy show. The next morning we had breakfast in the little hotel dining room and then took the FREE shuttle to the port. Easy experience and the rates are reasonable.
Embarkation was normal in my opinion. We were zone 2 and waited about an hour while they called VIP, Handicap, and Zone 1. We had our carry on luggage so we just walked around, ate lunch on Lido, and met up with our group of friends (nicknamed the Cool CC's). We had previously arranged for the Port Everglades Webcam site to record our sailaway and pan in on our group on the Aft top deck, but they decided a proposal from a balcony was more important (my husband told me since he was watching from home in Las Vegas).
A little note: Carnival does a very fun Mixology Drink Contest and if you want to register for it you have to do it immediately after sail away. I entered ;-)
Our room was ready around 3:30 (no big deal).
*The room was clean, had all the bathroom necessities, and our cabin steward was nice, even though we rarely saw him. Had ice and water refilled every day for us. We were on deck 1, mid ship, ocean view room. Lots of space and a nice window view. The sound was never a problem and we could hardly EVER feel the boat rock.
*The Ship Layout- Kind of confusing at first, but you eventually get used to it. To get to the computer room to use internet (which I did and is pricy) you have to go through a Cigar Bar, but it was mostly empty. Some areas were freezing cold while other rooms were suffocating. There was a terrible sour smell near the sushi area (never stopped me from getting sushi every night, though.) Wasn't impressed with the Piano Bar, never went to the dance club, or the Library.
*Shows- Well, we tried to see some of the big productions, but we often got sidetracked or had bad timing. They were usually pretty packed. So we opted for the comedy club which was awesome! We hung out there with the Cool CC's every night. And my favorite of the comedians (they rotate in and out at every port) actually lives down the street from me in Vegas. Small world!
*Casino- My mom likes to gamble so occasionally she was playing the slots. She won enough to pay her drink tab at the end of the cruise. It was smoky in there, but it didn't bother us. The bar next to the casino was great and the staff learned our names and drink orders quickly.
*Pools- Crowded with kids most of time, but not bad enough where I couldn't sneak in for a dip to cool off. The water slide was fun, but had long lines. Serenity was okay and you pretty much had to fight for a comfortable spot each day. I preferred to stay with our group on deck 11 close to the railing where you can catch the nice breeze. Beware if you stay down on Lido near the pool there is no breeze and it feels like an oven!
*Food- I was happy with the food. I know a lot of people criticize Carnival for scaling back or not having the best quality. I never ate anything bad or got sick. Most days we had breakfast on Lido and if you get up early enough guess what! No lines! The MDR breakfast was okay too. Most days we had the deli or buffet for lunch. The grill had pretty good burgers and hotdogs. Gotta love the ice cream! Most days lemonade and iced tea were available, sometimes fruit juice. Dinner was great every night in the MDR. The staff was very acommodating since our group enjoyed dining together and they would find tables to put together for us. In my opinion, the desserts could have been better. It's very easy to ask the staff to do something special with the dessert if you are celebrating a birthday or anniversary. We ordered room service once, just for coffee, and it was there maybe even a little bit sooner than we indicated on the card, but no big deal.
*Ports and Excursions- In order we visited St. Thomas, Antigua, Tortola, and Nassau. For St. Thomas the Cool CC's all went on a private excursion with Sunny Liston tours. This was not my favorite because my mom, sister, and I got separated from our group and had to ride on a different open air truck. We went around town, shopped for a while, then went up to Paradise Point for the banana daquiris and more shopping. Beautiful views. Then we took the trucks back down the hill to Sapphire Beach. We stayed there for a few hours and went swimming with our group. The water is absolutely perfect! We were disappointed though, because there weren't any food vendors and we were starving! My mom and sister hiked down the beach and found a food hut, but waited 45 minutes in line to get a fish sandwich from a rude local. Overall, I would have preferred to do an excursion involving a boat on the water since it's so hot there and riding around in that truck made me miserable.
In Antigua, we booked the Catamaran Sail and Snorkel through Carnival. This was our favorite excursion! It was reasonably priced, they picked us up on the dock, and the staff was great! We rode around on the catamaran until we came to a good snorkel spot. The current was strong so I opted not to go in. Then they took us to a nice beach for an hour of swimming. Surprise, surprise: local vendors showed up to sell jewelry and paintings. Yep, I got suckered in to buying. Once again, the water was amazing! On the way back we had a dance party and limbo on board with rum punch and sandwiches. Had a blast! We walked around downtown Antigua for more shopping (scary in some spots) and then had a wonderful (but expensive) lunch at an outdoor cafe near the dock. Best seafood I've ever had. Overall, Antigua was great!
In Tortola a bunch of us Cool CC's decided to do the Baths excursion through a private company called Tortola Charters. They had great reviews. However, even though they were polite, we didn't have that great of a time on the boat ride over there. The water was choppy so a few people got sick (not the staff's fault). They also required us to take off our water shoes and store them beneath the deck and did not take them out when we arrived at the island. Some swam in and others took a dingy since there is not a dock there. When I got to the beach I had no shoes, therefore I could not walk through the caves inside the baths. I guess I just completely forgot to ask for my shoes, but they didn't have the bucket out either. But we had a nice time laying out on the beach and swimming. There's one little bar on the beach, but it left a little to be desired. A lot of people snorkeled but didn't see much. Overall, this excursion was just okay. The island of Tortola is by far the prettiest. The trip back to the ship took less than an hour, but by that time we had to get on board so no shopping.
In Nassau, our last stop, we shopped around the straw market for a bit (a little scary, but not too bad). Senor Frogs was a zoo and had no tables so we walked around until we found a great little restaurant. We ate conch and different seafood. The cokes there are made with real sugar so that was a treat as well. I got suckered into buying some cheap knock-off Coach purses, which fell apart 3 months later. Will never do that again! I would have liked to go to Atlantis, but after all the money we spent earlier in the week we decided to skip it. I heard some people complain that the staff over there are quite rude. Someday I will just fly down and stay a week and see for myself.
I loved the Freedom! A fellow cruise critic here gave the ship bad marks for "rocking". Well, that's the oceans fault, not the ship! We went in June, before hurricane season, and it was perfect weather and smooth sailing. Carnival is meant to be an inexpensive way to relax and enjoy a family vacation; and that is exactly what we did. We didn't come in with super high expectations so we had a blast. My mom even likes Carnival over RC. We loved it so much that we are sailing again on the Freedom to the Western Caribbean. I hope my comments gave you a good idea of the ship.
*Oooh, before I forget! I did have one problem with this cruise! I used my pay card (Scentsy, Inc.) to charge my drink tab and gratuity for this trip. Since it's not a normal credit or debit card, Carnival decided to put a $200 hold for 30 days after we sailed! I could not use my card when I got back home. In fact, in addition to all of my charges and their hold charge it went negative. I had to make several calls to Carnival and my card company, whom both blamed each other for the problem, and it took 3 weeks to get resolved. So, the lesson is use a pre-paid Visa for your account on Carnival! That is the best way to go. My family didn't have any trouble with using their normal debit/credit cards, but you never know.
***Oooh, one more thing! This is going to sound scary, but you have to know it DOES happen more often then you think. Someone died during the cruise. The staff did a good job of keeping it low profile (though guests DO talk) and the situation was handled without freaking everyone out. The story I heard was awful and will not share it. And it happened in the middle of the night. I faintly remember the intercom in the hallway announcing an emergency on deck 2, but I went back to sleep after that. Just know that these cruises are not excused from emergencies and the crew did a good job at protecting the family involved and keeping it on the down low so it did not upset the other guests. I'm sorry that it happened, but it did and it was handled properly in my opinion.