Carnival Freedom, Eastern Caribbean 2/25-3/4,
This was my 3rd cruise (Carnival Liberty 2/10, RCI Freedom ot Seas 2/11), and my wife's 4th (Carnival Triumph 3/03, and then the before mentioned 2 with me). Originally I was not all that interested in cruising. The first one in 09 was for our honeymoon and it was more of the wife's idea. Her first cruise was with her mom and sisters and she had an amazing time. I was more interested in going to some sort of resort where I could relax and lay on a beach all day. But this wasn't as appealing for her. After giving it a try, it turns out that cruising is a great fit for us. I get a sense of relaxation beyond any vacation I've had, and she gets the variety of hitting different ports and the wide selection of things to do while onboard.
But I wasn't sold on cruising right away. I had very high expectations probably because of how my wife raved about the first one. I kept hearing about this 'midnight buffet' which by 09 no longer existed. I'm also not wild about crowds which are bound to be an issue when you get 3000+ on the same boat. But overall, the experience was a good one. So the next year, when looking for a winter getaway (we live in the Twin Cities), I decided to give cruising another shot. This time I wanted to try something different, so we opted for RCI. I have to say I was very impressed with the Freedom ot Seas. The boat was much more attractive (in my opinion) than the Liberty, or the Freedom for that matter. I also thought that the entertainment was better on RCI, as well as the later-night food options (coffee shop and pizza place). After this cruise I was pretty sure RCI would be my line of choice going forward, and was very interested in giving the Allure or Oasis a try for the next cruise.
As I began planning number 3, I noticed a significant price difference between the Oasis class, and in general, higher prices on RCI across the board. I hadn't paid much attention to the prices before as I didn't book the first cruise, and I didn't really shop around much when booking the second one. Then I became interested (read obsessed) with an 8 day itinerary. There was something very appealing to me about an extra day, and knowing that when the ship is pulling away from the pier, a week from now, I will still be on my cruise and not on a plane heading home. I still kind of wanted to do RCI again, but their 8 day itineraries were more limited and more expensive. Plus, some of the things that were the most appealing to me when picking RCI, like Jonny Rockets, and the Flo Rider, we didn't even use.
We booked the Freedom because of the 8 days and the ports, St Thomas, Tortola, Antigua, and Nassau. The only one we had been to before was St Thomas. I am very lucky that my wife lets me do the picking and planning for the cruise. She is just happy to be going, and some of the details aren't as important to her. I did a lot more planning this time around and discovered some of the internet boards dedicated to cruising. The more reviews I read, the more excited I got. However, not all the reviews were positive, especially regarding the food and staff, so I was also a little nervous as to whether I had made the right choice.
We flew in to FLL the day before, not wanting to risk weather issues. It was our second time doing this, and although it adds to the price, it's also more peaceful knowing you have a little cushion. We rented a car from Budget so we could do some exploring. I had spent about 6 months living in FT Lauderdale about 15 years ago, so it was kind of fun driving around the areas I used to hang out. We made a point of locating a Chick fil-A , as we don't have those back home. My wife had looked up some bakeries in the area she wanted to try, and we stopped at a grocery store to pick up some beverages to bring onboard, but otherwise we were happy to just drive around and see the sights. I used hotwire to book our hotel and was happy to get a 5 star for about 120. It was the Westin Resort in Hollywood. What I didn't know at the booking was that there would be an extra charge for parking. It was probably around 9PM before we made it over to the hotel. It was very nice, but a little more than we needed for 1 night.
The next morning, we walked around the resort (it was beautiful) a bit before heading out to the ship. We rented the car at the airport, but were able to return it to the Budget location near the port. They had a free shuttle to the port which was great. We only had to wait about 10 minutes for the shuttle and were the only ones on board. It was nice they didn't make us wait for more people before leaving. We got to the ship about 10:30. Embarkation went smoothly. Had to wait a little while in line, but not too bad. We were a little later getting to the ship than I had wanted to be, but it was probably for the best as we still beat the worst lines, but being earlier would have just meant more time waiting in line as no one was getting on the ship yet.
Once onboard we headed for the lido deck to get a table and some food. Its official, let the vacation begin! We sat on the lido deck watching people arrive until 1:30 when we could go to the room and drop of our carry-ons. We had an inside cabin on the lido deck. I loved being on that deck, it felt like we were right in the heart of the action, but never had any issues with noise. Since a lot of our time was spent on that deck anyway, it was very convenient to be able to stop back at the room. We have always had inside cabins. I know a lot of people rave about having a balcony and wouldn't cruise without one, and I'm not saying it wouldn't be nice, but we are content with our inside cabin. We don't spend a lot of time there anyway, and the money we save lets me justify spending on other things. When we got to the room, our luggage had already been delivered, which was great! We unpacked and headed back out to explore the ship.
The Freedom is just like the Liberty so we were already comfortable with the layout. A lot of the reviews I read complained about the ships decor, especially the floating liberty heads around the buffet. None of this bothered us one bit. Was the decor beautiful, not really, but it was what I expected and certainly not enough to lessen our experience. We explored until it was time to go to the safety drill. Once that was out of the way, then it was really time to let the vacation begin! We went back up to watch the sail-away. It was time for my first Drink of the Day! I don't really drink at home, and still don't drink to excess, but I do enjoy splurging on some vacation type drinks. They always look so appealing when the wait staff are carrying them around! My wife gets the virgin drinks, and to be honest, hers usually taste better to me, but I still need to pay the extra $ for the alcohol. Generally speaking, the drinks seemed a bit weak, but that's probably for the best.
Shortly after we got underway it was time to head down to dinner. We had anytime dining which worked very well for us. I think we used the MDR 4 times, and only had to wait for a table 1 time, and that was a formal night. They give you a pager and I think we waited for close to an hour. But if we go out at home on a Friday night, it's not uncommon to have to wait for a table, so we didn't think it was a big deal. It's been about 2 months since the cruise and I am already starting to forget some of the details. The food in the MDR was just ok. A lot of times the main course is something I like, but then I don't like the sauce over it. Lobster night is great, I love lobster! I ordered my 2 tails, but I think they plan on everyone ordering 2 because they brought my wife 2 also. She just wanted 1, so I was kind enough to take the second one off her hands! Nothing else really stood out to me MDR wise. I didn't experience the items being cold, like I had read about in many reviews.
As for the buffet on the lido deck, same thing, things were ok but not great. Both of us would usually make a big salad, as the fixings were always fresh tasting. My wife liked the deli quite a bit, and got sandwiches several days for lunch. She tried the Mongolian Wok, but was not impressed. We tried the fish and chips and it was good, but what I really liked was the bouillabaisse (seafood soup I call it). Several days I had more than one serving! At lunch, we would go our separate ways to get food, and then meet up by the fish and chips station to eat. There were lines at times, especially at peak hours, but they never seemed unreasonably long. The pizza was better than I remembered, and we really liked the Calzones! The burgers from the grill and the chicken tenders were very good. I will say that the deserts seemed to lack flavor. They looked great but often tasted so-so. I did have a chocolate cake that was really good. My wife really liked the carrot cake at the coffee shop. There was an extra fee, but only 2.25 and it was a really big piece!
Speaking of the coffee shop, we did buy coffee a few times. I had a couple cappuccinos, but for the most part we just had the free coffee form the lido deck. It was fine. We used room service a few times. Once we ordered sandwiches, and we had breakfast several mornings. I like the Lox and the croissants. It's nice having them bring the coffee to your door! If we didn't have room service breakfast, we just had it on the lido deck. Powdered or not, I enjoyed the scrambled eggs, and I never met a piece of bacon I didn't like! Once while I was in line for breakfast and I took the French toast, and as I was about to pour what I thought was syrup, one of the workers stopped me and told me what I had was honey! How was I to know, it was brown, in a big jug, and right next to the French toast and pancakes. One of the other workers was actually holding the syrup and poured it for me. Good catch though, as that was one disaster avoided! A few moments later, I heard the same worker trying to stop another guest from making the same mistake with the honey, but that guy paid no mind to the warning and just went on his way. I bet he was surprised when he got to his table and took a bite! We always say we are going to try breakfast in the MDR, but never get around to it. Maybe next time!
The weather was great the whole trip. On sea days we spent some time soaking up the sun on the lido deck. We were always able to find chairs together, just not always in the best spots. I was determined that at least once we were going to have chairs in a prime spot by the pool, and it worked out to do this several times actually, and we didn't even have to get up at 5AM to do it. We were told that 8 day itineraries tend to have an older crowd (I'm 37; wife is 39, no kids by the way). Maybe that reduced the amount of chair holding -- but we definitely saw a considerable amount of that sort of thing. It was harder to find spots in the serenity area. Most days I spent some time in the steam room and sauna, it's very relaxing for me, and not something I get to do at home. While I was out doing that, my wife would often walk around the jogging track, or go to a demonstration of some kind. She liked the gold by the inch sail and got a bracelet at one of the other jewelry sales onboard.
We always went to the show in the main theater, or at least she did. I may have skipped a couple. Not always my thing. The Beatles tribute was probably the best, followed by the marriage show. My wife really liked one of the comedians. Their shows were very popular. We participated in trivia a few times, but the golden ship on a stick prize eluded me. I got one on the Liberty for Michael Jackson trivia (I had no idea I was an expert in all things Jackson, go figure!). Just another reason to sail again! My wife also spent a fair amount of time watching the karaoke. One thing we really enjoyed on the Freedom ot Seas was listening to the piano man. On the Freedom, the guy in the piano bar was not very good at all. It was pretty dead in there most of the time.
The first port was St Thomas. We were there last year, and it was my wife's 3rd time there. This time we went to the beach at Megan's Bay. We got to the beach early, which was nice as it allowed us to get good spots and enjoy it for awhile before the crowds arrived. We stayed for a couple hours then headed back to the ship and did some shopping around the port. Last year we did shopping in the downtown area and the Paradise Point skyride. We did not book any excursions, we never have. Usually we are ok with just walking around the shops. I get pretty anal about getting back, for fear of missing the ship. My wife doesn't have that fear, but she humors me. Maybe as we start hitting the same ports, we will look into doing excursions, (probably Carnival ones, again with the missing the ship thing) but since 3 of the 4 ports were new to us we skipped excursions.
Antigua was a little disappointing. It was very hot that day walking around. My wife had read about the Sarah Fuller Pottery shop online and thought that might be a good place to get something to remember the cruise by. Some of the stuff was a little pricey, but we did get a couple small things. Before we left home, my wife decided that she wanted a scarf from every island. So after the pottery shop we went looking for scarves. She was pretty lucky and found one she liked at each stop. Then when we got home she took a picture of each one along with the Fun Times from that day's port so she could remember where they came from.
Tortola was our favorite port. It was the prettiest scenery wise in my opinion. The land was hilly and the water was just an amazing color (I have a picture from there as my wallpaper and I am looking at it as I write this!). Again, we walked around and went to the Sunny Caribee spice shop to pick up some things to bring back for the family. We talked to a lady who had a shop where she made jewelry for awhile. She had came to Tortola form London on a vacation and decided not to go back. Last year we went to a restaurant at each port but this year we didn't really eat off the ship, save for some ice cream in Antigua at the Australian Homemade shop. I had raspberry and it was very strong!
Nassau was our least favorite port. We again walked around (got ice cream here too) and looked through the shops. We considered going over to Atlantis but then did not. If we go back to Nassau we will definitely head over to Atlantis or a beach somewhere. We walked through the maze they refer to as the straw market. Not that great. This was the only port we left after dark, so it provided a chance for my wife to take sunset pictures over the island.
We bought a Future Cruise Cert. while onboard. That made it official, there will be another cruise! We also signed up for the Carnival MasterCard so we can rack up more OBC! The cruise came to an end much too soon. We used the luggage express. What a great program. We put our 2 suitcases outside our door on the last night, and didn't see them again until we got off the plane in Minneapolis. Debarking went smoothly. We rented a car again, so the Budget shuttle picked us up and brought us to their port facility (if you rented your car from the airport location the shuttle will not take you there). We had planned on driving up the coast but there was a lot of rain. We made it to Palm Beach on A1A, then took 95 back down. We headed back to the airport around 3, flight left around 6. We had a layover in Atlanta and were so close to being bumped (I'll wait a few hours for a free flight later!) but arrived back home on schedule at 11PM. Although it is great to have the car, I think next time we will try going without. We'll just try to pick a hotel that is close to the action and get a cab/shuttle between the airport/cruise terminals.
This has gotten way too long. Thanksfor reading!