My wife won this cruise as an incentive with a company she works for. We are experienced cruisers who have started taking our son along with us so he can gain a broader perspective on the world outside the US (not to mention have some fun!). We picked this cruise itinerary because it was a rare opportunity to visit the southern Caribbean while debarking from a US port.
We have sailed with Celebrity, Carnival and Princess and like each line for different reasons. In this instance, we were not disappointed. Carnival typically delivers a very consistent, predictable cruise experience (staff, activities, food, etc.) and we appreciate that when our son is traveling with us. Now, let me get to what really matters: the review!
Arrival: I flew in the night before and stayed with friends. Met my wife and son at the airport and took a taxi to pier. Nice and easy.
Debarkation: VERY smooth, we were through the terminal and in our stateroom within 60 minutes. Carnival made checking in fun, the staff in the terminal were cracking jokes and having a great time. One gentleman had a portable speaker slung over his shoulder connected to an iPod playing island music. My son got a kick out of this.
The Ship: Again, very predictable in terms of overall decor and layout which is a good thing. We didn't find it to be gaudy, offensive or annoying. The Freedom was in need of some sanding in paint in certain places (our balcony included), but hey: she's made of steel and you're gonna see some rust even though the crew tries their level best to stay ahead of it. Speaking of the crew, many of them would hear your name once and remember it the entire cruise. Very impressive!
We loved the tiered layout of the pool deck better than that of any ship we've ever sailed upon. We never felt crowded and jammed into that area like on so many other ships where the pool deck is an afterthought. A larger pool below and a smaller pool above near the waterslide helped keep crowds to a minimum. Drink servers on deck were very polite and we found a great one (Benedictus, or "Benny"). He waited on us all week and was fabulous.
On the other hand, Carnival needs to revisit the design of their Lido deck buffet and dining areas. This has been typical on all Carnival ships we've sailed upon. Long lines were routine, especially at the Deli and Mongolian Grill station where we spent 45 minutes once waiting for the food to be grilled. The best way to avoid this is to eat breakfast early and lunch either very early or very late, go to the Main Dining Room or hit the other buffts that are sort of out-of-the-way (like Tandoor or Fish & Chips, which were very good). Plus, we encountered a higher concentration of gluttonous guests on this cruise that insisted on getting 3-5 of everything on the buffet, making the lines even slower. Folks, seriously? I have never seen so much piggishness on any other cruise, very sad.
We also dined at the Sun King steakhouse twice during our cruise and it was excellent. Spend the 30 bucks each and go; you'll be glad you did.
Our Cabin: Cabin Number 7367, a typical balcony cabin on a large cruise ship. Upon unpacking we found a sock and a golf umbrella under the bed, and there was a significant amount of dust in the cabin. We aren't sticklers, but it seemed the cabin could've been cleaned a little better. Bathroom, though was very clean and smelled faintly of bleach. And that's good. NOW...what's bad about this particular cabin: it was right across from the cabin stewards' water closets and we heard noise at all times day and night. Our lights went our four times the first day because they were working on something right outside our door, but each time we notified Savoy (super room steward) and they were fixed promptly. Fortunately this wasn't too much of an issue, but I figured you'd want to know.
When my son and I became sick, the cabin stewards did everything in their power to make things easier for my wife. They actually came in and cleaned up after my son one time (for which I will eternally be grateful to them) and kept us in good supply of towels, red bags, etc. Take the time and slip these guys an extra $20; they more than earn it for all the things they do for you!
Shows: We only saw the comedians and the Beatles show, both of which were good. We found the comedians' "family-friendly" shows to be much better than the R-rated shows. My son loved the comedians, one of his favorite parts of the trip. Speaking of kids, because this is the end of the busy season for cruise lines we only had 160 children/teens on the Freedom during our sailing. Take note if you want a lower concentration of young'uns on the ship during your trip. I cannot give much information on Camp Carnival as my son didn't participate but each time we saw the younger groups on deck the staff members and kids seemed very engaged and happy.
Overall: A great experience, wonderful ports, super staff and good food. It is rare to find an 8-day Southern Caribbean cruise that goes weekend-to-weekend, and this one will be hard to beat.