We departed Fort Lauderdale June 30, 2012 on an 8-night cruise to the Caribbean aboard the Carnival Freedom. Ports of Call were Ft Lauderdale, St Thomas, Antigua, Tortola and Nassau. We received an email close to our sailing date from Carnival requesting that passengers delay arrival at the pier. Therefore, we waited an extra half hour before leaving on our three-hour drive to the off site parking lot and the cruise. After our arrival at the port, we sailed through the embarkation process and were up at the Lido Deck #9 Freedom (buffet) Restaurant in 15 minutes flat. Carrying our Sign & Sail cards, which identified us as Platinum Level members in the VIFP Club, elicited many "Welcome Back" greetings from the staff. It was a nice feeling. The buffet restaurant was quite busy since everyone was waiting for staterooms to become available but we managed to snag a table by one of the large picture windows. Of course, our view was only of the port but it was still impressive as the RCCL Oasis of the Seas was in port. I waited on a long line for a Reuben sandwich at the separate Deli counter. Later I had a soft serve swirl ice cream cone at a nearby self serve machine. Hubby braved the even longer Mongolian Corner line, then one of the main buffet lines and returned to the table only 10 minutes after I did. We both sorely missed not having trays on which to place our food as we always visited more than one line. It helped that buffet staff members supplemented the beverage machines by serving beverages to passengers and offering refills. Since most of the colorful cups at the buffet were small, it made our life easier as we made fewer trips back and forth for refills. We still always needed to make a separate trip to the dessert station. Stateroom was ready before we even ate our lunch and the restaurant thinned out considerably after 1:30 PM.
Our cabin #2379 was conveniently located just a few doors away from the short passageway to a bank of elevators. We were just one deck down from our assigned Chic Dining Room and the Victoriana Theater. The Ocean View Stateroom was comfortable, fairly large and light. It had a large window and the bathroom was the typical size. I did not care much for the artwork (much too vivid for my tastes) on the walls but the frames were lovely. All the rooms on our deck had similar looking prints. I actually avoided looking at them when in the room. The nice-sized salmon colored couch held two small pillows and there was an upholstered chair and an oval coffee table. I appreciated the big mirror over the large desk and the long mirror inside one of the closets. The king bed although lacking a pillow top was comfortable enough not to cause us any back aches or stiff necks and held four fluffy pillows. Two handy bedside end tables were just the right size. There were plenty of closets, hangers and shelf space for all our belongings. The stateroom proved to be quiet throughout the entire cruise and no noise disturbed our sleep at night. Our sweet cabin steward, Tammy was quite attentive to our needs and very personable. After the first night when we requested a bucket and ice from her, she filled the bucket twice daily. She also replenished our packages of amenities: sample sizes of individually wrapped toothpaste, floss and soap. She did a great job keeping our room clean and well supplied with towels. She disturbed us as little as possible, which we appreciated and worked around our comings and goings. We looked forward to her animal towel creations each night. Before the ship departed the port, there was a safety drill mandated for all passengers and attended by everyone out on the lifeboat deck.
We chose Your Time Dining and usually ate between 6-6:30 PM. All our dinners were in the dining room. The dining option worked out quite well for us; we rarely waited on a line. When we arrived close to 6 PM, we always received our requested waiter from the first night. When we ate later, we often sat in other sections in order to get a table close to the window overlooking the promenade deck and its view of the ocean. All our waiters were great. They all bent over backwards to please us. Our 45th wedding anniversary fell on July 1, the first Elegant Evening and all the waiters in our section sang us a song, joined in by fellow diners, the ship photographer took our photo and we received a special dessert with a candle - thank you Carnival for the happy memory! Our travel agent also sent us a bottle of wine to celebrate at dinner that night and we felt quite pampered. Although service at times in the dining room was slow, we enjoyed the terrific meals nightly. They arrived at the correct temperature and the meats cooked as requested. The Maitre d'(Csaba) Chubby as he called himself, assisted by the lovely April, Jr. Hostess was quite helpful to diners with special dietary needs. He was very friendly and stopped by just about every table nightly. When the man slept, I do not know as we saw him up at the buffet restaurant at breakfast and lunch. In addition, he was in the dining room at lunchtime on sea days, too. My only food-related problem was that on Elegant Evenings I wanted all the choices. For example on the first Elegant Evening there was Lobster & Shrimp, Prime Rib, AND Spaghetti ala Carbonara, among other equally good choices. Luckily, our waiter told me that we would have Prime Rib on another night so I ordered the Lobster & Shrimp and the Spaghetti ala Carbonara. You should not have to make such tough decisions on vacation, laugh, laugh. The ship photographers were so busy in the lobby areas with requests from the many families and young people onboard that they rarely visited our dining room except for Elegant Evenings & first & last nights.
Life onboard was quite lively. The main Stress less & Timeless Pools and surrounding deck area were always quite crowded; I mean wall-to-wall bathers since every day was sunny and warm. Many passengers even arrived very early each day to enjoy their morning coffee while watching the big screen Seaside TV. The bright screen was very sharp and we watched a couple of movies on deck in the evenings. What a neat idea! Bar staff was always available but not annoying. Passengers drank the many fun specialty drinks and buckets of beer but no one caused a problem or was obnoxious in any manner. Lots of young people and families were on board completely enjoying themselves poolside. The kids all seemed to enjoy Camp Carnival, too and we saw the cute bears that they made in a workshop. Many activities occurred around the main pools and we avoided most of them but did watch the wonderful ice sculpture carving demonstration.
Instead, however, of sitting in this crowded area, we chose to sit in the two-deck Serenity Area at the bow of the ship on Sun Deck 11 and 12. The hammocks were fun to sway in and the area had comfortable cushioned seating arranged in large conversational "pits" in the shade as well as cushioned lounges in the sun. Bar service and towel service were conveniently located nearby. Although screened from the rest of the ship, the bar/sitting Serenity Area was adjacent to steps leading up to the giant twister waterslide, just outside of Camp Carnival and in front of the main pool areas. This made for a little less serenity but was a real improvement over the noise and congestion around the main pool area with its stadium style seating.
The Adults Only Endless Pool, Lido Deck 9 by the Pizzeria and Grille was smaller and quieter as were the whirlpools but just as busy; we enjoyed swimming there. The water was a comfortable temperature.
There were about four announcements daily in English, three by the cruise director, Brad with his listing of activities around the ship and at noon by the captain with the ship's location, speed and the weather conditions. These announcements by the cruise director seemed redundant and unnecessary intrusions since stateroom stewards deliver the Fun Times, a daily listing of everything happening aboard the ship daily to each cabin. The newsletter is readily elsewhere throughout the day in some of the public areas.
The ship itself was well maintained and clean. It, however, did not emphasize use of the hand sanitizers as other ships do. Passengers frequently did not use them entering the food venues. Everywhere you looked there was a riot of vibrant colors and mix of patterns - even inside elevators - which somehow all worked together to energize you. It was more glitzy than elegant, geared to the young adults and families that the cruise line attracts. In contrast to all this glitz, vibrant colors and bold patterns, the passageways to the staterooms were pretty bland and soothing. The Babylon Casino, at peak times smoky, since you can smoke at some machines was very busy most evenings. The beautiful Victoriana Theater was very popular especially when the Multimillion Dollar Extravaganzas were scheduled. We saw the WELCOME ABOARD SHOW three times prior to this trip but it was still fun to watch. The new to us, JUMP JIVE and WAIL SHOW was great but my favorite was THE BIG EASY SHOW with its magnificent costumes, backdrops, singing and dancing. Do not miss this extravaganza. If you are a Beatles fan, be sure to attend the TICKET TO RIDE SHOW. Although we had also seen this once before, we enjoyed the super singing, dancing and the whimsical laser effects. The neon glow sticks were fun to use during the finale and the audience spontaneously waved them around singing along with the cast of singers and dancers. We all left the theater still singing, with confetti covering us. All of the Comedy Punchliner Club performances in the International Lounge were standing room only whether the acts were Family Friendly or Adults Only. Do you remember when comedians told funny joke not racial related, or containing four letter words and bathroom language? I am no prude and laughed along with everyone else but I wish we could go back to those types of jokes.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention the fabulous Fourth of July Deck Party held at 10:30 PM. Just about everyone on board, it seemed, filled the outside deck areas poolside to listen to the wonderful Marcus Anthony "The King of Soul Music" perform with the Freedom Showband. I thought that I was so smart to remember to pack a patriotic top to wear on the fourth but others came better prepared with patriotic swim trunks, bikinis, tall sequins hats, flag headbands, blinking necklaces - I even saw a kid in patriotic PJs. Wow! I was impressed at the display of patriotism by all. The audience warmed up with a pre show of a Hot Dog Eating Contest, line dancing and instruction plus handouts of Mardi Gras style beads, small flags and pom poms. Strangely, a Mexican Buffet followed the event.
I visited the Fun Shops almost nightly checking out the daily specials and purchased some novelty items for family members and ourselves. Most of the inventory was typical of what I found on other Carnival ships and in fact other cruise lines as well. Hubby, on the other hand, was a daily visitor to the Library picking up the crossword and SUDUKO puzzles.
The Captain's Celebration was lovely and we were able to meet & greet the captain and Sr. Officers. Other fun activities were the Shopping Seminars, the Cooking Demonstration and the returning guests Cocktail Party with complementary hors d'oeuvres and live entertainment. As VIPs with Carnival, we each received pocket-sized logo Binoculars, Carnival pins along with complementary stationary, chocolate covered strawberries, free drink coupons, laundry service and other amenities.
Our first Port of Call was St Thomas. This is our favorite port of call and we have been here several times on vacation. Therefore, on our own we visited Discover Paradise Point a short walk from our ship. We rode the Skyride (tramway) to the top of the mountain 800 feet above sea level. We gazed down at the magnificent panoramic view of Charlotte Amalie Harbor with our ship in port watching for some time the slow arrival of the RCCL Oasis of the Seas into the harbor. Then we took a "safari taxi" into downtown, cost $4 and did some shopping with our VIP cards from Fleur, Carnival's shopping guru on our ship. Champagne and chilled sodas greeted us at the DI store where Fleur held a party for Carnival Freedom shoppers and we received special additional store discounts. Later we returned to the Skyride since we had an all day pass. I rode the Ferris wheel at the top of the mountain while my husband took photographs of me swinging the seat at the top. Whee, it was a long way down. There was also a Sky Jump, a small zoo and a restaurant with restrooms. We did not catch the Carnival Masquerade Dancers or the daily crab race either visit but did shop the little shopping area and the frozen drinks were a cold relief from the hot sun. We took a short hike on the nature trail before returning to the ship for a late lunch. If you have any difficulty walking do not attempt this attraction as there are many steps to climb to reach the tramway and also more at the top of the mountain. I felt that the cost was just a little "steep" $21 pp but since we rode up twice the cost was not so bad. There were no lines or waits at either time that we rode the tramway.
Since we had visited most of the ports of call previously, we only took one Carnival shore excursion. It was the four-hour Scenic Coast to Coast Tour in Tortola. We drove all around the island seeing some beautiful beaches and stunning panoramic vistas. We stopped at one white sandy beach for an included tropical drink. The drive was very windy and bumpy. The driver/guide stopped often for picture taking when he could.
Only one bad thing happened on the cruise. A diesel generator malfunctioned causing us to delay our arrival into Nassau by two and a half hours. The captain was able to extend our stay here to compensate but those who privately arranged shore excursions might have been out of luck. The Oasis of the Seas and two other Carnival ships were all in port ahead of us. Carnival's shorter excursions were still on but some of the longer ones needed rebooking. This was also an inconvenience to the set dinnertime diners since we did not leave port until 8 PM. It did not affect us negatively in any way. In fact, the dining room was empty when we dined at our convenience. We have visited Nassau numerous times so we jut did some walking on Bay Street to get back our land legs.
What I loved about this cruise was the laid-back attitude. Even the dress code was not strictly enforced. On Elegant Evenings, we saw plenty of passengers in shorts or other casual attire. The dress code permits the wearing of shorts in the dining room on Casual Evenings and many diners wore them although we did not. I enjoyed the option of Your Choice Dining especially helpful in Nassau with our delayed arrival into port. I also enjoyed that there were two shows in the theater for early or late diners not one very late one. There were also late night parties for those wanting to stay up to party which we did a couple of times. There was plenty of other live entertainment going on throughout the ship. We especially enjoyed the Latin Music with Rhythm Limit in the multi-deck high Lobby, Latin Music with Tropical Dance by the Casino and Rock N' Roll with Music Motion. Sing Along with Sean was fun, too as was Dance Party with DJ Ryan from 10 PM on... (70s Disco.)
Okay, I have to admit that I did miss some of the amenities on the higher priced cruise lines such as a champagne welcome cocktail and the escort to our stateroom but considering the lower price that we paid for this cruise, I was more than satisfied as was everyone that I met. We made lots of friends onboard - a few were actually neighbors of ours that we didn't know before the cruise. One thing that did disappoint me was the lack of a Farewell Cocktail Party that we enjoyed on other recent Carnival Cruise ships. It would have been a nice way to end the cruise. Overall, we enjoyed ourselves so completely that I purchased a voucher for a future cruise. See you again Carnival on another cruise - soon I hope.