This is my first attempt at a cruise review, however, my wife and I are what most would refer to as reasonably experienced cruisers. The subject of this review was our twelfth cruise. We have sailed previously on Norwegian Cruise Lines (3 times), Royal Caribbean (6 times), and this makes three for Carnival. We have sailed out of the ports of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Port Canaveral, and Galveston.
The cruise that I am reviewing today is the July 28 to August 5 sailing of the Carnival Freedom out of Ft. Lauderdale. ( Port Everglades ) It was an eight day cruise that called at Grand Turk, La Romana in the Dominican Republic, Aruba, and Curacao.
Part I- The "Port Experience".
My wife and I drove from the Houston, Texas area, to Ft. Lauderdale and were accompanied by another couple, who are our semi-regular "cruise mates." In spite of the 1000+ mile road trip, we actually enjoyed the journey, for the most part. Let me preface my following comments by pointing out that we are from Texas, and as anyone from Texas can tell you, firearms are a fairly routine part of a Texas existence. That being the reality, I have a Texas Concealed Handgun License, and do carry regularly. For me to contemplate a trip of that distance through several states unarmed would not have been thinkable. By the way, the Texas CHL is perfectly valid in all the states that were traversed on this trip. One of my travel mates on this trip is a retired Texas State Trooper, and, as such, is authorized to carry a concealed handgun as well.. So, we were both armed on this trip. The point of this information follows. Our intention was to park at the parking garage at the port, but as we approached the guarded entry to the Port, we were asked if we had any firearms in the vehicle. Of course we replied in the affirmative, and the resulting "shocked, and quizzical" look from the guard was funny. He was totally taken aback, and clearly did not know how to proceed. He asked for assistance, and our identification was checked by a Sheriff's Deputy, who explained the Port's "no firearms" policy and suggested a perfectly reasonable alternative which we followed. We parked at the adjacent "Park and Go" lot, and used their very efficient shuttle service to the ship. This not only was quick and easy, but pleasant and more cost effective as well. I highly recommend using this option. Please don't assume that I am on a rant about the Port policies, because I am not. I understand the security issues. However, I do think this policy should be made clear to potential cruisers by Carnival. After all, as my wife pointed out, when the guard saw the Texas plates on our vehicle the question asked should not have been, "do you have any firearms with you,", but rather, "how many firearms do you have with you?" Surely this was not the first time that this has happened, and just as surely, it won't be the last.
Beyond this, there were no real "issues" concerning the boarding procedures at the port. They were straightforward, and as efficient as any other port that we have sailed from.
We did enjoy a display of bravado by the U.S. Coast Guard as we pulled out of Port Everglades. A pair of their high speed craft performed "showy" maneuvers alongside as we went to sea, which were clearly designed to impress the young ladies onboard. It was, however, fun to watch our "taxes at work." On a serious note, we did get to watch a real - life emergency unfold on our last day out as a Coast Guard helicopter airlifted a stricken passenger from our vessel to a hospital in Miami. A very professional display.
Part II. The Ship.
The Carnival Freedom is a reasonably new ship having been in service since 2007. It is a fairly typical example of Italian shipbuilding, in the "high density" layout that is common to modern Caribbean cruisers serving primarily American ports. That being said, I have to comment on the interior styling and appointments. The ship simply looks a bit "gaudy." Little of the interior furnishings match in any substantive way, and, in fact, in many instances they clash rather badly. In the "central staircase" area amidships it is a bit like being in a "pinball machine" with mismatched colors, golds, reds, and greens, that can make you dizzy. Don't get me wrong. The ship is clean and well maintained, it just doesn't seem to follow any logical styling path.
The staff seemed polite and reasonably efficient, with clean rooms, and pleasant personalities being the norm. Nowhere did we encounter rudeness or indifference from the crew. We utilized the "open seating" dining in the "Chic" dining room, and were most pleased by both the service and the food quality and selection. The food choices at the Lido Buffet were not as broad, and in many cases not as well prepared. It also seemed that the dining areas on the Lido Deck were, for the most part, slightly understaffed during some periods, with tables not being cleaned as quickly as one might have expected. Also, be warned, the floors in many areas of the Lido serving areas remained treacherously slippery during most of the cruise. Proceed with caution.
Our cabin was perfectly adequate with only a couple of annoying glitches. Our bathroom door would not latch closed, and we never once managed to get a TV remote control that worked, despite having it replaced. An inoperative Television was, however, repaired in a timely and efficient manner.
The layout of the ship was a bit strange in some areas. For example, to get to the miniature golf one must climb to the funnel, and walk across the active basketball court, after first picking up clubs and balls two decks below. Not very efficient, but again, a fairly modest issue. Also the location of the Adult section, "Serenity" seems a bit odd, as it offers only a limited respite from younger passengers.
A note about onboard shopping. Carnival seems to place little emphasis on the onboard shopping experience. With only two or three small, sparsely outfitted shops onboard there was little serious interest displayed. The souvenir shop opened a bit late, and store personnel didn't seem keen on selling anything. The jewelry and watch store seemed only a bit better. And in a theme common to all cruise lines, there was little in the way of toddler and small children's items. Don't cruise lines study demographics? Don't they realize how many of their customers are grandparents? Just try to find a 2T shirt on a cruise.
The ship's "ride" was reasonable with a minimum of rolling and noise. Noise on our deck (Deck 1) was about as expected with some loud talking at all hours, but not enough to cause us any serious loss of sleep. By the way, Deck 1 turned out to be a pretty good spot, especially when coming and going from ship to shore and on debarkation. Speaking of debarkation. It was, in a word, smooth. We carried our own bags, and were off the ship shortly after 6:30 a.m. No complaints here.
The ship's "entertainment" was spotty at best. It was the last voyage with the current performing troupe and it did appear at times that they were simply "going through the motions." The production numbers were adequate, but not outstanding. We sampled three of four comedians that performed on this cruise. At the "family" shows two were pretty good, but the third, a gentleman of Cuban heritage whose name I will not mention was just simply not funny at all. My wife rightly pointed out after his performance that the funniest thing that he said all night was that he expected people to pay $10.00 for his CD.
It was our Cruise Director's final cruise before his upcoming marriage, and while we certainly wish him the best, I must say that he also at times appeared bored with his mission. This ship suffers from a distinct lack of communication between the Cruise Director and the customers. At our first stop we didn't even get an announcement informing people that the gangways were open and that we could disembark. People just kind of meandered down and out on their own.
Again, please don't misunderstand. We really did enjoy this cruise, and will undoubtedly sail with Carnival again, it's just that some things legitimately fell short. This is not meant as an indictment against Carnival. For the most part they are great.
Part III- The Destinations
Grand Turk, an island in the Turks and Caicos was our first stop. It is a beautiful place with seemingly friendly people. We took the "Grand Turk Experience" shore excursion, and saw much of the island from the remnants of the old salt industry to a very attractive and well maintained lighthouse with a breath taking scenic overlook. The highlight of this stop for many people, however, turned out to be the beautiful manmade shopping village created by Carnival itself. Here you will find not only a plethora of the usual duty free shops, including an old Florida favorite, Ron Jon's Surf Shop, but a huge pool, manmade beach, and Flowrider., It truly can serve as your Grand Turk destination if you choose not to venture out on an excursion.
La Romana, in the Dominican Republic, is in a word, "useless." Why Carnival or anybody else for that matter bothers to stop here escapes me. Our excursion to Saona Island was cancelled due to weather so we spent the day onboard. A member of our party actually asked at the Shore Excursion desk if there was anything worth going ashore for since our excursion had been cancelled. The one word response was . "No." There is literally only a parking lot to catch tour buses, and be aware that walking into town alone is not advised. This can be a dangerous place.
Aruba, a Dutch island about fifteen miles from the Venezuelan coast was a bit of a disappointment. Our island tour proved that there are few areas of interest on the island. The natural bridge has collapsed, and what is left at that location is filthy and not particularly photogenic. There are some nice areas along the North shore to photograph breakers and natural rock erosion, and some limited access sand dunes. Other than that the natives consider a pile of climbing rocks, and a dilapidated lighthouse as worthy of tourist interest. They are wrong. Aruba does have a strip of beautiful beaches, magnificent hotels, and trendy shops, but beyond the beach the island is essentially an arid desert. As my wife described it, "Arizona with beachfront property." One note of caution. Beware of the "open vehicle" tours. They are hot and dusty. Refer to the aforementioned Arizona analogy. The heat index in Aruba during our visit was 105 degrees.
Curacao, another Dutch possession some forty miles or so from Venezuela turned out to be the real gem of this trip. The island is better maintained than Aruba, neater, cleaner, and certainly more colorful. The shops are unique, and the capital of Willemstad is a pleasure to walk around in and sightsee. The economy seems better than Aruba, probably due to the oil refinery and ship repair yard that includes one of the largest dry-dock facilities in the Caribbean. Our shore excursion was conducted on an air conditioned bus and included a semi-submersible event that showed off the local coral and undersea life very effectively. We went back into town later in the day just for a stroll and to walk across the "swinging bridge" that divides the city. It was an enjoyable day, and I must admit that a future return trip to Curacao is a distinct probability for us.
In conclusion this cruise was attractive to us primarily due to its unique itinerary, and in this it did not disappoint. I find visiting new places fascinating, and just because they don't always live up to my expectations doesn't mean that I don't enjoy seeing them ,and experiencing their respective differences. Overall, this is a cruise itinerary that I would recommend, and a ship, and cruise line that I would recommend. The few problems, disappointments, and revelations, that we encountered are all part of travelling. Good or bad, they are all learning experiences.
Of course this review is made up of my own personal opinions and experiences. I am sure that many others on the same cruise had different interpretations of the events, and their own unique experiences, and this is certainly as it should be.