A little background information on me. I am 51, DH is 55 and this was our 14th cruise together, and my 15th cruise overall. Previous cruises have been on Princess (9), Carnival (2), and one each on HAL, RCCL, and NCL.
Probably the number one reason for booking this cruise was the exceptionally low price I paid (Got a Pack and Go rate about 4 months out), and about 3-weeks before the cruise I was able to upgrade to a window for an additional $50 (For the both of us), and feel that the value we received far exceeded what we paid. Now when I pay Motel 6 prices I do not expect a Ritz Carlton experience, so my expectations were rather low. For the most part I was pleased.
We flew in the same day we sailed from BWI and experienced no delays. On landing I went to the ground transportation desk, and after much discussion decided to get ground transfers from Carnival. Yes, you can get them last minute, and they just charge it to your Sail & Sign account. Embarkation was quick and painless, and by noon we were on board. Cabins were not yet ready, so we went to the Lido Buffet, which was not busy and got lunch. I really like the buffet on the Freedom, as it was quite large, and never felt crowded. After we ate we checked out the Serenity area, and I found it quite different then what I had experienced on The Ecstasy and Fantasy. On those ships the Serenity was aft with lovely views, and was mostly quiet. On the Freedom it's located near the bow of the ship, on the Sun Deck and takes up half the area (On the Starboard side), and one level up on the Sky Deck it takes up about 1/3 of the total deck area towards the bow. It was okay, with plenty of seating in the shade. It also had round loungers with and without clamshells (Half coverings over the lounger that provided some shade). There were also hammocks on the Sky Deck. However, I feel that the location is poor for an area called "Serenity" as Camp Carnival is on the other side on the Sun Deck, and the noise from the children was audible no matter where you were. Also, there was a lot of foot traffic from all age groups; Kids with their parents looking for Camp Carnival, people looking for a hot tub that wasn't full, or people just wandering. It was also the one area that surprised me in a negative way-It looked run down. About half of the round tanning beds and clamshells were missing the cushions, and a number of regular chaises were missing cushions as well. Still others had rips in the seams long enough to see the foam stuffing! Really tacky looking. I still liked it enough that I spent both sea days there, as well as the afternoons on port days. Also, it's free.
Our cabin (Oceanview)was wonderful, BIG with plenty of space. We were on deck one which I thought I would hate, but I found after a day in port not having to wait forever for an elevator, but just walking up one flight of stairs to be a real blessing. While we rarely saw our cabin steward, he was very efficient, and the room serviced twice a day.
We ate in the Chic Dining room 5 of the 6 nights and found the food to be mostly good. On the first formal night I was able to enjoy my favorite Spicy Pumpkin Soup, and I thought the stuffed mushroom caps were delicious. However, no Bitter & Blanc dessert that I enjoyed on the Ecstasy and Fantasy. On the last night the Home-style "Bacon Mac & Cheese" was very good. If you are a "Foodie" you will probably be disappointed in the food, but remember if you pay Motel 6 prices...
As far as entertainment there were two production shows, and two nights that they had comedy. We did go to one of the "Family friendly" comedy shows and found the comedian to be very funny. They have a big outside screen for the showing of concerts, sporting events, and movies which I felt was underutilized. They did show Monday Night Football, but I felt they could have offered a movie on the other nights to give PAX another choice of an after dinner activity. There was a deck party one night that started too late (10:30) with a Mexican buffet (After 11?) for me to stay up for. I did hear it was pretty wild.
We stopped at three (3) ports on this cruise; Key West, Grand Cayman, and Jamaica, and booked our excursions through the ship.
Key West we went on the Speedboat Safari. The weather was beautiful, but the water a little choppy as we headed out about 9 miles into the Gulf of Mexico. After a quick stop on a sand bar where you can get out and swim if you wish, it was on to a mangrove forest/bird sanctuary where we had to go rather slow, and then it was full throttle back to the marina. Going back the water was calmer and gave us a much smoother ride. Key West is a good stop if you like to walk around and shop. The town was rather crowded as we were one of 3 ships there that day.
Grand Cayman the weather was mostly cloudy with a few passing showers. We went on the Turtles, turtles, and more turtles excursion. Rather tame, so thrill seekers will be bored. However, very informative, and there are activities at the facilities such as snorkeling in a man-made lagoon, and a very pretty fresh water pool to swim in, so I feel it's a good choice for families or larger groups traveling together as most should find something to occupy their time. Keep in mind that Grand Cayman is a tender port if mobility is an issue. Also, I felt the shopping near where the tender dropped us off to be rather limited.
Jamaica was my favorite stop, and the one we had the least amount of time in. Here we went River Tubing. Loads of fun, but if you are afraid of water I wouldn't suggest it. The last rapid there is a 50/50 chance you will end up in the water and it's scary if you do. I flipped my tube, went under, swallowed about half the river, but the guides were right there to pull me out. My little heart was going about 100 beats per second, but I would do it again, and I HATE having my head below water. However, there were at least two others in the party that went into hysterics, and a little boy that got scraped up and was crying hysterically. There was a group of 6 that were aged late 60's to 88, who were just fine, and were doing this tour for the umpteenth time. I would highly recommend it, but know your and the group's limits if traveling with the very young, or those afraid of the water.
Of the three Carnival cruises I have been on I thought the Freedom was overall the nicest ship, it's also the newest of the three I have been on, having been built in 2007. We traveled the week of December 9-14, and the ship was decorated in good taste for Christmas, and they had several holiday activities scheduled during the cruise. It was also Hanukkah when we traveled and they had the lighting of the Menorah each evening.