Second Carnival cruise, and have decided our last. The big ship experience is not what we're looking for at this point. And this itinerary (Ft Lauderdale, St Thomas, Antigua, Tortola, Nassau) was not a great one.
Stayed at the Ft Lauderdale Best Western City Centre - great hotel, walking distance to Los Olas Blvd shops and restaurants and Riverwalk. Part of the reason we booked here was the free shuttle to the cruise port, only 15 minutes away.
Tip #1 - spend the $20 and take a cab.
The shuttle left on time (noon) and runs every hour on the hour. That said, it makes a stop to pick up additional guests at one other hotel around the corner from Port Everglades, but drops passengers at up to 5 ships. Of course Freedom was last and we de-bussed 2 hours after boarding.
Embarkation - crowded but efficient. A lot of Carnival staff smiling and greeting guests - we moved along quite smartly.
Sailing to St Thomas is 2 FULL days, 48 plus hours folks. Be aware. The 952 foot Freedom starts to get a big crowded with this much time at sea.
Tip #2 - Head up, way up, to the Serenity area to avoid the pools full of screaming kids.
St Thomas - hired a local guide for an island tour just outside the pier. A good trip, we'd been to St Thomas before so knew what to expect. There were SEVEN (yes 7) ships in port that day dumping over 20,000 folks onto the island. Downtown was a hot mess, we weren't shopping so found a great lunch at Cuzzin's (review on Trip Advisor) and then back to the ship. Full day in St Thomas, great for shopping if that's your thing. Can the cruise companies not get together and stagger arrival days?? Jeebus.
Antigua - full day, took a tour with Gordon, a local fellow we found on-line. Beautiful island, friendly people, worth going back here.
Tortola - 0700 - 1430 (short day) Found Aristocat cruises on-line (seeing a lack of Carnival organized trips here?? yeah.) Great trip, 12 people on a 48 foot Privilege catamaran, lunch, drinks, snacks, great snorkeling. Funny, the Carnival organized catamaran was next to us and looked like about 65 people on board. Privilege. Have fun folks!
At sea (again) ice carving demo, hairiest chest contest (I kid you not!), more trivia, bingo...sailing, sailing....
Nassau, arrived at 1300 hrs, depart at 1900 hrs, again not a lot of time. Downtown is close to the pier so a walking tour with a good map and you're fine. Friends of ours took the half-day at Atlantis (expensive) and consisted mainly of a bus tour of the property from what they described.
Low points -
The ship decor was...well...dated let's say. Too glitzy for my taste. Tired is another way I'd describe it.
Itinerary - wouldn't have as many or as long sailing periods. I use the ship to get to islands to explore. My bad here.
Crowds - in the buffet at lunch - Mmmmn people have an idea where you're going and please don't stop mid-deck in a crowded room with a tray heaped with fried food.
Clearing of tables - seemed like a lot of time between people finishing their meal and the table being bussed in the buffet area. And there is no clear place to drop a tray if I want to clear my table after my lunch.
$2.95 for cappuccino or latte. Was free in the main dining room on-board Magic last year.
Plastic 'c'mon cups' for lemonade and iced tea. There are plastic cups that are a LOT nicer.
Our room steward Alberto. Greeted us by name every time we met him and the room was kept spotless.
Chef's Table - $75 per person and worth every penny. They host 2 nights on an 8 day trip with 12 seats at each. Has to be booked on-board, includes a galley tour, brilliant food paired nicely with wines and the Chef sippyisine describing each course. If you are in ANY way a foodie - do this.
Sushi - deck 5 mid-ship, in the late afternoon, no additional cost. Nice for a change from chicken chunks and pizza.
Elegant evenings - the dress code was clearly stated and quietly enforced on formal dining nights, which was nice to see. "No sir, a tuxedo front tee shirt does not qualify as elegant dress this evening". Folks I can't make this stuff up...
Summary - for the 25-35 demographic, this would be a good cruise to get used to ship board life. For me, too long between ports and too little time in the interesting ports.