This was our first cruise on a Carnival ship. It will also be our last.
Some background on us: Our cruise experience covers five other cruises using the following carriers: Princess, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Regency. Our Carnival cruise was a family cruise in which 8 family members reserved 3 cabins, one of which was for 2 adults and 2 children. We flew into Fort Lauderdale the day before our cruise and stayed at a Roadway Inn which provided shuttle service to and from the port. Our experience with the hotel and the transportation to the ship was very good.
Here are our evaluations of the ship based on our collective experience:
The whole process of getting you on the ship and to your room was excellent. We were in our room just a matter of minutes after boarding. Luggage was delivered in an acceptable amount of time.
Our balcony rooms were very similar to the balcony rooms on other cruise ships. They may have been a tad smaller than some. The bathroom was small as any other but had a number of small shelves onto which you could put your toiletries, shaver, etc. They really helped you store all your stuff. The interior cabin with four people in it was slightly smaller, but ample.
There were a number of problems here:
We couldn't get our "Your Choice-open dining" changed to the fixed early dining option even though we submitted our request months earlier. As a result long waits for seating (hour+) were the rule rather than the exception. For us "Your choice" was really their choice.
The wait for service once seated was way too long. Food that should have been served hot wasn't. One bowl of soup was thick, one watered down. Fish were served with their oily skin side up. Medium Rare wasn't. Servers disappeared after the food was delivered. Communicating with the server staff was very difficult. The servers command of English was not that good. It seemed they had not received proper training in how to give good service. When I asked for a cup of coffee a server told me "When I can get to it." Service was so slow that we almost always missed seeing a show we had planned on seeing.
As for the buffet, lines were longer than what we have experienced with other ships. The food there was basically the same thing every day. Overall it was good with a few exceptions. The omelet's ingredients (bacon, mushrooms, etc.) were put on in "globs" and ended up being uncooked. One morning my son's oatmeal was served with a hair in it-gross! Best buffet feature: One afternoon they had a special "Chocolate Extravaganza" which was really good.
One corner of the buffet is called "Off the Grill" and serves hamburgers and hot dogs. After ordering a hot dog I found one topping I didn't order- three human hairs. Enough said.
Finally, the bar service was slow, even when only a few people were sitting at the bar. The staff would ignore you, not greet you, while they were cleaning the bar drink mixing areas.
4. Spa/Exercise Room
Didn't use the spa but it looked pretty good. As for the exercise room, it was large, clean, and very well equipped. It even had a Jacuzzi and sauna attached. They offered seminars that were informative but often had a sales pitch attached.
The entertainment had both its good and bad sides. We like to play bingo when on a cruise but not for $25 to play 2 games. It seemed like more people who wanted to play didn't because of the price. On the other hand we saw a really good Beatles tribute in the main auditorium. Overall there were a lot of different entertainment choices at many different locations on the ship. The children's activities started way too late in the day for the 8 year old that was in our group.
The casino was fairly large and had at least a dozen table games and a large number of slot machines. It had an electronic "Texas Hold Em'" table which used a large monitor to display the common cards and had personal monitors for each person's cards. It malfunctioned several times when I was playing which cost me and other players some money. All the house did was apologize.
Slot tournaments cost $20 dollars to enter. They even have a Texas Hold Em' tournament but it costs $150 to enter and you have to come back for another cruise to win the main prize. Most folks on the cruise didn't think that was too good of a set up.
7. Shore stops
In our minds, there aren't many better stops all in one cruise than Key West, Ocho Rios, and Grand Cayman. We did some snorkeling on the last two and our grand-daughter swam with the dolphins on Grand Cayman. Unfortunately, the durations on the islands were too short...leaving Grand Cayman @ 3:00 pm & Ocho Rios @ 2:00 pm. Another hour or two would have made a huge difference.
8. Public areas/shops/decor
The Freedom is a large ship and as such has many public areas, bars, miniature golf, basketball, jogging track, etc. The shops are spread among two floors. For a ship this size, the shops were small in number. There were less of them than on a Princess ship, for example. As for the decor, it is different. We didn't care for it that much. Too dark, too eclectic. There didn't seem to be a consistent pattern or match with the materials used.
9. Preparing to leave the ship
Carnival now gives you the option of leaving the ship early (first) if you take your luggage with you. They also say you can print out your airline boarding tickets at their Internet cafe. However, the internet cafe had no one on staff after 10:00pm on the last night of the cruise when several people were unsuccessfully attempting to print airline boarding tickets. In addition to that, the non-working printer charged fifty cents per page and never executed any hard copies; however, the customer service desk advised that billing adjustments could not be credited until the next morning on disembarking day.
While embarkation was excellent, disembarkation was even better. There was time to have breakfast at the buffet before we left the ship. Picking up our luggage went quickly and we moved through Customs at a brisk pace. They really have the process of getting on a leaving the ship nailed down.
To summarize, we won't try Carnival again. This was our first family cruise and we had built expectations with the family members who had never cruised. My wife and I were embarrassed by the lack of service, especially in the dining areas. The food choices and preparation were not up to par with what we have seen on other cruise lines. It seems like much of the staff, not just the dining staff, "goes through the motion" of giving good customer service.
Carnival prides itself on its international staff. However, I did notice that one member of the international community was missing. Not once, in any capacity, was staff service provided by an American. With the staff predominately from countries whose native language is not English, communication and service suffered because the staff was not, in our opinion, fluent in English.