We traveled together with another family, all older (16+) or grown (21+) children, over the New Year's holiday season. Overall, the positives far outweighed the negatives.
If you choose to travel at the December holidays or school vacations/breaks, you must know what you're getting into: every common area will be packed, lines will be long, and ports will be over run with other holiday travelers. I will not complain about any of this because, it's what you get when you travel at this season! Just be prepared (and be patient).
The staff of the Freedom was without a doubt the most dedicated and consistently excellent that I have ever experienced, and I have sailed with a few upscale lines as well. Every single staff person I interacted with went above and beyond to serve us - and seemed genuinely interested in our enjoyment. Considering the crowd on the ship I was especially surprised (and pleased)!
We were on the first sailing that the Cheers (unlimited beverage) program was offered and we made good use of it. Though it seemed expensive it was a relief to know that virtually anything we ordered, from a smoothie to a coffee to a crazy drink with an umbrella in it, was already paid for. We could just relax, knowing the bar tab was already budgeted and paid for - and boy we made good use of this! We experimented with glasses of different wines at dinner, crazy juices at breakfast, and yes - some crazy drinks we never would have tried otherwise.
Though the Freedom's decor is garish and over the top, we decided to "embrace the cheesiness" of the 1980's Dynasty-style ambiance. Again, with the exception of the Serenity deck (see below), every area of the ship was sparkling clean which was (to us) the most important thing.
We had inside rooms on the Empress deck. They were spacious and immaculately clean. Deck 7 is one of the few that run "end to end" on the ship which made it very easy to get anywhere from our room. Our room was almost exactly mid-ship, which was very convenient. It was generally quiet, but parties held on the pool deck/Lido deck made it very loud. Remember though - 5,000 passengers and crew were jumping up and down simultaneously almost directly overhead, 2 decks above! The only recourse is to join the party, or go to a quieter part of the ship - but you won't be going to sleep early on the nights of a deck party! If you have little ones just choose a room not directly under the pool (where the dancing and jumping take place).
The food was good, nothing extraordinary but generally tasty and well prepared. We didn't expect to use the main dining room a lot but once we did we were hooked, mainly by the quality of the service. One of the kids in the group (not one of ours!) is an extremely picky eater, and the Maitre D noted his specific preferences on Day 1. Every night after that, as soon as we were seated the Maitre D appeared tableside to "phone in" a special order (not on the menu) for this young man. Not many restaurants on land would do this, but Freedom did so - effortlessly and with huge smiles. And remember - this was on a 100% occupied, totally sold out cruise. Quite amazing if you ask me!
The mainstage entertainment was not up to par; the performers were talented but the material and staging were not very good in my opinion. The comedians were tired, with unoriginal material, but we kept hearing that the Freedom was having trouble getting their comics on the ship. Perhaps the comedians were stretched thin during our cruise week.
The other entertainment - smaller combos, the latin band, the rock band (a great group from Korea), the soloists, etc. were better. Hands down the best entertainment was in the Piano Bar, where Marty Gast was outstanding!!! Consistently entertaining and hilarious, night after night. How does one man play and sing for 5+ hours every night and make it seem new and original every night? Marty was amazing and provided the best entertainment on the ship, no question. Even our kids thought he was great - but then again part of the entertainment (for them) was to watch their parents make silly requests, drink a little too much, and laugh ourselves silly.
I managed to get myself to the Fitness area every day, yay me! Unfortunately, the equipment was older and in need of update; several of the treadmills were out of service (at least 25% were in need of repair every day). Lines for use of treadmills and other aerobic equipment were long and unmanaged (no way to sign up for machines and no one to govern how long the machines were held/reserved by others). Fitness classes were held directly in front of the entrance to/from the women's locker room, making it very difficult to enter and leave the gym area. Overall the fitness area appeared shabby and smelled bad - though the locker room itself was very clean.
Another area of improvement is the Serenity Adults area - which was, on our cruise, anything but serene. It is adjacent to the children's day care center (Camp Carnival) and as such it was noisy and over run with children of all ages - all day and all night. We visited several times, but on every occasion Serenity deck was filthy, strewn with dirty dishes, glasses, mugs and cups. I never saw a single staff member - which, given the exemplary staff presence and cleanliness everywhere else on the Freedom, was very surprising. The adults in our party went to the hot tubs on Serenity one evening, only to find every chaise filled with pre-teens smoking, eating and drinking. I know Carnival isn't responsible for policing the kids but Freedom needs to spend a little more time keeping the lovely Serenity area clean and maintaining the adults only environment.
But you know what? Overall, our experience on the Freedom was quite good. The staff and crew made up for many shortfalls and we made our own fun in spite of some challenges. It's not especially elegant nor high-class, but if you're looking for a fun, entertaining week I do recommend the Carnival Freedom. We certainly got more than our money's worth.