This was our eighth Carnival cruise. We chose the Carnival Freedom in order to accompany my wife's brother and his family and, with 8 nights vs. the normal 7, visits to Antigua and Tortola (two islands we had not yet visited), the benefits seemed to offset the fact that it was an older ship and went against our intent to frequent other cruise lines in the future (we have also cruised with Celebrity, RCCL, Princess and Holland America.
Now, while there is no such thing as a "bad" cruise (the Triumph experience notwithstanding), this trip turned out to be one of the least memorable of our 20 plus cruises.
Firstly, the ship borders on the ugly side. This is definitely not one of Joe Farcus' better creations. While the ships he decorates always tend to be on the bohemian side, this is one is a drab mix of dull and depressing colours, weird wood panelling and accents that make the ship dark and foreboding.
Our cabin was a typical Carnival balcony, but turned out to be directly opposite the steward's station and supply room which meant rolling carts, tinkling glassware and staff conversations outside our stateroom door every morning at 7 AM. So much for a restful holiday.
Our dining room table was on the upper level of the "Chic" dining room. Crowded, no windows and zero site lines except for the table opposite. If you cruise on Freedom, the "Posh" aft dining room is much nicer. So much for special consideration to "frequent Carnival guests" (our next cruise would give us platinum status) as our table location could not have been much worse.
Kudos however to our head waiter and his staff. My wife's family is of Polish descent and Peter, our head waiter, was as well; so they immediately took a liking to each other and Peter did his best to keep us well-served. Having said that, and while acknowledging that it was spring break and the ship was full, the wait staff were clearly over-worked. We had to repeatedly ask for cocktail service, never saw the sommelier (if indeed there was one at all - we met ours several times on our Carnival cruise last August) and the dinner service was annoyingly slow at best. I am thinking that Carnival must have reduced dining room staff and added more tables to each team. They work diligently and are always rushing, but never seem to be able to catch up.
Food quality has also gone down hill. I had thought that Carnival had actually tried to improve its dining calibre for a while, but now portions are smaller, food is drab, and was often only luke warm when finally served. And that's in the main dining room. The buffet was typical, long lines, over-steamed, over-sauced entrees and food that was borderline tasteless. The deli was OK and the Mongolian wok station offered an alternative if you had the patience to stand in the extra long lines. I didn't. After 11PM, your dining choices are limited to pizza; and if your don't like that choice, you can always opt for pizza. Remember the sumptuous midnight buffets? Not any more.
The two production shows were good (Carnival does this well) and the comedians in the comedy club were very entertaining. The other five nights were better spent away from the showroom reading or playing cards.
I constantly heard the comment that Carnival has become the Wal-mart of cruising. The analogy is quite fitting. As mentioned, we are only one cruise away from Platinum status. Somehow I doubt if we will ever get there.