My wife and I cruised with a few friends on the Carnival Freedom, taking a Western Caribbean tour that included Key West, Grand Cayman, and Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We booked three adjoining rooms on the Verandah deck with extended aft balconies. We couldn't find many videos or reviews of this type of room, so we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.
We set sail April 28, 2013. The boarding process was mostly painless. Carnival provides a shuttle from the airport ($15 from Fort Lauderdale; $30 from Miami, per person). *TIP!* Handle your own bags; porters will hustle your luggage onto a cart and take it to the shuttle, rudely demanding a tip afterward. Save the tip for the shuttle driver instead.
Boarding began at 2:00 for a 4:00 departure. Cabins were not available at first. The Lido deck had food available right away, though. If you plan on boarding early, take a small carry-on with essentials, and take this opportunity to familiarize yourself with the Freedom's layout.
Having previously cruised the Fascination and the Inspiration, I found the Freedom to be a bit confusing at first. As with most big ships, be prepared to do some walking. Also, become familiar with all the available food lines on the Lido deck. *TIP!* Avoid the Mongolian BBQ line; my wife waited an hour for a bowl of okay Mongolian. Speaking of Asian cuisine, the sushi bar is available infrequently; check the schedule or you will be disappointed.
We found our cabin to be clean, comfortable, and very relaxing. I posted a video on youTube of the room and deck layout (http://youtu.be/d4zhhoLb2Dw) that gives an overview of the cabin and deck. I've read reviews mentioning noise from the Lido deck above; we found the room to be more than adequate. I may be spoiled now to the aft cabin balconies!
The onboard activities were okay, but repetitive. If you are a drinker, you'll find alcohol available everywhere. If you are a gambler, you'll enjoy the casino. Otherwise, you may find yourself wandering around on the days at sea. The shows are okay, and I would recommend the informational programs, even for seasoned cruisers. Brad, the cruise director, is highly entertaining. *TIP!* Most of the evening entertainment (comedy shows, for example) take place at the International, which fills quickly. Most shows will be preceded by some form of event. Attend the event, even if only to find and hold a good seat for the show afterward.
Service on the Freedom is good. You may have to wait awhile for bar service when you're catching rays by the pool on the days at sea, but this is expected. The Posh and Chic dining staff are attentive and entertaining (shout out to Parta and Budi!). The Sun King is $35 well-spent. *TIP!* Let your dining staff know of any special dietary needs; they'll review the menu options with you a day in advance.
We chose three excursions. The Hemingway House tour in Key West was informative and interesting, even for people not familiar with Hemingway (do you exist?). Our friends did the pub crawl and were properly smashed when they got back on board. Mission accomplished! Eat at Sloppy Joe's, just to say you did. You'll find plenty of tourist shops at Key West.
Grand Cayman offers an excellent snorkle experience with sting rays. It isn't dangerous, the water is beautiful, and the guides are very good. You'll most likely have plenty of time to explore shopping and dining options, so be prepared to spend some money.
Jamaica can be intimidating if you let it. *TIP!* The vendors are aggressive. Watch your children; the vendors will give your kids "gifts" that will cost you. Haggle with the vendors if you want a bargain; otherwise a firm "No, thank you" and move on. They will go after the next tourist. We did the Canopy zip line and Dunn's River excursion. Highly recommended. The bus ride is a bit long (and a bit scary) and the excursion will require some physical exertion, so be prepared! Our calves were sore from the climbing during the zip line part of the tour. Be sure to tip the bus driver and the tour guide; they do a great job.
Days at sea can be spent in the spa, or shopping. *TIP!* Never pay full price for anything! Spa treatments and merchandise will almost always have some sort of savings package. We saw $125 bracelets get marked down to $30 one day. Check your Fun Times daily newsletter. The spa packages will typically end with a soft sell of the items they use on you, by the way.
So, positives for the Freedom: great cruise director; awesome balcony and view; excellent food at the Sun King and Posh dining room; good overall experience. Negatives (and these aren't deal-breakers, by the way): somewhat confusing layout at first; food not always available when you expect; Lido buffet lines can be a bit long (and food not quite as good as previous cruises); shops have infrequent hours; more entertainment needed for days at sea. The decor is a bit odd, if aesthetics are important to you. Colors and patterns often clash, and the overall appearance is a bit garish in places. Drink some more, and you'll get past all that.
One last point. Disembarkation was a cluster, at best. We paid for the Luggage express service; this is where you set your bags out the night before, Carnival takes your bags to the airport, and you collect your luggage when you arrive at your destination airport. Great service for $20 a person. However, this service doesn't allow you off the ship early. You have to wait for self-check out passengers to exit first, and this process took quite awhile. Customs jammed the gears somewhat, as well. *TIP!* Hope you get the random customs check! As long as you aren't doing anything wrong, they just check your bags, and you get bumped ahead of the line. We got nicked; they just asked us if we had a good cruise and sent us on our way. Nice!
Hope this review helps you. If you're wondering about the aft cabins, I recommend them. Happy cruising!