Let's start with embarkation. When we were dropped off at the port (took a shuttle...$9.00 each), there was luggage staged on either side of the driveway. We weren't quite sure which one to go to, but ended up on the side where the entry to the terminal was. We were going to leave our larger bags and take our carry-on bags with us, but the gentleman standing there suggested we give him all our bags...along with a tip and he would "take care of us." So, we left all our bags with him. More about that decision later.
The first gentleman we encountered asked to see our passports and boarding pass. He then told us we would no longer need our boarding pass. The next person we encountered asked for our boarding pass. I said we were just told we no longer needed it and she asked who told me that and said she could not imagine why we would be told that. Anyway, her job was to point us towards line 1 or line 2. We got in line 1 and were soon waived over to get checked in. You can guess what the first thing was we were asked for...it was our boarding pass. We had arrived at the port a little after 11:30 p.m. and within less than an hour were on the ship. So to review, hold on to your boarding pass and getting on the ship is pretty swift...at least for us.
Everything started out the usual way. We headed to the buffet for lunch (and immediately ran into several folks we "met" on the Cruise Critic Roll Call for our sailing). Long story how we knew it was them. We then went exploring the ship, did the muster drill and then met up on the Serenity Deck for a sail away get together we had prearranged on our Cruise Critic Roll Call group.
At dinner we were seated with another couple who turned out to be around the same age as us and from the same hometown. We ended up becoming good friends and have already become Facebook friends since returning home. Our Maitre D, Pablo, claimed he and his staff do research to determine who sits together. If that is true, I'm impressed.
After dinner we went back to our room to be greeted by a notice saying my wife's carry-on had been confiscated. The Carnival web site says to put your wine for dinner in a carry-on. What they don't say is, "Do not give your carry-on to the baggage handlers because you have to carry it on." According to Carnival, they do not employ the baggage handlers and are not responsible for what they say or do. Really? I could write a book about all the hassle we went through over this not to mention the misinformation we were given that resulted in standing in the long line not once, but twice, to speak to someone at Guest Services. After an ordeal that extended past 10:00 p.m. that night, we were finally reunited with our bag and the wine was held until the end of the cruise. The lesson learned here is do not give the baggage handlers your carry-ons, especially if it has any wine in it or for that matter, any item that might be confiscated...and that includes travel irons. We put ours in one of our larger bags and it made it through scanning.
OK. So we're on the ship now and through dealing with the lovely people at Guest Services. Let's look at what's new at Carnival. Well, higher prices to start with. Bingo and Casino games (slot pull tournaments, etc.) have gone from $20.00 to $25.00. The wine tastings have gone from $10.00 to $15.00. We did not get the soft drink package, but it seems like it used to be in the $40.00 range (with gratuity) and is now over $50.00. Most mixed drinks have gone up and average $8.85 plus gratuity. They give you a dollar off on the drink of the day, but that is only if you get it on Deck 9. The steak dinner place is now $35.00. I think I paid $25.00 three years ago. Pictures have gone up. What used to be around $20.00 is now $25.00 or more. Basically, a 25% or higher increase on pretty much everything you can think of. Even the liquor prices for bottles you can buy on board and take home with you at the end of the cruise have gone up to the point that you aren't saving much of anything. I even saw a guy looking at an Invicta watch for $395.00 that you can find on Ebay for half that price.
In addition to prices going up, freebies are being cut back. For the Captain's Party, there are no longer any free drinks. Now they give you a dollar off your drink at the bar. For the returning guest party that had achieved Gold Level or higher, they also cut out all the free drinks and served a glass of punch. Not only that, but since my wife was not a Gold Level cruiser yet, she was not allowed to attend and, basically, drink a glass of free punch. Ridiculous.
So what's new besides higher prices and less freebies? Well, not much. The entertainment was mainly the Carnival Singers and Dancers along with the Carnival Band putting on most of the shows in the main theatre. I thought the two main singers waivered between decent and downright awful. The dancers were OK and I thought the band was awesome. They had a hypnotist one night and he was laughable. Another night they had Marcus Anthony (not to be confused with Mark Anthony) who did a tribute to Motown and hardly sang a single Motown song. At one point he was doing country numbers. Weird. The best entertainment (my opinion) were the comedians. The adult comedy shows were always packed and you had to get there early to get a seat or you were left standing in the back. Several of the comedians were better that the others, but they all did a decent job. Their family friendly routines were good, too.
Someone posted a review on here not to stay in certain aft cabins including 8436 because of the 24 hours pizza place directly overhead. We never had an issue with noise from the deck above. Generally, the only thing that bothered us was the rumbling and vibrating of the ship. We were on the Oasis of the Seas last year and hardly ever knew we were on a ship. No noise, no motion, no nothing...just a smooth ride.
Speaking of pizza, I thought, for the most part, that the food was pretty good and better than I remembered from previous Carnival cruises and even the cruise on the Oasis. The only food I did not care for was lunch in the buffet. We did not eat at the steak house for pay, but everyone who did raved about it and it was pretty much booked up all week. Some folks ate there two or three of the eight nights they were on the ship. One interesting thing I noted is that at dinner in the dining room, the wait staff will not take something from one order and put it on the plate with another order. For example, if one of the choices is lobster and one is Prime Rib, you can not get them to give you the Prime Rib dinner and put a lobster tail on there. They insist on giving you both dinners. I asked why and our waiter, Buana, just smiled at me and walked off. Give it a try and let me know what happens.
One other note about food. Be sure and try the Brunch in the Posh dining room on sea days. I heard people talking about the steak and eggs as well as the mac 'n cheese, so we decided to check it out. My wife and I both had the steak and eggs and it was delicious. The dining room was packed, so obviously the word had gotten out. Everyone we encountered that had been to the brunch loved it. The day we went to the brunch the lady sitting next to my wife ordered the mac 'n cheese and she said she was back for the second time to have it again she enjoyed it so much.
One more note about food. I noticed another recent review on here addressing the Mongolian Wok. It is not worth waiting in line an hour for. We stood in line for 30 minutes on a port day when the traffic on board was minimal. There was still a wait because the buffet choices were less than desirable. The food is OK, but not even close to a restaurant like Genghis Grill. The fish and chips on Deck 10 is a decent alternative to the buffet and there is generally no waiting. You will also wait for a deli sandwich. Interestingly, we ordered room service and I got a NY strip loin sandwich and it was really good. However, they don't offer it at the deli. I would suggest not waiting in line at the deli either.
We arranged a Meet & Mingle through our Cruise Critic Roll Call since Carnival does not arrange them like Royal Caribbean does. We were able to get them to let us use the Jazz Club and they provided several bartenders. We also got them to donate some door prizes. We were given use of a microphone and the stage in the Jazz Club, so I got up and was the MC for our get together. We did a roll call and I read off everyone's screen name and asked them to share how they came up with the name. That turned out to be quite entertaining. I had also printed out some custom name tags with each person's screen name and real name. After the roll call, I drew names for the door prizes. While doing that, our Cruise Director, Brad, showed up and addressed our group. I thought that was pretty cool. We ended up with over 60 people at our little Meet & Mingle. Afterwards, we headed to the casino for a slot pull.
We each put $20.00 in a dollar machine that required a maximum bet of $2.00. Thus, we each got 10 pulls. We put in around $1140.00 and at the end, we had around $548.00 left that we all split up and ended up with $9.00 each. We put the overage back into the machine, but still didn't win anything. We had fun for an hour and a half, though. We heard a lady won $15,000.00 on a slot machine on her second pull, so I guess money can be won on a slot machine on a cruise ship.
While I am thinking of it, Carnival had a new feature at the wine bar at the back of the ship on Deck 5 where you could taste a group of 4 martinis for $17.00. If you like martini's, I would definitely recommend this. My wife and I shared a tasting, so it was basically $8.50 each which is the cost of one martini. The lady who was the bartender there did a great job and was very friendly. Plus, she would always give us a refill with whatever was left over in the shaker. All the martinis we tried were good. A favorite was the Spicy Chipotle Pineapple one. Give it a try.
We also did the wine tasting. There were two of them, but we missed the first one because of our Meet & Mingle. They do the wine tastings on sea days. The wines they presented were fairly inexpensive ($10.00/bottle or less at your local liquor store), but the sommelier we had was very informative and the food they paired with the wines were a great match. We even got to try a little of the steak from the steak house and man, was it good.
One new wrinkle I had never seen on a cruise ship yet was the fact that the TV had all the major networks on it...NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox along with some others like CNN, I believe TBS, and maybe even ESPN. There's the usual Carnival channels and movie channels, but I really enjoyed being able to watch shows I watch back home when things got a little slow or boring on the ship. There is only so much trivia and bingo that you can do in a day.
I am sure I am forgetting something and I could go on and on about our cruise on the Carnival Freedom. Someone mentioned the new kiosk in a review where you can check the balance on your Sign and Sail card. We could not figure out how to work it, so I can't comment on how good it is. Anyway, all in all, we had a great time. Getting off the ship was a breeze. We hung out until 10:20 a.m. which is when they called our baggage number, as our flight from Ft. Lauderdale did not leave until 4:45 p.m. We easily found our luggage and although there was a huge line, it moved swiftly and we were out of there in 20 minutes. The cab ride to the airport was $14.10.
A warning...If you haven't been to the Ft. Lauderdale airport before, it is not a place you want to be stuck at for a long time. There is not much to do and the eating spots are few and typical airport type eating places...no name brand restaurants here...not even a McDonalds or Starbucks. Basically, once you go through security, you are trapped in a small concourse. We were flying American and there were ten gates, a bar, a sandwich place and a pizza slice place. That's about it. We could have gotten off the ship around 6:20 a.m. and caught an early flight out. I will know better next time.
If you have any questions about cruising on the Carnival Freedom, feel free to message me. Also, check out my port reviews for some, hopefully, helpful info.