I am an ex-pat that married an American 20 years ago and moved to the States. With all of my family still being in the UK, vacations have pretty much taken us to various places around Europe so we can tie in a family visit. We had always fancied doing an Alaskan cruise, but thought we would try a fun in the sun Caribbean cruise first to see if we even liked it .Let me tell you, we loved it, had a phenomenal time from the moment the hotel shuttle dropped us off at Port Everglades until the cab door closed upon debarkation.
Planning-We booked this cruise about 9 months prior using Carnivals online booking process as an Early Saver. By the time the cruise rolled around we had a few hundred in OBC.
Embarkation-We purchased Faster to the Fun, we stepped out of the shuttle and the bags were immediately tagged and separated and we were guided into the terminal. As soon as we walked through the doors we were guided to the priority lane, whisked through the process and then guided to the Priority boarding lounge with the platinum, etc. and were on the ship before noon, we went directly to our room and our luggage was already waiting for us. FTTF was so with the $50
Room-We had a Balcony, Port-Aft on the Empress Deck. The room was very spacious, very clean (even by my OCD standards). Now, I have seen the complaints about the mattresses, and we have a Temperpedic at home that I give 10/10. The Carnival mattress easily scored a 9/10, very comfortable, never once felt the center bump. The bathroom itself is OK, little small and the shower curtain is a little frisky, but neither of us had a problem with it, or flooded the bathroom.
Food-Now I like good food, Im a food snob. We ate at the Buffet for breakfast and lunch, ate in the dining room for breakfast, brunch and dinner and ate at the Steakhouse.
Buffet-the buffet, is just that, an ample selection of fresh foods that the choices changed daily. Yes, someone hands out bacon, but you get more than enough and can ask for more and the buffet eggs were perfectly fine no funny fake taste to us. The Tandoori was great (I love Indian Food), the deli was great, and the hot turkey French roll was my personal favorite. The Mongolian Wok was great (go on a port day to avoid lines). Pizza-meh, not to my cracker thin crust taste. Burgers-meh, even with one hot off the grill they werent my thing.
Dining Room Breakfast-I had the Eggs Benedict for breakfast and brunch. I like my hollandaise on the side as Im not a huge fan of it and they were very good. 9/10
Dining Room Dinner-I give this a solid 8/10. There was always something that I wanted in every category. Some were excellent, others just OK. Hot Soups and fish entrees were my favorite and dont even start me on that Melting Chocolate Cake, it was to die for. Some complain the portions of food are small and several people order multiple dishes. Im a big portion eater and an appetizer, salad or soup and entrane had me stuffed. A few evenings neither hubby nor I could manage dessert.
Steakhouse-Every aspect of the experience was excellent on both occasions we went. My only complaint is that the meat portions are so huge that there is a lot of waste and no dog to take the left overs too.
Any-time dining-we opted to do the ATD as we like to eat when we are hungry. We always got a private table for 2, had different wait staff on all 4 occasions, which were equally friendly and efficient. We ordered bar service at the beginning of every meal and the drinks were delivered in a matter of minutes. Of the 4 times we ate dinner in the MDR we were immediately seated (we always went between 7.30-8.15) with the exception of the first formal night we were told there would be a 20 minute wait and were given a pager and in the time it took us to walk to the lobby bar, order a drink the pager went off, so the anticipated 20 minutes was only 5.
Service-The service we received was first rate by absolutely everyone we came in contact with. Always friendly, smiling and would do anything for you. There were several people that definitely went above and beyond and really helped make our vacation, there were our cabin steward Vida and her assistant Jeffery, kept our room spotless, they were very stealth like, it was as though they had a camera on the door to see when you were coming and going! John from India a bartender on the Lido and Rowena in the Wine bar remembered us by name and what we drank after our first round, were always happy smiling and ready to do anything for you. After day 2 Rowena even started to put a fresh bottle of my favorite pre-dinner champagne on ice for me even though I would only have a couple glasses.
Cleanliness/wear and tear-I have a bit of an OCD issue towards cleanliness. The Freedom is a very very clean ship; I now know why they got the recent CDC score of 100. There is always something being cleaned, sanitized polished, painted. The ship is 5 years old, would never have guessed it from my perspective
Cheers Program-We opted for this as research stated, if we drank 6 drinks a day we would break even. Some days we definitely drank more, others we drank less. Overall we definitely got our moneys worth.
Ports/Excursions-We visited Key West, we opted to get a bike taxi for a tour around, did some shopping and had a cocktail at Sloppy Ts it was an enjoyable day! Grand Cayman is gorgeous, we did the Pirate Ship experience and laughed and had fun from beginning to end and then did a little sightseeing and shopping. Originally we had planned to do a beach day in Jamaica, but sunburn put a stop to that and we didnt fancy any other excursions, so we thought we would just do a little shopping. I have to say the locals are really persistent and in some cases scary. This was my least favorite port and I would not go back unless I had an excursion planned.
Photography-Make every effort to have lots of photos taken during the formal evenings. They are fun to do, hilarious to look at and you really do get a few that are outstanding. They are priced a little steep, but definitely cheaper than having a photo sitting on land.
Entertainment-we did not get around to any shows etc, other than the goofy stuff on the Lido deck that was hilarious. We never once struggled to get 2 loungers together, at any time of day, even sea days. The Cigar bar was a nice spot after dinner and the Latin trio was great and the band that played at the lobby bar was also every good. The Casino is the casino, I we donated $50 over the course of the week. The shops are nice, but the process is not fantastic in my opinion.
Complaints-If I had to make any complaint it is that the pools are too small and that they are filled with salt water.
Overall-This was the best vacation we have ever taken, will we cruise again? definitely, will we cruise Carnival again? most definitely. For the price point everything far exceeded our expectations. We are already planning a 4-5 day for September and an 8 day on the Freedom for next May to new Caribbean destinations, Alaska can wait a while.