Embarking at Fort Lauderdale is far easier than most other ports. For starters the airport and area hotels are all very close to Port Everglades. As well, the port itself is divided into distinct areas where you go for your cruise ship. So only you and your fellow passengers are in the area for your ship. Be sure to select hotels that offer cheap or free transfers to the cruise port. Not many do this for free, and often the per person charge is, in total, more than if you kep your rental car for one extra day and dropped it off at the cruise ship terminal location. (Thrifty offers a free shuttle to the port).
Carnival sent an email in the weeks prior to the departure advising us to show up around 1:30pm to avoid the crowds. Reading this in past reviews also told us that our cabin would be available at that time. So we asked our hotel for a slightly later checkout allowing us to sleep in, go for breakfast and make for a relaxing morning. We also took our luggage with us, from the car rental shuttle, through security and check in, and into the ship.
Check in was a breeze without much of a wait. Once we had our cabin keys and the obligatory embarkation photo, we were on the decks of the Carnival Freedom. Let's get one thing over and done now - yes the color palettes and decorations are somewhat gaudy but at no time did it ever detract from our enjoyment of the ship. The color choices are certainly more lively than other ships we've been on but so what - it goes hardly noticed at the cruise went on.
Our cabin was spacious, as is all Carnival cabins. A king bed (or two twins), a couch, three closets, four drawers and lots of other space for storage makes for a roomy, comfortable place to stay. The central air is adjustable in the cabin but don't expect the room to get overly cool when in port in hot destinations. Also beware of your windows facing the sun - your windows will get hot and this heat will radiate into the room. Some nights you have no choice but to sleep with no covers on.
Cabins are not sound proof. You will hear your neighbours and the hallway. Best advise we read years ago was bring a fan (or two) and a long extension cord so that you have ambient white noise to sleep to. You'll thank this even more if your partner snores or if you have the room next to the Johnson's and their three children.
The ship itself offers everything. Carnival has a reputation as being the fun, party ships. While this is available and offered most of the time, there are areas for solitude, quiet reading, games etc. The latter is up to you to find. We found our games area at the back of the boat, in the upstairs eating area by the fish and chips. Lounge chairs near the back, on the sides, were also quiet and away from the deck parties. The International lounge in the back and the showroom in the front were mostly always open during the day for quiet reading, playing games etc. The one games room they do have on the ship, doubles as their library and is very small.
Shopping is basically in two retail outlets on the 5th deck, one on either side of the ship. Typical fare is offered with specials on sale during sea days.
Two kiosks are now available for checking your expense account. Instead of having to line up at the guest services desk one can go to either of these kiosks, kind of like an ATM machine, to check your account, pay your account, change large bills into small, etc.
The food on the cruise was outstanding. We had experienced Carnival food before and found it to be a bit below that of other lines. We also read recent reviews that food on the Freedom was subpar. This trip was far above anything we could imagine. We selected any time dining but usually arrived just after our time range began. We always ate at a table for two.
Every meal in the dining room was outstanding. Every plate arrived with hot food, extremely tasty and well appointed on the plate. Chateau Briand was amazingly tender, cooked to perfection and arrived hot. Lobster was piping hot, fresh and tasty. Prime rib, steak, turkey, and absolutely every appetizer was spot on perfect. In fact many nights we ordered more than one entree and/or appetizer. Our servers brought them out and always they were perfect.
For those that get concerned about formal nights, no need to worry any longer. The two formal nights I wore dress slacks, dress shoes, socks and a golf shirt. My wife wore a dress, or slacks and a blouse. There were some that went all out with tuxedos and evening gowns but the vast majority wore what we did. Every other dining night was what they called Cruise Casual. Tshirts, shorts, sandles, running shoes, casual long pants, all ok to be worn. Not allowed would be swim suits, sleeveless shirts, bikinis etc.
The ports of call on this eight night trip were Grand Turk, La Romana (Dominican Republic), CuraÃ§ao and Aruba. We had been to Grand Turk before and very much enjoyed it. It is the perfect first stop on any cruise. The ship docks on a long pier that you walk off and towards the main entrance to this small island. Inside there is a gift shop, duty free booze, jewellry etc. Outside the store you can go left towards the endless beach. Lounge chairs are free to use both on the beach and all around the Margaritaville bar. The bar is surrounded by swimming pools that become places for people to hold drinks and otherwise stand and listen to the loud DJ and his music. Choosing the beach chairs, as far away from the music, is the best choice. Right in front of your is your ship, the blue water, sand and your lounge chairs (free to use, unlike other islands). The water here isn't super warm but you do get used to it. Watch for the sharp coral on the floor. Wear water shoes if you have them.
We didnt get off the boat in La Romana. Having read that the area and the nearby town are quite poor, we walked off the ship just to the small market that is by the taxi stands. A small array of local trinkets, coffee, duty free booze etc awaits. Nothing worth seeing. The nice bonus of going back on the ship is that we had it mostly to ourselves as many went ashore.
Curacao is next and by far was our highlight island. The ship docks around 2pm in the afternoon, very near the Renaissance hotel and shopping plaza. The Starbucks in the plaza offers free, non password, wifi. Its easily discovered by the number of ship staff and other cruisers checking their email, Facebook and more. Be patient as the signal, while strong, is being shared by a lot of people. Head back and through the fort for more shops and a direct route to the outdoor market and floating bridge to the main shopping area. The outdoor market is very good, with local items all at a good price. The floating bridge opens and closes for ships passing through the channel. Once to the other side, the shopping is endless. There is something for guys, kids, teens and of course, women. Electronics, perfume, clothing, shoes, booze, etc. The color, energy, cleanliness and safety of Curacao is exceptional and well worth seeing again. While the ship doesnt leave till 11pm most of us are back on the ship for dinner and it was apparent most stayed on the ship thereafter.
Aruba was the next and last port to visit. The downside is that this was the fourth port to visit in four days. Docking closer to the downtown area than that of Curacao, walking to the smaller shopping district is easy. Aruba is also clean and safe to get around in. Our only tour of the ports was here in Aruba. Starting with a tour of the Island we saw the natural bridge formations on the far side of the island, one smaller bridge that is still intact, and a much larger bridge that collapsed back a few years ago. The guide showed us cashew fruit where the nut grows outside of the fruit. A stop at the California lighthouse preceded an hour long stay at Eagle beach. Aruba is noted for its long, white sandy beaches and warm, clear water. While amazing to swim in and enjoy, what they dont tell you is that Aruba is very windy, similar to experience in Maui. The trade winds blow strong all day, billowing up the sand and causing some small swells in the water. The beaches also dont have any coral so there is very limited fish and sealife to see underwater. Still, the beach and water is amazing to play in. Shopping around the port is a fraction of what was experienced in Curacao.
The entertainment on the Freedom starts out great. The singers, dancers and 10 piece orchestra makes every night a great show. As the cruise goes on there is less focus on the shows. My guess is because the ports tire people out and/or most want to stay on the outside decks. Makes sense.
There is additional comedy in the aft lounge on several nights of the cruise, with multiple shows each night. In each case there are two comedians that feature a family show and then later on, an adult only show. While the lounge is quite large, it is a good idea to get their early because it does fill up.
We never went into the piano bar, jazz club or cigar lounge. All three offer additional entertainment that sounded good as we walked by.
The 5th deck, or Promenade deck, stretches the length of the ship. This offers perfect people watching venues especially on formal nights. A nice touch is an eating bar that opens later at night serving fruit, cookies, snack foods and some hot mini entrees.
Tipping is always a sore spot for most cruisers. For us, we want to tip those that took direct care of us, in cash. These include the room stewards, the main dining room wait staff and others. We asked the front desk to remove the automatic tipping and they did so without questions.
While the seas were a bit rough heading from La Romana to Curacao, we were never seasick thanks to the acupressure wrist bands. These are simple elastic cloth bands that have a raised bump that fits over the back of your wrist. We typically wear just one but they are sold in pairs. Weve been seasick when we started cruising in 2000, but since then have never been wearing these bands.
Fort Lauderdale offers a myriad of things to do including the Everglades tours. These tours are exactly as advertised tour a big swamp in an airboat, looking for crocs, alligators, birds and other swamp things. The alligator shows are somewhat interesting.
For shoppers Sawgrass Mills is an indoor outlet shopping mall with 270 stores, feature stores such as Burlington Coat Factory (coats are only a small fraction of what they sell), JC Penny Outlet, Wal Mart, Target, movie theatres, lots of restaurants, two food fares and more. This is located about 30 minutes west of Fort Lauderdale right beside the hockey arena where the Florida Panthers play.
Out of the eight cruises weve now down, this cruise was one of our very best. We loved everything about the cruise and would definitely cruise with Carnival again.