This was my 57th Cruise, 10th or 11th with Carnival. I have now been upgraded to Platinum status. It does have a few perks. First at this level you have a specific check in line - this was nice, no wait time. After the quick check in you have a Platinum waiting lounge that includes ice water, fruit punch and some cookies.....nothing fancy or deluxe about this. You are also given a "priority" boarding pass, so you are among the very first group of people to board the ship when the time allows. Other perks at this level include a "silver/chrome" pin with the ship name and year- are they going to pay me to advertise their product? A plate with four chocolate covered strawberries, and four chocolate covered cookies, a Carnival carry bag that would hold a few beverage cans in a zippered area and net covered area in the top for a beach towel. The best perk for me was on a 7 night or longer cruise they will do three bags of laundry for you at no cost. Each paper bag held about 2 pairs of slacks, 4 shirts, and some socks and undershorts. You leave the bag on the bed and the cabin steward takes it while cleaning your room, The next day your clothes are returned clean and folded in a new bag - nice!
I have sailed the Caribbean so many times the ports are not important to me. The cruise is more about not having to cook, clean, drive, mainly just relaxing. I was traveling with a few friends and joined them on two excursions. The first was a half day trip in St. Thomas to Sapphire Beach. This was great. Along with about 14 guests we met just outside the ship on the pier. We were escorted to an open air vehicle - a heavy duty (Ford F-350) truck with 4 rows of seats that each comfortably held 4 adults. We were about 20 minutes late leaving because one of the passengers was traveling with an electric "scooter" or "hover around". This item would not fit in the passenger area of the vehicle. The driver and two men tried every way to turn and twist this item, take it partially apart and it still would not fit. Finally they placed the item inside the cab of the truck next to the driver. When we finally started the journey someone said, "Oh they said wheelchairs were fine on this excursion" Well, many wheel chairs fold in half for easy transport, but scooters do not. If you are traveling with someone that needs a scooter please do yourself and everyone else a favor and find out if these items will work on your excursion. The ride was about 30 minutes with some wonderful "Kodak" moments along the way to Sapphire Beach. The beach was fantastic, we had many gray lounge chairs set up for our party. About half in the sun and the other half under a huge shade tree, for us that would prefer not to get too much sun. Clean restrooms were available, and water equipment to rent if desired, I think goggles, masks, and fins were included. There was also a bar for purchasing beverages and snacks on the beach as well as a few wait staff walking up and down the beach if you just wanted to stay on your lounge chair and be served. The prices for a bucket of six beers was reasonable, they offered both domestic and imported.
The second excursion was at Antigua. Just a few blocks from the ship we boarded the "Mystic II" Catamaran for a full day excursion. Soon after boarding we were offered water, fruit punch, or pineapple punch. After about a 30 minute ride we arrived at the 1st of two stops. A very nice, clean unimproved beach. There were a few local vendors selling jewelery and art work, but no pressure at all to purchase. We stayed there about an hour and then we sailed about another 30 minutes to the next beach. This beach had condos and a hotels, but still very nice. Just after we arrived the crew began grilling lunch on the stern of the Catamaran. In less than an hour we were served a wonderful (LARGE) lobster (or chicken if you prefer) along with a few good side items. We were there about 2.5 hours to enjoy the beach before the slow ride back to the ship. This is when things got interesting.... The booze started to flow, the music got loud, as well as some of the passengers. Champagne, Rum, Vodka, and Yum Yum punch were flowing faster than hot butter on an August afternoon in Miami. If you could ask for it, they gave it to you. Thus in a rather short period of time most to the teenagers got quite "twisted". I wonder where the parents of these children were located? On the final 10 minutes back to the ship at least two of the teenage girls were puking their guts out on the bow of the Catamaran. For sure, a class act!
THE GOOD -
Ship is very clean, maintained very well, and looks great.
Employees were happy, friendly, and nice. The only exception was during the last morning of the cruise the wait staff in the dining room at our table, both had a major attitude, and no we were not there 10 minutes before closing time
The Posh Dining Room is very attractive.
Never a wait for a table at the Lido buffet even during prime time.
Broadway style shows were excellent - these guys give 100% and so does the band.
24 hour pizza was great - nice thin crust.
24 hour ice cream and frozen yogurt in three different locations were excellent.
The brunch in the Posh Dining Room is a fine new addition, especially for us who like to sleep in.
The hallways in the cabin areas are plenty wide for everyone to pass with ease.
This ship ALWAYS felt crowded.
Long lines for just about everything.
Mongolian Grill in the Lido has great food but the wait times are between 30 - 45 minutes - do you really want to wait that long for food especially while on vacation?
Very slow service in the MDR on all but one evening, took about 2.5 hours from start to finish...why so long?
Punchline comedy in the Aft Lounge on deck 5 was packed 30 minutes before the shows began and no seats available. Why is this not held in the large show lounge for everyone to enjoy??
For New Years Eve we were given a paper hat and a paper noise maker - big wow- let's not bust that budget! I really think each cabin should have been treated to a (cheap) bottle of champagne for the celebration that could have been enjoyed at you dining table, in your cabin, or at the celebration on deck. NO you had to buy your own champagne to celebrate. Considering everyone paid a generous premium to cruise this week, I do not think a bottle of champagne would be asking for too much.
Other than the Mongolian Wok the food in the Lido was not nearly as good as other ships I have sailed. The only dessert that was good was a chocolate layer cake. Exact same salad bar every day for the first 1/3 of the buffet line.
Food in the MDR was not much better. Lobster was good, but very small the meat was the same size as a roll of quarters. One nite I requested prime rib, I was served some thin-thin-thin piece of meat that was way overcooked lathered in heavy brown gravy....what the hell is that?
Also avoid the "always available" Salmon - tiny, dry, wayyyyyy overcooked, with skin. = nasty.
I would recommend the Veggie Lasagna, the Chateaubriand, and the NY Strip Steak, they all were excellent.
I did not have a problem being a "seasoned" cruiser but during the entire week I could see people did not know where they were going on this ship. It is not user friendly, with decks 3 and 4 having the Chic Dining Room in the middle. You must go up do deck 5 or down to deck 2 to get to the other end of the ship.
Would I sail on the Freedom again - absolutely not.
Would I sail Carnival again - sure but only on the "Spirit" class of ships that include the Legend, Miracle, Spirit, and Pride - these ships have a user friendly deck plan and best space ratio of all the Carnival ships.
Next cruise - 01/26/2014 - HAL Ryndam - 14 nights R/T Tampa