This cruise experience reminded me why I do not sail Carnival any more, and will certainly not sail them ever again, even if I were offered a free cruise. I will first talk about the ship and our cruise in general, then go into the serious issues that occurred and the (lack of/inadequate) response by management.
A little background: This was a mother's day trip for my mom and sister, and I, so 3 people sharing 1 cabin. We've had 4 sharing a cabin very comfortably on other cruise lines, so while we knew the square footage of this cabin was smaller than we were used to, we thought it would be OK.We were told that the Carnival Freedom had just come out of dry-dock roughly 2 weeks prior to our sailing, May 10, 2014. I cannot confirm the validity of that statement, but if that is true, the decor of the ship must not have been addressed at all. The decor throughout the ship is very outdated, from the cabins, to the different buffet areas on the Lido deck, to the common areas like the atrium. There is minimal soundproofing, which I will get into in much greater detail later in this review. The layout of the ship is confused and inefficient. We had to cut through at least one dining room several times throughout the course of our daily movements. The elevators are small. Ship's appearance I give a C-.
Carnival must really be in cost savings mode, because they have all but eliminated live entertainment from the ship. Yes, there are the seemingly impromptu guitar and cello performance, or the casino bar band nightly (much more on that to come), and the night club still has a DJ playing music, but if you are a fan of production shows, you will be disappointed. They have been replaced by comedians, almost every night. I believe there was only 1 'production' show on this 8 day cruise, and calling it a production show is pushing it. There was no set design, and hardly anything in the way of dancers. It's all projections on an LED screen, with some (very) roughly average singers. The rest of the nights you'll enjoy comedy shows - ranging from a night with the newlywed game, to adult-only comedy. (Of course for a comedy show, you only need to have a sound and lighting engineer, and the comedian, versus a true production show which would require several lighting staff, a few people on sound, at least half a dozen dancers and usually 2-3 lead singers.) As far as other entertainment on board, there were various activities like art auctions, games/contests on the pool deck, bingo, casino tournaments, alcohol tastings, spa seminars, etc. Most of the activities are designed around encouraging you to spend money on board the ship, such as the spa seminars, the art auctions, etc., with other activities that cost money to participate in, such as bingo, casino tournaments, alcohol tastings or mixologist demonstrations, the specialty steak house ($35 fee per person), daily shop sales, scrap book classes, etc. This is all (sadly) standard fare for a cruise anymore; gone are the days so full of activities that you couldn't decide which ones you'd rather go to - but that's the cruise industry as a whole. So, for on board entertainment and activities, I begrudgingly give it a C-.
As for the food, I have to say it was just average. The food on the buffets was mediocre at best. They had a few items that were good, but on the whole, the buffets were a big disappointment. Guy Fieri(?), of Food Network fame, has a deal with Carnival to offer "Guy's Burger Joint" where you can get big, greasy burgers with his special sauces, and they have a fresh toppings bar with sauteed onions and mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, etc. The burgers and hot dogs are good. And there's the 24/7 ice cream machine and pizza station, which is good. As for the food in the dining room, it honestly was hit or miss. Some nights it was pretty decent, and other nights there was nothing that sounded appetizing. They offered 2 menus, one was an every day menu with staple items like Southern Fried Chicken (not any form of southern fried chicken I've ever had, and I'm originally from MS, so I know all about southern fried chicken), a skirt steak, shrimp cocktail, etc. The other was the normal menu that changed daily. For food on the Lido deck, I give the buffets a C-, Guy's Burger Joint, the 24/7 ice cream machine and pizza station get an A. Food in the dining room gets a B-.
The service in the dining room was very good, though. The waitstaff actually bothered to learn our names and used them from day 1, which was a nice touch. You don't even usually get that on Royal Caribbean or Celebrity. The cabin stewards that we had were decent. They did their job, nothing more nothing less. They didn't go out of their way to surprise us, but they did everything we asked them to do. I was disappointed with the staff at Guest Relations desk, though, a few of them seemed to have a hard time speaking English, and most had very thick accents. This was highly unexpected, but I'll chalk some of this up to a brand new crew staffing the desk. Overall, though, I would give the service on the ship as a whole a B.
As for the casino, I must be honest when I tell you that the slot machines on this ship were some of the loosest slot machines I've come across in many years - ESPECIALLY for a cruise ship. All three of the people in my cabin won decent money on the slots, and we saw people hitting big wins very consistently throughout the cruise. They had a nice variety of slot machines, as well as good variety on table games. The dealers were friendly, as to be expected. I give the casino an A.
Now comes the detailed information about our specific cabin, and other important issues/situations that occurred and how they were handled by the staff.
We were booked into cabin 6367, which is deck 6, starboard side, mid-ship. We had no idea of the nightmare that would befall us with this cabin until we had set sail. Unfortunately, there is minimal - if any - soundproofing of the cabins. And all of deck 6 starboard mid-ship is directly above the casino bar, where there is a live band playing off and on throughout the day, and scheduled until 12:15 AM EVERY NIGHT! Let me remind you that this was a trip primarily for my Mother and Sister for mother's day. My mother has always been a morning person, and she enjoys relaxing when she goes on vacation. That was impossible on this cruise because of the noise. The very first night, we naturally contacted Guest Relations to ask where the loud noise was coming from and what was going on. They sent someone to our cabin, and determined that it was coming from the bar band in the casino, on the deck right below us. Their speakers were in their ceilings, which of course were our floors, so the walls and floor in our cabin actually shook and vibrated with the music.The music was so loud that we could even feel the bass vibrating in our chests! (And, truth be told, the singer was not very good at all, which did not help the situation.) The Guest Relations agent initially told us that they would be stopped by 10 PM, which - while we did not like at all - we would have been OK with. She called us a few minutes later to tell us that she misread the activities schedule, and that they would be playing until 12:15 AM every night! This was obviously unacceptable to us and we asked to be moved. I stressed that not everyone who goes on Carnival are college kids looking to get drunk all day for spring break. It isn't all about the drinking and clubbing. Some people actually go on cruises to rest and relax, and enjoy the different ports of call. I have to give credit to this Guest Relations agent (Sasche), as she certainly understood our complaint, as she experienced it herself when she originally came to the cabin the first time to figure out where the noise was coming from, and she stuck with us and advocated for us throughout the whole sailing - even though Carnival's response was truly pathetic and a further insult. But initially we were told there were no other cabins available. She said that there were no suites, as they were under renovation still, and any empty rooms would be a downgrade, which we obviously wouldn't accept as we had barely enough room in the cabin as it was. Sasche told us to make sure to call every time the noise was an issue so that it could be documented. She essentially was saying that it isn't enough to complain one time about the noise and assume that they understand that since the band plays every night, that we would have an issue every night. So we called every night to complain about the noise.
To make matters worse, the cabin was not cooling down adequately. They sent a technician to take the temperature, and it registered over 77 degrees, which is unacceptable. (FYI: Carnival considers a room temperature of 70-74 degrees to be acceptable) They had a maintenance technician come look at the system and he determined that a fan belt was causing some problems and he supposedly replaced it. That brought it down about 2 degrees, which was still too warm. We complained every day about the poor cooling in the room, and the outrageous noise pollution from the casino bar band. We begged at least for a fan so we could get some air circulating in the room, which was finally provided to us on night 2. That gave us a little relief, though it was still too hot in the cabin. They sent techs every day to check the temperature in the cabin, and even said they had the head of refrigeration look at the A/C to see if there was anything else that could be done, but nothing they did made a difference.
On night 4, during our nightly complaint call about the noise, a snarky representative said she would send us ear plugs at no charge. Sure enough, about 5 minutes later, housekeeping knocked on the door and handed us 4 packs of foam ear plugs, like you get when you have an MRI. Who wants to wear ear plugs to sleep? And, more to the point, we could feel the bass vibrating our chests, and the walls and floor of our cabin - what were ear plugs going to do for that?? On day 4, we were contacted by a "Senior Guest Services Supervisor" who offered us an on-board credit of $73.35 and a 10% discount on a future cruise (which came with all kinds of restrictions, such as that it has to be used within a year, and cannot be used on a cruise to Alaska, Europe, Asia, etc. And that it would apply to the balance after the deposit had been made - essentially further reducing the actual benefit). We were given the impression that the $73.35 was for each person, but a review of our on-board accounts the next day showed that it was actually divided between the 3 of us. We complained about the amount, stressing that this was a Mother's Day trip and my mom couldn't get a good night sleep on her vacation because of the noise and the A/C issues. He insisted that there was nothing he could do about the amount offered, saying that they have guidelines in place for credits for noise disturbances, and they send a report to home office, who responds with the amount of credit they are going to offer. That day, I actually called Carnival Cruise Lines guest relations in Miami, trying to get someone who would do something to help us, but I was shut down. They said that they do not receive any information about any issues until the sailing closes out (when the cruise ends), and so there was nothing they could do for us until the cruise ended. So, who was lying?? Do they get the credit amount from main office after sending a report, or do they not get any reports until the sailing closes out?? And I don't know why I actually thought taking the extraordinary step of calling their main office while in the middle of our "vacation" to try to get some assistance would accomplish anything, but it didn't. So we continued our nightly complaint calls.
Finally we were contacted by the Senior Guest Services man in the late afternoon of day 6 who told us that someone had left the cruise for business purposes, so there was a new cabin available for us if we wanted it - located on the same deck, same side, but all the way at the back of the ship. We were then faced with a decision - did we want to pack everything up, move to a new room, and unpack for only 2 days benefit, or just stay where we were. If we did not accept their offer of a new room, they could then say that they made a new room available to us but we declined it. So, we decided to pack up, move and unpack, and pack it all up again days later for disembarkation. Thankfully the new cabin had no A/C issues, and there was no noise problem at all, so we were grateful for that. To add insult to injury, the Senior Guest Services guy told us that he would have to reduce the credit they gave us and that he was requiring that I give their original letter back to them in exchange for a new letter with the new offer. So we went from splitting $73.35 3-ways, to splitting $55.00 3-ways. But lucky us - we still got to keep our 10% discount on a future cruise (after deposit is paid, and we could only go back to the Caribbean, basically).
Long story long, this was not a great vacation. Our time spent in the destinations was fine and we had a good time as far as that goes, but the cruise part was pretty much a disaster. The only thing worse would have been being on one of those ill-fated cruises that got stranded at sea with no A/C, overflowing toilets and brown bag lunches 3 times a day. I think we'll just stick with Royal Caribbean or Celebrity.