We just finished our cruise, and since I've found the reviews on Cruise Critic so helpful, I thought I'd contribute my own while my trip is still fresh in my mind.
“We” consists of myself, my husband, and my nine-year-old twin daughters. This was my 12th cruise; this was our family’s fifth Carnival cruise.
We flew from Maryland to Fort Lauderdale the day before the cruise. We stayed at the Lago Mar resort in Fort Lauderdale – a little pricey, but it’s lovely. The morning of the cruise we had to check out by 11 a.m., but they kept our luggage in the lobby so we could enjoy more pool time. My daughters ended up just putting a cover-up over their swimsuits and wearing that to get on the cruise – so they’d be ready to hop in the pool on the ship. The resort arranged a taxi to the port for us.
Embarkation went pretty fast – the line was long but they kept it moving. We were able to get in our room right away – we were on the 6th deck, aft, balcony stateroom.
We opted for Anytime Dining – it’s just nice to not have to rush to get ready for dinner. One drawback is you have a different waiter/waitress each evening, but on the plus side you don’t have to sit at a table with a bunch of strangers making polite small talk while you’re eating. We ate every night but one in the main dining room, and found the food delicious. We took advantage of ordering several appetizers, and on lobster night my husband ordered five lobster dinners (eight servings of escargot on the escargot night!).
We ate one night at the Steak House, and it was wonderful. My daughters did the evening buffet on the Lido deck that night and it was ok. We’re not big on buffets and we would rather be served than stand in line for our food. So that we didn’t miss out on something good in the main dining room, the first night I asked our server what would be a good night to skip dinner in the main dining room. He said on Monday they served jerked pork and short ribs – so we knew that would be a good night for the Steak House.
This cruise was the first time we tried the brunch on the Sea Days. My husband likes getting up early and having the Lido deck breakfast buffet, but my daughters and I enjoyed being served for our breakfast. The brunch was delicious – steak and eggs, eggs benedict, etc. We also had breakfast in the main dining room one morning – same items as on the buffet (including omelets) but no waiting in one line for an omelet and then another for the sides.
This was also the first cruise we tried the afternoon tea. It was fun, and a nice way to take a break from the hot sun.
Last year’s cruise (on the Breeze) was the first time we tried Guy’s Burger Joint. I read the Cruise Critic reviews about the burgers and thought people were out of their mind talking about cheeseburgers when they had all that good cruise food to choose from…okay, I totally agree with everyone! The burgers are pretty much the best we’ve ever had. We were excited that the Freedom got a Guy’s Burger Joint right before our cruise, and we enjoyed them every day for lunch.
Because I was a faithful Cruise Critic reader, I read about the Fish and Chips. It’s hidden way upstairs in the back of the ship, and if I hadn’t read about we never would have known about it. Fish and chips, fried oysters – really tasty for lunch.
Each night while we were getting ready for dinner, my husband would run down to the Tasting Bar and get us all a snack while we were getting ready. Free, something different every night – definitely stop by.
I purchased the soda program for myself. One of the few complaints I had about the cruise was that once the bartenders realized you weren’t going to be buying alcohol, they weren’t very friendly when you just wanted a Coke. I had one pool bartender pour my Coke in a glass, then add a couple of ice cubes on top and got an attitude when I asked for a cup of ice so I could pour the Coke over ice. Another bartender got annoyed with me when he served me a flat soda and I asked for a fresh can – made a big production of throwing it down the sink and asking if I was happy now.
This was our first cruise that we purchased absolutely no alcohol (last year’s bar tab was almost $1500!). My husband stopped drinking last summer, so this was a huge test for him (he passed!). He said the iced tea was great on the cruise, and he brought an insulated water bottle and kept it filled with ice water. I think because last year all the bartenders knew us by name (my husband was a good customer!), it was weird having them be rude this year because I only wanted a Coke.
We had three sea days, all with perfect weather. They always say not to reserve your chairs by the pool, but we kind of break the rules. The day we set sail we were sitting right by the pool, but the music from the DJ was so loud we couldn’t hear each other, so we moved back a bit. The poolside DJ music was one of my only other complaints about the cruise – it’s not like I’m some old fuddy-duddy, but the music was seriously too loud! Then they’d start to play a song, the crowd would sing along, and then they’d change it. Both DJs were kind of cocky (one even sang along with songs – bad idea!). They had acoustic singers play late afternoons and that was more enjoyable.
We checked out the Serenity area, but since we have children, sitting there wasn’t really an option. It was really nice there, though. My girls enjoyed the water slide (but the Breeze’s were a lot cooler). They tried to play basketball a few times but the courts were always busy. They did play putt-putt. Mainly we just swam and enjoyed the hot tubs.
They showed a movie each night at 6 p.m. on the big screen by the pool. Later in the evening they showed the NBA playoffs, which was nice for those guests into basketball (not me!).
We didn’t go to any shows (we’re not really “show” people). Our evening activity was the penny slot machines in the casino (all the money we saved from not drinking went directly down the slot machine drain – but we had fun). We stopped by one of the deck parties and watched the dancing one night.
They just opened the Club Ocean program – the whole Camp Carnival area was completed remodeled. My girls were very excited to move up to the next age group this year (9-11), but the schedule was very similar to the 6-8 age group. They didn’t have any fun evening activities. My girls checked through the schedule and were very excited for the beach volleyball activity, but when they went it was cancelled because they didn’t have a ball. It’s a great program if your kids want to play Wii, but my girls were hoping for a bit more activities geared for 9-11 year olds. I did allow them to sign themselves in and out by themselves, which they loved.
The arcade was shut down for remodeling, so my girls were disappointed. Their consolation prize was spending tons of money on candy at Cherry On Top! If the arcade is open when you sail, you can have a daily limit put on their sign and sail cards at Guest Services, fyi.
Grand Turk – this was our third year in a row at Grand Turk. Because of the limited time (7 a.m. to 1:30, and there was no way were going to be up and out by 7 a.m.), we’ve opted each year just to enjoy the beach at the cruise terminal. There are some shops, and also a pool there. We can swim in a pool at home, so we just do the beach. You can sit for free at the cruise terminal beach, but if you walk just a bit down the beach, the water is much clearer with no rocks (and no crowds). You’ll have to pay for a beach chair, though. A guy had some ponies on the beach, so we offered him $50 to let both our girls ride (we live on a horse farm). They rode by themselves way down on the beach, then came back up and swam them in the ocean (the guy’s son walked near them). This was a huge highlight of our trip! We just filled up with a huge breakfast, and brought a soft-sided cooler and bottled water (got ice the night before from our room attendant, and scored a few cans of Coke from a bartender). And then since you have to be back on board by 1:30 we just ate a late lunch on board. The first year we went there we ate at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville (which is right there at the cruise terminal). You would think you would get an awesome cheeseburger (Cheeseburger in Paradise?!), but $100 later, slow service and pretty much the worst cheeseburgers ever, we learned to avoid that place.
La Romana: I carefully read all the Cruise Critic reviews of this port, since we’ve never been there before. Thanks to a couple of reviews, I picked out the beach – Bayahibe Beach. When we got off the ship, there was a taxi line and we told the coordinator where we wanted to go. She got us in the taxi, and we drove about a half hour. Turning into the beach area I started getting worried – lots of trash and junk everywhere, even a graveyard…but once we got out of the taxi and saw the beach I was so happy I choose it! It was bare-bones – a few little huts with souvenirs and food, $10 for a beach chair ($10 to the guy who comes around with iguanas for you to hold!), but all of it was worth it – the water was the prettiest water I think I’ve ever swam in. The prettiest blue/green color, no waves, no high-rise hotels on the beach. This port ended up being our favorite stop of all of them. My favorite beach in the world is Orient Beach at St. Maarten, but this ranks pretty much up there with Orient Beach. Our taxi driver waited for us (the guy who sold us the beach chair told him what time we were leaving since he spoke no English).
Curacau: Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t perfect this day. Overcast, a little bit of rain off and on. We docked at 2 p.m. and I was concerned it was going to be crowded trying to get off the ship (it wasn’t). Based on Cruise Critic reviews I chose Mambo Beach, but our taxi driver said he knew of a better beach, so I went with his choice. Should’ve gone with my choice – and I wish I could remember the name of the beach so I could tell people not to bother. It was very small, very rocky. Entrance was $3 per person, chairs were $35 each, and you weren’t allowed to bring in your own beverages. We stayed for a bit, then called a cab and went to Mambo Beach. The beach was great, lots of little shops, great swimming. Our second driver came back to get us at 6 p.m., then dropped us off in the town for a little shopping. We wanted to walk on the floating bridge back to the ship, but it was closed so we had to take a ferry (free).
Aruba: We chose Palm Beach, and this time our taxi driver agreed with our choice. It was fine, but we could have been in Florida – a beach, lots of high-rise hotels, water sports. My girls begged all week to do the banana boat ride, so we compromised with this cool chair thing pulled behind the boat. We negotiated $45 for the two girls and my husband (I rode in the boat and took pictures/video). We ate a snack at the little pier (grouper ceviche and calamari).
Miscellaneous: Each cruise we learn a new little trick – this year, we noticed someone put a piece of colored duct tape on their mail holder outside of their cabin. I wondered why, but one of my daughters said, “Our room is three down from the colored tape.” So next cruise I’m bringing a piece of tape to put on our mailbox thingy so we can find our room faster! We always take a large kitchen trash bag with us and put our dirty clothes in it as we go, then just pack the whole bag and dump it in the washing machine when we get home. We also brought some high-quality toilet paper with us this time (I know, weird, but it was appreciated by my whole family!).
Debarkation: Our plane home was at 11:40, so we were in group 3 to get off. We opted to put our suitcases out the night before. There weren’t any lines (but they were being strict at making you wait if they hadn’t called your group number yet). Found a porter and he got us quickly through customs, got a taxi, and got to the airport by 9:15.
Hard to come back to reality – we had a great week and we’re already plotting next year’s vacation!