My family of 4 and 6 other friends drove 12 hours to Ft. Lauderdale to sail on the Freedom July 21. We stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott in Plantation. It was a very nice hotel with a large number of restaurants nearby.
On the morning of our cruise we took a short drive to the Park N Go at the port. I had pre-paid, $39 per car, and was so pleased with their service. They quickly unloaded our cars and had us on our way to the port. We never touched a bag. They were also very efficient on our return as well. I highly recommend them.
Embarkation was fairly quick and easy. The line looked extremely long but we were on the boat in less than 30 minutes.
Before I continue, I will state that my husband and I had cruised Royal Caribbean in the spring so we were making comparisons during the entire cruise.
Drink packages-we didn't buy the Cheers package on this cruise but did on the Royal Caribbean cruise. Carnival charges more for it and both party has to purchase it. We like to have several cocktails a day but found it hard to drink enough to pay for it. We did purchase soda packages for us and the kids and didn't really keep track of how many we got, but it feel we broke even. My biggest complaint is that the kids had king waits getting served. It always took the much longer to get a drink and my son walked away on several occasions after waiting and waiting.
Kids activities-we had 4 kids in our group, ages 15, 13, 11, and 9. The way the groups were divided separated the older 3. None of them ended up going to any of the activities. The 9 year old went twice and there were very few kids and he didn't really care for the activities offered. The 3 older kids enjoyed walking around the ship and meeting other kids and the 9 year old loved the arcade.
Pools/slide-the pools were never really crowded until the sea day. The first four days the kids were able to use the slide with minimal waits and they used the pools and hot tubs. Even the adults took a trip down the slide! The kids were too overwhelmed with all the people on the sea day and didn't even attempt to get in the water.
Food-I thought the food in the main dining room was good but not great. This doesn't bother me as I am amazed at the sheer fact that 3000 people are served so quickly. Everything I ate was flavorful and most arrived at the table nice and warm.
Activities- there was enough to do on the ship, but because we were a fairly large group, we mostly just hung out and played a lot of cards. We did play trivia, hung out in the bars before dinner, and caught a few shows.
Bars-my favorite was the Alchemy bar and the Red Frog Pub was a close 2nd. A beautiful girl from Belarus (can't remember how to spell her name) made us some amazing drinks at Alchemy. We loved the martini tasting. At the Red Frog, I got hooked on the Ting Mojito....it was great as well.
Shore excursions- we did not get off the boat in Nassau. Most of us had been there before and it gave us a nice day on the ship. Half Moon Cay was beautiful and we were actually able rent a clamshell for shade. It was $24.99 and we were so glad for the shade. Some shade can be found way down the beach if you're willing to walk. The lunch served was pretty good...hamburgers and hotdogs, jerk chicken, lots of fruit and salads. Drink packages are not honored here. That was also a factor in us not buying the Cheers package. RCI drink packages do carry over. Our final stop was Grand Turk. It was also beautiful. My son did the Flowrider. The staff there was amazing with him. He only weighs about 65 pounds and was having a hard time staying on the board. The guys working with him were so patient and by the end he was doing tricks. We did the hour session and it was plenty long. They took some amazing pictures and sold them all on a CD for $30. We spent the rest of the day on the beach. We walked down to the end of the island, away from the shopping, and found some conch shells. My son took a mask and snorkel and saw lots of fish, including "Dory"!