I. Background Information.
The two of us are a couple in our 30's traveling along with my sister and mom, which makes 4 of us, total. This cruise sailing marks our 5th cruise and 2nd with Carnival cruise lines. This is also our first Europe cruise, with any cruise line.
II. Hotel Information.
I decided to centralize us at the Hotel Victoria which is in a safe, upscale location in the Via Veneto area of Rome. This is also known as the "Beverly Hills" of Rome. We were on the northern edge near the Borghese Garden Park. The hotel rooms were small. There was a hot breakfast served which was included in the hotel rate, in a nice, elegant dining room. We typically walked to most locations, easily to the Spanish Steps shopping area, the Trevi Fountain, which was further, and the Pantheon even the furthest all in one day, after de-barking the aircraft early that morning. The following day, we took a cabbie to the Colosseum from the hotel and then walked back. One of the most beautiful areas in Via Veneto is probably where the Hotel Majestic is located at. This is right at the winding curve of the road that slopes downhill to the south and uphill to the north, toward the Borghese Garden Park. There are swanky restaurants located in the middle of the sidewalks scattered about along Via Veneto. The hotel staff at Hotel Victoria was accommodating in a friendly, personable way, and there were no language problems.
In fact, it is not even necessary for any person from the United States to learn any Italian at all. The merchants and the hotels know the language of "money", and that's the English language! Funny, but true! You'll be fine without knowing any Italian. Wait, I need to back pedal. One thing you do need to know is that "W C" means the bathroom during the cruise at the different countries.
Our hotel room did have a plumbing problem with the toilets. The toilets flush much differently than the toilets in the United States and in my opinion are much weaker. We had to change rooms because of the plumbing situation. Our hotel did have the foreign electric plug outlets, with only one plug available in the bathroom that had a U.S. plug outlet. All the others were European voltage outlets.
III. Travel to Port of Embarkation.
The cruise ship, Carnival Freedom, is docked about 1 hour and 20 minutes northwest of the central city of Rome, in the town of Civitavecchia harbor. The two of us managed to save the equivalent of $20 - $25 U.S. dollars by making our own transportation arrangement in getting to the seaport from Central City Rome. I used Roma Shuttle Service and saved, even for just 2 people, I saved. If you book for more than 2 people, you will save even more money. I can vouch for Roma Shuttle Service in that they came when they said and came to the Hotel Victoria, with no problems. They took us to the ship for embarkation.
Carnival Freedom is the newest ship in Carnival's fleet. When arriving at the dock, we were told to surrender our passports and would not receive our passports back in our hands until AFTER getting through visiting Turkey. So Carnival retained our passports for a goodly amount of time during the cruise.
Embarkation went smoothly, even in spite of having to surrender our passports.
We had an interior stateroom on the Upper Deck. The stateroom is the regular, run-of-the-mill design with closets next to the doorway entrance. The beds are either in 2 twin size configuration, or can convert to a queen/king size bed. These are real mattresses this time, and not just a simple foam cushion on a sling, nor hard bottom, as old cruise ships of the past have been. So the quality of the mattress is much better nowadays. As usual, for an interior stateroom, the bathroom is cramped, but adequate shelf space was there above the sink. The shower was outstandingly fantastic!! Wonderful water pressure and I never ran out of hot water, as there was always plenty. The cruise line DOES SUPPLY you with shampoo, soap, and shower gel. They even supply you with packets of toothpaste on the sink!! So there's nothing to gripe about in the supplies of the bathroom. White robes are furnished inside the closet, but I'm not a robe kind of guy. You do get plug outlets in both European AND in United States voltages, which is smartly designed. The overall picture here is that the interior staterooms are very small, which is the usual standard on any cruise ship regarding interior staterooms.
I was still very satisfied with the interior stateroom with all the supplies furnished. Luggage could be stored under the bed.
Okay, dining becomes an important category of a cruise, as you spend a goodly amount of time doing so on a ship.
On this go-around, there are plenty of options and a fantastic variety of food options to choose from. It's too bad that the formal dining room food was below average quality.
I was delighted with the Fish n' Chips eatery located near the aft of the ship, one deck above the regular buffet, I think above Lido. This was great, and I went to it twice. They only served between the hours of 12 noon and 3 PM.
Other choices include an Asian stir-fry wok where you pick your own food and scarf it down after it's cooked. There's also Sushi on another deck, I think around Promenade deck, in an inconspicuous location. Then there's the regular buffet, which is reminiscent of a cafeteria-style, like Luby's/Golden Corral with comparable quality as a cafeteria. You eat there when you like and alone if you wish. This is standard on any cruise ship. The pizzeria in the aft part of the ship next to the pool is also super with its pizza which was 24 hours a day of service. They also have a Tandoori shish-kabob eatery outside of the cafeteria, which has selected meats that are cooked on kabobs or placed into a bin that you choose. Then there's the regular burgers served up on Lido deck or the pool deck as well. The hot dogs are godzilla-sized. I thought they were sausages, but they were hot dogs!
Now, onto the formal dining options. Yes, you must still be assigned to a table and be assigned a time for the formal dining rooms for EVENING TIME ONLY.
In comparison with my other 4 cruises I have taken, I rate the QUALITY of the formal dining rooms BELOW average, during dinner time. Carnival seems to struggle in the formal dining rooms, just not up to par with other cruise lines such as Princess or Royal Caribbean. The steaks were tough in more than one instance. The chicken that is offered nightly near the bottom of the menu seemed to be more like processed meat. The one highlight I can offer is that the Prime Rib was awesome both nights I had it. This was a memorable meal, but most of the time, the other evening meals I felt there was room for improvement. There is a noticeable difference in comparison with other cruise lines.
This is the first time that I can say that some of the other dining options, listed above other than the formal dining option, actually offers better quality of food than in the formal dining room.
One super great thing is the choice of beverage options when in the buffet lines. You get numerous choices from tea, to coffee, to a couple of juices, to hot chocolate. The choices for free beverages far exceeds that of a couple other cruise lines I've been on. Desserts were about average. I'm not a chocolate lover, so I missed out on a number of the chocolate desserts offered, by my own choosing.VI. Activities.
There is Bingo offered regularly and some typical sporting games. During our cruise, it was too cool to be out swimming on the pool deck. There were some indoor scheduled participant games, and game shows, one of which I was a contestant on in the double-tiered theatre. You've got your art auctions, too, which were very active and busy. See, the activities during the day don't really need to be much because this cruise is so very port intensive, visiting so many ports of call, that you'll mostly be consumed with the ports of call 75 percent of the time. They have a library on board, plenty of spots to take pictures in the evening, and a couple of large shops as well. A good-sized casino is there for you, but didn't seem that busy during the times I walked through it. Adding to that there's lots of bars/lounges to keep you going as well. Finally, do not forget about the spa, up on the top-most deck. There is FREE use of the sauna and steam room, but the men's side was either not completed or broken during my cruise. You get a full array of spa services to choose from which are extra costs with that.
Service everywhere was usually satisfactory. Sometimes my Turkish head waiter, Cem, would get the orders horsed-up and not bring out what was ordered. These are rookie mistakes, that happened repeatedly. I was not upset. I just informed him and corrected him. The room steward was efficient. The pursers desk line went slower than usual, however they were knowledgeable. A new change was that if you wanted a print-out statement of your balance, they do not give it to you right then and there like other cruise lines, so you typically had to wait later that night to have it given to you. I recommend the readers here get a print-out statement or oral balance from the pursers desk at least a day or two before disembarking the ship to reconcile any differences a little ahead of time.
VIII. Tour excursions.
This is Italy, Greece, and Turkey. The countries sell themselves, and I do not think there are bad excursions, are there?
The selections I made in Naples were:
Herculaneum and Pompeii.
I liked Pompeii more so, as there's more to see. I liked seeing the indents that the chariot wheels left imprinted into the stone, as an interesting visual example. We were given an earpiece with radio device to hear the tour guide even if you were hundreds of steps behind, which was a smart idea. This is the way it was at the ports of call in Italy. We also seen Cameo's which were interesting to see the examples on how it was created, and a chance to purchase.
In Rhodes, Greece, our selection was: The Best of Rhodes.
Here, we saw the medieval town of Rhodes, plus we were taken on a road trip up to beautiful Lindos, atop an acropolis as well since this was a combination tour. Beautiful scenic views were offered at Lindos, but the climbing will be a challenge for old people. I am 34 and I was huffing coming back to the busses. I'm not overweight either. We were also treated to an AWESOME Greek buffet. Most buffets that I encounter on ship-sponsored tours are lackluster to barely edible, but THIS time, I have to say it was a really great experience!! It also looked like a very fine hotel we were dining at, in excellent repair! I found Rhodes to be very neat and remarkably clean with nice scenic views.
In Izmir, Turkey, our selection was: House of Virgin Mary and Ancient Ephesus.
If I were to do it all over again, I probably would choose Ancient Ephesus and the Terrace Houses. House of Virgin Mary was an extremely long wait, and the moment you go into the house there is NO photography allowed. The holy water was simply coming from water fountains one deck down below the house. Recall, that, the Mother Mary house was ONLY what was believed to be where she spent her last years. It cannot be confirmed, but it was blessed by the pope some years ago, after being popularized by the vision idea of a German nun. There are post cards you can buy to substitute for the No photography rule INSIDE the believed to be Mother Mary's house. But the post cards are a walk away near the busses.
Ancient Ephesus is where the beef is at. This is considered one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Only about 20% has been excavated was what we were told. A walk down the Arcadian Way to the Celsius Library is quite breathtaking. Take as many photos as you want along the way.
At Istanbul, Turkey, our selection was: Highlights of Istanbul with Lunch.
We went to visit a couple of mosques, the Blue Mosque and St. Sophia church. There was a goodly amount of repair construction done inside both locations. In the blue mosque you must remove your shoes. You can take pictures inside both places. It was most interesting hearing the call to prayers, that are conducted 5 times daily watching the folks washing their hands and feet, as the bullhorns sound off, from the minarets, (spires). We were in the Grand Bazaar when one call to prayer occurred.
Okay, here's the scoop about the carpet weaving demonstration: The truth is, if you are hungry to shop, then skip the carpet weaving demonstration, and excuse yourself from the basement even before getting seated. Carnival takes you to that carpet shop as they likely get kick-back commission for any purchases that are made in that carpet shop. The carpets are grossly overpriced big-time.
You should be able to find you some great prices on leather goods in Grand Bazaar. However, beware that merchants are still trying to gouge the tourists. I had one fella try to sell me a leather jacket for somewhere around $220 U.S. dollars. As a last-ditch attempt so that he wouldn't lose business from me, he finally dropped down to $50 dollars. How about that for mark-up??
In Turkey, the Turkish merchants WILL ACCEPT United States money. So, there's no need to purchase Turkish Lire. However, you WILL NEED to purchase Euro for both Italy and Greece.
The lunch at Istanbul was so-so. They try to cater to the American taste for food, which was too bad. It's very obvious.
In Katakalon, Greece, our selection was: Ancient Olympia and Traditional Folkloric Dance.
Most all the time was spent in Ancient Olympia here. You see where the torch for the ceremonies were and the proposed ancient pools and many of the columns once stood. It's basically been reduced to a lot of rubble through earthquakes, erosion, and collapse of the structures. For history buffs, you'll still be entertained well.
Back into the Traditional Folkloric Dance, this was done back in the small township of Katakalon, within viewing distance of the ship. They squeeze everyone into these long tables on the 2nd floor and give you a couple snacks while they invite guests to do a dance-a-long in a follow-the-leader fashion. Time spent is as short or as long as you want it to be. There's a chance to shop afterwards. The shopping merchants are within walking distance of the ship. It happened to be drizzling and windy when our ship was there.
In Athens, Greece, our selection was Athens and Acropolis:
They first show us the Parthenon which is under repair and the high Acropolis for which it rests upon, where you can take lovely scenic views as well as the Parthenon. Next they take you to the streets of Plaka for only about 20-25 minutes of shopping as I recall.
In Florence, Italy, our selection was Highlights of Florence and Shopping tour:
I guess we could have done without the Highlights of Florence tour and cut right to the shopping as they did not take us into the 4th largest church in the world, the del Fiore. Probably Florence on your Own would be a better choice. My sister did Leaning Tower of Pisa with Tower Entrance. I was a bit disappointed in the tour we chose because I expected admittance into the church, which just didn't happen. Originally we were signed up for the Ufizzi Museum, but I have had it with museums, since you are not allowed to photograph anything once you enter into a number of museums. Although back in Istanbul I was enabled to see the Spoonmaker's Diamond, I was not permitted to photograph it.
Back in Rome, Italy, I did not make any ship-sponsored choices, until AFTER the ship disembarked, as I saw Rome on foot 2-3 days before the cruise. On my own, I covered the Colosseum, the Imperial Forum and Roman Forum all on the same day, having gone inside the Colosseum, too. The other day I covered visiting the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and shopping as well as visiting Via Veneto.
When leaving the ship, we took the Holy Rome tour offered by the ship. On this tour, you do go inside to visit the Sistine Chapel. I have to tell you that I was more impressed with the other Vatican Museums, than I was with the Sistine Chapel. The ceiling is so very, very high in the Sistine Chapel, you about need binoculars to see the close details. They do not allow any photography either inside the Sistine Chapel only, and they have guards there "shhh"-ing people to be quiet. We also seen St. Peters Square too. You will be fascinated with the Holy Rome tour.
In all my waiting in lines, I've always thought that Disney World in Orlando had the longest waiting time in lines. Well, gang, I think we've got a new winner here! Waiting in line to get inside to the Vatican Museums took me 2 full hours to get inside, and this was during the off-season!! Yikes! For those of you going during peak season, you better bring along some food to snack on while you wait in line & be sure you have gone to the restroom BEFORE getting on this tour. And bring your patience too! The first thing the Vatican Museums tests you on is your patience to get inside.
Summing it up on the tour excursions—
Alright, the ONE MAJOR thing I must highlight here to the reader about the ship-sponsored excursions is that THE TOURS DO NOT ALLOW SUFFICIENT TIME FOR SHOPPING. If you are a shopper, you'll need to plan accordingly and think real hard about making your selections, and think of planning tours of your own or going out on your own.
By the way, Civitavecchia port does not offer much resources for shopping.IX. Entertainment aboard the ship.
For those of you who have never sailed with Carnival before or any cruise line before, you will most probably admire and praise the entertainment aboard the ship.
When I got together with other fellow cruise critic groupies, I was told by a couple of them that Carnival recycles its entertainment shows, so that there are repeat performances done on other ships, particularly when such nighttime shows in the theatre utilize the audience during the opening welcome aboard shows.
Setting that fact aside, let me move on. I am one who really enjoys having comedy shows and a number of them. The cruise director John Heald typically used the audience as his shows when he was on stage. What I really was looking for was stand-up comedians, but I didn’t get any. We did have one show early on that had a magician, who again used the audience members as a convenient way to create comedy by insulting such members of the audience during his magic show.
There were a few production shows which were Vegas-like, with singing and dancing along with a live pit orchestra. This is standard. However, I was searching for more variety, like stand-up comedians, juggling events, contortionist shows.... It just didn’t happen. There were times, at least on a couple occasions when there were NO nighttime shows, as they didn’t have one on the first night dismissing it with the excuse that too many people arrived on the boat late with late flights. That was disappointing to hear that excuse. And bad weather was to blame for other entertainers not making it aboard the ship on a couple other situations. Maybe that was the variety that would have, could have, and should have made the entertainment category a bigger success than it was because of the missed shows and missing entertainers due to bad weather.
We made the best of it anyway, and was sure to make it to all the shows, except the opera singer gal. There was a show where there was a gal who was a violinist, playing with some accompaniment music. She was very full of herself, if you know what I mean, and she was very happy to let you know it, too. After a while all the violin playing, (and she played very fast at times), was just giving me a headache and I had to leave. Otherwise most of the shows that were presented were fairly good & acceptable. It’s just that I really wanted more variety, for which there was not.
John Heald, the cruise director, was a nice fellow and he was cheery. I think he’s very talented at what he does, and is one of the better ones I’ve had. However, the line-up of shows and variety was seriously lacking in the large theater nighttime shows.
Before I get to the disembarkation, I must really commend the captain of our ship. I think his name was D’Aita — I believe an Italian captain who was really short. What a fantastic job he did at getting us into the port of Athens, during rough waves! He could have just passed up that port of call and it winding-up going down as a missed port, but he really put in the extra effort at getting us in during some rough waves. He also took us very close to the Stromboli volcanic island so we could get some very close photos of the lava flows. The man is the most deserving of compliments than anyone else aboard that ship, Carnival Freedom. I really thought we were going to miss Athens when they were forced to delay our time, as the port was closed early in the morning due to unfavorable weather conditions. But he came through for us. Good job on his fine work. I did see we had just cleared the port side of that harbor in Athens by about a distance of the length of a tractor trailer rig. So I was surprised but pleased!
Okay, now on to disembarkation:
Carnival did not keep to the time of its published schedule when disembarking. I found out that we could have slept in longer than what the published time said to be down in the theater for our Holy Rome tour. We still got breakfast that morning, so that was the most important issue to me.
In the other ports of call, Carnival did one of the greatest jobs I’ve ever seen any cruise ship do in organizing people on and off the ship in all of the ports of call, even in times that looked like we’d be really delayed in getting back on or getting off at some ports of call. So in this embarkation and disembarkation of ports of call this was a most strong point of Carnival Freedom.
I never did comment on the aesthetics of the ship. The Carnival Freedom, as new as it is, was a surprise in terms of its interior decoration. Joe Farcus is the one who is in charge of this for Carnival cruise lines. In his interview with Cruise Critic he even admitted that he took a chance. I’d have to say that the interior decoration was kind of a belly flop in terms of the main atrium decoration and design. In the main atrium of the ship, there’s nothing beautiful about seeing a bunch of large colored light bulbs everywhere in the ship’s main atrium. You’ll see! So it was a very disappointing design, as there’s many ships out there that are much more creatively beautiful than the design of this atrium. You’ll see when you get aboard how bland that the atrium is. There’s no obvious main staircase that stands out, as it is hidden behind a bar as well. The formal dining rooms are better-looking though, and more open air.
I can only recommend the reader take this cruise for just these 2 reasons: #1.) Its itinerary and ports of call, and, #2.) on account of its relatively lower costs compared to other cruise lines. I still consider Carnival cruise line the “Wal-Mart” of the cruise line industry because of its relatively lower costs to cruise with them.
However, do expect a typical, run-of-the-mill cruise experience on board the ship as the food is below average from other cruises I have been on. Service is standard and didn’t remember any particular employee go out of his/her way to provide exemplary, superior service. Evening entertainment in the large theater, although decent most of the time when it was offered, did not provide much variety at all to my liking. Also a couple nights we had at least 2 missing shows altogether in the large theater at night, making me cringe upon that fact.
Thankfully, we did get to see all ports of call, and did not miss any of the ports in the 3 countries, thanks to the courage of the captain at Athens, (Piraeus).