Pre-cruising experience: I booked online and got a great price. Good experience. When doing my research and booking this cruise I found that Turkey is requiring a Visa. Carnival new nothing about a Turkish Visa requirement. When I spoke with their representatives on the phone and asked if they had special arrangements or if I needed to get my own Visa myself, they had no answer. When I called the Turkish consulate I was told that, unless you have a valid Visa, you may not get off the ship at their ports. Carnival still had no plans. So, I assumed that they would figure it out on their maiden voyage. After all, who wants 3,000 passengers having a mutiny? So I continued to research and my excursion reservations on line. This was handy, as some of the on-line excursions weren't offered on the ship.
My flight went from Los Angeles to Rome, via Zurich on Swiss Air. We got a decent fair and the service was nice. Each seat had a TV system with a few movies. It was satisfactory. We were traveling with our three children. They were loaded up with entertainment media but used the airline TV about 50% of the flight. There were also several snacks as it was a very long flight. TIP* When taking long flights, Make sure the airline is equipped with an entertainment system. We had arranged for a van to pick us up at the airport and take us to the hotel for an overnight stay before the sailing. This was necessary as the flight we wanted was completely booked (6 months ahead). Many people did not book a hotel and planned on arriving on time that day, since the ship was scheduled to set sail at 7 PM. But they missed the ship!! There was a freak snowstorm and they got delayed. The ship set sail without them.
Boarding the ship was interesting. We were VIP so avoided the lines. We were shocked however, when we were asked to give up our passports. Now, we finally find out how Carnival is dealing with the Visa issue. They said that they would keep the passport throughout the cruise. We will get it back at the END of the cruise! BTW, no other cruise line has done it this way. I think it was improper to leave passengers at these Turkish and Greek ports without their passports for ID in case of some problem. Fortunately, I take a color copy of our passports with us in our passports are lost or stolen. TIP* Make copies of your passports before you go on this cruise.Our Ship: The Freedom is a brand new ship, but it has an outdated style. Apparently they copied another one of their mega ships. The layout is very awkward and has several dead-ends. In order to get to the dining rooms, it is necessary to go up 2 floors, then walk across the ship, then go back down 2 floors (weird). This really caused problems at the elevators. As so many people are going to dinner at the same time and all have to make this odd move with the elevators. We had a nice room with a balcony. The service was very good and everyone was pleasant. The beds had been upgraded for this ship and they were better than the last ship we were on. The noise in this room, and the ones next to us, was a problem. Carnival planned most of their lounge singing in the main lounge in the big entry hall. As you can imagine the sound carried up the high ceiling and echoed like crazy into our rooms until about 1 AM when they shut the singing down…. Every night!! TIP* avoid rooms near the main elevators or up from the main entry lounge.
Our cruise Director: OMG, He was amazing. Amazingly annoying! Before each port, he would do a "lecture" about the port. We never got any valuable information. We always got warnings: "Don't try to go onto shore without the excursions, not safe." He went on and on, nearly everyday, about people getting robbed by Gypsies, about people being left behind or about the people that got "mugged" (if it ever happened). He spoke of danger so much, that my daughter was terrified about walking off the ship to visit Naples. She was driven to tears (and she's 15) and physically shaking when we started our journey. BTW, our journey into Naples was very nice. The locals provided us with a map (not Carnival) and told us the best places to get pizza and Gelato (the best in Italy). We didn't get mugged, nor harassed nor threatened. TIP* Wear a money belt, don't carry a purse, and you will feel and BE as safe as in most big cities.
Activities; Very limited. Art auction everyday, Bingo or gambling everyday. No arts or crafts or cooking or wine tasting or martini classes. In fact, I found nothing much to do. Good thing we had a new port almost everyday.
Children's Activities: I won't even go there. Not satisfactory when they send flyers everyday to solicit for paid activities for the kids. There is ACTUALLY A large fee for a kids "night out". I don't get that. We didn't participate in those events. They had a cool teen lounge with video games, but not much else and it is only open in the evening.
Dining: The service was fabulous. The waiters were very attentive. They got to know us and usually anticipated our needs. Great Job guys! The food was not so good. In fact, on the first night, my 12 year old son ordered the crème Brule for dessert. When it arrived, it was very runny and had no caramelized sugar on top. My son said to me, "this isn't right is it?" The waiter laughed and said, "you should have seen them last week!!" We thought, since the dinner is so bad, we can go visit the buffet. When we got there, we found it closed. They shut the buffet very early every night. It was never open like the schedule suggested. The food on the buffet was mostly dried out. The cheeses and other foods are put out and left out for DAYS! I needed to ask them to replace the food more than once. When cheese is curled and there is bright red beet juice poured on half of the platter, I think we can guess that it is Not Good anymore.Excursions: The ports were the highlight of the cruise. The bad food was quickly forgotten when we got into port. We loved the cities. They were very efficient at unloading 3,000 people into buses, moving them about and getting them back on board. They only lost a few along the way. They apparently transferred them to the next port and those folks got back on board there. This happened more than once. The tour guides weren’t always good. We had some good ones and some horrid ones. Some of our best times were when we did the city “on your own”. The bus transferred us to the city (like Rome and Florence) and dropped us off. We met the bus later in the day. These were the best times because we got to really see the sites and try the local food, YUM! Much better than the ship’s food. TIP* Do the “on your own” excursions; it’s Cheaper and more fun. TIP* Bring your own maps, Carnival doesn’t provide ANY! They only provide shopping guides.
Disembarkation: This was so easy on this cruise since so many people disembarked the day before.
Comment: We’ve traveled on cruise ships, including Carnival several times before. This was probably the worst food and ships layout. It seems that Carnival is going downhill. I don’t think we will be sailing on their ships again in the future.