We are a married couple in our early thirties and this was our third cruise (2nd time on Carnival) but the first one together with our son Bradley (2 years 3 months at time of cruising). We are from Malta, which is a very small island in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea. Having our young son with us, we had to adjust our expectations and tried not to cram too much stuff in the schedule. We just planned with Bradley in mind. Traveling with such young children requires extra thought and planning and how your experience will be, depends a lot on your child's temperament. So we started planning for this cruise early (almost a year ahead) and I can say that thanks to a lot of information and tips we got from the CC Boards we had an amazing experience. In all we spent 15 days, a pre-cruise 3 night visit to Rome and 12 night Mediterranean cruise on board the new Carnival Freedom. This review will primarily be on what we did in the various ports we visited. It is long, as I tried to include as many details as possible and if you have any questions, please ask, as I would be pleased to answer.
Our flight got into Rome Fiumicino Airport on 28th April at around 11:00am. We had transfers booked with "Limousine Roma" (email@example.com) at the price of Euro 50.00. We met the driver at the exit of the airport arrivals hall and he took us directly to our b&b. We stayed at the "Best B&B Vatican". I would highly recommend staying at this B&B. The price was Euro 170.00 / night. The rooms are very clean and we had a very good breakfast each morning. If you are going to visit Rome by metro, the location of this B&B is excellent because there is a metro stop (Ottaviano - San Pietro) just round the corner. We had already visited Rome three years ago, and therefore we had already been to most major attractions, so we focused on places we had missed or really enjoyed. After we settled, we went to buy two metro tickets for 3 days which cost Euro 11.00 / Each. For the buses you use the same metro tickets. In the afternoon we went to the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Vittoriano and Campidoglio. After we went back to the B&B to take a shower and in the evening we went for a pizza in the Trevi fountain area. This pizzeria was full with people, so we thought it was a good pizzeria; however the pizza was nothing special.
Second day in Rome This time, having Bradley with us, we also tried to visit places that he can also enjoy. Not having any zoos in Malta, we visited the Rome zoo ("Bioparco").The zoo is in the Villa Borghese area and admission tickets cost Euro 8.50 / each. To get there we took the metro and stopped at "Flaminio". From here it is quite a long walk to the zoo, but this is the nearest stop. After we walked around the Villa Borghese Park until we reached Piazza di Spagna.
Last day in Rome This morning we took Bus No.64 to Piazza Navona. Here we made some shopping for Bradley from two toy shop's called "Al Sogno" and "Berte". After we went for a "gelato" at Giolitti which is said to be the best gelateria in Rome and also have been Pope John Paul II's favourite. This gelateria is recommended on almost every travel guide book I bought. However, much to our surprise, they have the rudest staff we met in all Italy, (although all Romans are not very helpful). In the afternoon we've also walked to the Pantheon, Circo Massimo and Bocca della Verita. At the Bocca della Verita there was a very long line just to take a picture with your hand inside the mouth of this mask-shaped disk, so we opted to take a picture from the outside of the gate. The owner of the B&B has recommended us 3 restaurants / pizzerias and so for dinner we tried one of them. Since we were very tired after all the walking, we chose the most nearby one which was "L'Isola della Pizza" (www.isoladellapizza.com). The pizza was great.
At last Carnival Freedom Once again we made arrangements with "Limousine Roma" for our B&B to pier transfers. Transfers cost Euro 130.00. The driver arrived on time at 11.30a.m. and we arrived in Civitavecchia in less than an hour since there was not traffic. There was a very long line for check-in but since we had a toddler with us, an official pointed us to the first available embarkation officer and we skipped all the line. So it was an advantage having Bradley with us. After we took the embarkation photo, we made way to our stateroom No. 2348 on Main Deck. I had arranged through Carnival Bon Voyage department to have our stateroom decorated for Stanley's (my husband) birthday and it was a very nice surprise for him to open the door and find all the festive birthday decorations. Within minutes our cabin steward Inengah from Indonesia welcomed us. He was great and always tried to help us in any way possible. We went to register Bradley at Camp Carnival. (They give you a mobile phone so that if your son asks for you, they can contact you. $150 is charged to your sail & sign account if the phone is lost, damaged or broken). At 5.00p.m. we had our first meet and greet with our CC friends. We met in the bar on the aft lido deck and everyone wore Mardi gras beads so we were able to recognize each other. It was very nice to put faces to names. Lifeboat drill was held at 8.00p.m. Only one of our three suitcases had arrived till that time and we were very worried. So we went to the purser desk to see what's happened but they just told us to wait some more. However, when we returned to the cabin, the room steward brought us the other 2 suitcases. He said he found them misplaced behind another stateroom door. Our assigned table for dinner was at 8.30p.m. in the Posh restaurant but on the first day they changed the time to 9.00p.m. Since we were tired we went to the alternative dining in the Freedom restaurant. After dinner we went to the Camp Carnival family welcome aboard party in the 70's disco and after we had a family ice-cream sundae making.
Wed 2nd May - Naples We took Carnival tour to Sorrento and Amalfi Drive. The price for this tour was Euro127.00 / each. Our guide Karim was very nice. He told us jokes and made our drive along the Amalfi coast a very enjoyable one. Lunch in Sorrento at Hotel La Tonnarella was delicious. For dessert we had a limoncello gateau which was very good. I have read somewhere on cruise critic that for the best views of the Amalfi coast, you have to sit at the window on the right side of the bus and this was true. The Amalfi coast was splendid and views are breathtaking.
Thur 3rd May - Day at Sea We spent much of the day relaxing. We didn't take part in any fun activities but did explore the ship better. At 1.00p.m. we had a family build a bear workshop at Camp Carnival. Bradley was very looking forward to this activity and we enjoyed it as well. After at 3.30p.m. we had the 2nd meet and greet with CC friends in the 70's disco. The cruise director and his wife were there too and it was nice meeting them personally after I read his blog almost every day. The first sea day is also the first formal night. I guess men wore 50% tuxedo and 50% suits. Compared to our last Celebrity cruise to Scandinavia, even women were not that much "dressy". For dinner we met our table companions which surprisingly were a Maltese couple on their honeymoon. So it was nice every night to speak Maltese (our language). We've heard from other people a lot of complaints regarding food, however there were no complaints from our side. And here I have to mention our wonderful waiters Lana (from Croatia) and Deepak (from India) which were the best waiters we had in all 3 cruises we've done. They provided a wonderful service for us and they used to play with Bradley each night and try to please him by bringing him his favourite food since he is a very fussy eater. The main show was "Ticket to ride" (tribute to the Beatles) and it was excellent (my favourite).
Fri 4th May - Venice Unfortunately, the day started very rainy. This made it very difficult for us walking around with Bradley in the stroller, not only because of the rain but also because of the bridges that are all with steps. So we decided to go back to the ship, leave the stroller there and go out again. This time Stanley carried Bradley for the whole way on his shoulders. From the pier there was a shuttle bus available for Euro 5.00 / person, round trip to Piazzale Roma (the place where "vaporetto" are available). We loved Venice and we walked to Rialto Bridge, Piazza San Marco & Dodge's Palace. It is very easy to walk to these attractions as there are signs leading to them on all walls and by walking we felt we got a good overview of the city.
Sat 5th May - Venice The weather was much better and not raining at least. For our second morning in Venice we took Carnival excursion "Murano, St. George's Island & Gondola ride" @ Euro 99.00 / each. The gondola ride was the most memorable moment and I think is a must do in Venice. We loved this excursion but just wished we had more free time in Murano. Entertainment for tonight was a comedian but we did not go as we were too tired.
Sun 6th May - Dubrovnik For Dubrovnik we did not book an excursion. There were shuttle buses from the pier to the city centre for $10 / person, round trip. We just walked around the city, which is very clean and beautiful. The main show for the evening was "Jump, Jive & Wail". This was another wonderful show.
Mon 7th May - Day at Sea We spent the day relaxing and enjoying the sun by the pool. We once again loved the evening entertainment which was a singer called Penny Mathisen. She has a wonderful voice and used to be the main vocalist at West End "Phantom of the Opera" musical.
Tue 8th May - Messina We took the bus to Taormina with our CC friends. The driver was waiting for us at the pier as agreed. Once in Taormina we walked around the town and did some shopping. We also went to Teatro Greco but this attraction is nothing special and the site is not good for pushing a child in a stroller. At 2.30p.m. the driver picked us again from Taormina to the sea port. We really enjoyed the day in Taormina especially because it was a very nice hot and sunny day. The highlight of today's evening was sailing past "Stromboli" volcano although did not see any sparks coming out of it. However, we took some good sunset pictures. We also had the guest talent show tonight. Some of the guests who performed were pretty good and John Heald's (cruise director) bedtime story was very funny to watch. John is such an entertainer and so funny.
Wed 9th May - Day at sea The ship was rocking a bit today and I felt very dizzy, so spent much of the day just sleeping. We also did some laundry. This evening was our second formal night. However I think it wasn't so formal than the first one. We also enjoyed the main show which was a tribute to New Orleans called "The Big Easy". It was fantastic.
Thur 10th May - Barcelona We did not book any shore excursions for Barcelona as we have been in Barcelona before and so had been to all major attractions. There was a shuttle bus from the cruise terminal to the square close to Christopher Colombus monument. We thought Bradley would enjoy visiting the Barcelona aquarium, so the first thing we did was going there. You can walk to the aquarium as it is very close to where the shuttle bus stops. Entrance fee was Euro 15.50 / each. The aquarium is one of the biggest in Europe and Bradley enjoyed watching all the different types of fish especially the shark tunnel and penguins. After we just strolled along Las Ramblas and made some shopping. Barcelona was very busy as there were about 8 more cruise ships in port. There was a very long line waiting for the shuttle bus back to the ship and we had to wait for about ½ an hour or more in the sun. The cruise director later explained that the shuttle bus was organized by the local authorities in Barcelona and so it was not their fault.
Fri 11th May - Cannes We have booked Carnival excursion "Monaco & Monte Carlo on your own". However the buses went on strike that day and they refunded our money back. The cruise director told us that it was not going to be a problem because we were going to go to Monaco & Monte Carlo just the same, by train instead of bus, and the best part for free. Most of the people clapped when he announced this. The wrong thing the cruise director did was that he didn't advice us that it was going to be much more difficult and involving a lot of hassle, especially for us with Bradley's stroller. The train took most of our time and actually we only had to spend 2 ½ hours in Monaco & Monte Carlo. We walked to the royal palace and cathedral and then spent the last hour in the casino area. Taking the train back to the ship was more problematic as it was a very busy hour, had to stay in a group and people were pushing to go inside the train which was very very crowded. To make it worst, Bradley was sleeping. We did not find an empty seat, so Stanley had to carry Bradley most of the time on the train standing up. A lot of people we spoke to were complaining and this was the worst excursion. This was also the only port where we tendered. They only let people who have Carnival tours go off the ship first and the others get off only once all the tours leave. So if you have a private tour, keep this in mind when planning your time.
Sat 12th May - Livorno We did not wake up early because we had in plan to just visit Pisa. There is a shuttle bus from the pier to Piazza Grande for Euro 2.00 / each round trip. Then from Piazza Grande we took Bus No.1 to the train station. By train, it only takes 15 minutes to Pisa and the trains pass quite frequently. Then from the train station it is an easy 15 minutes walk to Piazza dei Miracoli where the world famous Leaning tower is. As expected, a lot of people were posing for the famous picture holding the tower.
Sun 13th May - Debarkation Unfortunately it was time to leave. Since our flight was scheduled for late evening we decided to take Carnival excursion "Italian countryside". It was a very relaxing excursion and I highly recommend it especially at the end of the cruise when you are very tired. But obviously you can only take this excursion if your flight departs after 6.00p.m. There were assistants who carried and loaded our suitcases on the bus. First we made a stop in the medieval town of Castelgandolfo (the pope's summer residence) from where there are breathtaking views of Lake Albano. We continued our drive through the hills and fields of Rome's wine growing land. Then we stopped at Montegiove Farm House where we were greeted by Count Raimondo Moncada, who explained the history of his noble family and invited us for an aperitif on his terrace. We also had lunch at this farmhouse which was very good with plenty of house wine. After we were transferred to the airport.
Summary - I can't believe how quickly days pass when you are having fun. We loved the Carnival Freedom and its staff especially our waiters whom I mentioned earlier Lana and Deepak. We miss them already. We also loved the itinerary and we will surely return for example to Venice for a more leisurely visit. We only had few complaints and the positive experiences surely exceed the negative ones.