The ship itself, and the way things are handled on it, leave quite a bit to be desired, from the hideous decor to the organization.
The decor is atrocious and it wasn't just me who thought so. Ugly, gaudy, tacky ... my best friend said of the ship's decor: It looks like Salvador Dali threw up right into the path of a wind tunnel that sprayed the walls. Even the staff talked about how horribly ugly the ship is.
Embarkation was insanely easy and debarkation was a tad insane. My friends and I had a 5:45 a.m. debarkation call because we had an early flight out of Rome, but the ship didn't even start getting peoples' bills to them until 6 a.m.! Lots of angry people. Many of us took care of our bills the night before getting off the ship, but there were many people who didn't and the Purser's Desk was chaos the morning that we docked back in Civitavecchia.
Some things to note: there are little laundry rooms on the ship that are great helps when you need to do clothes, but the washers and dryers only take American quarters. Bring a stack of 'em. The cabins have hair dryers in them, as well as a little laundry line in the showers if you want to rinse out bathing suits or other clothing and hang them to dry. The best floor to get from one end of the ship to the other is 5, the Promenade Deck. The best photographer to go to on the ship for Formal Night is a young, petite brunet named Diana who wears glasses (the frames are blue)and is from Romania. She does outstanding work. You'll see several places and photographers where you can go to have your photos done.
The food was edible if you ate in either the Chic or Posh dining rooms, or the Sun King Supper Club, but the "cuisine" on the Lido Deck is strictly for the hard-core buffet set who only are interested in shoveling in as much greasy, fried food as possible without any regard for quality.
Perhaps the best thing about the Freedom is its cruise director, John Heald. The man is hilarious, has excellent comedic timing and is friendly with a capital F! Charming, even. He put on the best shows of the cruise.
Speaking of the shows, by the way, many of them were really, really bad, and the ship's activities weren't that great, either. Bingo every so often and casino tournaments, and lots of trivia competitions, but nothing fun like a murder mystery. The prizes for the trivia competitions, by the way, are what Carnival calls a Ship On A Stick -- a gaudy plastic ship on a plastic base. Ugly.I was fortunate enough to be able to take 4 shore excursions. The best, by far -- and worth every single penny of its nearly $200 cost (American) -- was the one to Capri, Sorrento and Pompeii. The tour company that handled this excursion was professional and friendly. Our tour guide Luca absolutely made the day. We had approximately 2 hours each at each stop, and he took time to answer everyone's questions and make the day fun with his broad smile and awesome sense of humor.
The Taormina On Your Own excursion was also wonderful. Lots of free time and it's needed to be able to really enjoy the wonderful shops and boutiques in this town about 45 minutes from Messina, Sicily. What a beautiful ride! This excursion cost less than $100 American.
Our guide in Cannes, for an excursion to Nice and Eze, was professional and well-versed in the history of both towns. I enjoyed Nice more than Eze, which was basically a blip between Nice and Monte Carlo. Still, a quaint afternoon for an inexpensive excursion (less than $100 American).
I strongly advise against the Best Of Florence excursion out of Livorno. Not only is it horribly overpriced at nearly $170 American, you CAN get to Florence on your own by shuttle bus (from where you'll dock in Livorno) and train, round trip, for about 30-35 Euro. My cabin mate did it and I'm sorry I didn't go with her. She followed the exact directions in Rick Steves Italy 2007 book and had no problems whatsoever, nor did she have long waits for either a bus or a train. The Best Of Florence excursion, if you're lucky, MIGHT give you about 60 to 90 minutes of free time to look around and shop. My best friend and I ditched the last part of this tour so we might get 2 hours of free time to shop. If you want some tour highlights but more free time, either consider going to Florence on your own or take the Highlights Of Florence tour instead, which is considerably cheaper than what we paid. Our guide was awful, too ... although he spoke English fluently, there was no difference in his vocal tones, making all his words run together. He was near impossible to understand.If you are injured on the ship as I was -- I sustained a deep cut to a finger after the bottom of my index finger brushed a sharp metal lip on a handrail in the Victoriana Lounge -- absolutely insist upon any ship's staff wearing gloves and if, God forbid, your injury is serious, have it double checked when you arrive home.
In my case, my friend made me go to the ship's infirmary when we saw how deep the cut was and the amount of blood coming out of it. Not until after I was done at the infirmary did I realize that neither of the two nurses who took care of me, nor the doctor, ever put on a pair of gloves to deal with the blood -- and there was quite a bit of it. And there were two boxes of latex gloves in the exam room where I was waited on. I brought this to the attention of someone in the ship's administration who checked into it and told me in a later phone conversation that the ship is considered American and follows all American health protocols. The nurses, according to the official I spoke with, felt there was no risk to me or themselves. I, thank God, am a healthy woman, but there surely was no way for the ship's medical staff to tell if I had any type of blood-borne illness! They certainly didn't ask me! These nurses let my bloody bandages touch their bare skin. I don't believe for a second that this is standard healthcare protocol -- letting a patient's blood touch your bare skin. If that wasn't bad enough, an older woman in our group of 28 people slipped on the wet floor of the Lido Deck restaurant and was told by the ship's doctor that she had a "contusion" -- bruise -- on her knee. She was given a cane and a bandage. Well, when she got home and had her leg X-rayed, she learned she had a broken knee cap and is on full bed rest until the full extent of damage to her knee can be determined. Her several days of walking on the "contusion" may have done further damage that will likely require surgery. American health protocols? HARDLY.
Let me preface the next part of my review by stating that I have no innate dislike of children and that I enjoy spending time with kids very much. In fact, I very often do. However, many of the children and teenagers that were on my cruise were as well mannered as wild -- likely rabid -- monkeys, and not surprisingly, their parents were nowhere to be found or had no interest in properly supervising their kids.
One family around the corner from where my friends and I had our cabins seemed stunned that one of my friends politely brought to their attention that we had a problem with their kids running / racing through the hallways at 11 p.m., midnight and even well into the overnight. There also were numerous people who had no problem bringing their kids into the adults-only hot tubs (they were labeled as Adults Only!) and ruining other peoples' experiences. Nor was there any enforcement of any kind of kids young and teenaged cannon-balling into the pool or kicking, splashing, screeching, whining and whatnot in the pool. Daily there was an exodus of adults from the pool and other spots because of bratty children whose parents could care less about their horrendous behavior. I didn't go in the pool once my entire cruise because of the brats who apparently thought the pool belonged to them, and their pathetically lazy parents who should never have been allowed to breed in the first place. Thankfully, I had a balcony cabin where I could sunbathe in peace, with only the noise of the ship's wake through the Mediterranean in the background.
Overall, as I said above, I had an amazing vacation and fell in love with Italy and its people. But my friends and I realized two important things on this cruise: NEVER cruise when children are out of school, and take other cruise lines that are higher priced and less likely to have kids on them. Many people on my cruise complained openly and loudly about the kids, to no avail. By mid-cruise it was not unusual to hear people talking about how much, much better Royal Caribbean is in all areas, from the easiness of getting around the ship, to the service (our headwaiter Norbert, in the Freedom's Posh dining room, and room steward Serin, were FANTASTIC!), to activities, to decor, to value and more.
Our group's next cruise -- possibly the Panama Canal -- will definitely NOT be on Carnival.