Carnival Freedom 9/10/07 Grand Mediterranean
About us: mid 50's, retired and semiretired professionals. 30th cruise, 7th on Carnival, 1st on Freedom. Not terribly fussy. Travelled with a younger couple 32 & 42.
Pre-cruise. Flew KLM which was our first with them and a refreshing trip compared to our usual American and Delta. I would easily choose KLM again over other lines. Arrived in Rome 2 days early to see Rome via a private tour arranged with others we met on the boards. We stayed at the Holiday Inn West to partake of free rooms with our Priority Club Points. Although the hotel is not downtown they advertised free shuttle service from the airport and to downtown areas. True, but with limitations. The airport shuttle runs twice daily and our flight arrived a bit after the shuttle departed. Oh well. The shuttle downtown runs on a schedule which is pretty workable but I would probably not choose to stay that far out again as traffic is terrible and the transit time for the 12 mile trip downtown was 30-45 minutes.. Our private tour had contracted with Stephano to transport us by bus to the pier. Good service overall and the trip took a little over an hour.
Boarding was very quick, but we also did not arrive at the pier until 4:15 so our group of 20 were the only passengers in the terminal. We had preregistered on-line so it was only the swipe of a credit card and we were on our way.
The Ship: Even though we read how horrid the decor on the Freedom is we were not prepared for the visual assault to our senses. It is the most hideous ship I've ever been aboard. The hodgepodge of different styles and wretched colors truly makes is difficult to relax. It's the visual equivalent of heavy metal, punk rock, rap music, with some old time country and pan flute thrown in. Just awful. I find it hard to imagine how the designers could justify spending a fortune on whore house decor.
Having been aboard the Conquest several years ago we were somewhat familiar with the deck plan and soon remembered our main complain was not the "can't get there from here" situation created by the dining rooms, but the lack of an "observation lounge" on the ship. I did not find the multiple bars lining the sides of the ship particularly welcoming . I love to end the day with a cocktail staring out to the sea before us. No place to do that on this ship.
Vibration of this ship is awful when the ship is using its thrusters.. I had silverware vibrate off the plate at dinner and we certainly did not need an alarm clock to awaken us on port days. I've never experienced anything like this before.
Cabin: we had ann interior cabin which was adequately spacious. The bathroom had ample storage, the shower was small and had a curtain. Soap and shampoo are in wall dispensers. There is a shaver outlet in the bath and one wall outlet in the cabin. There is a blow-dryer in a drawer at the vanity and the cabin safe requires a magnetic strip card ie. room key, credit card, etc. This is unfortunate if the person in possession of that card is not in the cabin when you need access to your safe. Other lines using a code are much friendlier to use. There is a TV which allows you to access your obc and book excursions. There is a refrigerator stocked with so much stuff that you can barely fit your water bottle in it. There is not a coffee maker, contrary too Carnival's information. There is a basket of samples in the bathroom but if you want anything from it get it early. Ours was emptied on day 7. Glad i shaved my legs on day 6
I found the atrium to be depressing due to the dark colors and bizarre pulsating lights. It was sort of like being on the set of the Twilight Zone. There was a pianist and classical music group who played there many evenings and it was delightful to listen to them (you just had to close your eyes).
The dining rooms were typical of large ships. Multilevel with a large central staircase. Our table did not afford us any outside view whatsoever, which was disappointing but no biggy. The decor would have been passable if they had replaced all the oversized red snake skin paneling with something else.
The theatre seating was comfortable for me because I'm quite short but problematic for our taller members. Seating is bench style rather than individual seats and a small oval table is anchored periodically to hold drinks. The theme is Victorian and as everywhere else, overdone. There were quite a few obstructed viewing areas because of support beam placement. This area is used as the gathering spot for most excursions.
The pool area is terraced and furnished with traditional loungers and some cool plastic rocking chairs. There is a big screen TV where CNN news is shown in the morning, various things in the afternoon and a nightly movie. The big screen movie is played in the cabins the following day. Blankets are available free for movie viewing and popcorn is for sale. Movies are themed somewhat to the locale. i.e. Casino Royale was played the night we left Venice, The DaVinci Code was played as we headed for Rome, etc.
At the rear of the ship is an adults only pool, complete with bar, pizza place, ice cream machine and a covered pool. The pool area was generally covered at night but was our favorite spot to light for a bit of ice cream or yogurt.
The spa had the usual assortment of exercise equipment. The steam rooms and saunas had a full wall of glass looking out to the ocean. I did not have any spa treatments as I find them to be outrageously priced but you can have anything from massages to body wraps to tooth whitening to acupuncture. The spa showers are very large so if you find your cabin shower too confining plan to shower in the spa. My husband really enjoys steaming and to his dismay the mens' steam room was inoperable for 3 days.
The casino had a nice variety of slots ranging from penny to $100. Poker machines began at 25 cents. The usual table games were available plus Texas Hold 'em poker. BJ tables began at $5 and on the first night there were a few $3 tables. They use 6 decks and a continuous autoshuffler. All slots pay out in coins rather than tickets, unless you choose to keep your funds on your key card. This is a nice feature although some of the key pad buttons were finicky so cashing in or out could take a few moments. Remember that you need to cash out the final night before the casino closes. They will NOT transfer your balance to your on board account. Dealers were a bit friendlier on this ship than others we've sailed recently.
Buffet was fairly well arranged except for the usual traffic jam at breakfast due to the omelet station. Breakfast was the same every single day with the exception of swapping French toast, pancakes and waffles around. There was none of my favorite lox or pickled herring at breakfast, just the usual fare. Coffee was awful, as is the case with most cruise lines but there is a Seattles Best (?) adjacent to the buffet as well as near the casino. There is only one person working the coffee bar so it takes a long time to get a cup of coffee for which you have the privilege of paying.
Above the buffet is the best kept secret on the ship, the Fish and Chips Cafe. Contrary to it's name it does not serve just fish and chips. It has fresh made bouillabaisse , ahi tuna, ceviche, and calamari. Yum! It is open only for lunch and is a delightful change. The upstairs venue affords you a quiet spot with a great view. On one side of the buffet kitchen is a window from which you can order delicatessen style sandwiches and on the other is an oriental spot. Each has about four items on the menu each day. Hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza are available in various spots near the pool.
Room Service: A disaster. The first two mornings our order never arrived. We had used the door hanger order form and when I called the person told me yes, they had the order but it would be at least an hour before it arrived. Since it was already 15 minutes overdue we needed to eat so we wouldn't miss our excursion. After the second day the Capers boldly noted that room service was running an hour late and suggested people use the buffet. This was a great disappointment since Carnival does not have a coffee pot in the cabin and it is so nice to have a cup of coffee while dressing. Oh well.
Bar Service was a bit slow for Carnival who usually has folks hawking drinks like crazy. This crowd was not a frat house party crowd, yet they seemed to run out of several bar items half way through the cruise. Our dining room table neighbors had several of their favorite wines run out and our travel partner enjoys a drink made with peach schnapps which ran out on day 5. Drinks were about the price one expects to pay in a good hotel. We ordered a bar set up for our room which is a much more economical approach if you drink simple cocktails, but we still had a few libations around the ship.
Captain's Party - Carnival probably does this better than anyone. Good quality drinks in abundance with nice dance music.
Internet cafe - this again is an area for head scratching. Why would you (a) put only 10 computers on a ship this size and (b) have the only entrance to this area via the cigar bar? There was always a line waiting for computer time and there were a large number of folks on this cruise who seemed to spend most of their day on the internet so waiting time could be extensive. A package of 100 minutes was $55. A larger package was available but I do not remember the specifics or you could use single minutes, pay as you go for 75 cents/minute. Service is satellite which makes it very slow.
Entertainment: We did not attend any of the shows since we had seen them all before on other ships but our travel partners reported that they were well done. The salute to the Beatles and the New Orleans themed shows were especially praised around the ship. The piano player in the piano bar was terrific as was the previously mentioned classical trio. The guitarist who performed outside the casino was pretty bad. We usually stopped by there each evening for a drink and a few dances before we hit the casino and he was just pitiful. Not nearly what we are used to on ships this size.
Staff: Overall the staff was fabulous. Terrific service in the dining room, steward very attentive. John Heald the Cruise Director is the best CD we've ever had. Bravo, John!
Ports of Call/Excursions: Note: If you are doing excursions - the gathering spot is the theatre. You will enter on the left side, receive a number/label and be instructed to be seated. When your group is called you will exit via the right rear door so if you like sitting up front on the bus, wait in the right rear of the theatre.
Note: I am not a shopper but our travel partners are so shopping advice is courtesy of them.
First port was Naples and we did the "Pompeii, Posatano and Sorrento" excursion through the ship. This is a beautiful drive to Sorrento with a photo stop for shots of the Mediterranean. Positanoo is a small, hilly town with lots of shops and probably the best spot to buy items such as olive oil bottles, etc. Very pretty ceramics. We only had an hour, which was adequate because there is nothing to do but use the few (very few) restrooms, eat gelato and shop. We were then onto Sorrento where we viewed a demonstration of inlaid wood working and had time for shopping (groan) and wandering the streets before we were off to a very nice restaurant for lunch (be aware that lunch is about 1:15). Lunch was delightful and wine was free flowing. Pompeii was our last stop and the tour takes about 1 1/2 hours. Pompeii is much larger than I had imagined (a square mile) and the streets are the original stone so it is uneven walking. If you are handicapped it will be very difficult for you. Adjacent to the ruins is a cameo factory where you can watch cameos being carved. The prices are very good and I did actually buy a nice cameo at a good price. Another group told us they went to a lemoncello factory instead. Boy, that's a tough decision! If I were to do this again I would opt for a tour of the Amalfi coast and Pompeii.This was my husband's favorite port.
Venice: Wow, what a magical place!!!! We did Venice on our own using Rick Steve's guide book. The port authority (not Carnival, as they stressed) provided shuttle busses (E 5/person roundtrip) from the pier to the vaparetto station. The drivers were not helpful about directing you to the right spot, and since there was some construction in the area it took a bit of doubling back and wandering to wind up in the right spot. Look for the building with a large blue band painted at the top, that will be the taxi station. We bought a 36 hour ticket (although no one ever looked at our tickets) which allows you unlimited use of the taxis. They accept cash (euros) only, no credit cards. I believe it was E 24. We found the vaparetto for San Marcos and off we went. Some of the vaparettos have 10 or seats up front and we were lucky enough to get them for a great view down the grand canal.
Warning: If you have a fear of pigeons you might need to skip San Marcos. I've never seen so many pigeons in my life! They do make great photo ops if you buy a bag of feed and put some in each outstretched hand they will cover your entire torso and head.
The line to enter the church was quite long but moved quickly. We waited about 20 minutes. WARNING: you can NOT bring a back pack inside. The very diligent, not so friendly guard will direct you to an area around the corner where you can check you bag (for a small fee) then you come back and when he feels like it he will let you in. Also ladies, if you are wearing shorts or a sleeveless top they will rent you a paper-like wrap, which they apply, to cover your shoulders and legs. They move the crowd through a roped off area of the church at a pretty brisk pace. No dawdling allowed. To approach the main altar or the area with the 4 bronze horses you must pay a fee of E 3 each . The church entrance is free, though. We were through the church in 20 minutes and that included waiting for our friends to return from backpack check. I felt very rushed and low lighting did not provide the experience I'd hopped for.
We spent the remainder of the day shopping, drinking wine, eating here and there and soaking up the ambiance of Venice. The back alleys are terrific and some thing beautiful to look at everywhere. If you are looking to buy glass, it is everywhere and beautiful. Having had tiramasu in Venice I am forever ruined. The following day was more of the same. Great food, views, and wandering. Allow yourself at least an hour to get from San Marcos to the shuttle bus. We had several couples the captain was willing to wait for but after 45 minutes we had to leave one couple who were awol. As we departed, sailing down the Grand Canal, Pavarotti blared away on the big screen and it was magical. We watched the Sovereign of the Sea (?) wind down the canal before us and were able to have a perspective of how our ship must look. The Emerald Princess was the caboose in our convoy. Quite a sight.
Messina: Quite a busy city and port. We rented a driver for E 40/person and went to Taormina for the day. It is about an hour and a half drive punctuated by many tunnels. The town is a quaint very hilly little town. The views of the Mediterranean are wonderful and this is the home of the cannelloni so it was imperative that we indulge ourselves. A view of Mt. Etna is possible in various spots about town. There is beautiful ceramic work in the town but getting it home would be impossible. On our return to the ship we stopped at the cathedral, which is within walking distance of the pier and spent some time taking in its splendor.
Barcelona: My word, what architecture! We did the hop-on/hop-off bus on the recommendation from a CM friend who lives in Barcelona. There are 3 routes and 1 ticket will get you a full tour of each but the red and blue are of the most interest and take several hours each. Cost is E19/person Transportation from pier to downtown is the same as Venice. I found that my rudimentary Spanish was of no use at the cafe where we ordered lunch as they spoke only Catalan, which is also true of all street signs.
Cannes - we chose too spend the day onboard relaxing. A couple who decided to take the train to Monte Carlo were left behind when their train was cancelled.
Livorno - here you have the decision to make between Florence and Tuscany. Wee chose to do the "Beautiful Tuscany" tour with the ship. What a treat. Again, the road is very winding and one young lady on board was quite sick but the scenery through mile after mile of vineyard and olive orchards was enchanting. We visited two fascinating towns and dined at a vineyard with very good food and wine. What a splendid way to end the journey. My favorite port.
Disembarkation: True to the norm we were assigned colors for departure in accordance with travel arrangements. We had an early flight and were in the first regular departure. There was a group from California of 700 or so people who were given very first departure even though some did not depart until late afternoon. This created havoc at the airport as they clogged up the line trying to get bumped to earlier flights while early ticketed passengers waited and almost missed their boarding deadline. Really a stupid move on Carnival's part. We were off the ship by 6:00 a.m. but sat on a fully loaded bus until 6:30. No reason why the drivers sat around smoking cigarettes for 30 minutes but they did. The drive was about 50 minutes as it was a Saturday and traffic into Rome was not bad. We were checked into NW and looking for coffee by 8:15. It did not look like some of our fellow travellers (those with the CA group fared as well).
Odds and Ends: You can exchange money onboard but the rate is dismal. If you think you will exchange your euros to dollars on the final night, think again. Weirdly enough, since this has to be a money making operation for Carnival, given the poor exchange rate, they are not open on the final night.
Kudos to Carnival for hosting a breast cancer walk on the second sea day. For $10 you got a t-shirt, pink wrist band and a photo op for a commercial to be aired next year. Thousands of dollars were raised and people shared their stories as they walked and sometimes wept. Tremendous experience - as a survivor, thank you, Carnival.
Overall: I would gladly do this itinerary again. I do wish they would skip Cannes and overnight in Livorno but otherwise the itinerary was ideal. I would have to think twice about sailing the Freedom again due to its horrid decor. Ugly, ugly , ugly. In fact, we encountered two couples who told us they had cancelled their future booking on the Freedom just because of that.