Transatlantic -Carnival Freedom - October 28 - November 11, 2007
Overall, this was a wonderful cruise on the Freedom. This was my fourth cruise, but the first time on a Carnival ship (in the past I've cruised with Holland America). I was travelling "solo", however, it was nice to meet many wonderful people (a number of whom were Cruise Critic members).
The Freedom was a huge ship. It was fairly new (about 6 months old). My inside stateroom (Category 4C) was on the Upper Deck, cabin 6219. It was close to the bow and on the 6th deck. The room was quite large (approx. 185 sq. ft.) with a very comfortable bed (two twin beds pushed together) with lovely linens, etc. There was plenty of closet and storage space and even if there had been two people in the cabin, there would have been lots of closet space. The bathroom was a decent size (no tub; just a shower) with lots of room to put away toiletries, etc. The towels were plush and the bathrobe was very comfortable. There was a desk/vanity and chair, a flat screen tv and a refrigerator. There was one electrical outlet in the bathroom and one above the desk. A fairly decent hairdryer was in the top drawer under the desk. All in all, it was a very comfortable room. The sound proofing was very good and I rarely heard my neighbors. A few feet down the hall from my cabin was a door that led out to a small deck overlooking the bow of the ship. So, even though I was in an inside cabin, I always had the opportunity to step outside which was really nice. There was a small laundry area on each deck with coin operated washers and dryers and irons/ironing boards. They were always very busy. Just a note - the laundry rooms were closed on port days.
The dEcor of the ship was very loud with bright colors, lots of lighting, etc. At first it seemed quite garish, but I got used to it very quickly and never gave it another thought. There was a large atrium (Millennium) in the center of the ship that went all the way from 2nd deck to 10th deck. At the top of the ship was the Camp Carnival area and the entrance to the water slide. Below that was the deck that contained the Gym and the Spa. The gym was located at the very front of the ship and had walls of glass. The gym had lots of modern equipment and it was always busy. I found the gym to be a bit small for such a large ship. As well, it had a stale, sweaty smell that was very unpleasant and so I never use the gym facilities. Next to the gym was a sauna and steam room. I never used the spa facilities nor the hair salon, however, it always seemed busy (especially on "formal night" days). Also on this level (at the rear of the ship) was the sports area and a jogging track. The track was 9 laps to a mile long and always busy with runners and walkers out getting their exercise. When the winds exceeded 40 km/h the jogging track was closed for safety reasons. As well, the track could get quite slippery after it rained. The sports area included a basketball court, a volleyball court, and a miniature golf course. There were 3 pools and 5 large hot tubs. When the pools were open, they were very popular. The surrounding decks were always full of people relaxing on deck chairs, etc. Above the main pool area on the Lido Deck was a large outdoor theatre screen. There were movies and concerts playing on the screen throughout the day and evening. Because the outdoor area was so large, it never felt overly crowded. There were lots of deck chairs and tables/chairs surrounding the pools. Aft of the large screen was the Sun King Restaurant. And near the back of the ship was the Fish & Chips Restaurant. Inside the Lido Deck was the Freedom Restaurant and Grand Buffet. There were stations on each side of the ship including a deli area on the port side and an oriental stir fry area on the starboard side. Although it was always busy, I never had a problem finding a place to sit. Outside the Freedom Restaurant at the very back of the ship was another outdoor pool (adults only) and an area with deck chairs, tables/chairs, etc. When the weather was good, the retractable roof was kept open. The Pizzeria and Grille were in this area. And there was soft serve ice cream or yogurt station with toppings, etc. at the very, very back of this deck. This back deck area and the Fish & Chips restaurant above were the best (and least crowded) places to have lunch.
The Veranda, Empress and Upper Decks all contain only passenger cabins. On the Promenade Deck was where to find the upper level of the Victoriana Lounge, the shops, the Casino and various bars/lounges. The shops were typical and, for the most part, fairly expensive. The Casino was a decent size and always busy. Unfortunately they allow smoking in the Casino, so I rarely went in there. There were a number of different bars and lounges and a disco and karaoke area, etc. On the Atlantic Deck was the mezzanine level of the Victoriana Lounge and a very small Internet area with a dozen computers. The internet area was an afterthought and located in a cramped area off of the Habana Bar (a cigar bar). The smell of smoke was revolting and I refused to go through the bar to reach the internet area. (Carnival missed out on a couple of hundred dollars of my money because of this.) Also on this deck was the photo shop, the smallest library ever seen (it was pretty much useless) and the upper level of the Chic Restaurant and the upper level of the Posh Restaurant. The last deck with public rooms was the Lobby Deck. The mail level of the Victoriana Lounge (were the daily bingo and other games and evening shows took place) was large and was very comfortable, but tended to be quite warm. The sight lines, sound system, lighting, etc. were all fine, with just a few seats blocked by pillars. The Chic and Posh Restaurants were large, well lit, well laid out, etc. I was sitting at a table for 8 on the top level of the Chic Restaurant (6:15 pm; main seating). The table was always beautifully set with nice linens, crystal, china, silver, etc. The Posh Restaurant was similar, except it was at the very back of the ship and had lots of windows. I never ate in the Sun King Restaurant, but everyone I spoke with who ate there really enjoyed themselves. I gather the food and service were exceptional. The front office, shore excursions office, Purser's Desk, the Art Gallery, etc. were also found on the Lobby Deck. There was an outside promenade area on each side of the ship for walking, etc., but the two sides were not connected, so that meant you couldn't walk a circuit under a bit of cover. The atrium area on the Lobby Deck was always very busy. There was musical entertainment throughout the day and evening and a large dance floor. As well, there was a nice bar area for drinks before dinner.
The infirmary was on the "0" deck and was very well equipped and prepared for pretty much any type of emergency.
Overall, the ship was easy to navigate and there were lots of elevators and staircases and wide hallways, etc. Therefore, it never felt overly crowded. For the able-bodied, the ship was great. For those with mobility issues, there seemed to be good access to all the public spaces, with room for wheelchairs, walkers, etc. There were some bottleneck areas near the elevators in the atrium, and also near the entrance to the dining rooms.
Not so typical of Carnival, the majority of passengers were older. I believe the average age was about 68. About three-quarters of the passengers were from the United States and about one-quarter from Canada and elsewhere. I think there were about 2,900 passengers on board. Overall, I found the people on board to be friendly and kind. However, there was a large travel group (850 people) of seniors from Florida who spent the entire cruise whining and complaining about everything possible. They were the most miserable people to be around and I avoided them as much as possible. Unfortunately, every morning that I had breakfast in the dining room, I was seated with a bunch of these people. I couldn't eat fast enough to get away from them.
CREW and CUISINE and ENTERTAINMENT:
I found all the crew members I dealt with to be friendly and professional. My cabin steward was amazing. The front office staff were always very helpful. The dining room staff were terrific and overall my dining experience was great. And I must say, our Maitre 'd was hot! The bar/lounge staff were very good. The cruise director (Todd Wittmer) and his staff were fun and energetic. Unlike previous cruises, the crew were from all over the world (I believe there were 47 countries represented).
I thought the food on board the ship was very good. Every evening I got to try new things, or have items I haven't thought to cook in years. The presentation was good and the food was usually hot when it arrived at the table. The food in the Lido was also very good. I enjoyed all the variety of foods... a much larger selection than what I was expecting. I ate most of my breakfasts in the Posh Restaurant and most of my lunches in the Lido Buffet.
I went to about half of the shows in the Victoriana Lounge. The staff singers and dancers were very good and the 3 shows that they put on were excellent. I particularly liked the tribute to the Beatles called "Ticket to Ride". The rest of the shows were geared to an older audience and so I was not all that interested in most of them. The same goes for the musicians playing in the bars/lounges throughout the ship. Their music was stuff I wasn't interested in. Fine for the older folks, but not so great for me. We did have 2 late-night deck parties up on the Lido Deck that were great fun. Good music, lots of dancing, etc. There was a talent show one evening that was surprisingly good and the "Legends" show was great fun. I hope the fellow who did "Garth Brooks" eventually gets a record deal. His own music was great.
PRE-CRUISE AND EMBARKATION:
This cruise left from Civitavecchia, Italy. I flew to London, UK on the day before the cruise and spent the night at the Holiday Inn, Gatwick. It was a typical Holiday Inn hotel... clean, comfortable, well situated, etc. It was great to be able to have a shower and a couple of hours of sleep after the long, long flight over the Atlantic (from the west coast of Canada via Manchester, UK). I flew into Rome on the day of embarkation. From the airport it was an easy train ride to Rome Termini station and from there I caught the train to Civitavecchia. The trip cost €15.50 (from the airport to the pier) and took about 30 minutes into Rome and 90 minutes to the pier. There was a train that leaves at 38 minutes past the hour that ends in Civitavecchia (with stops in between). It usually leaves from track 27 or 28 (which is at the very end of the terminal, so a bit of a long walk, but no stairs involved). Once at the station in Civitavecchia it was a 10 minute walk to the pier and with only one piece of luggage to pull behind me, it was fairly easy (again, no stairs involved). There was a shuttle bus to take passengers from the pier entrance to the ship.
Embarkation was similar to what I've experienced in the past at other ports. I had entered all my information online before hand, and it took about 5 minutes to check in. It would have been even faster, except for the jerk who pushed me aside so that he and his wife could check-in before me. (He was typical of so many passengers on this cruise.)
PORTS and SHORE EXCURSIONS:
For this cruise I decided to do Rome and Florence on my own. I had been there in the past and so I just concentrated on certain museums that I wanted to see. I booked Carnival Shore Excursions in both Malaga and Funchal.
I traveled into Rome with someone I'd met through Cruise Critic. We caught the early train at 8:02 am and traveled to S. Pietro station. I bought a BIRG ticket which cost €9 and was good for train travel both ways and also the subway/buses in Rome. We arrived in Rome around 9:15 am and walked to St. Peter's. There was a special mass/ceremony taking place that day, so St. Peter's was closed until after 1:30 pm. The line-up for the Vatican Museums was about 3 hours long at 9:30 am. So, I didn't get to see the two places I have hoped to visit. Thankfully, I've seen them both before. Instead, we wandered about the city and saw lots of other sights. I caught the train back to Civitavecchia and was back on board by 3 pm. The ship left port at 7 pm and we sailed slowly up the coast to Livorno.
In order to make life easy I signed up for the "Florence on Your Own" tour offered by Carnival. We were picked-up at the pier by a bus and traveled about an two and a half hours to Florence (the traffic was bad with many delays). We had a running commentary from our guide and were given a city map, which was very helpful. We were dropped of near S. Croce at 11 am and were on our own for the rest of the day. From the drop-off point I was able to walk around the city, do a tour of the Uffizi Gallery (I had prepaid for my ticket online about 4 weeks before traveling), and tour the city some more. We met back at S. Croce at 4 pm and boarded the bus for the return trip to Livorno.
Carnival's excursion here was called "Mijas & Ojen". This was a half-day bus trip along the coast and then up into the mountains. We spent about an hour in Mijas, which was a delightful little town built on a mountainside with the most amazing view of the Mediterranean. Then we drove along narrow, winding mountain roads to Ojen. Again, this was a beautiful town on the side of a mountain. We stopped for a short wine tasting and wander around, and then made our way back to the coast and to the ship. Since the day we were in Malaga was a national holiday and many businesses were closed, this seemed like a good choice of shore excursion. I certainly enjoyed the scenery, etc.
Carnival's excursion here was called "Best of the West". Madeira was amazing and we saw so much incredible scenery on this all-day bus tour. We drove along the coast and up into the mountains and stopped at a few small towns, etc. We had a very nice lunch at a restaurant along the coast and eventually made our way back to the ship. It was about a 7-8 hour tour, but with so much to see, the time flew by. Madeira has made my list of places to return to in the future to explore further. We had 9 "sea days", which was quite different from most cruises. We had a sea day between Livorno, Italy and Malaga, Spain. And another sea day between Malaga and the island of Madeira. And then we had 7 days at sea before we docked at Miami. I found the sea days to be very relaxing. The weather was hot and sunny, so I was able to be out on deck quite a bit walking or just sitting and reading a book, etc. There were lots of activities planned throughout the day, so there was never any chance to become bored. Some of my favorite activities were the arts & crafts classes in the early morning and the trivia contests held throughout the day.
I decided to book a transfer to the airport through Carnival once I was on board the ship. I figured it would be less stressful and less expensive than trying to get a taxi by myself, etc. after disembarking. I boarded the bus at 9:30 am. and the trip to the airport took about 30 minutes (we had to wait until the bus was full). Miami International Airport was insanely busy. The line-up at the American Airlines counter near where the buses drop off passengers was many hundreds of people long. Instead of getting in line, I walked further through the terminal to Concourse D and found an American Airlines ticket counter that wasn't busy. It only took 20 minutes to check in, drop off my luggage and get through security. I spoke with some people on my flight who waited 2 hours in line-ups! I had originally thought to take a 3-hour Miami city tour before my flight, but the people at Carnival's shore excursion desk said not to take the chance because of the notorious long waits at the airport.
Disembarkation was very smooth. Because my flight was not until after 2 pm I was in group 18. We were called to leave the ship around 9:30 am. The first people off the ship left around 7 am. Once off the ship, we had to clear customs and then pick-up our luggage at carousels and then walk a short distance to the bus to the airport. It was so hard to say good-bye to the ship...I certainly wasn't prepared to leave.
I truly had the most wonderful cruise vacation on board the Freedom. It was good to be able to combine the fun of a Western Mediterranean cruise with the relaxing atmosphere of a transatlantic cruise. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I'm seriously thinking of booking the same cruise for next year (with an Eastern Mediterranean cruise at the beginning). I've never done a back-to-back cruise before, but I'm keen to experience 28 days on board the Freedom!