You know where I'm coming from by the title. If you liked the Carnival Freedom on the 10/28 transatlantic, you won't like this review.
We booked our tour a tour company which was very reasonably priced, and although their excursions didn't always work out as planned, we thought they were a decent value. That may have been the problem with this cruise. It was priced reasonably enough that travel bums like us could afford it. There's something to be said for not buying cheap cruises. I'm guessin' here, but the pricier the cruise, the classier the clientele.
We flew out of Tampa on Delta, making connections via Cincinnati and Rome and then by bus to Montecatini (near Florence) for 4 days at the Montecatini Manzoni hotel, which included breakfast and dinner each night. Not the best flight/transfer arrangement but when you pay cheap, you get cheap. The bus ride from Rome to Montecatini took 6 hours with traffic and stops and that doesn't count sitting on the bus for almost an hour before we left Rome. Oh well. We arrived in Montecatini in the rain and after dark. Then following the tour guide's directions, we got lost, couldn't find the hotel but then we did find a delightful 'evening market' and directions to the hotel. We went right in, dinner was waiting and by the time we finished dinner, our bags had arrived at our room. Excellent start!
While in Montecatini, we took our tour company tour of the major museums and plazas in Florence, did our own thing by train to Lucca and likewise Montecatini Alto. We had a great time and would return to Montecatini in a flash. It's a great location in the heart of Tuscany and near all the major Tuscan attractions. We never had less than wonderful food and delicious wines ... even the house wines in restaurants were fabulous. In Florence, we had a great tour guide, saw the major attractions albeit quickly and after 5 or 6 hours of walking, managed to find the bus and get back to the hotel.
Then instead just a bus transfer to the ship, we took another tour company bus tour/transfer that took us from Montecatini to Rome and then to the ship in Civitavecchia. This trip turned out to be more long bus ride than touring but we did get a very well done 2 hour walking tour of the Coliseum and forum ruins. We arrived at the ship about 5:30pm just in time for the early dinner seating in the Posh Dining Room on deck 3. A clue to what the cruise would be like occurred right after we boarded the bus. Two old men in the back seats about 4 rows behind us almost got into fisticuffs over the seating arrangements. This is at 7am yet! Amazingly, after all the planes, trains and buses, our bags came through as expected.
Then the fun began. The very next day we took another tour company bus tour to Pompeii (from Civitavecchia). After 6 hours on the bus we arrived at Pompeii and ultimately had about 45 minutes of walking tour in the ruins including lunch. Then back on the bus for a 3+ hour return to the ship. This tour was just too ambitious for the age and life style of the people booking it. First the bus had to stop ¼ mile from the ship to let off a couple that were already sick. Then 15 minutes later we had to stop at a roadside reststop/gas station because another passenger was ill. Then we managed to find a traffic jam on the expressway that killed at least 30 minutes. After that we had the scheduled pit stop that was supposed to be 20 minutes that ended up being 50 minutes because of long lines at the ladies restroom. You get the picture ... On top of that, the two old ladies sitting in front of us did nothing but complain both going and coming about one thing or another. Mostly they complained at the driver and the people across the aisle because the A/C was too cold or too loud. They finally succeeded in getting the air turned down when someone from the back of the bus came forward and complained to the driver about the lack of A/C in the back ... yeesh. How can two old ladies assume that they should control the A/C for a busload of 70 people? Put on a sweater!
Then, in Pompeii, our tour guide was getting hammered with so many stupid questions by these rude and obnoxious and apparently half deaf geezers that she ended up in tears. One guy harangued her for 10 minutes because her cell phone interrupted her spiel. It wasn't a personal call. It was the bus driver telling her where to meet the bus. No wonder we're known as the ugly Americans.
I have never met so many rude, crude and socially obnoxious people in my life as there were on this ship. I think the main reason for this is that the ship is just too small for the number of cabins and the number of people on board. The chow lines were always crowded, there were long lines at dinner, never enough seats at the shows and on top of that the ship is sick .... Three quarters of the people on board were hacking, sneezing and coughing. We made it until Friday when my wife came down with the worst cold of her life, spending the last two days in bed. I finally got it on Sunday as we disembarked. Now a week later we're still hacking up wads of green stuff.
I thought we were avoiding all of this by booking with a group of cruising sailors. Cruising sailors are for the most part younger and at least more vigorous. Apparently though the sailing group wasn't kept together and separate from the rest of the Legendary people or for that matter the rest of the Carnival bookings.
After we left Rome we stopped in Livorno. We were told that there's nothing worth seeing there and we should book a tour. We ignored this advice and walked to town from the ship and even though it was a rainy day we had a wonderful time just shopping, touring the cathedral and having lunch. It's really quite an interesting little city. OK, we passed on going to Pisa and missed seeing the leaner but we avoided another bus ride with snotty tourists.
Then after the roughest day at sea of the entire trip, the ship stopped in Malaga, Spain. A big low pressure system centered just off the coast from Livorno kicked up huge short choppy seas. The ship handled it well though and while the motion made walking difficult for the geezers, it wasn't bad at all. Again we toured Malaga on our own, climbing to the top of the old fort and wandering down to the Picasso Museum, with shopping and lunch along the way.
After another day at sea, we stopped in Funchal, Madeira which we again toured on our own. Interesting place. We would love to come back here and spend some time, what a wonderful island. We took the cable car to the top of the mountain and toured the botanical gardens. Of course, shopping in town and stopping for lunch was part of the deal. This part of the trip was wonderful.
Then things changed. After Funchal, we were basically stuck on the ship for the next week. When the itinerary was sail one day and stop in a new port one day, the ship didn't seem so awful. With everyone on different schedules it didn't seem so crowded. It was when we had to live on the thing for a week with a boatload of troglodytes that she showed her colors.
The outdoor theater is a joke, you can't see the screen in daylight and the sound system is worthless in the open air. The pools are too small, the hot tubs too few and always occupied by beached whales. Likewise the pool decks; you'd have to go to watch a walrus migration to see that much blubber in one place. 'Keep your shirt ON!' Plus whenever I walked the deck to get my laps in there was the stink of sewer gas emanating from the pool area. I don't know if the treatment system vents were near there or if it was the raw fat in the pool and hot tubs. Like wise the gym was always packed. Why do people want to walk on a treadmill when there's a beautiful, sunny, breezy day for walking the deck? Maybe the sewer gas drove them inside.
The layout of this ship sucks. (not to mention the shlocky dEcor). It's like living in a 3 dimensional cartoon maze. Oh sure, a couple of decks allow you to traverse the length of the ship from end to end (maybe the 6th or Upper Deck is the only one?) but that's it. There's no where to walk laps under cover except the narrow hallway between the 6th deck cabins. You won't need to use the stair stepper in the gym, finding your way around will get you plenty of knee bending. Forget the elevators unless you like being crammed in among wads of fat. By the way, the dEcor was somewhere south of the Jetson's meet Scooby Doo for lunch at Bern's of Tampa but with all the other problems, you can overlook the spooky, light-blue, floating, liberty-head lights in the mostly copper-toned cafeteria.
To get to the internet cafe you must pass through the cigar bar that spans an entire deck from side to side and stinks to high heaven. I will never get on another ship unless it is entirely non-smoking. Even walking down the corridors, the stench of cigarette smoke was over-powering in places. Once you get into the internet cafe, you get the privilege of spending $25 for 20 minutes of email. OK, we're on a ship, doing high speed internet over satellite, I know that can't be cheap but get real. Carnival needs to drop the price of internet connectivity and get more workstations on the boat ... maybe replace the cigar bar with an internet bar? And cut the price to $.50/minute? Given the other entertainment on board they'd probably keep the lounge filled. They do offer various plans starting at $100 for some number of minutes but I didn't plan to spend $25 the whole trip. You can get high speed internet at home for under $20 month with unlimited minutes and I could even understand paying $50 for a week's unlimited access but this is ridiculous.
Thank heavens there were very few kids on board but they were replaced by their fat, obnoxious grandparents. I never heard so much intolerance and bitching in my life. After a while I refused to get in a chow line with these 'people'. I got tired of being elbowed out of the buffet line by some obese old lady.
Food. The food was acceptable, I think, but could stand a bit more variety. The breakfast line was the same everyday with no variation, as was lunch. For variety you had to try one of the smaller lines like the stir-fry, deli or fish fry. The pizza bar was the only place you could get something to eat after hours. Excellent pizza I thought. The deli did a good job in spite of the demanding passengers who just couldn't order straight from the menu but had to have it their way.... "gimme a Rueben but hold the Thousand Island, use spicy brown mustard instead and no swiss, use cheddar cheese on white bread" ... with nary a please nor thank-you. I guess this is Starbucks-it is. The longer it takes to order a coffee, the bigger the jerk. The Fish Fry Bar was ok but the fish was doughy and greasy. The ceviche was good though and while the fries needed help, my wife judged the calamari good. The seared tuna on watermelon was good too. Near the Lido pool deck was a Tandoori Bar that had a few tasty items also although nothing in particular stands out.
Dinners were excellent. Good if pricey wine selections (that ran out of some labels toward the end of the cruise) good but not the best steaks. The shrimp was ok. The extra cost SunKing Restaurant was also very good. We ate there once and it cost us an extra $100 for two of us including the wine. The level of service and the friendliness of the staff made dining a pleasure. The same could be said for Posh even though it was a very crowded and noisy dining room. The staff also was most accommodating. When my wife was sick and couldn't come down to dinner our server made up a plate for me to take back to the room (usually she just wanted soup but that was nice).
We booked and traveled with a group of cruising sailors but our tour company let us down a bit there. We thought we would be traveling, touring, dining with folks from this group but that was not to be. We were just lumped in with all the other tour customers and so while we were at a table with a cruising couple that we know (we had asked for that seating) the other 4 were non-sailors. It turned out that they were very nice and made pleasant dining companions. It just wasn't what we expected.
Also being sailors, it would have been nice on a transatlantic, to have a briefing by the captain or another officer about our planned course. We'd be curious about such details as the pilotage charts for that time of year, weather considerations, currents, etc. I even submitted a request for such through the Purser's Desk suggestion box and got back a prompt reply that no such briefing would be forthcoming. Oh well, it turns out that he did the Columbus course. That is, we ran south to the approximate latitude of Northeast Providence Channel (26N more or less) and steered due west. Not much sophistication there.
The cabins were very nice I thought. We had an inside cabin on deck 6 (6321) about 6 or 8 cabins aft of the glass elevators on the starboard side. This is just a little forward of mid ships and with the inside cabin we never really felt all that much motion. The cabins are quite large and well thought out. We never had a problem with anything except a lack of hot water one morning. The head/shower compartment is very well engineered and efficient. The steward service was acceptable except that we got the invite to the CC Meet & Greet the day after the event. Also note that the bottle of water provided by the steward costs about $4 ... we chose to avoid drinking the ship's water although it's probably safe.
The big production shows were very good. They had an excellent band and fine group of young people doing the dancing and singing. The theater is crowded however and with all the hacking and sneezing, we probably should have avoided it. We enjoyed listening to the Mozart trio that played in the main lobby and other spots throughout the cruise. On the first formal night (also Halloween) we did enjoy the only dancing we found in the 70's lounge. After that we never did hit the right time, music, or lounge for us. Most of the music seemed to be older 30s and 40s era stuff. We'd have preferred more 60s and 70s.
Here's a couple of tips that worked for us. We took a backpack on shore excursions to carry things like water bottles, umbrellas, snacks, camera, etc but also to carry souvenirs and gifts back to the ship. We never had an issue with bringing a couple of bottles of wine on board. We also pre-purchased drink coupons at 4 coupons for $19.95. That buys 4 drinks or a bottle of wine (give or take) at dinner including gratuity. The best buy, if you drink beer, was to swap one coupon for a Fosters 25 ounce keg. Usually the waiters just accepted a coupon but a few made me sign for the $.81 difference. Usually my evening Manhattan would cost $1.50 or so over the coupon.
But overall, NEVER AGAIN!, Certainly never again on Carnival and maybe never again on any cruise ship. If this was typical of the clientele and conditions, you can have it. 7 days at sea with a joke for a library and nothing to do is not my cup o' tea. I'm glad we came with our own reading materials and supplies of crossword puzzles, etc. Oh there was something on the schedule every minute. Usually a trivia contest, bingo, or some other 'activity' ... I suppose the idea is to get people into the casino, the art auction, the photo shop or the jewelry store. They have about half a deck dedicated to the photo shop. Even their 'free' movie selections were stupid. I suppose I should have paid $8.95 each to see their pay-per-view movies, haven't these people heard of Netflix? As it was, I dropped another $600 on our sail & sign account mostly on wine and booze. Hey, it made my fellow passengers easier to get along with.
We're still sick now a week later. There were so many people sick on the boat that they ran out of Sudafed! There's just too many ways to catch something when you're crowded into a boat for that long a period of time with so many slobs. We were scrupulous about hand washing and using the wipes at every opportunity but still we caught a nasty something. On top of that, we often found the hand wipe dispensers to be empty or jammed or just missing. It's just not worth the risk. In normal circumstances, my wife and I are very healthy. As near as we can tell, the last time we had a cold anywhere near this bad was 1976. Now the news is all about AD14 the latest version of an old cold virus that has killed 3 or 4 people since being identified earlier this year.
Maybe it's the closeness of the ship or the crowding but people were just not holding their gas for a private toot in the head. Many times we'd be walking a hallway or be in an elevator and you'd swear somebody just dumped a load in the corner. This was especially true right in front of the jewelry store. We felt like we were living in an assisted-living home for the aged that had run out of diapers.
I know Carnival doesn't get to choose the clientele but this cruise was overloaded with blue-hairs and last-gaspers. Oh Yeah, the chocolate covered strawberries at the 'crap-u-chino bar' were excellent at $3 for 5 strawberries.