My wife and I are loyal Carnival customers, this being our fourth cruise in the last 2 years. We flew into West Palm Beach the day before our cruise and rented a car for the drive to Miami. This was relatively simple, except for some poor directions printed from the Internet. We saved a few dollars but would probably opt for a more direct route next time around.
I booked the La Quinta Airport East on Le Jeune Road for the night and after finding it, was pleasantly surprised at the accommodations. Reviews had been mixed, but for the purpose this hotel fit the bill nicely. For our $79.00 rate we were rewarded with a clean room, continental breakfast, free airport shuttle (rental car return) and free port shuttle in the morning. The port shuttle was the most organized we had experienced. I requested an early time upon booking and our names were taken and checked for the 11:00 am shuttle to the port.
Embarkation at the port was typical. Stood in line for less than 10 minutes before getting on the ship. The ship itself was decorated in typical Carnival fashion - something that would never make or break my experience. We made a tour of the boat and found it easy to navigate as we had sailed the Liberty previously.
The crowd was diverse on this cruise. There were a lot of families and groups on the cruise, quite a few seniors and many couples just like us. Our dinner companions were newlyweds. I know that some posters have claimed that there was an abundance of children on this cruise. This was indeed the case and they were in the hot tubs unsupervised at times and they did run around a bit as children do. We expected this. Do we wish that parents would rein in their kids a bit? Sure. But cruising during school holidays (as us teachers are prone to do) comes with its own unique dilemmas. We have chosen to overlook them whenever possible.
The food on this cruise was the best that we have experienced. While we enjoyed the dining room experience each night, the real stars of this cruise were the endless choices each day for lunch. On Lido deck you could have fish and chips from the upstairs area, made to order deli sandwiches, Chinese food, tandoori, pizza, burgers and dogs from the grill or my personal favorite - Mongolian grill. Choose your veggies, meat and sauce and they cook it up for you on the spot. There was often a line for this but it was certainly worth the wait.
After hearing many great reviews for Carnival's supper club, we gave the Sun King a try on New Year's Eve. I made the reservation online using the link from John Heald's blog and all was set when we got on board. I am not a gourmet food critic nor have I dined in 6 star restaurants before but the Sun King experience was just ok. The entrees were great (I had the 24 oz. porterhouse) but the rest of the meal just matched or even fell below the food we so enjoy in the dining rooms. We are glad that we tried it but will probably divert our dollars elsewhere next time.
The staff of the Freedom was attentive and ready to serve, in our opinion. Our room steward Kosta was a great guy. He greeted us each day and did a great job in the room. Our dining room team of Mitchel and Anna were good as well. Bar staff, especially in the piano bar, were quick and plentiful. I have read in other reviews that many people feel that the Freedom staff were not friendly. We did not find this to be the case at all.
There was never a loss for entertainment. The two shows we did see were excellent but it was unfortunate that the third show - The Big Easy was cancelled twice (once for rough seas and again the next day due to dancer illness). We surely had other things to do. The social hosts Dia, JoJo and James, along with cruise directors Noortje and Todd were always planning trivia, bingo, horse races, games in the lounge etc. Unfortunately, during the first of Todd's dedication shows, a gentleman called from the Lido deck and told him his show was boring. I believe this affected Todd's performance the rest of the cruise. I hope to sail with him again someday to see first hand all the great things people say about him.
The casino was busy each day. I did not get a chance to play poker as it seemed that there were some higher rollers than me on this cruise. I stuck to blackjack and had some moderate success. I used the gym and its shower facilities three mornings of the cruise. This was a great idea as we could get ready at the same time. Just ask at the spa desk for a locker key. The showers in the gym area are much larger than the cabins. The most fun we had this cruise was in the piano bar with Ron Pass. Each night at 9:30 we would be sure to grab a spot around the piano and enjoy this engaging and "SOCIAL" musician as he played and sang well into the early morning hours. Truly a great time.
We did our own excursions in San Juan, St. Thomas and St. Maarten. In particular we loved the Skyride to Paradise Point in St. Thomas and our tour with Bernard in St. Maarten. I would highly recommend either of these activities. I know that the Skyride seems a bit kitschy and like a tourist trap but the views are awe inspiring. New Year's Eve was very special. We celebrated on Lido deck, just outside the port of San Juan, with champagne and a great Motown singer at 11:00 pm EST (we were an hour ahead). They did the ball drop on the big screen and everyone celebrated again at 12 am EST.
Debarkation was an absolute breeze. Kudos to Carnival for improving this system. Each cabin was assigned a numbered luggage tag from 1 - 40. At 7:00am people were allowed to exit the ship using self-assist (carry your own). After this, they started calling numbers (usually three at a time). We had number 7 and were off the ship at 8:15. Our luggage was placed on an airport style carousel with a number matching our tags. We easily located it and were on our way.
It was difficult, as I read on this board, to get a taxi to take us to the downtown Avis location. They wanted to wait for a longer fare. One driver finally gave in once I threatened to speak to the port staff. After a $10 ride to Avis we were on our way back to West Palm. We had another terrific vacation on Carnival and are looking forward to a Med. cruise in August back on board the Freedom.