Eight of us (4 adults, 3 teenagers, 1 child) flew into Ft. Lauderdale on Friday. We flew into Miami last year and found FTL to be a newer/nicer airport (great when traveling with the family). Overnighted at the Embassy Suites FTL (old hotel that has been refurbished-once again, great for the family) and took a private shuttle to the Port of Miami that I had booked before we left home. Total round trip shuttle (FTL-Port of Miami)service for 8 persons and enough luggage to survive a two-week crossing (HAHA), $300 (including tax & prepaid gratuity). It was well worth the money since we had so much luggage and didn't have to scramble to catch a shuttle otherwise.
According to our driver, Carnival has moved all operations to the new terminals at the Port of Miami. What an improvement! Although embarkation took 2 hours (yes, 2 hours), it wasn't too bad. Seems the ship cleared customs late and the majority of "Spring Breakers" decided to self-assist. The Purser's Office told us there was a lot of individual baggage search that morning and it took longer than usual.
The Freedom is a great ship! She does have that distinct "Carnival" look to her. We had two adjoining rooms on the main deck 2336-2332 and a third adjacent but not adjoining. This worked out really well. The outside cabins are actually larger than the regular balcony cabins (the balcony footprint is included in the cabin space). Since it was Spring Break and not an adult trip, we didn't miss the balcony.
Our Western Itinerary stopped first in Cozumel, then Grand Cayman, and lastly Ocho Rios. We've been to Cozumel many times and took a cab to Paradise Beach for the day. Having been to Grand Cayman before, too, we cabbed it to the Cracked Conch but were unable to snorkel since the water was too rough. Did the beach thing again at Calypso Joe's. Ocho Rios was new to us. Took a cab to Dunn's River Falls and really enjoyed it despite the rain. The sun came out as we were leaving and made for a beautiful afternoon.
Had the Late Seating in the Posh Dining Room. Ken, the Maitre'D, was the best we've had on 6 Carnival cruises! He was polite, took time to meet and great the guests (not just ask how the food was), and sings quite well. Servers Michael and Ziki also took very good care of us!
The Piano Bar was hopping every night! Entertainer Ron Pass was AWESOME! He will be heading to the Carnival Splendor this summer along with Cruise Director John Heald. Anyone that gets the opportunity to cruise with either of these entertainers will not be disappointed!
Unlike other trips, we didn't have trouble getting deck chairs on sea days (go figure!). We could only guess that folks were sunburned or didn't make it to bed until the wee hours, if at all!
Our teenagers really enjoyed Club O2. They've grown up with Camp Carnival and were a bit skeptical but loved it! This ship was built with Club O2 next to the 70's Disco. On other ships Club O2 has to share other parts of the ship but not on this one. The teens really enjoyed having room to themselves. Our son loves Camp Carnival and is now old enough to come and go as he pleases. He carries his schedule around and sets his watch to go to the next activity. The counselors did a great job and handled the loads of kids on this sailing very well. All the kids enjoyed the mini-golf, basketball, and volleyball sports areas. Nice addition!
Since it was Spring Break, we went thinking it would get a bit crazy and out of hand. The only unruly behavior we experienced was from (HAHA) chaperones of a few high school groups(one MOM was escorted out of the Piano Bar one evening)! The college kids had fun but behaved! Just goes to show that preconceived notions aren't always right.
I was very pleased with the debarkation process. This was by far the smoothest we've experienced. Passengers began to disembark at 8am. Unless you have a very early flight, skip the self assist and pick your bags up after you disembark the ship. The new terminals in Miami have luggage carousels similar to the airport. There's no need to hunt for your luggage-just go to the designated carousel. Our shuttle arrived just as we exited the building and we headed back to the airport in Ft. Lauderdale.
**Eat before you head to FTL airport.** The airport was crazy busy full of tired families heading home. We waited an hour to sit down to eat. There were 5 or 6 ships back in FTL and that many in Miami-no telling how many vacationers flying out Saturday. All flights our were full or over-booked. Check with your airline-SWA only allows luggage in FTL to be checked 4 hours prior to your departure. Many unhappy travelers waited in long lines only to be told they had to wait until that time frame to check their bags.
Overall it was an awesome vacation! Can't wait until the next trip in September 2008!