We were a party of 10 (ranging from 27 to a young 72). For us it was our 5th (all on Carnival - Victory, Victory, Valor, Glory, Freedom). We also had some first timers with us. Six of us flew down the day before out of Philadelphia to Ft. Lauderdale on Southwest. We were very disappointed with Southwest's new boarding system. Now they have a zone and a number and it took twice as long to board. "Get in this line behind this arrow", "get in that line behind another arrow" they kept saying. People were not happy at all and the attendant was a little arrogant to boot! Once on board we had one of "bumpiest" rides ever. At one point we were "out of our seats" it was so bad. All I could think of was "LOST". The rest of our party flew down from Pittsburgh and Virginia.
We arrived safely in Ft. Lauderdale and had made prior arrangements with Larry's Limo (who we used before) to take us to the Holiday Inn at the Port. Total cost $108 for six of us including tax & gratuity. A little disappointed this time because we had 6 in our party with 6 large suitcases and even though he sent a brand new SUV I had to sit on my husband's lap. At least it was a quick ride to the hotel. We made the best of it anyway. Larry's Limo is very reliable and the communication with the driver is great. We got our bags, walked out the door and he met us right away.
We got a military rate of $157 for the Holiday Inn Port of Miami, which is directly across from the Bayside Marketplace. Nice hotel, no complaints whatsoever.
Walked across the street to the Bayside Marketplace and had dinner at Bubba Gumps (always, great food & fun). Nice place to shop and walk around. We were actually back at the hotel around 8:00 pm and asked about the Walgreen's but the desk clerk said that all those stores close at 6:00pm (even on a Friday night). Apparently it's not the best part of town in Miami.
The rest of our party arrived around midnight and we all had a great nights sleep. We were lucky enough to have a view of the 5 ships docked in the morning. We had the buffet breakfast and I think it was around $10.95 per person. After breakfast we walked just a few blocks to Walgreen's to get some distilled water for my brother-in-law's CPAP machine. Of course we had stopped at the liquor store to get some wine. One note on the Holiday Inn. Checkout gets very, very busy in the morning so one of the porters told us to bring our bags down with us first thing in the morning and they would store for us. He also asked us if we wanted a shuttle for 11:00 am (KLM I believe) that would take us to the ship for $5.00 a person. This was great as we had our own private shuttle van. Otherwise we would have taken 2 or 3 taxis.
When we arrived at the port we just handed our bags to the porter and we were on our way. The first security checkpoint they pulled my husband over to the side and checked his bag. Of course he was carrying MY PINK flowered bag (no wonder they pulled him over!). No one said a word about the bottle of wine. Carnival's new terminal is great with easy check in points and seating throughout. There was somewhat of a delay in boarding (a customs issue I heard) so they handed out zone cards with numbers for boarding. We were in zone 7 but it moved pretty quickly. I don't remember what time we actually boarded the ship but there were no lines whatsoever and we breezed right on. I was disappointed with the welcome aboard photo background. Just two plastic trees!
Don't pay attention to prior reviews. The Freedom IS beautiful! Loved the changing colors in the atrium and throughout the promenade. The only thing that I really didn't care for was the red snakeskin but if I hadn't read about it on the boards I probably wouldn't have noticed it.
Being our 5th cruise we usually head straight for the cabin to drop off our carry-ons before heading to the Lido deck but the doors were locked to each hallway. So, we carried our things with us and headed up for lunch. We've always loved the grille (cheeseburgers, hotdogs) but now they've added chicken fingers, nachos, cheese, onion rings etc. Delicious! My husband loves the fish & chips and throughout the week, we had the pizza, deli sandwiches, buffets, etc. etc. The food was especially good on this ship. Of course we had to start off with the drink of the day.
We had 4 balcony cabins (3 together). We wanted to have each balcony door open so we could all sit out together but now you need to contact the purser's desk to have these doors open between cabins for security reasons whereas before the cabin steward could do it. They were all opened by dinnertime. A little tip from the boards......yes, it's true, FORD keys WILL open the balcony doors. One of the balcony doors obstructed the cabin door and holding it back with deck chairs just didn't work (made too much noise at night with the wind) so we just locked it ourselves till morning. Worked out great. Cabin steward Magdalena was awesome! Always stopped to talk to us whenever we saw her throughout the day. Never a complaint with a balcony. We're out there morning, noon and even the wee hours of the morning (because I had to get up to go the bathroom!!). Not too much room to walk between cabins because of the new deck chairs. We had 3 in our cabin and it worked out fine. Luggage usually arrives pretty fast but they had a slow start. Finally arrive around 5:30.
The first night around 3:00 AM we awoke to John Heald's voice over the PA system. Apparently they were looking for a missing girl named Stephanie. This was a little scary (to say the least). It was the first time on all five cruises that we heard this type of announcement. He must have done this 2 or 3 times then around 3:30 AM he made an EMERGENCY announcement INSIDE the cabin, which is very unusual. He kept apologizing for interrupting everyone in the cabins in the wee hours of the morning but (after all) it was an emergency. A short time later (round 4:00 AM he made the announcement (inside each cabin) that they found Stephanie and she was safe and with her parents. What a relief!Dining:
We had the 6:15 in the Chic dining room (mid ship). This was a first for us because we always preferred the late seating (had a few diabetics with us so time was a factor). We actually loved it! Elvis the maitre'd was great. He stopped by our table and chatted with us just about every night. This didn't happen on our other cruises. Of course we had a lot of fun with our waiters. We found the food to be exceptional!!! BEST we've ever had. If you can't find something you like there's always the alternative menu. Always a steak, chicken, baked potato etc. One night I had a (very large) cheeseburger from the alternative menu and I couldn't even finish it.
We love going to the shows after dinner and The Beatles Ticket to Ride was by far the BEST! Don't miss it! The tribute to New Orleans was good but I'm not a big fan of swing music. There was another similar show but we've seen that same show on other cruises (just can't remember the name). The Legends show we missed. Of course the comedian was great!
Yes, we had bingo players with us and we went to plenty of them throughout the week. Nothing too exciting here. Games were way too short with winners winning with just 5 numbers being called! Needless to say our "very serious bingo players" weren't happy! Cards ran anywhere from $10 to $20.
Pool was crowded on sea days and of course there were plenty of chair hogs but I saw a stack of chairs waiting to be placed throughout the ship if you needed one. I know all the action is by the main pool but we have a tendency to sit by the aft pool area. It's usually pretty quiet with plenty of shade. Me, I'm the sun lover and thoroughly enjoyed the hot tub and pool. Be careful though......the area by the aft pool is very, very slippery and we actually witnessed a woman fall on her rear end. Luckily she got up laughing and didn't hurt herself. Carnival seems to be aware of the problem, as there is a stack of regular towels just below the hot tub steps with a sign to dry off.
Yes, we also had the gamblers with us. My daughter actually won about $1500 throughout the week playing the slots and I think she finally went home with about $1100. Me, I sat down and played roulette with $20 for the first time in my life and actually sat there and had fun for 2+ hours. Only walked away with about $150 but was happy to play for that long. Other players and the dealer were actually helping me so it was a lot fun. Nothing like Atlantic City or Vegas where there are way too many serious players there.
The boards were right on in saying JOHN HEALD was the best. I agree 100%. Poor guy had a patch on this left eye from a case of Bells Palsy. He had to leave us the last two days because he was headed to the Splendor but wish I could have spent more time with him. James took his place and he'll definitely be a director himself one day.
We've been to Coz several times but still enjoy it. There were only 2 ships in port with us - our sister ship - The Carnival Liberty & The Regent Seven Seas Mariner. Both were docked a few miles away. We docked at the International Pier but it was just OK. I much prefer the Carnival owned dock that was destroyed by the hurricane. Looks like its almost ready for opening again though! We had booked our own tour to Chankanaab Park ($14 each with $2 off coupon on the cozumelinsider.com site). My sister and brother-in-law scheduled the swim with the dolphins. We had done this in Jamaica on a previous cruise. They had the best time. Pictures and DVD ran them about $105 dollars. Well worth the experience! This park is beautiful. Very large with plenty of chairs, umbrellas, beach area, etc. etc. It wasn't crowded at all and at times we felt like we were all by ourselves. Short cab ride from the ship (about $10). We found that most of the ship tours were rather expensive this time so definitely book this on your own you'll save money. Went back to the ship to change and shower and then took a cab ride downtown to shop. Very disappointed in the shopping. Nothing spectacular. Jewelry stores are always pushy trying to grab you to come inside. Only walked a few blocks and then returned to the ship.Grand Cayman:
There was only one ship in port with us - The Norwegian Pearl so it wasn't crowed at all. This is one of my favorite ports. We've done the stingrays, hell, turtle farm before but couldn't convince our party to try it this time so we had nothing planned. I wanted to take the helicopter tour with my sister but we couldn't get 2 more people to go (need 4). Next time I'll make a reservation. We decided to take a shore tour right there at the dock for $20 per person. Cayman is a very safe island and we had no problems doing this type of tour. It was like a private tour with just the 5 of us in an air-conditioned van with a great tour guide. Took us to 7 mile beach, Tortuga Rum Factory, etc. etc. Dropped us at Margaritaville for a drink and a quick bite before returning to the ship. I liked the new Margaritaville but be prepared it's on the expensive side. One drink each (5 of us), 1 ultimate nacho and 1 chicken quesadillas (which we all shared) - total bill $88 US. The tender ride back to the ship was pretty rocky. You definitely had to hold on to something (or someone) until you got off. Took them quite a while to get everyone off because it was so rough. All in all we enjoyed our day in Grand Cayman.
We were the only ship in port that day. Once off the ship the dock zigzags around and it's a pretty far walk. There were gentlemen there with wheelchairs to take you to the island and my brother-in-law quickly sat down and was on his way. Well worth the $7 tip he gave him. Same thing on the way back - the guy was actually looking for him when we returned. Last time in Jamaica we did the Dolphin Cove so we didn't get to see much of the island. This time we booked a private tour with Marva Shaw (who comes highly recommended by the boards). What a wonderful lady. Met us personally at the dock and took us on a tour of Coyoba Gardens & Falls, Fern Gully and the Wassi Pottery Factory. I would have liked to have seen the falls but not with this group. Maybe next time. Marva's tour cost $30 each and then $10 each to get into the gardens (which I wasn't expecting). She would have taken us anywhere we wanted but we decided to go back and shop. Island Village is great for shopping so is the Taj Mahal. Never felt threatened on this beautiful island.
We thoroughly enjoy sea days and wish we had a few more. Enjoyed lounging by the pool, the games in the lounge, shopping (inch of gold, etc. etc.) Just in case anybody noticed, we were that noisy bunch playing cards up on deck 10 by the fish & chips area. We are not party people and can't tell you much about the nightlife on board.
Saturday morning came too fast!! We were up early (already packed and bags out the night before) and were happy to see that the dining room was opened the last day and had to go for one last delicious breakfast. My, how quiet everybody was at breakfast. Everyone hated to see it end. They called self-assist as early as 7:00 am. We had booked a flight for 3:30 so we had plenty of time (too much time in fact) to disembark. I like the way the cabin stewards provide # tags the night before. We had #8 and were off by 9:30 (I think).
Getting off was a breeze. Customs was easy. No lines at all. The new baggage carousel works great. Carnival really has their act together at this terminal. We no sooner walked out the door when the KLM driver called me on my cell phone (he gave me his card and we exchanged cell phone #'s back at the Holiday Inn). He pulled up within a matter of minutes. We tearily said our goodbyes to the rest of our gang and the 6 of us were on our way (this time to the Miami airport).
We had an American Airlines flight at 3:30 and were at the airport way too early. Checked our bags with the skycap outside (AA had sign that said minimum of $2 per bag). Crazy!! We then went inside to a very, very busy airport. Looked around the stores and then tried to find a place to sit but couldn't find any chairs at all (under renovation) so we decided to go directly to the gate and wait (and wait and wait.....). We had to get two wheelchairs and that area was crowded as well. At this point they split us up. The two in the wheelchairs and their spouses went through another security line because an attendant actually escorts them directly to the gate. Security was tight (code orange) so the lines were crowed but moved quickly. I'm glad we got the wheelchairs for them because it was very, very long walk to our gate.
Each of us found something to eat and the time passed rather quickly. Next thing I knew they were calling my brother-in-law & sister-in-law (the ones in the wheelchairs) up to the desk to move them up to first class. Well, of all the nerve (I do all the planning etc.) and they get to sit in first class). Just kidding!! They were actually thrilled and I was glad American took care of them. The rest of us on the other hand were stuck all the way in the back of the plane in the next to the last seats!!!!
Anyway, we made it home safe & sound and arrived back in Philly at around 6:30pm.
We've done spring break before but I found this particular ship to be on the quiet side with a rather subdued crowd. No loud kids, no drunken college kids (hey, I have two grown kids myself). No one particular guest that stood out other than Dick Little and his wife, Anita Little whom John had to bring on stage. A few noisy people in the halls around 3 or 4 AM but that was it.
We had a fabulous time on the Freedom and would sail her again in a heartbeat! Beautiful ship, awesome, exceptional crew, great food and, of course, great company!