We've been on several cruises...sailing on Carnival, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean in the past. We chose the Carnival Freedom because of the itinerary it offered for this sailing and we wanted to sail on a new ship.
The Flight: We flew into Miami from Phoenix two days prior to sailing. Taxi from the Miami Airport to the Holiday Inn Bayside was $22 (plus tip).
The Hotel: We stayed at the Holiday Inn Bayside for two nights prior to sailing. The hotel is very close to the port and there are restaurants and shopping across the street at Bayside. A short walk out the back door of the Holiday Inn took us to the college area which had a McDonald's and Walgreens...as well as a few other liquor stores and little shops. I wouldn't suggest walking around back there after dark. The hotel is nice and the staff was very friendly. We had a room on the top floor, overlooking the port and Bayside. We watched the ships arrive and depart from our window (or down by the bay). Saturday morning there were 5 ships lined up at the port with the Freedom being in the middle. Checkout was a breeze and there were taxis available outside whenever we needed them.
The Cruise: We got up Saturday morning and headed over to the port around 11:00am to check in. This went smoothly and the woman checking us in was very professional, but fun. After checking in we sat down until we boarded. We were allowed to embark first, as my DH had blown out his knee 3 days prior to sailing and was having a lot of trouble walking in his bulky knee brace. They ran out of wheelchairs but the supervisor was more than eager to get us into an elevator and give us time to get onto the ship before they allowed the other passengers to board.
Muster drill was quick. As usual there were people coming to the station late. I noticed that there were quite a few complainers on this cruise. It seemed to me that the majority of the people that were complaining were holding blue S&S cards....so maybe they just didn't realize, being first time Carnival cruisers, that it's something they HAVE to do. One couple came fighting because apparently they had entered their cabin too early and changed.....only to come back later to find that their clothes had been thrown out. Their cabin steward had thought that the last passengers had left the items in the cabin. They were arguing over whether or not to demand that the cabin steward pay for the items that he threw away. They distracted a lot of people and the crew member in charge of our area was frustrated with them but never said a word.
We had both pieces of our luggage delivered by about 5 p.m. We had the late seating for dinner so we were able to freshen up and change before dinner. We had a table for 2 next to the staircase in the Chic dining room, which was nice because my DH was able to get his leg into a comfortable position without bothering anyone around us. Our waiter was amazing and his recommendations were always just as he described. We had the new menu on this cruise, which was nice because of the different dishes offered. For those of you who enjoy the Won Ton Soup....it was not on the menu for this cruise. I didn't ask if it had been discontinued or not....but I'm guessing it might have been since the new menu is replacing other items. The warm chocolate melting cake was still on the menu each night, in case you're wondering. J
We had an aft balcony cabin on deck 6 (Upper). We were in the center so we were directly over the wake of the ship. We spent a great deal of time on our cabin, as it was so peaceful. We had neighbors on either side of us that yelled back and forth to each other every day and pretty much everyone around us had the habit of allowing their balcony doors to slam shut, but we just blocked them out and enjoyed our cruise. We used the door stop to prop our balcony door open at night and the noise of the water, along with the gentle swaying of the ship, rocked us to sleep each night. Our cabin had a king size bed and a couch & table. We had three closets and plenty of drawers and cabinets. We hardly ever heard anyone in the hallways. We DID have quite a bit of vibration on port days but we enjoy that so it didn't bother us a bit. If you don't like the heavy vibration, don't book an aft cabin because you will feel it. Occasionally we would faintly hear some music or singing from the lounge below us, but it was never loud enough to bother us....or anyone unless they're very sensitive to noises.
With the exception of the new menu in the dining room, the food onboard is pretty typical of Carnival. The food is good and the variety is pretty good. The buffet isn't the best, but it's a buffet so you shouldn't expect the best. The deli still has delicious sandwiches made to order, the Mexican eatery had a wide variety of items and they tasted good, the fish & chips is a little hidden...but the food was good. The ice cream stations were in use the whole week and they were good about switching out the chocolate with strawberry in a few machines for variety. The ice cream machine by the aft pool always had toppings available (chocolate sprinkles, chocolate syrup, butterscotch syrup, strawberry syrup and sometimes one other, but I can't remember what it was). We didn't eat at the supper club on this cruise, so I can't say how that was...but I talked to some people who had eaten there and they had a pleasant experience.
Half Moon Cay was our first stop. This is a beautiful island with the most powder like white sand I've ever seen. The water is gorgeous too! We had an excursion booked through Carnival so we were able to get on the second tender over. Others had to wait up on the Lido deck for their numbers to be called. Some friends of ours said that tendering for them was a madhouse, with people pushing and shoving their way to the front of the line.
In Half Moon Cay we swam with the stingrays. This excursion was an hour long and cost $40 each. There were 36 of us on this excursion….which was just a little crowded. It wasn't too bad though. When we arrived we were given snorkel gear, water shoes and wetsuits. We put on our gear and entered the water. We were able to swim around the enclosure and view the stingrays (there were 10-12 of them in there with us) and take photos. After about 15 minutes or so, we were all lined up near the dock/stairway in a circle and we were each given a squid to feed the stingrays. As we were waiting the stingrays swam between our legs and all around us. One huge one swam up onto my DH's back and just hung out for a few minutes, then he slid off and swam away. It was pretty neat. After we fed them the guide held up a few and let us take pictures of it as it spit water on us. We were allowed to swim around a little bit more before having to get out and return our gear. There are fresh water showers there to rinse off. We were able to bring our own underwater cameras….there were no photographers there when we were there, it was just us in the water taking photos.
The truck took us back to the welcome center after the excursion and we were free to do whatever we wanted. We just found some lounge chairs on the beach and planted ourselves there, and in the water, for the rest of the day. The water was a little chilly at first, but not too bad at all. You can get some excellent photos of the cruise ship here!
Lunch is served in a large building up a brick pathway. They had hamburgers, hot dogs, jerk chicken and all kinds of different side dishes and deserts. There are a lot of picnic tables under covers to eat and there were crew members wandering everywhere to clean up or help you, if needed.
We had a sea day and then our next stop was St Thomas. We got off the ship in the morning and did a little walking around & shopping before heading off on our excursion. We booked a half day sail independently with Mike from Island Girl Yacht Adventures. Mike picked us up at the ship and we were taken by dingy to his yacht in the harbor. We sailed out of the harbor and headed over to Buck Island. We were able to get our sails up and cruise over there peacefully. The water is beautiful and the weather was perfect! I was able to 'drive' the yacht for a little bit while Mike got everyone drinks downstairs. I know what I want for Christmas now…a yacht in St Thomas!
When we arrived at Buck Island we jumped into the crystal clear water and Mike handed us our sea scooters. We were able to cover a very large area by using those sea scooters! That was a nice addition to our day.
We immediately saw sea turtles below us. I was fascinated by them and couldn't move for the longest time. They're so graceful in the water and their little necks are so wrinkly! I was able to get some amazing photographs and video. My DH and our friends had already been exploring and told me that they saw Barracuda off to our left. I wanted to get some photographs so I had one of our friends take me over to where they were. I got pretty close (but not TOO close) and got some photos of them before turning around and heading over to the coral. There were so many colorful fish and the coral was amazing to see so closely. There was also quite a bit of sea urchin, which I hadn't seen before. After checking out the coral for awhile I decided to head over to where I had seen the sea turtles again so I could watch them some more. There they were……big ones, little ones…….just eating and minding their own business. One small one swam up to the surface and swam right next to my DH for a little while.
As we were heading back to the yacht, we saw a stingray floating along below us. I got some video and photos of him and made one more stop to watch the sea turtles. Back onboard we enjoyed a nice ride back to the harbor. We got back on the ship and showered before heading out to our balcony to watch the Triumph pull out. It was a wonderful day!
Our third port was San Juan, Puerto Rico. We got off the ship first thing and headed over to our independently booked Segway Tour. We met up with Jose and Natalie and were given some basics of the segway before Natalie took us out for some training. Within about 10 minutes we were feeling pretty comfortable on the segways so we were on our way.
Natalie was our guide. She is a wealth of information on San Juan! As we rode around the city she pointed out historic buildings and told us tales from the past. We stopped several times along the way to look into things in more depth and to take photos. Natalie took photos of us on the segways along the way as well. We stopped at El Morrow fort and Natalie took us on a tour there as well, explaining how things were run and giving us some information that we may not have been able to find out otherwise.
It started to rain as we left the fort so Natalie gave us all raincoats to wear for our ride back to the port. We had an enjoyable ride back, and as we were feeling much more comfortable on the segways….we were able to play around a little on them. We went a little faster and weaved back and forth, etc. The segways were VERY fun….and we'll definitely be doing that again next time we're in San Juan! Jose and Natalie are professional but still manage to keep things fun. I know what I want for Christmas now….a segway!
After our segway tour (which lasted 2 hours) we did a little shopping and walked around a bit before heading back to the ship. We stayed on our balcony as we pulled out of San Juan and watched the Coast Guard escort us out…with a man stationed at the machine gun at the front of their vessel. A boat got too close to us and the Coast Guard took off to move them. It was raining pretty hard at sail away, so we weren't able to get any great photos of the fort. It was still a pretty amazing site to see though.
Around 11 the next morning we docked next to the Triumph in Grand Turk. When we got off we saw that most of the chairs were taken on the beach…we're guessing by Triumph passengers. So, we checked out Margaritaville then walked down the beach a little ways to a nice spot. We spent most of the day swimming and just enjoying the beautiful day. There was a stingray in the water right by the shore…so I followed him for awhile. He eventually swam out to sea…where there were sea turtles seen coming up for air. Grand Turk doesn't have much to do, but it's a nice beach day. There are some rocks though, so water shoes might be handy. Also, the bottom of the ocean felt somewhat like slimy shag carpet. It wasn't unpleasant…but it wasn't the soft powdery sand of Half Moon Cay! After a little window shopping (mostly commercial shops here) we headed back to the ship to shower and then to our balcony.
We had one more sea day before heading back to Miami. The weather was beautiful and there were activities going on all day. Plenty of things to keep everyone busy.
The Freedom is a new ship so it was in excellent shape. I didn't see any signs of wear & tear anywhere on the ship. I really didn't look….but nothing was noticeable. The bed in our cabin seemed a little 'indented'….but after a year of people using it each week, I expected that.
If you're looking for a place to sit in the buffet area, you might want to consider heading upstairs (deck 10). There always seemed to be plenty of tables open up there. This is also where the fish & chips station is.
Overall I'd say the quality of the food was a 4 out of 5. Most everything was cooked perfectly and if something wasn't right, it was corrected quickly. Usually, in my experience, there tends to be a little more 'flare' added to dinnertime and a little less quality. This time I felt that the quality was better in the dining room. The meals were still 'decorated' nicely but this time the taste outdid the dressing. Of course there was still singing and dancing each night….but that's Carnival. If you don't enjoy that, you can leave before they start. That's not a problem.
Our cabin steward wasn't the best. He was actually probably the worst we've ever had. I'm guessing he was new though, so we didn't get upset. Our friends received their invitation to the past guest party but we did not. I asked our cabin steward about it and that night we had our pins in our cabin, but still no invitation. I called the purser's desk and inquired, only to find out that we had missed it. They were extremely apologetic and sent us a bottle of champagne and some chocolate covered strawberries. Our cabin steward apologized to us and told us that we didn't miss the party, that it was the next night. We knew that wasn't right, but we let it slide because we didn't want to argue about it. It wasn't that big of a deal. That night he left us several extra Carnival pens, several extra razors and some other little sample items. I think that was his way of making it up to us? I'm not sure, but at least he tried.
We went to several shows….the best being the Tribute to the Beatles. They did a great job on this show! If you get a chance to see it, go. You can tell a lot of time and practice has gone into this show. The Legends show was also good….even with a few misplaced notes. ;)
There didn't seem to be as many children on this cruise as we've experienced in the past. There was also not as many college aged people onboard. There were more families and middle aged people. The children that were onboard seemed to be having a good time. I saw plenty of little pirates and lions running around in the evenings.
Todd Wittmer was a pretty good CD, but he did have the ability to be a little long winded at times. He also liked to repeat himself a lot. Other than that, he was good at his job and kept us entertained and informed.
Disembarking was quick, for the most part. We were in group 7 and our number was called about 9:40. For some reason our luggage was sent to a different terminal, but a Carnival employee brought us our luggage and we were in the taxi on our way to the airport by about 10:10.
Our experience on the Freedom was a very positive one. We already have a couple more cruises booked on Carnival again and we're looking forward to them! If you're booked on the Freedom in the future, or if you're considering booking the Freedom, feel comfortable in knowing it will be a positive experience. She's a beautiful ship! Happy sailing!