Just returned from the Carnival Freedom Grand Mediterranean cruise. The cruise began in Civitavecchia, the port for Rome, Italy. The ports visited are Naples, Dubrovnik (Croatia), Venice, Messina (Sicily), Barcelona (Spain), Cannes (France), and Florence (the port is called Livorno), then finally returning to Civitavecchia.
I am female, and was traveling by myself, so this review will be from that viewpoint, which I hope can be helpful to anyone considering solo travel. My flight from the west coast to Rome was long, but uneventful. Continental was on-time, and the outbound experience wasn't horrible (unlike the return trip), but the flights are long and cramped.
I arrived at Rome's Fiumicino airport around 12:30 pm the day before the cruise was departing. I originally thought I would take the "Leonardo Express" train that runs from the airport to Rome's Termini station downtown, but after considering the jetlag and exhaustion factor, I decided to buy transportation from the airport to Rome using World Airport Transfer shuttle service.
The shuttle was waiting for me just outside the baggage carousel (and Continental did not lose my luggage!) and a friendly woman rounded up the family (mom, dad & teenage daughter) who would be sharing the shuttle with me. She introduced us to our driver, a man who's name I don't recall, and off we went. The first thing I noticed as I left the airport was the oppressive heat.
Here is my first recommendation to anyone and everyone - try not to travel in the areas that this cruise goes to during the summer! It is brutally hot. My trip would have been much, much more enjoyable if I wasn't so incredibly hot all the time. But it was an enjoyable trip anyway, even though the heat was so horrible.
I stayed at Hotel Domus Praetoria, which is 3 blocks from the Termini train station. I chose this hotel because it got good reviews on Trip Advisor, and because it was close to the train station. I ended up not needing to be that close to the train station because I didn't take the train. The neighborhood is OK, but not great. I think the area around the train station is slightly run down, but it wasn't real bad or scary, but it also wasn't really nice. As a female alone, I did not feel really comfortable walking after dark there, but as a female alone, it's probably not wise to walk after dark anywhere!
The hotel was great, though, and I can recommend it 100%. I had a great room that was big by European standards with a double bed, bathroom with shower, toilet, sink & bidet. The shower was smallish and the opening where the doors parted was quite narrow, but it was manageable for me. There was also remote-controlled air conditioning that worked really well. European air conditioning isn't like the frigid air conditioning we experience here in the US. But the air conditioning in my room worked great. There's an outdoor market every day and they start setting up early. My room faced the street where the market was, but the windows were extremely well insulated and the combination of the hum of the air conditioner and the good insulation kept me from hearing anything outside.
I had a little time on my arrival day to walk around Rome a bit, but I was so tired and hot, I didn't go very far. My first meal in Rome was McDonalds! I was just too worn out and tired to try to find anything else.
The next morning I asked Massimo, one of the 3 brothers who run the hotel, to call a taxi for me. I needed to go to another hotel where a CC member that I met on the roll-call was staying. She had a large group of folks who all pitched in for a charter bus, that was going to pick us all up at her hotel.
The taxi that Massimo called never showed up. He had walked me down to the corner because the market going on out front kept cars from going down the street. When the taxi didn't arrive, he walked me down to the next corner, a busy street, and told me to stand in the shade while he flagged a taxi for me. He did this quickly, and told the taxi driver where I needed to go, and away I went. The staff at the Hotel Domus Praetoria are fantastic!
The charter bus took us right to the ship. The Freedom is absolutely humongous! Embarkation was quick and within about 15 minutes I was on the ship. I arrived quite early, and the rooms weren't ready yet, so did a little exploring and found the buffet area and ate some lunch. I did more exploring after that and had one of their daily drink specials. By then the rooms were ready, so I went to go find mine.
Cabin 1212 is on the port side of the ship, on deck 1, at the very front of the ship. It is perfect for a single traveler. It's a big room, with a roomy bathroom and lots of closet and storage space. This room comes with two porthole windows that sit side-by-side. The windows are great for checking out what's going on immediately outside, but they are somewhat small so not really good for checking out the scenery. They work well for getting some natural light, too.
Here's one thing about cabin 1212 - because it's at the very front of the ship, if you go to the pool or the buffet area, which is at the very back of the ship, it is a long walk. If you come down the elevator from the aft pool area all the way down to deck 1 and look down the hallway towards room 1212, you can't even see the end of the hall because it's so far away. It takes a good 5 minutes to walk the length of that hallway from back to front and vice versa!
To me, the decor of the Freedom didn't seem to be as gaudy as others have described it, but there are bright colors and loud patterns everywhere. Each area is designed with it's own theme, so there isn't much consistency throughout as far as decor and design go. There also aren't alot of quiet places to sit and read. The ship was sold out and packed with people, and it holds over 3000 counting guests and crew, so it's hard to find a quiet spot. I did like getting up very early, usually at about sunrise, to walk around the pool area and the upper decks to look out at the sea. There was almost no one around then, and it was quiet and cool. I would hit the aft pool (no kids back there) when it opened at 8:00 am on the sea days and go in the jacuzzi and/or pool and it was quiet and hadn't gotten real warm yet. It was a nice place to relax until about 9:30 or 10:00 am, then it got hot and crowded.
Our first port was Naples, and I took the morning Carnival shore excursion to Pompeii. Pompeii is fabulous, and our tour guide did a good job. I was glad I chose to do the morning excursion, though, because it got so hot by the end of the morning that I was kind of miserable. I felt sorry for the people who were going on the afternoon excursion. I didn't go into Naples at all. I was too tired and hot and still jetlagged.
The dining room experience wasn't fantastic for me. I only ate in the dining room 3 times for dinner, and once for lunch. I ate there on the first formal night, and they served prime rib and lobster, and since I couldn't decide which I wanted, I had both! The food on the Freedom is OK, but not exceptional by any means. It was certainly plentiful, though, and there were some things that I thought were good. They have a fish and chips restaurant that was good, and they had some fresh baked bread on the buffet that was really yummy and often was warm.
Breakfast buffet fare was just OK, too. The omelette station was pretty good, though.
The next day was our fist sea day. I caught up on my sleep and did some much needed relaxing.
Oh, I forgot to mention the Cruise Critic meet & greet. A bunch of us got together and met the first day of the cruise at the aft pool bar before sailing. It was good to meet everyone and put faces and real names to screen names. I spent some time with several of these nice folks during the cruise, and as a solo cruiser, it was good to have some friends to hang out with.
The next day was Dubrovnik, Croatia. Dubrovnik is incredible. I didn't do a shore excursion here. I just took the shuttle bus into the town, and paid the few euro (don't remember how much) for entrance to the wall. I walked the entire length in about an hour, taking time out to rest and drink some water. Once again, it was blazing hot, and the hot sun coming down from above and the radiating heat from the stone wall made me feel like I was in an oven! But the views are unbelievable, and the wall and the walled city was fascinating. Even though it was so horribly hot, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. Oh, I had some great gelato there, too. It was one of my goals to eat gelato at every port, and I believe I did succeed!
Next was Venice. This was my favorite port of all. We arrived about 2:00pm, but prior to arriving, we sailed into Venice with Pavoratti singing on the big screen. Unfortunately, it was raining as we were coming in, but I was standing up on the deck watching and taking photos anyway. It was a beautiful sight. Venice is incredible, and I don't think I could describe it well enough to do it justice. It really is a unique and beautiful place. My advice would be to take all the time there you possible can, have great food and savor the city.
The second day we were in Venice I did Carnival's Murano & Burano shore excursion. Both places are interesting and I think worth a visit. Be warned, if you go on this excursion it is hotter than you can imagine in that glass blowing factory in Murano. Bring plenty of water!
By the time I got back from my Murano & Burano shore excursion, I was so wiped out from the heat, I decided to take a nap, and I slept for 10 hours! I slept through dinner and everything else. The heat really is draining.
The next day was a very much needed sea day. I had a massage and a facial, soaked in the jacuzzi, and basically just relaxed.
Next port was Messina, Sicily. I went on Carnival's Taormina on your own shore excursion. We took a bus to the hilltop village of Taormina. It's very picturesque and the views of the Mediterranean from up there were fabulous. We also saw Mt. Etna and some steam spewing out of it. I toured an ancient ruin called the Greek Theatre, and of course ate a cannoli! I also had a great lunch, maybe the best Italian food of the trip - bruschetta antipasti and spaghetti norma. Excellent. I enjoyed Taormina very much and recommend this shore excursion. Once again, though, it was steamy hot!
We had our last sea day, and I caught up on my sleep and had a hot stone massage. I can recommend that 100%!
Then there were three ports in a row and the trip really got intense. Barcelona had incredible scenery and architecture. Boiling hot, of course, and I had a voucher for the hop-on hop-off bus. I didn't realize that you had to redeem the voucher for a ticket at one of two tourist offices, which turned out to be about a 45 minute walk from where the shuttle bus brings you into the city. I was worn out and overheated by then, and then the HOHO bus is not air conditioned at all, so it was very unpleasant. I got off at the Segrada Familia, which is amazing, and walked back to Las Ramblas and finally found my way back to the ship. I don't recommend the HOHO bus.
Our next port was Cannes. We anchored here and took tenders (small boats) to shore. The views coming in to Cannes are beautiful. It's very picturesque. Lots of shops and restaurants, and a beach, where clothing (especially women's tops) is optional! I took the shore excursion to Golden Corniche Drive and St. Raphael. St. Raphael is a beach town that looked almost exactly like Cannes to me. Golden Corniche drive was very beautiful. It reminded me of the beautiful vistas on California's Highway 1. I recommend this shore excursion (and the bus was air conditioned!).
The last port was Livorno, and I took Carnival's Florence on your own shore excursion. Florence is 2 hours away from Livorno, so basically you spend 4 hours in travel, and 4 hours in Florence. This is not enough time. Florence is incredible and I could have spent days there sightseeing. The bus for this excursion drops you off away from the city (the streets are too narrow for a bus) and you have to walk about 15 minutes just to get into Florence. From there, I made a mad dash to the Academie because I had a ticket for 12 noon to see Michelangelo's David. Getting a ticket for this in advance on the internet is a very good idea because the line was extremely long - I couldn't even see the end of it. With my ticket, I walked right in! The David statue is breathtaking. It really was one of the highlights of my trip. So beautiful and perfect. I just sat and stared at it in awe. After that, I had just a few hours so I wandered the Ponte Vecchio bridge and the Duomo, ate some lunch (and had gelato) and bought some great leather purses. I needed alot more time there!
Finally, we returned to Rome, and I went back to the Hotel Domus Praetoria for the night. I had pre-purchased a HOHO bus ticket in Rome, and just like in Barcelona, it wasn't a good experience. It was hot and you couldn't see much. I wandered and saw the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, but came back to my room early to pack and get ready from my trip home.
Continental was really awful going out of Rome. They never did tell us why we just all stood around for 2 hours after our flight was supposed to leave, then when we did get on the plane at noon, we didn't take off until 4:30pm! We just milled around in there wondering if we were ever going to leave. There was supposedly something wrong with the cargo door, and we were all held captive until they fixed it. Of course, my connections were all missed when I finally arrived in Newark, and after waiting 2 hours in a line with all my luggage, Continental put me up overnight at Howard Johnson's in Newark. Please, if anything like this happens to you, DO NOT let Continental send you to this Howard Johnsons! It is the filthiest, grimiest, nastiest hotel I have ever been in. And the food in their restaurant is completely inedible.
Even thought my return trip was a total nightmare, I enjoyed this cruise very much. The Carnival Freedom is huge, and the decor is bright and unique. I did not care for the showroom entertainment, but that wasn't a big draw for me anyway. I know alot of folks liked the shows, but I found them to be amateurish. I also am not a big fan of Carnival's idea of fun, like the newlywed game and stuff like that. I chose this trip because of the ports. The ports were fantastic and I would love to return to each and every city again but have alot more time there. My strongest recommendation would be to avoid these ports in the summer, though. It is oppressively hot and humid and definitely detracts from some of the enjoyment.