CARNIVAL FREEDOM CHRISTMAS CRUISE My husband, nineteen year old son and I just returned from the Carnival Freedom Christmas sailing to the Western Caribbean 12/20/2008 - 12/28/2008. The itinerary called at Cozumel, Limon and Colon. We are relatively experienced cruisers, having completed about a dozen cruises on five cruise lines. Our first cruise was on the Carnival Sensation in 2000, and this cruise was our first return to Carnival after ten cruises. The following is an honest review of our experience. This review is not intended to offend a particular party and includes some opinions.
EMBARKATION We got to the cruise terminal at 12:30pm. Because we had been upgraded, we obtained new luggage tags from a porter before leaving our baggage. We waited approximately 30 minutes outside the terminal before entering the security line. Once inside the terminal, the wait was an additional 45 minutes. Carnival was experiencing problems with their computer system, which increased the wait time. I recommend arriving at the terminal earlier that 12:30pm to avoid the wait outside the terminal.
SHIP CONDITION As the Carnival Freedom is new, the ship in great condition. Cleaning, painting, varnishing etc. was going on throughout the cruise.
DÉCOR The dEcor of the ship was not to our preference. In fact, it is downright ugly. However, when booking the cruise we knew that the onboard ambience would be gaudy and much different than that of Princess and Cunard ships. Because we knew this in advance we had no grounds to complain. We booked the cruise solely for the outstanding last minute price our travel agent provided. Who doesn't enjoy a last minute deal to the Caribbean, regardless of the cruise line? The best description of this ship is that of a carnival. There is no class to be found in any dEcor on the ship. Much of the dEcor seems juvenile and clichE. When we cruise, we prefer a more upscale ambience of class and understated sophistication. For us, a classy shipboard experience includes elegant color patterns, stylish chandeliers, fresh flowers, wood paneling and quality furniture that is as comfortable as it is visually appealing. This desire was impossible to satisfy on Carnival Freedom.
CABIN AND ACCOMMODATIONS Since the cabin layouts and furnishings are the same throughout most of the Carnival fleet I won't go into detail. We were very satisfied with the Carnival Comfort Beds. However, because we had not cruised with Carnival in many years, we had forgotten about Carnival's lack of bathroom amenities. Soap and shower gel were provided in wall dispensers, and our steward was very conservative about providing bar soap. It was necessary to ask each time we wanted the ice bucket refilled or wanted another bar of soap. We do not need any toothpaste or antacid samples, so the sample basket was unnecessary. We had the mini bar emptied and the robes removed to make more room in the closet. The balcony was sufficient but we had to clean the glass each morning ourselves. On previous cruises, the cabin attendant would wipe down the balcony glass when it became dirty. After a few days we started doing it ourselves so we could see.
MAIN DINING ROOM The food in the main dining room was extremely repetitive. While food is subjective, the menu on the Carnival Freedom was very disappointing. Earlier this evening we ate dinner at Ruby Tuesday, a very mainstream American food chain. The simple $10 dish called Chicken Fresco, a grilled chicken breast with mashed potatoes and broccoli, was so much better than the dinners we had in the Chic Dining Room. We have never eaten so many shrimp cocktails and mixed green salads on cruises because nothing else was appetizing. There seemed to be more Carnival Classics entrEes than options that changed daily. Big red flags were raised when steaks were served with macaroni and cheese, and vegetables were served on the plate in 2-ounce salad dressing cups. Additionally, we feel that that dining room is a place for dining, and the theatre is a place for performance. We did not find the dancing waiters and the, "Hokey pokey chicken dance," as the Maitre'D called it, amusing. Service lacked during the waiter shows and the music and flashing lights were disruptive. Since we remembered this from the Sensation, we took this in stride or tried to leave before the shows. On the last night of the cruise, most of the meals ordered at out table were downright bad. Our waiters were never around to ask how the entrees were. Extra salads and orders of vegetables never arrived. After eating (or not eating) our last dinner, we saw our waiter serving a round of lobster to his other two tables. We are not accustomed to ordering off the menu because we don't travel in Grill Class, so we were all very disappointed. It seemed like our waiters provided much better service to a specific table.
DRESS CODE What dress code? On this cruise, a graphic tee shirt and tennis shoes were formal. Very few people exhibited any class or dressed formally on this ship. We prefer cruise lines that ask guests to follow the evening dress code, and do not the admit people into the dinning rooms if they are improperly dressed.
SUN KING SUPPER CLUB The supper club experience was a refreshing change from the monotony of the main dining room. The only complaint we had concerned the French Onion Soup. It tasted so strongly of bouillon and was so hot that it was inedible. Other than the reality that there was way too much food, the meal was worth the $90 surcharge. This is how main dining used to be.
FREEDOM RESTAURANT LIDO BUFFET The lido restaurant was always overly crowded, especially at peak meal times. Food was mass-produced and generally unappetizing. This was worse than banquette or cafeteria food. You get what you pay for, so couldn't complain based on the low price we paid for this cruise. Guests formed lines at breakfast and lunch and moved slowly down the buffet. The design differs from that of other cruise lines in that it is necessary to wait in a line to grab just one or two items. There aren't standalone stations for salad, fruit, and hot entrees. Instead, all of these items are located along a line. While uneven in quality, the deli and fish and chips were nice alternatives to waiting in the maddening lines.
SERVICE We saw our cabin steward only twice or three times, but he did his job. Service was never personalized, and no staff member ever addressed us by name where appropriate, such as our waiters. Staff members rarely said hello in the hallways. Our dining room team would deliver a course and would disappear until serving the next course. On the first day of the cruise, Carnival's computer system apparently did not register our credit card upon embarkation. At dinner the first night we were told that we could not have wine. My husband was told he must leave dinner to have the purser's desk fix the problem. Instead he called from a phone at the waiter's station and was told there was nothing they could do at that time. We have perfect credit and did present a credit card, so to be told in front of newly met tablemates that we could not use our shipboard account was very upsetting and a nuisance. We summoned for the Head Maitre'D who told us he would take care of one bottle of wine, and also offered us a bottle of champagne. We do not drink champagne, so we told him all he had to do was cover the bottle of wine. After several battles at the Purser's desk and playing cabin phone tag with the Hotel Director, the Maitre'D explained he meant that, "taking care of one bottle of wine," meant charging us without the need for a signature. We promptly removed his tip. There we no other major service issues.
HOLIDAY DECORATIONS It is impossible not to compare this Christmas experience with past Christmas cruises. Our Christmas cruise last year was onboard the Coral Princess. The Coral Princess was decorated from stem to stern with Christmas trees, lighted garlands and various holiday decorations. Even every cabin door was appointed with a Christmas garnish of holly and ribbon. However, the Carnival Freedom only had garland in the atrium and promenade, and had maybe three Christmas trees. That was it. The tree in the main dining room remained unlit until Christmas Day when my son got disgusted and got up to plug it in. There was a significant lack of Christmas onboard this ship. On Princess, many crewmembers wore a Santa hat the entire cruise and Christmas music played in the public rooms. It was rare to hear a Christmas song on the ship.
HOLIDAY FESTIVITIES Christmas Day was marred by high winds and rough seas. Motion sickness bags appeared shortly after our departure from Colon. The Christmas show was cancelled and so was much of the evening entertainment. However, despite the weather, we felt that Carnival did more for the Jewish guests than those who celebrate Christmas. My husband and son actually watched the Menorah lighting ceremony one day because it seemed festive. Carnival provided wine and food for each nightly celebration. When Christmas Eve rolled around, we sat in the atrium listening to the two singers and requested some Christmas songs. We were told that they only knew Feliz Navidad and could not set up sequences for any other Christmas songs. This was a drastic change from our experience last year. Instead of listening to Christmas carols on Christmas Eve, we listened to a few rounds of That's Amore and Sweet Caroline. We feel as tough Christmas was completely skipped this year. There is no such thing as a Carnival Christmas. Last year we received stockings and a signed Christmas card from the captain. Santa showed up and gave every child a wrapped toy. On Carnival, nothing except TWO Santas side by side in the promenade for picture opportunities. How would you explain that one? We feel like Carnival Cruise Line follows a strict schedule. Since Christmas caroling and Midnight Mass do not usually take place on the Thursday schedule, these things did not happen on Thursday December 25. With the increased holiday fare, it is only expected that Christmas will be mentioned on the ship. Not one crewmember said, "Merry Christmas." There was no nondenominational Christian service like on other cruise lines. Midnight mass is always celebrated in the theatre, and many crew attend who are Christian. BUT, the Jewish guests did get to celebrate every night, center stage in the atrium, at 5:30 sharp...and loudly too.
PORTS OF CALL We called at Cozumel, Mexico; Limon, Costa Rica; and Colon, Panama. We have been to these ports before and only left the ship for an hour or two at each port to do some shopping. We do not cruise the Caribbean for the itinerary anymore, only to be at sea.
WEATHER AND SEA CONDITIONS The weather was wonderful for most of the cruise. We got plenty of sunshine every day. The trade winds were slightly bothersome on sea days, but it did not impact our cruise. My son looks forward to the Christmas Trades each December. We do not get sea sick, but my husband and I saw two passengers using sickness bags near the atrium. The Columbian Basin was the trouble spot. We had 40-50 knot winds and high seas. The Conquest class design does not seem to handle large swells very well. I have video of the ship bottoming out on waves and producing massive waves and sea spray.
ENTERTAINMENT The productions shows were very Vegas like, compared to the Broadway or West End approach of other lines. Of the three shows, the Beatles show was excellent, particularly because of the recorded soundtrack. The other shows provided much energy but left something to be desired. We never attend cruise ship comedians or magicians.
CROWDS Our sailing on Carnival Freedom had 3,600 guests, including 1,200 guests under age 21. When walking about this ship, we constantly were bumping into people and waiting in lines. The ship's photographers set backdrops up in the middle of the promenade, making it impassible in the evenings. It was aggravating to have to wait for the photographers. It was like waiting in a row of red traffic lights. Children congregated on the promenade and were loud and unruly at times. It is surprising how may parents allow their 8-12 year old children roam the ship alone after midnight. On the last night we saw several intoxicated minors stumbling into the elevator. The ship is overcrowded and commercialized. Nickel and diming is evident everywhere.
DISEMBARKATION Disembarkation was lengthy. Not much to say. How else do you get 3,600 people off of a ship in two hours? Not a pleasant experience, but unless they switch to silent disembarkation, I can't think of a better way. I recommend self-disembarkation, but we had too much baggage.
BOTTOM LINE Based on this experience, there are a few simple questions that you must ask yourself to decide if you will like a Carnival cruise. Do you prefer a classy and elegant cruise ship, or do you prefer a mass-market commercialized cruise ship? Do you mind long lines and maddening crowds, or do you prefer a ship with a higher space ratio? Do you mind cruising with more than 1,000 minors, or do you prefer more mature passengers? Do you prefer a higher level of service and glamorous dEcor, or basic service and amusement park-like dEcor? For us, we prefer a more upscale experience. As stated, given the price we paid, we could not really expect class or sophistication, so we simply used the time away to be with our son on his winter break from college. The unexpected getaway was worth the time away, but we will never cruise Carnival again. EVER.
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