My sister and I took our mother on the Carnival Freedom as a present for her 70th birthday. The Freedom departed from Ft. Lauderdale and visited the ports of Key West, Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios. This was my 10th Carnival cruise, my sister's 5th and my mother's 1st.
Saturday February 7, 2009 - Arrived in Ft. Lauderdale My mom and I flew into FLL on Saturday morning. I work for an airline, so mom and I were flying standby. No problems getting there. I always recommend to ANYONE to fly in a day early though. Working in an airport, I've seen too many people miss their ship because of airline delays and flying in the day of the cruise. My sister was coming from Montana and was scheduled to arrive that evening. Upon arriving in FLL, we picked up our luggage and took the shuttle over to the Avis Rent-A-Car airport location. The wait to pick up our reserved rental car was over an hour (sign up for their rewards program in advance to avoid the wait). Once we got the car, we headed to our hotel which was the Plantation Renaissance. A friend works for Marriott and got us a Friends & Family deal. I would recommend this hotel. It was very nice and clean and the rooms were spacious and comfortable. The hotel was also in a nice location about 10 minutes from the airport. There was a nice sports bar & grill within walking distance and grocery store about 5 minutes away. Spent the day being lazy before picking up sis at the airport.
Sunday February 8, 2009 - Embarkation We checked out of the hotel at 9:30 AM and headed back to the airport to return the rental car. I had asked the previous day what time their shuttle to the Port started running in the morning and was told it runs all the time. After returning the car, we found that the shuttles were only bringing people from the port to the rental place until 11:30. At this time is was about 10:00 AM. The driver was really great though and took us to the port anyway (for a generous tip). We got to the Port by 10:15 and were through security and checked in by 10:30. I asked about VIP boarding since I was now Platinum on Carnival. The lobby agent sat us in a special section of the waiting room and said we would board first. They started boarding at 11:15 and we were literally the 3rd, 4th , & 5th people to board the ship. Took the embarkation photo and was on the Lido deck with a Fun Ship Special by 11:30 AM. Spent the afternoon people watching. Weather was a little cool when the sun dipped behind the clouds, but overall not too bad. We had 2nd seating in the Posh Dining Room (aft). Our dining room waiter, Dip, was fantastic!!!
Monday February 9, 2009 - Key West, Florida The morning we were in Key West was spend just walking around Duvall Street and shopping. Mom and sis had never been to Key West before. We returned to the ship for lunch, then sis and I headed back off ship for the Key West Pub Crawl Tour. This tour was great. There were about 50 people signed up for it, so they split us into two groups. We had a really great group of people with us and our tour guide was Captain Ron. The tour itinerary is as follows with the recommended drink in parentheses: Tree Bar (Caribbean Breeze), The Flying Monkey Saloon (The Grainorade), The Schooner Wharf (Rum Punch), The Lazy Gekko, and Rick's (Caribbean Breeze). You are given a ticket for a free drink at each bar. Captain Ron tells some great stories about the history of Key West and we had a Conch (shell) blowing contest. It was a good time. We ended the day at Cowboy Bill's Bar for one more drink before heading back to the ship.
Tuesday February 10, 2009 - Fun Day at Sea Weather started out a little cool and breezy. About 1:00, it rained lightly for about 5 minutes. After that quick shower, it was pure sunshine. We got up about 8:00 and headed out to the Lido deck to grab some deck chairs. We had a quick breakfast from the Lido buffet before settling in at our spot on the Lido Deck. Breakfast on the Lido buffets usually included: scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, grits, french toast/pancakes, toast, potatoes, cereals, danishes/bagels and made to order omelets. I found the breakfast buffets to be very good. Better than previous ships I have been on. Lines were not usually very long (except for right when the buffets opened). Lido deck activities included a duo playing island music, big-screen trivia, ice-sculpting demonstration, hairy chest competition and Bingo. The music was not too loud. Other ships I have been on I found it hard to talk over the Lido deck band. That was not the case here. The 2nd part of the hairy chest contest got postponed to the next sea day due to the rain. The water slide was closed all day due to high winds. You can also check out basketballs, volleyballs, mini-golf and shuffleboard equipment to use up on the sports deck. These are free of charge. You just have to leave your Sign & Sail card number when you check them out.
Wednesday February 11, 2009 - Grand Cayman We did not plan any tours in Grand Cayman. We got up around 8AM and had breakfast at the Lido buffet again. We headed down to get a tender ticket around 9AM. When we arrived at the Victoriana Lounge, we told that there was a tender there and empty and we could just head down to the gangway on Deck 0. We got right into the tender and were on shore in Grand Cayman in 15 minutes. We walked around town a little before taking a taxi to 7-mile beach. We were dropped off at Royal Beach Club and we walked about 10 minutes down shore to the next public beach club we saw. For $10, we were able to get beach chairs and a rum punch. We had a nice little lunch here at the beach and just spent a few hours relaxing. We took a taxi back to the pier area and were able to board a tender without waiting. We were back on ship in about 15 minutes. Weather was beautiful in GC. There were just enough clouds in the sky to keep the sun from feeling too hot and just a nice little breeze. In Grand Cayman, you can walk around in on the streets and in the shops without being hassled too much. The people there are very friendly. One note, in the taxi on the way back from 7-mile beach, we were actually right behind the governors vehicle. The governor was in the back reading a paper and we could see the official country seal on the car. When turning, our driver honked and the governor waved back to us.
Thursday February 12, 2009 - Ocho Rico, Jamaica In Jamaica, I would recommend buying a tour through the ship. In my three times to this port, we have done tours to Dunns River Falls, Horseback riding, and this time the Tranopy tour at Mystic Mountain. There is some crime in the island. But as long as you stay in the commercial areas and don't stray too far off the beaten path, you will be fine. I personally have never felt unsafe here, b/c we book our tours through the ship. Our tour was scheduled for 10:00AM. We had breakfast, then walked around at the shops right outside of the pier. You will be hassled for cab rides, hair braids or other things. But a polite "no" or "I have a tour booked" usually does just fine. Our tour started with a short van ride to Mystic Mountain. This is a new joint venture between the island of Jamaica and Carnival to help improve the reputation of the port. You can do a variety of tours that include Mystic Mountain. But the Tranopy tour includes: Sky Explorer (a chair lift that takes you to the top of Mystic Mountain 700 ft. above sea level), the Jamaican Bobseld, and Zip-lining. The Sky Explorer takes about 15 minutes each way and offers great views of the beaches, ship, forest and coastline of the port. Lots of picture opportunities. Once at the top of the mountain, you then can take 1 ride on the Jamaican Bobsled. This was the only part of the tour that we were concerned with my 70 year mom doing because we thought it might be too jerky. But you can control the speed of your bobseld and the ride is pretty smooth. We all loved it and had a blast. My only complaint, is you can only go once unless you pay more. The snap a live action picture of you on the bobsled that you can view and purchase in the gift shop. For only $10, it was a nice little souvenir! The gift shop also had great prices on other items. I bought a hat for only $9. We then did the zip-line. My sis and I had done this in Belize, but we both thought this course was better. There were 4 lines, then a straight drop down, a swinging bridge and then the final line. Our guides were great and really funny. You end on a platform where you can catch the chair lift back down to the bottom. We had put our bags in lockers at the top. So we had to ride to the bottom and back up to get our stuff and then back down again. You can have them retrieve your belongings and send them down on the chair lift to meet you at the bottom. This would have saved a lot of time. We then headed back to town for a drink and some lunch at Margaritaville. This Margaritaville location is great. There is a pool and waterslide through the restaurant and also a beach. There are some great views of the ship. Short walk back to the ship and we were on our way back to FLL.
Friday February 13, 2009 - Fun Day at Sea. Headed up to deck at 8AM again to snag a chair and have some breakfast. Sis sat with our stuff while we ate, then she went to work out. The weather was beautiful all day. Spent time going down the waterslide. If you sit up while going down the slide, you go really slow. The key to getting some speed is to lay down with your heels together and arch your back. You basically want to go down on your heels and shoulder blades. But it is pretty fun. We also played some mini-golf. It is windy up on the sports decks. But the mini-golf was fun. The course isn't too challenging, but the golfballs tend to roll because of the wind which makes it harder. We had the final round of the hairy-chest contest. There was also a 1-mile noncompetitive walk on the jogging track to support Breast Cancer. Each Carnival ship takes donations to raise money for this worthy cause.
Saturday February 14, 2009 - Debarkation We were given #1 luggage tags due to my Platinum status. We were able to put our suitcases out the night before and our number was called to get off the ship right after the self-assist. Once our number was called (about 8:15AM), it only took about 15 minutes to get off the ship, find our luggage and go through customs. Very efficient. We hopped in a taxi and headed to FLL to catch our flights.
Staff - The staff was wonderful and accommodating with very few exceptions. Some standouts include Alek & Catalin (waiters Lido deck and lounges), Christian (casino dealer), Dip (dining room waiter), Katya & Josephine (bartenders), and Wayan (room steward). No matter where we went on the ship, staff were always saying good morning or hello. If they wait on you once, chances are they will remember your name. The only exceptions to this were Peter the Piano Bar guy and the night club DJ. Peter was probably the worst Piano Bar player I have ever seen. Bad playlist, terrible personality and so-so voice. I actually saw him be rude to several guests. Probably explains why the piano bar never had more than 10-15 people in it at any time. The DJ in the club didn't mix his music very well. He would get the dance floor packed then completely switch gears and empty it right back out. Plus he was not very accommodating in taking requests.
Food - I thought the food was wonderful. I did not really have anything that I thought was subpar. Buffets were great. They kept the selections fresh and refilled promptly. Food was always hot and tasty. We ate in the dining room each night and were never disappointed. Some of my faves include: Warm Pumpkin Soup, Crab Cakes, Lobster Bisque, all of the Pastas, Prime Rib, Filet Mignon and more that I know I am forgetting. Very rarely did I find that I had to add any seasoning to my food. One night my mom ordered a steak medium rare and it arrived very overcooked. As soon as our waiter saw her cut into it, he said "that's not medium rare" and he went off to get her a new one, without her even having to ask. I did not eat much dessert, because I am not much of a dessert person. So I cannot really comment on those. Room service now offers hot sandwiches. I ordered the Grilled Cheese several times. It was delicious.
Entertainment - We saw several shows. First we saw Tia Thompson (not 100% sure on this name)/Percy Cruz. Tia had a great voice even just getting over larygitis. She brought three guys up on stage to be her backup dancers and it was hysterical. Percy Cruz is a comic, who we saw several years ago on the Triumph. He is one of my faves. I was laughing so hard I was almost in tears. We also saw his R-Rated show the next evening. We also went to the Rival Idols show, which is the guest talent show. There was some great talent on our ship. It was very entertaining. The other two shows were just so-so. The Beatles review show "A Ticket to Ride" was pretty average until the last part when the band Music Connection came out to perform some of the Beatles more well-known songs. These guys ROCK. We also saw them on the Lido deck one afternoon and at the late night deck party. The other comic/ventriloquist was also average. Most of his jokes I had already heard before.
Cabin - My mom and sis booked a 4A and I booked a solo 1A, but we were all upgraded to a 4D. Empress deck, cabin numbers 7235 and 7237 right next to each other. It was my first time having a cabin to myself and it was great. I felt like I had soooo much room. Having cruised Carnival many times, we know what to expect in their cabins.