This was the second cruise for my sister and I. First time we went with a group of 12 and followed the advice of experienced cruisers. This time we decided we would try it on our own
Booking : I searched the internet and we got our 8 day cruise with balcony room for less than we paid for previous 7 day. We were on the Valor before and it was nice but I wanted to see a newer ship so I picked the Freedom. It was clean, clean, clean, well maintained - not a speck of dust anywhere! Everything was shining.
Let me back up a minute. We like to go a day early and stay overnight so there is no chance of missing the ship since we are coming from the North. We flew into Fort Lauderdale from NY and stayed overnight at the Hilton Garden. They have a free shuttle from the airport so that was nice. Driver was sort of grumpy and seemed reluctant to help with bags until we started pulling out money to tip him and discussing it. As we were checking in we met several people who were going on the same cruise.
Later we found out that for $20 more we could have left a car in their lot while cruising. We may drive next time. Transport to the terminal was arranged by the hotel on a nice, air conditioned bus that pulled right up and dropped off our luggage. Only $8 each.
Embarkment: The line was long, long, long but we were too excited to let it bother us. We just spent our time talking with those around us and making the best of a hot wait.
Overall the cruise was fabulous. I had deliberately picked a cabin just above the casino and near the spa to make it easy to get around for us. The casino was just too small at times At the height of the evening, about 10-midnight, it was very hard to find a machine to play and hard to walk around. Perhaps they should reprogram some of those always empty $1 and $5 machines to be pennies and nickels. And of course, I lost money on the slots overall - I had budgeted that in.
Dining: Every morning we let room service with coffee, juice, and fruit be our alarm clock. Prompt, courteous, and aiming to please. After the fourth day we stopped ordering the bagels because the cream cheese had a sour taste to it. Maybe they did something different.
We had a 6 pm dinner and the service was superb. I am 58 and my sister is 62 but we are a young 58 and 62. It seemed we were the youngest ones in our dining section. But we enjoyed ourselves. They matched us up with two other single ladies who were good dinner companions. The food was a treat - what we pay $50 and $60 for in NY - so we really took advantage of it.
The last night we went to the supper club and if we thought the dining room was great - the Supper Club was the best. The service, presentation and food was all top of the line. A bargain at $30. We will definitely do that again.
We did not eat much on the Lido deck - we saved our appetites for dinner. The few times we went, the food was okay. The 5th day I discovered the midnight spread on the Promenade deck. Just fruit, cheese, a mini shrimp cocktail, olives, desserts - just hit the spot before closing the casino! And those 3 massage chairs on the Promenade deck got a lot of our dollar bills. My sister said she was marrying her chair!
Service: All of the service personnel were very friendly, learned our names right away, and made us feel at home. One thing, I will not buy that drink card again. I did not feel I got my money's worth. I was drinking mostly juices with an occasional soda. At dinner, drink service was great. But when I went to a bar, I kept getting a little dinky class full of ice. Finally, I think a lot of people complained because by the fourth day they were using the bigger glasses for the juice and soda.
Internet: Since I had gotten a huge cell phone bill on my first cruise, I told everyone back home to look for emails and took my laptop. Unfortunately, I could not get on line from my cabin. The tech did try to help but I was just too busy to keep going back to see him as he only worked until 5pm. Going to the Web Cafe was no problem, just kind of spooky at 1 and 2 am - no one around - go earlier.
SPA - I am into holistic health and the Spa was the best. Prices were comparable with other spas. First night, I had a 50 minute pedicure and foot and massage so I could wear my sandals and do a lot of walking. Paula did a fantastic job and it still looks perfect after many showers. Later in the week I went back for a manicure which was also 50 minutes and included a treatment all the way up to the elbows. Very relaxing, long lasting, and refreshing. My manicure just started to chip a week later. I always bring my own polish because I don't use polish with poisonous ingredients and she had no problem with that, unlike other nail technicians in the past.
The second day I had an acupuncture treatment. I had tried acupuncture before on the Valor but this time I had a specific problem - a nagging knee injury that had been hanging on for 2 months and made it hard to walk a lot. My treatment was done by Jessica and she was the best. After only one treatment I was walking all around the ship and through all the ports with NO PAIN - even did the stairs about a dozen times. One treatment was $150 but worth it. They have a deal with a series of 3 treatments for $350 and now that I am home I wish I had taken the 3 because the pain has just started to come back and I forgot I have stairs at home!
The last thing I tried was Reflexology. Kathryn was the reflexologist and it was a pleasant surprise to find she is also a certified aromotherapist. I have training in aromatherapy so during my treatment we had a great time swapping recipes and discussing alternative health in general. She also had no problem with me bringing my own essential oils, although she prefers a different brand. She was very open and willing to listen and we both learned from each other. It was amazing to find a therapist who shared my views. Aromatherapy is a field that so few people embrace.
All 3 of the spa personnel were so friendly and greeted me by name any time I saw them on the ship. 10 stars to the Spa. This is what will keep me sailing on Carnival only.
Ports: In Colon, Panama, after shopping we found out the Casino in port was open. From the front it looked to be under construction. So we dropped off our purchases, ate a quick lunch and ran back to try it out. My sister was so tickled that she spent $2 and won $36. I lost $30 but had fun.
In Belize City we took an inexpensive ($39) bus tour of the city. I was curious because I had heard so many Americans live there. Seems very Americanized - the shops, signs, names of businesses, seemed a lot like our neighborhood back home. We stopped to visit a church which is the oldest church in Central America and got a chance to talk to two of the members. Very interesting and historical.