This is our 8th Carnival Cruise, with 11 total cruises under our belt. The trip started out with us flying from St. Louis International down to Fort Lauderdale. We spent the night at the La Quinta Inn that includes up to 14 days of free parking for our car located about 3 miles from Lambert International Airport. $92.00 for the night at the hotel, 14 days of parking and free shuttle service to and from the airport. Not bad considering the other park and fly rates are $65 a night with only 7 nights of parking. Since we will be gone a few extra days on this trip, the La Quinta with the extended stay for parking was the better deal. Our stay at the La Quinta was beyond our expectations. Their free shuttle policy states that the free shuttle begins at 6:00 a.m., so we were prepared to take a cab since we had an early morning flight that required us to be at the airport by 5:00 a.m. Upon check in, we were greeted by the front desk staff informing us that since we had a flight prior to the free shuttle service, they had made arrangements for the shuttle service to start early, and our pickup time at the hotel was 4:30. I was extremely impressed with this! Our stay at the La Quinta was a pleasant one, and would recommend this to anyone needing either a few nights, or for a cruise traveler requiring an overnight stay. I give hotel a five star recommendation. Very clean, free wireless and very friendly staff! 5 minutes from the airport! We chose to stay at the Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort and Suites, which is about 8 miles from the Port. We stayed there 4 years ago the night before a cruise, so we were familiar with the hotel. It is a nice old two story hotel located right across the street from the beach, and it had plenty of stores and restaurants within walking distance. The place is clean, well kept, and has a nice Tiki bar and pool area. Perfect for a cruiser needing an economical place to stay with free cruise parking. The total with tax was $67.00. I highly recommend this hotel for cruisers. The hotel also includes a small restaurant that is owned by a Grecian family, and it serves wonderful Greek Sandwiches. Cruise day.
Embarkation The shuttle service (which is provided by the hotel) was $10.00 per person. The port is a five minute drive from the hotel. Our shuttle driver was in the parking lot waiting to load our bags at 10:15. We arrived at the port at 10:45, and walked right through security, and to checked in and received our sail and sign cards, and we were seated at 11:00 in zone 3. We were allowed to board the ship at 11:15, and eating on the Lido at 11:25! Out of 8 Carnival cruises, this by was by far the quickest check in. We explored the ship, and I must say the ship is beautiful! Even though there are a lot of people on this ship (3600), nothing seems crowded, and the lines at the buffet are not long at all. As always, the Fish and Chip restaurant is pleasantly tucked away in the back, which is good because a lot of people don't realize that it's up there. The Carnival Freedom is a beautiful ship. The friendliness of the staff was incredible, along with the cleanliness of the ship. We had a full day at sea on Sunday, which was also the first formal night. Now it's called cruise elegant night. They had the $1.00 off party on the Promenade deck, and no, there weren't any free drinks. I might add that this is a bad idea that Carnival has come up with. There was no gathering, no party type atmosphere like they use to have with the Captain's night. It was a letdown, but we survived.
On Monday, we were at sea until we docked in Puerto Rico at 5:00 pm. We didn't have an excursion planned, so we went down to the dock, and found a tour service that did an island tour for $25.00 per person. He had a van, and it held around 30 people, so it was nice. A lot of the historical sites were closed, so we didn't get to see a lot of the older part of San Juan. He dropped us off back downtown, and we ate at a locally owned restaurant, which was served great Puerto Rican food!
Tuesday was St Thomas day! We did the Ultimate Island tour booked through Carnival. It was an island tour that gave you two hours at Megan's bay, along with some scenic island stops, and they drop you off at Blackbeard's Castle where you walk down the hill to the shopping area. This was a great tour, and it has a great price on it through Carnival. I recommend this. Also Megan's Bay is beautiful. This was my 3rd or 4th time there, and it keeps getting more beautiful!
Wednesday was Antigua day. We had booked the Pirate Ship Adventure of Antigua through Carnival. When we got boarded on the pirate ship, we were notified that the ship was having engine problems, and the tour was cancelled. We were bummed about that, but we hailed a cab, and went to the closest beach which was a $3.00 per person trip. I don't' remember the name of the beach, but it was a state park type beach with bathrooms, and a couple small restaurants. The water and beaches of Antigua are spectacular! Try to do a beach day in Antigua. You will love the beauty of the beaches.
Thursday was Tortola day. We did The Baths at Virgin Gorda booked through Carnival. This excursion can be challenging if you have leg, back, or balance issues. The hike down isn't bad, but when you go through to the Baths on the other side, the rock climb is pretty strenuous. They give you about 4 hours to hike down, spend some time at the beach and baths, and then back up. After the tour bus dropped us off back at the pier, we did some shopping. There isn't much to shop for at the port in Antigua. Pretty poor town and only a few shops worth shopping in.
Friday was a fun day at sea. The day was spent relaxing around the pool. I am not sure if it's the size of the ship, or just the people on this cruise, but we did not encounter any chair hogs at all. Every time I went outside on deck to lay out, there were always plenty of chairs available. This last day at sea was spent relaxing, eating, sunning, and doing absolutely nothing. I will go into further detail towards the end of the review regarding the ship activities on sea days and port days. Also this was our 2nd and last "Cruise Elegant" night. After seeing such a relaxed atmosphere in the dining room as far as dress code, I decided not to wear my second suit for this night.
Saturday Nassau Bahamas... We booked the Sea and See tour through Carnival. This tour took you on a catamaran ride around the island, and over to a lagoon where you boarded a partial submarine with windows so you can see the fish and coral. All in all, this excursion was just ok. The windows in the submarine were pretty dirty, so seeing fish and coral was difficult. After about 30 minutes in the sub, they take you back to the pier where you board a bus and we were driven around the island to various points of interest. This part of the tour was just simply lacking! I found it quite boring, and could have easily done without it. We basically were driven around to see some historical sites that were closed, and through a neighborhood that had big houses in it. We returned to the ship at 6:20, and we were told to be on the ship at 6:30. It was a close call, and even though they would have held the ship, it was an aggravating situation. Also Saturday, the last day of the cruise, when people are off the ship on tours, and shopping, Carnival decides this is a good time to have the "Farwell" party with "free" drinks from 5:00 pm until 6:00 pm. Needless to say, we didn't get to that party, along with most other passengers because they were in Nassau on tours! Debarkation on Sunday: Up at 6:30, first call at 6:35 for people carrying their own bags off the ship. We were in zone 17, and we were called off the ship around 9:45, through customs and luggage, and on the sidewalk at 10:00. Very easy debarkation..
Ok. Here are a few highlights I observed. Remember, this was my 8th Carnival cruise, 11th cruise total. 1. I am a huge Carnival Fan, Cheerleader, etc, and when I say something negative about Carnival, it is justified. a. I did notice several cutbacks, such is life. The economy is bad, so I don't blame Carnival for cutbacks. Some of the cutbacks are obvious, and it affects cruisers. One of the most important is the lack of onboard activities. Carnival has cut down their activity staff from 6 to 3. All of my other Carnival cruises, there have always been a minimum of 6 activity staff members, that way there were always lots of activities going on, especially on sea days. On the Freedom this week, there were only 3 activity directors, and the activities were very limited. After reviewing all of the capers from the entire cruise, it's in black and white on how few activities were actually going on. b. Coinless casinos. I am a very die hard gambler, and since Carnival has done away with the coins in the Casino, it's just plain boring! No sounds, no clapping when you hear the coins drop, nothing. Actually I found the Casino lacking as far as a fun environment, therefore I didn't play near as much as I normally do. c. The Captains Party and the Farwell party. Whoever's idea this was need to think about this one. It was nothing like it use to be as far as the parties, and even not caring about the free drinks, I still thought it was a dud of a party! Now for the good stuff: The food was out of this world on the Freedom. The best on any ship I have been on. Presentations, selection, taste, and the service of the food crew was outstanding! The dining room crew and the Lido deck crew did a fantastic job feeding all of us pigs for the week! The shows: The Beatles tribute and the New Orleans shows are not to be missed! One comedian that was the best comedian ever was James Percy. If you get the chance, go see him, he is a riot. We did buy two of the travel vouchers while on board for the onboard credit for future sailings. Those are a great deal! I am glad Carnival is finally doing this. Other cruise lines have been doing promotions like this for years. Wee Jimmie was the cruise director, and he was nothing short of being brilliant. He is very funny, entertaining, and informative without being pushy! If anyone has any questions, please post the questions, and I will reply as quickly as I can. I know I left out a lot, but I wanted to get this up and posted as soon as possible.