Let me start by saying that this cruise was a fantastic vacation, but, as with any regular purchase, the term "Exceeded Expectations" for your first event (cruise or whatever) soon become your "Expectations". So when Cruise Directors lobby for a good rating by saying if you had a good time - tick the "Exceeded Expectations" box, I totally disagree. If you followed their guidelines, the standards would stay the same or drop, and that is exactly what I feel has happened to Carnival with the current vacation against the previous 3 we have taken - but still great value for money despite the $/£ value.. Having previously sailed on Valor (twice), and Pride, we picked the Freedom due to the length of the cruise and the itinerary - Cozumel. Costa Rica and Panama. We were meeting a couple who we met last year on Pride.
PRECRUISE: We arrived from the UK the day before, and took a one way car rental from Miami airport with Avis. Having looked on CC and reviewed hotels, we booked the Best Western Ft L Airport. The total, w/tax, was only $79, direct from the BW website. It was very clean and tidy. The bedroom was very good, large, with no unexpected smells. The breakfast was adequate, bearing in mind that lunch would be onboard quite soon. So in all this was a great deal. Looking at the colour scheme and layout, it did have the look, and feel, of an ex Hampton Inn.
EMBARKATION: We dropped the rental car off at FL airport, where the Avis guy kindly offered to take us to the port, (as they don't have use of a courtesy bus). We arrived at the port at 10.15, and embarkation was a breeze, we were so quick and placed on group 1 for embarkation. Someone from the carnival staff entertained us with singing etc. At 11.30 we were allowed to board and were having fish and chips for lunch on deck 10 at 12 noon.
SAIL AWAY: This happened while we were still getting back from Muster Drill, - sorry to have missed such a fun occasion.
THE SHIP: Having read other comments previously, we found the Carnival Freedom is an excellent ship and has a great, friendly crew! Even the officers would have a conversation with you when you took the time to speak to them. The dEcor was strange but ok, spoilt by people stubbing out cigarettes on some of the panels didn't help. We found the layout ok, probably because we had twice been on the Valor and this is the same. The ship is relatively new and is still in good condition. A large jumbotron screen is fitted outside on the lido deck for movies at night, and early morning music and news programs. STATEROOM - Deck 6 FWD PORT SIDE: Our chief state room steward was Alphonso, who comes from Honduras. We met him soon after we were allowed into our room. We stared at him, and he stared back. Simultaneously, we all said - "Were you on the Valor three years ago?" He was fantastic - always as smile and a chat when he saw us Our room was always immaculate, well provided for, and clean towels provide at least twice a day. We also noticed that the towel animals were restricted to alternate days (Cutbacks i.e. increased workloads due to staff number reductions?)
FOOD: We alternated breakfast between the dining room and the buffet. It was quicker and better in the dining room. The Lido requires some thinking regarding layout. You queued and got a gorgeous fresh made omelette, then had to change lines to get hash etc with the eggs getting cold. I also noticed this time that bacon was "served" for you at the buffet station instead of help yourself. This may be a price control incentive due to the cost of bacon?? Interestingly, the same system applied at the Embassy Suites we stayed in after the cruise, and I have not experienced that before either. The Indian food was good, but I felt the taste had been tempered down to accommodate the majority on board. I'm not sure they can handle the true heat of most Indian foods. The fish and chips were as good as ever, and the station never too crowded. I did have the calamari fritters one day, and they were dark brown on the outside and the batter was raw on the inside. We tried the Mongolian Grille and found it to be very good, but the lines were always so long and didn't seem to move. I think that this was because after every sizzle up, they washed the pans. Something you will not see in a Chinese restaurant. The wok temperature will kill anything!! We did experience an incident where the oil traps over the burners had filled to capacity and were overflowing onto the people in line. The line for the hotdogs & burgers was always long, too. I decided to try it and I realized why - really good hot dogs with fried onions. Apart from the Mongolian, the food was always warm (never hot). In today's climate of food poisoning, can someone give me an explanation? Maybe Europeans have their food too hot In the evening (Late dining), we ate in the Chic Dining room with our friends we met last year, and with a fun loving group of 4, extremely vociferous and attractive young ladies, who came from Kentucky - what a result!!. NO STUFFY DINERS FOR US - sorry to anyone we may have offended, but this is the Funship Company. Our Head Table waiter was Rommel. He, and his staff were fantastic all the trip, despite the fact that our table was boisterous and played him up (I think he enjoyed, and encouraged it). One drawback, and I suppose it is not his doing, is that on previous cruises, you have been able to order a "Standard Steak" if nothing on the menu suited - NOT THIS TIME. It was "take it or leave it".
Dinner portions were more than adequate. I've read that some people considered them very small. They must have enormous appetites, or just plain greedy. I asked the waiter if it was true about people ordering more than one entree. He told me that on one cruise, two guests at his table ate 20 lobster tails each, and still asked for another 5 to be served. No wonder diabetes is so rampant.
The desserts weren't as good as other years. On the first night four people on our table, including myself, were served the famous Melting Chocolate Cake (lived on it on previous cruises), only to find that the filling was still uncooked. It was like eating the remains of your moms mixing bowl. I think they must all be pre-frozen, and they got it wrong. Again, there was a reluctance to change these, so they went back to the galley as they were totally in-edible All in all the food was not fantastic, but reasonable, and I thought that the menu had been "price reduced" (Flat iron steak etc every menu), but all in all it was equal to the price we paid.
We ate in the Supper Club once. It was not as good as previous times. The food was ok, but the "Cheffy" plate decorations had been created well ahead of time. Was it worth $30 extra? - Not this time.
One amazing sight I observed at the Chocolate heaven buffet was a person who could not make their mind up. They had a tray with 5 plates on it, each containing between 4 and 5 different desserts. They sat on the next table to us, and I saw them eat them all!! Wow - they should have been on the Carnival Legends show.
We used the coffee shop a little, as DW loves fresh coffee. The cakes looked out of this world, but with the abundance of delicious cakes on offer on board, why spend to get more. The coffee was the same price as anywhere else.
ENTERTAINMENT: Somewhat disappointing!! There appears to be a reduction in Vegas style entertainment this year - only two full shows, Ticket to Ride and Big Easy. The Beatles show was BRILLIANT with the most up to date technical enhancements including lasers, great sound systems, nice computer generated effects etc. We actually missed the "Big Easy" show due to the fact that we did not read the capers and expected it to be after dinner, as previously experienced. NOTE: READ THE CAPERS!!
Other nights were either one cabaret performer or Wee Jimmy!! The show times were also changed meaning that those of us on late dining had to go to a pre dinner show. This was so that people could attend the Adult Deck parties.
We had heard previously, that the Cruise Director, Wee Jimmy, is hilarious. I don't think so!! This guy made me embarrassed to be from the UK, but extremely happy to be from England. The only highlight was watching his recorded ship's tv program, and watching him fall over , thus revealing that he was wearing knickers under his kilt. Most people will know, that real Scottish men go commando under a kilt - so I suppose that says it all. I can understand why a lot of people may like his style. His jokes are easy to understand, he is childish and he is very camp, so putting a new meaning into the phrase Camp Carnival!!
PORTS/TOURS: Cozumel, Not much to say - it's the same as the last time we visited only a little less!! Two weeks after the last visit, it was ravaged by a hurricane.
Costa Rica: We intended getting a tour at the dockside, but when we saw the vehicles we decided to get the Carnival tour. They use modern air conditioned, larger more comfortable coaches It is a very poor country but has some very beautiful areas. The people are nice and you don't feel in threatened at any time. We did the tour of the Rainforest, a trip down the Tortugero Canal, and a Banana Plantation We saw many native animals including a family of bats clinging to a tree. It was a Very enjoyable experience. The only negative was when someone on our tour responded to the fact that Costa Rican's earn, on average, $20 per day, by declaring that they should move to the US here they could earn $100 a day. A very clever statement made by a not so clever person in this day of recession and cheap labour.
Panama: The port is located in an extremely poor area The area around the port does not look safe, and I would advise on not wondering past unless on a tour We took a tour to the Panama Canal! Very much a "Boys thing". Being an engineer, I found it interesting, but I'm not so sure about DW. The trip to Portobello was worth it just to find out about the pirates and Francis Drake. I'm a history buff, but then again, we have lot to trace back.
DRINKS: They now sell DOD cards for $25+tip. It includes 5 DODs so you "potentially" save about $10 - but don't be fooled. What you actually get is ONE souvenir glass sized drink followed by 4 small glass sized drinks. So I guess the saving is minimal. Soda cards were $5 per days of cruise, but as we don't do sugar loaded drinks we left those alone. We purchased the superior wines package for $150. Choose carefully off the wine list and you can save $50. The coupons can also be used in the Supper Club.
Contrary to comments on here, they had a Past Guests Party with free drinks and canapEs in the show theatre. FREE PINS WERE LEFT IN THE STATE ROOM. The Captains Party seemed to be missing.
PHOTO'S: I didn't think the photographers were as good as the other CCL ships we have been on. The poses were kind of strange.
DEBARKATION: We did self assist and were off the ship and outside by 07.30am - Breeze
FINAL COMMENT: Having read people's comments about penny pinching, Carnival is, like a lot of companies, feeling the screws tighten in the recession. I was speaking to a "company Colleague", who had worked for them for a considerable number of years (Not mentioned in the early report), and was told that the big honcho's from CCL had been on board to give the crew a briefing. The briefing dictated that all activities and entertainment were to "target" the lower class element of the passengers i.e. the beverage swillers, as these were the high profit margin areas and would maximise the revenue stream of the cruise. That comment answers a lot of the concerns previous cruisers have made regarding entertainment, penny pinching, deck parties, dress codes etc etc. All that said - it was still great value for money, and a great vacation that has left us with a lot of positive memories AND NEW FRIENDS