First of all the Carnival Freedom is lovely ship. Suites and public areas are kept incredibly clean. The dEcor is not terribly subtle but it fits well with Carnivals marketing which targets youth, families and fun. This is our fourth cruise with Carnival and they remain good value for money. We did however notice some cutbacks and some apparent decline in quality as compared to our last Carnival Cruise. The captain's cocktail reception has been largely discontinued (sorry, no free drinks). Too bad, it was a nice touch.
For our next cruise, we would probably choose another line but only for a change. Unchanging menus, the style of service, and similar ship designs can become a bit boring even when the value for money is still good.
We stayed at the Sheraton hotel near the airport. Hotel has a complementary airport shuttle and they arranged our transportation to the port on Saturday morning ($9.00 per person). Hotel is somewhat dated but perfectly adequate for a one nights stay. There is little in the way of restaurants, shopping etc. near the hotel. You can see the cruise terminal and ships from the upper floors and transfer to the pier took about 10 minutes.
We arrived at dockside at about 1:00 and faced an incredible line up. Still, the line moved extremely well and the entire embarkation process took less than 45 minutes. We were eight people in our party and embarkation proceeded much better than I expected.
We had several balcony (4) suites on the Lido deck which we shared with our adult children and two friends. The rooms are typical Carnival rooms- not luxurious but comfortable and clean with flat screen TV's and a nice sitting area. Our room steward was Merilyn (may have spelled his name incorrectly). He kept our rooms clean, well stocked with towels and ice, and provided the towel animals that make even adults laugh at the end of the day. He knew the names of our entire group and was able to tell us which kid was where. He was the best steward we have ever had.
Food was adequate but nothing more. We were not as pleased in this area as we were on the Carnival Legend two years ago. (Or on the Freedom previously) At that time Carnival employed a celebrity chef to plan individual dishes and make suggestions regarding meal pairings. In general, the celebrity chef planned dishes were incredibly good and a bit fancier than the standard fair. Celebrity chef recommendations are a thing of the past, probably a victim of economic cutbacks. The problem with the food on the Freedom was not selection; it was in the preparation and consistency. The signature chocolate melting cake varied from a soggy mess in the first evening to an overcooked lump on the last night. Steak and prime rib were often a little too well done. The rack of Lamb was offered on two consecutive nights. I had it the second evening and the normal tender pink meat was replaced by a grey overcooked and tasteless chop. We are not used to gourmet foods and are generally easy to please. Still, we did notice a general decline of quality of the food as compared to previous Carnival Cruises. It lacked punch. This may be as a result of cutbacks or simply reflect one ships management's skills.
On the Carnival Legend, the maitre de visited every table every night. We never saw the maitre de on the Freedom. We were reminded several times not to forget his gratuity however. We were told that he was responsible for training the wait staff. Funny, I thought that sounded like a management position.
We tried the specialty restaurant and found it excellent. The food was well prepared and nicely presented. Service was attentive but you felt a tad rushed. Still, everyone should treat themselves to this experience at least once on the cruise.
We are not night people so I should not comment too much in this area. Our adult children loved the piano bar and we all thought the Country and Western singer (Stan Corliss) was outstanding. The stage shows seemed average. The cruise director (Wee Jimmy) was much better than John Heald who used to be on the Freedom. Let's just say he was less annoying.
The ship has designated an area of the ship as adult only. The Serenity area is open to all adults at no extra cost. The area is nicely decorated with upscale seating and padded deck chairs. With its own bar, it is really a nice area. The problem is the saving of deck chairs makes it practically inaccessible. I was there one morning at 9:00 and every chair was saved with a towel. book, or some small personal item. No chairs were "available" even though the entire area was occupied by fewer than 25 people. Yes the ship has policies, but there is no one assigned to enforce them or even discourage the selfish practice of saving deck chairs. This was a problem outside the Serenity area as well.
In conclusion, we had a really good trip. We enjoyed having our family and friends together. Carnival cannot be blamed for the poor weather in South Florida or anywhere else. They provided us with most of the elements necessary to make our own fun and did so at a reasonable price. This trip we made our own fun and hopefully will do it again.