We took our first cruise 12/27 to 1/3 on the Carnival Freedom with our 2 boys (9 and 16). We have always done the "all inclusive" trips but the kids wanted to try a cruise this year. Our 9 year old always seemed to have plenty to do at the all inclusives but our older son found it hard to find things to do at night. The all inclusives really don't have good "teenage" evening activities. He heard a lot of good things about cruise from friends so he was really exited to try one. I never really wanted to do a cruise for fear of being trapped on a ship all week and the possibility of getting sick. Boy was I wrong. This may have been one of our all-time best vacations.
We flew into Fort Lauderdale a day early and stayed at the La Quinta Inn. Not bad for the price ($90) which included free transportation from the airport, free transfer to the cruise terminal and free continental breakfast. This also gave us an opportunity to stock up on some liquor for the cruise. Rum Runner flasks are the best. (www.rumrunnerflasks.com) We packed a case of water as part of our checked luggage (just put a baggage tag on the plastic wrapped case) and carried on 2-12 packs of soda, a bottle of wine, a bottle of champagne and had rum runner flasks filled with rum and vodka. It all went through - no questions asked. Carnival seems pretty lenient about what you can take on board. In fact, I bought 3 bottles of liquor in Jamaica and openly carried it on the ship without question.
We had a balcony room and it was GREAT. There was plenty of room for the four of us and all our stuff. The luggage fit under the bed no problem. All the beds were all very comfortable and the bathroom was a nice size. The balcony was the best. I couldn't imagine cruising without one. Our room steward did a fabulous job and left towel animals for our 9 year old every night. FYI - there is only 1 outlet in the room so bring an extension cord for charging multiple items.
The ship was HUGE and had everything you could imagine. It was spotless and the crew was friendly and attentive. Even though the ship was full, it never seemed crowded. This was another fear we had with it being a "Holiday" cruise. We were able to find chairs on the lido deck and the pools, slides and hot tubs were not overcrowded. The large "Theater of the Sea" screen on the lido deck was awesome. We watched all the football games on it. There was miniature golf, volleyball and basketball for the kids also. In the front on the ship, there is an adults only area that has 2 hot tubs and nice loungers. The pool and hot tubs in the back are also adult only.
The food in the dining room was excellent. Our servers were outstanding. The buffet was good for breakfast and lunch but a little disappointing for dinner. The deli had really good sandwiches and the Fish and Chips (2nd floor in rear of buffet) were really good.
Our 9 year old loved the kids club and wanted to go all the time. They even had a special night that they kept them out to 3am and then delivered them to our room. Our 16 year old really liked the O2 night club and made tons on friends. He still keeps in touch with them all. Both boys said it was the most fun they had on vacation. It also gave my wife and I a lot of "alone time" which we rally enjoyed. Just hanging out on the balcony with a drink was really relaxing.
As far as ports go, Grand Cayman was the best. Nice beaches, friendly people and very safe. Key West is a lot of fun for adults but not much for kids. My wife and I go there every year without the kids and love it. As for Jamaica, this was our second and last visit.. A beautiful island but the beggars are out of control. From the time you get off the ship the time you get back on, it's relentless. Kids were swimming along side the ship begging you to throw money in the water. We never felt totally comfortable. Even at Dunn's River Falls the locals harass you.
All I all it was a great vacation. People warned us not to go on Carnival but I can't see why. We loved the ship, the food was excellent and the crew were great. We definitely WOULD go again and we probably will next Christmas. So much more to tell but this is getting long. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions. firstname.lastname@example.org