Background: DH and I, mid 50's. Sixth Carnival cruise, 2nd on the Freedom. Aft Balcony 7448.
Embarkation: Arrived at noon, onboard on Lido after about 1 1/2 hours. Lines not terrible. Hard to find a place to sit onboard. Chilly, windy weather drove everyone inside, so it was very crowded. Unbeknownst to us, this is apparently a typical school break in the northeast, so tons of kids onboard. Brought on a small bottle of scotch, Malibu, four Bailey's minis and a bottle of wine with no problem.
Ship: New Serenity area is nice, but still too close to pool/Lido area. Heard "who's the biggest alcoholic", "who has the biggest beer gut" questions during the various 'contests' at the pool area. Yuck.
Dining: We were late seating, Posh dining room. We were at a table for ten, with only four of us during the week. It seems the late seating was not well attended. Did hear some feedback about poor service at 'anytime dining'. Saw plenty of shorts/t-shirts/flip flops, which doesn't bother me, but was apparently acceptable. Food was good. Had a couple of misses, but mostly hits. Lido food was typical, plentiful and good. And yes, there was fruit punch at breakfast (orange, guava, passion combination).
Cutbacks: No chocolates on pillow, skimpier freebies in bathroom....one disposable razor and mini toothpaste, the paper 'lids' that were always on the glasses in the bathroom aren't provided anymore....just a little icky to have your glass sitting rim side down on the bathroom counter. Seeing some wear and tear in general, TV in the cabin was pretty dinged up, paint peeling off outside door handles on balcony, our pillow cases each night were somewhat 'pilly'. Nothing to bug me, but noticeable.
Entertainment: We saw Jamie Fraser (England's Michael Buble) who was very good. We also saw him on the Freedom last year. There was a ventroliquist who was good, the production numbers of The Big Easy and Jump, Jive and Wail were good and the Beatles show was also good. We didn't do any gambling (smoke issues).
Cozumel: We did a fabulous catamaran, two reef snorkel with Manta water sports. Excellent boat (54' cat.), amazing water and Columbia and Palancar reefs were great. Saw a sea turtle, huge 6 ft. ray and gorgeous coral. Dolphins came over to the hull and sailed along with us on the way back to shore. Great crew and beer, margaritas and bottled water after snorkeling.
Costa Rica: We were the only ship in port. Very poor/poverty area outside the port. Very minimal shopping in a tented area much like the straw market in Nassau only really tiny. We did a beach trip with Charlie Soto to the Cahuita National Forest. It was about an hour drive, rainy, but the sun came out when we got there. The beach was desserted, but the water was very churned up so there was lots of debris/sand floating around. You could walk through the rainforest along side the beach and we saw howler monkeys and lots of foliage. Our guide, Carlos, was excellent. We had a lunch of rice and beans, plantains and a jerk spiced stewed chicken with salad at a small restaurant there, which was arranged with Charlie Soto and part of the excursion price. We also had beer, water and soda on the bus. We got back right on time. Carlos gave us lots of information on the banana plantations we drove along side of and stopped at a fruit stand to get us the 'wild' bananas the locals grow and love. Very sweet and creamy.
Panama: Again, we were the only ship in port. More souvenir type shopping here, but once again, very mimimal. We booked a rainforest, fort and locks excursion with My Friend Mario. It was really hot/humid, and unfortunately the bus was packed. Note: If you insist on bringing six or seven ten year old boys on a six hour bus excursion, do the courteous thing and sit with them instead of parking them in the back of the bus with people that don't find them quite as charming as you do....99 bottles of beer on the wall, kicking seats, punching each other, etc. is more than a little annoying to those of us that aren't related to your offspring. Our guide was Alex, who was good (when he could be heard over the kids). We saw a sloth in the road which we were able to stop and see up close! Howler monkeys, leaf cutter ants, vivid blue moths. The locks were really interesting and we were able to watch a couple of ships go through seeing the gates open and close. Again, back to the ship on time. They had the past guest party at 4:15 during sailaway that day. Missed it, but didn't much care.
Steakhouse: We really enjoyed this again. Next time we'd go earlier in the cruise, rather than the 2nd to last night, as we were so tired of eating, it was almost too much. Surf and Turf, and 9 oz. filet, both excellent, as were the side dishes and appetizers/desserts.
Behind The Fun Tour: We would highly recommend this, if at all possible. We booked as soon as we walked on the ship, as there are only two tours, each taking a maximum of sixteen people. It was 3 1/2 hours long, but really fascinating. The cost is $95/person. We saw everything from the laundry room, stage/backstage/costume area, crew and staff dining rooms, brig, morgue, captain's dining room, the main and steakhouse galleys, the front 'crew only' area on the bow, the engine control room and a visit on the bridge with the captain. We received three 8x10 photos, two of the group and one of us with the captain on the bridge. We also received a Carnival backpack, lanyard, ball cap, and a plate of chocolate covered strawberries in our cabin after the tour. I am really glad we did this. My DH said he'd like to do it again on another class of ship just to see the differences.
Unfortunately we had a medical emergency on our last sea day and a Coast Guard helicopter had to be dispatched from Florida, so all of the outdoor aft sections of the ship were blocked off for the morning until after 1:30. The airlift was amazing to watch as the helicopter is too large to land so had to hover over the ship (while the ship continuted to move) to pick up the ill woman. It was fascinating to see, but a sad circumstance.
They were selling the future cruise certificates onboard. Also, by booking your next cruise onboard you were given an automatic $100 obc and two certificates for friends/family who also want to book the same sailing you just booked (for them to get the $100 obc) if they book within 60 days. We booked the Miracle southern eight day for 2011 and will try to convince friends/family to come along.
Debarkation: Extremely easy. Cabs were plentiful to take us back to the airport. Nobody we spoke with had any issues exiting the ship.
Sorry if this is too long! Ask any questions and I'll do my best to answer. Here's a link to my pictures.