Smooth pick-up at the airport by Hampton Inn Plantation. We settled in, then used their complimentary transportation to go to Sawgrass Mills Outlet Mall. We then had a late dinner at Steak N Shake and picked up some wine at Walmart. We called for return transportation and were told we would have to wait about 45 minutes. All of this happened between 6 - 10 p.m.
Enjoyed the complimentary breakfast before departing hotel at 11 a.m. on the complimentary shuttle. For what we paid at the Hampton Inn, it was a great value for the four of us.
The check-in process for Carnival was effortless. Yes, they are trying to check-in 3400 people at a time, therefore you can expect a wait. But the line was constantly moving and by 12:20 p.m. we were sitting in the Freedom Restaurant enjoying lunch. We spent the next hour looking around the ship, taking the spa tour and attending the muster drill (I'm sure we ended up in the wrong place, one person passed out, someone else threw up and you couldn't hear a thing that was being said on the loud speaker because everyone was having their own conversation). We meant to return to the spa at 5 p.m. for the drawings for free treatments but arrived around 5:15 p.m. and didn't win any of the last few treatments they were giving away.
Our cabin was ready by 1:30 p.m. however our luggage did not arrive until closer to 5:30 p.m. Our family of four did very well in the OV room. The only reason I will get two rooms next time is the late hours my children keep. Plenty of storage. Be prepared with a power strip though as there is only one outlet in the room.
We had late dinner in the Posh. Just before the doors opened at 8:15 p.m. the ship finally started moving. We never did find out what the delay was. Our waiter, John was very personable. He never mentioned us by name...which I guess was fine. We were very close to where the food came out and everything was always prompt and hot, however slightly boring. Then again they are trying to feed a few thousand people in a matter of hours so I wasn't expecting gourmet or anything. We were usually finished with dinner by 9:30 p.m. (earlier if we didn't have dessert). I think they finally caught on by Thursday that we were iced tea drinkers. I thought they would figure that out sooner, because we had to ask for it every night. We never saw the maitre d. No loss there I guess. We did eat in the MDR for breakfast once and the only plus was we didn't have to search for a table...the food was the same as what was served on the Lido deck.
Key West - My husband and daughter went parasailing (FURY) with a few other families we met on CC. They had a great time. By the time they returned at 10 a.m. it started sprinkling. Because we were in and out of shops, it wasn't that big of a deal. We made our way down Duval Street. We were hungry by 11:30ish so we ate at Camille's (corner of Simonton & Catherine). My daughter's name is Camille and she is vegetarian. There were so many choices on the menu she had a hard time choosing. It's a local place and the service left something to be desired...but the food was fantastic! By the time we ordered the sun was out. It was hot, sunny and humid the rest of the day. We made our way to the Southernmost point, then over towards Fort Zachary Taylor. The kids (16 & 20) wanted to get back to Duval Street to purchase items that they had changed their minds about. By walking all of this distance we were able to see a lot of Key West and some very nice (and some not so very nice) residential areas.
Grand Cayman - I was glad I hadn't planned on doing anything more than going to the Royal Palms and lying on the beach as my youngest wasn't feeling well. The public bus cost $2.50 per person. Chairs at Royal Palms were $7 and umbrellas were $10. They have a nice outdoor patio/bar and the restrooms are clean. My husband and oldest daughter walked quite a ways in both directions. They said the Royal Palms beach was by far the nicest in the area. We had lunch at Senor Frogs and did a little shopping before taking the tender back to the ship.
Jamaica - We had arranged for a private tour for $25 per person with Peat Taylor. We spent the day with his son Peat Jr. and his driver Clifton. We started with a drive to an overlook of the pier area. We then drove through Fern Gulley where we stopped at a vendor. We were able to look at the carvings but were never harassed. Peat Jr. took the time to teach us about the plants, trees and flowers we were seeing. He sang to us between stops and was warm and entertaining. Our next stop was a local kindergarten. We brought play-dough, puzzles, jump ropes, coloring books, etc. The kids were adorable and my children did not want to leave. We walked a few doors down to another vendor. Again, no pressure to buy anything. We then went river rafting which cost $20 per person. Our guide George sang along the way...but his songs were simple like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat". It was very funny! We chose not to stop in an area where you could use the rope swing and jump off a platform. I have heard that they charge additional, but since it was still early in the morning and the water was very cold, we continued on our journey. The waters move quickly in this area, but would be do-able for anyone. We had the entire river to ourselves, other than two adults who took a bamboo raft in the opposite direction. We were able to keep our belongings in the van and felt very safe and secure during this tour. We did end up buying wooden bracelets at the end of our river rafting tour. Again, no pressure to buy and when she said $5 each I was happy to oblige. We continued on to the Blue Hole/Secret Waterfalls. We jumped in to the lower area and enjoyed the hole to ourselves. We then climbed up a hill to the larger waterfall...about 20 feet high. Again, more jumping in and swimming around. Other than 4 young men (tourists) coming down the hill as we were going up, there were only a few locals in the area. It was great to have this entire space to ourselves...knowing that hundreds were climbing Dunn's River Falls and being harassed by local vendors. We could have gone to the beach or shopping, but we chose to end the tour at Margaritaville. While walking back to the ship we were only approached once by women asking to braid my daughter's hair. A simple "no thank you" and they were gone. We camp and jump off bluffs a lot, so to do this in Jamaica was a blast! Peat Jr. taught us so much about the locals, school system, Sean Kingston, shopping, etc. We had been to Jamaica before, but this 6 hour visit was definitely the highlight of our cruise.
Sea Days - The first day was spent on the Lido deck watching chair hogs lay towels, flip flops, magazines, etc. on the chairs (never to return), the late arrivals getting frustrated and the entertainment staff trying to get people involved (i.e. hairy chest contest, trivia, etc.). The last day at sea was spent between the adult pool and the deck above in the aft area of the ship. We waited for several hours for them to open the sliding roof and finally gave up...retreating to the Panorama deck. We only enjoyed the Serenity area once as chair hogs were in full force the entire week. Hot tubs here were nice and warm. You must go down the slide at least once!
Unless you enjoy bingo, there were not a lot of planned activities. We did sit through some karaoke one night and went to the Beatles show (which begins and ends well, but is a little slow in the middle) towards the end of the week. Most nights there was a show at 10:30 p.m. but I was finding it hard to stay up late since we were always up so early. I walked by the chocolate buffet, but passed as I was not hungry. I never did find the free drinks they were giving away the last night.
My workout on the cruise consisted of stair climbing and walking around the track (Susan G. Komen fundraiser) and I didn't gain a pound on this cruise. My daughters went to a Pilates class ($12 + $5 gratuity) and said it was just ok.
My 16 year old loved Club O2. She made many new friends immediately. My 20 year old was also able to find groups of people to hang out with, even though most were traveling with clusters of friends.
Our room was perfect. We were on the Main deck under the galley. We never heard any noise other than a baby crying in the room next to us one night. Our steward, Ann, was the most adorable person we met on board. Her husband works on the ship as well. They we both extremely friendly and we always had ice and a towel animal. Yes, the rumors are true...no more chocolates on the pillows at night. We did leave the ship with a free deck of cards (obtained at Guest Services) and a Carnival corkscrew (given to me by the steward).
Debarkation went smooth. We booked the Everglades tour through Carnival as our flight wasn't until 5 p.m. We were off the ship around 8:20 a.m. The bus left by 8:45 a.m. We enjoyed the airboat tour (about an hour) as well as the alligator show (no more than 15 minutes). We arrived at the airport by 1 p.m. We found a small restaurant to eat lunch, hit the gift shop, then ran into a family from my daughters' high school so the afternoon flew by fast.
Many of the reviews for Carnival (and the Freedom) are good, while others are not so good. I did not have a lot of expectations going into this trip, however I did my homework and knew what to do and what to avoid. I have cruised before, however, this was a first for my husband and daughters. Cruising can be tiring...standing in line for meals, going in search of a table for breakfast or lunch, trying to locate a chair to relax in, etc. Keep an open mind and a great time will be had by all. Our family of four (48, 42, 20 and 16) had a fabulous time (other than a lack of sleep) and we would sail the Freedom and Carnival again.