We booked our cruise on the Carnival Freedom, after reading both the positive and negative comments on here, and we were glad we did! Our travel group consisted of 7 people - my parents (in their 50's) and 5 more of us (in our 20's), including 2 couples. Two of us have been on cruises before (Carnival & Royal Caribbean), but the rest were all first-timers. My sister is in a wheelchair (manual) as well, and we didn't have any problems with accessibility on this ship!
Embarkation/Debarkation - I can't say too much on embarkation, since we got to go to the front of the line with my sister since she is in a wheelchair - we were directed immediately on where to go, no problems. My brother and his girlfriend flew in separately from us and they said it took almost 2 hours, but for the other 5 of us it took maybe 20 minutes :) Debarkation was a different story - the actual debarkation process was great and felt a LOT more organized than my last cruise, but customs was pretty More
bad. We stood in our first line for 20 minutes without moving at all before we decided to change lanes. We then moved through the next lane, until our last person got stopped. The excuse was that they didn't want to split up any "groups" in line, so they told her she had to wait to let some people in front of her. It took almost another 30 minutes before our last person got through - not sure how that made any sense with the "keeping families and groups together" when we got split.
Rooms - We were in a 6C room (outside stateroom on the 2nd level) and it was great! We even had a sofa and mini-fridge - we pushed aside the stuff they stocked it with and filled it with our own drinks. The room was a lot bigger than my last cruise (small RCI ship), but I'm sure the newer/more comparable RCI ships are similar. My brother and his gf were a few rooms down in the same sort of room - they had a room that connected to another room. Within a few hours of being onboard, their neighbors began smoking and the smoke came into their room thru the door, but they called guest services and within 2 minutes, they got housekeeping to "seal" the door and they never had a problem again. My parents and sister shared a suite on the 7th floor and it was huge! I'm sure it being wheelchair-accessible added a little extra space, but it was still enormous and had 2 flat screen tvs - they were a little spoiled with this one for their first cruise :)
General Ship Layout/Decor: I really liked this ship. I read complaints about it being difficult to get around and easy to get lost, but none of us had any problems. After you explore the first day, it's not that hard to figure out how to get around :). As far as dEcor, yeah, some things were a little weird, but nothing was so terrible that it affected the overall cruise experience. Maybe I was just expecting the absolute worst after reading previous reviews, but it really wasn't that bad to me. There were just some things that I wouldn't have personally chosen, but nothing that would terribly bother the normal person or make you wish you booked a different ship.
Things that we enjoyed on the ship: free Sushi bar - so good! We got sushi every night before dinner.. they usually had 3-4 different things, so you got a good little sampler (and could get as many refills of your plate as you wanted). We also really enjoyed the Beatles Show - it was top notch! Of course, the 24/7 pizza and ice cream wasn't bad either, but we also really enjoyed the stir fry station in the Lido Buffet - you would pick all your veggies and proteins and sauces and they cooked it for you in front of you. We also had a really good comedian one night - he did an "R-rated show" the next night, but they had karaoke in the same room until 10:30 (when it started), so it was a little chaotic if you wanted to get in (or out!) since everyone was trying to rush to get a seat. It ended up being standing room only. They had a second show at midnight, and everyone who couldn't get into the first show tried to rush into the room right when it ended, making it difficult for the first show attendees to even get out - could have had better crowd control here.
Overall staff: Everyone was really nice and helpful to us. On the first and last day when we had questions, we always were able to easily find someone to help us or send us in the right direction. Our room steward was nice and left us chocolates and towel animals every night, but forgot to give us our luggage tags and debarkation documents (we had to ask). Our head waiter at dinner, Ovidu, was great! Pretty sure he was training our waiter assistant (kept showing him how to do things) and the assistant didn't speak very good English at all. Ovidu did most things and took really good care of us! Also, I have to say when we tendered, we were a little nervous about my sister being able to get off the boat, but they helped her walk the steps (she has arm crutches) and all of us were able to get off the boat - everyone was very helpful with my sister throughout the entire cruise!
Ports: I enjoyed them. They weren't our ideal-pick, but it was still a lot of fun. In Key West, the ship had to dock at the navy pier so we had to take a trolley shuttle into town (10 minutes), but it was really easy and actually nice to get a mini-tour for free on the trolley. My sister didn't have any problems here with accessibility either. Grand Cayman was my favorite! We booked a private excursion with Stingray Sailing (which I highly recommend) and sailed to Stingray City and snorkeled on the reef. Ocho Rios, Jamaica was okay - I just could have done without the pushiness of the local vendors everywhere that we went on our own. We booked a trip to Dunn's River Falls, but we were in port only until 3:30, so we didn't have that much time to look around. Here, we also booked with an outside company, Peat Taylor Tours, who was fantastic.
Days at Sea: They were typical days at sea. They did some silly competitions poolside, people were chair-hogs and saved them all day long despite the "30 minute rule," and lots of sunning. We slept in a little on these days and still didn't have a problem finding lounge chairs (as long as you didn't want to be directly next to the pool).
Food (Chic Dining room): Our waiter made a suggestion on what was "good" each night, and whatever he said was always delicious (so we learned to listen to him)! One night we had to send steaks back that were under/overcooked, and our waiter had no problem doing this and apologized - not a big deal since a new one was brought out very quickly, but just something to note. Some of the things we really enjoyed were the lobster tails, filet mignon, BBQ ribs, chateaubriand, duck, and most of the shrimp appetizer dishes... The chocolate melting cake dessert was still the best thing on any of the menus though :) Less