Review: Carnival Freedom 5/2/10 A little background information on us - this is my 18th cruise, we live in Columbia, SC, married for 3 ½ years and this is our 7th cruise together. My very first cruise was on the Carnival Mardi Gras in 1989 and I swore I would never go on a Carnival cruise again, however Suzi changed my mind (as she says, that was with an ex-wife and Suzi is much better!). When she brought this idea up, she said it had a few things going for it. I would be with her on vacation for a week; we were staying in a suite; there would be a Margaritaville at each stop and the ship had a cigar bar. My reply to her was, she had me at reason number one, however why Carnival? She said she wanted me to see Key West and this was one of the stops on the itinerary. She had been there before with her sister and had always wanted to go back.
Now that you have a little background information as to why we selected this cruise, on with a brief review.
We arrived the day before our cruise and stayed at the Sleep Inn in Dania Beach, simply said; avoid this place like the plague. Great location (next to a Walgreens, Publix and some nice restaurants), however this place is nothing like the newer Sleep Inn & Suites. We ate at Don & Vinny's Italian Restaurant and it was very good - excellent home made soup & bread.
We signed up for the hotel shuttle to the port at 10:00am (our next option was noon), however it was running behind schedule and it was 10:30am before we were at the port. We had a 'VIP' card (since we were staying in a suite) that was suppose to get us special pre-embarkation service, however after checking in, that 'service' ended. Long story short, we were there early enough to get a Boarding Pass Zone 1, however the VIP counter didn't have boarding passes and we were in the shuffle (like cow herders) moving from one sitting area to another for the next 90 minutes until ship embarkation started at a little after noon. Carnival had only one security camera that was working before we could walk up the gangway. Oh well, we were now on vacation and ready to cruise!
Our cabin wasn't available until 1:30pm, so we did a mini-tour of the ship and ended up at the grill and over in the smoking section in the covered area by the pool (next to the free soft serve ice cream station). First impressions of the ship were pretty good. It didn't have that 'Vegas neon' look I was afraid of. Actually it was a pretty conservative looking ship. The cheeseburgers at the grill were excellent and during the course of the week, we ended up having lunch there almost every day.
At 1:30pm we went to our cabin and once again our first impression was better than expected, the suite was very nice. The entry had a beautiful wood floor and cabin was nicely sized. It had tons of storage space (we barley used half of the drawers & closets); ample supply of glasses; nice mini-fridge; worthless safe (you had to use a credit card to open and close it - as Suzi said, the credit card was one of the items she wanted in the safe, not outside of it! You would think it would be hooked up to be used with your room key.); two big closets by the comfy bed (similar to Princess & RCI - however not a luxury bed like on HAL); leather couch (that could be used as an extra bed); two chairs; a desk; big bathroom with two sinks (although the tub/shower unit was cramped); between the entry and the bathroom hallway was a nice vanity across from two huge closets and decent sized veranda with 3 chairs and table. Decent size flat screen TV with the best channel selection I've seen on a cruise (NBC, ABC, CBS & Fox networks to mention a few). You can view the menu for lunch & dinner on the TV after 8:00am. The downside to the cabin (as we found out throughout the week) was it had no insulation in the front door/entry way and the veranda door. All week long we heard people talking and walking down the hall and every night we heard non-stop noise on the veranda until the wee hours of the morning. Overall the suite was nice, however next time we will look for an aft cabin.
We had three ports on this cruise: Key West, Grand Caymans & Ocho Rios, Jamaica. First time I had been to Key West and once again, Suzi was right, I really enjoyed it there. We did the Conch train tour (90 minutes) and highly recommended for first timers. We had lunch at Margaritaville, did a little shopping and before heading back to the ship we went over to Mallory Square. I look forward to returning to Key West in the future, maybe via a car for a long weekend sometime. We did the usual at Grand Caymans & Ocho Rios, nothing new to report and both places are pretty much unchanged since our last visit. I should mention here that the weather was simply wonderful all week. We had one afternoon in port where the clouds started to get dark, however that was it as rest of the time it was sunny and in the upper 80's & low 90's.
As with all cruises, we had some good things and some bad things happen. The best of the good things was the food! It was very good, much better than I thought it would be. Dining room food was VG/EX every night; the grill made excellent cheeseburgers and as with every cruise, the buffet (we ate there twice for breakfast) was good/not so good. We usually have breakfast in our cabin via room service; however after trying it the first morning, we never did that again. I didn't think it was possible, but the coffee was actually worse than Princess and the only 'hot' item on the card was toast. Well the toast was as hard as a brick and cold as ice. That being said, the Viennese Cafe had very good coffee and latte' and the nicest employee we met on board all week, so for five bucks we both had something good to drink at 7:00am each day.
Dining room food & service: as noted above, the food was very good, much better than I thought it would be. We had an excellent variety and choices every evening. I really liked the pasta starter (smaller size entrEe) after my evening soup or salad. Overall I think the food was on par with Princess and RCI, however we both thought the soups/salads were better. Our table mates were Bob & Sandy from Pennsylvania. This was his second cruise and her first. He amazed me in ordering almost half the menu every evening and finishing all of it. We did encounter one problem in the dining room on the third evening (first formal night) where we sat at the table idling time way for almost an hour waiting for the main entrEe. I noticed the other tables around us had already finished and were being handed the desert menu. I tried for ten minutes to get our waiters attention and he kept his back to me so when I saw the Maitre D' I asked if he would came over to our table. I explained to him that our table was always the first table there, yet the prior two evenings we were the last to be served. To make matters worse, tonight the other tables were now getting desert and we were all waiting for our lobster. I wasn't asking for special treatment; however I thought this situation was really uncalled for. He politely apologized for the situation, talked to the waiter, brought him to our table and explained that it was the kitchen's fault and that it would not happen again. He was right, for the rest of the week we received our food the same time as everyone else. The Maitre D' also stopped by each evening to make sure everything was ok.
Room steward: I should use the word 'steward' loosely here as this guy wasn't much of a room steward. The first time we met (3:30pm on the first day) we went over the usual stuff, mealtimes, cleaning times, etc. and I asked for 2 ashtrays. It sunk in that night this guy didn't have much of a memory as I had to call him back two more times and finally six hours later we had our ashtrays. I should note here that when you pay for a suite on Carnival, don't expect anything else. We were really spoiled on our last cruise (HAL) with all the extras. On that cruise we had several 'extras' (welcome aboard champagne, parties with free drinks, get togethers, concierge, pillow choices, etc), on this cruise we received nothing extra. On Carnival, the only invite (along with everyone else on the ship) was an intercom announcement to the Captains Welcome Aboard party where you get $1 off drinks for a couple of hours (that's right, no more free drinks). The biggest problem with the room steward was he forgot to do something every day. He wouldn't fill up the ice bucket, forget to take out dirty glasses or leave his cleaning equipment behind, always something.
I will rank these in order of what is most important to us. The grades used here are what we experienced on this cruise.
Carnival Cruise Experience: B Carnival offers a good product at a reasonable price point in today's cruise market. If we were with a group or a family cruise, we would not hesitate cruising on a similar Carnival ship again (albeit, an aft cabin!).
The ship: B The good: The ship was very clean everywhere we looked and despite Carnivals reputation for 'Vegas' gaudiness, this ship was very conservative in its color scheme. The sports bar was very nice and they did have ESPN & ESPN2 on big flat screens throughout the bar. The bad: Three decks are 'chopped' in sections which make getting around from one end to the other a total nightmare. No wraparound promenade deck and in several cases we were not allowed on the promenade deck as signs posted it as closed. We felt crowded a few times, however overall the ship space was pretty good. Suzi promised me a cigar bar as it was advertised in the cruise brochure layout & online, however it has been closed and replaced with a jazz club.
Cabin: B The good: Wonderful suite with a nice inlaid wood entry, nice layout and overall very functional for two people. The bad: Nothing extra for staying in a suite. No insulation in the front door/entry way and the veranda door - way too noisy for us. Food: B+ I am a picky eater, however the food quality was very good, I would say comparable to Princess & RCI. Every night Carnival offered several tempting choices and I would say 90% of what we ate was very good or better. Suzi said the lobster was the best she has ever had on a ship.
Service: B In most cases, we found the service around the ship to be pretty good. Staff was usually helpful, yet many looked very tired and rarely cheerful.
Cabin Steward: C- Every day our cabin steward would forget to do something and we were pretty irritated with him.
Dining Staff: B With the exception of one major problem (noted above), our staff was very good. The Maitre D' played a major role in helping make our dinner a nice occasion.
Entertainment: I We give this an 'I' for incomplete. We rarely attend shows and we didn't attend any on this cruise. Most didn't start until 10:30pm (another trend of cutting out the early shows to save money), however many people we talked with said the shows were pretty good.
Miscellaneous: C This would be for the items I didn't include above. An example would be concerning the casino, it was big and the employees were pretty nice. I enjoyed playing cards there; however I didn't win any money all week.
Suzi bought one photo in the photo gallery (we felt very crowded in there and stopped looking for our photos after a while). I need to note that carnival has tiered pricing on photos - the 'fun' photos (like the one she bought with us at our dining room table with a pirate) were $9.95 (they do charge more for formal photos). Quite a bargain compared to the $19.95 - $24.95 we have seen on other ships that last couple of years.
Itinerary was very nice as we really like Key West and I look forward to going back there in the future.
Too many intercom announcements, we averaged six a day and by the last sea day that were very annoying - long spiel (some over 5 minutes) of items that you needed to attend.
The ship time remained unchanged throughout the week. When we arrived at Grand Caymans at 7:00am, it was really 6:00am and nothing was open until 9:30 ship time. Same for Ocho Rios, however most places were open by 9:00am ship time.
Muster drill was an embarrassment. At 3:30pm the announcement was made for all passengers to attend the drill, however Carnival employees were not in place to guide people by the stairways on where to go (like every other cruise I have been on) and the Carnival employees who were to be in our area didn't arrive until 3:45pm.
Overall Cruise Final Grade: B Suzi and I had a very good vacation. Of course, I think if everything had gone wrong on a cruise, we would still manage to have a good time just being together for a week.
In conclusion, I have to say the thoughts Einstein and I shared on our cruise last year really ring true - since auto-tips have been in place and the staff has much more of a work load (our waiter had 6 tables and room steward had 30+ cabins), the service has really been lacking on our last few cruises and I do not see this trend getting any better in the future.
Hope you enjoyed my review and please make comments if you wish. Our next cruise is on the Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam. We will be on board its inaugural Caribbean cruise November 7, 2010.