July 3, 2010 Carnival Freedom Itinerary: Cozumel, Costa Rica, and the Panama Canal Leaving out of Ft. Lauderdale: We arrived the morning of the cruise. The airport is virtually right next to the cruise terminals. It costs $8.00 a person to take a taxi directly to the terminal. After a short drive, you are there. Right now, there was the Oasis of the Seas and Grandeur of the Seas at the port with the Freedom. Embarkation was simple. If you show up before 12:00 noon, do plan on standing in line some. It is not a big deal though. Once they open the doors, you head right to the terminal where you will get in a line to get your key cards etc. They have it down pretty good there. As a VIP, it was simple, but some of the port authorities seemed a little lost to me. The Carnival folks were great. The VIP's and wedding couples were allowed on the ship first. The whole process went smooth. Ft. Lauderdale is a great port.
The Ship : A conquest class which is the recent sister ship to the Carnival Liberty. I was on the Carnival Liberty just a few months prior. Even though the ships are similar, I really like Freedom better. YES!!! They brought back the spa and pool in the exercise area. This used to be on the Destiny class ships and the other conquest ships. I was told that it was taken out due to maintenance. Freedom brought it back. The spa is smaller, but I am just glad they brought back. Another excellent area is the Serenity area that they added to the front of the ship at and above Spa. The hot tubs are in a great area. It was wonderful to be up there.
If you have been on Glory, Conquest, Victory, Destiny, Liberty etc, the layout is pretty much the same, except for small differences. Everything still flows through the Casino on 5. I like this class of ship, but I am looking forward to getting on the Spirit classed ship, the Legend, in April 11.
It is a must for everyone, be sure to take at least one night and eat at the Steak House onboard. Yes, it is $30.00 a person for it, but believe me... it is worth it! Service, food quality, and feel are terrific. The Spirit class ships actually have an amazing set-up for this.
Dining rooms for the Liberty and Freedom are more conservative. You still have some flashing lights, but it takes a more conservative approach than the Spirit or Fantasy class ships. The service was excellent once again. For those new to the cruise scene, one thing to remember. The first night in the main dining is typically at 70% of the service it can be. They need to learn everyone. Cut them a break, but do draw their attention to the concern. If they do not get it the second day, then take it to the next level. The Matre'd in the Posh dining room was the best ever. He speaks with an accent, but he is from Mississippi. Very personal.
The ship was clean. We had our first maintenance issue with the shower that was very small. They did not repair it as quickly as I thought they should, but still the room was in great shape. Not the wear I saw more on the Liberty. The lido deck was also very maintained. The ice cream stations are my temperature gauge for this. That high volume area was well kept up. Way to go Carnival!
Way to go - popcorn in the bar now! 1.50, but at least they have it. I love the late night movies. Great to go to after the show.
Entertainment: The entertainment was wonderful on this ship. They have one of the best cruise directors, Josh. One of the few that approached us over the several cruises we have been on. We talked to him a few different times. He is from Chicago. He plans things out from dawn till dusk. He will get on the intercom at 10:10, but his interruptions are not annoying. Now the Captain on this ship could add some definite personality, he was dull. He got us there and back safely, so he did his job. Smile, have some fun Captain, it is the funship!
The dancing shows were finally new and different. The Big Easy along with the new Beetles show were the best. They had a third show that was pretty good, but by not remembering the information on it, you can tell it was not the best. The comedy was pretty good, they have had better. Again, lacking the name. The lead singers were very strong.
All the typical stuff, casino, Bingo, deck games etc were all standard and as expected. The fitness area was great. Spa was pretty standard. I have seen bigger Spas on other lines, but it was good. We got a massage and it was nice. There were more jewelry selections on the ship than on previous ships. Their prices are still very good. I did attend an art auction to see what they had, still the standard Park West items. I did not get anything this cruise.
Kids: Carnival will always have more kids than the other cruise ships. The area on 5 promenade next to the teen club is typically where they hand out. The little kids hang out at the pool. If you are in there areas and do not like kids, then go the other way. Other than that, it is not a big issue at all. The Serenity section and the back adult pools are wonderful for adults. If you are a kid, this is a great ship for you. It is not your itinerary though. I would rather send kids to Western or Eastern Caribbean where there is more beach activities.
The Ports of Call: Cozumel - What can you say that has not already been said before on CC? It is one of the staples of the cruise industry. It is most common stop in the Western Caribbean. It has everything that you would want to do, the problem is choosing what you want to do with all of the choices. We chose the swim with the Dolphins. It was wonderful and I highly recommend it. It included lunch that was pretty good. Quite simply, this port has everything - shopping, water sports, adventuring, touring, and places to get great drinks. I love THREE AMIGOS. It is themed after the movie. One of my favorite slapstick comedies. "Hefei, do you know what a plethora is?"
Costa Rica - We stay on on the ship this time. There are no beaches to go to on this side. It is all about the jungle tours and adventures. We have done the canopy tours in Dominica, so we skipped these. There are great zip line tours here. It is all about the jungle. Practically zero shopping and restaurants at the port. Take an excursion if you go. There is nothing really on the Caribbean side. The pacific coast has all of the action.
Colon, Panama - This cruise itinerary is all about this one stop. I without a doubt, the best thing to do is the Panama Canal tour where you actually go through the locks. It fills up fast, so book right away. You actually go through two sets of the three sets of locks. You travel about half of the canal from the pacific side up to the big lake. You do not actually go into the big lake. You stop where the old US post office was. You can now say you have visited another continent. Your port is officially in South America. Panama City is huge city - lots of money and investments pouring in. If shopping is your thing, take a trip to the Duty Free zone. It is the number one contribution to the economy. It is amazing. I recommend going with a tour. Safety is still a concern here, but if with a tour, you are perfectly safe. Getting off the ship to walk around is ok. There is a little shopping area terminal, but it is nothing major. Typically just local warez. This stop is all about the canal. The lines of ships hanging out are pretty cool.
In conclusion: This is the cruise that centers on two things - Panama Canal and 4 sea days. The water was the smoothest I have ever been on in the Gulf. You get your party-on and beach time at Cozumel only. This cruise is perfect for the couple or singles who want adventure and plenty of time on the ship. Not the best cruise for the little kids. Carnival Freedom and its crew did great! Just remember, it is carnival, not Seaborne or Crystal. They have a process which they have perfected. If you go outside of it, it throws them off some. They will do what they can though. They are the best value for the dollar in these times. The rooms are among the biggest in the industry, so go for it!