We (Kimberly 43, Toby 37, Luke 18 & Jackson 7) returned a few days ago from the 8 day Eastern Caribbean itinerary for the Carnival Freedom. First, let me say that I have never been on another cruise line, so my observations are somewhat limited and have no comparison. I am someone that can be very easy to please, or easily pissed off, given my mood. I've been 'well off' and I've been dirt poor, so I can usually roll with the punches and deal with most things...except rudeness. You've been warned ;)
THE TRIP: We flew in from Atlanta to Ft. Lauderdale on Friday night in the rain. Hurricanes and tropical storms had been abuzz for weeks, threatening to ruin our trip, so I was not pleased...but even moi cannot change the weather. We had booked our hotel through Expedia, which has always been fine. We stayed at the Hampton Inn Airport North in Ft. Lauderdale...being that our cruise left on September 11th I didn't want to fly in the morning of and have any crazies pull something that shut any air travel down. We called the hotel for our *FREE* shuttle and waited 45 minutes for the 15 minute shuttle...in the rain. But hey, it was free. The hotel was the nicest 2 1/2 star I've seen...clean, updated and comfy bed, *FREE* hot breakfast buffet, then the *FREE* shuttle to Port Everglades. I had read that the shuttle was overcrowded...we are not ones that have to be on the ship asap, so we waited til 1:30, extended our noon checkout to 1:00 and watched some TV while we enjoyed the spacious lobby area. All went smoothly, never waited more than a few minutes at embarkation...took a pic and boarded the ship.
THE SHIP: We immediately noticed the decor (and I use that word lightly). It's just pattern overload! There's not a square inch of surface on that ship that is untouched, unadorned in some way. I called it "My Big Fat Greek Wedding meets Jersey Shore". The orange, lime and purple tiger stripped paneling is the worst, and it's everywhere. After a while you make a game of seeing how many different patterns you can find in any given area. I can't say it grew on us...but cruise ship decor is never subdued, right? The ship was very clean, though...and that matters more to me than the ugly decor. The layout always seems to take some getting used to. We always find our favorite places and figure out the easiest way to get there. Same as on other ships, not really worse, as I have read in reviews. There were many different options for food, swimming, sun bathing, reading in quiet, etc. We never had trouble finding a chaise...but the pools got overcrowded at times, and lines at the Lido deck were as we usually find...not too bad and not worth complaining about...remember you are on a boat with 2973 other passengers and 1150 crew members, they all get hungry at lunch time just like you do. Serenity deck is also too crowded, but when it's not and that hammock becomes free...there's nothing better than laying next to the husband swinging in the breeze with the Caribbean Sea as a backdrop. Camp Carnival was the absolute best! My 7 yr old son loved it, loved the companionship of the kids and felt like it was his vacation, too and not just being dragged along with the grown ups. We hit the casino once, I'm one of those prudes that's very intolerant to cigarette smoke, so bars and casinos gross me out.
THE SERVICE: Our room was Main Deck room 2330. Ourcabin steward (Eko) was very nice to us, learned our names and when he could get in (18 yr old was up all night and slept all day) spruced the room up nicely. I have a theory about hotel/motel/cruise ship rooms...whether it's the Ritz Carlton or the Motel 6...it's a bed and bath that a stranger used directly before you...it's all yuk to me. Hairs, smells etc. all linger no matter what. What matters is the comfort of the bed and linens, and this is where my only MAJOR complaint on this trip comes in. Where was our Carnival Comfort Bed?? Not in our room, that's for sure. The beds and bunks were all in major need of an updating in mattress and linens. Pillowcases had the little "pills" on them from wear and age, the mattresses were some of the most uncomfortable I've EVER slept on...it says a lot when a 7 yr old complains of a sore back in the morning. I hope this room gets a make over, STAT! It was a cheaper interior room, traveling with 2 kids this time I figured a romantic balcony or even window would be a waste. I'd rather spend the $$ on shore trips and plane travel for 4. I made the right decision. I'll save the romantic view for my 10th anniversary in March. Dinner service was fine, we did Your Time Dining...I'll never go back to early/late dining. Wait staff was friendly and competent. I'm not the type to complain about service unless it's horrible...our was fine. We never waited for a table, as I've read here. Food was all good. Best was Lasagna Bolognese (sp?) Had steak many nights, all tender and tasty. Only whiny moments: warm chocolate melting cake was a little too done in the center most nights and brie was not to my sons liking. We don't really have sophisticated pallets and are not wine drinkers. I never understand when people complain about cruise ship food...this isn't Maxim's in Paris...it's mass produced food. If you don't like something, order something else.
THE STAFF: Cruise director seems nice and friendly, never had a problem with anyone but one girl at guest services. We don't normally do credit, but one must have a credit card to setup sail & sign, so I asked ahead to make sure that we could change it to cash once on board...of course by the 2nd morning they charged our gratuities (which I hate...what's to motivate good service if they know they are already getting a full tip?) so I asked them to be removed and she spoke to me as if I were mentally challenged. Then found out the hold on the credit card wouldn't be removed till back in the States...I do not like the whole sail & sign business. Give me a room key card to get on and off the ship...if I want to shop or gamble or drink on board, then I'll set one up...don't automatically assume I'll be shopping...and why not just allow cash purchases? I know most love the s&s card system, but the only way it works for us is to remove the early tip charges, set up a cash account and pay as you go on your cash...I know cash is an antiquated way of commerce in 21st century life, but we prefer it. One staffer out right lied to us at the excursion desk...told us the only way to see the El Morro Fortress in San Juan was to take their tour, cause it closed at 3pm. I should have investigated it online better before departing but this was a last minute decision so we just went with it. Well...the tour did not tour the Fort, only went by it. I could have done that for free instead of $49.99 per person. If your job is the excursions desk operator...don't lie to people, tell them the real deal and let them decide. Because of this I'll never book another shore excursion on board again. Besides those two people, we never encountered rudeness. I've read that some said the crew on this ship were grouchy. I don't expect butt kissing, just serve me food, clean my room, etc. I think as with most things in life, people spend a little money on their cruise fare and expect to be treated like the Queen...come on, these people work hard and everyone has a bad day sometimes. Camp Carnival deserves the highest praise. Our 7 yr old was treated very well there and we begged to go back daily...that says it all.