This was the 4th cruise for my wife and I and our first to the Caribbean.
We took the Freedom out of Fort Lauderdale over the Thanksgiving week (8 day cruise). We live in Florida so we drove down on Saturday morning. The port was busy but it was easy to drop off bags, park and find our way to the proper embarkation point. We arrived a little early, around 1100, and went through the line very quickly. We waited in a holding area until our group was called for perhaps half an hour. Overall, a quick, hassle-free embarkation.
We were allowed into our cabins at about 1330. We had a balcony room on deck 10 and the room, as always, was very clean and well maintained. Our room keeping staff did an outstanding job with our room this cruise. I appreciated that they always had the ice bucket filled up (never had to ask once the entire cruise) and any drinks were also put on ice. Our room steward checked with us every day to make sure we had everything or if there was anything else he could do for us. There timing was always perfect. Out for breakfast and by the time we got back the room was made up. Out for dinner and our room was tidied up and the bed turned down.
Food. Mixed bag here. I'll start with the deck. The quality of food at the buffet was hit or miss. The first day I think I had the most delicious chicken I have ever gotten from a buffet. It was in a red curry sauce and was simply superb. That is the only thing that was outstanding about the buffet. Every thing else was average, not bad, just average. Too many dishes were just bland. I am also perplexed why they close the buffet during some the busiest times. It doesn't make sense. In addition, the setup for breakfast is confusing. The omelet station is a separate line than the other breakfast line. No problem there except that they don't put regular American breakfast things in the omelet line. I mean like toast, bacon, and hash browns. They had fruit and such but basically if you like a greasy breakfast like me you have to go through 2 different lines. The pizza station was, as always in my opinion, excellent. The main dining room service was great and the food was, for the most part, pretty good. Though I must say that there was some inconsistency. My wife and I both ordered steak medium rare and got them cooked differently. Overall however we give them a good rating in the main dining room. We also ate in the Sun King steakhouse and they were absolutely superb. Highly recommend it.
Our ports of call were Cozumel, Panama, and Costa Rica. We took Carnival shore excursions in every port and we enjoyed each one. I will not comment on price of Carnival booked vs privately booked. It's your piece of mind vs money and I don't think my choice is relevant to the ship rating. For Carnival's part, they got us off the ship quickly but I am perplexed why they have a picture station on the gangway to get off the ship. Hundreds of people lined up to get off the boat and they stop the entire line for every person/group getting off the boat to take a picture. Annoying and pointless (unless you really want that picture I guess). Can set up the picture station 10 feet away just as easily.
We got a couples massage at the spa onboard. Highly recommended. I think it's a bit on the pricey side but I don't get massages all that often (except on vacation) so I can't really compare to much. Anyway, the massage was great. At the end they give you a little rundown of where you are tense etc etc. Problem is the sales pitch right after that. You have tension here and here, and here is the $75 lotion that can cure it for you. I understand they are doing their job but next time going to ask them straight up front to skip the sales pitch at the end of the massage. Otherwise, the staff was very nice and helpful.
Entertainment was plentiful and varied. There is something for everyone. We went to a cooking demonstration in the Sun King, food and wine pairing, shows, comedy club, bingo, trivia, piano lounge, etc etc. There is always something to do. Evey single thing we did was good to great. If we didn't feel like doing anything we just lazed away in the sun on deck and listened to the band (who were good in my opinion). There is also an adults only area on deck 11/12 to hang out if the kids are too much for you. Two hot tubs at the very front of the boat offer a very nice view. There was also an adults only pool/hot tub at the back of the boat. Kids were allowed in the area, just not in the hot tub.
Disembarking was a breeze. We chose the self serviced debarkation. We simply waited until our deck was called and walked right off. Waiting for the elevator was the hardest part. The line moved very quickly, so much so that we never stopped once. Even customs was quick. The port is easy to get out of.
Overall, we had a very good cruise and I would recommend it. We will definitely cruise Carnival again.