A group of 14 chose the Carnival Freedom for our Christmas vacation, and couldn't have been happier with our choice. We had ages from 8 to 87, and everyone had a great time. The ship was immaculate, the food really top-notch, the entertainment plentiful, varied, and well-done, and the ports interesting. There were 2 large production shows, 1 smaller one, a really great Holiday Show, 4 really good comedians, the legendary Legends Show, and the normal other things (piano bar, music venues, trivia, Newlywed Show, etc.). I normally love the piano bar, and didn't go in but once because I was just too busy. For the price, you just can't beat Carnival. My sister and her family normally cruise with Royal Caribbean, and even they felt that this was a terrific cruise. Our assessment was that RCL has classier ships, but the food is not up to Carnival's standards; their entertainment is higher quality (Broadway shows, ice-capades, etc.), but you don't get to attend one every night; and the ship's offerings (ice rink, rock climbing wall, etc.) are much better, but again, they don't offer as many daily things to chose from. Also, RCL is more expensive. I would love to do all of those things, but for me, I want to stay busy, enjoy good food, and have good entertainment every night AND be able to afford to go more often.
We really want to commend Carnival for the emphasis they put on Christmas. The ship was decorated attractively, the kid's programs had some Christmas related activities, there was a Christmas night buffet, and a great Holiday Show Christmas afternoon, complete with singers and dancers, Santa with gifts for all of the kids, and some carols. When the response to the religious service on Christmas Eve was greater than expected, they moved the second service to the large Victoriana Theatre, and hundred of folks attended. They really responded to their guests, and we certainly appreciated that. Kudos to Carnival!
**I couldn't get this review form to add the other 2 ports, Costa Rica and Panama. In Costa Rica, we took the Bus, Boat, and Train trip through Carnival. It was really great, but for those of us from Florida, the scenery wasn't that different. We did see howler monkeys, but that was all. The tour guide, Alman, was excellent. It rained the entire time, but then we found out that they have an extended rainy season there. Others in our party did the zip-line and raved about that.
In Panama, we took a tour with My Friend Mario, and I highly recommend them. Our tour guide Alex was great. We went to the Canal to watch a ship going through (although none did!), and to the Embrera Indian village. The Indian village was very interesting, and it was quite enjoyable to ride in the large canoe to get there.