We went on the Carnival Freedom, Jan 14-23, 2011, to Cozumel, Costa Rica, and Panama. Overall impression of the Freedom: super clean, very friendly staff, mediocre food, excellent shows by the Freedom singers and dancers, one great comedian; others just ok. We drove to Ft Lauderdale the day before sailing because we did not want to be delayed because of traffic or a car problem. We stayed at the Rodeway Inn on Hwy 84 near the port; we had booked this several months in advance thru Stay123.com because they allow you to leave your car at the motel for up to 14 days for free, and they will take you to the port and come get you when you return. We found out that they would take you to the port early(when they are going to pick up returning passengers), but they charge you $2/person. We figured it was worth it to get to the ship 1.5 hours early.
Now for a more specific breakdown:
Day 1 Sat: Embarkation was a breeze since we got to the ship early(about 10am), and we had VIP status. We waited in a specific area reserved for VIP's until about 11:15 am, and then we were allowed on the ship. We could not get to our cabin until about 1:30, but that was ok because we just went to the Lido buffet and had lunch. Although we were among the first 15 people to get on the ship, we did not get our luggage until after 5pm; guess being a VIP doesn't do much good when it comes to luggage! The ship was supposed to leave at 4pm, but we did not leave until 5:15pm. We later found out that shortly after we checked in, Carnival had a computer problem, and so they had to check people in by hand instead of by computer, and this delayed lots of people boarding.
We had anytime dining and requested a table for 2, but most of the tables for 2 were less than a foot away from another table for 2, so it was almost like being at a table for 4 or 6. We then got smart and surveyed the Chic dining room for a table for 2 that was more private; there are only about 8 of those in the entire dining room, so at future meals, we then asked for a specific table number. We had excellent service for dinner and great seafood. The shops offered a free liquor tasting--what a joke--they had 1 guy giving out tiny samples of about 6 different liquors, so it took one person 4 or 5 minutes to taste them. When we got there, there were about 20 people in line, so we left because we were not going to stand in line for over an hour to get a thimble sized sample of booze. We had a balcony cabin on deck 10; very comfortable bed and great linens and towels. Unfortunately our cabin was adjacent to the air conditioning room, so it was noisy on the balcony. I should have looked at the floor plan more carefully; so don't get 1067 unless you like lots of "white" noise.
Day 2 Sun: At sea. Leisurely day; smooth sailing, calm seas. Carnival does a sorry job of planning activities--they had the shore excursion talk at 12:30, when most folks were eating lunch--very dumb! Lunch on the Lido deck was good, but really crowded and noisy--more fat people getting fatter!
The Captain's party was a farce--they offered you $1 off their high drink prices; we said forget that nonsense. What happened to the good ole days when you got free drinks and snacks at the Captain's party??
Lobster at dinner was fantastic; prime rib was undercooked and very fatty.
Day 3-Mon-Cozumel. We shopped at the pier shops and did not go downtown like we did last year. The prices are better downtown, but you have to take a taxi and there are so many hawkers trying to get you in their shop that we figured it was not worth it. If you are planning on buying anything, get it at Cozumel because the price will be higher in Costa Rica and Panama. I bought a shot glass for $1 that was $6 on the ship and $8 in Costa Rica. There is a liquor store at the pier, but they were out of everything but tequila, and their price wasn't any better than the ship's.
We had lunch on Lido deck--excellent Mongolian stir fry with salmon and chicken. This was the only day they had salmon.
Fantastic comedian/juggler show at night.
Day 4-Tue-At Sea. We had breakfast in the Posh dining room; excellent service, great food--had eggs benedict and salmon.
We spent most of the afternoon at the Serenity area on deck 11; very nice lounge chairs and seats--all padded. They even have 4 hammocks, but they were usually taken.
Day 5-Wed-Limon, Costa Rica. The ship docked about 10, and we got off as our tour left at 10:30 am. We took the Coastal Highlights and Banana Plantation tour. If you are considering this one, please RECONSIDER. The tour was supposed to take 4.5 hours, but it took almost 5 hours--and they do NOT give you a snack or lunch; fortunately we took our own water and snack. We had a large, comfortable bus which held about 50 people. The tour left the dock and took us thru a depressed area of Limon-lots of slums-and then along the coast where you really don't get to see much except the sea--certainly no big highlights. We then went on the worst road I have ever been on--super bumpy, and full of potholes; if you want your butt bounced around like a dune buggy on a rocky road, then this is the trip for you!! Otherwise, get another tour. We then went to a Dole banana plantation, where a very informed guy told us about banana growing and processing for over an hour; you will learn way more than you every wanted to know!
After we left the Dole plant, we went to a resort hotel for almost 45 minutes, where they tried to sell you $5 beer and overpriced trinkets; but they did have clean restrooms. After we wasted 45 minutes here, we were then taken back to the dock, where we did shop at a flea market where the fleas were higher priced than they were at Cozumel. At $60/person, this tour was way overpriced, but most of the tours here were pretty steep.
Dinner at the Chic dining room--overcooked fish; it certainly had gone downhill since Sat.
Day 6- Thur- Colon, Panama. We got off the ship early since our tour left at 9. We took the San Lorenza & Gatun Locks tour; we actually got to the tour bus about 8:30 and took off immediately; we later found out there were 4 busses taking people on this tour, so it was good that we got an early start. We had a fantastic tour guide who was full of useful info about Panama, as well as the fort and the locks. We first went thru town to the locks and had to wait about 20 minutes to cross, as a ship was going thru. We then went thru a rain forest on our way to the fort at San Lorenza, which was built in the 1600's. This was not restored like El Morrow in San Juan, but it was interesting. We then went back to the Gatun Locks where we got to see a cargo ship going thru the locks. This was absolutely the highlight of our day! We were amazed that the water level could rise so fast, and the ship was actually being pulled thru the locks with two cog engines, one on each side of the canal. We were supposed to get a snack on this tour, but we did not get one--only a "free" bottle of water. At $90/person, I thought this tour was overpriced, but then all of the tours in Panama are overpriced in my opinion. However, it was a great tour, and we had a fantastic tour guide.
We got back to the dock about 1:30 and went shopping at some nearby shops. Carnival does not bother to tell you about any of the shops except Del Sol, where they sell you overpriced t-shirts. There are many shops here and a great grocery store(that our tour guide told us about). I bought beer for $0.53/can and a liter box of wine for $2.05. I drank the beers while we were shopping and took the wine back to the ship in my backpack. Since it looked like a box rather than a bottle, security said nothing!! We also bought coffee for 2 bucks/lb at the grocery store, and the tourist trap shops were selling the same thing for $6. There are also 2 casinos at the dock, and Carnival tells you nothing about them.
In my opinion Carnival does their guest a major disservice in not telling you about the other shops or the grocery store--I guess that is because Carnival does not get a kick-back. We saw several of the ship's officers in the grocery store; guess they knew where the good deals were. Wise up Carnival--quit being so greedy on kickbacks and tell your customers what is available.
We went to the past guest party Thursday evening--great free booze, but limited snacks. Dinner had great filet mignon, but the red snapper was way overcooked. The chocolate melting cake was yummy.
Day 7-Fri-At Sea: We had a relaxing day at sea-lounged at the Serenity area for a while. Did play slots for an hour or so. Carnival has a sign that says you get free drinks while gambling, but if you read the fine print, it says you have to earn 1500 points to get a free drink. What a rip-off! We played $0.25 poker slots for over an hour and managed to get a total of 15 points, and lost $17. We could have bought almost 3 beers for that price!!
We did not go to the talent show, but watched some of it on TV; glad we missed it--it should have been called the no-talent show, with the exception of the guy who sang "My Way".
Day 8-Sat-At Sea. Did not do much except relax and pack. Did go to the Park West art auction, as we had a couple of times before on this cruise. You do get free champagne, but they are pretty stingy about that--if you get 2 half glasses you are lucky. Basically the art auction is a rip off. About 95% of what they sell are signed/numbered prints that you can buy online at much cheaper prices. For example, I have purchased several Gary Benfield s/n prints on line or thru other galleries at prices ranging from $15-$100. At Park West, the minimum bid for one of Benfield's prints was in the $500-800 range--and this was on paper, not canvas. The exception might be if you saw an original piece of art that you could not live without, then get it because there are no more. But most of their art works have editions of 195-750 prints, and you can get them elsewhere much cheaper.
Carnival had a customer appreciation party Sat at 5pm in one of the lounges; there was just a little blurb in the newspaper about this, and they did not mention free booze. However, they supplied lots of free drinks for an hour; surprised we found out way to dinner!! We normally went to dinner at 5:30-5:45 since we had "anytime dining". This night we went at 6, after the free booze quit flowing, and lots of others had the same idea. This was the worst experience at dinner we had all cruise. We sat at table # 217, with head waiter John and team waiter Kadek. Although we were seated about 6pm, we had to wait about 30 minutes before we even got our first course---and that was after I complained to one of the supervisors--twice. I don't know if it was the waiter's fault or the kitchen staff's fault, but we were not happy campers.
We had to make an unscheduled stop Sat night at Grand Cayman because someone on the ship needed medical attention. Although this took over an hour we still managed to get back to Ft Lauderdale on time Sun morning at 6 am.
Day 9-Sun-Ft Lauderdale. Since we are VIP's, we got priority debarkation, and we elected to roll our bags off ourselves. We were told to be at the Chic dining room area by 6:45 am. When we got down to deck 3, we were misinformed by 2 different crew members as to where to go; these people wanted us to go sit in the lounge. I told them we were VIP's and they had no clue as to what that was. I then found a crew member who knew what she was doing, and we were directed to the right spot. We had to wait until about 7:15 am, and then we were allowed off the ship. Pretty painless--had to wait a few minutes before they opened customs--customs only had 2 lines open--not too efficient with almost 3,000 passengers. I hope they opened up more lines later.
Since it was 44 degrees when we got thru customs, we decided to catch a taxi back to the motel, rather than wait 45-60 minutes for the free shuttle to pick us up. Customs won't let you wait in the terminal. We were back at the motel and in our car heading back home at 8am. Still the fastest we have ever disembarked.
This is the first time that I have seen Carnival, or any other cruise line, not ask the passengers to rate the cruise, and I have been on 25 cruises. Guess Carnival doesn't want feedback anymore.
One last note: There is an adults only area on Lido deck aft by the pool. This area has a retractable roof, so on cool or rainy days, you can still feel like you are outside. An ideal place for breakfast with no crowds, but around lunchtime, it fills up. Nice not to have any kids running around screaming--good job Carnival.