Although I have cruised before (first cruise was on the SS Norway), this was the first one I had done with family vs with a wife or significant other.
Cruising with family changes the dynamics somewhat given that you aren't looking for the romantic side of a cruise experience.
My older and younger sisters went. My older sister's husband joined us. My younger sister's son did also. Plus, I took my son along as a graduation (from college) present. 3 Suites in all....older sister/husband in one....younger sister/her son in another, and me/my son/my nephew in one.
This was not my first Carnival Cruise. I had previously been on the Conquest. The Freedom is a beautiful ship, very similar to the Conquest. Like all other cruise lines, some like the layout and style of ships, some don't. Personally, neither the architecture, nor the colors and layout of ships influence me one way or the other.
We were sailing on 12/26 out of FLL. I had some reservations about getting in a day earlier (Christmas Day). But, since I would have been celebrating Christmas with my son, regardless of where we physically were, we decided to come in on Christmas Day. It was kind of a change of pace. We left snowy and cold OH (which really looked and felt quite "Christmassey") for the warmer (although not hot) weather of Ft. Lauderdale. We had a nice dinner outside at an water inlet restaurant near our hotel. Nice being on the water, weird that we were doing so on Christmas Day. Anyway, we exchanged gifts at the restaurant and generally enjoyed being together (which is altogether too infrequent these days).
Got to bed early. Woke up on the 26th. Although we knew that we would not be able to board until about 11:00 a.m. at the earliest, we both got a couple of "venti-lattes" and got a cab to the pier at 10:30 a.m. Got to the pier by 11:00 a.m. Turned our luggage over to the porter. Slid him a 5 spot and instructed him to be "nice" to our luggage. Don't know if that mattered or not.
Lots of people waiting to go through security and get the "sign and sail" cards. But, having a suite (I had forgotten we had done this), we were allowed VIP boarding. After about 15 minutes of chowing on the provided cookies and juice. There was one other (large family) in front of us. They went first. But, they were waiting for others in their party to arrive so they could all check in together. They waved us ahead. % minutes we were headed down the hall to board, the FIRST PASSENGERS ON. Kind of strange being the very first passengers to board...we went anywhere, didn't have to wait on elevators, first in the buffet (for lunch), first in the gym without anyone else there, etc. That changed quickly, though.
FOOD...This is one of Carnival's strong suits. Whether in the buffet, or the MDR, the food ranges from good, to excellent. If you can't find something you like, then the problem rests with you, not the cruise line. In the MDR, the lines seemed shorter than the last cruise I took (RCCL Liberty of the Seas). Never had a problem finding a table, nor finding something I liked. My son and nephews seemed to be eating whole pizzas as morning, afternoon, and late evening snacks between meals. They loved it. I personally liked having room service for breakfast every day. That included hot water (for my Starbucks packets), a bagel, milk and cereal.
CABIN....nice to embark early with VIPs. But, in all reality, I would have been just as happy in a regular balcony cabin. Cabins are clean, comfortable and totally enjoyable. That's all I ask.
ENTERTAINMENT....Late comedian was funny (R). Early comedian (G or PG), not so much. Ended up going to see the Beatles show. Ummmmmm....having been to see LOVE in Vegas with Cirque this past July, I guess I expected way too much. I wouldn't say I was disappointed. Just that I would have been just as happy in the piano bar as I was at the show. The show reminded me more of a community theater production than it did a big city (or even medium city) production. CASINO....won $1,200 playing blackjack. I was happy!
We planned our own excursions so they had no relevance to CCL. I would plan my own again, but with the caveat there's no recourse (with the cruise line) if you're unhappy.
GYM...one of my rules while cruising....eat what you want, exercise every day. I did. The gym has all the latest amenities. In short, I liked it. If there was one thing I could have complained about, it was trying to find a stationery bike or a treadmill between 8 a.m. and noon. Go earlier, or later, no problems.
SPA...if you've been to one spa, you've been to all of them. Spa services (massage in particular) was good. It's overpriced, if you go on sea days. Best to go on a port day, early so you can still go to port. It's cheaper that way. Just say "no" to all the overpriced "elixirs" they try to sell you after the massage. My sister had the seaweed wrap, which is supposed to melt inches off you you. She said "didn't work". I know she actually made a point of voicing her dissatisfaction to the spa manager. My sister is far from overweight. They said it worked better with people who were overweight. No matter, they gave her a credit for I think 25% off the bill.
Was on board New Year's Eve. What a blast. I don't think my head hit the pillow until the sun came up on January 1 (at which time I had to pack to get my luggage off the ship, which we did ourselves). No matter where I went, there was a party...either in the Atrium, outside by the big screen, in the piano bar, in the casino....everybody was partying and having fun. Probably the best New Year's Eve I've ever had.
Great cruise. Carnival does a fantastic job. However, I don't wait for the fun to come to me. I go out and seek it on my own. I've never been disappointed.