This was our 3rd Carnival cruise, 7th total. I was somewhat concerned with some of the mixed reviews of Freedom, but we had a fabulous and unforgettable cruise. The last 7-day cruise I took on Norwegian, I really felt ready to get off the ship on the 7th day, but on this 8-day cruise, I could have stayed on another week!
We flew from Sacramento, CA to Ft. Lauderdale on SW Airlines and stayed at the Hampton Inn Airport North Cruise Port. They are one of the few that offer free shuttle service from the airport and to the cruise port, and they were quick and efficient.
Day 1 - Embarkation: We didn't get to the cruise port until 1 pm. The line was really long, literally wrapped around the outside of the building, and I was certain we would be in line for hours, but it only took 1/2 hr to 45 minutes before we were on the ship. From previous reviews, I expected bright, crazy, almost gaudy interior dEcor, but it really wasn't that bad (maybe because we spent a lot of time on the outdoor Lido deck vs. the interior lobbies).
Days 2, 3 & 7 - Sea Days: Everyone talks about the chair hogs, so on the first day at sea, I made it a point to get up early and get a chair on the Lido deck at 8 am...and there was no one out, there were tons of chairs available! It didn't start filling up until around 10 am, so the following days at sea, I let myself sleep until 9 am. However, I believe the Serenity deck probably fills up pretty early, especially since they have nice cushioned lounge chairs. The sea days were wonderfully relaxing.
Day 4 - St. Thomas: We did the St. John Champagne Catamaran Sailaway, and it was somewhat disappointing, especially since it was expensive, at $89 per person. The ride on the catamaran was great, but when you got there, you only had about an hour to snorkel, and the snorkeling wasn't that great.
Day 5 - Antigua: We took a taxi to Valley Church Beach; this was based on numerous positive reviews on the Ports of Call boards, and it was as beautiful as everyone described. We got there around 9:30 am and there were probably no more than a dozen people on the beach. When we left at 1:30 pm, the beach was still uncrowded. Gorgeous, pristine...one of our all time favorite beaches (our previous favorite was Trunk Bay on St. John until it became overcrowded). Oh, the coconut shrimp at the restaurant on the beach is as good as everyone claims it is!
Day 6 - Tortola: We booked the Jost Van Dyke tour directly with Tortola Charters. It is a very long, 1-1/2 hr catamaran ride, but when you get to White Bay Beach, it is totally worth it. It was as beautiful as Valley Church Beach on Antigua. There are several beach bars, but we spent all our time at the Soggy Dollar Bar. The painkillers are great...there's #1 and #2 but #2 is made with vanilla rum, and is so good. There was snorkeling at a reef at the end of the beach that wasn't too bad...much better than the Champagne Catamaran snorkeling at St. John.
Day 8 - Nassau: We had our fill of sun, so we just shopped and took at taxi over to Atlantis. The boats in the marina are not to be missed...we're not talking million dollar yachts, we are talking 10+ million dollar yachts (I think one had its own submarine?!)
Food: We did Your Time Dining, and it worked out very well. We had a table for 4, and except for the first night (where we were seated near the back entrance), we had good placement and good waiters. We went around 7 pm to the Posh Dining Room and never had to wait, but did see long lines once we left around 8:30. The food was OK, not great, but since I had been on Weight Watchers for 4 months prior, anything tasted better than Greek Yogurt, Lean Cuisines and Slim Fast shakes. My favorites were the Indian buffet, Deli, Fish & Chips and, of course, the Steakhouse. We also had great lattes at the Viennese Cafe. I was bummed that I never made it to the Sushi Bar or Mongolian Grill (always long lines).
All in all, it was a great trip with great ports, and I think Carnival is a great value for the money. I would definitely book another cruise with Carnival.