My husband and I just returned from a honeymoon cruise aboard the Carnival Freedom. I've been on many cruises (most recently the NCL Epic and Celebrity Eclipse), but this experience was my first aboard a Carnival ship. Though we had an excellent time, I'd like to share some of our thoughts and observations about our cruise.
First, some hints and tips (long winded explanations to follow):
1) The Sun King and The Chef's Table. If you love "fancy" cuisine and a full dining experience, DO IT!
2) Head up stairs to the fish and chips place (2nd floor of buffet) to find ample seating during peak breakfast and lunch hours.
3) Tandoor station: nom, nom, nom. If you like Indian food (or even if you've never tried Indian), it's a must for lunches.
4) Serenity deck. I want to go to there.
First, the good:
1) Cost. The cruise itself was incredibly inexpensive. Our balcony cabin along with our prepaid gratuities totalled just shy of $2000 (about $800 pp for our cabin). The other ship leaving Fort Lauderdale on Sunday, June 11 (RCCL's Allure of the Seas) was about $1500 pp for a balcony. The Allure, of course, is a brand new ship with lots of amenities that the smaller, older Freedom does not offer. But we decided to go the cost effective route and save some money. All things considered, our cruise was a bargain.
2) The serenity deck. I don't think I would have left my cabin if not for the adults-only serenity deck. It's at the front of the ship and offers a quiet haven for cruisers seeking a more subdued experience. There are plenty of padded lounges as well as hammocks, "snugglers" (round couches built for 2), and actual couches. We also enjoyed the serenity bar (which provided lite lunch options) and the two hot tubs on deck 12. The perfect place to read a book and decompress after a long day.
3) The Sun King: The food is really good (not Morton's good, but still delish) and the service is (mostly) excellent. We ate there twice, and it was totally worth the $30 pp cover charge. Ivan, the sommelier, and Paulina, the main hostess, were particularly memorable.
4) The Chef's Table experience: My husband is a food lover, and he's fascinated by all things culinary, so we decided to book the Chef's Table experience. It was 100% worth the $75 pp cover charge. The tour, which was limited to 12 people, began at about 6:30, so we were able to see the galley in full swing (sending out apps, main courses, and desserts for the first seating--amazing, amazing, amazing). We began by having canapes and champagne in the galley while Sanjay (the executive chef) gave us some basic information about how the galley works. Then we made a batch of the chocolate melting cake in the pastry area, which we later ate as part of our dessert. Once the tour was complete, we retreated to a private dining room for a 7 course meal and unlimited wine. The food was uniformly excellent--brilliant combinations of flavors and beautiful presentations. We had our photo taken with the chef (two copies of the photos and a Carnival cookbook were provided compliments of the ship), and we also got a brief magic show from the ship's table-side magician (also amazing). The experience was the highlight of our cruise and totally worth the upcharge.
5) The tandoor station and the pizzeria. Fresh naan and a rotating selection of Indian dishes at the Tandoor station. Fresh pizza and calzones at the pizza place. These were the two best "casual" dining options on the ship. If not for the pizza place and tandoor, I am fairly certain we would have lost weight on this cruise.
6) The cabin was large and had ample storage space. The bathroom was clean but sparse. The balcony was a bit dirty, however. Our cabin steward was lovely and very efficient.
7) Scott's Piano bar was a lot of fun.
And now for the bad:
1) The food in the buffet and main dining rooms was edible but by no means good. After one and half meals in the dining room, we decided not to return. My husband said that he felt physically ill after eating in the dining room, but I think he was being a bit dramatic. That said, the only word I would use to describe the food is "meh."
2) Use of public spaces. The main walkways always seemed to be congested with photo areas, making it difficult and frustrating to move from the atrium through the casino to the aft lounge areas. Also, the 14-17 club was located in this area, which meant that a crowd of teenagers was constantly loitering just outside of the club. (I know, I know...I'm totally one of those "get off my lawn" people.)
3) Smoke. Lots of it. Very permissive about smoking public spaces.
4) The crowd. I saw more neck tattoos, boob tattoos, and middle-aged white ladies with cornrows on that ship than I have ever seen before (or care to see again). Also, for a mostly Southern and Mid-western crowd, subtle niceties (pleases and thank yous and general consideration for other people) were surprisingly absent.
5) Beverage selection. All of the bars (pretty much) had the same menu, which was heavy on fruity drinks and lean on wines and higher-end cocktails. The only sparking wine selection at most bars (the wine bar and the Sun King being exceptions) was Korbel. The drinks were also a bit overpriced. Their least expensive Cabernet (Rex Goliath) was priced at $6.50 a glass, yet an entire bottle of the same some sells for about $4.50 at my local grocery store. I understand that the cruise line needs to make a profit, but seriously?! If you gamble, though, make sure to take advantage of the $5 match play for purchasing "classic cocktails" at the casino bar.
6) My spa treatment was lackluster with a hard sell on products at the end.
7) The ship needs someone to copy edit all of it's written materials. I won't bore you with a litany of sins against punctuation (only nerdy English teachers like me even notice that stuff), but "Cabernet" was misspelled "carbernet" on the Sun King wine menu. I think that about sums it up.
And the ugly:
1) The ship itself is incredibly ugly. No refined sophistication here. Nope. The ship looks like it was inspired by the ether binge circus scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Seriously, The Carnival Freedom is the least attractive ship I've ever been on. I feel like (or hope) that the interior decorator was on acid when conceptualizing his or her design of the public spaces. Luckily, the impact of the decor tends to fade after a day or two. Except for the floating Statue of Liberty heads in the buffet. Those never get any less creepy.