Let me start out by saying, "We love Carnival". It is perfect for our family in terms of value and FUNability. We like to cruise in January to take advantage of low cruise fares and especially low 3rd and 4th passenger fares (RCI barely reduces 3rd & 4th fares). And yes, we do pull our kids out of school - otherwise we would be paying more than twice the fare and the Camp Carnival program would be swamped. We chose this cruise mainly for the itinerary, and it exceeded our expectations.
I have given an extremely detailed review with tons of photos on the Cruise Critic Carnival board. Just search for "review carnival freedom to Panama with kids". I will give a brief summary of what we liked and didn't like about this cruise:
Costa Rica and Panama were amazing! We did a private tour to the Jaguar Rescue Center with JJ Tours in Costa Rica, and we did a private tour with My Friend Mario to the Canal, Portobello, and beach. The culture, history, engineering, environmental, and eco-friendly experiences my family had will last a lifetime! Cozumel was a typical cruise destination; we like it, but it's Cozumel.
The ship was nice in my opinion. Food was great in the dining room. We had My Time dining and only had to wait once on Formal night for about 10 minutes. We preferred breakfast in the main dining room. Lunch options were wonderful: Mongolian bar, fish-n-chips, pizza, burgers, deli, etc.
Punchliners Comedy Club; As I am not a huge fan of the Vegas style shows, this is a superb alternative. They offer comedy shows most every night with PG and late night R-rated shows. I really enjoyed all 4 of the comedians.
Camp Carnival: My 8 year old daughter loves all the Camp activities. My son likes the evening parties only. We have an on-going deal with the kids: they must attend camp at least 2 nights each cruise so that mom and dad can have date night. We are all happy!!!!
We preferred the Oceanview Quad Cabins. They are much larger than IS and larger than BL. Do your research on this if you want the largest cabin size, without paying for a suite.
The outdoor movies are a nice alternative evening activity.
The cooking demonstration is a must attend if you like to cook and taste free fine food offered in the steakhouse.
Walking/jogging deck too small and often closed at inconvenient times.
The single waterslide sometimes shut down before scheduled.
There are no more dislikes! Look at my other 2 reviews for Carnival Sensation and RCI Grandeur of the Seas to get a feel for my preferences. I am easy going and like to have fun.
I recommend Carnival Freedom, but I encourage and highly recommend a Panama and Costa Rica itinerary! Go out and experience some of the real world and not just the touristy Caribbean beaches.