7-2-11 Cozumel,Mexico - Limon, Costa Rica - Colon, Panama
Background: Ages 42 and BF 44. His 3rd cruise, my 20-something cruise (lost count - Carnival, RCL, Princess, HAL, NCL, Celebrity)...
Embarkation: We live in Boca, left at 9:40am and arrived at Port Everglades at 10:15am - thanks for the ride Dad! No security line and no check-in line. Carnival staff did some July 4th/American History Trivia and gave out some prizes to pass the time and we waited until our Zone 3 was called and were on board by 11:45am.
Lunch: Freedom buffet had plenty of seating and we were able to obtain a window booth facing the Oasis (that ship looks way too big for my taste). Buffet lunch was very good and not very long lines. Afterwards, went to the back/aft adults only pool/hot tub area and relaxed until 1:30pm when we were able to get into the cabin.
Cabin: Loved our oceanview cabin on deck 2 - plenty of storage space and clean. Room steward(s) Valburn and his team honored all of our requests and were very friendly calling us by name as they would see us about the deck. Our cabin was aft and although there were vibrations of the thrusters during arrival and departure of ports, it was "fun" for us - however if you want a quiet room you might want to seek one elsewhere. Even on deck 2 as we headed to Costa Rica and Panama things got a little rocky - again, I enjoyed it but others may prefer a mid-ship cabin.
Luggage: I guess first on doesn't necessarily mean first to get your luggage. We had to waiter longer than usual and didn't receive the last piece until around 5:30pm (ok since we had anytime dining).
Clientele/Lines/Behavior: After worrying about how many kids would be on this summer vacation cruise, this one was not bad at all. The kids seemed well-behaved for the most part and the staff will remove them from areas they are not supposed to be in if you ask - although you shouldn't have to ask. The aft pool attendant, Very, was "very" awesome! Always very friendly, very genuine and had a smile on his face. Thank you Very! We hung out in this area most of the time as it was 18+ pool and hot tubs. Pizza and grill area are also back there so there are kids, but the staff did a good job keeping them out of the restricted areas. This area also has a retractable dome. Maybe we were lucky but we never had a problem finding deck chairs where we wanted and when we wanted, hammocks in the Serenity area, nor did we have to wait on line that long at the buffet (with the exception of the Mongolian Wok - BF waited a LONG time there). The passengers seemed very nice (only experienced one line cutter at the chocolate extravangza buffet) and people seemed curteous for the most part.
DEcor - not the Taj Mahal but it was fine. Not as awful as I thought it would be and from what other people have said. Everything was kept very clean, including the public restrooms and outdoor areas. Always something to look at at!
Service - better than usual except for the open seating breakfast. I guess the waiters aren't awake yet. Never did open seating lunch since we enjoyed the buffet (usually not the case on past cruises). Enjoyed both of our servers in Anytime Dining for dinner: Florence and Corina (we switched back and forth depending on what table was available). Never had to wait more than 3 minutes for our table for 2 and always had a nice table near the window (not that you could see anything) and sometimes they gave us a larger sized 4-top which was nice. We did dine rather late however (around 9pm) - you can go until 9:30pm.
Food - Great! Not 5 star great but if you can't find anything you like you must be very picky. For dinner in the dining room we ordered multiple apps, soups, salads, entrees, and desserts to try everything and most things were good to very good. Remember, the waitstaff doesn't appreciate you deciding to order something else after the fact so if you are not sure - order it all at once and there will be no problems. They truly don't care how much you order as long as you do it all in one shot. The buffet also features some of the things on the main dining menu so you can stop by and sample before you go to dinner and see what you like! Note: The buffet is not all the same at lunch - there are four corners and the front two are the Taste of Nations while the back two are Grand Buffet (so make sure to check out all of the choices and then pick the shortest line of each). The Chocalate Extravaganza is in the afternoon on the last sea day (for our cruise). The room service menu isn't huge but the BLT was delish. Pizza, deli, soft serve ice cream and room service are 24-hours. Tandoori was good and different if you like Indian - also had grilled corn and salad. Fish and chips was really good (surprisingly crispy fish and fries) and is hidden above the buffet so some people don't find it until later in the cruise. Check your "Fun Times" for all of the dining times as they are not open all day. The Grill is always good for a burger, chicken sandwich, fries, nachos, etc. and is open later than the buffet. I am not a sushi eater but Meiji on the Promenade is available from 5:00-8:15pm or something like that. This area also becomes "late night snacks" from 11:30-1am. There is also a Viennese area on the Promenade with coffeee drinks and desserts for a fee, as well as Starbucks coffee for a fee in the buffet (I don't drink coffee but BF said the regular coffee was bad and that the dining room coffee was better if you don't want to pay extra). Never tried the Sun King restaurant - We thought $30pp was steep and we were definitely enjoying the included food, however if you enjoy the "fine dining" experience it was a very pretty dining room.
Entertainment - we only went to one comedy show which was good, as well as the last evening's show in which passengers impersonate famous singers at the "Carnival Legends" show. Brittany Spears and Frank Sinatra were good (whoever they were) and the rest not so good - but funny to watch and I give them credit for having the guts to go up there (plus all of the rehearsals they had to go through before the show during the cruise). Also peeked into the "Big Easy" and it looked pretty good. The comedians repeat their performances but it is marked in the Fun Times, plus the comedians changed halfway througout the cruise so there is always something new to see in addition to a different "theater show" every night.
Decks - I have heard people complain about the Conquest Class layout and dining room being in the middle of the ship - then the galley - and then the back dining room so that you can't walk all the way across. IT IS NOT THAT CONFUSING. It is only one floor that this affects. Either take a floor that goes all the way to the back (above or below) if you are in the Posh and then go to Deck 3, OR, if you are in the Chic and your cabin is aft, go mid-ship on another deck and then up or down to Deck 3 and enter in the back of the dining room and just walk through it to the front (or if you are in the front of the ship just go to the main lobby area as the entrance is near that). The putt-putt was on the top near the smokestack and below it was the sports area with volleyball, basketball and a jogging/walking track. I found the jogging track very small and was getting dizzy going around in circles (9 loops equals 1 mile I think so imagine going around for 27 times). I much prefer a lower deck area that goes all the way around so that 3 times is more like a mile. The ship, although on the larger size, didn't seem like it when walking to different areas. We never felt like we had to walk far even if it was from one end to the other. Movies Under the Stars was cool - free popcorn and they had good movies playing ("Meet the Fockers", "Secretariat") although we just walked through. The lido deck is attractive and at night it is lit up with blue lights. They also have neat marshmallow looking chairs that rock for sitting if you don't want to sit in a pool lounge chair.
Public Areas - There were plenty of things going on throughout the day on the ship however for us, breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner seemed to take a good part of the day ? (as well as lounging and hot tubbing). BF did workout in the gym and enjoyed that. After my dizzying jogging experience on the outside deck I called it quits (good excuse). There were the regular art auctions, bingo, different contests, health seminars, blah blah blah. From Tea Time to the Hairy Chest contest there was something for everyone (except the perpetually unsatisfied passengers - who we didn't really run across this time thank goodness). We prefered to do nothing and relaxed at the aft pool/hot tubs and the deck above which overlooked the wake. This pool has a retractable dome so if the weather gets bad it is still usable. It was also most convenient to our cabin. In the front of the ship, Serentity is nice and on two levels with a bar and restrooms nearby. Hammocks, clamshell chairs, cushioned sofas and loungers as well as 2 hot tubs - all on two levels in the very front of the ship. There are lots of public areas and a nice promenade area that strolls along these rooms. The center deck area has the waterslide, two pools, hot tubs and big screen TV so that is the "action" area, however quiet places are found front, back and even in shaded areas on the sides. My biggest recommendation for those of you who don't want to spend your vacation with other people's children is to let a crew person know if a minor is in a designated area for 18 or 21 plus. If they don't listen to the crew they WILL send an officer to rectify the situation. Some families just think they can do whatever they want although it really wasn't that bad this time 'round!
Crew - everyone was very nice and did their jobs well. They constantly cleared the trays from the buffet dining area, cleaned public areas, and the only unhappy looking ones seemed to the be the morning dining staff in the Posh. Never saw much of the CD but he did make his "just to let you know" announcements periodically with what was happening around the ship. I guess we would have seen him more if we had participated in more of the "popular/group" activities. He also had a morning show everyday on the TV.
Ports and Sea Days - We enjoyed this 8 night cruise with 4 sea days!
COZUMEL - Happy July 4th - Carnival Freedom and Carnival Liberty together on the 4th of July - kind of cool! We rented a SmartCar at the Puerta Maya Pier (we recommend Avis - had a bad experience with another rental place there - no license plates and no mirrors) and drove around the island stoping at almost all of the beaches/restaurants/bars on the "far/rocky side" then looped around back to the ship. Weather wasn't great/but not terrible (not raining at least) and there were a lot of flies and mosquitoes buzzing. I brought bug spray and still got bit up. A lot of people were complaining about the bugs. Yuck! It is fun though to go around the island but it seemed like business was very slow. Maybe the popular beaches like Paradise and Mr. Sanchos, etc. had the action but it was very quiet everywhere we stopped. We recommend the Money Bar at Dzul Ha (the white/green chile soup is just as awesome as it was last year when we stopped there). And you can see the Carnival Whale Tale to ensure you haven't missed the ship - yes, it happens!
PUERTO LIMON, COSTA RICA - we did the "Biking Through A Carribean Village" Carninval excursion. Tour guide was very nice and the bus was in good condition, however it was more like "A Bus Ride Through A Carribean Village". The bus ride to the bikes was longer than expected (almost 2 hours instead of 1:15). The bikes were what I expected - older with no hand brakes, so if you are expecting new mountain bikes you will be disappointed. The bike ride was not very far for us as we are used to at least a 20 mile bike ride and this was maybe 2 miles at the most (both ways) but it was fun biking through Costa Rica. Then we stopped at the beach, however living in South Florida it was not a very nice beach at all. This side of CR is better known for surfing, backpackers, etc. The little town of Puerto Viejo looked like a lot of fun with colorful bars and restaurants, however, most hotels are bungalow types (no Marriott here). If you want 5 star resorts go to the Pacific side of CR. After the beach we rode the bikes back to the hotel "Almonds & Coral" in Manzinello and checked out their beach for about 15 minutes - a bit nicer -- and then had some fresh fruit and juice in their "restaurant area" which is all built into the nature and lush greenery of the area. After that, we got back on the bus and headed back to the ship. The tour guide did stop to show us some local fare like tiny bananas that we got to taste and really put forth a good effort to show us as much as possible. He also stopped the bus on the way there when he spotted monkeys and sloths so that we could photograph them.
COLON, PANAMA - We did not plan any excursion here. Your best bet to see the canal/locks is to hire a driver for a few hours when you get off the ship (just make sure they are legit!!!!). This is much cheaper than the Carnival tours offered and won't take up the whole day. We spoke to many who did this and it seems like the way to go. We just walked around the Free Zone area (about 2 blocks from the ship) and there were a million stores (Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Faconnable, you name it - for blocks and blocks and blocks). Not a lot of tourists in this area at all however. Then we went back to the little souvenir area near the ship where things were a little more festive with local music, a lady with a baby monkey and people taking pictures and other touristy things.
Debarkation - as FL residents we chose to walk off with our luggage so we didn't have to pack and put stuff out the night before. We got off at 9:30am but could have gotten off as early as 6:30am with self-assist. Wish we could have stayed on B2B!
All in all - a great cruise and we look forward to sailing the Carnival Freedom again as it was one of my/our favorite ships! Hope it is just as great next time!