Western Caribbean Cruise
Sept. 4-10, 2011
By Mary & Vincent Finelli
If you must drive on I-95, what better time than 11:00am on a Saturday morning. All the anxious days South Florida spent watching hurricane Irene meander up the east coast of the US were over for Florida --- but not for the rest of the country. Irene dropped record rain on everywhere in the Eastern US, but not in South Florida, where it was badly needed. Yet, here we were boarding the Carnival Freedom on a cruise we thought might never happen, since we waited a long time for a wheelchair accessible cabin with balcony. The Freedom was built by Fincantieri Shipyards in Italy, and she is a cookie cutter replica of most other recent Carnival ships. Once you have sailed on one, the physical layout is the same on all the others. This makes it easy for repeaters to get around the ship. It is only the Joe Farcas (ship architect) decorations which differ. Color schemes are mainly black and reds, with the "Farcasian" penchant for repetition. If he likes something, it will be repeated ad infinitum. The Freedom has some truly lovely rooms like the Jeffersonian style Monticello Library, with classic furniture and book cabinets, and the impressive Millennium Atrium and Cafe`. Very nice!
We made several new friends on board including the very interesting Captain Antonio Marchetti, Staff Captain Francesco Borgogna, Chief Engineer Ferdinando Ruocco and Maitre d' Jogi, who all added zest to our cruise.
We had received a phone message to do early VIP boarding, so we arrived in Port Everglades, Ft. Lauderdale at 11:30am and had an easy luggage drop off and went straight to check in. It was a breeze and we were on the ship in twenty minutes. Since, this was our 91st cruise we were prepared for the sharply angled gangway. Mary's swing away wheelchair footrests were folded back, thus preventing damage. Vincent got off his scooter and it was lifted over the too tall gangway; thus we were on with our equipment intact. But, the first thresh hold proved to be a doozie. The wheelchair made it on the second attempt and the scooter again had to be lifted over it. Fortunately, these were the most problematic areas, all on Deck 3, which also is the Promenade Deck. Moreover, on Deck 10 forward the access to the Stress Less pool was also problematic for the high ramp and the heavy wood door without an automatic opener. We found the rest of the ship to be wheelchair friendly. We were in our cabin by 12:30 and on our way to a very nice Buffet on Deck 9. As one cruiser put it, "If this is just lunch, I can't wait for dinner." He was right!
The Freedom is a member of the Conquest Class, and we have written on deck plans similar to this class and the Carnival Spirit Class. She has 14 decks accessible to passengers, from Deck 0 to 14 (there is no unlucky Deck 13).
Deck 0 has the Tender area and the ship's Medical Center, which, thankfully, we did not have to visit this cruise.
Riviera Deck 1 and Main Deck 2 are all staterooms: Ocean View categories 6A, 6B and 6C (220 sq. ft.); Porthole category PT (185 sq. ft.); Interior categories 4A, 4B and 4C (185sq.ft.); Interior Upper/Lower category 1A (160 sq. ft.). Decks 3, 4 and 5 are all public areas.
Lobby Deck 3 forward has the three deck high Victoriana Theatre, giving homage to the 1800's English Theatre. It has a mini dome and many portraits of Sarah Bernhardt the "Prima Donna" of the Victorian stage. The theatre has elegant marble and gold leaf everywhere and many ornate wood moldings. Seating is sofa style. Midship are the Guest Service Desk, the Shore Excursion Desk and the showy Millennium Atrium and Bar. Aft is the two deck high Posh Restaurant with red patterned walls and a balcony, which is the upper level of the restaurant (Deck 4).
Atlanta Deck 4 forward is second level of Victoriana Theatre; midship there are the Photo Gallery, the Monticello Library (with very limited hours, approx. 2 hrs. per day) and the Chic Restaurant. Toward aft there are the Dynasty Conference Room, the Web with Internet stations and the Habana Cigar Bar with Cuban dEcor. This bar reeks of 1940s atmosphere and a pictorial homage to Cigar Box labels. The many room names foreshadow their distinct motifs. Aft is the upper level of Posh Restaurant.
Promenade Deck 5 forward is the Victoriana Theatre's balcony. Midship are the shops around the upper level of the Millennium Atrium. From midship toward aft there is a series of aptly named bars including the following: Players' Sports Bar, Formalities, Centuries Bar, Viennese Cafe`, Meiji Sushi (open 5 to 8:30pm most nights) Bar Nouveau, Scott's Piano Bar (Joplin), Swingtime and the Babylon Casino. All of these have unique decorations worthy of close inspection. The Players' Sports Bar has many screens and classic photos of old time greats. Huge soccer, baseball and basketballs are stools. The Babylon Casino is just after the Atrium, with all sorts of card games tables, roulette, craps and a multitude of slot machines, from pennies to dollars, something for everybody. The towering brick columns with winged figures give an ambiance of ancient Babylon. On the starboard side is the Centuries Promenade, a beautiful inside promenade, with many seating areas and windows, often with setups for the professional photographers; it is the major path to the aft elevators and to the International Lounge.
On the port side is also a very large area for teen-only activities: The Club O2 which is operated by a director who facilitates the interactions and activities of the young cruisers, such as parties with a DJ and state-of-the-art lighting and sound system, and the Video Arcade, with video games and interactive game pod, etc.
Upper Deck 6, Empress Deck 7 and Verandah Deck 8 are mostly staterooms: Interior, categories 4D, 4E, 4F. 4G (185 sq. ft.); Interior/Window obstructed view, category 4J (185 sq. ft.); Balcony, categories 8B, 8C, 8D, 8E, 8F (185 sq. ft. - balcony 35 sq. ft.); Aft-View Extended Balcony, categories 8M, 8N (185 sq. ft. - balcony 60 sq. ft.); Premium Vista Balcony, category 9C (185 sq. ft. - balcony 75 sq. ft.); Ocean Suites, category OS (275 sq. ft. - balcony 65 sq. ft.); Grand Suites, category GS (345 sq. ft. - balcony 85 sq. ft.)
Lido Deck 9 forward also has staterooms: Interior, categories 4G, 4H; Interior/Window with obstructed view, category 4J; Balcony, categories 8E, 8F (all these categories are the same as the corresponding ones on other decks); Junior Suites, category JS (same size as cat. OS). Midship on 9 are the Timeless Pool & Bar and aft are the Freedom Restaurant Buffet, the Pizzeria, serving tasty pizzas, calzone and Caesar Salad, and the Grille with great frankfurters, hamburgers and French fries. All the way aft are the Endless Pool/Spas and Bar surrounded by a nice area with tables and chairs.
Panorama Deck 10 forward has staterooms: Interior, category 4H; Interior/Window obstructed view, category 4J; Balcony, categories 8E, 8F (all these categories have the same sizes as the corresponding ones on other decks). After the forward elevators there are the Stress Less Pool and Spa. Midship is Carnival's Seaside Theater with a gigantic (12-by-22 ft.) outdoor movie screen. Aft is the Sun King Steakhouse (more on this fine dining experience later). And, finally Fish and Chips, a great alternative to the buffet.
Spa Deck 11 forward has 18 Balcony staterooms, cat. 8F; in addition there are the Spa with Beauty Salon, Sauna and Massage Rooms and a well equipped Gym; the aft section comprises the Sports Deck and the Jogging Track.
Sun Deck 12 forward has the Camp Carnival and Kids Pool and aft is the mini golf course.
Sky Deck 14 has the entrance to the 214 ft. water slide which is enjoyed by kids and adults alike. The flying sliders end the run with a big splash on deck 10, near the Stress Less Pool.
The ship's statistics include the following: Registered in Panama; she weighs 110,000 tons; length is 952 ft.; beam is 116 ft.; passenger capacity 3,700; Crew is 1,150; 577 inside cabins and 910 outside, with 555 cabins and suites with balconies. There are 28 wheelchair accessible cabins, of these cabins 15 are interior and 10 obstructed view, but only 2 with balcony and 1 Ocean Suite.
We had a wheelchair accessible cabin #6208 on Deck 6 forward, all the way forward! When entering straight ahead is the large bathroom with a single sink. There is a commode and a large shower with a fold away seat and a handy shower head on a long extension; an adjustable vanity mirror, but alas no shelves for amenities, just a small bowl filled with excellent gifts: creams, lotions, toothpaste, razors etc. There is also a closet with many shelves.
To the right of the entry is a double armoire with very high poles for hangers and six drawers; in the other section there are high and low poles for hangers, but no place for long dresses or coats. Next is a TV set very high on a shelf, and below a shelf for the ice bucket and glasses. There is a personal safe, just the right height. Then, there is a lighted vanity with a hassock (too low for comfort); a small refrigerator, and two more low shelves. To the left is a kingsize bed, at just the right height, flanked by useless night stands (too low for the physically challenged) with night lamps. There is also one upholstered barrel chair and a small coffee table. There are double windows to the balcony, which is so tiny that the chairs have to be piled up to allow the space for the wheelchair. Since Vincent has a small scooter, the only place left to park the wheelchair is in the shower. A very nice accessory to this cabin is the automatic door opener.
The wood is all pretty orange maple and two oil paintings complete the peach and maroon dEcor. One is of an Egyptian looking sailboat in bold blue, orange and yellow colors. The other shows two small cottages and a pony cart all in bold primary colors. When designing theses handicapped cabins, designers should be required to stay and live in one for several days and only then they will realize the inconveniences that future handicapped passengers will have to face. A better way may be to seek suggestions from handicapped passengers. However, to compensate for the inadequate features of the stateroom, we had a great team of stewards, Oscar and his assistant, who were always cordial and efficient and provided us with excellent service.
SERVICE & FOOD
Its obvious that things are going to be good when the Asst. Housekeeper Nemanja Skakavac visits your cabin on the first day to see if you need anything. He called on us a few more times to check on our comfort and we appreciated the attention. Service on board is excellent. Of course, hospitality always filters down from the top and we knew that when we had dinner with Capt. Marchetti and his lovely Signora Claudia and other officers at the Captain's table. Mary conversed with Chief Engineer Ferdinando Ruocco about his adopted hometown of Avellino and the nearby city of Salerno, where Vincent attended secondary school. Mary mentioned how cold it was in our cabin, and while we had dinner, he had the thermostat in our room checked and adjusted. Carnival's motto is "Just ask and you shall receive." Vincent also enjoyed conversing in Italian at the table, since he was seated between Captain Marchetti and Staff Captain Borgogna, both from the region of Campania where Vincent was born. A delicious dinner and pleasant company: Thank you, Comandante Marchetti!
The food is greatly improved and portions are perfect. There is a new menu instituted just last month. Maitre d' Jogi (Jayaram Manjunath, Jogi, India) was both cordial and helpful in giving us a table for 2, # 430 in the Posh Dining Room. Our Waiter Dana was excellent and turned out to be an excellent dancer and part of the Dining Room entertainment. Ida and Gibson were his assistants and they were both great.
The menu has several appetizers, soups and a "Didja" course (food you always wanted to try, but did not dare). This whimsical course led us to try alligator, frog's legs, salmon tartar, shark, etc. The menu is a thoughtful one with a broad selection of courses and food options. These include starters such as fresh fruit cocktail, guacamole and tomato salsa with tortilla chips, stuffed mushrooms, shrimp cocktail, prosciutto and melon, smoked duck and caramelized oranges, beefsteak tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, and finally a delicious New England Crabcake. If that doesn't please, then you may have one of the many soups: cream of sun-ripened tomatoes, minestrone Milanese, West Indian Roasted Pumpkin Soup, Strawberry Bisque, French onion soup, black bean soup, chilled cucumber with dill, Tom Ka Gai (chicken, coconut and lemon grass), Chilled Peach cream, Gazpacho blanco, wild mushroom soup and an old fashioned chicken noodle soup.
Salads are fresh and varied such as a California Spring mix, Fatoush Salad, Portobello and mesclun, Caesar salad, heart of iceberg, etc. Main courses had several options. The ones indicated by a heart symbol denote healthy, low fat, low cholesterol and low sodium, such as grilled corvina fish filet, a study in sushi, chicken Sicilian style with grilled vegetables, grilled marinated pork steak and many others. Regular entrees included a duet of roasted rack and leg of lamb, seafood Newburg, Petite filet mignon, Grilled jumbo tiger shrimp, Sweet and Sour shrimp (highly recommended by Mary), Broiled lobster tail and jumbo shrimp, Prime rib of beef au jus (excellent) and Jerked Pork loin, etc. And the third category is called Comfort foods: Chicken pot pie, Old fashioned Pot Roast, Meatloaf and gravy with mashed potatoes, St Louis Barbecued pork spareribs, Southern fried chicken and Bacon Mac & Cheese (kids favorite).
There are many pasta entrees but the grand finale is the desserts: Chocolate melting cake (don't order this the first night or you'll never try anything else!), hot souffle`, crème Brulees plus an assortment of sherbets, ice creams, and assorted cheese and fruit plates. Excellent! What can we say about the food --- it is plentiful, nicely portioned, fresh and elegantly prepared.
Our evening in the Sun King (Louis XIV) steakhouse was magnificent. The chargers were Versace plates. Service by two waitresses was superb. Chef Derek Dias (Bombay, India) was kind enough to visit our table. This young chef is top notch. We dined on Carpaccio, Escargot, and crabcake for starters. The focaccia bread was light as air, while the Caesar and Spinach salads were crisp and excellent. Sides were creamed spinach, Yukon gold potatoes and a medley of mushrooms. We both thought our surf and turf to be perfect (filet mignon and lobster tail). The dEcor is all maroon and gold gilt carved woodwork with crystal chandeliers. The ambience, the service and the food were stupendous. Don't miss this experience!
This was the final week of the US Open Tennis Tournament, so we spent some time in the Sports Bar, where Zed Oragun of Croatia and Miro of Serbia were helpful in displaying the matches for us, and getting the sound up. Cruise Director Jacques De Lange is very personable and constantly moving among the cruisers with many entertainment options. The Freedom Orchestra, Dancers and singers are A-1. We especially enjoyed "Jump, Jive, and Wail."
The Punch Liner Comedy Club featured Eddie Capone, whom we have seen many times before. He is amazing with several new routines; he has three nightly shows, the early show is a family one, then there are two adult comedy shows. He is great.
Carnival Freedom has extensive youth programs: Camp Carnival, formulated for the entertainment of children ages 2 to 14, is run by trained counselors with arts and crafts, special activities and games such as pool time, scavenger hunts, etc.; and Club O2 for teens that, in addition to the organized parties and video games, offers many activities, such as basketball, volleyball, ping-pong, karaoke, pool time, etc.... At night there is a teens-only party, with dancing the night away to the latest hits.
Just tear off the Daily Schedule from the "Funtime" and take with you a pocket list of every event on board: Exercise, Daily Puzzles, Trivia, Sports Court Contests, Sail Away Parties, Card Playing Groups, Art Auctions, Ping-Pong Tournaments, Black Jack Tournaments and Concerts under the Stars --- plenty for all ages.
PORTS OF CALL
Day 1. Ft. Lauderdale, FL. USA Depart: 4:30pm
Day 2. Key West, FL.USA Arrive: 8:30am Depart: 5:00pm
Day 3. At Sea
Day 4. Grand Cayman Arrive: 7:00am Depart: 4:00pm
Day 5. Ocho Rios, Jamaica Arrive: 7:30am Depart: 3:30pm
Day 6. At Sea
Day 7. Ft. Lauderdale, FL. USA Debarkation 7:00am
This was one of the most painless debarkation. We put out our tagged luggage the night before. Saturday morning, after breakfast in the Posh dining room, we were assisted by a crew member through debarkation. His help was appreciated especially to overcome the problems we had with our scooter and wheelchair on the gangway. In less than 20 minutes we were out of the terminal and on our way home.
A reason why we have not cruised with Carnival ships in the last few years is our limited mobility and the fact that Carnival's newer ships have limited number of wheelchair accessible cabins with balcony, only 2 in balcony categories and 1 in Ocean Suites. The same thing can be said for Costa Crociere which used to be our favorite cruise line when we did not have mobility problems. Every time we tried to book a wheelchair accessible cabin with balcony it was not available. But this time we were persistent, so after several attempts we found cabin #6208 available on this ship. That is the same number we have had in several Carnival ships (or 6207 starboard) indicating that nothing has changed in the deck plan of the newer ships. We have already voiced our suggestions on this issue several times but our comments have been ignored. (*We are attaching below the "Suggestions" section we wrote in the cruise review of the Carnival Liberty, published at this website on February 2006).
This was our 10th cruise on Carnival ships, thus we achieved the distinguished status of Platinum Guest. We were surprised to see the VIP treatment offered to us by the newly formed "Carnival Concierge Club" with a welcome back letter by Gerry Cahill, President and CEO. This letter listed the complementary amenities on this cruise: Personalized Stationary, Canapes and petit fours sent to our stateroom on gala nights, a gift of a carnival logo item and many more special services and Concierge attention, etc. We felt appreciated throughout the cruise! These perks and the dinner at Captain Marchetti's table made this a very special cruise.
We have booked two more cruises for this year, the first we will return on the Crown Princess, Nov. 12th and the second on the Celebrity Eclipse, Dec.10th.
*Attachment from Carnival Liberty Review:
This was our fifth cruise on Carnival ships and every time we have returned we have found improvements. This time the upscale restaurant Harry's Club is definitely a plus in the rating of the ship. We had a wonderful cruise and we'll definitely cruise again on Carnival ships. However, the location of our stateroom was not optimal, since it was the first cabin at the bow, far from the elevators and the center of the ship which is an added problem for those of us with limited mobility. In addition we could not use the balcony much due to exposure to strong wind especially when the ship was in motion. In the future, if we book again on this class ship, it will be in a suite, since the location of wheelchair accessible cabins is inappropriate for us. We feel that Carnival, as well as Costa, have to put some effort in designing appropriate accommodations for disabled passengers in regard to comfort, location and number of wheelchair accessible cabins by emulating those lines, such as Princess and RCI, which offer more user friendly accommodation to the growing number of cruisers with limited mobility.