This particular cruise was chosen based on its itinerary. Traveling through the Panama Canal has been on my husbands "bucket list" since before we were married. After hearing that the canal is in process of being expanded we knew our time frame was short to have an opportunity to experience the original canal.
We flew in to Ft. Lauderdale and were met by Carnival at the baggage area for transport to the ship. We have made this trip before and took a taxi from the airport to the port. The price was slightly higher to use the transfer but the transition was smooth and, as our flight was pushing the time boundaries, it was nice to have it all taken care of. Once at the port we were through the embarkation process and walking on board in about an hour.
Once aboard we had a quick meal on the Lido deck and then walked around to get familiar with the ship and find our room. Carnival Freedom is part of the Conquest Class. The ship is nice but the layout leaves much to be desired. We previously sailed on the Carnival Conquest and had the same frustration. The ship feels "choppy" based on how difficult it is to get from one end to the other. Unless you want to walk down stateroom hallways the only floor that actually is open from bow to stern is Deck 5. The galley cuts off access on Deck 3 and The Chic Restaurant blocks a portion of Decks 3 and 4. At times you could walk though The Chic but this is awkward and not an option (obviously) at meal times. To get to our dining area in The Posh Restaurant (Aft, Deck 3) we had to go up to 5, cross to the back of the ship, then back down to 3. My parents were with us previously (on the Conquest) and this was a major issue for my father who has difficulty walking. Also, there is not outside access around the full perimeter of the ship and that was disappointing. These seem like obvious issues and it is surprising to me that ship designers wouldn't recognize how these things impact flow.
Our stateroom was easily accessed and plenty large enough for two people. We have been on several different floors and we prefer the bottom. It is generally less crowded, quieter, more stable in rough weather and easier to get on and off at port. We were on Deck 1, the Gangway was on Deck 0.
We had early dining at The Posh Restaurant. The restaurant is lovely - if you are fortunate enough to be in the main area. We were placed in a booth to the side, separated from the main area by a low ceiling/half wall/serving area. As a result we felt left out of the dining room activities. When the servers performed we could hear but not see. Our specific servers would join in somewhat but we clearly missed "the show". I requested to be moved but due to the high number of large groups sailing this was not possible. Our first night booth mates however were able to get moved (same complaint). We were given new dinner companions from the second night on who were wonderful company and it made up for not being able to participate in the activities. Meals, as usual, were interesting and for the most part really good. Service was effective but the servers seemed VERY short staffed. On past cruises one of the best experiences has been getting to know our servers, their stories and plans for their future. Our head waiter was so rushed he never had time to speak other than taking orders and delivering meals. I believe they were doing everything they could, they just needed more help. We had a few meals in the Freedom Restaurant on the lido deck. It was always very crowded and the food was not up to the quality standards that I have found on other cruises - especially breakfast. I did enjoy the Mongolian Grille. About five days into the cruise we found the Fish and Chips area - the food was good and it was almost empty so a great place to sit and enjoy a meal.
We did not travel with our children this trip so I do not have any feedback on the children's programs. On prior Carnival cruises our kids have enjoyed the activities provided. The exception to this was when our 11 year old was in Camp Carnival with multiple children under the age of 7. I feel the age gap there is too great.
The Cruise Director sets the tone for the trip. Cruise Director Brad was an unusual choice for this. On prior trips the CD has been energetic and enthusiastic. Brad was so low key he tended to suck the energy out of events rather than being a driving force. The other activity staff seemed to take their cue from him and it just came across like they were walking through the motions. Many activities and games had potential but were so halfheartedly led they fell flat. A few examples: 1. They had a murder mystery that lasted the whole week. We were given information about the initial crime and then clues throughout the week. Where this could have been great fun, the "suspects" had no character development, and when you tracked them down during the week for further clues (part of the game) they seemed uninterested -one just handing me a sheet of paper with the clue and one even saying "this clue is stupid and doesn't mean anything but I'm supposed to tell you..." (BTW, this is not "sour grapes", we solved the crime on day 4); 2. We played MatchGame (based on the game show). Again, this had great potential but was presented in a totally lackluster way. A staff member read questions while another staff member and an audience member sat behind a table onstage. Why not add the MatchGame theme music? Why not have the staff member emcee REALLY be the emcee instead of just standing there reading questions? Why not have the questions be somewhat risque' like the game show it was emulating?; 3. There were MANY games of trivia throughout the week. My husband loves trivia so we were at most of them. Often the staff member seemed unprepared or bored and would flip through pages to get to a question they liked.
The Big Production shows were quite good and we enjoyed them. This team of performers are clearly very talented. There were four different performers in the Comedy Club and we caught most of their shows - family and adult versions. They were all funny - I really appreciate when the "adult" show is more than just the family show with the F-word thrown in every other sentence. As always, there are numerous music venues throughout the ship to appeal to almost any preference.
As stated above, this trip was scheduled for its itinerary. With this in mind, it was WONDERFUL. The weather was perfect (I understand the trip prior to ours had to miss Costa Rica and Panama due to weather) and we had great excursions at each port. In Cozumel we scheduled a diving trip with Aldora Divers and in Costa Rica we booked through Your Lucky Tour to go zip lining and tour the Tortuguero Canal (they threw in a banana plantation, a visit with a sloth and a trip to the grocery store for coffee!). These tours are reviewed at length on TripAdvisor if you would like further information. In Panama we booked through Carnival so we would not have any concerns about getting back to the ship on time. This is a long tour and you have to travel across country and back, not to mention there is always a chance to get backed up in the canal. Even though this is a typical cruise ship cattle call excursion, it was organized well and there was plenty of room on the buses and then on the ferry. We were given a running commentary on the country of Panama and on the building of the canal. As a history teacher, my husband was in heaven. They provided unlimited drinks (soda, water) and a great meal. We were expecting sandwiches and instead had chicken kabobs, sliced sausages, pasta and pineapple. We made it back to the pier with just enough time to grab a postcard or two and re-board. Overall this was a great experience. I am not sure it would be a great excursion for younger children and even the older teenagers sitting next to us were a little less than enthralled.
Disembarkation was as smooth as it can be when 3,000 people are trying to funnel through one small area. I did appreciate the way Carnival organized it. We were able to get up, have a leisurely breakfast in the dining room then return to our room and wait to be called. Since we were in the last group off, we returned to our room. propped the door open and read until they called us. As a result we missed standing around in the public areas for two hours and were able to basically walk off. Our luggage was ready and grouped by our disembarkation number. After working our way through customs we boarded the Carnival bus for transport back to the airport and said goodbye to Port Everglades.
Overall this cruise served the purpose of giving us a time out from our day to day and getting us to great ports of call. It checked off all the boxes of "cruise 101" but fell flat on delivery.