Review of our Carnival Freedom trip 1/29/12-2/5/12
1/29/12-We left Detroit Metro on Delta flight 1604 at 7:30am. Our neighbor had dropped us off at the airport at about 5:30am. The roads were not the best as some snow/slush on the ground, so glad we left a little early. I had paid for checking one bag on line and we had to small bags to take on the plane. I had also printed out our boarding passes on Thurs, so check in was quick and easy. Security was slow as one belt was done but made it to the gate in plenty of time. We started boarding around 6:55am. They mentioned that it was a full flight and anyone who wanted to check their carry ons free of charge could-being that we had one bag already check we went ahead and check our two carry ons. It seemed to take a while to board but the flight did leave on time, just before 7:30am. Then we had to go and get deiced-so it was about 8am before we left. About an hour into the flight it started to get bumpy, we had just gotten our dinks when it really started bouncing. The captain told the flight attendants to take their seats-so it must have been pretty bad. They remained seated until just before we landed and then made a quick pass thru the cabin to collect the trash. That was the bumpiest flight we have been on in a while. We safely landed and made our way to baggage claim-our luggage came out very quickly.
We had made a reservation with Hampton Inn Plantation on line for $159 for one night for two people-this includes pick up from the airport, transportation to the cruise pier, breakfast and transportation to local attractions as able. We really enjoy Hampton's and the service they provide. Once we got our luggage we called the hotel for a pick up, we had to wait approximately 30min-but standing outside in 80 degree weather sure beats Detroit weather. The van arrived and loaded our luggage. The drive to the hotel took about 20 minutes-we arrived a little before noon and were able to get a room (208). We also signed up for our transfer to the cruise pier (11am-their first shuttle time). The room was clean-came with small fridge, microwave and coffee maker. We didn't unpack much but I did hang up our hanging clothes to try and limit the wrinkles. We were getting hungry so on the recommendation of the shuttle driver we walked over to Duffy's sports bar-about 10 minute walk-there are many restaurants in the area (Chili's, Olive Garden, Applebee's, 5 Guys, Smokin Bones, to name a few). We both had 32 oz beers (Bud light/Heineken on special $3.50-$4.50) as well as the soup/salad and sandwich special for $6.99. I had the chicken salad sandwich and a garden salad it also came with freshly made potato chips-very good. DH had the grilled ahi tune with the lobster bisque. They brought him clam chowder instead, and then they brought out the bisque-so he ended up with two bowls of soup. Bill came to $29 with tip-Very good.
We wanted to find a grocery store to buy our allowed two bottles of wine and some tonic to go with our bon voyage bottle of vodka. There was a Publix market a short walk from the restaurant. We also got a 6 pack of beer to enjoy poolside back at the hotel.
We walked back to the hotel and the sun was still out so we decided to go to the pool. We met many nice folks some were also going to be on the Freedom with us. Around 7p we decided we should get something to tide us over until morning.
We had the hotel take us to Bokamper's, another sports bar-we were still pretty full from lunch so we just sat at the bar and watched some of the games on the many TVs. We opted to share the fish tacos-we had the fish blackened and chose sweet potatoes fries. Plenty to share. We called for a pick up and the van was there in about 10 minutes.
Headed to bed as we knew we would have a long day tomorrow.
1/30/12-We were up early as usual. We headed down to the breakfast bar before we showered-figuring it would get pretty crazy as the hotel was sold out. As usual they had a great selection-biscuits and gravy, eggs, waffles, oatmeal, bagels, yogurt, cereal, fruit, juice-we did not come away hungry.
After we showered we walked to a Target about 10 minutes from the hotel. I had left some medication at home which I have filled at the Target in Dearborn, but was unable to get a refill. They also have a Dillard's and Sear's close by.
We were on the 11am pick up but decided to gather our luggage and check out around 10:15am. We made our way to the lobby and see some folks we met the night before-they said they were on the 10am shuttle-must have been added. I ask if there is any room-nope. So we just plan to wait till the next one. Two seats weren't filled on the 10am shuttle so we got pulled onto it-Yippee on our way to our cruise!!
Drive from the hotel to the cruise pier took about 30 minutes-the van does drop folks off at other ships. We were the last ship to be dropped off. We unloaded our bags and tipped the guys loading the bags-$5 for 3 bags. We then made our way into the check in area which was fairly efficient and we were on the ship by 11:30am.
I had booked our cruise last September using the VIP casino rate (we were on the Inspiration last year and won/lost enough to get a VIP card). We got a 4F room (inside) on the Empress deck cabin 7354 for $456.11-I didn't think that was bad for an 8 day cruise.
I am not going to do a day by day review but just highlight certain areas-room, food, ship, entertainment, ports.
We had been on several Conquest class ships so we were familiar with the lay out of the ship-main thing to keep in mind is Deck 5 is your friend-it goes from the front of the boat to the back. Deck 3 and 4 will not go thru due to the galley.
We made our way to the Lido deck and grabbed some lunch. It wasn't too busy yet so we checked out everything-they have the buffet-essentially two stations, a grill out on the back deck of the boat, and Tandoor (Indian) area (wonderful fish/chicken), a sandwich station, a pizza station and up stairs a fish and chip station which also has fried oysters, soups, etc. We also ate up in this area (deck 10) as not a lot of people came here. There is always coffee, lemonade, ice tea available. We brought our 20oz Bubba keg cups with us and would make up a cocktail in the room to take on deck or mix ice tea and lemonade and add some vodka to it-never had a problem-just be discrete.
At 1:30p the cabins opened up-this is the first time in a while we have been above deck 4-we are usually on deck 2. So being on deck 7 it was nice to be two deck up to the Lido and then two decks down to the casino, sushi, entertainment, etc. We dropped off our carry on's and met our wonderful room steward, Havier from Costa Rica. We checked out the ship here and there but opted to relax on deck. By 5p two of our bags had arrived and I mentioned to Havier I was missing one. He found it without a tag (my ID tag was still on). I had covered all the Carnival tags in strapping tape and used zip ties to secure them.
Cabin-typical inside cabin-enough storage for the two of us-two full closets and one closet with 4 shelves as well as 4 drawers. We used an old gift card to activate the safe and it worked fine-just kept it under clothes when not in use. I used an over the door shoe holder to allow storage for glasses, chap stick, stickie notes, sharpies, etc. We brought snorkels and masks but no flipper so just kept them in a small back pack. There is plenty of room under the bed to store suitcases. Bathroom has many shelves to store items-shower gel and shampoo is provided. Hairdryer is in the top drawer in the main cabin-you have to keep the button pusher in to operate. No complaints on cabin-kept clean. We did request a robe which was promptly left. We did use room service in the morning-coffee, pastry, etc-$2 tip. Is nice to have while getting dressed.
Sea Days-We had 2 sea days on our first two days-this was so nice and relaxing. We got to really enjoy the ship and do a little bit of everything-We always ate breakfast and lunch on the lido deck-never did do the dining room for this. Enjoyed watching the various contests on deck-we usually sat on deck 10. If you did sleep in you would probably have a hard time finding a chair. We visited the casino quite often, did the slot tournament on the second sea day. You can do as little or as much as you want.
Dining-We had opted for 8:15pm dining and requested a large table. On our past cruises we had been at large tables but nobody showed up. This cruise was so different-from night one we met our great table mates-Jay and Susie, Stephanie and Mike-we were at a table for 8 but only 6 of us. Our waiter Lau had about 6 tables to take care of along with assistant waiter Bernice and occasionally extra help-there was another table of 8, 6 and 2 so he was kept busy. Not everyone showed up every night-we did!! We found the food to be good-not quite as good as past cruises as they have changed up the menu. A few good things were the panko crusted shrimp, grilled shrimp, short ribs, sweet and sour shrimp to name a few. Don't know if I like the new menu-found there wasn't the variety as in the past-one night I ended up getting a flat iron steak and it wasn't good. The night they offered the strip steak too many folks ordered it and they were sending some out quite rare. I like my food really hot-some things were but most were just warm. As in the past if you don't like something the waiters are always happy to bring you something else. We would often have a couple of starters then one entree and a desert. Deserts were ok-warm chocolate melting cake was available each night, one night I had phyllo dough with almond paste center (GREAT), baked Alaska so so. Most nights they would put out food around 11pm at the Sushi bar-olives, meat pies, deserts, etc. A nice mid night snack. Also available is the pizza place and the ice cream machine-we didn't use either this trip.
Casino-When we arrived in our room I found a bottle of Champagne from the casino as well as a note saying all my drinks would be free while playing in the casino-this was great. My DH and I would share some drinks-but it definitely worked well for us. Nice variety of machines-they would often times be busy around dinner time. You can save money on you ships card and they load onto another machine-pretty easy. During the week we got 3 more bottles of wine so was a great treat. Got to know the casino hosts-Thanks to Vickey and Alexandra.
Ports-Prior to arriving in St. Thomas we had to set our clocks ahead an hour. We had done St. Thomas probably 5 times in the past so this time we opted to shop. We have been to store called Jewels Forever in the past-DH got a watch there in 2003. We opted to go back and see what they could offer us. When we walked in we felt like we were family-the store is run by a husband/wife and two sons-all fantastic. They offered us beers and bathroom if needed. I ended up getting to diamond baugette band to surround my anniversary band-cost they gave me was less than 50% of the list-so was quite pleased. We picked up a bottle of Drambuie and then headed back to the boat. Once thru security they didn't ask us to check it so just took it to the room (didn't open it). Our neighbor had wanted cigarettes- 5 cartons on board for $108, 5 cartons in St Thomas for $128 (you are allowed 5 if bought in St Thomas). I opted to get the 5 on ship and declared 2 and had no problem. We had the Drambuie and then bought two bottles of Kahlua on board (1 liter for 2 for $25) declared them all and had not a problem. We wrapped them in plastic garbage bags and then in towels and all made it home without a problem.
Antigua-We had never been to this port so we were excited to have this as well as Tortolla on our itinerary. After much reading on Cruisecritic.com we opted to take the city bus to Valley Church Beach-very easy to do-essentially walk to Market street from the port turn right and head to the blue roofed building (the city bus terminal). We got on a #22 bus around 9am but had to wait until about 9:30am before we left the terminal. The fare is $1.50 per person (American) which you pay at the end. The bus driver dropped us off along the road-got out and paid him and walked over to a path across the street-a short distance down you see the wonderful beach. We had an amazing day there. It has become quite popular so the earlier you get there the better. We had brought a large sheet from home and laid out our beach towels on top to limit the same. I put our ID's, sign and sail cards in a water wallet which I kept with me at all times. We love walking this beach-the sand was like velvet. You could walk out pretty far in the water before it dropped off. Not a good place to snorkel. We bought 6 beers from the beach restaurant-$15 smaller bottles but still good. It rained off and on while we were there. But I have to say standing out in the warm water with a beer in my hand has to be better than home in Michigan in the cold weather. We decided to head back to the ship so walked back up to the main road and a bus was there-loved getting to meet the local folks. Bus took us back to the main terminal so was about a 10 minute walk back to the ship. Back on board we had lunch and then headed to the Serenity area-cushy loungers-we made this a routine after being in port. Once we hit those comfy chairs it was a nice hour long nap.
No longer have Captain's welcome aboard party-just $1 off drinks. We didn't attend. We did go to past guest party and farewell party on last day which not a lot of people go to-they had more wait staff than attendee's then-drinks were flowing at both.
Tortolla-I had read much on the boards about doing this port on your own vs. ships tour. We docked about 7am and I thought it was 8am their time so we hurried to head to the ferry dock only to find out they were on the same time-prob due to changing clocks in St. Thomas. Was hoping to get the 9am ferry but was able to get the 7:45am ferry. We were at the Baths by 8:15am. It was nice when we arrived as there weren't too many people-they didn't collect admission fee. Shortly after we got there a large group (200) came from a German boat. By this time we were thru the Baths. It is quite a hike down to the baths and then some of the areas are a little tight. Once we reached Devils bay we did a little snorkeling (brought our own mask/snorkel) not too many fish. We walked to some further coves and got some great pictures. We wanted to make the 12:45p ferry so knew we had to be on the noon taxi. We jumped on a taxi which was full of the German folk-only 4 of us were from the original ferry. Once back to the ferry port they loaded up the ferry with the German visitors first. We had to wait about 20 minutes until our ferry came but didn't have a problem-cost was half as much as the cruise line and they were there the same time as us. Back to the ship and grabbed some lunch and then relaxed on Serenity.
Entertainment-Since we have done 8 Carnival cruises we had seen many of the production shows in the past so this time we opted just to go to the Adult comedy shows. This worked out well with our 8:15p dining time as it would be 9:30p+ by the time we were finished. Most of the shows were very good; however one just totally turned me off. It was a comic who couldn't deal with a couple of girls who had had too much to drink. He was very rude to them as well as the audience. I will be commenting on this when I get the email comment card from Carnival in the near future.
Ship-Constantly cleaning, scrubbing as usual. I thought the ship was in very good condition. I didn't feel the atrium area was as open as some other ships we have been on. We had no complaints about the decor. We did feel that certain areas around the pool were tighter than others due to the placement of the chairs but didn't bother us too much.
Staff-From the minute we got on the boat we were met with hello's and smiles and this continued the entire week. We couldn't have asked for a better team (room steward and dining staff). Asked us our names when we first met (hasn't been done on some of our cruises) and called us by name the rest of the week.
Final Thoughts-I still think you do get the best bang for you buck on Carnival-however I am hearing now their prices will be more regulated. I have never had a bad cruise-to me a cruise is what you make it. Too many folks let the little things ruin a great vacation-we heard many folks complaining about how rough the water was-the highest waves we had were 6 footers-not that bad. If you have any questions please let me know. Can't wait to cruise again.