Carnival Freedom is a major step on a trajectory that is quickly hurtling Carnival Cruise Lines into the atmosphere for family-friendly, multigenerational cruising. The line has always offered value, but within the past decade or so, it has set its focus on families. That's not to say Freedom doesn't offer adults the chance to live it up. Freedom underwent a major refurbishment in spring 2014, bringing with it the line's Fun Ship 2.0 upgrades. The RedFrog Rum Bar and BlueIguana Tequila Bar on the Lido Deck offer more tropical tipples than ever before, and spaces like Alchemy Bar add a hint of sophistication to the ol' cruise watering holes. Most of the changes, though, cater to families and the kid in all of us.
Freedom is the first ship with Camp Ocean, replacing Camp Carnival as the onboard children's program, and the first ship with Bookville, a reading room and play space that anchors the Seuss at Sea experience onboard. It's also the first ship with four full PlayList Productions shows at just 30 minutes each, which rotate throughout the cruise. While Camp Ocean has upgraded the kids' space, an arts and crafts room is included to encourage participation from parents in their children's daily activities. Seuss at Sea welcomes kids of all ages (meaning adults, as well) to march and let loose in a parade, become reacquainted with "The Cat in the Hat" and test their taste buds with culinary creations ripped from the pages of Dr. Seuss' books. Getting everyone involved in the action is part of the plan and also part of the charm.
A number of other branded experiences enhance life onboard. Once the plain Sports Bar, now EA Sports Bar, action is on every wall with sports games, video games of sports games, and sports memorabilia that comes to life. "Hasbro, the Game Show" takes the board games everyone knows and loves and plays them out on the stage with members of the audience chosen through sheer enthusiasm and answers to trivia questions. Apart from the bizarre (and loud) "commercial breaks" showcasing old Hasbro advertisements, the action is infectious.
Onboard dining -- something trending toward specialty, for-fee options industry-wide -- has remained largely free of charge on Carnival Freedom, and we never felt like we were deprived of choice. Apart from the buffet and the main dining room, there are burgers and burritos with enough toppings to have a different experience every day of your cruise. Even within the buffet, themed counters (Mongolian, Fish & Chips, the Deli) are like stepping foot inside tiny, specialized eateries. The quality does not suffer, in spite of its being free.
With all the changes brought by the retrofit, some spaces still need work. A few lounges lack true identities, the library is gorgeous but out of place, Spa Carnival needs a "wow" factor to keep up, and there's a giant skylight dome overtaking valuable court space on the sports deck. That's when we remember that Freedom isn't a new ship; it's a ship with fresh and exciting concepts that are well executed. It's an appetizing taste of what's to come for the line, and it challenges you not to have a good time onboard.
Freedom attracts all ages, and groups containing up to four generations can be found among the young couples, retired couples and smaller families onboard. The passenger mix varies, but North Americans (including a solid number of Floridians) dominate the onboard demographic. Passengers 41 to 50 years old tend to compose the largest percentage of passengers.
Freedom sails Caribbean itineraries, and the daytime dress onboard reflects that with a casual, poolside atmosphere. Cover-ups, shirts and flip-flops are required for the indoor Freedom Restaurant on the Lido Deck, but the rule doesn't seem to be strictly enforced. The main dining room requires that men wear shirts with sleeves, and at night, wardrobes are typically turned up a notch to include khakis and collared or button-down shirts for men, and blouses or sundresses for women. Depending on the length of the itinerary, the ship hosts one to two formal or "cruise elegant" nights per sailing. Fashion runs the spectrum from cocktail dresses and pressed slacks to full evening gowns and tuxedos; pack according to your comfort level, but be aware it does get dressy.
Carnival recommends tipping $11.50 per person, per day, which is split among the staff. The amount is automatically charged to your shipboard account, but it can be adjusted at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar and spa bills. The room service staff appreciate receiving a couple dollars in cash for delivery, though it is not required.