Carnival Freedom Entertainment
Sea days are to Carnival what county fairs are to livestock breeders; they are the stock and trade, the raison d'etre of the enterprise. And nobody does activity-laden sea days better than Carnival. There are pool games like the vaunted hairy chest contest, trivia competitions, bingo, live music, bar-related activities (cocktail tasting), cooking and towel-folding demonstrations, and competitions derived from popular television shows: "Survivor," "Family Feud" and "The Newlywed Game." For those who like to compete on a different level, there are the ubiquitous art auctions where passengers can butt heads to see who can snare the most objets d'art. The few lectures and seminars are really not-so-thinly disguised self-promotional presentations mounted by the boutiques or spa.
Freedom has a complete range of musical offerings from heavily classical to heavy metal. For those who enjoy spending their days soaking up rays around the pools, there's usually a cover band that plays from after lunch till just before dinner. A classical trio holds forth at tea in the Posh Dining Room and before dinner in the lobby. Other choices on our sailing, which are subject to change, included a solo guitarist (who performed just outside the Casino), a jazz trio performing nightly in the Habana Bar, three different duos that performed in the Sun King, and Swingtime Lounge and Lobby Bar after dinner, and a pianist at the rotating piano in the center of Scott's Piano Bar. The International Lounge was home to a nightly round of Karaoke, and the 70's Dance Club was disco-central late nights.
Victoriana, the main show lounge, covers an expanse of three decks. We found a substantial number of seats less than desirable due to intervening columns or being under a claustrophobia-inducing balcony overhang. Seating is in banquettes with small fixed pedestals for drinks, or wide, theater-type seating in the balconies. The name of the lounge is supposed to hark back to the era of Queen Victoria, though with its tented-like ceiling of olive and salmon stripes with cream and gold filigrees, it looked to us more like Buckingham Palace meets Ringling Brothers.
The ship, however, does make good use of the room's capabilities. Though we normally don't review specific productions -- since they change fairly regularly -- we feel compelled to comment on two of the three production shows mounted for our sailing. The first, titled "The Big Easy," paid homage to New Orleans. Not only are the music styles -- jazz, blues, gospel, Zydeco, Dixieland -- of this great city overdue to be made the centerpiece of a cruise ship production extravaganza, but the timing is a real boon to NOLA, which needs to be kept in the public eye to continue generating tourism and awareness. The second show, "Ticket to Ride," is based on the music of the Beatles, and makes the best use of the technological capabilities of a modern cruise ship show lounge we've ever seen. State-of-the-art blending of computer animation with live onstage performance and laser light show effects had our boomer-intensive audience on their feet cheering by the final curtain.
One nice touch: The popular Seaside Theater features films every evening (and concerts and TV shows during the day), complete with freshly-popped popcorn.
In addition to the musical entertainment provided in the lounges, the Babylon Casino does a bang-up job with a slew of slots and just about every table game you've ever encountered. For those who want to get on the real poker (as opposed to "Caribbean Stud," "Let it Ride," and their ilk) there's a new high-tech gizmo which deals Texas Hold 'Em electronically to terminals situated around a typical green felt casino poker table. Guests put a cash deposit at the cashier's cage on a magnetically striped card which they insert into their terminal. There is no human dealer; a central computer deals electronic "cards" and keeps track of the bets. It's true casino poker (without having to tip the dealer) but the action moves at a lightning pace and those without a load of Hold 'Em experience under their belts can see their electronic stake disappear in a heartbeat.
Carnival Freedom Public Rooms
Carnival Freedom's central public hub is its eight-deck-high atrium, punctuated by hundreds of color-changing lights, and a stunning glass elevator bank. On the atrium's ground floor, passengers will find the guest services and shore excursion desks, as well as a bar. Adjacent to the "lobby" area are the ship's art gallery and a card room.
Up one deck, passengers will find the tiny Monticello library, which features a smattering of best sellers and the like, and the photo gallery. Climb another flight of stairs to find the Fun Shops, a series of stores selling the obligatory jewelery, duty-free booze and cigs, and Carnival-ia. Passenger can rent formal attire at an adjacent storefront.
The somewhat hidden Internet Cafe is buried inside the Habana Bar, the ship's lounge for cigar aficionados, forcing anyone who wants to use the ship's computers to wade through a miasma of stogie smoke. Fortunately, there is Wi-Fi throughout the ship at the same rate as the Cafe ($0.30 through $0.75 per minute, depending on which package you opt for) so it makes sense to bring a laptop if you're intent on logging on.
Carnival Freedom Spa & Fitness
One innovative architectural attribute of the Conquest class is that the sunning area has been maximized by structuring eight tiered plateaus from just above Deck 10 (Panorama Deck) to the surface of Lido Deck (Deck 9), creating an expanse of space to place chaises. That's not to say it makes enough difference that there isn't still a problem with books and towels mysteriously appearing on lounges at 7 a.m., though no actual guests show up to use the chairs till after 11 a.m. However, we never had a problem finding an empty chaise, even on sea days.
Kids have their own wading pool on Deck 12 (Sun Deck) right outside Camp Carnival. As for adult pools, there are three: two on Deck 9, each with two whirlpool spas, and one on Deck 10, basically a splash pool at the end of the water slide.
Freedom's spa is a Steiner's franchise operation, offering sauna, massage and salon services, with prices ranging from $119 for a 50-minute Swedish massage through $350-plus for a couples teeth whitening treatment, and everything in-between. There is also a fully equipped gym with loads of modern workout machines, free weights and a whole area devoted solely to spinning. The facility faces forward, offering dramatic views through picture windows.
Other fitness options include a jogging track on Deck 11 (Spa Deck) with nine circuits equaling a mile, and basketball and volleyball courts. There is a golf-driving cage, and instruction is offered through the ship's onboard golf program; for those whose golf horizons are more limited, there is a nine-hole miniature golf course.