The Victoriana Show Lounge is the main theater, spanning decks 3 through 5. It's host to "Hasbro, the Game Show," PlayList Productions variety shows, magicians, hypnotists, juggling and comedy performers, Seuss' Story Time and bingo. "Hasbro, the Game Show" was held twice (both on sea days and in the late afternoon) during our eight-night sailing. Audience members (only those at stage level on Deck 3 are chosen) enthusiastically answer trivia questions to obtain a spot as a contestant, acting out a rendition of a famous Hasbro game for a chance to win Hasbro prizes. Freedom is the first ship in the fleet to receive all four new PlayList Production shows -- 80s Pop to the Max, Island Getaway, Heart of Soul and 88 Keys -- complete with changing LED backdrops. Singing and dancing among the eight cast members is enthusiastic, and if there's a number you're not a fan of, it's over before you know it. With shows limited to 30 minutes, it's possible to stand in the back to watch without tiring, though random audience members who sit near the front for Heart of Soul earn a rose and a little romance. All performances are playful, with costume changes, high-tech scenery and all the popular hits reimagined. On eight-night sailings, the shows rotate twice, and some performances are held twice in one night (around the set dinner times). The Seuss-a-Palooza parade ends at the theater, where children gather on the stage under a tent for an interactive reading of "The Cat in the Hat."
The gamut of trivia, towel-folding and ice-sculpting demonstrations, casino tournaments, raffles, karaoke and poolside contests is available around the ship on any given day. During the day, the big-screen TV overlooking the pool in the Seaside Theater plays a live morning show hosted by the cruise director, news, live concerts and even episodes from shows like "I Love Lucy" or "Everybody Loves Raymond." Your typical seminars on beauty and weight loss, limited sales at the Fun Shops and art auctions are also held in the afternoon.
Carnival maintains that shorter show lengths and multiple choices for entertainment each night allow passengers the opportunity for self-selection, attending as many things as they want in one evening. "Dive In" movies are shown nightly in the Seaside Theater and offer families the opportunity to grab some food, cuddle up (or hop in the pool) and watch a movie together. Slapstick comedies, straight-from-the-theater blockbusters and Disney's newest release were among the films featured on our cruise. Showings were at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., featuring two different movies each night.
The Punchliner Comedy Club, taking place in the International Lounge, features four comedians; each typically performs a family-friendly and adults-only set. Family-style comedy is showcased at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.; the 18-and-over set is performed at 9:45 p.m. and again at 11:15 p.m. Your Fun Times will warn you that seats fill early, and they're not kidding -- get there at least 30 minutes prior to showtime for a good seat. The adult comedy didn't hold back and was not for the squeamish; they warn you about that, too. Late-night karaoke is also held on select nights in the International Lounge.
The Babylon Casino sprawls across a sizeable portion of Deck 5 and offers rows and rows of glittering slot machines for every niche, as well as plenty of card tables with a great variety. There is a lively crowd at the casino at any given time.
The 70s Night Club on Deck 5 is the after-hours spot to shake your groove thing, and our guess is the disco theme attempts to appeal to the older set, while a wild blend of dance music draws in anyone looking for a bass line. Michael Jackson is a popular theme, along with the 80s ... which, in a 70s nightclub, was kind of comical. There are plenty of places to blend into the dark, though, if you're looking for a little club atmosphere without being smack in the middle of the dance floor. You must be 18 to enter.
Themed parties on the Lido (White Hot or Caribbean, for example) provide an all-ages opportunity to dance under the stars or in the pool -- why not? Though the atmosphere on our sailing was a bit like a school dance -- cliques of teens and tweens hovering in groups nervously debating if they should actually dance -- the music was good, featuring a slew of remixed recent hits. The only thing that didn't quite fit the throbbing club music was the calming imagery left on the big screen in the Seaside Theater. Something else could have been easily whipped up to accompany the party atmosphere of theme nights.
If you're not betting it all in the casino, dancing in the club, catching a show or keeping a barstool company, the Promenade Deck (Deck 5) is simply the place to see and be seen. Photographers camp out there with various backdrops for cruise portraits (no cost to pose, just to buy), so it can get a bit congested at night, but the couches along the windows make for great people-watching, especially on formal nights. Grab a snack at the Taste Bar, order a drink, listen to the band play at the stage near Centuries, and soak it all in while debating your next move.
Carnival Freedom Bars and Lounges
Chances are, there's a bar for you onboard Freedom. Like craft beer? ThirstyFrog Red, Carnival's very own brew, is on tap in the Key West-meets-Caribbean-inspired RedFrog Pub. Meanwhile, flaming orange peels and sprinkled cinnamon (bartenders will maintain its pixie dust) are just a few of the flourishes at Alchemy Bar, where handcrafted cocktails are the only thing on the electronically illuminated menu. There are even three bars specializing in one kind of liquor -- it doesn't get more specialty than that. The only disappointment is that no flights are offered, leaving passengers without the opportunity to taste and compare the variations of each bar's featured spirit; this seems like a no-brainer.
RedFrog Rum Bar (Deck 9): Holding down the left side of the Lido Deck, the Rum Bar is the spot to grab your favorite Caribbean concoction. Eight featured rums create a colorful mix of cocktails, like a rumrunner and frozen drinks. Pitchers of spiked lemonade and buckets of beer are also available; ThirstyFrog Red is on tap. Try a Ting mojito. The grapefruit flavor is super refreshing as you soak up the Caribbean sun.
BlueIguana Tequila Bar (Deck 9): The other side of the Lido is BlueIguana territory, with eight tequilas to choose from and a host of cocktails, frozen drinks and, of course, margaritas blended with them. Beer, soda and nonalcoholic frozen drinks are also available there, as they are at RedFrog Rum Bar, and the fruity slushes are a hit with kids. Grownups: Try a chipotle pineapple passion margarita -- zesty and sweet.
RedFrog Pub (Deck 5): The Pub is a laid-back kind of bar with Carnival's own red ale on tap. There are foosball, darts and shuffleboard in the back, and trivia, karaoke and live music are also hosted there regularly. A pillory offers a photo op in the front, just to the side of a palm tree. A small game table is also to the front of the bar, and anyone who snagged the small space seemed to enjoy prime people-watching and a casual game. Photos of smiling bar patrons flash on the screen, as the bartenders snap them throughout the day. Take note: Food is not offered there as it is in the pub on Carnival Breeze.
Alchemy Bar (Deck 5): Alchemy Bar is Carnival's answer to the handcrafted cocktail trend emerging on land. Drinks are carefully made with premium ingredients and flaming garnishes but will cost you about $10 each. Choose your selection carefully from an electronically illuminated menu, or ask one of the knowledgeable bartenders (in white lab coats). Drinks you would fight elbow-to-elbow for in an upscale city bar are brought to where you sit or stand at gray marble countertops. The atmosphere is subdued, though the bar sits in the open in the corner of the Promenade Deck. It gets busy but never crowded. There's a number of "prescriptions" for what ails you, but for something in the middle of sweet and herbal, go for the strawberry and rosemary-infused Perfect Storm.
EA Sports Bar (Deck 5): The EA Sports Bar is the place to catch the big game with wall-to-wall flat-screen TVs, hot pretzels and plenty of beer. Awesome memorabilia with audiovisual components lines the walls, and video game tournaments and sports trivia are held a few times throughout the cruise. Specials include money off a featured beer, free chips and the like.
Swingtime Lounge (Deck 5): Scotch and cigars are the specialty in Swingtime. The lounge was hardly ever occupied with maybe one person lighting up and another at the bar. A small stage is to the left, and the floor declares "big band," though no music or performance was held in this space during our sailing -- a waste, we would say. The menu offers 15 carefully described cigars, six single-malt scotches, cognac and port. A jazz or blues performer could transform the lounge and add a little life to a space that's well decorated but underused.
Scott's Piano Bar (Deck 5): The piano bar is a playful space awash in primary colors, with tiny blue pianos on the walls and ceiling, and chairs with one leg tied in a red knot. A round, blue piano table lined with red barstools encircles the piano player, who performs a sing-along party each night "until late." There's no actual bar, but there is bar service. Fans of the pianist onboard were loyal, and the otherwise-empty venue drew a return crowd each evening.
Centuries Casino Bar (Deck 5): The large, wraparound Centuries Bar accompanies the casino, keeping its patrons' palates quenched. A sculpture resembling a cracked globe is the centerpiece of the space. A stage is set to the left, and a versatile band onboard makes a themed appearance each night, featuring Latin music to Woodstock.
International Lounge (Deck 5): The venue for comedy and karaoke, International Lounge is more of an event space rather than a bar. Semicircle maroon leather couches are spread throughout the room, and two-seaters that fully rotate turn adults into carefree, spinning kids. The lounge boasts its own special drink menu during Punchliner, the comedy club curated by George Lopez (not present), with names as controversial as the comedy. Try a Sex on the Stage or Zany Zombie. The house cocktail, The Punchliner, comes with an optional souvenir George Lopez glass. Shooters also come in optional souvenir shot glasses. Beers, cider and the typical offerings are all there, but take time to read the menu if you can. It's got its own sense of humor.
Habana Bar (Deck 4): A long marble bar with a "Havana nights" backdrop is just part of the huge space that constitutes the Habana Bar. Open to smokers (or those who don't mind a little stogie smoke), this venue offers oversized leather seats and tiny glass-top tables with bases resembling cigars. Portraits resembling Hemingway and Cuban nationals are featured prominently around red and blue accents in the frames and faux shutters. A small dance floor gives passengers gifted with the ability to Latin dance room to strut their stuff.
Millennium Bar & Lounge (Deck 3): Nestled in the main lobby at the ground floor of the atrium, the Millennium Bar is the first place to grab a drink on embarkation day and always offers a full menu of classic libations: appletinis, Long Island iced teas, liquor to sip, Champagne, wine, daiquiris and smoothies. Stop there for a specialty coffee before heading out on an excursion, or grab liquid courage before a game of charades.
Carnival Freedom Outside Recreation
Freedom has three pools onboard: the Timeless, Endless and Stressless pools. All pools contain saltwater that's refreshed daily.
Timeless refers to the main Lido Deck pool on Deck 9. This is the hub of the action on the Lido Deck, with two whirlpools behind it on either side. The teen set seemed to dominate the whirpools on our cruise, especially at night (open until midnight). As you would expect, space fills up surrounding the pool, especially on sea days, but there is plenty of tiered seating if you don't mind a stroll down to your dip. Expect music from the DJs beginning in the late afternoon, with plenty of group dancing and cannonball and hairy chest contests. Concerts from artists like Bob Marley and Kenny Chesney are shown on the big screen in the late morning/early afternoon. Take Dive In movies literally, and watch the evening selection while floating in the pool.
The Stressless pool is much smaller, located up one deck on Deck 10, beneath the waterslide. This pool also has two whirlpools on either side.
The Endless or aft pool is an adults-only retreat on Deck 9 aft, reserved for the 18-and-older crowd. A statue of a kneeling woman at the front of the pool is a nice centerpiece, but her blue painted-on bikini seems like a silly afterthought. Seats surrounding the pool fill up after the first day, but plenty of seating is available a quick walk up to Deck 10. Two adults-only whirlpools (an alternative for those 18 to 20) are located behind the pool. This pool is protected by a magrodome in the event of bad weather, so you can keep on swimmin'. A full bar and a handy coffee and tea station are within close reach. In the morning, this area is a great place to grab a quiet seat and a made-to-order omelet.
A spiraling waterslide is one of the focal points of the outdoor decks. The entrance, on Deck 14, was typically lined with small children, but all ages are welcome to ride. There's no water park or kids pool on Freedom, so the slide is the main aquatic attraction for younger ones. Located near the slide entrance is a Ping-Pong table. Below, on Deck 12 aft, is the ship's mini-golf course. Perfect for a quick round, the course is themed with stonework featuring ancient civilizations and replicas of Easter Island heads. Deck 11 is where the basketball and volleyball courts are located, though there is a skylight dome obstructing a good portion of the area. An oversized chess set extends over the Lido Deck, located in front of the Stressless pool on Deck 10.
Located on decks 12 and 14 (there's no Deck 13), Serenity is Carnival's 21-and-older sun deck. Steps away from the Lido, it's surprising how dialed-down the noise is upon entering, and most people maintain that atmosphere. Distinguished fluffy yellow towels with turquoise stitching can be checked out at the front entrance with a name and room number. Otherwise, no one asked for ID to verify age, but we never noticed children or young adults in this area. Many find it odd that Serenity wraps around the Camp Ocean kids club on the same deck, but we never found the location to be noisy or disrupted by activities. The playground on Deck 12 is only in use in the evening, once the sun has eased up (around 7 p.m.), allowing the kids some outdoor playtime.
Rows of teal cushioned loungers surround both decks, but be careful before sitting down, and never walk this area barefoot. They don't call it a sun deck for nothing, and in the midday sun the cushions and floor of the deck are burning hot. A shaded area with couches on Deck 12 is popular with older groups and those just looking to read a book outdoors in peace. There is a small bar in this area to grab a drink, but a crewmember will circle the deck taking specialty drink orders from the Lido bars. The first spots to go are the handful of large, two-person black wicker cabana chairs facing aft; people camp out there all day.
Up on Deck 14 are two sizeable adults-only whirlpools. Halfway through the cruise we found them to be completely empty at sunset, and it was like finding a small slice of heaven. Nearby there are showers and padded hammocks for post-soak relaxation.
Carnival Freedom Services
Highlighted by an army of color-changing neon bulbs and a vertigo-inducing wall of glass elevators, the eight-deck atrium lands in the main lobby on Deck 3. It's where you'll find the guest services desk and the shore excursions desk. Trivia and other games are held in the center of the lobby near the Millennium Bar. Behind the bar are the onboard art gallery and the Chic card room.
On Deck 4 is the presidential Monticello Library, adorned with a framed vintage American flag and replica of the Declaration of Independence (fitting for Freedom). Choose a book from one of the tall hutches (or bring your own), and settle in to the sophisticated red leather armchair, or spread out at the large table to play a board game. Also on Deck 4 are Pixels Photo Gallery and Dream Studio.
Midship on Deck 4 is the Dynasty conference room. Farther aft, located within the smoky Habana Bar, is The Web, an Internet cafe. Dark, difficult to find and a bit of an afterthought, the center offers computers for use and laptops for rent. Shipwide Wi-Fi is the way to go if you're thinking of logging on; bring your own device if you plan on surfing the Web regularly. In-cabin Wi-Fi is relatively fast and efficient for being at sea. The pay-as-you-go plan is 75 cents per minute. Packages include 45 minutes for $29, 120 minutes for $59, 240 minutes for $89 and 480 minutes for $159.
The Fun Shops -- peddling ship souvenirs, everyday necessities and, of course, watches and jewelry -- are located on Deck 5, the Promenade Deck. Cherry on Top, a candy and gift store, is also located on the shopping strip, and with Champagne and roses in stock, it offers the perfect last-minute answer for all those onboard celebrations (open until 11:30 p.m. every day). The future cruise desk and a shopping kiosk are just outside of the shopping area, near the casino.
A self-service launderette is located on Deck 7. There are washers, dryers and one iron and ironing board. The cost is $3.25 per washer load and $3.25 per dryer load. Vending machines dispense small boxes of detergent and fabric softener for $1.50 per box.
Spa Carnival is located on Deck 11, the Spa Deck, forward. Bold blue and red tiling reflect the color scheme, yet the rest of the space is muted and backlit. Run by Elemis, spa services include the usual offerings: a variety of facials, massages, scrubs and teeth-whitening, but also collagen treatments, Ionithermie cellulite reduction and acupuncture. Port days hold the usual savings and packages, but sales and specials vary daily. The best deal we noticed was a mix-and-match of six spa services for $99. The sauna and steam room, along with sizeable showers and a locker room, are through a set of doors behind the front desk (left side for men, right for women). These facilities are complimentary. The color scheme is terra cotta and neutral, but with rows of the standard blue balcony chairs, which felt odd and out of place. The spa was not part of the ship's 2014 dry dock renovations, and passengers on our sailing seemed disappointed that it had not been upgraded to match the Cloud 9 Spa on other Carnival ships.
The salon is located within Spa Carnival and shines with gray marble tile and dark blue trim. Hair coloring and styling, as well as trims and hot shaves for men, are available on the menu of services, in addition to manicures, pedicures and waxing.
The fitness center, all the way forward on Deck 11, can only be accessed by walking through the spa and locker rooms, which felt a bit labyrinthine. There is no separate entrance to the gym.
Fitness equipment is of the standard variety (ellipticals, treadmills) but good quality. There is no bench or bench bar, which left a few gym patrons ruffled. The location, in the front of the ship, offers full ocean views, and the music is sporadic, but when they play it, it's up-tempo. The gym is most busy in the mornings and quiet right before leaving port on most days in the midafternoon. The consensus from passengers is that the classes offered (yoga, boot camp and others) are mediocre. Complimentary abs and stretching classes are offered once per day but only during the 7 a.m. time slot. There is no dedicated space for the classes/demonstrations. Even with quite a few people working out, the noise level is generally low. Overall, the facility is clean, with plenty of towels and adequate machines, but it could use more open floor space.
Smack in the middle of the gym, the small glass-enclosed pool/whirlpool is hard to miss; it appears straight out of "The Flintstones" with its faux-cave rock facade. Although complimentary to all passengers, we never saw it in use during our sailing.
The wide blue jogging track surrounds the Sports Deck and is also located on Deck 11. It will take you nine laps to reach one mile. We always found a few people to be casually walking or jogging briskly around, but it was never crowded. There didn't seem to be too much of a bounce, but the track is more forgiving (and safer) than running the deck. On windy days, you hardly need to walk. That far up, the wind does all the work.