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Carnival Freedom ... in Europe
About the Virtual Cruise
Carnival Freedom ... in Europe Steve Faber, a longtime Cruise Critic contributor and veteran Carnival passenger, recently returned from his first-ever Carnival Mediterranean cruise on the swanky new Carnival Freedom. How's this experience different from "fun ship" adventures in the line's more prosaic destinations (such as the Caribbean, Canada/New England and Alaska)?.

I'll never forget my first trip to Europe. In my youth it was popular to send high school graduates on organized European tours the summer before they entered college. I joined a group of my peers boarding the SS Independence -- yes, it was at the tail-end of the golden age of ocean liners -- and sailed the Southern Route, disembarking at Algeciras, Spain, before spending the rest of the summer traveling throughout Europe. I was instantly enchanted by the very "Europeanness" of the Continent. Here were sounds, sights, tastes and smells that screamed to me "You are not in America. These are experiences you can't find at home or truly absorb from books or photos, TV or movies."

I was never an astute student of history (actually, I was less than an astute student of any subject in those days!), but walking the halls of Versailles, the Roman Forum and the chariot-rutted streets of Pompeii turned dry textbook history into living history.

Of course, there can never be a "second first trip" to Europe; it's no more possible than un-ringing a bell. But I expect that on my 12-night Mediterranean and Greek Isles cruise aboard Carnival Freedom I will be in the company of a number of first timers, and I hope to have the opportunity of sharing some of their wonder.

For me, there is much about this itinerary that is comfortable and familiar, especially the ports, some of my favorite Mediterranean destinations. Carnival Freedom's itinerary, beginning and ending in Civitavecchia, the port for Rome, calls at Naples, Rhodes, Istanbul, Athens, Katakolon, and Livorno for Tuscany.

Day 1: Embarking; Depart from Civitavecchia
Day 2: Naples
Day 3: At sea
Day 4: Rhodes
Day 5: Izmir
Day 6: Istanbul
Day 7: At sea
Day 8: Athens
Day 9: Katakolon
Day 10: At sea
Day 11: Livorno
Day 12: Rome
Day 13: Debarking at Civitavecchia
Related Links
Carnival Freedom ship review
Carnival Freedom Member reviews
Eastern Mediterranean Cruises
Eastern Mediterranean Messages
Carnival Messages
Day 1: Monday, Embarking; Depart from Civitavecchia
Embarking; Depart from CivitavecchiaEast is East and West is West and never the twain...

...well, that's the way European itineraries are generally thought of. Include Istanbul and Greece and Italy's Adriatic coast and you're usually talking about Athens/Istanbul itineraries. Western Mediterranean itineraries typically focus on France, Spain, the Riviera and the Mediterranean side of Italy. This itinerary is a hybrid; a bit of a blend, with port calls in Western Italy as well as the Eastern Mediterranean stalwarts of Turkey and Greece. It should be interesting.

But first things first: Whoever said "Getting there is half the fun" couldn’t have been talking about traveling to the departure point for a Mediterranean cruise. If a popular children's story were rewritten for the new millennium as "Snow White and the Seven European Cruisers," her diminutive entourage would include Grouchy, Snippy, Achy, Groggy, Testy, Spacey and Rumply. Flying for the better part of half a day and through a third of the world's time zones is unpleasant enough, but add stress -- above and beyond the stress and aggravation that comes with the territory -- and it can get downright excruciating.

Whenever possible I like to book my own air, and I follow a set of stress-minimizing rules. One of those rules is to have an absolute minimum of 1.5 hours between connecting flights, since the airlines' historical on-time record runs in the vicinity of 80 percent, and that means that one out of every five flights I take will likely be late enough to make a super-tight connection super-iffy. This rule is particularly important to me when I'm on my way to board a ship.

So I wasn't particularly happy when my air included a layover of only 38 minutes between my flight from San Francisco to Cincinnati and my flight from Cincinnati to Rome. To be fair, because of last-minute changes in my travel plans, it's possible that the choices available to Carnival's Air/Sea department were limited. And I also chose to look on the bright side: My connection was within the United States, which meant that I could check my bags all the way through to Rome. Going through baggage claim and customs only once reduced the stress and inconvenience level, especially since Italy takes the award for the least amount of red tape and paperwork required to fly into the country.

But that was before my flight to Cincinnati was delayed for 10 minutes for some arcane mechanical problem, and, once in the air, the captain announced that we would be diverting "a wee bit north" to avoid some thunderstorms. Not to worry, he said in so many words, it wouldn't delay us more than five minutes. But that was now a total of 15 minutes, which reduced my connection time to 23 minutes -- and, of course, my arrival gate and departure gate would be at opposite ends of the terminal; one being domestic, the other international. So, at this point, I assessed my chances for various outcomes:

Neither I nor my bags make the connection.

I make the connection but my bags wind up in the Seychelles or somewhere equally far away.

My bags and I remain married and wind up in Rome together.

In other words, the chances for a perfect outcome were rated at 33.33 percent, which is why officially, Steve's Stress Level was raised from yellow to orange.

I also write a column for Cruise Critic called "Ask the Editor," and (stay with me; this isn't a non sequitur) the most frequently asked question is: "What do I do if my flight is delayed and I miss the ship?" I’ve researched the question a number of times, and I always follow my own advice. I had already programmed the number for Carnival's U. S. corporate headquarters into my cell phone, as I had with that of Carnival's shore connection in Rome, Inter Trav. In case of the worst case scenario I would now have personal experience for the next time I get the question, but, without question, I would much prefer for me and my luggage to make the connection.

So, once on the ground in Cincinnati I made a mad dash for the departure gate -- something I also try to avoid like the plague: I hate having to run full tilt to make a flight, another reason I like those comfortable connections. But, I had no choice but to run like the devil, all the way keeping my spirits up by silently chanting "Think of the calories burned; another gate, another dessert, another gate, another dessert...."

I wound up at the podium 15 minutes before departure, but then I came up against Steve's Rule #2: Always book as far in advance as possible in order to get the optimum seat selection. By the time my air was booked my seating would have to wait till I checked in, which was, as mentioned before, only 15 minutes before the flight closed, which is why I got that terrific seat in a non-reclining row in the center section of the plane, with our backs to a bulkhead. At least I had companionable row mates, an attractive young Italian couple returning from a honeymoon in the U. S., which was about all I could get out of them with their English and my almost nonexistent Italian.

So, after takeoff, when it became apparent that we weren't climbing or operating at full throttle, and the captain came on the P.A. to announce a wee bit of a problem getting one of the landing gear doors shut, and maybe, if by opening and closing it repeatedly in the air it still wouldn't close all the way, we might have to return to Cincinnati, it's understandable that I was forced to elevate Steve's Stress Level from orange to vermillion, even if I couldn't come close to explaining the situation to my seatmates. Shortly thereafter I was able to ratchet it back down to orange as the pilot announced success, and within a half hour, though sitting fully upright, I began to nod off, only to be awakened soon thereafter by loud noises. The diminutive new bride seated next to me was a prodigious snorer.

Oh, well. Sleep is an overrated commodity.

On the bright side, I was pleased to discover that my bags had, in fact, accompanied me on my journey (Stress Level: green), and there was no shortage of helpful Carnival "Meet 'n Greets" to direct me to the massive ship-bound luggage trolley and buses. Carnival offers two transfer options, one a basic bus ride to the port at Civitavecchia, or a transfer combined with short tours of Rome. Since this cruise culminates with a full day and overnight in Rome, I opted for the basic transfer, saving my touring for the end of the cruise.

The 45-minute transfer gave me the opportunity to meet some of my fellow passengers, something I looked forward to as I was curious about who made up the guest list for this cruise line's relatively recent entry into the European trade. My assumption was that besides parents traveling with children, a hefty percentage of the passenger load would be first-time visitors to Europe, for whom Carnival's familiarity and comfort level would have proved inviting. I am eager to absorb and report on those first-time reactions.

My seatmate for the transfer was another newlywed, this time a paramedic from Hawaii, on his honeymoon and traveling with a large group of extended family. First-time European visitor? Yes, he and his new bride had just finished spending a week on the Greek island of Santorini, and were meeting up with the rest of their group for the cruise portion. They had selected this mode of travel on this line because of the broad appeal of Carnival -- and the fact that large groups booking together get really good discounts.

As we left the last urban fringes of Rome behind, dry fields of hay flanked both sides of the autostrada. The closer we got to the sea the greener the landscape became, with corn replacing hay in the fields and palms appearing more and more frequently. With each small farm came a seemingly ancient rough stone shanty. In a typical European mix of old and new, each of these hovels sported a satellite dish. Invariably these antennas performed double-duty, serving as well as the anchor point for one end of a clothes line with laundry of all colors flapping in the wind.

The cruise port at Civitavecchia looks very much a work in progress. The cruise terminal, itself, is one of those giant prefab Quonset huts. The check-in and processing went exceptionally fast, especially for those of us with "Fun Passes," Carnival's online pre-embarkation check-in system, and in less than 20 minutes I was standing in front of a ship's photographer, groggy smile pasted on my face, ready to trundle aboard.

This trip for me is a mix of the new and the familiar. One aspect of the familiarity portion is my previous experience with Conquest-class ships, having sailed the Carnival Valor in the past. One of the little gems of the vessels of this class is the "Fish & Chips" restaurant on the upper level of the Lido Deck buffet/restaurant. This misnamed eatery -- it serves far more options than fish and chips, including sashimi, crab and bouillabaisse -- usually remains undiscovered and underused for the first four or five days of a cruise, and it made for a perfect, quick and quiet lunch getaway for me to drag my weary body for a meal of crispy cider battered fish and assorted fried potatoes, before making my way back to my comfortable Category 8 balcony stateroom for a three-hour nap. I was wrong. Perhaps sleep isn't such an overrated commodity.

Just prior to the 8 p.m. boat drill I went down to have a drink in the Lobby Bar, which sits at the bottom of the towering Millennium Atrium, and to get a chance to meet more of my fellow passengers. And here was yet another surprise. Though by no means a majority, or even a large minority, there were an unexpectedly large number of Europeans, especially Italians, once again shattering the stereotypes I had created in my mind for the typical guest on a Carnival Mediterranean sailing.

After the boat drill I made my way to the midships Chic Restaurant and found my table -- a two-top, of which there are many on this ship -- and met my server, Crisell, from Peru, and her assistant from Poland. After a quick dinner -- I was still feeling a bit jetlagged -- I decided to check out some of the lounges, as there was no entertainment scheduled in the Victoriana Lounge, the main showroom. The reason was obvious: All the other lounges were virtually empty. Scott's (the piano bar) was closed. In the International Lounge, the Karaoke bar, only the cruise staff hostess was singing, and 70s, the disco, was totally empty -- loud, but empty. I stopped by Bar Nouveau, the wine bar, for a nightcap -- I was the only passenger there. Clearly the long flights and an early port call in Naples tomorrow morning sent the vast majority of Freedom's 3,000 or so passengers scurrying to bed early, an example I gratefully emulated.
  Day 2: Naples

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