I find that a sea day a few days into a voyage provides a good opportunity to consolidate my thoughts on a ship and my expectations -- what matches them, what differs, etc. And I can usually begin to get a pretty good handle on what I like and don't like about a vessel.
First of all, it is becoming clearer to me by the day that what I thought the typical Carnival European cruiser would be is totally off the mark. I thought I would find primarily first-timers, and perhaps first-time cruisers, not just first-time European travelers. That's not the case. On the contrary, I find my fellow guests to be, by and large, a well-traveled lot.
I thought I would find a passenger load nearly 100 percent American. I can't quote percentages, but I've found a surprisingly large number of Europeans, Aussies and Asians onboard. Chalk up another one on Steve's error list.
One thing I have found to be true is that this is definitely "family central." I only have figures for kids onboard through the age of 14, and that number is over 300. If you add the count of 15- to 18-year-olds, it's got to be huge. And you feel it everywhere on the ship. This would not be a cruise for folks who want to have adults-only vacation time. It's likely that the numbers of youngsters are significantly lower for months that aren't part of school summer vacation, but how much lower is another figure I’m waiting on. Conversely, for those who are looking for an affordable mode of European travel to share with their kids, this certainly would qualify.
Another surprise is the sea day activities program for the ship. Carnival is well known for jampacking sea days with a load of activities, the majority of them situated around the pool, most of them long on fun and physical prowess (and chest hair), but short on any challenge you could expect to find on the SAT's. Well, this sea day was typical in that it had six scheduled activities (excluding bingo), but it was a surprise for Carnival in that five of the six were trivia challenges; with the obligatory hairy chest contest being the sixth. Because the weather was so nice, and the Lido Deck so heavily populated, there weren't a lot of trivia buffs hanging in the lounge, so two of the trivia games were played poolside.
And that brings me to another addition to this ship that did not exist on the Valor when I sailed it: the Seaside Theater, which is a humongous outdoor giant screen video that's suspended above the main pool area. I love this amenity. In the morning CNN is broadcast, midday there are music videos, and at night feature films, replete with freshly popped popcorn fired up at the pool bar. During the day, as well, video and audio/video-based trivia games can be played around the pool, which get a lot of action and interest.
Another aspect of ships that I begin to get a handle on after a few days is theme, and I have to admit that the theme and decor of this ship handed me another major surprise. In the back of my mind I half expected that Carnival, in fashioning a ship for the (presumably) more sophisticated European cruising market, would go with a more toned-down palette. Au contraire. As a matter of fact if anything, Freedom's interior appearance is more over the top than some of the other ships in the fleet. I’ve already mentioned the giant blue Statue of Liberty dominating the Freedom Restaurant, and the perimeter of the room punctuated by glowing blue disembodied Liberty heads. There are other head-scratching accents: the red metallic snakeskin print ceiling panels in the Chic Restaurant, for one; and the ubiquitous paneling of three colors -- bright orange, gray and black -- laminated together to resemble a bold wood grain effect (if there were such a thing as an indigenous Day-Glo tree). This paneling is everywhere, running up the vertical extent of the Atrium, surrounding the stairways and elevator lobbies, etc. And it's often offset and surrounded by large bordering shapes in reflective copper, and accented by row upon row of pulsating lights that constantly are shifting in color from blue to purple to maroon to lavender and back.
The theme is supposed to be a retrospective, “Through the Centuries by Decade,” but in many ways it seems a retrospective on the work of Joe Farcus over Carnival's 35-year history, a kind of "Joe Farcus' Greatest Hits." Passengers who once sailed on Destiny will quickly recognize the use of molded reflective copper, and the use of color-changing pulsating lights as a design element will remind many of Fantasy.
There was one scheduled event today that I wanted to be sure not to miss: the first production show of the cruise. Cruise lines have scrambled over the years to come up with new and original themes for their production shows, from Broadway, 50's, 60's, Movie Revues, Country music, Bollywood, the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber, etc. But when I heard that tonight Carnival Freedom was mounting "The Big Easy -- Tribute to New Orleans," my immediate thought was, "Why hadn't it been done years ago?" Few places on earth have such a body of unique music, style and history.
But my second thought was, "Netter late than never." I was in New Orleans two weeks before Katrina doing an article for Cruise Critic, and I went back a month ago to see the recovery and to spend some tourist dollars there. Any public expression that keeps New Orleans in people's consciousness is terrific. If hundreds of thousands of Carnival passengers see this show fleetwide, the thought of actually visiting the Big Easy almost certainly will be planted in many of their minds. And visitors are exactly what New Orleans needs now. The show was exciting, fun to watch and made excellent use of the technical capabilities of the Victoriana's stage. Choreography, costumes and sets were all first rate. The show was a great choice for the opening extravaganza for the cruise.
Tomorrow we call at Rhodes, Greece.