This was our third cruise and the first time we had a balcony which we really enjoyed. We flew from Portland, OR to Houston and stayed overnight at the Marriott Townplace Suites in Galveston. We used Island Breeze Shuttle for airport ... Read More
This was our third cruise and the first time we had a balcony which we really enjoyed. We flew from Portland, OR to Houston and stayed overnight at the Marriott Townplace Suites in Galveston. We used Island Breeze Shuttle for airport transportation. I was REALLY impressed with them, great communication and service. Our drivers were semi-retired, extremely friendly, and very accommodating. Our driver stopped at the local grocery store so we could pick up a couple 12 packs of sodas and some snacks. We could have picked up wine, too, but we brought that with us. The hotel was recently modeled, extremely clean, quiet and comfortable. It was located next to the Courtyard Marriott where you could get a meal if you wanted. However, we used the Marriott courtesy shuttle and went to a locals-frequented Italian restaurant, Sapori. The didn't serve beer or wine, but you could bring your own - so we did. The food was fantastic and our server warned us that they served huge portions. So my wife and I split an entree. Dessert was fabulous, too! It is a small place, not near anywhere, really. During dessert, we called the Marriott courtesy shuttle and they picked us up. Others at the hotel were going to local bars and other restaurants, and they were willing to take you anywhere on Galveston Island. They do not have airport shuttle service. There is a fee to have them take you to the cruise terminal. We booked early and got a great rate. It is a category 6 hotel in the Marriott system for those who are interested in using Marriott Rewards to stay there.
We purchased the Faster-to-the-Fun service. I'm on the fence as to its value, but I appreciated being near the head of the line when boarding, tendering and getting off the ship. The weather was fabulous the day we left, so I headed straight for the pool, and ordered some drinks. It was over an hour before other passengers made their way to the deck. It was sunny and in the 60's - maybe others thought I was crazy for laying out in the sun. Being from Portland, that is just what we do. :-)
When we left the ship on the last day, we had a nice breakfast in the main dining room, then went back to our room until we were politely asked to leave and then we headed up to the pool deck and hung out. At the final call to disembark, we headed out of the ship and got through customs relatively quickly. We had a late flight, and our shuttle wasn't going to pick us up until noon (which was fine) and since we were at terminal 1 and the weather was great, we walked over to the boardwalk and had an early light lunch, a local beer (IPA) and had our shuttle meet us there.
We splurged for an extended balcony cabin which overlooked the back of the boat. It had 2 chaise lounges and 2 chairs, very large. No negative there, and I would book this again. I loved sitting out there, but there are caveats. The smoking area was 2 decks above us and, occasionally, smoke drifted down to our deck. There isn't much of a breeze on the deck since you are sheltered so when you are in the tropical waters it may not be comfortable for you. You are also in the back of the boat, and you may feel more ship movement than you would in a middle cabin. You are also on the other end of the ship so it is a long walk to the Serenity deck and other activities on the front of the ship including the spa, gym and theater. I liked the walk, so I didn't mind it.
The gym was well appointed, nice equipment. I didn't use it enough, but there were lots of machines, free weights, etc. The men's locker room was ok, and I had no problem getting a locker.
The comedy clubs seemed to be the most popular. The early (family) shows were, by far, the funniest. Comedians changed mid-cruise, so there was a wide variety throughout the cruise. The production shows on board Freedom were very well done, I was surprised they were not attended by more passengers. They were music based, used a lot of multimedia rather than physical sets, and were well staged. They exceeded my expectations and were much better than on our Carnival Miracle cruise we took last year. The same performers also performed at the various clubs on ship, so it was pretty cool to get to see them up close.
By far, our favorite bar was Alchemy. Great tasting cocktails, custom made. I ordered one and it was too sweet, so they adjusted the drink accordingly. Drinks were strong, too, and there was a wide variety of options and always seemed to be a special that worked for the drink I wanted. Cool. It isn't a full service bar, but I noticed the bartender did run to some other bars to accommodate requests when they weren't too busy. Red Frog Pub was our other favorite. Their 'fish-bowl' drinks were 56 ounces and (I think) contained 4 shots. They were on the sweeter side. The beer was pretty good, too.
We had dinner at the steakhouse the first night and took advantage of a 50% off wine special they had. The steakhouse was not busy. There was a very fancy and quiet bar at the steakhouse, too, which is open to everyone. I was told the cocktails there were generous pours - but I never tested it. The service was above average, we weren't pressured to eat and run. Our table was by a window that overlooked a smoking area. I thought that was quite strange. The food was indeed better than the main dining room. I think I would do this again for a special occasion, but I don't think it was worth an extra $70 for 2. I noticed some entrées from the steakhouse are available in the main dining room for an extra $20.
The next night, we ordered a wine package and our unused wine was corked and delivered the following night. We were also served a cheese plate when we arrived which, I think, was because of the wine package we bought. That was a nice, unexpected, touch. Our servers were attentive. The main dining room was not well attended in general. There were always empty tables each night. That gave us great service. The first cruise elegant night was the busiest and that did tax the service level noticeably, but it was still very good.
We had dinner in the main dining room every other night. We sat with 2 other couples, one couple never showed up. We made friends with the other couple who were very, very nice and we looked forward to dining with them every night. They did the fancy chef dinner ($75 each) which was a long evening of a tour of the spotless galley and multi course meal with wine pairings. I think I'd do that on a future cruise. They were impressed with it and the whole experience was just over-the-top.
We missed doing the afternoon tea on sea days on this cruise. We enjoyed this on our last Carnival cruise. Since we like the late seating time for dinner, we look for a light snack about this time of the day. We did have some light snacks from the Lido deck but did not really eat a full meal there. Room service options are very limited and some simple things like French fries had a fee associated with them. That was disappointing. On port days, we ordered room service breakfast which was quite adequate. I did have a Guy's burger one day, and I admit, it was very, very good.
We didn't do an excursion in Cozumel. The boat arrived very early and left early. We walked off the boat and did some shopping, then went across the street to a local restaurant and had some tacos and beers. That was quite fun. We got back on the boat early. I went up to the serenity deck and had some drinks, read a book in one of the cocoons and ran back and forth to the hot tub. It was pretty quiet up there. I was just going to stay on our deck, but there wasn't a breeze and it was too warm to sit there very long. This is where I wished I had the $5 internet/chat package so I could let my wife know where I was. I told her I'd be on the Serenity deck, but she couldn't find me. We purchased it later in the cruise. I think it is overpriced, but it would have been convenient.
In Cayman, we booked a swim with the stingrays tour with an independent operator "Dexter Tours" which we found on trip advisor. Dexter was ill, but his friend operated the catamaran. It was very personal service. He picked us up when we got off the tender port, and we picked up a few local couples on the way to the small pier. We motored out to the site on a catamaran. It did rain that day, and I was actually cold for about 10 minutes (no kidding.) We arrived before the ship's similar excursion offering arrived which was a huge boat. Our tour guide showed us how to hold and pet the stingrays, feed them, helped to take some photos, etc. We then motored away to a snorkeling site. The water was choppy this day, but I enjoyed the snorkeling. He answered a lot of questions - he had been doing this for over 15 years. Cost of our tour, including round trip transportation was $40 each. I would give this independent tour 5 stars!
In Jamaica, we booked an excursion through Carnival to a beach club. It was not a pleasant port experience nor excursion. We got off the boat and waited an hour on the pier for our bus to arrive and tour to leave. The bus driver then got lost. Our 5 1/2 hour excursion turned out to be less than 3 hours at the resort. I agree with fellow reviewers that the best thing to do in this port is to stay on the ship. It took about 1 1/2 hours to get to the resort, and over an hour to get back due to traffic. Carnival ended up discounting the excursion for us by 50%. This is such a shame because the people of the Jamaica are so friendly and the water is so beautiful and warm. You should consider Ocho Rios, instead. I haven't been there but I understand there is a nice beach close to the ship and some really nice beach clubs a few miles from the port.
I was surprised when we booked another cruise in 2018 when we were on board. The incentive was a $200 cruise credit. I loved Roatan so we decided to go back there. We were very interested in trying one of the panoramic ocean view state rooms on the front of the ship. There was only one left (2 years from now), so we decided to book it.
One final tip: since Carnival does not allow people to bring bottled water on board any more, they offered a reasonably priced alternative to purchase bottled water in advance and have it delivered to your stateroom. I did this, I can't recall the price, but it was relatively inexpensive. These were great to have when going on shore, and having around the boat. 24 bottles seemed about right for us. And if you want something besides iced tea and lemonade to drink, bringing those little individual packets of powdered drink mix may be a good option for you. Have your cabin steward empty the refrigerator and you can use it to store your water and canned sodas. Read Less