INTRO. My wife and I read dozens of Cruise Critic Reviews before choosing our cruise line for our first cruise. Then, frankly, we chose Carnival because we decided we'd rather cruise home than fly home after spending two weeks in ... Read More
INTRO. My wife and I read dozens of Cruise Critic Reviews before choosing our cruise line for our first cruise. Then, frankly, we chose Carnival because we decided we'd rather cruise home than fly home after spending two weeks in Egypt—and the timing was perfect. It was a real learning experience, and certainly more fun and relaxing than flying. As recent retirees, we were not looking for a hot time—just a nice relaxing cruise, with some entertainment, good food, a nice quiet spot for a good martini, and the opportunity to meet some new folks.
EMBARKATION. We spent a few days in Rome (this was our 3rd visit) with my sister before catching the cruise line scheduled bus from Rome to the port. This was clearly an expensive choice, but we wanted to make our first boarding as simple as possible. Everything worked out fine. We followed simple instructions to board the bus and the ship. The whole process from our Rome hotel to boarding Carnival Freedom was as easy as pie. Our luggage arrived piecemeal in our room just a few hours after we did.
OUR CABIN. We had a balcony stateroom aft of midships on the 7th deck, and it was excellent. Once we discovered we could store our luggage under the bed, we had more than enough room. The dEcor was simple and pleasant. The bathroom was appropriately small, but very satisfactory; the shower was excellent. The room had a couch and chair, mirrors, a TV, and a small table. While there was not a lot of room on the balcony, there were two chairs and incredible views. It was worth the extra price to us to have the balcony.
THE SHIP. Funny ship. The dEcor in the public areas, was, frankly, over-the-top. It wasn't ugly, and I guess it was supposed to be in keeping with Carnival's image of a fun ship. Patterns clashed everywhere and they were saved only by their muted colors. Lights changed colors or blinked on and off, themes were confusing, etc. Anyway, it made for conversation if not appreciation.
The only real ugly thing was the 15-foot high plastic blue Statue of Liberty in the Freedom Restaurant, the ship's cafeteria. That and the dozens of disembodied plastic blue Statue of Liberty heads which provided light and decoration (?) throughout the restaurant.
The ship was designed for smokers, which we did not like. Throughout most of the western nations, roughly only 1 person in 4 now smokes, yet five of the seven bars were smoking bars. Furthermore, when strolling through the promenade on deck 5, the only non-stateroom deck where one can transverse fore to aft, you had to pass by the smoke filled casino and inhale the smoke that drifted out of it. Also, on deck 4, in order to reach certain places, you had to pass through the Cuban Cigar Bar. Again, inhaling the smoke that was there. This was an irritant.
They had a library, but it was very small. We went down on the second day to check it out and 95% of the books had already been checked out. They had only a few reference books on where we would be traveling and only one Atlas (used all time) which we would have liked to use to look up our route, etc. The fitness center was fine, and we used it nearly every day. There is a small 9-hole miniature golf course on deck 11, which we used almost every day at sea. I also used the basketball court a few times. And, I took a golf lesson. I've played a lot of golf and taken a lot of lessons, and I thought the pro was pretty good. DINING. This was the biggest disappointment for my wife and myself. On a 16 day trip, food takes on a greater significance. It is not that there were not plenty of options. It's just that we found all the options to be pretty mediocre, even accounting for the difficulty of preparing food for 3000 people. None of the restaurants would stay in business even 3 months in Albuquerque.
There are 4 main restaurants. The Sun King is the $30 per person "fine dining" restaurant. My wife rated her lobster tail (a specialty) as B minus. My Sole Meuniere was over-done and way too buttery. The French Onion soup was good, desert was okay, and the service was excellent. We did not go back.
We ate most of our dinners in one of the two "regular" restaurants, which are pretentiously named "Posh" and "Chic." That should have been our clue. The food was very inconsistent. The steak tended to be tasty, but tough and sometimes gristly. It was described by one person at our table as "strictly second tier." Some of the fish preparations, especially the salmon, and the tilapia on the first night, were very good, but most of the time they were dry, and twice, for me, really inedible. The pasta dishes, all cream based, were uninspiring. They had an option of steamed vegetables as a "side" every night, and all the folks at our table chose that as our main dish on several occasions. The menu showed little creativity. It was repetitive, pretentious and the chef apparently was unable to execute it. The deserts, especially the chocolate warming cake, were pretty good. One nice thing is that the stateroom TV's have a channel which provides the menu in the Posh and Chic each day. This was a big help to us.
The Freedom Restaurant is a cafeteria. We generally ate there for breakfast and lunch. We found very few items that we liked in Freedom, other than the make-your-own salads. Breakfast was especially disappointing for my wife who found the omelets inedible for her (they tasted suspiciously like powdered eggs). The sausage was pretty good, but the ham tasted like shoe leather, the oatmeal was watery, potatoes tasted stale, and the skim milk was powdered. There were plenty of pastries, however, and fresh fruit—though it was not always ripe. We ate most of our lunches on deck 10, one deck above the buffet itself, as it was less crowded.
There are lots of other options. There is a hamburger and hot dog grill. It was okay, but the hamburger meat was, again, second tier. Onion rings were usually very good; French fries were not. The pizza from the 24-hour pizzeria was sometimes good, sometimes, not. They were very skimpy with the marinara. The fish and chips were fried in a heavy batter, not our preferred preparation. It was pretty good if you got a good-sized chunk of fish, otherwise you might have batter only. The good thing is that you could go back and get more fish until you found some you liked. We live in the southwest, and we found the Mexican food to be quite lacking. Sandwiches from the deli were inconsistent; sometimes good, usually not so good. They also have two soft ice cream machines. These were great. Toppings were provided and they were available around the clock.
Our assessment is that the kitchen staff, or deli staff, or whomever, did not know what much of the food was supposed to taste like. For example, the Reuben sandwich was often prepared with only a thin slice or two of corned beef, a big scoop of sauerkraut, and no discernible dressing at all. It is likely that the staff has never eaten a good Reuben sandwich. I have never seen one in Europe or Asia. Someone should have trained them, however. The Reuben is my example. We feel we could say the same thing about much of the food on board. SERVICE. This was great. Our stateroom attendant was from Romania, and she was very helpful and did an excellent job. The entire ship was kept clean throughout. Our waiter in Posh was fine. All the staff was helpful and friendly, most all the time. Carnival did an excellent job in this area. We rewarded them appropriately at the end of the trip, too.
Another plus, the ship has a suggestion/comment box, and my wife and I placed a couple of items in the box. They were responded to each time. For example, I asked for a tour of the bridge as I had been a deck officer on many ships in the navy. We were accommodated almost immediately. My wife asked that the music be more relaxing in the Freedom Restaurant—and within a couple of days, it was.
ENTERTAINMENT. We tended to go to bed before most of the late night entertainment, so we can't be of much help here. The one show we saw was fine. The interior was too light for the movie in the theater, however, and the actors were all misshapen due to the fact that the projection was a 16:9 ratio for a 4:3 movie (or vice versa, I forget). This was unconscionable.
We did like some of the daytime entertainment, though; especially the chamber music trio.
The bartenders everywhere made very good drinks, and they did not skimp on the alcohol. And, though we found a nice smoke-free spot for before dinner cocktails, we were unable to find a quiet, intimate, smoke-free location for a romantic interlude after dinner.
The swimming pools are small, but nice. My wife got several good early morning workouts until others entered the pool. It is too small for more than three active people. The hot tubs were not hot enough for us.
Finally, there are the hairy chest contests, bean bag tosses, trivia contests, etc., which go on all day long, and karaoke each night.
SHORE EXCURSIONS. We went on the Carnival excursions. Mostly we did the 3 hour "City Tour" morning tours so that we could explore on our own in the afternoon. The excursions were generally okay, and the pattern fit our needs quite well. The only disappointing tour was the wrongly advertised "Charming Villages of Gran Canaria." This was mostly a bus ride.
DISEMBARKATION. Was a snap.
OTHER COMMENTS. We got tired of Carnival trying to sell us stuff all the time.
Being prone to motion sickness, I was concerned about getting seasick, but I needn't have been. On the transatlantic crossing we had several days with 6 - 8 foot seas. While I could feel some movement, this ship was very steady. It is large, and it has stabilizers.
There are laundry rooms on each deck. They are handy, but heavily used, and require lots of quarters. Even though our entire vacation was four weeks, because we could do laundry, we each made do very comfortably with a medium sized suitcase.
This is a big ship and it is easy to get confused from time-to-time. Many folks were never sure when getting out of the elevators, whether they were going fore or aft. It is worth spending a couple of hours on the first day acquainting yourself with the ship as best as you can. A deck plan can be picked up on the 3rd deck near the atrium.
I recommend bringing binoculars, as well as a camera. We used the binoculars quite often. They were great for checking out other ships at sea, for looking at coastlines, and to use coming into and leaving port.
SUMMARY. Carnival tells you what is important to them. Carnival Capers (the daily plan-of-the-day) is "Your guide to fun." "Let the Fun begin." They will provide the fun for you and keep you entertained.
The ship design tells you what the Carnival focus is, also. The library is tiny. Ergo, education and learning, "looking things up" is unimportant. The majority of the public rooms (other than the restaurants) are bars and the casino. And these are mostly smoking areas, at that.
Their seminars tell you the Carnival focus. If shopping in foreign ports is your thing, well, Carnival provides seminars, materials, and lots of help. But if you are interested in learning more about the culture and history of the places you visit, you'd better bring along your own material. Carnival provides zero help in that regard. Enrichment is non-existent.
And while there was lots of food, the quality of ingredients and preparation both have a lot of room for improvement.
I understand that this is all about tastes. Carnival was simply not to our tastes. While I rate the Carnival Freedom experience a "3" overall, my wife would rate it a "2." We will be cruising again, but it is unlikely that it will be on a Carnival ship. Read Less