We were already scheduled on the Freedom for 22 December with family, but found a suite on the 15 December cruise and decided to make it a back-to-back. Luckily it was a fantastic choice. We've sailed Carnival before and had some good ... Read More
We were already scheduled on the Freedom for 22 December with family, but found a suite on the 15 December cruise and decided to make it a back-to-back. Luckily it was a fantastic choice. We've sailed Carnival before and had some good and some not so good experiences, but dang. Things have changed. I'll say up front that I don't know if the great changes are company-wide or if it's just on the Freedom, but Carnival has really upped their game. From check-in to debarkation, we couldn't have been more pleased. Well, perhaps if one of the lady passengers hadn’t already been so drunk when we did the muster drill that she spilled the ample contents of her stomach all over the deck and the passengers unlucky enough to be standing near her, that might have started us out a little better. But the crew handled it perfectly and that was that.
The cabins on both cruises were clean, well-kept and spacious (7299 on the first cruise and 7262 on the second). The Grand Suite was the biggest room we've ever had on a ship before and the Ocean Suite on the second half of the cruise was more than adequate. The Grand Suite even had a jetted tub, something I used several times with much enjoyment. Cabin stewards in both were great, but Putu was outstanding on the second voyage we took. More importantly, Carnival treats you as a suite guest even if you're not in their largest suites. We cruised Royal Caribbean in April of this year and had a Junior Suite. They don't consider the Junior Suite a suite, regardless of what they call it. That was disappointing, and it was great to not have a similar experience with Carnival.
The first sailing had ports of call in Cozumel, Belize and Roatan, but due to a very strong, fast-moving cold front we were only able to port in Cozumel prior to the front's arrival. After the front passed, we had 10-20 foot seas and 50+ knot winds - gale conditions. First off, the ship handled beautifully. We could tell there was adverse weather outside, but skillful navigation and decision making by Captain Costi gave us a great ride. We did not port at either Belize (no shore excursions planned) or Roatan (a sailing shore excursion planned). One negative comment here - we tried to discuss the situation with the Shore Excursion folks, but the fool behind the desk actually said "I have no idea what you're talking about." when we were discussing the gale conditions. I know there's money on the line with them, but it seemed when there was bad news to be passed, the Shore Excursion people would simply disappear. And when you could find them, those we found were completely unresponsive to any adverse conditions.
Anyway, shore excursion money was always immediately refunded to our onboard account and we could then cash that out with the Guest Services desk or spend it as we saw fit. While discussing Guest Services, I'll say that one of our (new) suitcases was damaged when it arrived to our room. I believed that because there was no way of knowing who had damaged it or when the damage occurred there was nothing we could do about it. While being escorted to Customs during the middle Sunday of the cruise for the back-to-back, I mentioned the only issue we'd had yet was the damaged luggage to Shineca (Guest Services). She told me to bring the broken suitcase down to them and they would see what they could do. I was amazed, and told her my thoughts about not knowing who had damaged the suitcase. She was unfazed and said it didn't really matter.
When we got back on the ship I took the suitcase down and talked to Tin, Guest Services manager. He took the item and told me they would see if they could get it repaired in Cozumel (3rd stop on the 2nd cruise). If not, they would find a replacement for us. After Cozumel, they called and I returned to Guest Services to find a brand new rolling suitcase, slightly smaller than the original that had been damaged. Because of the size difference, they offered us an additional new bag to make up the difference. Since I felt the difference was not that large and we could make do with just the one, I opted to just take only one suitcase. Tin found me a few minutes later and wanted me to take the second bag. He felt they weren't doing their best to provide us with only the single suitcase because it was slightly smaller. It was a bit difficult to convince him one bag was sufficient, that they should keep the second for another mishap. Really outstanding service.
While I’m talking about Guest Services, I’ll also say that Karin was always smiling, even through the worst of the weather and the crush of disappointed guests after 2 ports were bypassed for safety. Her laugh and her enthusiasm absolutely represented Carnival as any corporation would love. Rodelisa was also helpful throughout. All-in-all, a fantastic crew in Guest Services, and I’d like to think they were being watched for promotions. I’d also like to think we’ll run into Karin again on other cruises because she’s so great to work with.
At the atrium bar, Prakash and Nipa were also always there, always smiling. You might not know it, but when you cancel a port of call for weather, every one of the ship’s crew gets pressed into duty for the unscheduled sea day. This happened twice on this cruise (and we’ve never ever missed a port for weather before this cruise). Prakash and Nipa, no exception to that rule, were completely professional, always smiling and not fazed at all. You couldn’t tell they were operating on less sleep and less personal time. Really outstanding folks.
As for the entertainment, I can’t speak to a lot of it. We were transfixed by a single act for both cruises. The Cats String Trio was easily and by-far the best cruise ship entertainment I’ve seen in 20+ years on the water. These three ladies, two from Ukraine and one from Bulgaria, play electronic violins in unison and there really isn’t any way to describe how fantastic their music is. We had plans to check out most of the other shows and performers, but somehow ending up listening to their beautiful music again and again. I’d go so far as to say that if I knew they were going to be on a ship for a potential cruise, their being there would sway my decision.
Finally, the Captain and his staff. To say this week’s cruise was challenging would be an understatement. When the front caught up to us as we sailed south from Cozumel, it was a monster. I’ve been a weather geek as long as I can remember and this storm was impressive on many levels. I’ve also never been on a ship when the waves were this tall and the wind this strong. That 50 knots I spoke of was not just wind across the deck, added to by ship’s speed. It was a pure 50 knots, yet some of the guests simply could not understand why we were not going into the ports. I understand the disappointment of booking a cruise with 3 ports and missing 2 due to weather, but some of these guests were simply unable to comprehend the effects wind and waves have on a massive ship. Even in Roatan where a large part of the island had lost power in the storm, people were still angry we were not docking. It’s hard to explain reality to those fine folks.
However, Captain Costi did have a Question and Answer session in the main theater, and he handled the questions beautifully. He defused an angry mob and skillfully handled the guests that seemed to want their cruise costs fully refunded because they couldn’t understand the difference between comfort and safety. And I’ll add that the next day was the day the Glory and the Legend collided in Cozumel under strong winds. But as the saying goes, you can’t fix stupid and some people still left unhappy. Captain Costi worked with Carnival headquarters in Miami and found an unscheduled port for Friday though – Costa Maya. It wasn’t a great port for shore excursions and we didn’t stay that late, but it did allow people to get off the boat for a while after being in such bad weather. Again, kudos to the crew and Carnival for making the best of a bad situation.
Food. Back to the April 2019 cruise on Royal, it seemed everything was an additional charge, including room service. On these 2 weeks, the dining room staff was very good though the food wasn’t all that memorable. However, Carnival has multiple other venues with really fantastic food and without additional charges like Royal did. Guy’s Burgers, The Blue Iguana, the Deli, the Omelet Station/Mongolian BBQ and the barbecue counter were all incredible. We often chose the dining room for the atmosphere (and elegant nights), but were just as happy in the other venues. Speaking of Elegant Nights (ex-Formal Nights), almost no one wears a tuxedo anymore. There probably weren’t more than 5 tuxedoes on the entire ship. Just FYI. I don’t know if the percentage is greater on other lines…
Just one downside to the cruise, not a them deal-breakers but I wish it would be addressed. The casino deck, Deck 5 on the Freedom, was like walking through an ashtray. This is 2019 and I know there are better smoke scrubbers than the Freedom is using. Everything on Deck 5 smelled like smoke, even bars that were away from the casino. We tried going into the Red Frog Pub (which by the way had the only unfriendly crew on the ship) to watch the college playoff games. Stunk. And as an aside, I don’t understand why the playoff games couldn’t be shown on the big screen by the center pool if they could be shown in two of the smallest bars. We were told they didn’t have the license to show it – but how can it be on it the bars if that’s true? Oh well, OU lost, and it didn’t matter much after the first quarter.
Disembarking today was a breeze. I don’t know if all Carnival boats now follow the same procedures, but if they do not, they should. The Fun Crew was mostly in charge of herding us around and they did a wonderful job. Everything was logical and flowed perfectly, clearing the ship in no time at all. Best yet seen for that.
Overall, we were very impressed from start to finish with Carnival. So as soon as I finish this review, I’m going to begin looking at another Carnival cruise. Well done to the entire Carnival Freedom crew. Read Less