My wife and two children (ages 8 and 11) just returned from the 12/28/2008 New Year's sailing and we had a wonderful cruise. This was our 9th cruise; 4th time with children (5 w/Carnival, 2 w/Princess, and 2 w/NCL) - all of our last five cruises were with Carnival. We are Carnival "loyalist" because their product fits our budget and we believe they truly provide a very good vacation value. We had a fun and memorable cruise experience on the Freedom, even though the live music entertainers (the alternate club band "Lifeline" and Reggae island band "Eclipse 1") were disappointingly below par compared to last year's New Year's Cruise on the Miracle. These musical venues should have been much better considering that this was a New Year's cruise, which is significantly more expensive than other cruise sailings in the year.On Christmas Day (12/25) we flew down from New York to Miami, rented a large SUV from Budget and then drove 20 minutes to the Four Points by Sheraton Miami Beach, where we stayed three nights (12/25 - 12/28) in a beautiful mini-suite (free upgrade) with a partial ocean view. We started our first full day (12/26) enjoying a complimentary buffet breakfast; then we enjoyed the hotel's pool, Jacuzzi and beach front, all located on their beautifully landscaped grounds. The second day (12/27) we spent most of the day enjoying South Beach. Our favorite restaurant for breakfast was the Front Porch Cafe (1418 Ocean Drive) and dinners at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. (Bayside Market) and Big Pink (157 Collins Avenue at 2nd Street). On the day of our cruise, we drove our Budget rental SUV to the Port Everglades 17th Street Budget drop-off location at 9:45 a.m. and then took two taxi cabs to Port Everglades ($10/each cab); arriving at the port at 10:30 a.m. We were physically on the ship by 11:30 a.m. and didn't have to wait in line for anything! Well done Carnival!!
Many times during our 100% occupied cruise, we found ourselves saying, "where is everybody?" The ship was so big that there was plenty of room for all passengers to enjoy their vacation without seeing large groups of people, except in the buffet areas during peak breakfast and lunch periods. We found the staff and crew to be extremely friendly and all of them greeted you and smiled as you passed them in the corridors. Our room steward (Riviera #1274) was just fantastic and was very accommodating to our requests (i.e., remove the contents of the mini bar from the refrigerator). Although he was not very visible, he always knew exactly when to tidy up our cabin, which he did several times a day. Everything was done to perfection, including creative towel animal creations. Our cabin was very spacious for a family of four and the bathroom/shower was equally sufficient as well. We also enjoyed the flat screen TV, along with the additional channels that were added since our last cruise. As for the rest of the ship, it was always glittering and sparkling clean as expected.
The foods in the buffet areas were great for a quick and convenient breakfast and lunch. On sea days, we had breakfast in the main dining room, where we enjoyed waiter service along with a bagel, cream cheese, lox, capers and red onion and/or eggs benedict. We also enjoyed these other delicious alternative dining options (and late evening snacks): 24/7 Pizzeria, Deli, Fish and Chips, Grills, sushi bar and 24/7 unlimited frozen yogurt and ice cream machines. We had a lovely booth (#573) in the Posh Dining Room overlooking the lower level and our waiter (Agran) and his assistant (Miriana) graciously tendered to our needs every night with big smiles. We found the overall quality of the food to be on par compared to our previous Carnival cruises. However, we have noticed that the quality of the food has been on the decline over the past five years. We always looked forward to the dessert portion of our meal, when the dining room lights would dim/shimmer, upbeat music would begin to play and the passengers and waiters would then dance and sing in the isles. Carnival did not let us down and provided a "fun and exciting" dining experience every night
Ample room for family of four, lots of storage space, very quiet location, great location to elevators, nice LCD flat screen TV, large refrigerator.