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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Carnival Freedom -- 6-night Western Caribbean Cruise

Ship view from shore excursion
Check-in
This was one of the smoothest check-in processes we have experienced. We took a cab from a cruise port hotel around noon. Our driver was able to pull right up to the luggage drop off spot, and we walked inside after leaving our bags with the porters. We wove through a couple of line mazes, went through security, and were on board in about an hour. I noticed that the line had become quite long shortly after we boarded, although it still moved along quickly.

Interior cabin 1021, category 4H
We usually book a balcony room; however, this was an extra cruise for us, so we went for the lowest category inside cabin--at a rock bottom rate. We booked the Early Saver rate, and saw two price drops before our cruise. One price drop was showing all inside cabins for the same price, so we were able to move up to the 10th/Panorama deck. This was still an inside cabin, but better than the bottom of the ship! There is a front balcony on this floor, which can only be accessed through the cabin hallway, so many guests do not know about it. It's not a place to hang out, since there were not any chairs or anything, although it was a great place to view the port as the ship was arriving and leaving.

The room was quite small. In fact, our son's room, #2212, was much larger than our room. Our cabin had the basic storage space and bathroom; there just wasn't any sitting room. The foot of the bed almost hit the vanity, and there was barely room to sit on a chair in front of the vanity. We could not walk by the foot of the bed, if someone was sitting in the chair.

Food & Beverage
The food and beverages were very good, as always. I think the free champagne Carnival serves at events is lower quality than what we received on prior cruises. They used to serve Korbel, which I like. I did not like the complimentary champagne served on this cruise. For dinner, the three of us were seated at a table by ourselves in the dining room, which we found disappointing. This happened to us last time we cruised together after Thanksgiving too. The Maitre'd says this is because there are so many families cruising this time of year. We like each other; however, we also like to meet new people. We think the dining experience is part of the fun. We ate breakfast in the dining room almost every morning, so we did get to meet and socialize with some guests this way. I prefer the dining room menu for breakfast, although my husband likes being able to get special order omelets at the buffet. The dining room breakfast menu only offers a ham and cheese omelet. The dining room is open for lunch on sea days with open seating. We ate lunch in the dining room one day, and it was very good. Lobster was served in the dining room for dinner on the first formal night.

One of the days that we were in port, we arrived back at the ship around noon, and ate at the Mongolian Wok, which is similar to BD's Mongolian Barbeque. The flavors were great, and the line wasn't too long. We ate at the Deli when we returned to the ship ahead of most of the guests on another port day. We are early risers, and are often done on shore before the crowds. There is a menu to order from at the Deli, and you can also make special requests to add or remove an item--such as cheese, or ask for a cold sandwich to be grilled. I requested Swiss cheese for the turkey wrap I ordered. The wrap was jalapeno flavored and wasn't very spicy, which was fine with me. I thought the sandwich was very good.

Many guests are not aware of Fish & Chips on the 10th deck at the back of the ship, so we dined there for lunch on a sea day because there was never a line. Other seafood is available, along with the fish and chips.

Another often unknown dining spot, is Meji Sushi on the Promenade deck by Viennese Cafe (additional cost at the cafe). The sushi bar is only open a few days, and opens at 5:00 p.m. On the days that it's open, the hours are posted in the Fun Times (formerly Carnival Capers). The sushi bar serves appetizer type food, and we had a small sample plate on two days--excellent! You can also purchase additional items.

Other dining options are: buffets on the pool deck for all meal times, two Grilles (at the main and back pools), Pizzeria, Room Service, and Sun King Steakhouse (additional cost). We had room service for breakfast one morning, and it was very prompt.

Serenity deck during sea day
Pool & outside areas
We loved the serenity deck area! We never had a problem finding a lounge chair, although the cabana seats were hard to come by. We were able to get a cabana seat for a couple hours one of the days that the ship was in port. There were four hammocks, and the two hot tubs were actually hot tubs and not lukewarm water. The bar service was great, and there is a nice seating area by the bar. Most of the area is non-smoking, which we liked.

The water slide was fun! None of the pool areas were every crowded. There is a pool and bar at the back of the ship, and two pools and bars at the front of the ship. One of the front pools is the main pool where all the activity was, and the other one is a small pool next to where the water slide comes down. We never had a problem finding a seat when we wanted to change locations.

The jogging track only goes around the back half of the ship on the top floor, so it's not real big, but it served its purpose. It goes around the mini golf and sports deck areas, which were never busy in the morning.

Entertainment
We always like the entertainment on cruises, and this cruise was no exception. The Carnival dancers put on great shows, as did the two comedians. Both comedians also put on adult shows. The "Fun Patrol" was a great group. We ran into them a few times in different areas of the ship. We even played games with them one evening--we did not win, although we received points for our team.

seaside theater
We were disappointed that the band we liked the best (mostly oldies rock music) played mostly in the Cigar Bar. You could not walk by the entrance of this lounge without feeling and smelling like you'd been smoking yourself. It's too bad there was not better ventilation, or that the bands did not alternate where they were located. There are a couple non-smoking lounges; however, we did not like any of the music in those areas. The band we liked played at one of the outside parties one evening, so we were able to enjoy their music that evening.

Other activities were: bingo, game shows in the lounge, pool games, seaside theater (evening movies and/or live concerts on the screen most nights), art shows and auction, liquor taste testing at the gift shop, murder mystery activity, and more.

Ports of Call & Shore Excursions
Our first port of call was Key West. We have been to Key West a few times--by ship and by land--so we hung out on board most of the day. We got off to walk around the shops and such for a short time.

The next port was Grand Cayman, where we have also been several times, so we did the same thing at this port. The famous seven-mile beach is beautiful, if you have not been to Grand Cayman before. You can get there by taxi or bus, if you do not want to book a shore excursion. The public beach is free, and there is a small charge if you want to rent a chair and use the facilities at one of the resorts. At Grand Cayman, you need to ride a tender boat in, which was a smooth process when we went ashore around 10:00 a.m. after most of the guests had already departed. 
Cool Runnings Sail

We booked a shore excursion at our next port of call in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

We have also been to this port; however, it was our son's first visit, so we booked the Cool Runnings Sail and Dunn's River Falls excursion through Carnival for under $60. We thought this was a great trip. It was a short boat ride/sail to the falls (about 20 minutes). Guests could then climb the actual falls or go up by land next to the falls, or hang out on the beach. Since my husband and I have climbed the falls before, I decided to relax on the beach and take pictures while my husband and our son climbed the falls. After the climb, rum drinks and rum punch were included, while we leisurely sailed back to the ship.
Dunn's River Falls










Overall
We loved our cruise, and already have two more planned! We definitely prefer a balcony room; however, for only $300 per person, we have no complaints. Carnival sells a future cruise certificate on board for $100, which is worth $200 toward a seven-day cruise. We bought a certificate and applied it to our next cruise. We got $100 off the purchase price, and a $100 on board credit.