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By PAUL MOTTER
Carnival Freedom has hit our shores, ready for its first season of Caribbean cruising for winter. The newest flagship of Carnival Cruises, and the last ship of the "Conquest" class to be built for Carnival, Freedom belongs to the Carnival family all the way, with imaginative decor and a multitude of room themes that will be sure to please any Carnival aficionado.
Next week, we will be sailing on the Freedom leaving from Miami on a short Western Caribbean Cruise. We will be sending you live updates posted straight to the Carnival Message Boards in CruiseMates.
The theme of the ship is, of course, "freedom," in the patriotic American sense, of course, but also in other meanings of the word. This is the expected eclectic vision of Carnival ship architect and interior designer, Joe Farcus. Joe typically starts his designs with a word to represent an idea, expanding beyond the singular definition that first comes to mind.
Design details throughout the ship include banister rails and trim in copper rather than the usual brass. Trim is somewhat dark and broody, which only serves to make the translucent accent lights modeled as faces of the Statue of Liberty that much more quixotic as they stare at you from everywhere.
Most of the wood panel finishings tend to be either orange or a dark gray, a somewhat unusual combination that is so Farcusion it begs the questions, "why did he use that combination, I don't think I've ever seen that before?" to which the only answer is, "because Farcus does what he wants."
He has total Freedom (note the word) in designing Carnival interiors which has resulted in a fleet of over 20 ships where absolutely no two ships can be said to be anything alike. That itself is an accomplishment in this day and age where several companies have as many as five ships that are for all intents and purposes identical to one another, inside and out.
If it sounds like we are describing a theme park more than a cruise ship, it is because that is what modern Carnival ships have become. The onboard ambience is less of a nautical experience, and more like Las Vegas hotel. Everything is fantastically faux, and for the most part representational (artistically speaking) of the unifying theme.
Dining Choices on Freedom
Freedom offers four different dining times amongst the two traditional restaurants onboard; two early sittings 5:45, 6:15; and two late sittings 8:00 and 8:30. The two restaurants are Posh (aft with a commanding view over the stern and wake when at sea) and Chic, located midship with picture windows on the port and starboard sides.
There are tables for groups of every size, from tables for two to parties of 10. The noise level seems to be most tolerable when seated next to wall. If you end up in the middle be sure to sit next to someone you enjoy talking to. The ambient noise level can make across the table conversations difficult, especially at large, round tables for eight.
The lido dining spot also known as the self-service buffet area, is called simply the "Freedom Restaurant." During breakfast and lunch there is a large choice of main entrees and accoutrements, with ice tea, hot tea and coffee served at no extra charge. Both meals offer standalone food stations where one can get a dish prepared a la minute to order; omelets or waffles, for example.
Lunchtime offers special food stations for sushi, pasta, Asian food, deli sandwiches, ice cream and other desserts. Both meals have open carving stations where a butcher will be slicing ham for breakfast and pork, lamb or possibly beef Wellington for lunch.
Near the aft pool are the expected (for Carnival) hamburger/hotdog and pizza offerings. These are open nearly around the clock. There is also a self-service soft ice cream machine with small cones available.
At night, for those who may not feel like dressing for more formal occasions, the Freedom Restaurant is transformed into an alternative dining venue. This restaurant offers buffet style food selection, but then full table service by waiters once you sit down. The food is hot and delicious, and best of all you can slip up there in your casual clothes an any time (no pre-set dining times or reservations required) and enjoy a hot meal served quickly with a glass of wine from the bar, and then retire to your room as soon as you are finished.
At the other end of the scale, for a special occasion where you may want to to dress to the nines (although that is not mandatory) there is the Sun King Supper Club, isolated in a quiet spot on Deck 10. These Carnival steakhouses have proven themselves to be every bit as good in food and service as practically any restaurant at sea. The food is as good as it gets, especially if you prefer simple but perfectly prepared steaks or chops. The filet will melt in your mouth, and fish tastes so fresh you expect it to wiggle. Succulent lamb chops with just the right touch of marbling and a delicious mint sauce will have your mouth watering with appreciation for every single bite.
A small combo plays at a comfortable volume as long as you are not too close; expect to see couples apparently in love celebrating special occasions on the dance floor, before dinner or between courses.
Service charge is $30 per-person plus optional gratuity and reservations are recommended. Look for the reservation desk in the lobby on embarkation day right at the end of the gangway. Dress code "upscale casual;" no jeans, shorts, T-shirts, flip flops. Most people dress in formal attire.