We took that cruise early last December and had a great time. The Freedom and her crew were great and we enjoyed all the ports of call.
The Ft Lauderdale port gets really busy after about 11:00 or so. Try to get their shortly after 10:00. They were letting people check in then seating them in the order they checked in for boarding. About 11:00 they cut off checkin and moved it to a bigger room and the smaller room was made VIP only. About 11:30 they started boarding starting with everyone that checked in before 11:00.
I agree that the vendors in Ocho Rios are pushy, even in the high scale jewelry stores in the mall, but it wasn’t that annoying. We didn’t want to climb the falls, but thought seeing it would be nice. A tour operator at the gates to the port kept trying to sell us a package but we didn’t want to go to the falls and wait for everyone to climb it. She ended up giving us a minivan, driver, and tour guide that took us to the falls, waited until we were done then gave us a tour of the city and dropped us off at the shopping malls close enough to walk back to the ship. Total with tips and admission to the park containing the falls, $60.
There is a really nice shopping “village” where the road from the pier meets the main road. It has a lot of local atmosphere, some authentic some not, but the vendors there were not pushy. Beware of the flea market just outside of the customs house. They are pushy there and it is the only place I felt I was being offered illicit substances, but they were not overt about it. Just claiming to be able to get you anything you want, regardless of what it might be.
Really good local coffee in beans or already ground is available all over the island, wait until outside of the port area for better prices. The Taj Mahal (sp?) mall has a good mix of gift shops and jewelry stores. One of them was offering a bottle of cold Jamaican Red Strip beer or mixed rum drink to anyone that came in and wished the owner a happy birthday. The salesman said that of course not every day was the owner’s birthday but they had some kind of promotion going all the time to make it more fun there. The shopping director on the ship usually tells what promotions are on during his port talk the day before.
Been to Grand Cayman several times so we just shopped and spent time on 7-mile beach. The new larger dock for the tenders allow more ships to be in port. There were 5 the day we were there. The crowds were not so bad though.
Key West is fun. Make sure to try some key lime pie there. Remember that it’s still part of the US so there are not a lot of price breaks in the shopping. We found the aquarium to be more fun than we expected. It was bundled in with a tour we took. The salvager’s museum was ok, also bundled, but to be clear it's not the Mel Fisher museum. Your time would be better spent there, at the shipwreck museum. There were several jewelry stores that had really good prices on pendants made out of the salvaged coins.
Hope you have a great time CutieCat.
2012 Carnival Destiny
2011 Carnival Splendor
2011 Carnival Pride
2010 Carnival Legend (w/ Hurricane Paula)
2010 Carnival Imagination
2009 Carnival Valor
2008 Carnival Freedom
2008 Carnival Facination
2007 Carnival Triumph
2006 Carnival Miracle
2005 Carnival Victory
2002 Carnival Imagination