CARNIVAL FREEDOM 2.0 - She's back & better than ever!
If you're not into reviews, here is a link to the pictures and there are over 350 of them!
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of sailing the CARNIVAL FREEDOM on a relatively short 5-day cruise. After a less than stellar sailing on the BREEZE last year I had pretty much written Carnival off. On that sailing I witnessed just too many cost cutting initiatives that impacted my enjoyment. Things like cutting back on crew, eliminating live bands, really scaled back production shows, and to top it off all the public rooms were really warm and crowded. Walking around the public areas at night was like walking in a heard of cattle. Not for me. Worst of all the food and service in the main dining room was some of the worst I've ever experienced. All the things I had come to love and expect about Carnival, such as great food, service, and entertainment at a terrific value were missing on their newest and so-called "best" ship. Even the decor, which was new for Carnival and I admit looked bright and fresh compared to the typical Farcus decor eventually grew dull, and upon closer inspection very generic and cheap.
So fast forward about a year to June 2014 and I was in the market for a short, relatively inexpensive cruise out of South Florida. The FREEDOM was a perfect match so somewhat hesitantly I booked. Cutting right to the chase it was an exceptional cruise, so different than the BREEZE a year before. Food and service were excellent and all the 2.0 additions were fantastic. I even enjoyed the Farcus decor better as it's far more interesting than the IKEA-like decor on BREEZE. I also witnessed the return of live music although it's still not where it needs to be. There is still a DJ out on deck which is disappointing, and the shows don't feature any live music, just the pre-recorded click-track type stuff. Even so I feel Carnival is listening and making positive changes. I still found "Playlist Productions" with a total of 8 performers and no band to be a cutback, but at least the shows were entertaining with music that I really enjoyed. The performers themselves were so-so but certainly had a lot of energy so they were fun to watch.
A couple cruises ago I achieved Platinum status with Carnival's VIFP past passenger club. On the BREEZE I really didn't much in the way of recognition that knocked my socks off, but that wasn't the case on FREEDOM. Starting with embarkation we were whisked through a special check-in line to complete our formalities. Once onboard our cabin was ready immediately where as others had to wait until 1:30pm I believe. We had a special VIFP line at the Guest Services desk and that really came in handy at the end of the cruise. Even better we received a personal call from the Hotel Director's office welcoming us onboard and asking if there was anything they could do to enhance our cruise. That was really impressive! In addition they informed us of a special phone number for Guest Services to expedite any issues we had. I also enjoyed receiving my Platinum VIFP gift which is a really nice insulated Carnival logo mug (see photos) of very high quality and of course the VIFP pin which is also nicer than the one I received last year. In addition a dish of white and dark chocolate treats and covered strawberries were delivered one night, and we received priority disembarkation which meant we could disembark anytime we wanted. I didn't take advantage of the free laundry, priority tendering, or recognition party although these were offered as well. All these little things really added up to make one feel appreciated and special, but most of all it was the everyday interaction with the superb crew that made the difference. Without fail the crew onboard FREEDOM was friendly, helpful, and a pleasure to have fun with. They really seemed to enjoy their jobs and had fun while at it. Unlike the BREEZE I never had to wait for a drink or go searching for a bar waiter. There was always plenty of staff around which is how I remember things being on Carnival. The icing on the cake was that when I presented my Platinum cruise card, almost without fail the crew member thanked me for being loyal to Carnival and went the extra mile. I even felt my drinks were made a little stronger as they used the shot glass but also free poured a little more. Needless to say I was impressed!
I sailed with my mom on this cruise and we opted for a table for two, aft Posh Dining Room, upper level. No problem! In fact we were given a table for 4 by ourselves right on the rail overlooking the first level. Perfect! We had a great wait staff that served cuisine that was equally as good as their service. They always called us by name which was nice. In fact the food & service were as good as anything I've experienced in Britannia Class on Cunard. We usually had wine each night with dinner and we never had to wait for that either. That was a real problem on BREEZE where I basically brought my drinks with me to the dining room because getting one once there was near impossible. The other food offerings were the buffet, Iguana Cantina, Guy's Burgers, and the Taste Bar. In addition up on the Serenity Deck you could order from a light lunch menu if you didn't want to leave the area. Nice touch! Ok its been written about many times, but Guy's Burgers truly are the best at sea, and better than 95% of burgers I've had even on land. They are *that* good. Always fresh, always made to order, and a perfect mix of flavors. I tend to prefer thin, smashed burgers over thick ones, and this is exactly how Guy's are prepared. For me they were about as good as they come. On any other cruise line you would pay a premium for such a high quality burger. Speaking premiums, the last dining option is the Sun King Steakhouse. The decor here is quite elegant and the menu looked fantastic, but we didn't dine here basically because everything in the main dining room was so exceptional. Quite different than the BREEZE where we tried to avoid the MDR as much as possible because it was that bad.
Our cabin was a standard balcony, number 9221. Excellent location and fairly quiet. Everything was in great shape and the bedding was super comfy. We both slept quite well during this cruise. Even the shower had better than average water pressure. There is an interactive TV where you can check your shipboard account, and I'm not sure if this was new or added during the 2.0 upgrade? Our cabin steward was excellent and did an amazing job. He never once disturbed us but like magic made up the room without us ever knowing. Soon after we arrived he stopped by to introduce himself which was a nice touch. Ok one complaint and this is true of every Carnival ship I've ever sailed. The door slamming. Not just the cabin door but the balcony door as well. It shakes the entire wall when it happens and it's very annoying! People PLEASE be considerate! It's not too much to ask to close your door gently. There is also a ventilation slot in the main cabin door out to the corridor, and unfortunately conversations can carry easily into the cabin. This is a design fault that I haven't experienced on other lines, and without question I prefer the sliding balcony doors that Royal Caribbean has on most of its ships. Minor details but something I would like to see Carnival change on future ships. Our cabin was located very close to the new section of cabins that were added above the Bridge during the recent refit. On disembarkation day I was able to snap some photos of these new cabins (including the Captain's Suite) and they are included in my photo gallery. I really loved the Scenic Grand Ocean View rooms with two massive windows! I think I would enjoy one of these over a standard balcony. The layout is really cool too.
Overall the FREEDOM 2.0 upgrades looked really good to me. You could tell the ship had all new carpets and everything appeared to be in great shape. Also to my knowledge everything was up and running including all the pools, slide, new kids clubs, hot tubs, etc. I didn't see any leftover construction going on. The Serenity area was my favorite, and I never had any problem finding a chair out here even as late as 1pm or 2pm. In fact FREEDOM had great deck space, and there were always chairs available even if they may not be in your first choice of location. The refreshed main pool looks great and I like this space so much more than the equivalent on BREEZE. On the BREEZE the main pool is in a three-deck deep well and everything seems to echo. Not the case on FREEDOM. This is not to say the main pool is quiet on FREEDOM. It's not, but at least there is not an echo that amplifies the noise. Overall I found FREEDOM handled the crowds extremely well. Never did we have to wait in any long lines or be herded around like cattle. The main interior promenade on FREEDOM is so much wider and spacious than the one on BREEZE and this really made a big difference. Overall the ship just felt far more spacious and not as closed in. The one lounge that did get crowded was the aft International Lounge for the comedy shows. These were very popular and best to get there early if you want a seat.
Our ports on this cruise included Nassau, Half Moon Cay, and Grand Turk. We also had a day at sea. I've been to Nassau a million times and I basically get off just to take pictures of all the ships. We walked around town a bit but that was it. Tendering is required in Half Moon Cay and as usual I waited until around noon to get off to avoid the crowds. It works every time and we had no wait. Half Moon Cay is actually Holland America's private island, but since HAL is owned by Carnival Corporation they allow Carnival ships to use it as well. I visited here most recently on the NIEUW AMSTERDAM and I can only say its gotten better. The pirate ship bar and lounge which was being constructed last time I was here is now finished, and it's really cool. Definitely check it out and enjoy a drink there. The beach is great and there is plenty of seating if you want a chair. The water was really calm, warm, and clear. We enjoyed lunch on the island and it was the typical BBQ but done well and organized. It was a great day and we got back to the ship just in time before a major storm moved in. Typical weather for this time of year in the tropics. In our last port of Grand Turk we just walked around as again I've been here several times. This time though we went to the right as you entered the island instead of to the left where Margaritaville is, and discovered some new areas. I didn't realize there was another beach, and also an interesting space exhibit. Be sure to check it out.
All good things must come to an end and I'm happy to report that disembarkation was as painless as embarkation. Being Platinum we were group #1 and we simply walked off the ship when we were ready. Mind you there was a massive line to clear Customs & Immigration inside the terminal, but this wasn't Carnival's fault. It took about an hour to get through it but at least the terminal was covered, air conditioned, and organized. I think Carnival did the best they could under the circumstances. I'm guessing that OASIS OF THE SEAS next door got priority, and most of the CBP agents were assigned to that ship. CARIBBEAN PRINCESS was also disembarking that day.
This cruise on Carnival reinforced something I learned a long time ago. You can't judge an entire cruise line by one experience. Had my prior BREEZE cruise been my only experience on Carnival I probably would have never returned. Thankfully I knew Carnival could do better. Every cruise line has ships within their fleet that are rated higher than others, and the overall experience can really vary. BTW the FREEDOM is in the top three for customer satisfaction for Carnival! There are so many variables that go into a cruise experience and that changes from week to week, so just keep that in mind before writing off an entire cruise line like I almost did. Mind you there are still lines that I prefer over Carnival but I wouldn't hesitate to return given the right circumstances. Please enjoy the pictures and there are a lot of them! I tried to capture just about every public area of the ship. Also if you have any questions please let me know.