We were on the May 9th sailing on the Freedom (8 night Western) out of Fort Lauderdale. This sailing normally goes to Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama, but our itinerary got switched to Panama, Costa Rica, and Belize because of the H1N1 virus.
May 8th – Wee hours of the morning… we’re off to the local airport to catch our flight away from Florida (we have to fly west from the east coast of Canada first to a major airport before we can catch flights to other major centers) so our trip can get started… we arrive in Fort Lauderdale mid afternoon, luggage in hand… this was our 5 year anniversary trip, so we splurged on a balcony cabin on the ship and executive class flights… going to have a hard time flying cattle class again now!
In Fort Lauderdale, we stayed at the Hampton Inn Plantation… the rate was just over $100 for the night and included a free shuttle from the airport to the hotel (we called from FLL and they were there to get us within 20 mins – took about 15-20 mins to get to the hotel) and again to the port in the morning (we booked it the day we arrived at the hotel for the next morning at 11am – we were the only people using the shuttle – took about 15-20 mins again)… The staff was very friendly and helpful. We didn’t want to get into much of anything in Fort Lauderdale, so we had some supper, wandered around a mall that’s pretty much across the street from the hotel, and called it a night… all in all, an uneventful day
May 9th – we checked in with home (hotel has free Internet in a small room off the lobby) and got our shuttle to the port. We were unloaded, bags in the yellow metal bins, and in the line to board by 11:30. This is only my second cruise and my husband’s first, but embarkation seemed pretty smooth. It took about an hour and a half (longer than Tampa, but it’s a larger ship) We had to fill out a health questionnaire due to H1N1 concerns, but it was only a couple of questions. We were on-board eating on the Lido by 1:00 ish. Cabins were ready by 1:30 (we had #6316 midship), and when we came down from the Lido buffet, one piece of our luggage was already outside of our room. The second piece came a couple of hours later and they knocked on the door when they dropped it off.
The only ship I can compare anything to so far is the Legend, so quickly here’s some differences I noticed. Either we had the quietest neighbours ever on the Legend, since we never heard a peep from either side on that ship), or the walls on the Freedom are MUCH thinner. This isn’t something that bothered us really, but in our cabin specifically you could definitely hear the neighbours… on one side they liked to watch a lot of tv, and on the other side, we’re quite sure that couple was on their honeymoon, or were treating the cruise like one at all hours of the day (I’m sure you’ll understand what I mean)… we could definitely hear other people on their balconies… from inside our cabin and on the balcony… The door to our balcony, as well as the metal casing for the lights that go around most of the top of the room also rattled… but I found that I could feel this ship moving more than I could on the Legend as well, so that accounts for some of the rattling… anyways, back to the review 🙂
Muster drill was quite a to-do on this ship, and it seemed to take quite a long time… I realize there’s a lot of passengers, but it seems on this ship, a really large percentage of them were already too wasted to be able to make it to the drill in a timely fashion… and we must have been lined up 10 rows deep… it was incredibly hot, and since we got there fairly early and were back towards the wall… we were really wanting it to end sooner rather than later… they also made the announcements in a lot more languages than seemed necessary, but I guess that’s important in the grand scheme of things… the biggest complaint from pax was that we started to sail away during muster… didn’t make a difference to me, but many seemed very concerned about this…
After muster, we watched the rest of the sailaway from our balcony with some drinks… we opted for early dinner (I had tried late before and wanted to give it a go since we’re early eaters… but I think I’ll go back to late in the future)… our table was on the second floor of the posh dining room, right as you come in the doors on the right… We had Dante and Andreas as our servers… they were great the entire week, and they dealt with just our table and one other table… we were seated with 3 other couples from Canada, so it was nice that Carnival seemed to find something in common with people when seating them together, but as nice as they all were, they were quite a lot older than us and at times we found it hard to stay interested or involved in the conversations… throughout the week they all missed/skipped dinners at different times, so it got a little easier to chat with a smaller group… Something I liked on this cruise that the Legend didn’t do was that we had the same bar waiter come to our table every night on the Freedom… I Wayan – he was excellent, and quickly became our favorite on the entire ship. He always made sure my husband had his Heinekin, so he was happy… and he always seemed to be working where we were hanging out… which completely wasn’t planned, but it certainly was appreciated.
After dinner, we explored a bit, but we were too tired to do much of anything and we watched a movie and called it an early night…
May 10th and 11th – Fun Days at Sea – We discovered very quickly on this trip that neither of us much care for eating at buffets (not that we didn’t know that going in), so we ate breakfast in the dining room everyday but once (I’ll go on about the buffets later). It’s the same menu every day, but if you ask for something specific, they can usually handle it. We ate at a table for 8 or 10 this morning, and had no issues with any of our tablemates. We spent most of today lounging around, exploring the ship, etc. We played a few games of trivia or whatever if we happened to be in the place where it was being held when it was being held, but we didn’t go looking for it. There was a cooking demonstration at the supper club, so we went to see that… it was kind of interesting, and we got to test out the different foods. We also watched some ice carving on the Lido deck by the pool. After dinner, we checked out the Ticket To Ride show in the Victoriana Lounge. I thought they did a good job with it considering it’s a show on a cruise ship. I wouldn’t rush to watch it again, but it was fine. I thought the male singer for the shows was quite good, but the female singer was frequently singing songs that just didn’t suit her voice at all. But they both certainly did better than I could do 🙂
We ate in the dining room again this morning and had a horrible experience being seated with an INCREDIBLY RUDE couple, and 2 other slightly less rude couples. They ignored us completely when we first arrived, which is fine… I have no problem sitting and just chatting with my husband… except that the rude man had decided to store most of his personal items on the table in the area where my plate should go. And since he was sitting with his back to me (again, rude), it wasn’t easy to get his attention to get him to move them. They eventually did turn around and speak to us briefly, but we ate as quickly as possible to get out of there. We asked for tables for two for most of the rest of the week. That didn’t put any kind of damper on our fun though. The weather was hot and beautiful still, so we spent another day exploring, lounging, reading, drinking etc. We didn’t participate in any ship activities today, but did go to whatever show it was that night …. I’m writing this without the capers handy (I brought them home, so if you have questions – just let me know), so forgive me if I mix days up…
May 12th – Panama – We booked all of our excursions through Carnival out of sheer laziness for this cruise. My husband and I are well travelled enough that we would generally prefer to do things on our own. We did the Grand Tour in Panama. There was about 2 buses of people on the tour. We drove directly to a resort where we boarded the boats to go to the Embira village. The problem with Carnival tours is that you spend at least 1-2 hours waiting for people to go to the bathroom. The village was really interesting – we got to see where they lived, hear about their history, see their handicrafts, watch and participate in a cultural dance. I would have liked to stay here a lot longer, but without all the rest of the people on the tour. The people who were sitting beside us complained the whole time while the chief and the translator were talking. After that, back on the buses to go to the see the Panama Canal. We were there, so we might as well see it right? We got to watch a couple of ships come through the Gatun Locks. Neat to see, but locks are locks are locks pretty much. I wouldn’t rush to do this excursion again, but we had a good time. Overall, if you’re an independent traveler type and like to do and see as much as possible while travelling, this is not the excursion for you. If you want to see a few different sights, don’t want anything too strenuous, and don’t want to worry about getting lost, arranging your own travel, or missing the ship – this would be fine.
When we got back to the ship, we were told our excursion to see a coffee bean plantation the next day had been cancelled due to lack of interest, so we had to book something else. So this was the two excursions we wanted to do the most cancelled… the other was a Mexican cooking class in Mexico… but that’s fine, Belize is a beautiful country too.
May 13th – Costa Rica – As we were eating breakfast, the CD announced that there would be a bit of a hold up as the Costa Rican gov’t hadn’t decided yet if it was going to let anyone off the ship due to the H1N1 scare. We all had to return to our cabins and fill out a health survey before it was later decided we could debark…. So there was a lot of waiting around in the stair cases with people complaining.
Instead of the coffee bean tour, we ended up doing one called “Nature and Traditions”. It was FANTASTIC. The best part of the entire cruise, and I’m so happy we ended up with it. There was only 10 people on the tour, it was pretty off the beaten path for a ship excursion, and it lasted pretty much the whole day. I forget our guides name – I think it may have been Eric – but he was quite good. He didn’t have much of a sense of humour, which is always nice, but he really knows about his country and he appears to love it a great deal. It was about 45 minutes to the location of the tour (Bocuare Haven)… it was a beautiful hot sunny day (even though it has been raining for days before we got there, and was supposed to be raining when we got there)… we spent several hours walking through the rain forest, and the guides (a second guide who only spoke Spanish – Santiago – joined up once we got there), and the guides pointed out different plants and animals and that kind of thing. We stopped for a break at a nice open spot with neat wooden tables and hammocks and stuff, and had some fresh fruit juice – soooo good. We got to squish the juice out of sugarcane and try that… Santiago picked some fresh pineapple for us to try… there was cashews (and their fruits) etc. We learned to make our own tortillas and had a little snack with that. Then they fed us chicken, rice and beans, and fried plantains, more fresh juice (pineapple coconut I believe) and desert. Great tour – highly recommend. Lots of walking though, in case that matters.
May 14th – Fun Day at Sea – Sometime during the night someone living higher up the ship than us got sick over the side of their balcony, so that wasn’t a very nice surprise in the morning. We told our steward about it on the way to breakfast and he had it cleaned up for us. More relaxing… we mostly lazed around and read/drank all day. If there was a show this night, we likely went to it (in all, we went to the three music shows, 2 comedians – one good, one horrible – and a ventriloquist… we skipped the two shows where it was other guests performing… we had had enough of the theatre by then)
May 15th – Belize – I was to Belize on the Legend and we did a private tour that immediately took us away from Belize City to the ruins at Lamanai and that got us back in time for one of the last tenders, so I didn’t see much of the city that time. So this time, we opted to do the City Tour and Zoo … we had to pick this excursion on the ship since our itinerary changed the week before we left (this can be easily done from your room on the tv and your room steward will leave your tickets for you). Had we known the City Tour part of this was driving around in a bus and NEVER getting off, we wouldn’t have done this one. The zoo was fine, and it was more of an animal sanctuary/rehabilitation center than a zoo, but we didn’t get to stay there nearly long enough. Lots of interesting animals we don’t have in Canada though (including neat little rodent-like creatures that like to wipe perfume on their tails), and the guide was fine. Our bus blew a tire on the way there, so it was slower going than it would have been normally. Once we got back to the port, we skipped all of the stuff stores and had lunch and some local beer.
May 16th – Fun Day at Sea – More relaxing. We didn’t go to the Legends show because we just weren’t all that interested in seeing other passengers perform… and we’d had enough of shows and were loving the Piano bar at this point. Vince was fantastic and we spent a lot of the second half of the week in there… Luggage had to be outside your rooms by 11:00 PM if you were having it picked up. Liquor bought on board was delivered to your room that night as well, so you could pack it or whatever.
May 17th – Debarkation was a breeze. We had an early flight out of FLL, so we requested zone #2. We were off the ship and at the airport ($11 taxi for two people and luggage) by about 8:30… which was about an hour before the Air Canada counter even opened. We were checked in, but had to wait for someone to show up there so we could check our luggage. Flight was late unloading at FLL, we were late leaving, we mostly made up the time in the air, but then it took about an hour for our luggage to come off that flight to the carousel so we could take it through customs… which means we missed our next flight (though we originally had about 2 hours to connect),
and we had to wait around in the Toronto airport for an extra four hours. We eventually made it home around midnight our time. Flying out of FLL was neat since we could see the ship at the port.
General observations and that kind of thing:
I haven’t gone into detail about what we had for every meal, since I just can’t remember all of it… but we both found the food to be very good. While not on vacation, we only eat fresh food made from scratch and we try to eat as local as possible, but we didn’t find the cruise food bothered us at all, even though it would have a lot more salt, etc. than we would normally eat. The menu was just about identical to the menu on the Legend in January of this year (I suspect they are pretty much the same fleet wide), and we always found there was plenty of choices. The chili rellenos was delicious, as was the lasagna. My husband really liked the lobster. The bitter and blanc is my favorite desert, followed by cappuccino pie, so I was happy to see both of those on there.
I don’t mean to sound cruel here, but there seemed to be A LOT (easily over 100) of people who cut the lines during embarkation because they claimed to NEED wheel chairs, but then those people didn’t need the wheel chairs on board… they had no problems standing in long buffet lines, cutting into lines in front of other passengers who had patiently waited their turns, etc. I’m sure some of these people genuinely needed assistance getting on board, and that’s fine… but I’m not convinced all of them did. Again, this isn’t something that really affects my cruise, but we did find it interesting. Once on board, we only saw 2 wheelchairs in use, 2 motorized scooter/chair things, and a few people with walkers…
The way a lot of the food is laid out on lido is a bit of a mess. The few times we ate there, the food was fine… but it generally took some doing to find an empty table, to get through the lines, etc. It breaks my heart how much food gets wasted (not just at the buffet) when people take some of everything knowing full well they won’t eat it… I don’t care how much anyone eats, especially while on vacation… but I hate to see so much of it thrown into the trash.
Chair hogs – it depended on the day for this one. We spent most of our time on deck 11 where we could sit out under a bit of shade, and for the most part, we were able to find two chairs together up there when we wanted them. Down around the pool and with all the chairs facing the big screen, I suspect it wasn’t very easy. Every time we walked by, it looked pretty packed, but I didn’t really notice how many chairs had stuff but no people because we had no intention of staying down there.
Shopping – we don’t shop. We bought one paperback book in the gift shop on the ship because my husband read his book too quickly (there wasn’t much selection on board, so plan accordingly if you’re a big reader). We didn’t shop in the ports really either. We maybe spent $50 total in all three ports, and that’s including 3 bags of coffee from Costa Rica. Panama and Belize have little touristy shopping villages right when you get off the ship. Costa Rica doesn’t really – there was a fenced in area right outside the port you could go to though… we didn’t check it out at all. In Panama, there’s a grocery store in that shopping area though, and beer is ridiculously cheap (maybe $2 USD for a 6 pack of their local beer). We did try the local beer in Panama and Belize and both were fine.
Entertainment – the CD Todd was fine. We didn’t find that he made too many announcements (we could hear ALL announcements from our room, not just the ones that we should have been able to hear from the room), but the cruise director doesn’t matter all that much to me to be honest. He was fine starting and closing shows and all that. His assistant James was fine as well. They had a morning show they played on the big screen (and replayed on tv) everyday telling you about what was going on and that kind of thing. I’ve already mentioned the shows above. We didn’t have much interaction with any of the entertainment staff.
Casino/Spa/Fitness Room/Pools/Hot Tubs/Laundry/Dance Club/Photos – We didn’t use/visit any of these, so I don’t really have much to add here. The casino didn’t seem as smoky as the one on the Legend, though I really wish Carnival would recognize the fact that there are a lot of non smokers in the world, and we don’t love having to walk through smoky areas to get to other parts of the ship. Overall, I didn’t find this ship bad for smokers though. I think we succeeded in not having our picture taken the entire cruise, except for once for our Sign & Sail cards. We know we won’t buy any of them, so we skipped them all the time. It was a bit annoying that they set up so many picture taking areas though (especially the ones that blocked off the best seating areas). I understand the business logic behind it, but it’s still annoying,
Library/Internet/Coffee – I’m not entirely sure why the ships have libraries… I’ve never actually seen people in them on two sailings on two ships. The Internet room (my husband needed sports scores during the hockey playoffs 🙂 was in the back corner of the Havana Bar (cigar bar) so again we had to go through a smoky place to get to something we wanted to use. We bought a few cups of coffee. The coffee at the café places is slightly better than the free coffee, but only slightly. I’m a coffee snob though and drink it really strong, so I mostly just don’t drink coffee on board.
Live Music – this was something the Freedom definitely did better than the Legend. There was live music going on in several locations of the ship most of the day. Our favorites were Milos (piano near the Atrium bar) and Vince (piano bar). The piano bar was really nice, and Vince was fantastic. On the Legend, it was too smokey and the piano player was horrible. Vince was excellent, there was no smoking right at the piano, he knew a great deal of songs (not just the typical piano songs) so he could handle a lot of requests. We spent at least a few hours in there a couple of nights on this cruise, and there was generally a younger crowd, which we loved. There was another guy who played acoustic guitar – we saw him in the International Lounge and in the lobby, and he was excellent as well.
Parties/Movies – there were three parties on Lido for this sailing, and we avoided them all. I think one was latin music, one was a new year’s/mardi gras type thing, and one was a family-friendly one that has something to do with that Carnival colors thing they’ve been doing. There were movies most every night on the big screen on the lido (and for the most part, they were available on the tv in the cabins the next day)… most times there were two showings of the movie.
Pursers/Shore Excursions/Loyalty desks – We didn’t have any dealings with the Shore Excursions desk, but if it was open, there always seemed to be a line there. We didn’t deal with the Purser’s Desk at all either, but again there was just about always a line. We did buy a $100 certificate towards another cruise (to get $50-$200 OBC on that same cruise depending on the length). It was supposed to be delivered to our room the night before debarkation, and it never showed up. They woke someone up out of bed the morning of debarkation and she took care of it for us before 8:00 am which was great… though it was just delivered to the wrong room during the night we think, because the purser’s desk called and said there was a copy of it waiting for us there just after we got the new copy.
Staff – We thought the staff on the ship was great. Our room steward was Yustinus and he was fantastic. He learned our schedule from the first day, and we barely saw him, except in the hallways after that. We didn’t have much for requests, but the two we did were dealt with super quickly. The staff around the ship was super friendly and always greeted us in passing. Several of them learned our names. While I may occasionally make a snarky comment about a rude passenger, I’ve never had a problem with the staff. I think they are fantastic.
Décor – I know Carnival ships are pretty over the top, but this one was pretty bad I thought. Nothing ever went together, and the only thing I recall thinking was ok was inside International and Victoria lounges, and I liked some of the granite looking substance that was on some of the floors, bar tops, and table tops. But in the grand scheme of things, this doesn’t matter. Our cabin looked like a typical Carnival balcony cabin and was pretty much the same as on the Legend.
I brought the capers and a bar menu home with me, so I’m happy to answer any questions that I can… so fire away if you have any.