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[freedom_keywest.jpg]Carnival Freedom Cruise Review
Southern Caribbean
June 22, 2014


by Keith Henderson

We sailed on the Carnival Freedom leaving on June 22nd, 2014 out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida on an 8-day cruise to the southern Caribbean. The cruise left Port Everglades with planned stops at Grand Turk, La Romana in the DR, Curaçao, and Aruba before returning to Port Everglades. It was our 7th Carnival cruise (22nd overall). We have sailed on NCL 14 times and Royal Caribbean once.

We had booked this cruise because of its itinerary with stops in Aruba and Curaçao, which were two locations we always wanted to visit. The only port stop we had visited before this cruise was Grand Turk.

The Freedom is a sister ship of the Conquest and the Valor, both of which we had sailed on previously. One interesting thing is that the Freedom had gone through a dry dock 6 weeks prior to our cruise and we were interested in the changes they had made to the ship as part of the cruise line's Fun Ship 2.0 renovations.

Arrival in Ft. Lauderdale
We flew into Ft. Lauderdale the day before our cruise arriving in the late afternoon. Our flight from Newark brought us on a flight path that flew over the cruise port of Port Everglades as we approached the nearby airport of Fort Lauderdale. Just below us, we could see that two cruise ships were in port that day; the massive Oasis of the Seas and the Caribbean Princess.

We had booked a room at the Hilton Garden Inn in nearby Dania. We found that they offered a free shuttle from the airport to their location. Once we picked up our bags at the luggage carousel in the airport, we called the hotel and they were there to pick us up shortly after making the call. The ride to the hotel took about 15 minutes.

We had a junior suite with 2 double beds and a sofa bed. Our rate was $125 for the night. When we checked in, we were told that the elevators in the hotel were out of order and our room was on the 5th floor! It reminded us of being in Europe as I carried our luggage up the four stories to our room. Thankfully, we had made a concerted effort to pack the minimum amount of clothes for this trip, so each of our two suitcases weighed only about 35 pounds.

Before we headed out for dinner, we stopped by the front desk to sign up for an 11:30am am shuttle to the cruise port and our ship. The fee would be $8 for each of us.

Across the street was the hotel was a large strip mall area with a Super K-Mart and a few restaurants. Only a few miles away is the Seminole Indian Hard Rock Cafe, Hotel, and Casino complex in Hollywood, FL. We took a shuttle ($15 each way) to the HRC for dinner and to check out the memorabilia. I like to visit Hard Rocks around the world and this trip let me reach my 67th HRC site visited.

Day 1 – Embarkation Day
It was a sunny day with temps in the low 90’s F. After our breakfast, we checked out of our room and took the hotel’s shuttle to the Port Everglades cruise ship terminal leaving at 11:30 am. The shuttle had a few passengers for the Freedom as well as a lot for the Allure of the Seas which was also sailing out of the port that same day. It would be our first time seeing a Royal Caribbean mega ship up close. It took about 25 minutes for the shuttle to reach the cruise port after leaving the hotel.

The Freedom is the only Carnival ship that currently sails from Port Everglades. The cruise port of Miami is where the rest of the Carnival ships sail out of Southern Florida. Our shuttle stopped to drop off guests at the Allure of the Seas first and a few minutes later we pulled up to the terminal for the Freedom. Porters were waiting for us after they had just finished with the off-loading of the previous cruise’s passengers.

When we walked into our terminal at 12:15 pm, there was a long line for security. We stood without moving for about 10 minutes before we advanced into a line for the metal detectors. We then spent about 25 minutes winding our way through the lines for the keycards. After getting our cards, we then went into another line to have our keycards scanned and photos taken before walking up a very steep ramp to get onto the ship shortly after 1:00 pm.

As we boarded and entered the main lobby on deck 3, we decided to see if our cabin would be open to allow us to drop off our carry-on bag. As we got off the elevator on deck 7, we were pleasantly surprised to see that our cabin was open. After dropping off our bag and taking my camera, we went topside to the Lido deck (deck 9) for lunch at the buffet. Here, we immediately saw some of the new changes to the ship. By the pool, they converted a grill area to a Guy’s Burger Joint and another grill area to a Blue Iquana Taco/Burrito restaurant. They also had taken away lounge chair space and added two bars opposite each other by the big pool mid-ship. One was the Red Frog Rum Bar and the other was the Blue Iquana Tequila Bar. Each bar had a covered area along with bar stools and counters.

After eating, we walked around to explore the ship and take photos. By 3:00 pm, we went back to our cabin. Ours was an inside cabin (room 7290) which was between the forward and midship stairwell on the Empress deck. One of our checked bags was already there. I had heard that the muster drill would be at 3:30 pm, but the Fun Times did not mention a specific time for the muster and the sail away? We thought that was odd. Around 3:30 pm a thunderstorm blew through the port area with heavy bouts of rain and occasional lightning and thunder (just another afternoon in southern Florida). At 4:15 pm, we were called to our muster stations. We went to our assigned station for the muster drill not having to bring our lifejackets to the muster. While we were in the shade, it was still hot and humid as everyone had to stand close to each other and listen to the instructions. They did a count and then gave us the all clear. After the drill, we headed down to the deck 3 outside promenade to find a spot for the sail away. Shortly after that, they made an announcement that due to technical difficulties, the sail away would be delayed to 7:00 pm. They said that their scheduled PM work on the rear thrusters were taking longer than planned (not a great thing to hear after all of the mechanical issues Carnival ships have had in the recent past).

Just around 5:15 pm, the Allure of the Seas blew its horns and started to pull away from its nearby berth. We watched the huge ship turn around and exit the channel into the open waters of the Atlantic.

The "Welcome Aboard" show was scheduled for 7:15 pm, which we thought was earlier than most cruises we have sailed with. Those passengers with early assigned dining would not be finished with dining by the start of the show. Even though we had chosen "Your Time Dining" for this cruise, we decided to eat in the lido deck buffet for our dinner. While the buffet had plenty of options for lunch, there was only one station open along with the deli sandwich and pizza stations.

We pulled away from the pier around 7:00 pm. Our ship had to turn around in order to head out the channel to the open sea. After eating, we headed down to see the show. The “Welcome Aboard” show was in the Victoriana Theatre at 7:15 pm. The Victoriana Theatre holds about 1,400 people and has a variety of seating with most having good views, but there were poles to contend with. The show was hosted by the cruise director, Skip Lyons, who welcomed us aboard. It started with a very funny comedian named James Sibley who did a short set before Skip introduced the first of what would be 4 new Playlist Production shows to be shown during our cruise.

Carnival has decided to do their own productions with shows that do not have a live show band. Instead, they have a cast of 4 singers sing to a soundtrack (I think they call that karaoke?) accompanied by 4 dancers who are lip-synching.
The show tonight was called "80's Pop to the Max" and was based on pop songs from the 80's. In the back of the stage, they had huge LED TV screens providing background images to accent the show. The singers were very good, but the selection of songs and the way they jumped from one song to another was haphazard and annoying. It was like listening to a CD skipping from one song to the next with a chorus here and a verse there.

After the show, they had musicians playing in various spots around the ship and the Punchliner Comedy Club in the International Lounge was open with two comedians doing an adult only show at 11:15 pm. The comedians were James Sibley and Tommy Drake. They were both very funny.

Day 2 – Day at Sea
It started as a partly sunny day with temps in the low 90’s F with a nice breeze. By 9:00 am, we were already past Grand Bahama and halfway to Grand Turk.

For a sea day, the breakfast buffet in the Freedom Restaurant was very crowded in the later morning. We did find plenty of empty tables located on the second floor of the buffet that overlooked the aft part of the buffet area. The omelet station by the aft pool had no lines.

We went to a few trivia games in the morning, winning our first "Ship on a Stick" for this cruise. We now have one from every Carnival ship we have sailed.

The Freedom has 3 main pools. The Timeless Pool is found mid-ship on the Lido deck. Also found mid-ship on the Panorama deck is the smaller Stressless Pool. The Endless Pool is found aft on the Lido deck and has a retractable roof cover that is used when there is inclement weather. And boy, did we have some inclement weather starting around 10:30 am with dark clouds approaching and then it was pouring rain for about an hour. During that time, the aft pool cover was closed.

Before heading up for lunch, I went for a run on the jogging track and only encountered a few walkers using the track. In the afternoon they had pool side games, trivia games, a Teddy Bear Workshop, and seminars. At 3:00 pm, they had a Seuss-A-Palooza Parade from the International Lounge aft and through the ship ending at the Victoriana Theatre where they had a reading of a Dr. Seuss Story. It was cute to see a lot of kids following the Cat-in-the-Hat through the ship.

Dinner for the evening was cruise elegant and a lot of people were dressed up. We had chosen the “Your Time” dining option and had to go to the Chic Restaurant, which was one of the two main dining rooms on the ship. We went to the dining room at 6:00 pm and were seated right away. The service team of Gusti and Diah(sp?) were quick and efficient.

The evening’s entertainment in the Victoriana Theatre was another Playlist Production. This one was called "Getaway Beach" with the cast singing beach related songs. They handed out 3D glasses to use at certain parts of the show. In the Punchliner Comedy Club, they had the same two comedians performing 2 shows each. James Sibley had the first two family friendly shows and Tommy Drake had the two later adult only shows. We went to one of each and had a good time.

Day 3 – Grand Turk
It was a sunny day in the 90’s F and breezy. We were scheduled to arrive by 7:00 am with a planned departure of 2:00 pm. Our next port visit was almost 300 miles away and they needed to leave Grand Turk with enough time to make the journey to the cruise port of La Romana in the Dominican Republic. We arrived before 7:00 am and were the only ship in port that day. I went up for a run before having breakfast in the Lido buffet.

We had been to Grand Turk before, so we did not have any plans to go exploring the island. Grand Turk is known for their spectacular beaches and snorkeling sites. The island itself is a small one. It is only 6 miles wide from north to south and much narrower from east to west. There is only one area around the island where the water is deep enough to accommodate large cruise ships. This is where Carnival built a large pier and cruise center on 50 acres which is located at the southern tip of the island. As we were docked, you could easily see the dark blues of the deeper water compared to the light blues of the shallow water.

The U.S. dollar is the official currency of the island, so there were no worries of currency exchange rates. There is a huge Margaritaville located inside the Cruise Center complex that includes a large pool which is open to all of the cruise passengers. A lot of people were going there or to the beach next to the pier to spend their time on the island.

On our previous trip to the island, we had hailed a cab to visit Cockburn Town, the capital of Grand Turk. The ride was $5 for each of us. The taxi stand has signs showing the rates to visit the 4 zones of the island. The furthest point of the island cost $8 for the trip.

One thing that was a new option is that they offered a helicopter tour of the island. It was a 30 minute ride that included circling the ship. On board, they were asking for $139 per person, but I read somewhere that you could walk off the ship and sign up for about $90. The next time we come back to Grand Turk, I will plan on taking the tour.

We went off the ship at 11:00 am. For this visit to the island, we decided to spend some time at Jack’s Shack which is a small tiki hut located on the beach about 500 yards north from the pier. The owners, Jack and Janet, welcomed us as we spent a few hours sitting in the shade, drinking cold beers, and enjoying the view. Jack was the project manager who oversaw the building of the Carnival cruise complex on Grand Turk. He liked the island so much, he decided to stay. They told us that they are only open when cruise ships are in port.

We went back to the ship around 1:30 pm and met long lines to board the ship. We rushed up stairs to the pool to jump in and cool off. We pulled away from the pier at 2:15 pm. We stopped by Guy's Burger Joint for a burger and fries. They had quick service offering up terrific tasting burgers. It is definitely a big improvement over the hockey puck like grilled burgers offered on previous cruises.

Around 4:00 pm, we went to the Victoriana Theatre to watch the Hasbro game show. They had contestants play large versions of Hasbro games on the stage. It was fun to watch.

For dinner in the Main Dining Rooms, the dress code for this evening was cruise casual. This time we went back to the Chic dining room around 6:15 pm and the service team we had was a bit slower than the previous night.

The main show in the Victoriana Theatre was a juggler/comedian named Marcus Monroe. We decided to listen to music instead. In the casino bar area, they had the house band named "Extended Stay" playing songs from the late 60's. Unfortunately there is no seating in front of the stage, only down the same side of the promenade. The band was very good. In the piano bar, they had a musician named Seth entertaining the crowded room. In the Punchliner Comedy Club, they had the same two comedians performing 2 shows each. Tommy Drake had the two family friendly shows while James Sibley had the two adult only shows. We went to one of each and had enjoyed them.

Day 4 – La Romana, Dominican Republic
It was a sunny day with temps close to 90 F and very humid. We arrived just after 8:00 am at the cruise port of La Romana with a planned departure of 4:00 pm. We were the only ship at the small port.

The newly renovated cruise center at La Romana is located on the southeastern coast of the Dominican Republic. The famous Casa de Campo resort is only a few miles away from the port. San Pedro de Macoris is 27 miles to the west and Punta Cana is 50 miles to the east. La Romana is the third largest city in the DR with a population of 130,000. The Dominican Peso is the official currency. One U.S. Dollar is equal to about 43 DOP's. All of the shops and bars accepted dollars and gave change in the same.

This was our first visit to the country. There is very little of interest in the immediate area of the pier. We met several passengers that were planning to take excursion tours (Carnival's and/or independent) to nearby beaches, caves, or a river cruise on the Rio Chavón. After doing some research prior to the cruise, we decided to take a shuttle to Altos de Chavón which is a small village built on a high hill overlooking the valley of the Rio Chavón. It is part of the Casa de Campo resort and was built in the 1980's to resemble a medieval European town. Instead of buying a Carnival excursion to the village (about $40), we walked off the ship at 10:00 am and went to the cruise terminal building where they were selling round trip shuttle tickets for $7.00 each. The shuttles run every 30 minutes to the village. It took about 20 minutes to reach the village and we drove through the Casa de Campo Resort to get there.

As we walked around the village, there were a small handful of restaurants and markets that were open. We joined up with a tour group to hear the guide explain parts of the village. We walked over to see the amphitheater which could hold 5,000 people for concerts. This is where the public rest rooms are located. There is a church named for St. Stanislaus in the middle of the village, but its doors were locked. The only thing of interest was a museum called the Regional Archaeological Museum. The building was cooled by fans and a center room had air conditioning which brought some relief after walking around outside. The museum featured the history of the local native Taino Indians.

We met up with a couple that were from the ship and had come to the village on a ship excursion. The wife said she thought it was a rip off. The village overlooks a valley with the Rio Chavón. After an hour or so, we caught a shuttle back to the ship and went up to the pool to cool off. For lunch, I chose the Blue Iquana Burrito station and order a shrimp burrito which was huge and delicious. My wife returned to Guy's Burger for a plain burger to add to her salad from the buffet. In the afternoon, I went for a run and then we went to a trivia game before lounging in the shade while we sailed away at 4:15 pm. There was a delay for the sail away as they waited for a few parties to arrive from their excursions.

At 5:00 pm, they had a reception for Past VIFP Guests in the Victoriana Theatre. This party was only for Gold, Platinum, and Diamond VIFP members. They offered free beers, wines, and punch drinks along with hors d’oeuvres. Skip, the CD, welcomed everyone and introduced a few of the ship’s staff (the captain was busy with sail away). Then, they showed a small film about the history of Carnival and all of the ships they have had in their fleet. Everyone cheered whenever they saw one of the ships they had sailed on. Next, they brought up 4 of the 6 Diamond members on board this cruise to give them gifts. After that, they invited the guests up to the stage to dance a few numbers.

The dress code for this evening was Cruise Casual. We went to the Chic dining room for dinner around 6:15 pm and were seated under a stairwell with very little lighting. The service was slow, but the food was good.

We spent some time listening to music. First, we went to the atrium to listen to a duo called “Soul Food Café” playing soft rock and pop tunes. Angie played acoustic guitar and sang and her husband Rob switched between an acoustic bass and an upright bass. They were very entertaining. In the International Lounge they had a karaoke hour called “Superstar Live” where guests came up and sang with the house band “Extended Stay.” For the evening entertainment in the Victoriana Theatre, they had the “Love & Marriage Show” at 10:00 pm. They had 3 couples come up on stage and they had to answer embarrassing questions to win the big prize (a bottle of champagne). Skip was the host and the contestants made it a funny show to watch.

Day 5 – Willemstad, Curaçao
It was a sunny day with temps in the 90’s F and very breezy. We were scheduled to arrive in Curaçao around 1:00pm with a planned departure at 11:00 pm. I woke up early and went for a run around 8:00 am before we headed up for breakfast in the buffet at 10:00 am. By 10:30 am, we were off the coast of Curaçao and were docking by noon. Again, we were the only ship in port.

The cruise port is located at Willemstad, the capital of the small island nation which is the largest of the three ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, & Curaçao) at 171 square miles. Located about 40 miles from the coast of Venezuela, the population of the island nation is around 150,000. The official currency is the Netherlands Antillean Guilder (florin) with 1 US $ = 1.78ANG. Most vendors accepted US dollars.

They made the announcement that the ship was cleared for passengers to disembark at 1:15 pm. The pier where we docked is located at the Mega Pier in the Otrobanda section of Willemstad. While a lot of passengers were off taking tours of the island's beaches and other sights, we had decided to just walk into town and explore Willemstad itself. Willemstad is divided into two parts by the St. Anna Bay. The older area is called Punda while the newer section is called Otrobanda. They are connected by the Queen Emma Bridge which is a swinging pontoon bridge for pedestrians that leads to the hearts of both sections. When the bridge is opened for passing ships, there are ferry boats running people back and forth.

As we walked off the ship, we passed the Renaisaance Mall and walked through the Rif Fort (a former fort that now holds restaurants and shops. We had a nice view of the area from the top of the fort's walls. We continued a few blocks through Otrobanda and walked across the Queen Emma Bridge to visit the Punda side of the city. As we reached the end of the bridge, we were facing the Governor's Palace and we could see Fort Amsterdam. Inside the fort is the Fortchurch, which is the oldest church in continuous use on the island. They had a $4 fee to enter the church. After the leaving the Fort, we heard a bell ringing from a small house on the swinging bridge. We watched as the gates closed and the bridge swung open to allow a passing tugboat to go by.

We walked along the water’s edge on a street called Handelskade that was lined with colorful buildings and outdoor cafés. At the end of Handelskade the road turned to the right were walked past the floating market. The market was lined with boats and vendors selling fruits, vegetables, and souvenirs. Just before the market, there was a small bridge that crossed over to another section of Willemstad called Sharloo. The Maritime Museum was facing the bridge as we passed it. As we went by the market area, we turned to our right and walked up and down several small streets lined with shops, bars, and restaurants. We also passed the Mikvé Israel-Immanuel Synagogue. Built in the 1730’s, it is the oldest synagogue in the Americas. They had a $10 fee to enter the building.

The bright colors of the various buildings in Willemstad made it an interesting place to visit. To get back to the cruise ship, we hopped on a small ferry boat (no fee) to cross the bay and return to the Otrobanda section of town. As we reached the Rif Fort on our way back to the mega pier, we stopped by a sports bar showing World Cup soccer matches. We sat outside and had a bucket of beers as we cooled off from the breeze blowing through the gate of the fort. We walked back on board around 05:30 pm and headed up to the lido deck buffet for dinner.

The dress code for this evening was Cruise Casual. The main show for the evening was Hypnotist named Peter Gross. We had seen his act on a previous cruise and decided not to go to the show. Instead, we went to the Red Frog Pub and listened to few musicians that we taking turns playing there.

Day 6 – Oranjestad, Aruba
It was a sunny day. The temps were in the 90’s F with a slight breeze. We arrived at 7:00 am and were docked at 7:30 pm with a planned 4:00 pm departure. We were the only cruise ship in port that day. The cruise port for Aruba is located at Oranjestad located near the middle of the west coast of the island. Aruba is located about 70 miles from Curaçao and is a smaller island at only 74 square miles. The official currency there is the Aruban Florin with 1 US $ = 1.78AWG. The island’s population is about 100,000.

I had arranged for a private tour with Amador Lacle who asked us to call him "Bully". Bully was waiting for us at 8:30 am and took us on a 3 hour tour of the island for $135 in his air conditioned taxi that could hold 5 passengers. We started by driving through the downtown area as Bully pointed out buildings and points of interest as we headed towards the center of the island. We stopped to visit the Church of St. Filomena in Paradera. It is one of six Catholic parishes on the island. Bully pointed out that each parish have public schools where the children on the island must learn 4 languages; English, Spanish, Dutch, and Papiamento.

Our next stop was at the Casibari Rock Formation. It is a park that had a large group of rocks which had steps built leading up to the top offering great views of the island. While there, Bully pointed out various plants and spotted a local lizard called a Whiptail. Next, Bully asked if we wanted to see either the natural bridge (which has collapsed) or the triple bridge. We chose the latter and we headed to the eastern shores of the island. On our way, we stopped by a bakery where Bully bought breakfast pastries called pastechis. They are a fried pastry pocket filled with a variety of items. He gave us one filled with Gouda cheese and another with shredded chicken. Both were delicious. As we approached the Blackstone Beach area, we passed through the desert area of the island on a dirt road.

There is a local bird called a Troupial with a bright orange body, black head, and black & white wings. They fly in pairs and we were lucky to spot two together on a large cactus. We did see a small hawk flying over us with a lizard it had caught. We also spotted several more of the colorful lizards called Aruban Whiptails. We saw blue, brown, and black ones as we traveled through the desert area of the island. At Blackstone Beach, Bully brought us to a spot where the sandstone was formed into a triple bridge by the waves from the ocean. In the distance, we could see several tour buses lined up by the natural bridge ruins. Those tour buses could never reach the beach that we were brought to.

From the Blackstone beach, we headed north to the Ayo Rock Formation and Indian Cave drawings. Here, the rocks were a little smaller than the previous ones we saw, but they were blocked off and you could not climb them. Bully showed us several rock formations that had Arawak Indian drawings on their inner walls. As we continued northward, Bully stopped by a small market where he brought out cold cans of the local brewed beer called Balashi. It was quite tasty and smooth.

The next site we visited was the Alto Vista Chapel. It is a small chapel by the shore that was very simple and quaint with wonderful views of the water below. From there, we drove up a hill that had the island’s largest water tank. It was a great vantage point as we could see both the east and west coasts of the island. We finally reached the northern most point of the island to look at the California Lighthouse before heading down the western coast passing several beautiful beach areas named Arashi beach and Malmok beach. Bully pointed out red and white fencing on the beach guarding the nests of leatherback turtles that had eggs waiting to hatch.

Next, we reached the area where most of the island hotels were located. One stop we did make was to the local Hard Rock Cafe located by the hotels in the Palm Beach area of the island. This visit made it number 68 on my list of sites visited. That may seem like a lot, but I have met someone who has been to over 220 different Hard Rock sites in the world. Bully brought us back to the cruise terminal area by 11:30 am to drop us off for a little shopping before heading back to the ship. We thought it was a great tour and would highly recommend Bully as a guide for anyone visiting Aruba for the first time. He is a great ambassador for the island and its people.

We were back on the ship by noon and we headed up to the lido deck for lunch before I went for a run. We spent the afternoon playing trivia and relaxing in the shade. We sailed away from the dock at 4:00 pm.

The dress code for this evening was Cruise Casual. We went up to the Chic dining room at 05:45 pm and were immediately seated. But, after waiting for 30 minutes from the time we placed our order with the waiter and no food had arrived, we decided to leave and went up to the buffet. We wanted to see the shows and listen to music.

In the Victoriana Theatre was a show called “88 Keys.” It was another Playlist Production show with this one centered on piano hit pop songs. After the show, we went to the Atrium Lobby to once again listen to the duo “Soul Food Café.” They had the Punchliner Comedy Club open in the International Lounge with Mark Hawkins and Joe Marlotti having adult only sets starting at 10:00 pm. They were both very funny.

Day 7 – Day at Sea
We slept in and I went up to the lido buffet to get some tea and saw that the chair hogs were out in full force as every lounge chair in the mid ship pool area had some personal belongings on them. We went to 9:30 am trivia game before going up for breakfast. We then spent the rest of the morning playing trivia before I went for a run. By 1:00pm we were between Haiti and Jamaica.

After a quick lunch, we went to see a second Hasbro show in the Victoriana Theatre, then played another trivia game. After that, we went up to the lido deck and sat in the shade at the Blue Iguana Tequila bar to listen to a solo guitar/singer named David Lazarus. By 6:00 pm, we were between Cuba and Haiti.

For dinner, we decided not to deal with the dining room and just went to the buffet. It was another Cruise Elegant night and a lot of people were dressed up.

Before heading to the evening show, we listened to some music in the Atrium. The Playlist Production show in the Victoriana Theatre for this night was called “Heart of Soul.” The show featured soul music artists like Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. We ended up walking out before the show ended. We went back to listen to more music before going to the Punchliner Comedy Club. They had the two comedians we saw the day before performing 2 shows each. Joe Marlotti had the two family friendly shows while Mark Hawkins had the two adult only shows. We went to one of each and really enjoyed them.

Day 8 – Day at Sea
It was another hot sunny day with temps in the low 90’s F and breezy. By 9:00 am, we were halfway up the northern coast of Cuba. For our last full day on board, we slept in before going to a trivia game and then heading up for breakfast.

We went to another trivia game before I went for a run. While making my laps, another Carnival cruise ship was passing us heading south. We went for a late lunch and spent a few hours lounging in the shade watching the waves go by. We did stop by the Blue Iquana Tequila Bar to listen to musicians for a short while.

Before dinner, we packed our luggage in preparation of putting them out for the porters later in the evening. Our disembarkation instructions said that the luggage needed to be outside of our cabin before 11:00 pm. Dining was Cruise Casual and we went up to the buffet for dinner.

The shows in the Victoriana Theatre were Peter Gross with a magic show and then a repeat of the Playlist Production “80’s to the Max.” We passed on the two shows and just listened to music before heading over to the Punchliner Comedy Club. I did stop by our cabin to put out our luggage on the way to the club. This time, Mark Hawkins had the two family friendly shows while Joe Marlotti had the two adult only shows. We went to one of each. Both were really funny.

Disembarkation Day – Ft. Lauderdale
It was a partly sunny morning with temperatures in the low 80’s F. We were scheduled to arrive at Port Everglades by 5:30 am. Our instructions had told us that we needed to be out of our cabin by 8:30 am. This was to allow the cabin stewards to have their cabins cleaned and ready for new passengers later that day. I went up to the buffet to get some tea around 6:00 am and saw that we were already docked. We headed up to the lido deck buffet for breakfast before returning to our cabin.

At 7:15 am, they announced that passengers that had chosen “self-assist” debarkation could start to get off the ship. We had an 11:45 am flight at Fort Lauderdale and were assigned zone 2 for disembarkation. At 8:15 am, they announced the first wave of passengers who had checked their luggage. We were the second zone and heard our number announced at 8:30 am. In the terminal, we easily found our luggage and then had to wait a few minutes going through border patrol processing. Heading outside at 8:40am, they had a line of taxis waiting and they quickly had one ready for us. The ride to the airport was $15 and only took 10 minutes. As we got out of the cab, we could see the smokestack of the ship,

The ship –
The ship was built in 2007 as part of the Conquest class for Carnival She was the last ship from this class of ships. She was christened by Kathy Ireland, the ship’s godmother. The Freedom had renovations in 2009 and 2014. Instead of the loud gaudy colors, the ship was decorated in tones of brown which was a pleasant surprise. I read that the theme for the ship’s décor is the decades through the centuries. As we walked around the ship, it seemed that were using left over art panels from other Carnival ships.

Fitness and Spa –
The ship has a large fitness center that is located on the Spa Deck forward. To find the gym area, you need to walk through the spa area. There are a wide variety of treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes, and other pieces of equipment available at no extra charge. All of the equipment faced out to windows. The gym was open from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm.

The Spa has several treatment rooms along with saunas and steam rooms for each gender. They offered spa treatment specials during port days. There was an indoor hot tub that was accessible from the men’s and women’s locker rooms. The hair salon was located by the Spa as well.

The running track was found on the Spa deck going around the iconic smoke stack. A sign posted stated that it takes 9 laps to complete a mile. In the same deck area was a small basketball court surrounded by a net.

On the Sun deck midship was a mini-golf course.

Pools & Serenity areas–
Between the lido deck and panorama deck there are three salt water swimming pools with two pools midship and one aft. The two larger pools (Timeless and Endless) found on the lido deck are 4 ft 6” deep. The smaller Stressless pool on the panorama deck only has a depth of 4 feet. There are hot tubs next to each pool. There was no cover over any of the pools to provide any shade. The aft pool and hot tubs were marked as adult only. The entrance to the water slide was on the Sky deck. The slide itself does not end in a pool. For the most parts, the pools were open from 08:00 am to 10:00 pm while the hot tubs were open until 11:00 pm.

An Adult-only Serenity area was added during renovations and is found forward on the starboard side of the Sun Deck and both sides of the Sky Deck. It has two hot tubs and its own bar. The bar was only staffed by one person, so we always saw a line of people waiting to buy drinks.

Our Cabin –
We prefer inside cabins when we cruise. With the Freedom, the inside cabins are about 185 square feet which gave us plenty of space to move around. The cabin had three closets. Two of the closets came with bars holding 10 hangars each while the other closet had shelves. In one closet were two terry cloth robes for our use. We were able to store our luggage under the beds.

The cabin had a small safe for valuables. To lock/unlock the safe, you needed to use a credit card or a driver’s license that had a magnetic stripe. There was a small fridge in the cabin that was filled with an assortment of beers and soft drinks you could purchase.

The bathroom had a shower with a cloth curtain with dispensers for body wash and shampoo. The shower head was moveable (up and down depending on your height) and could detach to be held by hand.

There was a hair dryer that was located in a drawer by the mirror inside the cabin. But, the cord was not very long. There was one outlet available to plug in electronics by the desk top. We brought our small extension cord to allow multiple devices to be charged at the same time.

The location of our inside cabin (7290) was located between the forward & midship stairways on the Empress deck. We only had to walk up 2 decks to get to the Lido deck and down 2 decks for the Promenade deck. We found that to be very convenient. With cabin decks above and below, we thought it was a quiet area as well.

Public areas for entertainment –
The main show room is the Victoriana Theatre located forward which holds about 1,400 passengers and has entrances on 3 different decks. Besides the theater, all of the evening activities are focused on the promenade deck. There, you will find the International Lounge, Scott’s Piano Bar, Babylon Casino, Swingtime Bar, 70’s Dance Club, and the EA Sports Bar. There is a large screen over the main pool area that showed movies and shows.

Music –
While Carnival has reduced the overall number of musicians, the Freedom did have a few talented musicians on board to entertain people at various locations and times.

There was a house band called “Extended Stay.” They were a quartet along with 2 singers playing a wide variety of music. They were very good

The trio “Latin Flavor” played Latin style music along to background tracks.

“Soul Food Cafe” was a duo playing soft rock and pop songs on acoustic instruments. We enjoyed listening to them. They will soon be heading to the Carnival Legend after it arrives in Australia.

Seth was the piano player in the piano bar. He was very entertaining, although he seemed to play a lot of Billy Joel tunes. He too, is heading to the Carnival Legend.

The two solo acoustic guitarists, David and A-Mac, were good.

They did have DJ’s playing in the atrium and by the lido mid-ship pools.

They have a dance club located on the promenade deck aft called “The 70's” that has a light-up dance floor. They had a DJ playing music in the disco every night of the cruise.

Other general info –
On decks 6, 7, and 10 forward there are doors that lead to balconies overlooking the bow of the ship.

On deck 3, there is a wooden promenade on both sides of the ship with lounge chairs available. We enjoyed sitting in the shade and watching the waves go by. We rarely saw anyone in those areas.

Navigating the ship on decks 3 and 4 can be a bit confusing because of having a large main dining room located midship. You have to go down to deck 2 or up to deck 5 to get from aft to midship.

The hallways with odd number cabins are on the starboard side while the even numbered cabins are on the port side of the ship.

We are not smokers and my wife cannot be around smoke for health reasons. Smoking was a problem for us on this ship. A lot of events were in the casino bar area and every time we went back to our cabin, our clothes reeked of smoke. Smoking was also allowed in the Disco and Swingtime Bar.

Laundrettes – The ship has 5 small laundry rooms located in the following:

Riviera Deck 1: across from 1357 and 1359
Main Deck 2: across from 2365 and 2367
Upper Deck 6: across from 6385 and 6387
Empress Deck 7: across from 7337 and 7339
Verandah Deck 8: across from 8349 and 8351
Lido Deck 9: across from 9268 and 9270

They each have keycard operated washers and dryers ($3.00 per load for each) along with an ironing board and iron. They also had dispensers for soap packets ($1.00 each).

Dining –
There were several dining options. For dinner, the Freedom has two large main dining rooms with assigned early and late seatings. The Chic Dining Room is located midship on decks 3 and 4 with capacity for 744 diners. The Posh Dining Room is located aft on the same decks. It’s the larger of the two MDR with a listed capacity of 1,120. The table areas on deck 4 seemed to be a little quieter than the areas in deck 3.

They also offer “Your Time Dining” which allows you to show up at the Chic Dining Room on deck 4 from 5:45 pm to 09:30 pm. When they have an available table, you would be seated for dinner. We chose the YTD option and never waited any longer than 10 minutes to be seated. The longest lines seemed to be at 5:45 pm and 7:00 pm. We were able to have a table for two each time, although they will ask if you would like to share a table.

In addition to the main dining rooms, they have the Freedom Restaurant which is their buffet style restaurant (no fee) on the Lido deck and Sun King Steakhouse (fee) found on the Panorama Deck.

Inside the Freedom Restaurant, they have several food stations which included a Mongolian Wok, a Deli sandwich bar, a salad bar, 2 carvery stations that offer different foods each day, and a 24 hour pizza bar. In addition, the Freedom Restaurant has a second floor with a fish and chips station (only open for lunch) and additional tables and drink stations which most passengers did not seem to know about. We never had a problem finding an empty table there. They have a coffee bar where you could buy gourmet styles of coffees. While these stations were all open for lunch, they only had one of the carvery hot food stations open for dinner; everything else was closed except for the deli and the pizza bar.

The deli was open for from 11:30 am to 11:00 pm each day. They had a variety of hot and cold sandwiches available that were made-to-order. The Fish ‘n Chips buffet was only open for lunch and offered fish and chips, fried oysters, shrimp and calamari fritters, bouillabaisse, ceviche, and BBQ octopus. The Mongolian Wok was only open for lunch and there was always a long line. It was very popular with the passengers.

As part of the recent renovations, there were two new grills added that are located by the mid-ship pools; Guy’s Burger Joint and the Blue Iguana Cantina. Guy's Burger Joint serves burgers and fries (no fee) inspired by Guy Fieri. It was only open for lunch. The Blue Iguana Cantina serves Mexican burritos and tacos (no fee) with a variety of salsas and toppings. For burritos, you had the option of beef, chicken, or shrimp. It was open for breakfast and lunch.

The Sun King Steakhouse had an added fee of $35 per person and required a reservation. Its dress code was cruise elegant every night. The name, Sun King, refers to the French King Louis XIV.

For breakfast, you can go to the Freedom Restaurant or the Posh Dining Room. In the buffet, they have two omelet stations with one set up at the Mongolian Wok station and the other by the aft pool. For lunch you can go to the lido deck buffet or the Posh Dining Room as well. They offer 24 hour room service with a limited menu.

The Viennese Café on deck 5 midship offers gourmet coffee and pastry bar (fee). It was open from 7:00 am to 10:00 am and then from 3:30 pm to midnight.

For those looking for something special in a dining experience, they offered “The Chef’s Table”. For a fee of $75 per person, you would have a personal meal with the executive chef who would provide a private galley tour and a multi-course meal for a small group. You needed to make a reservation for this event which had limited seating.

In the lido buffet area, they have fountains with various things to drink. For breakfast they offer OJ, Passa-Guava Juice, Apple Juice, and unsweetened ice tea along with water, coffee, and assorted tea bags. For the rest of the day, these fountains offer lemonade, iced tea, and water along with the coffee and hot teas options. For breakfast on port days, the buffet lines can get quite long and available tables are at a premium. Sharing tables helped to alleviate the crush of diners.

As mentioned we chose the “Your Time” dining option. Cruising is our time to be together and we prefer the option to eat alone at our convenience. We found this option to be preferable over assigned dining seating. Although, the service seemed to be hit or miss on this particular cruise.

Bar Service –
There are plenty of locations on the ship offering alcoholic drinks.

On the Sun deck in the serenity area was the Serenity Bar.

On the lido deck by the Timeless Pool was the Blue Iguana Tequila Bar and Red Frog Rum Bar. By the Endless Pool aft they had a small bar.

On the promenade deck, you will find the Alchemy Bar, Red Frog Pub, EA Sports Bar, Centuries Bar, the 70's Disco, Scott's Piano Bar, and the Swingtime Bar.

On the Atlantic deck was the Habana Cigar Bar.

We are beer drinkers and Carnival offered beer bucket specials where you would get 4 beers (mix and match) with a $2 discount for the bucket. They did have daily drink specials as well. There were some martini tastings on a few occasions.

Past Guest Program –
We are rated as Gold Members of Carnival’s Past Guest Program (VIFP) and we were invited to the Past Guest party. We were each given a free drink certificate ($9 value) which could only be redeemed in the Posh Dining Room during breakfast, lunch or dinner. We went to the dining room once during lunchtime and asked for two large cans of Fosters beer to take with us.

Activities –
There were plenty of other things to do on aboard for all interests. They had the usual plethora of bingo games and art auctions as well as poolside games. We like trivia and we took advantage of the several trivia games they offered during the cruise. We won 6 “Ship on a Stick” trophies. We have a “Ship on a Stick” from each of the 7 Carnival ships we have sailed with. We think that they make a nice memento of our cruises. The casino is open during times at sea. We do not gamble, so we cannot comment on the slots and gaming tables.

Crew –
Skip Lyons (Australia), the cruise director was visible and approachable. We thought he and his cruise staff did a terrific job. The cruise staff were very friendly, Taylor (U.S.), Ryan (U.S.), Alana (Canada), Sarah (England), and Ashley (U.S.).

Our room steward Prawech and his assistant were assigned 22 cabins to service during our cruise. We thought they did a good job. He always met us with a smile and asked if we were having a good day.

Overall –
We had a good time and enjoyed our cruise on the Freedom.

Pros:
The addition of the Guy’s Burger Joint and Blue Iguana Burrito Bar.

The musicians on board and having live music occasionally by the pool.

The group of comedians were very good compared to previous cruises.

Cons:
The new Playlist Productions. They seemed cheesy and hokey. We felt that they were a definite step down in quality for a production show.

Lack of a venue to watch and listen to musicians. The Swingtime Bar was used exclusively for smoking and would have been a good choice. The Habana Bar area was never used.

Itinerary: We really think that they should stay a full day at Grand Turk, skip La Romana all together, and then have full days in Curaçao and Aruba.


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