Saturday, December 12, 2015

Carnival Freedom Cruise Review

Carnival Freedom Cruise Review 

December 12, 2015

Just the Facts
Ship:  Carnival Freedom
Captain: Agostino Fazio
Cruise Director: Jase
Ports: Galveston, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Montego Bay Jamaica, Galveston

This is my 5th cruise on the Carnival Freedom, 57th Carnival Cruise, and 108th cruise overall.  I am traveling solo and attending a Travel Agent and CLIA seminar during the cruise.

Day One—Saturday—December 12—Galveston Embarkation
Carnival Freedom Lobby
I am up during the night a lot as on the ranch we only have unlimited bandwidth from 2:00 am - 8:00 am so when I awoke at 3:30 I knew I was awake for the day.  I left earlier than norm at 5:30 am for my nonstop drive to Galveston.  I tried a new route taking Hwy 6 to US 290 as usual, but took the new Hwy 99 toll road south towards Sugarland where you pick up (oddly) Hwy 6 again all the way to the IH 45 bridge to Galveston.  A lot of traffic lights on the urban part of SH-6, but you completely bypass Houston.  It was different and about the same time-wise, but not sure I would do it again on a weekend when there is less traffic.  I arrived at EZ Cruise Parking by 10:15 am and was shuttled straight away to the Carnival Freedom pier.  They have implemented a new staggered arrival time for guests sailing from Galveston (we are the test subjects before this goes fleet wide) so there were new procedures.  First before you even get close to the entry doors your boarding documents are inspected by several different check points.  Before you even get near the entry doors lines are split between Priority and all other guests.  Once inside you have the security checkpoint where your bags are scanned.  Beyond that all guests (Priority used to have separate escalator here) are directed to the escalators up to level two where once again the Priority is directed to a new line and different area to check-in at the end of the long line of check-in agents.  This is actually where VIP’s used to check-in years ago before the VIFP program and lounge.  Once checked-in you can then relax in the VIFP Captain’s Lounge.  I considered myself early, but the lounge was very much full.  They did combine Diamonds, Platinums, FTTF, and Suite guests into the same waiting area. Not a bad experience at all and I was seated about 10:45 am. They boarded the Wedding party about 11:05 and they called for Diamond & Platinum about 11:15, of course others joined anyway, but they do check your card one last time before entering the gangway entry.  I was on board, among the very first about 11:22.  I’m giving exact times for this process as so many claim to be on board earlier.  This morning went very smooth and this was above average for normal boarding times.  Cabins are prepared early for Priority guest so I was able to drop my bags and meet my cabin steward.  Before too many guests boarded I went up to the Lido buffet area and the Mongolian Grill.  Always my first choice for lunch on embarkation day. I did sample the fish and Chicken Tenders...both great.  I did run into a new friend I had sailed with and was at my MDR table on a previous cruise in the Lounge and again in the Mongolian line so I had lunch with her group.  They have two rookies in her group so they will think boarding is super easy and the Lido not busy.  :-)  It is nice to have earned VIFP status.  After lunch I returned to my cabin to unpack and settle.  I rolled my travel duffle on with me so I have all my belongings…I hung my clothes, set up the fan, established an internet account, and converted the 220 plug behind the bed to 220/110 combo so that I can charge my laptop computer.  The Carnival FunTimes has changed since last month on the Triumph, it is now a trifold sheet so much narrower and perhaps taller.  I like it.  Boat drill was held about 4:00 pm, they do a very thorough job of it too.  I went to the Red Frog Pub for an informal gathering of folks from the Facebook page roll-call for this cruise after muster drill, interesting people it was a good roll call page. The ship has really been rocking since we cleared the harbor, much more than normal. I did experience strong southerly winds on the drive down so the seas are also pretty rough.  I returned to the cabin and prepared for the evening.  The Welcome Show was at 7:30 pm in the Victoriana Theater, but knowing I could watch it later on cabin TV I passed. I went first to the Alchemy Bar for my aperitifs. It was nice meeting the current Alchemy staff of Vera, Johanna, and Anca and meeting some old and new friends.  I have dinner in the Posh MDR and I’m seated with the TA group at table 327.  I prefer a table in the center, but it’s acceptable being next to the aft windows.  For dinner I ordered the Cream of Tomato Soup (very good), Jalapeno Poppers from the port menu (fair), the Sliced Pork loin (fair), and the Strawberry Parfit for dessert (good). After dinner I retired to the cabin to rest and be rocked to sleep by the high seas.

Day Two—Sunday—December 13th—Fun Day at Sea

Carnival Freedom Posh Dining Room
Very rocky seas overnight, but I slept very well.  I went to the Blue Iguana for a great Huevos Rancheros with two eggs…no line at all…it hasn’t been discovered yet.  I attended a Training Seminar for Travel Agents all morning in the International Lounge…it was really for newbies but I picked up some interesting minutiae such as:  “Out of 5 million bookings last year the Great Vacation Guarantee was only used 37 times”. Interesting and most of those were not because they didn’t enjoy the cruise, but primarily a domestic issue or problems at home.  The information about the new Fathom Social Activity cruises program was new.  went to get my first Guy’s Burger about 2:00 pm.  Unfortunately it was under cooked…disappointing when I see that since I am such a fan of them…no excuse since they have a very specific way to prepare them.  There was a short line at the Mongolian Grill so I changed to that…different veggies and meat from yesterday too.  It was good.  BTW-I learned today that the Mongolian Grill on the new Carnival Vista will be different…similar to La Cuchina Italiano lunches on several ships…you will have a checklist of available noodles, veggies, meats, sauces, and they will serve you at the table (think Carnival Sunshine layout with JiJi’s).  After lunch I took a walk around deck ten and it is still very windy although the seas have calmed compared to earlier. Cabin time and NFL football the rest of the afternoon.  I went to a private Cocktail Party for the TA group 6:30-7:30 in the Swingtime Bar on Deck 5 aft.  It was quite an affair with hot and cold Hors d'oeuvres, complementary cocktails, with lots of staff and servers in attendance.  I met the Food Manager and mentioned the Guy’s Burger earlier today.  Not a complaint, I just want them to get them as Guy Fieri intended (basically smashed & cooked). Art the bar tender was good and prepared for me a proper Cosmopolitan.  Still time for an aperitif at the Alchemy before dinner.  Friends had changed MDR’s and have a center table in the Posh with an extra seat so I changed to that table, also a couple from Scotland there so an interesting group.  This is the Captain’s Elegant Night and Dinner was good.  I ordered the Spaghetti Carbonara and the Sea Bass entree with Crème Brûlée for dessert.  The table Magician also came by and performed for us.  At 10:15 I rushed to the production show  80’s Pop To The Max in the Victoriana theater.  I had a great seat on row three and really enjoyed the show. The set, music, and graphics are amazing.  The eight singers and dancers are good.  It was the first Playlist Production I have seen in a while and I really enjoyed it.  Back at the cabin the VIFP gift of a Journal was left as were some cookies I suspect from the food ops manager.  Thanks.

Day Three—Monday—December 14th—Cozumel
Who-za drivin' da Ship? / Captain Agostino Fazio
Smoother seas overnight and I slept very well.  We had a very early arrival in Cozumel at 7:00 am; however, I’m not keen on an early start for the day.  I watched us dock from the Television and used the internet from a comfortable bed.  About 8:30 I went upstairs to Lido to eat and repeated my Huevos Rancheros with two eggs breakfast from Blue Iguana.  As I was waiting for my fresh eggs to be fried (over-medium) Neelesh Santiago the Food Ops Manager came by to visit.  I thanked him for the cookies and I commented on how wonderful the Blue Iguana is for breakfast.  There are some lesser known eating gems on Carnival.  After finishing I noticed Heide, the CLIA lady, on deck.  We had a very nice long discussion about cruising, cruise lines, and the ‘olden’ days.  I didn’t get an early start hoping that it wouldn’t be so busy getting out for a taxi.  I couldn’t have been more wrong, it was too busy. We are docked with the Elation and at the new 3rd pier is the Valor.  There are too many guests trying to get through the long Dufrey building and into Puerto Maya proper.  The Mexican Government fruit inspectors are no help either…and why do people try to take food off the ship?  They do as there were dozens of large trash bags full of confiscated items when I went through.  It’s a 20-30 minute process just to get out and that’s if you know where your going.  They have to open the outside where the crew bypass the building.  I made it to the taxi stand and was soon in San Miguel and at Antonio’s Barber Shop about 10:30 ship time.  Martin wasn’t busy so I had my much needed haircut straight away.  Those that know my barber of nine years will be surprised to know he has cut his long black locks and sports almost a burr cut, very different.  I was off to Woody’s, my Cozumel HQ, to enjoy the breeze, view, and snacks.  Nelly and I discussed the memorial service we will be doing in February for a fellow Snoozemate we lost.  I really went back to the ship early considering, but we actually have an early sailing time of 3:00 pm.  Once back on board in the cabin I cooled off and ordered BLT’s from room service.  Room service BLT’s are a signature food item on Carnival and are always good.  I usually order two and then combine if necessary to make a nice proper sandwich…that was not needed on the Freedom…both were excellent with nice tomatoes, lettuce, and crisp bacon.  We had a brief rain before sail away a little late almost 3:30 pm.  I received a nice telephone call from Jace, the Cruise Director, who wanted to make sure all was well.  That is unique, never happened to me before so a nice surprise.  The private Diamond function was held at 5:15 in Scott's piano bar.  The Captain and senior officers attended and there was a room full of Diamond guests. They served very nice hot Hors d'oeuvres and to-order cocktails.  Since Johana from Alchemy was the bartender I  ordered Spicy Chipotle Pineapple martinis. They were great and on the Captain's tab, the best kind.  Thanks Carnival.  I had some time to get some candy from Cherry on Top and return to cabin before aperitifs at the Alchemy.  I had my usual Quick Fix.  My friends and I were the only ones at our table tonight, but Cozumel night always have fewer guests in the MDR.  Tonight I ordered the Baked Ziti and the grilled Pork Chop, both good.  A Flan for dessert.  I missed the production show 88 Keys after dinner simply because I didn’t check the Fun Times as they rarely have a production show on Cozumel night, but then again we are running the itinerary backward from the usual way it is run.  So it ended up being an early night for me…although there was entertainment all over the ship. 

Day Four—Tuesday—December 15th—Grand Cayman
A few rolls early in the evening but relatively smooth seas overnight and I slept very well.  I  love
Even Santa loves the Alchemy Bar
channel 19 on the cabin TV…that’s the forward looking camera and they play my kind of music…light jazz and torch music.  They have made a change on it…in lieu of going black at night they now have beautiful cruise or island scene slides and continue the music.  Nice…especially if your in an interior as you can see the sunrise and ports as we arrive.  I have seen enough live arrivals from deck so using TV to determine status of arrivals, etc. is good. About 9:30 am I again went up to lido and the Blue Iguana.  There’s usually guests getting the breakfast burritos, but not in the other line, I don’t think guests understand the Huevos Rancheros.  The one man in front of me got three of the base tortillas, but never asked for eggs.  Mine were excellent again…two perfectly fried eggs for a proper Huevos Rancheros.  I do have them add guacamole on the tortilla before adding the eggs…then I top with extra cheese and pico de gallo from the salsa bar.  Perfect.  The weather is really nice today, not too warm, guests will enjoy the beach and the island.  I’m staying on board.  I watched a movie and did some work on the internet most of the day.  I did break for a walk around deck…beautiful day…and for a Guy’s Burger.  The burger was good & cooked properly so a very good lunch.  I went to the Alchemy early enough for two aperitifs and visited with new friends.  Dinner was good, I ordered the Broccoli Soup and two entrees: the breaded Fish Fillet  and the BBQ Ribs.  The ribs were very good.  I did walk about the ship for a bit before retiring.  Some of the entertainment was:  Hasbro, the Game Show, Karaoke, Bingo, Love & Marriage Show, and the usual live bands at the various bars and venues.

Day Five—Wednesday—December 16th—Montego Bay, Jamaica
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well, so much that I slept almost to 10:00 am.  Wow, and I
Red Frog Pub
wasn’t up late either.  We are docked at the industrial side of MoBay as the Carnival Dream is at the Cruise location.  All types of bells & whistles & alarms & announcements began after 10:00 for crew drills.  I was warned and knowing that this was a serious all crew drill that there would be no chance of brunch or food until it was over so no rush to the morning for me.  It was very interesting listening to Jace try to pronounce the names of missing crew members.  They primarily used their employee ID numbers.  It wasn’t long after the all clear that Darwin was knocking on the door to clean the stateroom so I headed up to Lido main.  It’s a hot day, but lot’s of friends staying on board so I had nice visits until food became again available.  I waited until after noon time for the Mongolian Grill to open.  It was good as always.  The desert station had an excellent Key-lime Cheese Cake too.  I did some online work and had a free day until  late afternoon when I went up to Lido aft to drink a coke.  It had cooled off and looks like a lot of guests are returning early.  I also exchanged my VIFP gift for the new small duffle bags that will be the next gift item.  May use the duffle, won’t use the Journal nor the five at home.  I again went to the Alchemy early for Aperitifs then to dinner.  To night I ordered the  Pumpkin Soup, Escargot, and the Short Ribs entree.  For dessert I ordered the two new selections to sample:  Chocolate Panna Cotta and Buttered Popcorn Pot De Creme.  The panda cotta was too much chocolate for me, but the Buttered Popcorn Pot De Creme is a winner.  Very different, try it if you get the chance.  After dinner I was going to go to the production show Getaway Island in the theater, but ended up in the Red Frog Pub to hear the two solo entertainers, Jon and Tyler.  I
considered a Fish Bowl, but had two Thirsty Frog beers of course!   Not out really late…back to the cabin by 12:30 for sleep.

Day Six—Thursday—December 17th—Fun Day at Sea
Smooth seas overnight and I again slept very well and late.  I had to rush to get to the Blue Iguana for
Christmas Display
breakfast before the 10:30 close. Again I had the great Huevos Rancheros with two fresh fried eggs. Very good. I spent some time in the Lobby and Lobby Bar this's actually the closest public space to my cabin.   Lots of activities held there during the day and of course the entertainers at night. Also a great place to people watch.  Not something I normally do when I have a far aft cabin.  I ordered BLT’s from room service for a late lunch today.  BTW-they have NEW room service menu’s…nice multi-page with color graphics.  They are some changes primarily the new service charge ($5 per) items including: Buffalo Wings, Philly Steak, and more.  The BLT’s and Rubin are still there and free.  It was to the Alchemy Bar for aperitifs again this evening.  I had dinner with the Travel Agent group tonight and it was a nice dinner,  I ordered the Stuffed Mushrooms, the Pasta e Fagioli Soup, and the Filet Mignon and Short Rib combination entree.  I did return to the Alchemy for a nightcap before retiring.  Observation:  I'm not really a gambler, but every time I have passed the casino on this has been packed.

Day Seven—Friday—December 18th—Fun Day at Sea
Sun King Steakhouse
Rocking and rolling seas overnight and today.  Up about 9:00 am so time to get to the Blue Iguana for my now usual breakfast.  There was a line this morning so it has been discovered and I’m earlier than normal.  A two fried eggs over medium Huevo Ranchero breakfast…excellent.  My preference is guacamole added to the pre-prepared soft taco base, then the fresh eggs, add cheese to top of hot eggs, then pico de gallo.  There are lots of condiments at the salsa bar for individual tastes.  The weather was cooler so not as many guests outdoors today, but there were plenty of activities inside today.  I purposely didn’t eat lunch today since I have plans for later.  I had an easy day with cabin time, walking about the deck, and just relaxing.  The Platinum/Diamond gathering was at 5:15 in the International Lounge. Always nice to meet the senior crew members.  I attended another cocktail party / reception at 6:30 in the Disco for the Travel Agent group.  I met my MDR friends at the Alchemy and we went to the Sun King Steakhouse located on deck 10 midship. A very nice restaurant. I ordered as a starter the Escargot Bourguignonne, Salad: Sliced Sun-Ripened Beef Steak Tomatoes with Gorgonzola Crumbles, Entree: Grilled Prime Cowboy Steak.  Sides: Yukon Gold Mash & Cremed Spinach.  For dessert I ordered the Caramelized Washington Apples.  All of it was very good especially the steak.  Certainly worth the upcharge.  I did have a nice conversation with the Captain while in the Steakhouse...he is a nice man.  After cocktails and a wonderful meal I retired for the evening.

Debarkation—Saturday—December 19th—Galveston, Texas
Seas were smoother as we approached the coast, I was awake by 6:00 am and began packing.  I went down to the Posh MDR for breakfast, my only time in the MDR for breakfast this cruise.  I ordered the Eggs Benedict and honestly they were not good…overcooked to the point of hard boiled so I left early enough to get to the designated Diamond debark staging area just after the 7:30 meet time.  Just moments after arriving the staff came and got the Diamond guests and since I was basically at the door…I was first off the ship.  Didn’t plan it that way, but I like it.  I was also first through U.S. Customs and out the door.  Since I was early I decided to walk to EZ Cruise as it would be faster than waiting for a shuttle.  I stopped for gas at Raceway as usual ($1.65 gal) and was off the island at 8:08 am.  Excellent debarkation.  Back at the ranch by 12:45…a quick and uneventful drive.

I had cabin 2269 an interior located on Main Deck (deck 2) near the forward elevators on starboard side.  I prefer an aft location but this was basically assigned to me. The cabin has a swipe type safe, twin/queen beds, refrigerator, three-section closet, four drawer cabinet, one electrical outlet on counter/dresser, Bottle Opener, Telephone, Medicine Cabinet, Small Table, Small Stool at Dresser, Chair, Robes (2), and flat screen TV, with the interactive features.   Magnetic walls so I can use my magnetic hooks on the ceiling, walls, or door.  My cabin steward Darwin was very good, the cabin was always clean and my mail/notices delivered.

Dining / Food / Bars / Entertainment

Both Main Dining Rooms are very nice especially the Posh Dining room located aft.  The Blue Iguana for burritos or breakfast and Guy’s Burgers are excellent. They also have a Mongolian Wok. The buffet food is pretty standard fare, but selected desserts are good.  IMHO the MDR food is just adequate, but I had very nice table locations and the wait team was good. The Steak House was wonderful.  I love the Alchemy Bar and the Lobby bar is very nice.  Thirsty Frog beer is available in the Red Frog Pub and the Red Frog Rum bar, EA Sports bar, and Lobby bars.

The entire ship crew were very friendly, they themselves can make the cruise more enjoyable for the guest. Waiters and Cabin stewards especially very friendly.  The excellent training by Carnival is quite obvious.  Favorites this cruise were my MDR wait team, Alchemy Bar team; and overall Crew in general.  They always seemed to have a smile on their face and eager to please the guests. The Ship Officers were fantastic…they really seem to enjoy working as a team and are very friendly.

Diamond Guests Cocktail Party with Captain & Senior Officers
Private Cocktail Parties
Alchemy Bar and bartenders.
Carnival Freedom Crew members

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