Saturday, February 20, 2016

Carnival Freedom Cruise Revew

Carnival Freedom Cruise Review 
Snoozemates Jeriatrics Cruise - John Heald Bloggers 9
February 20, 2016

This is my 6th cruise on the Carnival Freedom, 59th Carnival Cruise, and 110th cruise overall.  I am traveling with my dear wife (DW), most of the Snoozemates Group on our Jeriatric cruise, and this is the 9th annual John Heald Bloggers cruise.  It will be a busy cruise.

Day One—Saturday—February 20—Galveston Embarkation

A friend is traveling with us and since she has a later arrival window and the fact that there will be so
Lido Buffet dessert
many more VIP’s due to Bloggers Cruise we have decided to delay the usual arrival time to Galveston. We left the ranch about 8:15 am and headed south driving all the way to Waller, Tx and the new huge Buc*ee’s on SH 290.  We arrived at EZ Cruise Parking about 12:50 pm and was shuttled straight away to the Carnival Freedom at pier one. We dropped our bags at the luggage drop and proceeded to the entry. They have the new staggered arrival times 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.  This is my second time to check in with this procedure and since it’s later in the day and boarding has been open for a while we then proceeded directly onto the ship.  A very simple procedure. The only slow down was that they inspected my coke cans after the security check point.  We were on board and at the cabin about 1:40 pm.  It was a very easy embarkation.  I went up to Lido for just a quick snack as I had some group business to do with Guest Services asap.  Upon return I then went up to the Mongolian Grill for a proper late lunch.  Since we checked our bags we did not settle in, but took the opportunity for a short rest until Muster Drill.  The Bloggers Welcome Party was scheduled for 5:00 pm so the Snoozers met on deck 3 to watch some of sail away from the outside deck before heading into the Victoriana theater to be welcomed.  They served complementary cocktails and h'orderves…thank you John H…and it was really great seeing old blogger friends there and the rest of the day.  The Snoozemate’s did the Freedom repositioning cruise last year at bloggers time so I had not seen a lot of my old cruise friends in a while…that is nice.   Once we returned to the cabin about 7:00 pm I had a message from Guest Services and we were being moved to a different balcony.  We went to GS to get our new room cards then back to move.  It was an easy move, we had not unpacked and it was just a few doors down so it was done in just a few minutes.  We even keep Budi the cabin steward we had just met.  We then began to partially unpack and prepare for dinner as were late for our usual Alchemy Bar meet time.  The bar was packed.  It was nice seeing Alchemists Vera and Johanna again as well as more blogger and cruise friends.  Only time for one Quick Fix before going to the Posh Dining Room (MDR) for dinner.  Our group has two 10-top tables in the center section and our head waiter Jose and wait team are good.  John Heald came by to greet us and that was nice.  For dinner I ordered the Cream of Ripened Tomatoes (good) and the Fried Shrimp entree (good). DW had the Vegetable Lasagna (good, but served cold) and we shared desserts: Strawberry Parfit (good), Apple Pie (fair), and the Nutella Hazelnut Tiramisu (excellent).  After dinner the group went about the ship, I returned to the cabin as it was a long day for me.

Day Two—Sunday—February 21st—Fun Day at Sea
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well.  The smooth seas were very welcomed since the 15-day
Diamond Luncheon
Miracle cruise a few weeks ago was so rough.  Room service was delivered at 9:30 and it is a beautiful day with a wonderful view from the balcony.  We finished settling into our new cabin this morning, we are in 8457 the same cabin we had for the 12-day Freedom repositioning cruise this time last year.  It’s a nice aft facing balcony cabin near most of the group.  This morning I purchased an internet package, converted the 220 plug behind the bed to 220/110 combination, set our travel clocks, chilled the cokes, hung the magnets, prepared a bag of laundry, and had some internet time.   The Diamond Luncheon was held at noon in the Chic Dining Room midships.  There are 73 Diamond Guests on board and at least that number in attendance. They served champagne or wine when we entered and we had an excellent table in the center of the room so we had great view of the Hosts and Captain.  The menu and food was excellent, perhaps the best of any Diamond Luncheon I’ve attended.  When I RSVP’d I reminded them of the need for a vegetarian dish so DW had a nice salad and plate prepared for her, not a true entree but primarily the side dishes from the entrees.  I ordered the Blue Crab Salad, and both entrees:  Duet of Sea Bass and Mahi with Classical Bacalao & Shrimp Fricassee, Beet Risotto, Asparagus Flan - Charbroiled Filet Mignon with Mushroom Pinwheel, Battered Blue Cheese, and Pumpkin filled with Roasted Cauliflower.  The steak was wonderful as was the little pumpkin/cauliflower side.  The waiter brought extra battered blue cheese as well. Dessert was a Raspberry Dark Chocolate Pate, but too sweet for me.  We did take advantage of the bar service and enjoyed several+ Cosmopolitans.  It was a great meal and I enjoyed seeing other Diamond friends and guests.  After dinner we joined a trivia team in the lobby for the 3-day Super Trivia contest.  When trivia was over we attended the Bloggers Tea time in the Chic MDR.  I had tea and another Cosmopolitan…celebrating my birthday a day early.  We very innocently started to the cabin for some rest, but never made it past the Alchemy Bar.  We spent the rest of OUR day at Alchemy with friends.  This is the Captain's Elegant evening and the production show 80’s Pop To The Max was featured in the Victoriana theater. We already had an elegant meal so did not make it to dinner and retired early.

Day Three—Monday—February 22nd—Fun Day at Sea — Ray's Birthday
Again smooth seas overnight and I slept very well.  Since we missed Budi’s turn down service last
Margarita Birthday Party
night I was up early as we had left our balcony window curtains open.  Someone delivered a fruit basket last night so I had a nice banana very early while viewing a lovely sunrise.  About 8:30 am I went upstairs to Lido deck and the Blue Iguana to get a very good Huevos Rancheros breakfast.   I ate out on the aft deck and soon several of the group came by and we visited for a while.  Our group are such veterans we know the designated meeting places on the ship.  Then back to the cabin to enjoy the nice aft balcony and great weather this morning. Budi came by to clean the cabin while we were on the balcony and left a big ‘Birthday’ greeting on the mirror as well as the VIFP gifts.  Finally something we use as the VIFP gifts…packing cubes...thanks Carnival.  Soon a bottle of champagne was delivered, a gift from Mr. Santiago, the Food Manager as well as other items from friends…thanks.  About noon I ordered BLT’s and a cheese sandwich for DW from room service to eat on our balcony.  Room service BLT’s are a signature food item on Carnival and are usually always good.  I order two and then combine if necessary to make a nice sandwich…that was not needed on the Freedom…both were excellent with nice tomatoes, lettuce, and crisp bacon.  While reading birthday email on the balcony I received an email concerning the Grant request
for the Texas Scottish Festival I had worked on for 2 1/2 days while on the Carnival Miracle cruise.  We got it.  Wonderful news for the event that I have been volunteering with for 30 years.  Since this is National Margarita Day the group met at the Blue Iguana Bar at 2:00 pm for a little birthday celebration.  It was fun and everyone dressed in a Hussong’s or a Mexican theme.  I am blessed with great friends, it was also probably the longest time I have spent outdoors on Lido Deck in years.  Amazing how my cruise routine has changed over the many years,  I'm much more of indoor person on board ship now.  Also why I love the aft balconies for both privacy and that they have an overhang and are fully shaded most of the day.  Following a little cabin time we met everyone at the Alchemy Bar for aperitifs about 7:00ish, the Alchemy Bar has been packed this cruise…amazing.  Dinner was good this evening.  I ordered a nice birthday meal: two Shrimp Cocktails, a Greek Salad, the Baked Ziti (as starter), and the premium Filet Mignon from the steakhouse menu.  It was very good.  As  a surprise friends arranged for a fresh Cherry Pie, (just like Mom used to make on 2/22) for dessert and the waiters sang ‘Happy Birthday’.  Nice.  After dinner friends were off to the Seaside Theater, Casino, and more…I stopped by the Alchemy for a Deal Closer to take back to the cabin that someone had arranged for me.  A great birthday at sea.

Day Four—Tuesday—February 23rd—Mahogany Bay, Roatan Island
Relatively smooth seas overnight and I slept very well. We approached Roatan early and we were
Wreck in Mahogany Bay
docking at Mahogany Bay just after 7:00 am.  I had a banana and watched us dock from the balcony.  Guests were off the ship early.  I went down to the MDR for breakfast about 8:00 am and it was not busy at all.  I ordered Melon, Eggs Benedict, Bacon, and Potatoes…all good.  We decided to walk off the ship and see just the little port area of Mahogany Bay about 10:30 am and soon ran into other friends.  I stayed at Fat Tuesdays while the girls shopped.  It was rather warm, but looked like a lot of guests were heading off to the beach to cool off.  I returned to the ship in order to beat the crowd and went to the Mongolian Grill for a nice lunch.  As friends returned we visited on Lido Deck aft until I returned to the cabin for a short nap.  We met at 5:00 pm for a typical Snoozemates Sail Away Party in one of our friends suites also overlooking Mahogany Bay … it had cooled and it was very pleasant watching the sail away.  Most of the group met at the Alchemy Bar for aperitifs.  Dinner was good, I ordered the Linguini with Sausage as a starter, The beetroot carpaccio, and two entrees: the breaded Mahi Mahi 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—February 24th—Belize
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well, we did have the window shades open as we needed to
Lamanai  -  the 'Mask' Temple
wake up early for an excursion, so I was up early as we sailed into the Belize anchorage.  Room service came at 7:00 am, that can spoil you, but I did go up to Lido and they had Eggs Benedict so I had two and a side of bacon…great. Our excursion group of five met at 8:15 and headed to the tender area and we boarded the tender pretty much straightway and were on our 20 minute trip to the Belize City Tourist Pier.  After arriving we found our excursion group: Lamanai Belize Tours and soon we were on a van and off on an hour+ drive north to Orange Walk Town.  Here we had a short beak and then loaded up on a high speed boat on the New River for a 23 mile trip upriver.  Along the way we saw a Crocodile, Boat-billed Crane, and other wildlife.  Upon arrival at the Lamanai Park picnic area we had a Belizean buffet lunch of Chicken, Rice & Beans, mashed potatoes, and fried plantain.  It was a very good lunch on the banks of the river.  While eating we heard animal noises I assumed were broadcast from a speaker al la Jurassic Park.  As we began our tour from the riverside into the jungle trail we soon discovered these loud noises were actually live animals…howler monkeys in fact.  Amazing…I never expected these sounds from a monkey.  They are one of the larger monkey breeds and there were two different groups thus the intense noises to define each groups territory. The park was beautiful with various large trees of several types and a nice trail going from ancient ruin to ancient ruin.  First stop was the Jaguar Temple  then the Ball Court, the High Temple, then the highlight IMHO the Mask Temple. Our guide gave us detailed information and the historic significance of each site.  A very enjoyable tour.  We then reversed our travel boarding our boats for the ride back down river to the van and ride back into town.  We entered the port area and boarded the next tender back to the Carnival Freedom.  It was a very warm and humid day especially at the site so a quick Guy’s burger for myself then to the cabin for a shower and rest.  We enjoyed the balcony and had an excellent view as we sailed away from Belize.  There were a LOT of activities on the ship this evening:  a Caribbean Party, a Bloggers event, High Seas Karaoke, and the production show Getaway Island in the Victoriana Theater.  DW had a salad from the Lido for dinner, I went to the Alchemy for Aperitifs then to the Posh MDR for dinner.  Tonight I ordered the Escargots Bourguignonne, Mixed Green Salad, the Corn Chili Quinoa Baked Tomato, and the Braised Short Ribs.  For dessert the Pot De Creme and Blueberry Pie ala mode.  A very good dinner.  After dinner the group went to various events, casino, or cabins to rest.  A great day.

Day Six—Thursday—February 25th—Cozumel, Mexico

Rocking and rolling early in the night and very windy by morning. Today is the purpose of the cruise for our Snoozemate’s group as we are to scatter the ashes of one of our members.  We had rented the
Cozumel - San Miguel Waterfront
largest yacht on the island, but the weather is not going to cooperate.  I was in contact with our contacts early and a cold front had come through overnight and due to the high winds we decided to make other arrangements.  Within 30-40 minutes of us making our decision the port authority had closed the port to all small craft and all the ship’s excursions on water were cancelled as well.  We made arrangements for the group to meet at Woody’s about 11:30 am.  Several of us left at our original meet time of 9:00 and we took a taxi van to San Miguel arriving at Woody’s by 10:00.  I had time to go see Martin and get a haircut and the others went shopping while Woody’s set up tables for us.  By 11:30 all had arrived and we ordered snacks, food, drinks, beers and began our remembrance party.  At 1:00 we went down to Iglesia de San Miguel, the old church were a candle was placed and two poems were read.  Then we walked to the waterfront and from the sobresalir (overhang above the water) area we had a prayer and the ashes were dropped into the Caribbean Sea.  A very wonderful memorable remembrance to a great friend and fellow cruiser.  Overall it was probably equal or better than what we had planned for the yacht.  Following the ceremony some returned to the ship or went shopping, or even to Three Amigos. DW went shopping and  I returned to the ship. I went to Lido deck and had a double dry Guy’s burger and an ice creme.  It was very good.  Then back to the cabin and soon DW returned as we actually sail away at 4:00 pm.  Too Early IMHO.  We sat on the balcony and really enjoyed the two Royal Caribbean ships at the International pier begin their sail away.  They left one after the other and were blasting their ship horns as they did. Very cool.  We attended the Platinum/Diamond gathering at 5:00 in the Theater.  It was a full house with so many VIFP’s on board, but service was good…thank you Carnival.  After the party we sat in the lobby and listened to Latin music while finishing our roadie cocktails.  We met again at the Alchemy Bar for cocktails until time for dinner.  Tonight I ordered the Fazoli Soup, the Pasta, and the Filet Mignon and Short Rib combination entree. Tonight was the production show 88 Keys in the theater as well as numerous entertainers in Lobby Bar, Red Frog Pub and more.

Day Seven—Friday—February 26th—Fun Day at Sea 
Smooth seas overnight and I again slept very well.  Up early to try and get some quality (faster) internet time and room service was delivered about 9:00 am.  I went to pick up our Bloggers T-shirts and visited with several blogger friends.  At 11:45 am most in our group met for brunch in the Posh dining room for the Sea Day Brunch and to use our VIFP Cocktail Vouchers.  I ordered the Fruit Plate, and Steak & Eggs with side of bacon.  DW and I planned for an easy day today, not a full cabin day, but almost.  I reviewed our ship account charges, worked on this review, had some more internet time, watched some Bones on the TV, and rested. Went to the Alchemy Bar for the final time for cocktails and the last Quick Fix for a while.  Dinner was very good tonight, I ordered the Baked Onion Soup, Green Salad & Tomatoes, and the New York Strip Steak from the premium Steakhouse menu ($20).  For dessert I ordered the Carrot Cake (just ok) and the new Banana & White Chocolate Bread Pudding (only fair).  Lot's of farewell parties tonight on the ship as well as all the usual ship entertainment.  A nice relaxing day.

Debarkation—Saturday—February 27th—Galveston, Texas
Approaching the Pier in Galveston
Seas were smooth as we approached the Texas coast, I was awake by 6:30am when we entered the  outer break water and channel.  Three of us went down to the Posh MDR for breakfast, I ordered the Eggs Benedict and side of bacon and it was a good breakfast (unlike previous debark breakfast in December).  There are so many VIFP’s we didn’t even try to meet early to be first out, but we did go down about 8:45 am when our deck was called…of course everyone else went as well…they should have at least taken off their luggage tags as it was obvious they were not from deck 8.  We finally did get through the crowd and off the ship to Customs.  Once processed and out of the terminal on this beautiful day we walked about half way to then I went the rest of the way and got the car (it was 9:30am) and then picked up the girls and luggage...easy process.  It is much easier than walking to the parking shuttles and the same distance.  I love the convenience of EZ Cruise Parking.  We were warned about the freeway closure on I-45 so we went up Hwy 6 once across the Galveston Bridge to the mainland.  Gas at the Galveston Raceway station was $1.49 gallon, but we drove all the way to Hearne, Texas before stopping for fuel and cokes.  We stopped for a very nice Tex-Mex lunch at Chuy’s in Waco and after stopping for a few grocery items in Clifton we were back at the ranch about 4:00pm…

We had cabin 8457 an aft facing extended balcony located on Deck 8.  The cabin has a swipe type safe, twin/queen beds, refrigerator, three-section closet, four drawer cabinet, one 110 and one 220 electrical outlets on counter/dresser, one 220 electrical outlet under bed, Bottle Opener, Telephone, Shelves in bathroom, Small Table, Small Stool at Dresser, Robes (2), and small flat screen TV with the interactive features.   Magnetic walls so I can use my magnetic hooks on the ceiling, walls, or door.  Our cabin steward Budi (photo above) was very good, the cabin was always clean my mail/notices delivered, and ice chest always full.

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.  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 bar.


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.

Approximately 600 John Heald Blog Fans sailing
Guy's Burgers, Blue Iguana,  & Mongolian Grill are excellent and assets to food service.


Snoozemates & Blogger Friends
Lamanai Mayan ruins excursion in Belize
Diamond Luncheon
Cozumel Day
Alchemy Bar and bartenders.
Carnival Freedom Crew members