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Family Cruise on the Carnival Freedom with Teenagers
Carnival Freedom Cruise Introduction
This year we were fortunate enough to be able to go on the Carnival cruise ship the “Freedom” leaving out of Ft. Lauderdale. Our ports of call were Key West Florida, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel, Mexico.
This blog is a review of the ship and the ports of call. For a frame of reference, I was traveling with my husband, our 2 teenagers, my Sister, and her 2 teenagers. My husband and I have been on another cruise about 10 years ago on Royal Caribbean on the “Navigator of the Seas”. When traveling with our family, we are always looking for the biggest bang for our buck.
Carnival Freedom Cruise Ship
Fort Lauderdale Airport
We flew into Ft. Lauderdale and took a short taxi ride to the port. You can actually see the ships from the airport. It only cost less than $20 for all four of us compared to paying for the carnival transfer service through Carnival which is $15 dollars per person. The taxis are all line up outside the door and very easily accessible.
Map of Fort Lauderdale Airport and Port Everglades
Carnival Freedom Ship Boarding
Although we stood in long lines to get on the boat, for us it was pretty smooth. I cannot stress enough how important it is to make sure your have the proper paperwork ie. photo ID, and birth certificate. My sister had all the proper paperwork for her kids but had not brought her own birth certificate. We were fortunate enough that my Mother was able to e-mail a copy of her birth certificate to Carnival and they let her board. This was a grueling and stressful process. The Carnival staff on the land side were not helpful AT ALL! They would have pulled the gangway but one of the crew members allowed my husband off to be able to relay a message to my Sister that my Mother had her birth certificate in hand and needed an e-mail address, and they did not want to pull it with a signed in guest not on the boat. I was also a nuisance to guest services because I was a bit distraught. We were trying to see if we could get my Sister on the boat in Key West if she was able to get her birth certificate. They would only allow this if there was a medical reason you weren’t able to board the ship on time or a possible flight delay. Even if we were able to do this, there is a hefty fee that you need to pay to make it happen. Had we not been on the boat, I don’t think my Sister would have been allowed to board because it was 3:55 when she came aboard, and all passengers are to have been boarded by 3:30pm. So to reiterate, make sure you have all your paperwork!
On Board Drink Packages
We made the decision to get the soda package for each of us. If soda is not your thing, at the buffet there is orange juice, juice cocktail, unsweetened iced tea, and water. You can also get free water from any of the bars. The dining room serves free bottles water. I love going on cruises, but remember where their water comes from. I know Royal Caribbean had an onboard water treatment plant. The soda from the bar uses onboard water. I have broken out in hives on both cruises, and I think it is in large part to the water. My Sister got the alcohol package when she boarded, mostly because she was stressed out and felt like she would do this for herself to help her relax. About 2 days into the cruise she realized that she wouldn’t drink nearly enough to have made this purchase worthwhile. She had signed for all the drinks she had gotten, so there was a clear record of what she had used. She went to guest services and tried to get a refund of the package and just pay for what she had already consumed. They said that she entered into a contract and would not budge even after speaking to the Bar Manager. DO NOT purchase their packages until you have thought about how many drinks a day you will have and you have checked out how much they cost individually. A lot of the frozen drinks for example are $10 each.
Our room was on deck 1. Our room itself was pretty clean. On the first day, the bathroom smelt like urine. The smell did dissipate a little until we asked them to unplug our shower drain, and then the stench was very apparent again. I suspect maybe a dirty mop? My Sisters room was not completely clean. She found a towel under her bed the first evening that she thought belonged to her children, but when she picked it up, it was dry and crunchy – eww!! We did trust our steward and he was very pleasant. These people are worked so hard. They do not get days off – just hours. They come from all countries. If they have time, talk to them, hear their story. Chances are they are there for the money because its better than where they came from. I found that the crew were always smiling but I wonder it that isn’t “policy”. Our family treats all people well, it is what I expect from them. So many guests acted entitled – “I’m here on vacation, be my slave.” Although the crew has a job to do, it is important to appreciate that they are serving you, and say “please”, and “thank you”. It goes a long way. Watch their reactions when you do, they seem almost surprised which is sad. At the end of your trip, if your people did a great job, remember to tip them well. The ship itself was pretty clean. There aren't garbage receptacles around. There are a few recycle bins here and there but that's about it.
Before leaving for vacation I was having a few issues that I didn't want to be dealing with when I would be out of the country. I am glad I got it cleared up before I went, mostly because I want to share a short story with you about what my Sister and I witnessed one night. We were watching a movie at the dive in movie. We were situated behind one of the hot tubs. A woman was going down the stairs and she fell. I checked on her to see if she was hurt. She said "Yes". I went to get help from the employees that were on deck, while another woman who had experience with EMT services stayed with her. When I told the staff, they calmly and too casually made their way to the phone where they alerted the medical staff. It took forever for anyone to come, and this woman was clearly in pain. When the doctor/nurse did arrive she seemed like she did not know what to do. Then it took forever for them to get a wheelchair for her. When they did move her, they didn't even stabilize her leg. This whole process probably took about 45 minutes. Not too long after they took her away the deck help squeegeed the steps of water. A bit later one of the people assisting the injured woman came to take photos of the place where the incident occurred, well after it was cleaned up. Two days later we saw the woman with a cast that went from her toes almost up to her knees. She was still wincing whenever she moved. My take away from this injury was that the staff was not up to par, and I wonder if they weren't taking pictures to cover themselves. I do not have personal experience, but I have read that if you need medicine while on board, expect to pay a lot! Accidents happen, but try not to get hurt!
The professional pictures on the ship are fun to do! We participated every day. They have all these backgrounds to choose from and you pose for your pictures. The next day they are available to look at on deck 4 above the lobby. They can come out great but they are not cheap! They are about $20 each for an 8 x 10. For a small extra fee you can get them on a USB if you have ordered 10 or more photos. For our family it was worth it because we have never done a professional family portrait. I do believe that they work on commission because they will get after you if they see you trying to capture a picture behind the photographer, and some of them hover by the pictures when you are making your selections to encourage you to buy the ones they took. We didn’t experience this behavior at all on Royal. You can also ask for them to hold all your pictures for the week so you can make your final selections on the last night. If the first person you ask doesn’t do this for you, go back later when someone else is at the counter, and ask them. If you are sailing in early 2015, look for Kingston from Zimbabwe, he did a great job getting our kids to smile! Tell him the folks near Boston sent you!
Circle C and Club O2 (Teenage Services)
I’d like to say that all our teenagers participated in the Circle C or Club O2, but 3 would have been in Circle C and 1 in O2. Because this was their slow season for kids (Early December), they were going to allow the oldest Circle C child to skip up to O2. If it was busy, they would not have offered this. Also because it was slow season, a few of the activities were combined with both clubs. Because all 4 of the kids wanted to be together, we let them loose as long as they stayed together. Circle C had the Wii and the PS3, and Club O2 had the PS4 and Musicbox. Parents feels safe to let their kids roam, apparently the staff does too, because there was no sign in/out procedure for either group. It was come and go as you like. On the contrary, there are dangers aboard the ship and if you have children, especially teens, I urge you to read up on to be able to make smart decisions and educate your kids to keep them safe so everyone has a happy vacation. For example, you may not want to let your children accompany other new friends to their room tohangout, there are plenty of places out in the open to hang out. We didn’t have any issues but we also set family rules to keep it that way. I you have females, be smart!
Vacation for us is also taking a vacation from electronics, so we did not purchase any Wi-Fi. Because of this our phones had no signal unless we were fairly close to land at points. We didn’t have any way to communicate with each other except in person. Walkie talkies would have been nice, but I don’t see our teens actually wanting to carry them around. If your are traveling with someone in another cabin and you don’t make a meeting plan for the next day, it may be difficult to find them unless you have a designated meeting spot. You should pick a place where are all frequent. We picked the ice cream machine on the Lido deck (9) where all the food is. Another idea was to stick a note under the door to let the other party know that you are awake and going to breakfast and set a later time to meet and your meeting place.
Things To Do On Board
Things to do on the Carnival Freedom include volleyball and basketball (which is fully surrounded by a net), mini golf (which If I remember right was about 8 holes), life size chess, cold salt water swimming pools, waterslide, hot tubs, a running track that spans the back ½ of the ship around the sport’s area, shuffleboard, and ping pong, In the rear of the Red Frog Pub on deck 5, is a really nice indoor shuffleboard table, foosball table, darts, and a bean bag toss. They also have the Dive In Movies. The big screen plays fairly new releases while guests can enjoy the pool and the hot tub. They usually had a family friendly movie around 8pm or so and then they has PG13 around 10pm or so. Also available to you at no charge is the Saunas – moist and dry, the whirlpool, and the gym (must have an adult with children) , which looks out beyond the front of the boat. If you watch your daily flyer, there will be activities like bingo, trivia’s, short dance lessons, etc.
The dining was one of the main reasons we decided on a cruise. With teenagers we could spend a fortune on food. At least on the cruise it was a fixed dollar amount and they could eat as much as they wanted. For Breakfast every day we at on the Lido deck at the buffet. They have food available from the pool in the sun all the way to the back of the boat. In the morning they had cereal, yogurt, fresh fruit, and omelets with your choice of ingredients, scrambled eggs, potatoes (hash brown, baked etc), bagels, French toast, pancakes, and pastries. In the afternoon, we usually ate the cheeseburgers and fries, or panini’s at the sandwich window. For midnight snacks we usually had gourmet pizza in the very back. The ice cream and frozen yogurt stations are available 24/7. There is more dining (fish) on deck 10 if you go up the stairs by the sweet spot station. The day they did have a chocolate extravaganza, it was mostly chocolate cake and such, not so much actual chocolate like Royal Caribbean. There was one ice sculpture demonstration, where Royal had them all on display with their exquisite chocolate buffet. Every night we ate at the Chic Restaurant. The food was good and the desserts were very good! A favorite at our table was the chocolate melting cake that was available all week long. Yummy!! If someone at your table has a birthday or an anniversary, be sure to rat them out to the waite staff so they can sing to them, my table did! There is always a way to get food, you will never be hungry!
Visiting Key West, Florida (Fort Taylor-Zachary, Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum)
Our first part of call was Key West Florida. The boat is docked so people were getting off as early as 8am. Traveling with family we try to find things that are fun and interesting but low cost. We decided to walk to Fort Taylor Zachary, ir was a short walk and you could see it from the boat. The Fort itself wasn’t anything exceptional, but they do have a nice beach to snorkel at. There is a small fee to enter the park but it was worth it. From the reviews I’ve read, having a fee keeps the rift raft out. The day we were there the water clarity wasn’t great bit it wasn’t like the ocean in the Northeast either. Around the rock outcroppings is where we saw the fish. If snorkeling just isn’t your thing, there are picnic tables in the shade, and the beach is great for sunbathing, and the water is great for swimming. After we went snorkeling we walked to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. We were able to print coupons online for this stop too. The kids enjoyed this stop. It took about an hour to go through the museum, but if you love to delve into things and read everything, you might want to allow a little more time.
Fort Zachary-Taylor, Key West, Florida
Ripleys Believe It or Not Museum
Visiting Grand Cayman (Sting Ray City, Spott's Public Beach)
Our second port of call was Grand Cayman. Our kids were very excited to stop here because we had signed up to do the Sting Ray City and Coral Garden. In Grand Cayman, the boat doesn’t dock, you need to take a tender boat to the shore. The wind was so strong that we were not allowed to come into where the cruise ships usually park for the day. We had to go to the other side of the island – Spotts Bay. Because of the wind, some of the excursions were cancelled, such as my Sister’s, who had signed up to do Sting Ray City and the Turtle Farm. Carnival offered her a full refund then allowed her to purchase just the Turtle Farm. We were allowed to go on our excursion. The water level is normally calm and waist high at Sting Ray City. The wind was so strong that the waves would come over our heads. It was nerve wracking because the last thing you want to do it step on a ray and the waves were picking us up and moving us. My husband and I did this excursion 10 years ago and the waves were not bad and it was very enjoyable. That was back when guests could still feed the rays. The weather/waves conditions of this trip are not typical.. It was a great experience for our family even despite the waves. The second part of our excursion – snorkeling the coral reef was cancelled because our Captain was unable to anchor due to the high winds, and the waves coming over the reef were making the current unsafe. Our Captain said this was only the 2nd time he’d seen this in 7 years – our bad luck I guess. My husband asked for a refund for ½ of our excursion. They granted it, but they wouldn’t have offered it if we didn’t ask. Because we were unable to snorkel the reef, we chose to walk 5 minutes down the road to Spott’s public beach. The water was only 7 feet deep but we saw a lot of great things, for example, colorful fish, sea turtles, sting ray, and we saw 1 eel. When we went to Grand Cayman on our last cruise we went snorkeling right off the shore near port. There is a restaurant with an outside seating area that has steps that go into the ocean next to a dock. The fish in there were HUGE! My Sister said the Turtle Farm was pretty good too! You get to see a lot of turtles and then can swim in a manmade lagoon with yearling turtles. Her teenage boys loved it. If your excursion gets cancelled for any reason, remember to ask for a refund.
Grand Cayman Sting Ray City
Grand Cayman Snorkeling at Spott's Beach
The above map is a picture of Grand Cayman. The boats that you see are parked in a circular pattern are at Sting Ray City. If you zoom out, you can see there is a body of water surrounded by land and light blue waters. That light blue water abuts the the reef. The coral garden is a little to the left and closer to the reef, you can see a couple of boats parked there also.
Spott's Public Beach
The above map is of the southern side of Grand Cayman. The third dock to the right is Spott's Public Beach. The 1st dock to the left is where the tender dropped us off from the ship. Usually it would have been the westerly side of the island.
Visiting Cozumel, Mexico (Chankanaab Park)
Our third stop was Cozumel Mexico. When we were on our last cruise we had someone in our group that used to work for Royal Caribbean. She took us to this place called Chankanaab and we fell in love with this place. We didn’t pay through the nose for an excursion, we just caught a cab to the park, and paid the park fee. This time we did the same thing and we found a $2 off coupon per person online. The snorkeling is fantastic! We saw all kinds of colorful fish that swim all around you, sting rays, colorful coral, and one Caribbean barracuda (which are harmless as long as you aren’t wearing anything shiny or following them). The beach has lots of lounge chairs and permanent that shade posts and hammocks. There is also a small beach area that you can walk into and swim. There are always employees walking around to see if any of the patrons need any food or drink, not cheap but convenient. They also have a botanical garden (which is mostly greenery), a sea lion show, and opportunities to pay to swim with the dolphins. It is also pretty easy to get a cab ride back to the docked ship. At the dock, there are a ton of shops and outside vendors. You don’t have to pay full price at the street carts, you’ll do better if you seem interested and begin to walk away. They are more than willing to haggle to make the sale. Just a word of caution – most of the stuff is not made on Cozumel. This stop was the favorite of each one of us and the cab was $30 to and $30 from the park, and the admission was $18 each after the coupon, with admission for kids 11 and under being less expensive. So when all was said and done, we paid $26.50 per person for 7 adults for a fantastic day! If you decide to go this route, make sure you have a watch or are watching the time. They are an hour different from us, and you don’t want to miss the boat!!!
Chankanaab National Park
So this is my conclusion: We all had a great time. Carnival is one of the lower priced cruise ships and now I know why, they try to make money on other things at every turn. For example, photographers vie for you to purchase their photos, we were only give 3 beach towels even though we had 4 people, my Sister was given 2 for 3 people. When we asked for more, it wasn’t a problem but if you get towels from up on the deck and don’t return them you will get charged like $20 each. If your kids ask for towels they will willingly give them to them and take your room number, not informing them that there will be a charge if not returned. If you happen to come aboard with, or purchase a can of soda, do not leave it in your room when you are done, you will get charged for it as if it came out of your minibar. When you go to presentations where they offer free stuff, there is probably a catch, for example, a free charm bracelet if you attend a presentation, yeah the chain part was free but each charm you would have to pay for….. There were a fair amount of intoxicated people. If we were going to do this again with our kids we would upgrade from ocean view to balcony with Carnival or Royal, whichever had the better price. It we were going to go just my husband and I, we would go Royal, we wouldn’t even price check Carnival. There were a few places on the ship that seemed to be exceptionally smelly, like sewerage, for example, outside near the ping pong tables. If you are looking for a great affordable cruise and don’t need or want to be wowed – Carnival will give you the biggest bang for your buck. If you are looking for something a bit more sophisticated, not too much pressure sales onboard, and the wow factor – go with Royal.