Carnival Freedom by the Ocean
Usually I write my trip journals as they are happening. I intended to do the same with this one, but this trip was different as I was with a group (my sister’s family, and our cousin Kristian all from Oklahoma). So I am writing after the fact. On previous cruises I would usually take my laptop to the Lido or Panorama deck of the ship and write with the ocean in front of me. This time I was usually meeting some or our entire group for breakfast every morning. The cruise went by quick and I didn’t pull the laptop out to write during the cruise. Hopefully I can remember all of the high points.
My sister Gaylyna, her husband Jonathan, their three children (nieces ages 12, 9, nephew 3), and our cousin Kristian who is 29, and I cruised on the Carnival Freedom out of Galveston, Texas, May 21-28, 2016 with ports of call in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Georgetown, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel, Mexico.
My sister’s family cruised on the Carnival Magic for their first cruise in 2013, this was their second. This was cousin Kristian’s first. This was my seventh cruise (all with Carnival), and sixth different Carnival ship to cruise on. I’ve been on the Carnival Jubilee (which Carnival sold several years back), Carnival Ecstasy, Carnival Conquest, Carnival Magic (twice), Carnival Triumph, and now the Carnival Freedom. The Freedom is in the Conquest class and pretty much the same ship.
05.21.16 Saturday: Embark Carnival Freedom, Galveston, Texas
Our group of seven left my brother’s house in The Woodlands, Texas about 8:45am on Saturday morning. After a few traffic detours around Houston, we made it to the Galveston cruise terminal about 10:40am. I dropped them and our luggage off and drove across the street to the EZ Cruise parking lot. It’s the third time I’ve parked with them, it’s great as you just walk across the street. If you can carry all of your luggage, you don’t even need to pull up to the terminal. However, since we had a lot of bags, it would have been hard to safely manage getting the kids and all of the luggage across, but the drop off worked fine. I had purchased Faster to the Fun from Carnival, which is essentially a line jump pass which puts you in a separate line (similar to the first class line with airlines). After meeting up with our group, we were checked in and had our room keys by 11:30am. We walked on the Carnival Freedom at 11:55am and straight to our cabins which were ready, more perks of Faster to the Fun (FTTF). Normally they aren’t ready until 1:30pm. By the way FTTF costs $60 a cabin. Supposedly it also includes getting your luggage sooner than everyone else, I’m not sure we received ours any quicker than anyone else. I think we had it all by 3pm, well except for my nephew’s little suitcase which the tag had been torn of. We were able to retrieve it from guest services after dinner Saturday evening.
Four of us signed up to use the chat feature via the Carnival Hub app on our phones, using the app to view your account or daily activities is free, but it costs $5 a person to use the chat aspect. It was well worth it as we were able to know where everyone was at most of the time without having to walk all over the ship to find each other. I also signed up for the social media internet plan and was able to post on Instagram and facebook. I think you can also use snapchat, whatsapp and few others if that’s your thing. It currently runs $30.
We enjoyed lunch on the Lido Deck; I had “The Ringer” one of the Guy Fieri’s signature burgers at Guy’s Burgers. They are really good! The Carnival Triumph had Guy’s Burgers when I cruised in 2014 and it was a favorite of mine then. Every time I tried one on the Freedom, it did not disappoint!
After lunch we swam in the Timeless pool on the Lido deck until time to go get ready for the muster drill. If you’ve never been on a cruise, the muster drill is where you go to a designated station in case of emergency. The stations are based on where your cabin is on the ship. We had two cabin, my sister and her kids in one, and Jonathan, Kristian, and in the other. They were in 2253, we were in 2397, even though we were on the same deck, they were forward, we were aft. Both starboard side, but different muster stations. They also had an interior cabin while we had an ocean view (window).
After the muster drill we chilled out for a bit before all going to the Chic dining room. We had your time dining, meaning no set time, just show up anytime between 5:45pm-9:30pm. Saturday night was the only night we all had dinner together. Our main waiter was Alvin from the Philippines. He was really great, but one thing I noticed different from previous cruises is that the wait staff seemed to be handling a lot more tables than before. The staff were all very friendly, but service ran on the slow side. I try to see all of the angles, and blame on what I assume are staff reductions by Carnival. I had the beef brisket for the main entrée, and the Carnival Chocolate Melting Cake, which I think was previously called Warm Chocolate Melting Cake. No matter the name, it’s always great! Dinner ran too late so we were not able to get a seat for the Welcome Aboard Show. I try not to miss these as it’s a good introduction to who all of the entertainment staff are including the cruise director. The Victoriana Lounge was packed, so we looked around the ship a bit. I think I went to bed that night around 11pm.
05.22.16 Sunday: Fun Day at Sea 1
I love to get up early on a cruise and observe the sunrise. So I was up by 6:30am and had a rarity for me, coffee from the coffee bar. The barista was nice and perky for 6:30 in the morning. I took my coffee up to deck 10 the Panorama deck and observed what I consider to be the greatest show on earth.
I met Gaylyna’s family for breakfast on the Lido Deck, cousin Kristian stays up pretty late. So he usually had breakfast on his own as we let him sleep. After breakfast we walked around the ship and Gaylyna and Jonathan signed up the kids for the kids camps. Carnival really does a great job with these for each age group, from what I heard my nieces and nephew all really liked the camps. It’s included in the cost of the cruise unless you need late night babysitting which I think they said was after 10 pm.
Gaylyna, Jonathan, and I went to The Morning Show with Malcolm the cruise director which was in the Victoriana Lounge. It was broadcast to all of the tv’s on the ship including the big screen on the Lido deck, but I liked going to it in person. Malcom is really funny! He said he liked to keep things light and be highly visible, and he was throughout the cruise. I saw him up close 7-10 times throughout the cruise. He was always smiling. He has a few bits he does, one was working “I’m Sorry” by Justin Beiber into whatever he was talking about, along with a high pitched “come here” which sounded like “ca meer”. He also self-proclaims that he is low attention span and goes off on wild tangents, like a dog chasing a squirrel. During the show he had one of the Fun Squad (the entertainment staff used to be called social hosts) Bingo Bridget who looks like a young Hope from Days of Our Lives (which is a good thing). What can I say, my Grandmother and Mom watched a lot of Days of Our Lives when I was growing up. Also on The Morning Show was Bonnie the shipping expert who looks like Kate Walsh, again a very good thing! After the show was the ports talk where the cruise director talks about the different ports, debark procedures, and shore excursions. You don’t have to go to these, but I like to just to get a little insight, especially if it’s a port I haven’t been to.
We had lunch and then went for a swim in the afternoon.
It was elegant night, and none of us wanted to dress up to go to the dining room. We ended up eating dinner on the Lido Deck, I think I had a Guy’s Burger.
After dinner we went to the 80’s Pop to the Max show in the Victoriana Lounge. Carnival used to have a small band that played live music along with a Vegas style dance show. They’ve changed that up now with the Playlist production shows. There’s like 6-7 dancer/singers. Only a few sing leads, to soundtracks. Instead of old school large sets and props, they are using a lot of big video screens. The 80’s show was decent and entertaining.
After the show, Gaylyna and I went up to the Lido deck the moon was bright over the ocean, although I failed to get any decent pictures of it.
We tried to watch Pitch Perfect 2 on the big screen, but both were falling asleep. We called it a night.
05.23.16 Monday: Fun Day at Sea 2
I was a little late getting up to the top for the sunrise as it was already above the horizon, but still had a nice view of the sun peeking behind the clouds and shining down on the water.
For breakfast I think we ate on the Lido Deck again. There was a Dr. Seuss parade that started at the back of the ship and ended in the Victoriana Lounge where at noon was Dr. Seuss Storytime, read by Malcom the cruise director. All of the kids were sitting on the stage, some of the dancers from the shows helped out, and a few adult and child passenger volunteers were used. It was pretty entertaining!
The Cat in the Hat (Excerpt) read by Cruise Director Malcolm Burn
After lunch was the hairy chest contest on the Lido deck, again hosted by Malcom. He really seemed to be everywhere! It was fun. The kids went to their respective camps, and Gaylyna, Jonathan, and I swam for a little bit.
We went back to the Chic dining room for dinner, well Gaylyna, Jonathan, and I did. The kids were at camp, and Kristian was hanging out on the Lido deck. Our wait staff sang happy birthday to me. My birthday was May 14th, but on the online check in process they ask if you are celebrating anything. I figured since I just turned 40, I might as well make the cruise a celebration of my first 40 years. Though my birthday was the week before, they also sent a gift cards to the to be used towards a bottle of wine, and one towards a spa package. I didn’t take advantage of either, but the sentiment was nice.
After dinner we went to the 88 Keys show in the Victoriana Lounge. It was a mix of Billy Joel, Styx, Elton John, etc., piano ballads. I liked it. From there we were going to catch one of the comedy shows, but the line was stretched from the lounge at the back where it was held to the casino (mid ship). So we skipped the madness and went to the atrium and listened to Solo Guitar Sounds with J.D.
J.D. sings a wide range of country songs, from George Strait, Garth Brooks, Merle Haggard, to Pat Green. He then called a fellow passenger named Kyle from Kansas to come up and play a few songs. Kyle was decent with the guitar, but his singing was somewhat flat, and he was also singing obscure country songs that “you probably haven’t heard before” per his own admission. J.D. came back up and sung another and told us he was taking a break, but to stick around as Kyle’s brother would be coming up to do a few songs after the break. We decided we’d just retire for the night rather than find out if Kyle’s brother was better than Kyle.
This was our first port day, we arrived at 9am. It was a bit hectic getting off the ship as the stairways and lobbies close getting to the gangway were stuffed with people. I’m not sure what the answer is to help the congestion, that’s part of life especially when a lot of people are trying to go the same way. It just seemed a lot more intense. Maybe it’s because I’m usually just worried on getting me through the crowd, but when you have a group of seven including kids, it was a little nerve wracking. In retrospect we should have waited about twenty minutes before we went down there as we had an hour or so before our excursion left.
Once we were off the ship, we looked around the vendor tents not far from the terminal. The rest of our group bought several things, I just looked. Then it was on into the terminal where we found our group for the Seawind Beach Resort.
It was just a five minute bus ride over to the resort; they dropped us off and less than 100 yards behind some buildings to the beach. We made it early enough to get chairs under a tent with plenty of shade. I was in the water less than ten minutes after we arrived. Which is pretty much where I stayed until an hour or so before it was time to leave. It was overcast for most of the morning, but then then sun came out and showed off the beauty of the place in the afternoon. The snorkeling was great. The resort also had kayaking, small sailboat rides, a pool, DJ, and couple of different food options. They had burgers, hot dogs, and a buffet line with jerk chicken, roasted pork, rice and beans. As I am typing this it sounds like the food would be amazing, but jerk chicken and roasted pork I had was pretty dry and bland, but I’ve learned not to expect much from the food on “all inclusive” tours. The place was beautiful, no complaints, eating can wait when you’re in Jamaica. Well at least when you are only there for a short time and can eat later.
At 3pm we took the short bus ride back to the terminal and were dropped off around the corner from the door, so that we would have a chance to go by some more vendors. I say this because the odd place they dropped us off was out of the way from the door and we actually had to step over some sidewalks with improvements in process, and walk around a corner, while the bus rolled right by the door into the terminal which had open lanes and no traffic. Everyone’s trying to be enterprising I guess! When we walked out of the terminal, cousin Kristian let some “Rasta men” stop us for pictures despite my urging him to just “keep on walking”. One of them referred to me as “my brother from this morning” despite this being my first time to see him. I gave one of them $2 and then the other wanted a few dollars for himself. When I told him I have given the other guy $2, he said “that was for him, not for me, you don’t have a dollar for your brother?” Well my real brother has never charged me a dollar for a picture, but at this point I was hot and sweaty and just wanted to get to the ship. So I gave the guy a buck, and explained the whole process later to Kristian as to why we should have just kept on walking.
After a shower and a Guy’s Burger, I sat out on the Panorama and admired the beauty of Jamaica. A rainbow appeared high up in the hills. Then a storm started brewing as the ship pulled away over the mainland, it was a beautiful sight to witness.
That night we went to the Hasbro game show in the Victoriana Lounge. It was hosted by whom other than Malcom the cruise director. There was a kids round and an adult round. The kids round was Connect Four Basketball, the adult round was a version of Simon where each adult had a colored box and they had to be put in order of the sequence shown on the big screens. It was fun, and my nephew Caleb really seemed to enjoy it too.
Next up was The Love and Marriage Show, again hosted by Malcom. It’s kind of like the newlywed game; they pick a couple who have been married 50 years or more, a couple married between 25-30 years, and a newlywed couple. It is always very entertaining. Something about the newlyweds annoyed me as they had a group of about 30-50 with them. It was like a sorority and a fraternity had a mass wedding, and their parents all joined them for the cruise. Anytime they answered a question, their whole group would stand up and holler like they were on the Jerry Springer show. I’ll follow up on that group when we get to Grand Cayman. It was time for bed after the show.
Seawind Beach club
Seawind Beach Club GoPro Uncut
Tendering in Grand Cayman was pretty smooth, for some reason it was less stressful catching boat to the shore than in the ports where the ship can pull up to the pier and everyone just walks off the ship. I had made reservations back in February with Moby Dick Tours for a trip to Stingray Island and snorkeling. Thursday before the cruise I get an email from Mark at Moby Dick tours telling me that he sold out his boat to a wedding party because he only had our seven booked. However, he could get us on his friend’s boat, same price and meeting point. I was annoyed but told him to please set us up with his friend. When we met up with Mark, he told his friend had already filled up his boat and left, but he found another boat for us. If you are keeping score, we ended up with the third option in line for our excursion. So much for a reservation! Oh and guess who the wedding party was? Yep, the tools from the marriage show. I don’t wish for bad things on people, but I also believe in keeping my word. If I had a boat and confirmed a reservation with someone, I would do my best to honor my commitment, but that’s just me and was passed down to me. However, I hope that wedding party gave Moby Dick tours a day filled with complaints and malcontents!
The tour group we ended up with was Cayman Ocean Adventures. So that I don’t have to type it out again, here is what I posted about them on Trip Advisor.
Our family group of 7 was inadvertently placed with Cayman Ocean Adventures by another tour company that deemed our reservation from February useless. That’s another story. We were taken by bus to the boat, the driver of the bus did have to stop and get the stingray food at a gas station along the way. It seemed disorganized at the start. We made it to the boat and Justin was the captain. He and the rest of the crew were really nice. They took us to Stingray City first and we were in the water with the stingrays for about 30 minutes. It took some time to get the boat anchored as there was a crowd there. However, there was plenty of room for everyone on our group to spread out and enjoy feeding, petting, and getting pictures with the stingrays. We bought the cd of pictures the photographer took. $60 is pricey, but seems to be the norm on these types of things. Though a few of the group pictures had my nephew’s head cut off, I am just mentioning as constructive feedback. The second stop was snorkeling and it was really beautiful. Then they took us back to the dock, and put us on a bus back to the cruise terminal. They did give us the option to drop us off at Seven Mile Beach on the way back, but we were pressed for time to get back to the ship. While it was less organized than other similar tours I have been on, it was laid back and I’m sure a smaller group than if we had gone with the excursion offered by Carnival. If I go back to Grand Cayman, I would use this tour again. They were nice and patient with everyone.
Stingray City & Snorkeling Grand Cayman GoPro Uncut
The tender back to the ship was smooth and we did not have to wait as we were a few hours early before the last one.
Once back on the ship we had lunch and relaxed the rest of the afternoon.
Getaway Island was the show for the night; it was like the rest of the shows entertaining. The star of the show was one of the bar waiters who showed off his bottle and cup juggling skills in the show.
After the show Gaylyna and I went to the piano bar and listed to Roger the piano guy. He didn’t seem to know the words to a lot of songs, so he just hummed along, or coerced patrons to come up and sing along. Some were good, some were bad, and some were just drunk!
Getaway Island show
05.26.16 Thursday: Cozumel, Mexico
This day started off as a cluster, but turned out fine. The ship didn’t get cleared until 10:15am in Cozumel, but we were supposed to be at our excursion by 10:30. Gaylyna’s family debarked separately from Kristian and I, we had agreed to meet on the pier, but the “pier” is pretty long. So they were ahead of us, and we thought they were behind us. Due to the late debark we wouldn’t have made our excursion anyway without the miscue. It turned out ok; we took a later one that was scheduled to get back at 5:45pm. The ship was supposed to leave at 6pm. After I talked to the Carnival shore excursion person and confirmed they wouldn’t leave us, I was ok. Hey, it seems like the obvious, but I was not going to assume anything as there were two other Carnival ships in port, one was leaving after us.
After looking around the shops for a bit and Kristian successfully buying a Ron Jon pen for $35 pesos he had brought with him, we met the tour group at 12:15. The led us to a catamaran boat, and we took a 45 minute boat ride to Isla Pasion. It is a beautiful place, the water isn’t clear for snorkeling, but they had a lot of water toys and hammocks setup in the water. It was all inclusive, but all I had was a couple of cups of water. Yes I am fine, it was filtered water. I had also brought my own water which I mostly drank. Gaylyna’s family checked out the buffet and said it wasn’t very appealing. Kristian had a 15 minute massage for $10. I mainly swam until it about an hour before it was time to leave I sat and air dried. The most annoying thing about this excursion was we were hit up for tips at least three times, the hosts (guys that walked us to and from the boat) wanted a tip, the servers wanted a tip (I had two cups of water), the boat crew wanted a tip (your one job was to take people to and from the island), the people in the buffet area wanted a tip, the lady in the kids area wanted a tip. I ended up tipping a total of $15 on top of an excursion that already cost $70. I don’t have a problem with tipping if I am really getting a great service, but I do when I feel I am being fleeced. I get it, “that’s how they make their living”. However, I also have a job and I don’t get paid for merely existing.
We made it back to the pier at 5:45, by the time we went through the security checkpoint, the 100 yard narrow duty free shop, and the pier, we were on the ship close to 6, though the ship didn’t actually pull out of Cozumel until close to 7pm. We didn’t get left behind, that’s always a good thing.
We did the Lido deck for dinner again, and then went to the Heart of Soul show in the Victoriana Lounge; it was a mix of Motown hits. The performances were fine, but I didn’t necessarily care for the song selection. It was mostly slow moving ballads, the ones you hear while walking through the grocery store. After that Jonathan and I watched the fourth quarter of the OKC v Golden State game in our cabin, err stateroom. Then I went to sleep.
Isla Pasion GoPro Uncut
05.27.16 Friday: Fun Day at Sea 3
One last day at sea and I took advantage by getting up early and watching the sunrise. If I haven’t mentioned it already, that’s my favorite time on a ship, before everyone wakes up and you can have a whole deck to yourself.
We had breakfast in the dining room, and then headed for the towel folding demonstration. Then they had Towel Animal Puppet Theater for the kids.
After lunch we went to the crowded International Lounge for a magic show, the place was packed and the way I was sitting I had to turn my head to the left to see it. It’s hard to get much out of sleight of hand tricks if you are too far away to see the hands.
Malcom had a Q & A session about crew life and working on the ships. I’ve been to a couple of these and learn something new every time. This time I learned that when Carnival retires items such a pink Harley Davidson that had been a staple in some of the production shows, he was able to get it because Carnival was going to chop it up rather than deal with bringing it back through customs. Though he didn’t have to pay Carnival for it, he had to handle all of customs interactions on his own and get a port agent to be with the bike and walk take it through customs. He also has a jukebox that was the old school way of piping music across the ship before they went to a satellite feed.
Then I tried my hand at the bingo, which I did not win.
Gaylyna, Jonathan, and I had dinner in the Chic dining room for the last night. I had prime rib, a baked potato, the warm chocolate melting cake for dessert.
The final show of the cruise was “The Flying Scotsman” Chris Williams, who had been in all of the shows. It’s a one man show which he does in a kilt and sings a lot of 70’s and 80’s rock with soundtracks. He is really energetic and goes all through the crowd. It was one of my favorites of the shows.
2016 Carnival Freedom Shows
After the show, I made one more trip for a piece of pizza. Actually I only had three pieces of pizza the whole cruise. Then I went to bed.
The worst part of a cruise for me is when it’s over. Even though you’ve only been there a week, you start a routine, and the day you disembark that routine comes crashing to a halt as you’re just trying to get your stuff all packed and meet your group. I did manage to get up and walk around for a bit as the ship was coming into Galveston. We all met up on the Lido deck for breakfast one last time, and then headed down to deck 3 to disembark. We were packed and pulling away from the terminal at 9:24am, and just like that the cruise was over.
5-28-16 Debark (Click to view full album)
I had a great time cruising with family, and I think they all did too. Kristian didn’t sleep much at all as I don’t think he wanted to miss anything. I remember being like that on my first cruise and coming home pretty sleep deprived. Now I try to pick out what I want to do the most and fit other stuff in if possible. The beauty of cruising is when you’re on the ship everyone can do their own thing, yet still find plenty of time to be together. With each of the seven cruises I have been on, the crew makes the cruise. They work hard, long hours, yet seem to always have a smile, and are great with remembering a lot of people’s names. As I sit and type this out, it’s hard not to think about what’s going on aboard the Carnival Freedom right now.
Traveling solo is a necessity for me a lot of times, if I waited on someone to be able to go with me on every trip, I wouldn’t be taking many trips. It’s a lot more fun to share the experiences with friends and or family, and I am glad I was able to take this cruise with some of the family. We now have the stories, places, and people from this trip we can in our memory bank and recollection for the rest of our lives. Hopefully we’ll get to do it again.