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Review Carnival Freedom to Panama with kids

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This will be a detailed review with photos from our 8-day January 2011 cruise on the Carnival Freedom from Ft. Lauderdale to Cozumel, Panama, and Costa Rica. I will include lots of details on Camp Carnival and kid activities.


I planned for almost a year for this cruise vacation. As I am a civil engineer, the Panama Canal and Costa Rican rainforest made the ultimate field trip! We are a family of 4 and this was our 5th cruise and 4th with Carnival. My husband and I are in our upper 30’s and my kids are 8 and 10. We are big Carnival fans, which is the best cruise value for this family. We cruise in January to take advantage of the reduced fares. We drove 14 and a half hours from Virginia to Ft. Lauderdale to board this cruise. We split it up into 2 days, and it really wasn’t that bad.


For the day before the cruise, I booked a 4-star hotel on Hotwire and received the Westin Resort and Spa in Hollywood for an unbelievable price of $89 per night. Wow, was this place wonderful! We never ate at the facility, as I saw that the room service hamburger was a mere $18 a la carte. The swimming pools were wonderful and heated. Here are a few photos I took at the Westin:














Day 1 embarkation:


We relaxed at the hotel and strolled the beach until 11:00 and headed to the “Luxury Airport Parking”. I had reserved a parking space there for about ½ the port parking fees. This place was SLOW, and I would never use them again. It was about 1:00 PM before we were finally dropped of at the port. This was apparently the busiest time to board. After about ½ hour we arrived at the counter to get our Sail & Sign cards. We were then informed that the computed system had just gone down, and this brought boarding to a halt and then slow crawl. At around 3:00 we boarded the ship. I soon got over any irritation of the extremely long boarding process as soon as we boarded. Woo hoo!


We immediately dropped off our things to our room and headed for the Lido deck for a late lunch. It was still very busy, but we headed to the rear to get our food and up to deck 10 to eat in the upper dining area (up behind the Statue of Liberty). The food was okay – some things good, some not-so-good. There was no one in line at the fish and chips and we took advantage of this.







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The muster station was the same as always. My advice: never go to your muster until after about 3 calls. Those that get there early wait longer and get squashed in the back. Afterwards we explored the shipped. I always love the excitement of seeing the ship facilities and amenities for the first time.













The Steelers were playing football on the big screen as we were heading out of Port Everglades. After sail-away, we headed to Camp Carnival for family play time. This is basically a chance for the kids to meet the counselors and to play with some of the toys. My daughter signed up for the 6-8 y.o. and my son signed up for the 9-11 y.o. My son was old enough to be able to check himself in and out of Camp. The younger group must have a parent check them out.





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Day 2 – first sea day:

This was day of exploring and relaxing. I always get up early and enjoy some solitude time. I did my 1 mile power walk on the sports deck, but was disappointed that it was so crowded. Apparently 50 others had the same idea. After lounging around the Seaside theater watching CNN, I headed back to the cabin to get the family together for breakfast. Breakfast on the Lido is always the same: tons of food, tons of people, and the bacon police. We all gorged that morning.


My daughter went to Camp Carnival at 10 for Hip Dance lessons, crafts, and games. She told me to come back at 1:00 for pick-up. My son and I hung around forward pool on Deck 10. It’s next to the slide exit and 2 hot tubs. This pool area tended to be where we swam and sun bathed all week. The aft pool is for adults only, and the lido main pool was just too busy.







My daughter and I are all about activities and doing as much as we can. The boys are much more relaxed and content at what I consider “doing nothing”. I went to the cooking demo at the Sun King Steakhouse. I absolutely LOVED it! The top 5 chefs on the ship each prepare a recipe before the audience and then everyone was serve the dish. The mushroom cappuccino was to die for.









That evening the kids went to the Kids dance party in Club O2, while my husband and I watched a movie outdoors on the Seaside Theater.




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Oops, I almost forgot; day 2 (first sea day) was also elegant night. The boys HATE dressing up, but do it for us girls. We had Your Time Dining, which is located in the Chic dining room in the middle of the ship. We took photos prior to dinner and arrived at dinner at 6:30. This is the only night we had to wait to be seated, but it was a mere 10 minutes. Dinner was great! My husband and I had the lobster and shrimp, my DD had PB&J and my DS had pizza. Oh well, their loss! I skipped desert and opted for an ice cream cone later on the Lido deck. I am not a big fan of sweets, but love ice cream. I had a goal of eating 16 cones during the cruise, and tonight made cone 3! (thus the power walk every morning).


Dress attire at dinner varied from church casual to cocktail dresses and suits. I only saw a very few in a long dress or tux. We chose to dress a little less formal than usual do cut down on luggage for the 8-day cruise.



Waiting to go to dinner:






One of many cones at the 24-hour ice cream station on Lido aft:



Edited by mpcaruth
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Day 3 – Cozumel

We arrived in Cozumel early, as we were informed there had been a medical emergency. This was to be the first of three emergencies. Please folks, make sure you are healthy before taking a cruise to a foreign country. If you have a history of heart problems, maybe you should get a stress test to confirm you are okay to travel. There is no heli-pad on the ship and it could take almost a day to get to shore to a hospital. Also, please keep in mind that you will be walking a lot in high heat conditions and will most likely not be eating healthy. I heard this morning that research has found that changes in the arteries can be seen 30 minutes after eating French fries. Okay, off my soap box…

We had been to Cozumel before and had visited Chankanaab Park. It was nice. This time we took a taxi to Paradise Beach (PB) for some beach fun and relaxation. We paid $12 for taxi each way, $12 each for full access to water activities at PB. A new pool, restroom facility, and bar had recently been built. The place was super clean, with a full time restroom attendant. We loved this place. We ate lunch there and the food was good, not amazing, but good.













As cruisecritic only allows 6 photos per post, I will continue Cozumel in another post. Can you tell I love photos?!?

Edited by mpcaruth
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Day 3 – Cozumel - continued

When we arrived back at the port in the taxi, my family went ahead and boarded, while I stayed back and did some shopping. Apparently Cozumel requires a picture ID to get back to the ship, which I did not have on me; I only had my S&S card. My husband found me later in a store and gave it too me. He was not happy at ALL.





The Freedom was docked beside her sister ship, Liberty. We were the only 2 ships in this port, and there were only 3 ships altogether in Cozumel - this made for a much less crowded day!



That night my daughter again went to Camp Carnival for “Camp Rock Out: Design your own Band” and other activities. My DH, DS, and I attended our first show in the Victoria Lounge: a juggling comedy act. I always enjoy these silly shows. The singing Vegas-style show typically bore me.

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Day 4: second sea day.

The sports deck was closed due to high winds that morning. People were now walking on Deck 10 forward. Woa – it was way too crowded with lots of slow-moving walkers, and little opportunity to pass. Slow walkers tended to line up and block the entire walkway. Fed up, I ventured to the gym and used the elliptical machine.


We ate breakfast in the main dining room – Posh on Deck 3 aft. Yes folks, it’s true. You have to either go up or down a deck or two to cross, as you cannot cross from forward to aft on deck 3. This was a mild nuisance. This is the first time we have ever had breakfast in the dining. Boy had we been missing out. It is such a relaxed and quiet breakfast. The food is good, the service is good, and you don’t have to fend for your food on the hectic lido deck. They also have pineapple juice here, which you cannot get upstairs. The kids loved the Belgium waffles.




It was a typical sea day. We swam, sunbathed, and ate ice cream. I skipped the art auction this year (I only went before for the free champagne anyway). We went as a family to the “Up-close magic show” in the afternoon in one of the smaller lounges. It was entertaining. Later, they colored T-shirts at Camp Carnival, and this year it was a new design from years past. There was also a silly-band swap, but not many kids participated in this.


Camp Carnival typically offers activities from 10-1, 2-5, and then evening activities. Sometimes there are good evening activities, and others, like tonight, consisted of taking the kids to dinner and the show as a camp group. This allows for a date night for the parents.


Our kids did not attend camp on this night. Instead, we went as a family to the family (PG) comedy show in the aft International lounge (aka Punchliners Comedy Club). The show was appropriate for kids (in my opinion). There was no cussing. My DH giggled the entire time and said that was the “best show ever”. But of course, ever day she says something is the “best ever”.


My daughter making herself comfortable while enjoying the stand up comedy (photo not too god as it was taken without flash):




The Punchliner’s Comedy Club is my favorite Carnival addition. The comedians used to only do late night shows in the main lounge after the Vegas style show. Now they have a specific lounge most evening just for comedy starting at 7:30. They had comedy 4-5 nights. Each night there were 5 shows: 2 PG and 3 R, with 2 comedians alternating each show. The first leg of the week were shows from John and Carl, then for the last leg of the cruise there were 2 new comedians: Smiley Joe and John Knight. They were all good, but John Knight was hilarious, and both his PG and R shows had me rolling. He was so full of sarcasm, and I love that.

We hit the sack early to rest up for our day in Costa Rica: my son’s 10th birthday celebrated with a private tour to the Jaguar Rescue Center…

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Day 5 - Costa Rica baby!


Happy 10th birthday to my son, Alex!


I had researched Limon to death on Cruise Critic and TripAdvisor. As my son is a nature/animal lover and it was his birthday, I wanted to make it super special. I pre-booked a private excursion for the 4 of us with JJ Tours. I wanted to be able to do things on our time, especially with children. JJ met us just outside of the gate holding his sign. He then directed us to our tour guide, Carlos. Carlos was a great!


We boarded a small van and heading south to Puerto Viejo to visit the Jaguar Rescue Center. The drive was well over an hour, but was not boring. Carlos stopped a few times to show us wildlife and to get drinks.


Local store:



Beer is good:



The road to the Jaguar Center was often very bumpy. It followed the Caribbean coast and the views from the van were beautiful. I took many photos riding down the road. I love to see how the locals live.








Costa Rica to be continued...



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Day 5 - Costa Rica Continued


Jaguar Rescue Center in Puerto Viejo - AWESOME!


We arrived at the Rescue Center about 30 minutes before the next tour. We were allowed to walk around the facility and explored. Our tour guild at the Center was Drew (he visited Costa Rica 2 years ago and loved it so much he is now living there). We were the only cruise passengers on the tour. There were about 15 other foreign tourists touring the Rescue Center with us.


The tour started with the introduction of a baby howler monkey. This little girl was so cute and friendly and everyone got to hold her. We also got to pet a baby 2-toed sloth.


My DD with her favorite, the baby monkey:



My DS and DH:



This young sloth holds on to a stuffed animal in the absence of a mother:











To be continued...

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We are going on the Freedom next year in January. I have been looking at the hotels in the Ft lauderdale area-When did you make your reservation to get that rate? I would love to stay there, but not for their prices (385 online per night at this point). How far away is the hotel from the port?


I may have missed it, but what type of room did you guys have? I am looking at booking the aft wrap for this one.


I love reading your review as I know nothing about the Freedom. Looking forward to more

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Day 5 - Costa Rica continued again (I just loved this place!)


More photos from Jaguar Rescue Center:





Our tour was interrupted by two wild male sloths fighting in the treetops. They sounded like wild birds calling. Carlos said he has never heard a sloth make a noise in his entire life, so this was a rare event. The loser of the fight fell out of the tree and there was a loud thump. I ran to the sloth afraid it was dead, but apparently sloths have a shut down mechanism and survive long falls. After about 10 seconds of looking dead, it slowly raised his head and crawled back to the tree. (Sloths move about 13 feet per minute!).




Aaahhh, he finally made it to the tree:



During the excitement, my daughter stood over a fire-ant next and was bitten numerous times on her foot. I later got bit on the hand and it stung almost as bad as a bee sting, but after about 2 minutes the pain was gone.


After the sloth episode, we moved on the reptiles – way too many snakes for my taste! And we got to see the feeding of a live mouse to a wild hawk making his daily visit. Look closely for the poor little mouse in his claws.



To be continued...

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We are going on the Freedom next year in January. I have been looking at the hotels in the Ft lauderdale area-When did you make your reservation to get that rate? I would love to stay there, but not for their prices (385 online per night at this point). How far away is the hotel from the port?


I may have missed it, but what type of room did you guys have? I am looking at booking the aft wrap for this one.


I love reading your review as I know nothing about the Freedom. Looking forward to more

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Day 5 - Costa Rica final


We left the Center and headed back towards Limon for our stop at Cahuita National Park. We passed the Sloth Sanctuary on the way, but did not stop. We ate lunch at a small open restaurant outside of the park entrance. This was not a tourist-type restaurant, but rather a place where the locals eat. I ate the local fare of fish and beans. The fish was awesome! My family however, ordered boring American food – ugghhhh.




We were running short on time and decided not to hike through the walking trails of Cahuita Park. Here is a photo taken around the Park entrance. There were swimmers further down the beach but it looked like ¼ miles or more away.





On the trip back, Carlos made a stop at a banana plantation alongside the road and educated us on banana farming.





We also stopped at a roadside stand and got fresh pineapple and tried fresh coconut milk/water (yuk!). Our final stop was at a local supermarket where I bought 3 bags of Costa Rican coffee (yum!) It was now to board the ship. We had the best day in Costa Rica. I definitely want to come back someday. JJ Tours was great and well worth the $300 cost for a private tour for the 4 of us.




Yes folks, that is James Brown singing on the big screen during sail-away. Haauuuggghh!



To be continued...


Edited by mpcaruth
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Awesome pics and review!! Im going on same internary in 2 weeks on Freddom. I can't wait!!!


I do have a question for you. Cozumel has you there from 7-330. Did the captain stay on ship time of go to Cozumel time? Reason I ask is that we will be in at 6am.....nothing is open at that time...

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