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AryMay

Freedom 8 Day Western Cruise Report...With Photos!

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Some background info that you probably don’t care about…but I’m going to cover anyway! :) This cruise was to have been shared with our old college friends from Illinois. We have traveled with them in the past and this year was to be their “choice” since they were celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. Even though it was their turn to “pick” I am the one who does all of the planning.

 

The two husbands are both divers so the choice was made to sail to the southern Caribbean on the RCCL Adventure of the Seas. Having done Western Caribbean ports in the past this would be some new spots to visit and give the guys some great diving sites. The Carnival Victory was also considered, but rejected since we had already sailed on that ship and we didn’t think we would survive a cruise with NO sea days!

 

I was not excited about the cost of the cruise nor did I care that the ship had a rock climbing wall and a skating rink. Believe it or not we actually have a rock climbing wall in our backyard. (DH is a rock climber.) Guess how many times I’ve used it…ZERO. Also after being a hockey mom for 20 years a skating rink just doesn’t have much appeal to me! The AOS sails from San Juan and trying to find affordable, convenient flights from Minneapolis just wasn’t happening.

 

I started working on plans last fall, but in January my friend experienced some strange, rare health issues. Each time she thought she was improving she would experience another setback. They had pretty much decided that they couldn’t commit to a cruise when a huge storm hit southern Illinois (where they live) and their house was crushed with 3 large trees. This storm was called an “inland hurricane” for lack of a better description. Another rental house that they own was also crushed. The storm was the final blow that ended their plans since each house required major, costly repairs that wasn’t totally covered by insurance. A 4th large tree in their yard was damaged as well and had to be removed at a cost of nearly $4,000…and insurance wouldn’t cover a penny of that since it hadn’t fallen on the house. So…their “cruise savings” went to tree removal. (When the tree was cut down, our friend had them leave about an 8 foot stump. He plans to do a wood carving of a giraffe which they will name "Aruba"...after the cruise that never happened!)

 

Since DH and I were now on our own to make plans I started researching again. Carnival was offering a nice Minnesota resident discount on the Freedom 8 day western cruise and the thought of FOUR sea days sounded wonderful. My DH is a supervisor at a feed mill for his “regular” job and also works as an EMT for our local hospital’s ambulance squad. If two jobs weren’t enough…this past spring he started training to become a paramedic. This is an extremely demanding process…add on the other jobs and it becomes off-the-charts stressful. Taking a week off for the cruise was not easy…but something that he needed.

 

The paramedic class meets from 6 to 10 pm on Tuesday and Thursday nights…so as soon as class was over on Thursday, July 2nd, we hit the road for Minneapolis…a little over 3 hours away. We crashed at our son & daughter-in-law’s apartment and then had them drop us off at MSP the next morning for a direct flight to Ft. Lauderdale.

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I had made reservations for the Hyatt Place hotel and they provided a free shuttle from the airport to the hotel. The flight was uneventful and the shuttle was there to get us in just a short time. I have reviewed the hotel on the the Florida Departures board in length and with pictures http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1023905 so will just say the hotel was “OK” but the air conditioner was noisy and the room smelled musty.

 

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The next morning we took the free shuttle the hotel provided to the port. The shuttle driver tried to convince us that we shouldn’t leave before 11 am, but was willing to take us earlier. We shared the shuttle with a group from our roll call board and were at the pier a little after 10:30 am.

 

As we drove up the first person I spotted was Patty that I had corresponded with on our CC roll call. We ended up in line right behind her family and immediately started inside the building and up to the second floor. There was a bit of a line winding back and forth through the ropes, but it didn’t take long to get to the desk where we were quickly checked in and given our Sign & Sail cards. We were assigned Zone 2 and told to have a seat until we were called. About 15 or 20 minutes later and we boarded. We were eating lunch on the Lido shortly after 11:30.

 

Our first meal was the Mongolian station at the buffet…no line. That was the only time all week we didn’t have to wait. DH tried it several times and by the end of the week he waited close to 45 minutes. With so many other choices I wasn’t about to wait in line that long…but he thought it was worth it. You fill a bowl with raw veggies and then have your choice of 3 kinds of raw meat. I think the meat choices vary from day to day…that time I tried it I chose shrimp. There are 3 sauce choices as well…mild, medium and spicy hot. DH had to try the hot one and admitted it really did have a kick. For him to say that makes me believe it must have been VERY hot. I chose the medium one (can’t remember the names) and it was just perfect for me.

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Eventually we were allowed to go to our cabins (around 1:30). In our past 3 cruises we have had an inside cabin, a porthole cabin, and a balcony. DH just wanted the cheapest option for this cruise although I stressed about going back to an inside after experiencing the balcony the last time. He actually loves sleeping in the dark inside rooms. By the time we booked I got one of the last 4A cabins…an inside near the front of the ship on deck 1. We have been in one of the very front cabins before so knew that we would feel the ship movement…and we did…and we loved it!

 

Our cabin (#1238) seemed much smaller than the inside that we had on the Paradise. The outside cabins across the hall were considerably larger and I was a bit sorry we hadn’t gotten one of those…but we spent very little time in our cabin and the complete darkness did make for some wonderful sleep!

 

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The hallway of Deck 1...it goes on forever!

 

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Muster drill was pretty painless…just something you have to do and then get on with the cruise. At least we were in the shade so it wasn’t beastly hot. They let us just carry our lifejackets to the muster station and only had to actually wear them for a short time.

 

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DH made a mad dash back to the cabin to stash the life jackets and then joined me at the front of the ship on Deck 6. We had discovered what CCers like to call the “secret doors” on our last cruise on the Victory. And…just as it was on that cruise…we were all alone at the front of the ship for sail away! Throughout the cruise we would return to this spot and would joke that we were on a “ghost ship”! Thousands of people onboard yet it felt like we were all alone!

 

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I'm trying to get momentum going for a group on this same cruise February 2011. Can't wait to read the rest of your review.

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Our previous cruises had been booked through a large, online agency. This time I booked directly with a PVP at Carnival. When I made the reservation, I asked her to note that we would like to be at a larger table in the dining room as we enjoy getting to know other people on the ship. My heart sank when we found our table in the dining room the first night and realized that it was a booth for 4 people.

 

Our dining assignment was in the Chic dining room…early seating.

 

(I think this photo is actually the Posh Dining Room at the back of the ship...but the Chic looked very similar.)

 

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When our tablemates arrived we discovered we had almost NOTHING in common and I was afraid that it would be a long week of awkward conversations at dinner. :eek: But you know what…we had a great time! We didn’t end up being close friends for life or anything, but I did look forward to the time we spent with them each night. I did not however enjoy being in a booth. The booths have a “roof” over them and I felt like we were in a “cage”. (I think the roof was actually just the overhang of the upper level...you can just barely see the booths off to the side in the photograph.) If I had a choice I would much prefer the longer tables by the windows or even a large round table in the center of the dining room.

 

Our waiters for the week were Dominic (from India) and Supakorn (from the Philippines.) Both were excellent! I asked for lemon slices for my water on the first night and each night after that “Supa” had the lemons on the table when we arrived. She would also remembere that I liked coffee with dessert each night without me asking. Our tablemate had trouble holding the small coffee cups so she made sure to have a large mug for him each night as well.

 

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I was so excited to find out that John Heald was to be the CD on our cruise. I have read so many good things about him on CC and I was not disappointed. DH never reads these boards, but also agreed he was great.

 

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The first night was the “Welcome Aboard” show...interesting and funny...and even took John by surprise! I won’t go into detail here…but if you want to read about it and see a photo check out John’s blog: http://johnhealdsblog.com/2009/07/06/this-blonde-walks-onto-a-stage/ Let's just say the "blonde" became the brunt of many jokes during the week and probably came away with some not so good memories of her week. He does mention on a later blog that he spoke with the her and she was totally embarrassed by her behavior. They replayed the Welcome Aboard Show on the cabin TV over and over so she had many opportunities to witness her "performance".

 

You can also read on the same blog about the number and nationality of all of the guests on this cruise. The Carnival website shows the guest capacity at 2,974 for the Freedom…we had slightly over 3,600 guests for our week! Of these, 2,278 were past guests!

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Hi Arymay,

Looking forward to reading the rest of your review. We are booked into the same cabin for a 6 day cruise next March and wondered if you encountered any noise problems?

Loving all the photos also, it gives us a great insight as what to expect. Can't wait ! Thank you.

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This picture just sent me over the edge. I want to be on my cruise NOW!

Loving your review.

 

 

 

The hallway of Deck 1...it goes on forever!

 

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Our tablemate had trouble holding the small coffee cups so she made sure to have a large mug for him each night as well.

 

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I'm glad I'm not the only one who has trouble holding those little cups!:) Great review so far. Can't wait for the rest--I'm on the Freedom in 2 months!!

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Thanks so much for the review and pics. We did this cruise last February and I think it was my absolute favorite. Will keep reading to hear about your shore excursions and your thoughts on John Heald. We'll be on the Freedom again next February and I am hoping John Heald will be the CD again, love his blog. Big change back to MN weather!

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Hi Arymay,

Looking forward to reading the rest of your review. We are booked into the same cabin for a 6 day cruise next March and wondered if you encountered any noise problems?

Loving all the photos also, it gives us a great insight as what to expect. Can't wait ! Thank you.

 

At night a couple of times we heard voices in the hallway...but other than that...nothing. It was perfectly quiet.

 

On port days you will hear some loud noise as the ship docks...the anchor maybe? It only lasts a few minutes and if you aren't awake by then you've overslept!

 

Remember to use the ship cam that you can watch on TV as your "window". It will give you an idea of the weather outside before you leave your cabin or help you see how close you are to docking at a port.

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Keep up the good work girl! I see you found my secret deck. We are booked in an IS for our cruise, way up front of deck 6, room 6204 I think. We booked it because we had found the secret decks on our Triumph cruise, courtesy of these boards. So, we booked real close and figured we could use it like our own little balcony, since we hardly ever saw anyone out there. Anyway, keep up ther eview, can't wait to read about your excursions! Got just a pinch over 3 months to wait!!!!

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Can't wait to read more! I'm going on the Freedom August 29th. Our cruise is going to Panama, Costa Rica, and Cozumel. Is this the cruise you took? I haven't seen many Freedom reviews with these ports :\

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We got back from this exact cruise two weeks ago. Yep, that's a long hallway and our cabin was a-a-a-a-l-l-l-l-l the way forward on deck 8. We did alot, I mean alot, of walking, which was good for the weight gainage.

 

I agree Mongolian bar was way too crowded. The whole Lido deck was always so crowded; we, too, cruised with friends and our meeting place was near the fish and chips, usually quite a bit emptier than Lido below.

 

Danixbanani, I wrote a review on these threads. I went into fair detail on the ports.

 

 

Can't wait to see more pics!

 

Hey, was your waitress one of the "pole" dancers? We were on the top floor of Chic looking down!

 

Shay

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We got back from this exact cruise two weeks ago. Yep, that's a long hallway and our cabin was a-a-a-a-l-l-l-l-l the way forward on deck 8. We did alot, I mean alot, of walking, which was good for the weight gainage.

 

I agree Mongolian bar was way too crowded. The whole Lido deck was always so crowded; we, too, cruised with friends and our meeting place was near the fish and chips, usually quite a bit emptier than Lido below.

 

Danixbanani, I wrote a review on these threads. I went into fair detail on the ports.

 

 

Can't wait to see more pics!

 

Hey, was your waitress one of the "pole" dancers? We were on the top floor of Chic looking down!

 

Shay

 

We started using the area by the Fish & Chips area to eat as well...much more peaceful.

 

No...Supa was not one of the pole dancers, LOL...but did dance on the tables a couple of nights. In fact I didn't see any pole dancers. I really did feel like that booth was a box and cut off our view of much of the dining room.

 

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Do you know how long he will be on the freedom?

 

Here is a link to the cruise director's schedules from John's blog:

 

http://johnheald.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/cd-schedule-june-december-2009-cd-schedule.jpg

 

According to this he will be leaving the Freedom on August 29th. From there it shows he will be on the Legend from Sept. 27th to November 15th.

 

I know some people book cruises just to have him as the Cruise Director and now I can see why. I liked his type of humor (or humour if he were to spell it!) He is funny, yet at the same time comes across as a warm and caring person.

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If I could design my “ideal” cruise it would be one that alternates sea days and port days…this cruise almost met that requirement. With 4 sea days and only 3 ports, this cruise was much more laid back…especially if I compare it to the Southern route that we had considered doing.

 

I’ll start with port days since I know some people are looking for ideas of what to do. Our first port was Cozumel (8:00 to 5:00). It has already been mentioned that on Sunday night (the 2nd day of the cruise) we were instructed to turn our watches back one hour before going to bed. That meant when we arrived in Cozumel we were on “port time”…the same as central daylight time in the U.S.

 

Rather than diving as he has on our previous 3 trips to Cozumel, DH decided this should be a “relaxing, take-it-easy” sort of day. A couple of factors played into this decision…I’m not certified and although I have done discover dives with him a couple of times…diving is just not my thing. Also with the crazy baggage fees the airlines have imposed, bringing his scuba equipment has gotten quite costly. He could rent, but just prefers to have his own equipment.

 

Our last cruise in 2005 on the Victory was a family cruise…we brought 3 sons, a daughter-in-law, and my sister. While DH and oldest son were diving with EagleRay Divers, the rest of us took a cab to Dzul Ha Beach Club to snorkel. I had read that it had the best shore snorkeling on the island…and it wasn’t bad. We were there in August right between two major hurricanes…Emily and Wilma. Here is what Dzul Ha looked like at that time. You can see some damage from the first hurricane…after Wilma nothing was left and the storm destroyed much of the reef close to shore.

 

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In doing some research I found that the snorkeling at Dzul Ha has not recovered to where it was pre-hurricane, but it is still one of the better places to snorkel from shore. Since we didn’t want to be tied to a schedule, we chose to take our chances. We ate a leisurely breakfast and took our time getting off the ship. Also I was not feeling 100% that day…not sick…just a little “off”. I was glad we had not planned a tour.

 

Prior to Wilma, the pier at Cozumel was a series of enclosed, air conditioned shops that you walked through to get to shore.

 

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The hurricane completely demolished the concrete pier and all of the shops and now it is just a dock…a very long dock.

 

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Carnival has rebuilt the shopping area at the port (Puerta Maya) back to how it was on our last visit and you must walk completely through this area to get to the spot where you can get a taxi. Ordinarily I would have loved to take my time browsing through the shops but I wasn’t feeling great and the heat seemed unbearable.

 

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Dzul Ha is not far from Puerta Maya and the fare was $8 each way. Only one other couple was at the beach when we arrived and we were able to get lounge chairs under the shade of a tree. There were tables & chairs with umbrellas, but most all of the lounge chairs were in full sun.

 

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We had our own snorkel gear…I had also brought fins, but DH did not. (I'm pretty sure you can rent snorkel equipment at the beach as well.) Cozumel is known for it’s strong currents and it was very noticeable. At one point we walked north along the beach with the idea that we would get in and float back…but when we did it seemed we were going against the current! We dove on our first trip to Cozumel and I remember them telling us that the current can change directions quickly…or perhaps the current is different closer to shore? Sand has been brought in for the area around the chairs, but the "beach" is actually very rocky. It is a bit tricky to get into the water...the rocks are jagged and slick...and it is easy to lose your balance when a wave comes in. Some people entered the water on the sloped area above...but it was VERY slick. Instead there was a small handrail on the opposite side of the seating area that we used.

 

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The snorkeling was just “OK”…we have seen better. However throughout the morning, numerous boats showed up with snorkel tours so it must be one of the better sites on the island. I was glad that we just went on our own rather than going with one of these groups…we saved a lot of money and avoided snorkeling in a pack.

 

DH did notice one of these snorkeling boats was from Eagleray Divers whom he has gone with a couple of times. He swam out to the boat and talked to them for a few minutes. (The little blob in the water is DH!)

 

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