Carnival Freedom is a major step on a trajectory that is quickly hurtling Carnival Cruise Lines into the atmosphere for family-friendly, multigenerational cruising. The line has always offered value, but within the past decade or so, it has set its focus on families. That's not to say Freedom doesn't offer adults the chance to live it up. Freedom underwent a major refurbishment in spring 2014, bringing with it the line's Fun Ship 2.0 upgrades. The RedFrog Rum Bar and BlueIguana Tequila Bar on the Lido Deck offer more tropical tipples than ever before, and spaces like Alchemy Bar add a hint of sophistication to the ol' cruise watering holes. Most of the changes, though, cater to families and the kid in all of us.
Freedom is the first ship with Camp Ocean, replacing Camp Carnival as the onboard children's program, and the first ship with Bookville, a reading room and play space that anchors the Seuss at Sea experience onboard. It's also the first ship with four full PlayList Productions shows at just 30 minutes each, which rotate throughout the cruise. While Camp Ocean has upgraded the kids' space, an arts and crafts room is included to encourage participation from parents in their children's daily activities. Seuss at Sea welcomes kids of all ages (meaning adults, as well) to march and let loose in a parade, become reacquainted with "The Cat in the Hat" and test their taste buds with culinary creations ripped from the pages of Dr. Seuss' books. Getting everyone involved in the action is part of the plan and also part of the charm.
A number of other branded experiences enhance life onboard. Once the plain Sports Bar, now EA Sports Bar, action is on every wall with sports games, video games of sports games, and sports memorabilia that comes to life. "Hasbro, the Game Show" takes the board games everyone knows and loves and plays them out on the stage with members of the audience chosen through sheer enthusiasm and answers to trivia questions. Apart from the bizarre (and loud) "commercial breaks" showcasing old Hasbro advertisements, the action is infectious.
Onboard dining -- something trending toward specialty, for-fee options industry-wide -- has remained largely free of charge on Carnival Freedom, and we never felt like we were deprived of choice. Apart from the buffet and the main dining room, there are burgers and burritos with enough toppings to have a different experience every day of your cruise. Even within the buffet, themed counters (Mongolian, Fish & Chips, the Deli) are like stepping foot inside tiny, specialized eateries. The quality does not suffer, in spite of its being free.
With all the changes brought by the retrofit, some spaces still need work. A few lounges lack true identities, the library is gorgeous but out of place, Spa Carnival needs a "wow" factor to keep up, and there's a giant skylight dome overtaking valuable court space on the sports deck. That's when we remember that Freedom isn't a new ship; it's a ship with fresh and exciting concepts that are well executed. It's an appetizing taste of what's to come for the line, and it challenges you not to have a good time onboard.
Freedom attracts all ages, and groups containing up to four generations can be found among the young couples, retired couples and smaller families onboard. The passenger mix varies, but North Americans (including a solid number of Floridians) dominate the onboard demographic. Passengers 41 to 50 years old tend to compose the largest percentage of passengers.
Freedom sails Caribbean itineraries, and the daytime dress onboard reflects that with a casual, poolside atmosphere. Cover-ups, shirts and flip-flops are required for the indoor Freedom Restaurant on the Lido Deck, but the rule doesn't seem to be strictly enforced. The main dining room requires that men wear shirts with sleeves, and at night, wardrobes are typically turned up a notch to include khakis and collared or button-down shirts for men, and blouses or sundresses for women. Depending on the length of the itinerary, the ship hosts one to two formal or "cruise elegant" nights per sailing. Fashion runs the spectrum from cocktail dresses and pressed slacks to full evening gowns and tuxedos; pack according to your comfort level, but be aware it does get dressy.
Elation is the seventh of Carnival's eight Fantasy-class vessels (debuting in 1998), and went through a significant upgrade in 2009.
Smaller ship with a fun and family-friendly atmosphere: highlights include short warm-weather itineraries, a waterslide and mini-golf; carries about 2,500 people.
Fun, friendly vibe with a packed lineup of daily activities, nightly comedy, energetic stage shows, silly pool deck fun, and a multi-slide waterpark.
Family-friendly, 2,100-passenger ship, based full-time in Sydney, has the Green Thunder water slide, great dining, free poolside food, lively entertainment and fun crew.
Lively and fun with a dizzying art-through-the-centuries decor, nightly standup comedy, two waterslides, four pools, and lots of bars and lounges; can carry about 2,500.
More than 2,600 passengers can enjoy the Green Thunder slide, Serenity Retreat for adults, Playlist Production music shows and excellent kids activities.
Unpretentious vibe with pool-centric fun and water slide, plus Hairy Chest and Mr. and Mrs. Conquest contests; also 11 bars and 9 eateries; carries about 3,500.
Lively entertainment and activities include nightly stand-up comedy, high-energy Playlist Production stage shows, twister water slide, and a nonstop schedule of daily activities.
Fun, family-friendly ship focused on Carnival signatures like the high-energy Playlist Production shows, nightly comedy, RedFrog Pub and line dancing deck parties.
Fun, laid-back and friendly; highlights include nightly comedy, high-energy stage shows, twister water slide and the popular RedFrog Pub; holds about 3,500.
Can hold upward of 4,000 passengers; features indoor/outdoor pool with retractable dome, Twister water slide, mini-golf and just one extra-fee restaurant.
Fun, friendly vibe; features Guy Fieri's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse, family-friendly and adult stand-up comedy, nightly karaoke, water park and mini-golf.
Holds about 4,000; highlights include water slides, the RedFrog Pub, two-bathroom family cabins that hold up to five, a ropes course and Carnival's signature fun.
Nonstop activities and attractions include top deck water park and ropes course, 4D Thrill Theater and nightly standup comedy; can hold up to 4,700 cruisers.
Fun and friendly with nightly stand-up comedy and short, energetic stage shows, plus a calorie-packed burger joint from celeb chef Guy Fieri; holds about 3,500.
Holds a bit more than 4,000 passengers; offers a waterpark, suspended-in-midair recumbent bike thrill ride, ropes course and the first IMAX cinema at sea.
Carnival's newest megaship, holding some 4,000 passengers, launches April 2018; highlights include new barbeque/brewery and Teppanyaki restaurants, an IMAX movie theater, waterpark, beer brewery and ropes course.
A completely reimagined ship, Carnival Sunrise is Carnival Triumph transformed with new venues, entertainment options, and a whole new Fun Ship look.