Day 1 – Galveston & Operation Homefront

Celebrating Carnival Freedom in Galveston

The futuristic atrium aboard Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Freedom on the evening of February 14, 2015. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The futuristic atrium aboard Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Freedom on the evening of February 14, 2015. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The party is just getting started here onboard Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Freedom as she celebrates her arrival in her new homeport of Galveston, Texas. My day, however, began much earlier, as I disembarked from an Eastern Caribbean cruise in Miami, Florida.

After a long day, I arrived at my balcony stateroom aboard Carnival Freedom In Galveston, Texas...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
After a long day, I arrived at my balcony stateroom aboard Carnival Freedom In Galveston, Texas…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...to find a friend waiting to greet me! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…to find a friend waiting to greet me! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Of course, nothing throws you back into reality after a cruise than the delicate art of flying. It’s an exercise in patience, really. There are lines at check-in, baggage drop and security. Few people smile; fewer are friendly. It’s the complete antithesis of a cruise, which is warm, nurturing and pampering.

Once I’d arrived and cleared security, I made my way to Terminal G at Miami International Airport to wait for my flight to Houston. If you’ve ever been here before, you’ll know Terminal G more closely resembles an ISIS stronghold than an airport. Fraying carpeting, bathrooms missing basic plumbing fixtures, and walls that have been caked with years’ worth of “Institutional White” paint in the same way bark grows on trees.

The reverse of my Category 8C Balcony Stateroom. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The reverse of my Category 8C Balcony Stateroom. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Fast-forward past numerous delays with my flight, a 40-minute wait for my luggage and a nearly two-hour drive from Houston to Galveston. By the time I reached Carnival Freedom at her berth in Galveston, it was past seven in the evening, and I’d missed most of the major events scheduled for today, including the cheque presentation to Operation Homefront and the special Carnival LIVE concert put on by Martina McBride.

Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy, left, Operation Homefront CEO Tim Farrell, center, and Carnival Senior Cruise Director John Heald hold a large check facsimile just prior to a Martina McBride Carnival LIVE concert Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015, onboard Carnival Freedom while the ship was docked in Galveston, Texas. Carnival not only sponsored the free McBride concert for more than 1,000 U.S. military personnel and their family members, but also made a $100,000 donation to Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit that supports military families. Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy, left, Operation Homefront CEO Tim Farrell, center, and Carnival Senior Cruise Director John Heald hold a large check facsimile just prior to a Martina McBride Carnival LIVE concert Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015, onboard Carnival Freedom while the ship was docked in Galveston, Texas. Carnival not only sponsored the free McBride concert for more than 1,000 U.S. military personnel and their family members, but also made a $100,000 donation to Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit that supports military families. Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line
Martina McBride performs aboard the Carnival Freedom in Galveston on February 14, 2015. Photo: Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line
Martina McBride performs aboard the Carnival Freedom in Galveston on February 14, 2015.
Photo: Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line

Even though I missed it, I can still tell you about it. For those who may not know, Operation Homefront is an American non-profit organization dedicated to helping the families of American Service members and wounded warriors both financially and otherwise. Headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, Operation Homefront doesn’t just provide assistance to Texans; the organization now has 23 locations that serve 43 states across the country.

Here’s a statistic that shocked me: Texas has over 3000 active duty bases including the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve. As a Canadian, that number quite escapes me, but I have tremendous respect for the high regard with which U.S. military service members are held by members of the general American public.

Since we missed the days' events, let's take a walk through Carnival Freedom! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Since we missed the days’ events, let’s take a walk through Carnival Freedom! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
I arrived...in time to see the tech crew breaking down the stage on the Pool Deck. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
I arrived…in time to see the tech crew breaking down the stage on the Pool Deck. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

In celebrating their third ship to be home-ported year-round in Galveston, Carnival gave back to the community they plan to base Carnival Freedom in: not only did they invite these U.S. military service members and their family to come onboard for one night gratis, they’ve also presented Operation Homefront with a cheque for $100,000.

What do you do when you embark a Carnival ship at 7:30 p.m.? Head for Guy's Burger Joint, of course! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
What do you do when you embark a Carnival ship at 7:30 p.m.? Head for Guy’s Burger Joint, of course! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

So while I missed some of the fun today onboard, I still had fun. I embarked and dropped my luggage in my cozy (and very pink) Category 8C Balcony Stateroom on Deck 7 and, having missed dinner, headed up to Guy’s Burger Joint to indulge in one of Guy Fieri’s artery-busting culinary creations. I don’t know what he does to his French fries, but they’re to die for.

Sinfully good. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Sinfully good. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Afterwards, I headed down to the International Aft Lounge on Promenade Deck 5 to indulge in one of my favorite Carnival Cruise Line features: the Punchliner Comedy Club’s very-much 18+ Adults Only comedy performances. I took in back-to-back performances, and they were just as raunchy and filthy as I’d expect from an adult comedy special. Have kids? No problem – Carnival offers clean, family-friendly performances earlier in the night as well.

Guests take in FOUR Punchliner Comedy Club shows in the International Lounge on Deck 5. One is clean, and five were deliciously 18+. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Guests take in FOUR Punchliner Comedy Club shows in the International Lounge on Deck 5. One is clean, and five were deliciously 18+. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Live Music performed by Steel City Groove along the Promenade on Deck 5. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Live Music performed by Steel City Groove along the Promenade on Deck 5. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The Promenade, Deck 5. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The Promenade, Deck 5. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The Posh Restaurant spans Decks 3 and 4 aft. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The Posh Restaurant spans Decks 3 and 4 aft. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Carnival Freedom's uniquely futuristic atrium, known as "The Millennium". Millennium Falcon? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Carnival Freedom’s uniquely futuristic atrium, known as “The Millennium”. Millennium Falcon? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
In the Victoriana Theatre, two full-blown performances were offered to guests. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
In the Victoriana Theatre, two full-blown performances were offered to guests. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Elsewhere, the Carnival Freedom took on a quiet, subdued existence...even if perhaps Joe Farcus's interior design work did not! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Elsewhere, the Carnival Freedom took on a quiet, subdued existence…even if perhaps Joe Farcus’s interior design work did not! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The vibrant Scott's Piano Bar, quiet while most guests were still at dinner. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The vibrant Scott’s Piano Bar, quiet while most guests were still at dinner. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

But it was when I was at the Punchliner that I realized how many military service members are onboard. Some have support dogs with them; others who are barely older than me utilise canes to walk around. The fog of war and its long-lasting-effects were in evidence here this evening.

Tomorrow, we’ll set out to explore Galveston, Texas before our full Western Caribbean voyage aboard Carnival Freedom begins as we set sail for the Mexican ports of Costa Maya, Cozumel and Progresso.

And, let’s not forget: it’s also Valentine’s Day today. So go tell someone you love them; as many of the wounded warriors of the United States know, you may not get a second chance to.

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Our full journey:

Carnival Freedom, Western Caribbean

DATEPORTARRIVEDEPART
February 14, 2015Galveston, TexasEmbark Carnival Freedom in Galveston; pre-cruise event for Operation Homefront. Overnight in Galveston
February 15Galveston, TexasOvernight4:00 PM
February 16Fun Day At Sea
February 17Costa Maya, Mexico1:00 PM8:00 PM
February 18Cozumel, Mexico8:00 AM4:00 PM
February 19Progresso, Yucatan, Mexico9:00 AM5:00 PM
February 20Fun Day At Sea
February 21Galveston, Texas8:00 AMDisembarkation
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