Day 8 – Recapping Our Carnival Cruise

Freedom Comes to Galveston

Carnival Freedom at her berth in Cozumel today. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Carnival Freedom at her berth in Cozumel, Mexico during her first Western Caribbean sailing from Galveston, Texas. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

Repositioning a ship to a new homeport is big news. It creates jobs, diversifies itineraries, and adds more options for cruisers looking to try something new and possibly different. Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Freedom just relocated to Galveston, Texas, and by all accounts, her first six-day voyage to the Western Caribbean was a rousing success for the nearly 3,000 guests who sailed aboard her.

Our full Live Voyage Report from Carnival Freedom’s first Galveston sailing:

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

The real diamond-in-the-rough of this sailing was, ironically enough, the city of Galveston. Once too poor to even tear down their derelict and abandoned buildings, Galveston is experiencing a modern-day resurgence. Their turn-of-the-century streets and buildings are shockingly well-preserved, and the city boasts nearly 30 antiques shops, three luxury hotels (plus numerous others), and even a Starbucks situated directly across from the cruise terminal.

Walking the historic streets of Galveston. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Walking the historic streets of Galveston. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Boutique shops, restaurants and bars line the streets, and there are more attractions here than you could ever hope to take in. My advice? Galveston is one cruise port you want to spend a few days in before embarkation. Personally, it’s one of my unexpected favorites in the United States.

Galveston boasts plenty of trendy little cafes and restaurants. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Galveston boasts plenty of trendy little cafes and restaurants. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Carnival As Underdog

I have to admit I have a soft spot for Carnival: the line is frequently maligned and often underappreciated. Like the boy who cried wolf, Carnival has a tough time being taken seriously for the things they do right each and every day. My first sailing last year onboard the Carnival Breeze did much to dispel my own misconceptions, and this second Carnival sailing aboard Carnival Freedom only reinforced in my mind just how strong their onboard product is – and how much you’re getting for the price.

You might not think of Carnival as ‘the underdog’, but in many ways, they are. And that’s a good thing.

The BlueIguana Tequila Bar is a recent FunShip 2.0 addition to Carnival Freedom - and just one of many ways the line is diversifying their onboard product. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The BlueIguana Tequila Bar is a recent FunShip 2.0 addition to Carnival Freedom – and just one of many ways the line is diversifying their onboard product. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Take, for example, the culinary offerings onboard Carnival Freedom. You’ve got Guy’s Burger Joint, which serves up delicious hamburgers – for free. Then, there’s the BlueIguana Cantina which serves up freshly-made burritos and tacos – for free. Fish and chips? Free. Ice cream? Free. Juices all day? Free.

Meals served in the Chic and Posh Restaurants are unusually good. The fish, in particular, was so good that I ordered it every single night and never left disappointed. Plating was better than you might expect, and service was friendly and personable, if not highly polished.

Evenings on Carnival Freedom were a real treat. There’s the RedFrog Pub, serving up Carnival’s own delicious RedFrog Ale for a very reasonable $5-something per pint. Come for the Live Music, stay for the Adult Pub Trivia in the evenings – tremendous!

The Alchemy Bar is another FunShip 2.0 addition, located aft on Deck 5. Cool Feature: the backlit menus that light up when opened. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The Alchemy Bar is another FunShip 2.0 addition, located aft on Deck 5. Cool Feature: the backlit menus that light up when opened. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The Alchemy Bar became a fast favorite of mine. Located aft on Deck 5, this popular people-watching spot mixes up craft cocktails and martinis to-order, all of which are selected from a very cool backlit menu that lights up when you open it. You’ll spend $11 on a cocktail after gratuity, but these libations are well worth the cost of admission. Alchemy takes the place of the former Nouveau Wine Bar that never really found the same kind of following that Alchemy has. One of Carnival’s best FunShip 2.0 additions, hands down.

Carnival Freedom features the first Bookville at sea; a Dr. Seuss-themed reading and play room complete with the author's famous children's books. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Carnival Freedom features the first Bookville at sea; a Dr. Seuss-themed reading and play room complete with the author’s famous children’s books. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

It’s also worth mentioning Carnival’s retooled Kids and Teens programs, nearly all of which boast new facilities on Carnival Freedom. There’s also an uncommonly smart educational tie-in with Dr. Seuss, the latter of which subtly encourages kids to read. Books are available to read in Bookville in the completely-redesigned Camp Ocean facilities on Deck 12 forward. Camp Ocean replaces the old Camp Carnival, and the new facilities and entertainment programs are so good you’ll wish you were a kid again.

Everything in the new Camp Ocean areas has been designed and created specifically for kids. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Everything in the new Camp Ocean areas has been designed and created specifically for kids. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

As for the itinerary, it’s exactly what you might expect: a good mix of Western Caribbean ports of call that offer sun, sandy beaches, and the odd historical tour – which I highly recommend. My voyage went to Costa Maya, Cozumel and Progreso, Mexico, but Carnival Freedom also offers sailings that visit Montego Bay, Jamaica; Falmouth, Jamaica; Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; Belize; Mahogany Bay, Isla Roatan; Key West, Florida; Freeport, Bahamas; and Nassau, Bahamas.

Chichen Itza's El Castillo, the anchorpiece of the ancient Mayan-Tulmec civilization. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
On-shore highlight of the trip: easily Chichen Itza’s El Castillo, the anchorpiece of the ancient Mayan-Tulmec civilization. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Smokey and the Bandit

The only real negative from this six-day run has to do with cigarette smoke, and it isn’t as clear-cut as you might think. Thanks to the mid-2000’s design of the Carnival Freedom (which is based upon general arrangement plans drawn up in the mid-1990’s), the Centuries Promenade acts as a bit of a conduit for cigarette smoke spilling out of the casino. It’s so prevalent that during the day on sea days, smoke can be smelled all along the promenade from stem to stern.

The Casino on Deck 5: atypically smoky - but then, it was atypically busy, too. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The Casino on Deck 5: atypically smoky – but then, it was atypically busy, too. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Now, there could be a few causes of this, so I’ll stress that your mileage may vary. On our sailing, we had a very active casino; in fact, the most active one I can recall on any ship in recent memory. Most of those utilising the Casino also smoked. Is that a Texas thing? I’m not sure – but I’d find it hard to believe the same would be replicated on runs out of California.

The other issue at play has to do with design. Carnival Freedom, though far from old, was designed and launched at a time when smoking was still allowed in other parts of the vessel. Now that smoking is not allowed on balconies or in staterooms, smokers are forced to find alternative locations – one of which is the Casino. The other location is the Swingtime Lounge…at the aft end of the Centuries Promenade. Most public rooms are located along the Centuries Promenade on Deck 5.

The Promenade, Deck 5. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The Centuries Promenade, Deck 5. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

If you have an allergy or sensitivity to cigarette smoke, you might want to give Carnival Freedom in Galveston a pass – though I stress that the increased smoke level could just be a result of the particular passenger makeup on this sailing.

Overall, though, this was one very enjoyable Fun Ship trip to the Western Caribbean!

The Verdict

Carnival Freedom's atrium was a popular location for nightly live entertainment. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Carnival Freedom’s atrium was a popular location for nightly live entertainment. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Sail Carnival Freedom from Galveston if:

  • You want a good, reasonably priced Caribbean cruise. Carnival Freedom, like the other ships in the Carnival fleet, delivers that in spades.
  • You like a cruise with fast, cheap, reliable internet. An odd reason to take a cruise, but a definite feature nonetheless: at $99 per cruise, the internet on Carnival Freedom is both fast and cheap. She’s the test-ship in the fleet for a number of new initiatives.
  • You’re sailing with a family with kids. Carnival Freedom’s new Camp Ocean program for kids is amazingly comprehensive, and the new Kids Facilities are superb. Bonus points for Carnival’s new partnership with Dr. Seuss that includes parades, a special Green Eggs n’ Ham breakfast, and parades and story time in the show lounge.
  • You love Carnival. It goes without saying: this is a fun ship, and a darn good one at that. You may not like the Carnival Freedom’s eclectic, even bizarre interior décor, but the Carnival product still shines through. The FunShip 2.0 enhancements added during last year’s drydock only make this good ship even better.

Give Carnival Freedom in Galveston a pass if:

  • You’re allergic or sensitive to cigarette smoke. The smoking areas offered onboard Carnival Freedom, coupled with the design of the ship and the unusually large number of guests who do light up make this one cruise to avoid for those with allergies or sensitivities to smoke.
  • You can’t embrace the unique culture of Texas. Being a Galveston-based cruise means that most onboard activities will be catered to Texans, who make up the majority of your fellow passengers. That means a lot of ten-gallon hats, country music, and Cornholing tournaments. That’s ‘bean-bag-toss’ to you and me.
  • You’re looking for a quiet, cerebral experience. This ain’t it.
  • You can’t stand the interior design work of Carnival’s longtime design guru, Joe Farcus. This ship won’t do much to win you over, with its bizarre space-age atrium and muted 70’s colour palette. Lots of public rooms will grow on you over the week – but some never will. What’s up with those stairwells?!

Personally, I’d have no issues sailing with Carnival at any point in the future – and in fact, I’m already looking for my next Fun Ship adventure. There’s something surprisingly comfortable about the line; once you’ve sailed with them once, it’s a bit like coming home.

Fun Times aboard Carnival Freedom. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Fun Times aboard Carnival Freedom. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The attractive Freedom Restaurant on Deck 9 is Carnival Freedom's causal buffet. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The attractive Freedom Restaurant on Deck 9 is Carnival Freedom’s causal buffet. 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
The futuristic atrium aboard Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Freedom on the evening of February 14, 2015. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Next year, Carnival Breeze and Carnival Liberty will also reposition to Galveston to join Carnival Freedom in offering Texas-based departures to the Caribbean. Carnival Liberty will sail shorter three-and-four-night cruises to Mexico, with the newer Carnival Breeze operating longer voyages to various ports in the Western Caribbean and Florida.

For those located on the West Coast of Canada and the United States, Carnival’s offerings from Texas are one of the easiest ways to reach the warm waters of the Caribbean. For Texans, the decision is a no-brainer: why fly when you can just drive to the pier?

Cruising from Texas may have nearly died off a few years back, but sailings from The Lone Star State are back – and like everything in Texas, they’re bigger and more popular than ever.

Until tomorrow...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
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