Freedom takes on the Mediterranean
Jennifer Grech was among the first to cruise aboard the brand new Carnival Freedom. The abundance of duty-free shops, delicious dining options, bars, onboard activities and the addition of the Carnival Seaside Theatre make Carnival Freedom as much an attraction as the destinations she visits
I lost my Milan-Venice flight thanks to Alitalia and because of disorganisation at the airport. Even though the plane's departure wasn't for another 15 minutes, boarding had been closed for 20 minutes. Arriving at the gate after a complete security check, when I was even asked to take my shoes off, I showed my boarding pass (already given to me at Malta International Airport) to the lady and received a curt - "Sorry madam, gates are now closed, the plane is already taxiing."
"What, but we're just one minute late and this only because Alitalia left Malta some two hours after its scheduled time," was my immediate response.
To make matters worse the operator made it sound like it was our fault. Thank God and the EU legislation they did not make us pay for the missed flight and luckily enough we were put on the next connecting flight - six hours later.
Yes, it may only be a bad experience, but it made me (and still does when I think of it) mad. Venice, they say, is great for a tourist visit, but all I got the chance to see was the Grand Canal from on board the vaporetto (water taxi) on our way to Hotel Kette which is in an amazing location, just round the corner from the legendary opera house La Fenice.
The next morning, I woke up really excited and looking forward to being among the first to cruise for two days aboard the Carnival Freedom, the fifth and final incarnation of Carnival Cruise Lines' highly successful Conquest-class, built for summering in the Mediterranean, taking over where Carnival Liberty left off last year.
Around 10 a.m. we took a water taxi to Fincantieri shipyard just outside Venice. That feeling of excitement I felt the last time I visited a Carnival cruise liner returned... There she was, standing tall at 110,000 tonnes with a total guest capacity of 3,700 people. She is one of the largest ships to ever cruise Europe.
But what is different about this ship?
The new twists on board the Carnival Freedom are the addition of a Tandoori Grill on the pool deck, serving Indian food daily and a reconfigured teen's club, a change showing Carnival is aware that teens are the cruise-buyers of the future. Otherwise, the ship is an action-packed city at sea, with 22 lounges and bars and a big ocean-view gym and spa.
There are, as on the sibling ships, four swimming pools, including one with a 214-foot-long waterslide.
For the dÃ©cor, Joe Farcus, who has been designing Carnival's ships for more than 30 years now, said his Freedom theme was "decades through the centuries". Quite frankly, some of his choices left me a bit confused. But as he explained the theme and how things fit into it, the dÃ©cor made a little bit more sense. One can actually have a lot of fun picking out the details and seeing how they fit in.
Unfortunately, up till now most people don't have that opportunity but in the future, everyone will have the next best thing. Mr Farcus has agreed to work with Carnival on a project that is still in the planning stages, where he will walk around each ship with a video team and give viewers a walk-around tour explaining how it all fits together. The video will play repeatedly on the cabin televisions so everyone will have the chance to see it and better appreciate the decor.
There have been some changes and improvements in attributes and amenities when compared to other Conquest-class ships - most notably the addition of the Seaside Theatre, a giant outdoor screen on the lido deck. However, Freedom suffers from the same passenger flow chaos as do some other cruise liners. For example, it is impossible to get from the Posh Dining Room at the aft end of the ship to the Victoriana Lounge (main showroom) all the way forward without having to climb or descend one or two decks, and even then, one has to pass either through the other dining room or the cigar bar.
Carnival Freedom has four full-meal dining venues. The forward and aft restaurants (Chic and Posh) have the 1990s as a theme.
Here, guests have a choice of six appetizers and soups, two salads, and six entrees, created by the world-renowned French master chef Georges Blanc. A variety of decadent desserts and an extensive wine list are also available.
The Sun King Supper Club is Freedom's reservations-only restaurant. Located on the Panorama Deck, it is a tribute to France's Louis XIV. Wall tapestries illustrate the 1700s and a statue of the Sun King himself greets guests as they enter the restaurant. There is a $30 per-person charge to dine here, plus optional gratuity. For those seeking a more intimate meal, the Sun King serves only the finest hand-cut dry-aged beef, along with traditional steakhouse accompaniments such as creamed spinach, wasabi mashed potatoes and sautÃ©ed mushrooms.
The sprawling two-storey Freedom Restaurant on the Lido Deck handles breakfast and lunch buffet responsibilities, and provides an alternative casual dining venue at dinnertime. With its repetitive use of the iconic Statue of Liberty, this is an open and light space with different choices for all palates. Morning options begin with continental breakfast, followed by typical buffet offerings augmented by several omelette stations. In addition to standard buffet choices, there is a deli window with made-to-order sandwiches, an Asian window with Japanese, Chinese and Thai choices that change daily; a grill that serves not only burgers and hot dogs, but, tasty steak sandwiches; and a 24/7 pizzeria.
Coffee is best at the Viennese shop and they do have good desserts and pastries as accompaniment, but be prepared to pay extra for them.
Carnival's cabin colour scheme has become fairly consistent throughout their fleet, and Carnival Freedom is no exception, with a predominating palette of burnt oranges carried by the upholstery, carpet, bedspread and curtains offset by cream-coloured wall panels. Cabinetry, mouldings and other accents are natural-finished wood.
Cabins are spacious, with the minimum size (of standard staterooms) at 195 square feet. Sixty per cent of standard outside cabins have balconies - ours had two reclining chairs and a small table.
The beds are very comfortable. The only slight problem we had was with the air-conditioning... the temperature was a bit warm and we couldn't make it cooler from the thermostat ourselves.
The amount of storage space available in both the bathroom and closets and drawers is the most generous I've encountered on a mass-market ship. A gift basket of personal toiletry items is provided in all grades of cabins; it includes aloe soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, breath mints, candy, and pain relief tablets (all in sample sizes - and most in paper packets that are difficult, sometimes frustrating, to open).
Amenities for children
A spacious 4,200-square-foot play area is the focal point of Carnival Freedom's Camp Carnival programme. The facility is divided into five distinct areas: A movie room featuring a 16-monitor video wall displaying kids' favourite films and cartoons; an arts and crafts centre with spin and sand art and candy-making machines; a "soft-play area" with padded play equipment for the under-twos; a gaming room with PlayStation consoles; and a children's library with youth-oriented books.
The play area is also the site for Camp Carnival activities, including programmes focusing on music, reading, art, geography, science and physical fitness.
Teens have a place to call their own with Club 02, a 1,800-square-foot teen club. Designed for those aged 15 to 17, the facility includes a dance floor, a deejay and a state-of-the-art sound and light system, a lounge serving non-alcoholic speciality drinks and a video game room with 60 of the latest video and arcade games.
This was my third inaugural trip on board a Carnival ship and although it was just for two days, I had a great time. I think Carnival have done a good job on this ship with amenities catering for both families with children and couples wanting a more private, romantic atmosphere. The most popular family attractions are probably the four pools, the waterslide and the Seaside Theatre.
The bottom line is that European sailings are ideal for enthusiastic travellers who would like a quick taste of the best of the Mediterranean. If you can handle the rigorous schedule and don't want to waste a single minute, a Mediterranean cruise is for you. For Maltese travellers Air Malta's flight to Rome is ideal, but make sure you double-check your departure times.
Carnival is currently accepting reservations for Freedom's 2008 Europe departures. Prices for the 12-day Grand Mediterranean itinerary, sailing from Rome to Naples, Venice (overnight), Dubrovnik, Messina, Barcelona, Cannes and Livorno, start at Lm425 per person in a category 4A (interior) cabin or Lm795 per person in a category 8A (balcony) cabin on July 21.
Prices for the August 26 sailing start at Lm289 per person in a category 4A cabin or Lm579 per person in a category 8A cabin.
These prices are for the cruise only, flights and departure taxes are not included.
â€¢ Ms Grech was guest on board the Carnival Freedom courtesy of Arrigo Group.