by Randy Sidlosca
June 3, 2008
We just returned from a 12 night Med cruise on the Carnival Freedom. The reason we chose this ship was the itinerary. It was the only ship that spent an overnight in Venice. The price was also the most attractive of all the 12 night Med cruises that we had checked.
Our air arrangements were done independently since we had considerable air miles that we could use. We flew Delta from Miami via Atlanta to Rome. Once we arrived at FCO Rome, Cabs was waiting to transport us to our hotel. We again were fortunate to have Starwood points so we had booked a two-night stay at the Rome Excelsior Hotel on Via Veneto. The stay at the hotel was the highlight of our vacation. The room that we were assigned was beautiful! The hotel was built in 1903 and is considered one of the grandest hotels in Rome. In fact, the hotel was voted one of the top 100 hotels in Europe by Conde Nast Traveler. Our room had a balcony that overlooked the Via Veneto. The accommodations were first rate and so was the service.
After our three-day stay in Rome we were picked up by Rome Cabs and taken to Civitavecchia. Once we arrived at the terminal we breezed through the check in process and were onboard the Freedom in a matter of minutes. As stated in other posts/reviews the terminal area is functional. The building is a temporary structure that is "no frills".
Upon boarding the Carnival Freedom we discovered that the Carnival trend of creating elegant living spaces with very little "glitz" had ceased with the design of this vessel. The ship interiors contained neon, garish decorations and lacked a cohesive design theme. The color patterns and choices did not blend well. Our initial impression did not change during the course of our cruise. The only public spaces that we found attractive were the dining rooms, the main show lounge and the Havana Club.
The Carnival Freedom is a "Conquest" class vessel that has a passenger capacity of over 3,000 people. The cabins on board this vessel, as with other Carnival ships, are well designed and roomy. We were fortunate to have booked a balcony stateroom. The balcony was used almost on a daily basis. Especially when we sailed in or out of beautiful ports like Venice, Messina, Dubrovnik and Cannes. My wife and I would share a bottle of wine on the balcony during most evenings, especially at sunset.
I had not been on a Carnival cruise since I traveled on the Carnival Legend in 2006. The food on the Legend was excellent! In fact, I thought that it was far better than RCCI. Well, the disappointing part of this cruise was that the food quality and presentation was not on a par with our prior Carnival cruise. I spoke to our waiter concerning this issue and he informed me that he had noticed over the last year a decline in the quality of the meats. He also told me that the menu had recently been changed. The new menu, according to him, had not been well received by the passengers. After our cruise I echo that sentiment.
The entertainment on the Freedom was exactly what we expected -- amazing. The Beatles show was my daughter's favorite of the cruise. The Big Band Show found us on our feet during most of the evening. The jazz trio in the Havana Bar was talented and engaging. They took requests every evening. My 10-year-old daughter was even able to impress them with a "Santana" request.
The ports of call for this "Grand" cruise were indeed grand. Cruising into Venice during the early afternoon was an experience that I will never forget. As our ship sailed by the Piazza San Marco the crowds of people in the plaza waved to the passengers on the decks. During the sail into Venice a Pavarotti concert played on the Seaside Theater screen. As soon as the ship docked we were off on our Venice adventure. We took the ship's shuttle to the Vaporetto station. At the station we purchased our 24-hour pass and hopped on a Vaporetto that took us to St. Mark's Square. At St. Mark's Square we shopped and took in the city. After we got over the "sticker shock" of Venice we were able to snap photos and eat dinner. Dinner at a sidewalk café not in the Square was an expensive experience. Dinner for five people with one bottle of Chianti wine was approximately 185 Euros or close to $300.00 U.S. Dinner consisted of simple pasta dishes with no salad or appetizer. Yes, Venice is expensive and unless you are independently wealthy it makes sense to eat on the ship.
Dubrovnik was the surprise of the cruise. The city was beautiful and people were warm and welcoming. Since Croatia is not part of the EU the prices for goods and food were more in line with what one would expect when on vacation. Lunch at a café with beer ended up costing us the equivalent of $60.00 US for five people. This was a pleasant surprise after our experience in Italy. There is not enough I can say about Dubrovnik and Croatia. This is a place I definitely plan to return to.
Naples was exactly as I expected. I visited Naples in the 1980's when I took a side trip to Pompeii from Rome. During our visit the city was still in the midst of a garbage collectors strike. Fortunately, we hopped on a train to Pompeii and then to Sorrento.
Sorrento is a picturesque town on the Amalfi coast. We grabbed a quick lunch at a café that is perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. The café was expensive, but the views more than made up for the price. After our lunch we hopped back on a train for our trip back to Naples. At the train station in Naples we caught a taxi back to the ship. We made it back to the ship with an hour and a half to spare.
Our exploration of Messina, Sicily was limited to the center of town. Unfortunately we procrastinated in purchasing tour tickets to Taormina so we were left with very few options in this city. We found Messina to be a friendly and inexpensive city compared to the other cities we had visited in Italy.
Barcelona was another "do it on your own" city. We took the port shuttle bus to the city center and walked to "Las Ramblas". Las Ramblas is the main shopping and entertainment street. The pedestrian friendly street has "street performers", cafes, shops and a market that rivals anything else that I have seen in Europe. At the market we bought a great bottle of 2001 Rioja, Manchego Cheese and Serrano Ham. We took the food and wine back to the ship and had a gourmet snack as we sailed out of Barcelona.
Cannes was stunning! After a short tender ride we were literally on the "red carpet" in Cannes. The tender dock in the center of the city has a red carpet for all arriving guests. It was very cool for my daughter to say that she walked on the "red carpet" in Cannes.
We walked to the main venue for the Cannes Film Festival where we hopped on a mini tourist train for a one-hour tour of Cannes. The cost was an affordable 10 Euros per person. We found this to be one of the best bargains of the cruise. The train had headsets that provided the guests with an ongoing narration of the sights in Cannes in several languages, including English. After the tour we found this quaint café off of the main street that accepted credit cards. Since this was the end of our cruise and we were short on Euros we decided to save them for Livorno.
The café was full of locals so I knew that it was not a tourist trap. Well, we had the best meal of the cruise at this café. My daughter had ravioli in a beef bourguignon sauce with meat. My wife had an amazing fish dish and I had the best Club Sandwich that I have ever had with a Salad Nicoise and Pomme Frittes. The lunch included one glass of wine and dessert for 14 Euros. This was the bargain of the cruise!
Livorno was an adventure. We took the port shuttle bus to the center of town where we purchased tickets for the bus. Boarded a bus and took it to the main train station where we purchased tickets for Pisa and Florence. We boarded the train to Pisa and after a short twenty minute ride we arrived at Pisa. After running around for a few minutes we were able to locate the bus that would take us to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Boarded the bus and after a short fifteen minute tour of the city we arrived at our destination -- the leaning tower. After the obligatory photo of the tower we re-boarded a bus to take us back to the train station. At the train station we were able to find the train to Florence. The trip to Florence took a little over an hour. Once we arrived in Florence we took a short cab ride to the Ponte Vecchio. The city was alive with tourists shopping and eating at the cafes. It had not changed since the last time I had visited close to twenty years ago. The only noticeable difference was the price of goods sold in the stores and the value of the Euro.
We again were fortunate to find a café that had "specials". Our lunch, which consisted of pizza and a bottle of wine for three people, ended up costing us 50 Euros. Not a bad deal considering that the café was located in a popular piazza. After our Italian lunch we headed back to the train station where we caught the next train for Livorno. We arrived back on the ship with one hour to spare.
The next morning we debarked the Carnival Freedom in what was one of the smoothest debarkation procedures that we had ever encountered. Our private car was waiting for us and took us to the airport. At FCO we waited in various check in lines for nearly three hours before we were finally able to board our plane back to the States.
In conclusion, the trip had a port intensive itinerary that took us to all of the places that we wanted to see at an inexpensive cost compared to a land based vacation in Europe. Carnival needs to improve its food operations though if it wants to continue to remain competitive in the marketplace.