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Carnival Freedom

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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 speciality, 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 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.

Theatre

The Victoriana Show Lounge is the main theatre, spanning decks 3 through 5. It's host to "Hasbro, the Game Show," PlayList Productions variety shows, magicians, hypnotists, juggling and comedy performers, Seuss' Story Time and bingo. "Hasbro, the Game Show" was held twice (both on sea days and in the late afternoon) during our eight-night sailing. Audience members (only those at stage level on Deck 3 are chosen) enthusiastically answer trivia questions to obtain a spot as a contestant, acting out a rendition of a famous Hasbro game for a chance to win Hasbro prizes. Freedom is the first ship in the fleet to receive all four new PlayList Production shows -- 80s Pop to the Max, Island Getaway, Heart of Soul and 88 Keys -- complete with changing LED backdrops. Singing and dancing among the eight cast members is enthusiastic, and if there's a number you're not a fan of, it's over before you know it. With shows limited to 30 minutes, it's possible to stand in the back to watch without tiring, though random audience members who sit near the front for Heart of Soul earn a rose and a little romance. All performances are playful, with costume changes, high-tech scenery and all the popular hits reimagined. On eight-night sailings, the shows rotate twice, and some performances are held twice in one night (around the set dinner times). The Seuss-a-Palooza parade ends at the theatre, where children gather on the stage under a tent for an interactive reading of "The Cat in the Hat."

Daily fun

The gamut of trivia, towel-folding and ice-sculpting demonstrations, casino tournaments, raffles, karaoke and poolside contests is available around the ship on any given day. During the day, the big-screen TV overlooking the pool in the Seaside Theater plays a live morning show hosted by the cruise director, news, live concerts and even episodes from shows like "I Love Lucy" or "Everybody Loves Raymond." Your typical seminars on beauty and weight loss, limited sales at the Fun Shops and art auctions are also held in the afternoon.

At night

Carnival maintains that shorter show lengths and multiple choices for entertainment each night allow passengers the opportunity for self-selection, attending as many things as they want in one evening. "Dive In" movies are shown nightly in the Seaside Theater and offer families the opportunity to grab some food, cuddle up (or hop in the pool) and watch a movie together. Slapstick comedies, straight-from-the-theatre blockbusters and Disney's newest release were among the films featured on our cruise. Showings were at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., featuring two different movies each night.

The Punchliner Comedy Club, taking place in the International Lounge, features four comedians; each typically performs a family-friendly and adults-only set. Family-style comedy is showcased at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.; the 18-and-over set is performed at 9:45 p.m. and again at 11:15 p.m. Your Fun Times will warn you that seats fill early, and they're not kidding -- get there at least 30 minutes prior to showtime for a good seat. The adult comedy didn't hold back and was not for the squeamish; they warn you about that, too. Late-night karaoke is also held on select nights in the International Lounge.

The Babylon Casino sprawls across a sizeable portion of Deck 5 and offers rows and rows of glittering slot machines for every niche, as well as plenty of card tables with a great variety. There is a lively crowd at the casino at any given time.

The 70s Night Club on Deck 5 is the after-hours spot to shake your groove thing, and our guess is the disco theme attempts to appeal to the older set, while a wild blend of dance music draws in anyone looking for a bass line. Michael Jackson is a popular theme, along with the 80s ... which, in a 70s nightclub, was kind of comical. There are plenty of places to blend into the dark, though, if you're looking for a little club atmosphere without being smack in the middle of the dance floor. You must be 18 to enter.

Themed parties on the Lido (White Hot or Caribbean, for example) provide an all-ages opportunity to dance under the stars or in the pool -- why not? Though the atmosphere on our sailing was a bit like a school dance -- cliques of teens and tweens hovering in groups nervously debating if they should actually dance -- the music was good, featuring a slew of remixed recent hits. The only thing that didn't quite fit the throbbing club music was the calming imagery left on the big screen in the Seaside Theater. Something else could have been easily whipped up to accompany the party atmosphere of theme nights.

If you're not betting it all in the casino, dancing in the club, catching a show or keeping a barstool company, the Promenade Deck (Deck 5) is simply the place to see and be seen. Photographers camp out there with various backdrops for cruise portraits (no cost to pose, just to buy), so it can get a bit congested at night, but the couches along the windows make for great people-watching, especially on formal nights. Grab a drink, listen to the band play at the stage near Centuries, and soak it all in while debating your next move.

Carnival Freedom Bars and Lounges

Chances are, there's a bar for you onboard Freedom. Like craft beer? ThirstyFrog Red, Carnival's very own brew, is on tap in the Key West-meets-Caribbean-inspired RedFrog Pub. Meanwhile, flaming orange peels and sprinkled cinnamon (bartenders will maintain its pixie dust) are just a few of the flourishes at Alchemy Bar, where handcrafted cocktails are the only thing on the electronically illuminated menu. There are even three bars specializing in one kind of liquor -- it doesn't get more special than that. The only disappointment is that no flights are offered, leaving passengers without the opportunity to taste and compare the variations of each bar's featured spirit; this seems like a no-brainer.

RedFrog Rum Bar (Deck 9): Holding down the left side of the Lido Deck, the RedFrog Rum Bar is the spot to grab your favourite Caribbean concoction. Eight featured rums create a colourful mix of cocktails, like a rumrunner and frozen drinks. Pitchers of spiked lemonade and buckets of beer are also available; ThirstyFrog Red is on tap. Try a Ting mojito. The grapefruit flavour is super refreshing as you soak up the Caribbean sun.

BlueIguana Tequila Bar (Deck 9): The other side of the Lido is BlueIguana Tequila Bar territory, with eight tequilas to choose from and a host of cocktails, frozen drinks and, of course, margaritas blended with them. Beer, soda and nonalcoholic frozen drinks are also available there, as they are at RedFrog Rum Bar, and the fruity slushes are a hit with kids. Grownups: Try a chipotle pineapple passion margarita -- zesty and sweet.

RedFrog Pub (Deck 5): The RedFrog Pub is a laid-back kind of bar with Carnival's own red ale on tap. There are foosball, darts and shuffleboard in the back, and trivia, karaoke and live music are also hosted there regularly. A pillory offers a photo op in the front, just to the side of a palm tree. A small game table is also to the front of the bar, and anyone who snagged the small space seemed to enjoy prime people-watching and a casual game. Photos of smiling bar patrons flash on the screen, as the bartenders snap them throughout the day. Take note: Food is not offered there as it is in the pub on Carnival Breeze.

Alchemy Bar (Deck 5): Alchemy Bar is Carnival's answer to the handcrafted cocktail trend emerging on land. Drinks are carefully made with premium ingredients and flaming garnishes but will cost you about $10 each. Choose your selection carefully from an electronically illuminated menu, or ask one of the knowledgeable bartenders (in white lab coats). Drinks you would fight elbow-to-elbow for in an upscale city bar are brought to where you sit or stand at grey marble countertops. The atmosphere is subdued, though the bar sits in the open in the corner of the Promenade Deck. It gets busy but never crowded. There's a number of "prescriptions" for what ails you, but for something in the middle of sweet and herbal, go for the strawberry and rosemary-infused Perfect Storm.

Sports Bar (Deck 5): The Sports Bar is the place to catch the big game with wall-to-wall flat-screen TVs, hot pretzels and plenty of beer. Awesome memorabilia with audiovisual components lines the walls, and video game tournaments and sports trivia are held a few times throughout the cruise. Specials include money off a featured beer, free chips and the like.

Swingtime Lounge (Deck 5): Scotch and cigars are the specialities in Swingtime. The lounge was hardly ever occupied with maybe one person lighting up and another at the bar. A small stage is to the left, and the floor declares "big band," though no music or performance was held in this space during our sailing -- a waste, we would say. The menu offers 15 carefully described cigars, six single-malt scotches, cognac and port. A jazz or blues performer could transform the lounge and add a little life to a space that's well decorated but underused.

Scott's Piano Bar (Deck 5): The piano bar is a playful space awash in primary colours, with tiny blue pianos on the walls and ceiling, and chairs with one leg tied in a red knot. A round, blue piano table lined with red barstools encircles the piano player, who performs a sing-along party each night "until late." There's no actual bar, but there is bar service. Fans of the pianist onboard were loyal, and the otherwise-empty venue drew a return crowd each evening.

Centuries Casino Bar (Deck 5): The large, wraparound Centuries Bar accompanies the casino, keeping its patrons' palates quenched. A sculpture resembling a cracked globe is the centrepiece of the space. A stage is set to the left, and a versatile band onboard makes a themed appearance each night, featuring Latin music to Woodstock.

International Lounge (Deck 5): The venue for comedy and karaoke, International Lounge is more of an event space rather than a bar. Semicircle maroon leather couches are spread throughout the room, and two-seaters that fully rotate turn adults into carefree, spinning kids. The lounge boasts its own special drink menu during Punchliner Comedy Club hours with names as controversial as the comedy. Try a Sex on the Stage or Zany Zombie. Shooters also come in optional souvenir shot glasses. Beers, cider and the typical offerings are all there, but take time to read the menu if you can. It's got its own sense of humour.

Habana Bar (Deck 4): A long marble bar with a "Havana nights" backdrop is just part of the huge space that constitutes the Habana Bar. Open to smokers (or those who don't mind a little stogie smoke), this venue offers oversized leather seats and tiny glass-top tables with bases resembling cigars. Portraits resembling Hemingway and Cuban nationals are featured prominently around red and blue accents in the frames and faux shutters. A small dance floor gives passengers gifted with the ability to Latin dance room to strut their stuff.

Millennium Bar & Lounge (Deck 3): Nestled in the main lobby at the ground floor of the atrium, the Millennium Bar is the first place to grab a drink on embarkation day and always offers a full menu of classic libations: appletinis, Long Island iced teas, liquor to sip, Champagne, wine, daiquiris and smoothies. Stop there for a speciality coffee before heading out on an excursion, or grab liquid courage before a game of charades.

Carnival Freedom Outside Recreation

Pools

Freedom has three pools onboard: the Timeless, Endless and Stressless pools. All pools contain saltwater that's refreshed daily.

Timeless refers to the main Lido Deck pool on Deck 9. This is the hub of the action on the Lido Deck, with two whirlpools behind it on either side. The teen set seemed to dominate the whirpools on our cruise, especially at night (open until midnight). As you would expect, space fills up surrounding the pool, especially on sea days, but there is plenty of tiered seating if you don't mind a stroll down to your dip. Expect music from the DJs beginning in the late afternoon, with plenty of group dancing and cannonball and hairy chest contests. Concerts from artists like Bob Marley and Kenny Chesney are shown on the big screen in the late morning/early afternoon. Take Dive In movies literally, and watch the evening selection while floating in the pool.

The Stressless pool is much smaller, located up one deck on Deck 10, beneath the waterslide. This pool also has two whirlpools on either side.

The Endless or aft pool is an adults-only retreat on Deck 9 aft, reserved for the 18-and-older crowd. A statue of a kneeling woman at the front of the pool is a nice centrepiece, but her blue painted-on bikini seems like a silly afterthought. Seats surrounding the pool fill up after the first day, but plenty of seating is available a quick walk up to Deck 10. Two adults-only whirlpools (an alternative for those 18 to 20) are located behind the pool. This pool is protected by a magrodome in the event of bad weather, so you can keep on swimmin'. A full bar and a handy coffee and tea station are within close reach. In the morning, this area is a great place to grab a quiet seat and a made-to-order omelette.

Recreation

A spiralling waterslide is one of the focal points of the outdoor decks. The entrance, on Deck 14, was typically lined with small children, but all ages are welcome to ride. There's no water park or kids pool on Freedom, so the slide is the main aquatic attraction for younger ones. Located near the slide entrance is a Ping-Pong table. Below, on Deck 12 aft, is the ship's mini-golf course. Perfect for a quick round, the course is themed with stonework featuring ancient civilizations and replicas of Easter Island heads. Deck 11 is where the basketball and volleyball courts are located, though there is a skylight dome obstructing a good portion of the area. An oversized chess set extends over the Lido Deck, located in front of the Stressless pool on Deck 10.

Sun Decks

Located on decks 12 and 14 (there's no Deck 13), Serenity is Carnival's 21-and-older sun deck. Steps away from the Lido, it's surprising how dialled-down the noise is upon entering, and most people maintain that atmosphere. Distinguished fluffy yellow towels with turquoise stitching can be checked out at the front entrance with a name and room number. Otherwise, no one asked for ID to verify age, but we never noticed children or young adults in this area. Many find it odd that Serenity wraps around the Camp Ocean kids club on the same deck, but we never found the location to be noisy or disrupted by activities. The playground on Deck 12 is only in use in the evening, once the sun has eased up (around 7 p.m.), allowing the kids some outdoor playtime.

Rows of teal cushioned loungers surround both decks, but be careful before sitting down, and never walk this area barefoot. They don't call it a sun deck for anything, and in the midday sun the cushions and floor of the deck are burning hot. A shaded area with couches on Deck 12 is popular with older groups and those just looking to read a book outdoors in peace. There is a small bar in this area to grab a drink, but a crewmember will circle the deck taking speciality drink orders from the Lido bars. The first spots to go are the handful of large, two-person black wicker cabana chairs facing aft; people camp out there all day.

Up on Deck 14 are two sizeable adults-only whirlpools. Halfway through the cruise we found them to be completely empty at sunset, and it was like finding a small slice of heaven. Nearby there are showers and padded hammocks for post-soak relaxation.

Carnival Freedom Services

Highlighted by an army of colour-changing neon bulbs and a vertigo-inducing wall of glass elevators, the eight-deck atrium lands in the main lobby on Deck 3. It's where you'll find the guest services desk and the shore excursions desk. Trivia and other games are held in the centre of the lobby near the Millennium Bar. Behind the bar are the onboard art gallery and the Chic card room.

On Deck 4 is the presidential Monticello Library, adorned with a framed vintage American flag and replica of the Declaration of Independence (fitting for Freedom). Choose a book from one of the tall hutches (or bring your own), and settle in to the sophisticated red leather armchair, or spread out at the large table to play a board game. Also on Deck 4 are Pixels Photo Gallery and Dream Studio.

Midship on Deck 4 is the Dynasty conference room. Further aft, located within the smoky Habana Bar, is The Web, an Internet cafe. Dark, difficult to find and a bit of an afterthought, the centre offers computers for use and laptops for rent. Shipwide Wi-Fi is the way to go if you're thinking of logging on; bring your own device if you plan on surfing the Web regularly. In-cabin Wi-Fi is relatively fast and efficient for being at sea. The pay-as-you-go plan is 75 cents per minute. Packages include 45 minutes for $29, 120 minutes for $59, 240 minutes for $89 and 480 minutes for $159.

The Fun Shops -- peddling ship souvenirs, everyday necessities and, of course, watches and jewellery -- are located on Deck 5, the Promenade Deck. Cherry on Top, a candy and gift store, is also located on the shopping strip, and with Champagne and roses in stock, it offers the perfect last-minute answer for all those onboard celebrations (open until 11:30 p.m. every day). The future cruise desk and a shopping kiosk are just outside of the shopping area, near the casino.

A self-service launderette is located on Deck 7. There are washers, dryers and one iron and ironing board. The cost is $3.25 per washer load and $3.25 per dryer load. Vending machines dispense small boxes of detergent and fabric softener for $1.50 per box.

Spa Carnival is located on Deck 11, the Spa Deck, forward. Bold blue and red tiling reflect the colour scheme, yet the rest of the space is muted and backlit. Run by Elemis, spa services include the usual offerings: a variety of facials, massages, scrubs and teeth-whitening, but also collagen treatments, Ionithermie cellulite reduction and acupuncture. Port days hold the usual savings and packages, but sales and specials vary daily. The best deal we noticed was a mix-and-match of six spa services for $99. The sauna and steam room, along with sizeable showers and a locker room, are through a set of doors behind the front desk (left side for men, right for women). These facilities are complimentary. The colour scheme is terra cotta and neutral, but with rows of the standard blue balcony chairs, which felt odd and out of place. The spa was not part of the ship's 2014 dry dock renovations, and passengers on our sailing seemed disappointed that it had not been upgraded to match the Cloud 9 Spa on other Carnival ships.

The salon is located within Spa Carnival and shines with grey marble tile and dark blue trim. Hair colouring and styling, as well as trims and hot shaves for men, are available on the menu of services, in addition to manicures, pedicures and waxing.

The fitness centre, all the way forward on Deck 11, can only be accessed by walking through the spa and locker rooms, which felt a bit labyrinthine. There is no separate entrance to the gym.

Fitness equipment is of the standard variety (ellipticals, treadmills) but good quality. There is no bench or bench bar, which left a few gym patrons ruffled. The location, in the front of the ship, offers full ocean views, and the music is sporadic, but when they play it, it's up-tempo. The gym is most busy in the mornings and quiet right before leaving port on most days in the midafternoon. The consensus from passengers is that the classes offered (yoga, boot camp and others) are mediocre. Complimentary abs and stretching classes are offered once per day but only during the 7 a.m. time slot. There is no dedicated space for the classes/demonstrations. Even with quite a few people working out, the noise level is generally low. Overall, the facility is clean, with plenty of towels and adequate machines, but it could use more open floor space.

Smack in the middle of the gym, the small glass-enclosed pool/whirlpool is hard to miss; it appears straight out of "The Flintstones" with its faux-cave rock facade. Although complimentary to all passengers, we never saw it in use during our sailing.

The wide blue jogging track surrounds the Sports Deck and is also located on Deck 11. It will take you nine laps to reach one mile. We always found a few people to be casually walking or jogging briskly around, but it was never crowded. There didn't seem to be too much of a bounce, but the track is more forgiving (and safer) than running the deck. On windy days, you hardly need to walk. That far up, the wind does all the work.

Free Dining

In the midst of a speciality dining trend, Freedom has maintained complimentary dining for most of its venues. The addition of Guy's Burger Joint and the BlueIguana Cantina to the Lido boosts this model and offers variety from the standard buffet options.

Posh (Decks 3 and 4 aft): One of two main dining rooms onboard, Posh is two levels filled with pops of red and gold metalwork depicting a blooming fruit. You eat on plates with figures that resemble the Victorian-era specters seen around the Victoriana Lounge. There's no hulking chandelier or centrepiece; overall, the space exudes casual elegance.

Set seating times are at 6 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. Your Time Dining is available from 5:45 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

The dinner menu offers a variety of starters (always a hot and cold soup) and main dishes that rotate nightly, offering a variety of American fare with a few twists here and there. There's always one rotating vegetarian entree, along with the set everyday menu (steak, Caesar salad, etc.), which includes a delightful Indian sampler that comes on two plates with papadum (lentil crackers). Special dietary requests can be accommodated by alerting your maitre'd before or at the beginning of your cruise. Along with fish, steak and comfort food, the menu features one "didja (as in did you ever ...)" menu item that invites passengers to be adventurous by trying dishes like alligator fritters, frog legs and escargot. The After Dinner menu always features a cheese plate, three sherbets, four ice cream flavours, a tropical fruit plate and the ever-popular warm chocolate melting cake. Three other options, including a "diet" dessert, are also provided. Speciality coffees, liqueurs and dessert wines are available for purchase, but plain old coffee is on the house.

Posh is well used, perhaps due to aft ocean views, and it hosts sit-down breakfast, lunch, SeaDay brunch and tea, in addition to dinner.

Breakfast (served 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., open seating) is basic, with eggs, French toast, fruit and cereal on the menu -- but something about having bagels and lox served to you on fine china sets a luxurious tone for the day. SeaDay Brunch (8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.) is a blend of breakfast and lunch options (and dessert) offered on sea days, which sounded a bit better than they actually were. (The tomato soup was oversalted, and the mac and cheese left a bit to be desired, but maybe that's what you get for ordering them at 9 a.m.) Even if you don't participate in the Seuss breakfast, steak and eggs and cereal-crusted French toast are offered there. Perhaps the star of the show is the bloody mary bar available tableside or walk-up, with any combination of base and garnishes.

Lunch (open seating, noon to 1 p.m.) is a complete mish-mosh of items like sushi, Caribbean dishes, salad, spaghetti, fish, fajitas and French baguettes. A create-your-own-burger option is also offered with plenty of toppings, including guacamole -- but save your beef consumption for Guy's Burger Joint. Additionally, four desserts, ice cream and sherbet are offered.

The little-known Tea Time is available from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. on sea days on Deck 4 of Posh. There is no menu, but a full tea service with a dessert cart is offered; it's a lovely way to spend an hour of the afternoon out of the sun.

Chic (Decks 3 and 4 midship): The Chic dining room is nearly identical to Posh, serving the same menu items for dinner. You're assigned a dining room at the beginning of the cruise based on your dining time selection; Chic seems to be the main venue for Your Time diners. Chic also hosts the Green Eggs and Ham character breakfast, held on the final sea day of our sailing and available by reservation for $6 per person. If you have enough people at the table, try to order one of everything; it's worth it just for the photos.

Freedom Restaurant (Deck 9): Serving as the buffet option, the Freedom Restaurant sprawls across Deck 9 and offers nearly everything you would expect for breakfast and lunch. However, it shuts down most of its food service by 2:30 p.m. Floating blue Lady Liberty heads oversee everything, and a Statue of Liberty replica looks down on the dessert station in the stairwell to Deck 10. Continental breakfast begins at 6:30 a.m., and the breakfast grill fires up at 7:30 a.m. Breakfast is available until noon for late risers. Tip: There is a made-to-order omelette counter inside, but for less of a line and more peaceful seating, try the omelette bar hidden out by the aft pool.

For lunch and dinner, Chef Choice and Good Eats are the rotating options, which include items like cold salads, lasagna, chicken parmesan, casseroles, mashed potatoes and much more. Good Eats is also available 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Swirls, the various soft-serve stations around Deck 9, are open 24 hours a day with ice cream and frozen yoghurt. Apart from the chocolate and vanilla ice cream, strawberry frozen yoghurt was in high demand on our sailing.

Overall, the quality of the Freedom Restaurant is fine (but just fine), and you won't be hurting for variety, but we were drawn to the speciality counters again and again instead of the standard buffet options. With so many choices (in the form of Asian, seafood, sandwiches and pizza), ordering from specialized, limited menus was fun and rarely a letdown.

Comfort Kitchen (Deck 9): If you can't get enough of potato hash, chicken tenders, fish croquettes, pork steak and the like, the Comfort Kitchen answers your cravings at a counter in the middle of the restaurant, offering a daily selection of foods that might remind you of variations on regional home cooking.

Mongolian Grill (Deck 9): Popular and always touting a long line, the Mongolian Grill provides you with a salad bar-style selection of Asian vegetables, seeds and noodles, which then get thrown into a wok with your choice of chicken, beef or calamari. Choose from a mild black bean sauce, a Thai barbeque with a little kick or a Szechuan sauce for spicing things up.

Fish & Chips (Deck 10): Fish & Chips was a surprise, and as each selection comes in small to tasting-size portions, it's doable to order everything on the menu and split it between two people for a full lunch. Ahi tuna with watermelon comes in a small cup and provides a refreshing palate cleanser. Other items on the menu include BBQ octopus salad, cider-battered fried fish filets (your standard fish and chips), fried oysters, bouillabaisse and fritters made from calamari, shrimp, zucchini and Maui onion. The standout, however, is the seafood ceviche -- fresh and not fishy. The chef from the Sun King steakhouse was overseeing operations there on our voyage, which might explain the high-quality offerings. Seating is also a bit quieter up on Deck 10. Hours are typically noon to 2:30 p.m., along with the rest of the Freedom Restaurant.

Carnival Deli (Deck 9): Open 12 hours a day (11 to 11), the deli is a gem for a quick bite. Cold selections include a turkey wrap, tuna on white bread, salmon on a bagel and a favourite: arugula, pepper, tomato and mozzarella on ciabatta. (Fresh -- and free -- arugula at sea is a delight.) Hot sandwiches are standard NYC deli fare: pastrami or corned beef on rye, grilled Ruben, grilled ham and cheese, roast turkey breast, chilli con carne and hot dogs. It wouldn't be complete without coleslaw, pickles and a pleasantly crunchy sweet-and-sour veggie mix for sides, which line the shelves in jars behind the counter.

Pizza Pirate (Deck 9): The best time for pizza is any time, so Pizza Pirate stays open all day, every day. Choose from margherita, funghi, pepperoni, quattro formaggi or prosciutto pies, all made with fresh buffalo mozzarella. Caesar salads are prepared to order. The style is thin-crust, so two slices are usually served to an order. Not every pie is available at all times, so sometimes there's a bit of a wait while the pizzas emerge from the oven and the line backs up. Though the ingredients seem fresh, our slice bent under the weight of the grease.

Guy's Burger Joint (Deck 9): What's left to say about Guy's Burger that hasn't already been said? With better customer satisfaction reviews than the for-fee steakhouse onboard, Guy's burgers are hailed as delicious by an overwhelming majority, and the free aspect doesn't hurt. Go tame with a simple patty, maybe some sauteed onions and mushrooms with special "donkey" sauce from the toppings counter, or go all out with one of the listed suggestions, which feature a patty made entirely of bacon. Don't forget about the satisfyingly seasoned fries; they constitute a meal themselves.

BlueIgunana Cantina (Deck 9): Free. Burritos. Sound the alarm! The cantina serves made-to-order Mexican wraps on wheat or jalapeno tortillas, with ingredients like crema fresca, tomatillos, pico de gallo and black beans. (Choose from steak, chicken or shrimp.) Glide over to the staggering salsa bar with more toppings, salsas and sauces than you've ever heard of. (Some aren't for the faint of heart.) Side salads like watermelon jicama slaw are also offered there. Fresh watermelon slices are always available in the bowls atop the salsa bar -- a refreshing way to end a stuffed burrito or taco piled high. (Choose from chicken, fish or pork for the tacos.) If you thought it couldn't get any better, BlueIguana Cantina also does breakfast, and it's arguably one the best things we had on the ship -- Mexican-style eggs, beans, salsa and hash browns (that's what makes it) wrapped up and ready to order from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

Room Service: When all else fails, room service comes to the rescue, 24 hours a day and free of charge (save a small cash tip to the delivery personnel, which is optional but appreciated). Hot and cold sandwiches, not unlike those offered at Carnival Deli, come with potato salad, coleslaw, potato chips or pretzels, and you have the choice of white, whole wheat or rye bread. Mixed greens, Caesar salad and veggie sticks with dip are also available. Desserts include cookies, chocolate cake, fresh fruit salad, strawberry yoghurt and New York cheesecake. Available beverages include juice, milk, coffee and tea but not water. Soda and a limited selection of beer are available at bar prices.

Fee Dining

Not many dining options onboard require a charge to your Sail & Sign account. Sun King, the onboard steakhouse, offers the opportunity for an upscale evening away from the masses, and Chef's Table is a supremely special occasion with the intimate chance to meet the chef and tour the galley.

Sun King (Deck 10); $38 per person: Inspired by the opulence of Louis XIV, Sun King is the steakhouse onboard Freedom. The cover charge includes a choice of starter, salad, entree with side dishes and dessert. Although the restaurant boasts an extensive wine list, alcohol is additional. Tucked away on Deck 10, Sun King offers an intimate night out away from the routine of the main dining room, and the restaurant never seems fully booked. Meals take about two hours but not because of inattentive service; course after course is leisurely presented with poise and panache. A presentation of the cuts of meat is made prior to ordering, and if you have any questions about the menu, that's the time to decide between a cowboy steak or a ribeye. Eight starters include escargot (buttery and delicious in puff pastry), tuna tartare, lobster bisque, onion soup and a flavorful grilled Portobello mushroom. Salads are Caesar, baby leaf spinach, iceberg or sun-ripened beefsteak tomato (better quality than you find in the MDR). Choose from a cut of steak or lobster, surf and turf, rosemary chicken, grilled lamb chops, lobster ravioli or the fish of the day. Available sauces are three peppercorn, wild mushroom and bearnaise. Desserts include a cheese plate, ice cream and sherbet selection, fruit, caramelized apples, a chocolate sampler and a cheesecake that's so large the waiters playfully joke that you can't leave until you finish the entire thing.

Viennese Cafe (main location on Deck 5); a la carte pricing: A latte or iced coffee throughout the day has become a modern necessity, and the Viennese Cafe answers the call with gusto. A full beverage menu (which also features alcoholic coffees) is accompanied by a bake case with tempting fruit tortes, chocolate parfaits, cookies and carrot cake, among the offerings. Try an off-the-menu coconut cappuccino (about $5, including tip). Sweets are $2 to $3, depending on what you get. Speciality coffees are also served up at the Millennium Bar in the lobby on Deck 3 and on Deck 9 at a counter in the restaurant. Ship officers and crew are often seen there getting an espresso or a cup of joe before heading back to work.

Chef's Table; $75 per person: Open to just 12 passengers, the Chef's Table experience takes place once per cruise in nontraditional dining venues like the gallery or library. The night includes a galley tour, led by the ship's executive chef, a private cocktail reception and a multicourse dinner.

Cabin categories are pretty straightforward on Freedom: interior, oceanview (with glass wall, balcony or no balcony), suite and Penthouse Suite. There are 28 accessible cabins onboard Carnival Freedom. There are no family-style cabins onboard, though there are roughly 194 connecting cabins for more space, across various categories and cabin decks. The cabin colour scheme remains fairly consistent fleetwide, with a predominating palette of burnt oranges carried by the upholstery, carpet, bedspreads and curtains, offset by cream-coloured wall panels. Cabinetry, end tables, mouldings and other accents are natural-finished wood. Note: A fair number of cabins with twin beds can't be combined into a single king bed, so make sure you know your preferred setup when booking.

Each cabin features plush terry robes and a bowl of assorted toiletries and amenities in the bathroom, which is a nice touch. Hair dryers are standard in every cabin. Shampoo and body wash dispensers are in the shower stall, so bring conditioner if you use it regularly. There's plenty of shelving above the sink but hardly any to fit travel-size bath products from home in the shower. A swing-out magnifying makeup and shaving mirror is located near the sink.

All cabins include televisions with satellite feeds of the major networks, CNN and cable movies, a host of infomercial-style offerings hyping everything from onboard shops and spa treatments to shore excursions. One channel is devoted to broadcasting talks, activities and other events in the Victoriana Lounge. Interactive choices include onboard account review and shore excursion descriptions and booking. Each stateroom also has a safe and mini-fridge, stocked with a selection of beer, wine, water, juices, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, as well as snacks, priced a la carte. Cabin stewards check the fridge once or twice during the cruise and refill as needed.

Storage space is plentiful with ample drawers, closet space, hangers and even some nooks and crannies in bedside tables to store everything you need.

There's only one electrical outlet. That means in a cabin full of family members with phones, cameras, laptops and iPads, only one is getting plugged in at a time; it's a constant rotation to make sure all the gadgets are fully charged.

Interior: Carnival's cabins are spacious, with the minimum size of standard inside staterooms coming in at 185 square feet. There are 570 inside cabins in a variety of room configurations.

Porthole/Oceanview: There are 361 oceanview cabins onboard (without balconies). Of those, 18 feature glass walls; they measure 230 square feet and are located on Deck 11, the Spa Deck. Six Category 5A standard outside staterooms have portholes, rather than windows, and a number of Category 6B outside cabins have obstructed views, so look before you book.

Balcony: Sixty percent of standard outside cabins have balconies (504 to be exact), though the smallest balcony, at 35 square feet, leaves little room for sunning or dining. The remaining square footage is 150 on the interior (185 square feet total). Some cabins have extended balconies at 60 feet or wraparounds at 75 feet. A standard balcony features two blue fabric deck chairs (one upright, the other reclining) and a small table. Sitting and sipping wine is more than accommodated, but a full recline in the chair requires a bit of manoeuvring.

Suites: There are 42 suites onboard. Suites are 350 square feet and include bathtubs. All suite (and Penthouse) passengers receive the spa's Elemis brand bath products and VIP check-in, but there's little else in the way of perks.

Penthouse Suites: There are 10 Penthouse Suites available on Freedom. At 430 square feet each (345 in cabin, 85 on the balcony), some offer dressing rooms with vanities and walk-in closets. Located on Deck 9, the cabin hallways feature fun wallpaper vistas of the beach and distinct, light wooden doors.

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