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Cruise Ship Review

Carnival Freedom - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

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 specialty, 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.

Gratuity

Carnival recommends tipping $11.50 per person, per day, which is split among the staff. The amount is automatically charged to your shipboard account, but it can be adjusted at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar and spa bills. The room service staff appreciate receiving a couple dollars in cash for delivery, though it is not required.

Dress Code

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.

Fellow Passengers

Freedom attracts all ages, and groups containing up to four generations can be found among the young couples, retired couples and smaller families onboard. The passenger mix varies, but North Americans (including a solid number of Floridians) dominate the onboard demographic. Passengers 41 to 50 years old tend to compose the largest percentage of passengers.

Family

The first ship in the Carnival fleet to receive Camp Ocean facilities, as well as the full Seuss at Sea program, Freedom is not only outfitted to keep children of any age content but also offers activities suited for family participation.

Formerly Camp Carnival, Camp Ocean is stepping in as the kids club replacement with an oceanography theme. Most notably, in place of one large, open floor plan, Camp Ocean is divided into separate areas with activities appropriate for your child's age group. (Penguins is the only area with a gate, for security reasons.) Penguins includes ages 2 to 5, Stingrays are 6 to 8, and Sharks are 9 to 11. Accommodations can be made to group siblings close in age within the same area, but camp counselors say kids are happiest within their own age group. There are more than 200 ocean-themed activities scheduled during a single cruise in Camp Ocean, including arts and crafts sessions for the whole family. A Camp Ocean playground is sectioned off outside on Deck 12, and children enjoy outdoor playtime closer to sunset when the sun is not as harsh.

A badge challenge -- similar to Girl and Boy Scout badges -- has been introduced, encouraging young cruisers to accomplish a number of outlined activities onboard. More than 20 badges are available for activities like singing karaoke, trying a new food in the dining room or creating a towel animal. Badges can be collected over multiple cruises, and at the end of each, a ceremony takes place with giveaways for each age group.

Onboard cell phones are provided for parents of the youngest age group, but parents of children any age can call Camp Ocean and speak to their child at any time. Counselors will change diapers for children 3 1/2 and younger. Camp Ocean is free, but the Night Owls program (10 p.m. to 1 a.m.) costs $6.75 per hour, per child, plus a 15 percent gratuity. Private baby-sitting is available (but not in-cabin) for the same rate. Kids dinners take place from about 6 p.m. to 6:50 p.m. near Fish & Chips on Deck 10.

From 8 to 10 each morning, parents with infants are invited to use the Camp Ocean space. If parents stay with their kids, this allotted time is free of charge; otherwise, the rate of $6.75 per hour, plus a 15 percent gratuity, applies. On port days, care for infants begins 15 minutes from the first tour until noon, or from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. for ships arriving in port after noon; the fee is the same.

Preteens and teens have their own respective clubs onboard for the 12 to 14 and 15 to 17 sets. Circle C (ages 12 to 14) is located forward on Deck 4, close to the library, but its purple, green and orange nightclub atmosphere is well-hidden from rest of the ship. Plenty of flat-screen TVs, egg chair seats and games like Guitar Hero make it a great meeting place. Club 02 (ages 15 to 17) is midship on Deck 5 near the Warehouse. Karaoke sessions, mocktails, movies and game, make 02 a great hangout away from the rest of the family. Despite the indoor temptations, groups of teens were found out and about on our sailing, enjoying the Lido area and roaming the ship. Rumor has it the teen clubs onboard Carnival's ships might see an overhaul with the debut of Carnival Vista in 2016.

Seuss at Sea includes a number of activities and a permanent onboard reading space, Dr. Seuss' Bookville. Bookville, located to the right of Camp Ocean on Deck 12, is open to passengers of any age. Colorful funky-shaped couches and cushions and bright multicolored chairs invite you to sit and relive the nostalgia of parenthood or childhood or hear a Dr. Seuss story for the first time.

Held on the first sea day of our sailing (at about 3:30 p.m.), Seuss-a-Palooza is a parade for all ages, beginning in the International Lounge on Deck 5, where you should arrive early to snag props like characters on sticks, red-and-white pompoms and storybook banners. Counselors are present to instruct kids and adults in the chant and the march, and to stir general excitement. One by one, Seuss' characters -- Thing 1, Thing 2, Sam I Am and Cat in the Hat -- make an appearance, followed by your cruise director, who will lead the parade through the halls and down the stairs, ending in the Victoriana Lounge on Deck 3.

The parade culminates in Story Time, an interactive reading of "The Cat in the Hat" that takes place on the stage. Children are encouraged to gather on the stage, and parents are encouraged to participate in the reading as well. Seuss-a-Palooza is an hour well spent with the family.

A photo opportunity is held in the middle of the cruise, offering your children the chance to pose with their favorite characters, but this is also available during the Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast. Check your Fun Times for details.

The Green Eggs and Ham character breakfast was held on the last sea day of our cruise with two seating times (the latter beginning check-in at 9:45). Reservations are required, and the breakfast can be booked by dialing 32323 from any ship telephone. The cost is $5 per person, which we consider a great value. Chic dining room on Deck 3, where the breakfast is held, is completely transformed with a Cat in the Hat theme (but we won't ruin all the surprises). All characters make appearances, but they stand in the middle for photo opportunities, rather than visit each table, which caused unnecessary lines with parents hopping up and down from the table to snap their child alongside a 7-foot cat. Menu items leap from the pages of Dr. Seuss' books and feature, of course, green eggs and ham (served atop an English muffin with a red velvet French macaroon on the side). Other options are Truffula Tree pancakes (seven of them, though mini), Horton's cereal-crusted French toast (a real sugar rush when coated in Fruit Loops) and waffles with blue and orange nooks. There are even parfaits for dessert (yes, breakfast with dessert). Apple and orange juice are traded in for moose juice and goose juice, and coffee (which we were secretly told was not originally on the menu) has luckily found its way back in time for parents who need their own magic pick-me-ups.

Fitness and Recreation

Spa Carnival is located on Deck 11, the Spa Deck, forward. Bold blue and red tiling reflect the color 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 color 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 gray marble tile and dark blue trim. Hair coloring 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 center, 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.

Entertainment

Theater

The Victoriana Show Lounge is the main theater, 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 theater, 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-theater 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 snack at the Taste Bar, order 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 specialty 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 Rum Bar is the spot to grab your favorite Caribbean concoction. Eight featured rums create a colorful 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 flavor is super refreshing as you soak up the Caribbean sun.

BlueIguana Tequila Bar (Deck 9): The other side of the Lido is BlueIguana 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 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 gray 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.

EA Sports Bar (Deck 5): The EA 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 specialty 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 colors, 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 centerpiece 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, the comedy club curated by George Lopez (not present), with names as controversial as the comedy. Try a Sex on the Stage or Zany Zombie. The house cocktail, The Punchliner, comes with an optional souvenir George Lopez glass. 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 humor.

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 specialty 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 centerpiece, 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 omelet.

Recreation

A spiraling 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 dialed-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 nothing, 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 specialty 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 color-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 center 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. Farther aft, located within the smoky Habana Bar, is The Web, an Internet cafe. Dark, difficult to find and a bit of an afterthought, the center 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 jewelry -- 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.

Cabins

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 color scheme remains fairly consistent fleetwide, with a predominating palette of burnt oranges carried by the upholstery, carpet, bedspreads and curtains, offset by cream-colored wall panels. Cabinetry, end tables, moldings 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 maneuvering.

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.

Public Rooms

Dining

Free Dining

In the midst of a specialty 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 centerpiece; 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 flavors, a tropical fruit plate and the ever-popular warm chocolate melting cake. Three other options, including a "diet" dessert, are also provided. Specialty 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 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 $5 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 omelet counter inside, but for less of a line and more peaceful seating, try the omelet 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 yogurt. Apart from the chocolate and vanilla ice cream, strawberry frozen yogurt 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 specialty 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 favorite: 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, chili 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 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 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.

The Taste Bar (Deck 5): Unpredictable but always fun to find, the small plates offered each evening from the Taste Bar give a glimpse into various dining venues onboard and also offer great canapes to accompany pre-dinner drinks. Try a bite from the Sun King before making a reservation, or get a taste of the flavors at BlueIguana with chicken, avocado and lime tortilla soup, accompanied by roast pork, green chili salsa and aged Cotija cheese. Hours vary, but Taste is only available in the evening.

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 yogurt 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); $35 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. Specialty 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 galley or library. The night includes a galley tour, led by the ship's executive chef, a private cocktail reception and a multicourse dinner.

It may not be the SS Poseidon, but our expectations for the ship were turned completely upside down.

First, there's the matter of decor. Carnival Freedom -- the fifth and final incarnation of Carnival Cruise Lines' highly successful Conquest class -- was built for summering in the Mediterranean, taking over where Carnival Liberty left off. When we sailed sister ship Carnival Valor, which spends its life in the more youthful, higher energy Caribbean, we found it amazingly subdued having been designed by Joe Farcus (known for glitz and kitsch). We expected that Freedom would bear a similar patina of elegance and sophistication befitting its annual six-month sojourn in Europe. What we found instead was a hodgepodge of design choices that had us scratching our heads, wondering how they came up with an ambience that was at the same time dark and gaudy.

Metallic accents are generally in copper rather then the brighter choice of brass. Lighter colors -- beiges, creams and whites -- appear seldom, and then only as accents. Lighting sconces throughout the Freedom Restaurant, the ship's buffet venue, are fashioned from disembodied heads of the Statue of Liberty casting eerie watery light through their translucent blue fiberglass faces. And all over the ship there are banks of pulsating lights that constantly change color.

Patterns from nature are used as major background elements, but as if seen through a distorting filter. For example, in the Millennium Atrium and throughout the public decks, wood paneling with hyper-emphasized grain patterns in bright orange, black and gray proliferates -- looking like the result of a tiger and a zebra falling into a plywood-manufacturing machine. The ceilings and walls in both main restaurants are done in a black and deep red metallic snakeskin pattern.

Secondly, we expected to mainly find typical Carnival loyalists, more into merrymaking than museums and mosques. On this count we were both right and wrong. We found a high percentage of repeaters, but almost entirely at the upper end of the age spectrum. And while we anticipated that they would by and large be Mediterranean newbies -- present only because it was a) Carnival, b) a new ship, and c) a brand-new itinerary -- we were wrong again. On our voyage we found ourselves among a group of savvy, experienced travelers, who either had visited Europe in the past, or were perfectly comfortable exploring on their own.

Freedom's basic architecture is a conventional sandwich with most public rooms on Decks 3 through 5; most fitness, spa and casual dining on Deck 9 and above; and most passenger cabins in between or below the public room decks. This basic design has been a template for Carnival new-build construction since the introduction of Destiny in 1996. There have been some changes and improvements in attributes and amenities since the class was launched in 2002, most notably the addition of the Seaside Theater, a giant outdoor screen poolside on the Lido Deck, but Freedom suffers from the same passenger-flow bugaboos as do the others in the class. 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.

Dining

Carnival Freedom has four full-meal dining venues. The two main restaurants, Chic and Posh, are situated midship and aft, respectively. The sprawling two-story Freedom Restaurant on the Lido Deck handles breakfast and lunch buffet chores, and provides an alternative casual dining venue at dinnertime. The Sun King Supper Club, named for Louis XIV, is Freedom's for-fee, upscale alternate nighttime restaurant.

The Freedom Restaurant, with its repetitive use of the iconic Statue of Liberty, is an open and light space with beaucoup choices for all palates. Morning options begin with early bird Continental breakfasts, followed by typical buffet offerings augmented by several omelet stations. In the main buffet area there are several lines and plenty of room to maneuver with your tray. But guests requiring assistance carrying their food to their table will find availability limited at best. Indoor seating is available on the Lido Deck (Deck 9) and the mezzanine one deck above. Outdoor tables are plentiful around the central pool, or on the fantail surrounding the aft pool, which is topped by a closeable dome.

In addition to the standard lunchtime 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 also tasty steak sandwiches; and a 24/7 pizzeria. Our favorites were a new stir fry section, where diners select and fill a bowl with their choice of ingredients and hand it over to a chef who wok-cooks with a choice of sauces, and the Fish & Chips Cafe, which serves Bouillabaisse, shellfish, ahi tuna appetizers, fried oyster sandwiches and grilled fish over green salad -- in addition to its namesake.

Hint: The cafe is tucked away in the corner of the Deck 10 upper level of the restaurant, and many passengers don't discover it till four or five days into the voyage. Our recommendation is to visit it early in the trip when there are no lines. Dinner is also served in the buffet nightly for those who want a casual meal, with selections similar to what's being served in the main dining rooms.

The two main dining rooms are virtually identical in decor. The lower levels of these rooms stretch the entire width of the ship and are open in the middle, allowing those not along the outer walls a quieter and less claustrophobic dining experience. We preferred dining on the upper level as it was less crowded and relatively more intimate. Both dining rooms have numerous banquettes accommodating parties of four, and an adequate number of tables for as many as 10. It should also be noted that Freedom also has a large number of tables for two, more than 30 by our count.

There are two traditional dinner seatings at 6 and 8:15 p.m. Service is friendly, patient, professional and refreshing from a dining room staff that is becoming increasingly Eastern European in makeup. We found the food tasty, promptly and accurately served, and usually piping hot. Each dinner menu also included "Spa Menu" courses, and vegetarian selections.

It did seem to us, however, that there has been a quantum shift in style of cuisine since our previous experience with a Conquest-class ship, and, again, given the fact that we sailed Freedom in its theoretically more sophisticated European stomping grounds, the shift went in the opposite direction from what we would have expected. On Carnival Valor there was a tendency toward more cutting-edge, fusion cuisine, featuring unusual pairings with such exotic ingredients as yuzu, baby bok choy, Yukon gold potatoes, rose hip, etc. Moreover, there were occasional degustation (multi-course tasting) menus featuring smaller portions of up to six courses.

Though the quality of preparation on Freedom was consistent and competent, the preparations were simplified. Even the offerings of Georges Blanc, Carnival's celebrated star consulting chef (who parted ways with the line in 2008), are mostly what we dub Continental comfort food -- such European standbys as osso bucco and beef bourguignon. When a cruise line spends hundreds of thousands of dollars for an uber-chef to provide unique menu choices, generally the expectation is that he or she will deliver recipes that can't be found in the frozen aisle of any local supermarket.

The Sun King Supper Club, located on Deck 10, and isolated from the rest of the ship's nighttime hullabaloo, serves the same fine steakhouse cuisine as its equivalents on other Conquest-Class ships, but lacks an atmosphere of intimacy and refinement. With all the painted-on gold color and crystal chandeliers it feels a bit like dining in the Liberace Museum.

Decor aside, there are still two major attributes that make the Sun King a great diversion. First and foremost is the cuisine; nothing cutting-edge here but if dry-aged prime meat, quality seafood and a great wine list ring your chimes, enough said. Secondly, Sun King is a true supper club, with a small combo that plays at a volume level that doesn't annihilate conversation; on the dance floor, before dinner or between courses, it's possible to tango and talk at the same time.

There is a $30 per-person charge to dine here, plus optional gratuity. Reservations are required, but we found the room lightly booked. For those that want to play it safe, there is a signup desk in the lobby on embarkation day right at the end of the gangway. Dress code for the Sun King is "upscale casual" (no jeans, shorts, T-shirts, etc.).

One little-known fact about the Conquest-class supper clubs is that the bar and dance floor are open to all passengers, even those not dining there. This provides a nice, intimate lounge to enjoy a quiet pre-dinner cocktail or a late night tete-a-tete. Those just enjoying the bar can order caviar from the dinner menu ($45) to toast one of those very special occasions.

Other food options include free soft-serve ice cream and yogurt in the Freedom Restaurant, and either sushi or tapas served at cocktail hour at the Deck 5 Meiji Sushi Bar. Coffee drinks and pastries are available for a fee at the Viennese Cafe. There is continental breakfast available during breakfast hours through room service, and there is a typical 24-hour menu of snacks, desserts and sandwiches. All room service is free of charge.

Public Rooms

For us, this was another serious case of "What were they thinking?" The location, size or designated use of many public rooms seemed ill-conceived. Consider the Internet Cafe. Its sole entrance is buried inside the Habana Bar, the ship's lounge for cigar aficionados, forcing anyone who wants to use the ship's computers to wade through a miasma of stogie smoke. Fortunately, there is Wi-Fi throughout the ship at the same rate as the Cafe ($0.40 through $0.75 per minute) so it makes sense to bring a laptop.

The choice of placement and size for Habana itself is another head-scratcher. This lounge recreates the atmosphere of Cuba during the 1940's. Giant reproductions of cigar box art of the era decorate the walls, and the clubby leather chairs and sofas are time- and place-appropriate. In a particularly quintessential Joe Farcus touch, the supports for the cocktail tables and barstools are in the form of giant lit cigars. Our praise notwithstanding, the lounge stretches the entire width of the ship, and seats 147. We never counted more than six actually partaking of cigars, but that was enough to make passage through the room unpleasant, though it is one of the main corridors necessary to pass from bow to stern on Deck 4. On the other hand the ship's sports bar Player's -- always a major attraction on Carnival vessels -- held only about a third as many.

In addition to the musical entertainment provided in the lounges, the Babylon Casino does a bang-up job with a slew of slots and just about every table game you've ever encountered. For those who want to get on the real poker (as opposed to "Caribbean Stud," "Let it Ride," and their ilk) there's a new high-tech gizmo which deals Texas Hold 'Em electronically to terminals situated around a typical green felt casino poker table. Guests put a cash deposit at the cashier's cage on a magnetically striped card which they insert into their terminal. There is no human dealer; a central computer deals electronic "cards" and keeps track of the bets. It's true casino poker (without having to tip the dealer) but the action moves at a lightning pace and those without a load of Hold 'Em experience under their belts can see their electronic stake disappear in a heartbeat.

Cabins

Carnival's cabin color scheme has become fairly consistent fleetwide, and Carnival Freedom is no exception, with a predominating palette of burnt oranges carried by the upholstery, carpet, bedspread and curtains offset by cream-colored wall panels. Cabinetry, end tables, moldings and other accents are natural-finished wood.

Carnival's cabins are spacious, with the minimum size (of standard inside staterooms) at 195 square ft. Sixty percent of standard outside cabins have balconies, though the smallest at 35 ft. are really too small for enjoying sunning or dining. Some cabins have extended balconies at 60 ft. or wraparounds at 75 ft.; ours had two reclining chairs and a small table, but there wasn't enough space to completely recline either of the chairs.

We found the amount of storage space available in both the bathroom and closets and drawers to be the most generous we've encountered on a mass-market ship. Plush terry robes hang in all staterooms. In the bathrooms -- all with stall showers except for suites -- there is a bowl o' promotional samples, the sort that appear in your mailbox about the time Procter & Gamble launches a new product. Our selection included toothpaste, pain relievers, moisturizer and face cream, mouthwash, antacids and disposable razors. Shampoo and body wash dispensers are in the shower stall. One nice inclusion in bathrooms was a swing-out magnifying makeup and shaving mirror.

All include television, with satellite feeds of the major networks, CNN and cable movies, a host of infomercial-style offerings hyping everything from onboard shops to spa treatments and shore excursions. There is also a channel devoted to broadcasting talks, activities or 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 good selection of beer, wine, water, juices, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, as well as snacks. Cabin stewards check the fridge once or twice during the cruise and refill as needed.

Suites are slightly less than twice the size of standard cabins at 350 square ft. (275 in cabin, 65 on the balcony), and include the additional amenities of bathtubs and VCRs. One penthouse suite at 430 square ft. (345 in cabin, 85 on the balcony) adds a dressing room with vanity and walk-in closet. There are 18 "family staterooms" with floor to ceiling windows (so parents need not worry about Junior deciding to play "I am the king of the world!" while balancing on the balcony railing). These measure 230 square ft. and are located on Deck 11 (Spa Deck), one deck below the kids' pool area and Camp Carnival.

Prospective passengers should exercise care when booking to avoid nasty surprises. Six Category 5A standard outside staterooms, for example, have portholes rather than windows, a number of Category 6B outside cabins with obstructed views, and a fair number of cabins with twin beds that can't be combined into a single king bed.

Entertainment

Sea days are to Carnival what county fairs are to livestock breeders; they are the stock and trade, the raison d'etre of the enterprise. And nobody does activity-laden sea days better than Carnival. However, we found that the type of sea day activities on our European voyage was shifted from the physical to the intellectual. For every pool game or hairy chest contest there were at least four trivia or quiz games, for which every lounge and suitable venue throughout the ship was used sometime during the day, including the 270-square-ft. LCD screen poolside.

There are two likely reasons for this shift, both tied to the specifics of European vs. Caribbean itineraries. First, our 12-night Mediterranean voyage by virtue of length, region and cost attracts an older demographic than does a Caribbean sailing. On top of that, out of 12 days only three were sea days, and the remaining nine were high-intensity morning-to-night touring days. On sea days, we really felt like kicking back and engaging in low-impact, low-intensity activities -- as most of our fellow passengers. We assume that winter-season activities, when Carnival Freedom sails the Caribbean, will be more like the typical Carnival paradigm: physical, outdoor activities.

Regardless, our cruise included many of the usual staples: bingo, cooking and towel-folding demonstrations, and competitions derived from popular television shows: "Survivor," "Family Feud" and "The Newlywed Game." For those who like to compete on a different level, there are the ubiquitous art auctions where passengers can butt heads to see who can snare the most objets d'art. The few lectures and seminars are really not-so-thinly disguised self-promotional presentations mounted by the boutiques or spa.

Freedom has a complete range of musical offerings from heavily classical to heavy metal. For those who enjoy spending their days soaking up rays around the pools, there is a four-piece cover band that plays from after lunch till just before dinner. A classical trio holds forth at tea in the Posh Dining Room and before dinner in the lobby. Other choices on our sailing included a solo guitarist (who performed just outside the Casino), a jazz trio performing nightly in the Habana Bar, three different duos that performed in the Sun King, and Swingtime Lounge and Lobby Bar after dinner, and a pianist at the rotating piano in the center of Scott's Piano Bar. We found all these performers to be excellent at their craft. The International Lounge was home to a nightly round of Karaoke, and the 70's Dance Club was disco-central late nights.

Victoriana, the main show lounge, covers an expanse of three decks. We found a substantial number of seats less than desirable due to intervening columns or being under a claustrophobia-inducing balcony overhang. Seating is in banquettes with small fixed pedestals for drinks, or wide, theater-type seating in the balconies. The name of the lounge is supposed to hark back to the era of Queen Victoria, though with its tented-like ceiling of olive and salmon stripes with cream and gold filigrees, it looked to us more like Buckingham Palace meets Ringling Brothers.

The ship, however, does make good use of the room's capabilities. Though we normally don't review specific productions -- since they change fairly regularly -- we feel compelled to comment on two of the three production shows mounted for our sailing. The first, titled "The Big Easy," paid homage to New Orleans. Not only are the music styles -- jazz, blues, gospel, Zydeco, Dixieland -- of this great city overdue to be made the centerpiece of a cruise ship production extravaganza, but the timing is a real boon to NOLA, which needs to be kept in the public eye to continue generating tourism and awareness. The second show, "Ticket to Ride," is based on the music of the Beatles, and makes the best use of the technological capabilities of a modern cruise ship show lounge we've ever seen. State-of-the-art blending of computer animation with live onstage performance and laser light show effects had our boomer-intensive audience on their feet cheering by the final curtain.

One nice touch: The Seaside Theater features films every evening, complete with freshly-popped popcorn (available at $1 a bag from the poolside bar).

When in port, the ship mounts a very efficient shore excursion operation. Shore excursion personnel don't regularly accompany guests on excursions as they do on some ships, but ship's photographers and videographers often do.

Fitness and Recreation

One innovative architectural attribute of the Conquest class is that the sunning area has been maximized by structuring eight tiered plateaus from just above Deck 10 (Panorama Deck) to the surface of Lido Deck (Deck 9), creating an expanse of space to place chaises. That's not to say it makes enough difference that there isn't still a problem with books and towels mysteriously appearing on lounges at 7 a.m., though no actual guests show up to use the chairs till after 11 a.m. However, we never had a problem finding an empty chaise, even on sea days.

Kids have their own wading pool on Deck 12 (Sun Deck) right outside Camp Carnival. As for adult pools, there are three: two on Deck 9, each with two whirlpool spas, and one on Deck 10, basically a splash pool at the end of the water slide.

Freedom's spa is a Steiner's franchise operation, offering sauna, massage and salon services, with prices ranging from $60 for a standard Swedish massage through $195 for teeth whitening, and everything in-between. There is also a fully equipped gym with loads of modern workout machines, free weights and a whole area devoted solely to spinning. The facility faces forward, offering dramatic views through picture windows.

Other fitness options include a jogging track on Deck 11 (Spa Deck) with nine circuits equaling a mile, and basketball and volleyball courts. There is a golf-driving cage, and instruction is offered through the ship's onboard golf program; for those whose golf horizons are more limited, there is a nine-hole miniature golf course.

Family

Carnival sets the gold standard for family vacations, both in programming and in physical facilities. Kids are broken into groups by age. There are three groups under the Camp Carnival banner, ranging from preschool to preteen (2 through 5, 6 through 8, and 9 through 11). There is an additional young teen group for 12- through 14-year-olds. A new program, Club O2, has been developed in conjunction with Coca-Cola, for older teens (15 through 17 years old).

Generally, the younger the group, the more their activities are conducted in the Camp Carnival playroom; the youngest ones are there for 90 percent of their supervised activities; the Club O2 kids' programs range the entire extent of the ship. The playroom measures 4,200 square ft. and features a video wall displaying nonstop movies and cartoons, a soft play area for under-2's (admitted only for supervised nighttime group babysitting), and ample space and equipment for arts and crafts -- everything from the standbys of papier mache and painting to devices that make spin and sand art, and even candy.

For preteens and teens there's the 1,800-square-ft. Club O2 Teen Club facility featuring a huge video arcade, a non-alcoholic bar, and dance club with its own D.J. On port days there are "just for teens" shore excursions for the 12- through 17-year-olds, and, in selected ports, Carnival offers "Family Shore Excursions"; however, this is more a matter of marketing than substance, since the experiences on these excursions differed little from those offered on the standard list, at least on our Eastern Mediterranean sailing. One popular aspect is the youth spa program where kids aged 12 through 14 can enjoy spa treatments together with their parents on port days.

Dining options in the formal dining rooms include the usual kids' menus and a daily kids' special. Kids can also dine nightly with the youth counselors sans parents in the Freedom Restaurant.

Group babysitting (which is available to under-2's) is available nightly at a rate of $6 per hour for the first child and $4 per hour for each addition child from the same family.

Fellow Passengers

There is a marked difference in passenger demographics between the Caribbean and Mediterranean cruising regions. In either region, expect a casual, largely American group with high energy and a penchant for having fun. Caribbean sailings generally attract the younger end of the scale. (Carnival estimates only 30 percent over 55), whereas European sailings lean toward the older age of the Carnival spectrum. Carnival's passengers are inclined to be fiercely loyal, and the European sailings tend to be more heavily populated by repeaters; the Caribbean attracts a higher percentage of first-timers.

Dress Code

Casual. Though blue jeans are now off the verboten list, shorts and T-shirts are still unacceptable at dinner -- but that's about it. Even Sun King does not have a dress code beyond the vague "dressy casual." There are two formal nights, and a larger percentage of passengers go to the formal end of the scale: men in tuxedos, women in cocktail dresses and evening gowns.

Gratuity

$10 per person per day is automatically charged to guests' shipboard accounts. This amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the purser's desk. Also, passengers can augment the automatic charge with a little extra cash in an envelope. Maitre d's are not included in the $10 daily charge. A gratuity of 15 percent is automatically added to drink orders.

--by Steve Faber. South Florida-based Faber is a longtime contributor to Cruise Critic. Beyond Cruise Critic, Faber's work has appeared in a myriad of outlets including Cruise Travel Magazine, "The Miami Herald" and "The Total Traveler Guide to Worldwide Cruising."Editor's Note: The original review was written when Carnival Freedom was sailing in the Mediterranean. While there is some Euro-centric information, details about the ship are otherwise accurate. Carnival Freedom now homeports in Fort Lauderdale, offering six-, seven- and eight-night cruises to the Eastern and Western Caribbean.

It may not be the SS Poseidon, but our expectations for the ship were turned completely upside down.

First, there's the matter of decor. Carnival Freedom -- the fifth and final incarnation of Carnival Cruise Lines' highly successful Conquest class -- was originally built for summering in the Mediterranean, the destination for our voyage. When we sailed on another Freedom sister, Carnival Valor, which spends its life in the more youthful, higher energy Caribbean, we found it amazingly subdued having been designed by Joe Farcus (known for glitz and kitsch). We expected that Freedom would bear a similar patina of elegance and sophistication befitting future sojourns to Europe. What we found instead was a hodgepodge of design choices that had us scratching our heads, wondering how they came up with an ambience that was at the same time dark and gaudy.

Metallic accents are generally in copper rather then the brighter choice of brass. Lighter colors -- beiges, creams and whites -- appear seldom, and then only as accents. Lighting sconces throughout the Freedom Restaurant, the ship's buffet venue, are fashioned from disembodied heads of the Statue of Liberty casting eerie watery light through their translucent blue fiberglass faces. And all over the ship there are banks of pulsating lights that constantly change color.

Patterns from nature are used as major background elements, but as if seen through a distorting filter. For example, in the Millennium Atrium and throughout the public decks, wood paneling with hyper-emphasized grain patterns in bright orange, black and gray proliferates -- looking like the result of a tiger and a zebra falling into a plywood-manufacturing machine. The ceilings and walls in both main restaurants are done in a black and deep red metallic snakeskin pattern.

Secondly, we expected to mainly find typical Carnival loyalists, more into merrymaking than museums and mosques. On this count we were both right and wrong. We found a high percentage of repeaters, but almost entirely at the upper end of the age spectrum. And while we anticipated that they would by and large be Mediterranean newbies -- present only because it was a) Carnival, b) a new ship, and c) a brand-new itinerary -- we were wrong again. On our voyage we found ourselves among a group of savvy, experienced travelers, who either had visited Europe in the past, or were perfectly comfortable exploring on their own.

Freedom's basic architecture is a conventional sandwich with most public rooms on Decks 3 through 5; most fitness, spa and casual dining on Deck 9 and above; and most passenger cabins in between or below the public room decks. This basic design has been a template for Carnival new-build construction since the introduction of Destiny in 1996. There have been some changes and improvements in attributes and amenities since the class was launched in 2002, most notably the addition of the Seaside Theater, a giant outdoor screen poolside on the Lido Deck, but Freedom suffers from the same passenger-flow bugaboos as do the others in the class. 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.

Dining

Carnival Freedom has four full-meal dining venues. The two main restaurants, Chic and Posh, are situated midship and aft, respectively. The sprawling two-story Freedom Restaurant on the Lido Deck handles breakfast and lunch buffet chores, and provides an alternative casual dining venue at dinnertime. The Sun King Supper Club, named for Louis XIV, is Freedom's for-fee, upscale alternate nighttime restaurant.

The Freedom Restaurant, with its repetitive use of the iconic Statue of Liberty, is an open and light space with beaucoup choices for all palates. Morning options begin with early bird Continental breakfasts, followed by typical buffet offerings augmented by several omelet stations. In the main buffet area there are several lines and plenty of room to maneuver with your tray. But guests requiring assistance carrying their food to their table will find availability limited at best. Indoor seating is available on the Lido Deck (Deck 9) and the mezzanine one deck above. Outdoor tables are plentiful around the central pool, or on the fantail surrounding the aft pool, which is topped by a closeable dome.

In addition to the standard lunchtime 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 also tasty steak sandwiches; and a 24/7 pizzeria. Our favorites were a new stir fry section, where diners select and fill a bowl with their choice of ingredients and hand it over to a chef who wok-cooks with a choice of sauces, and the Fish & Chips Cafe, which serves Bouillabaisse, shellfish, ahi tuna appetizers, fried oyster sandwiches and grilled fish over green salad -- in addition to its namesake.

Hint: The cafe is tucked away in the corner of the Deck 10 upper level of the restaurant, and many passengers don't discover it till four or five days into the voyage. Our recommendation is to visit it early in the trip when there are no lines. Dinner is also served in the buffet nightly for those who want a casual meal, with selections similar to what's being served in the main dining rooms.

The two main dining rooms are virtually identical in decor. The lower levels of these rooms stretch the entire width of the ship and are open in the middle, allowing those not along the outer walls a quieter and less claustrophobic dining experience. We preferred dining on the upper level as it was less crowded and relatively more intimate. Both dining rooms have numerous banquettes accommodating parties of four, and an adequate number of tables for as many as 10. It should also be noted that Freedom also has a large number of tables for two, more than 30 by our count.

There are two traditional dinner seatings at 6 and 8:15 p.m. Service is friendly, patient, professional and refreshing from a dining room staff that is becoming increasingly Eastern European in makeup. We found the food tasty, promptly and accurately served, and usually piping hot. Each dinner menu also included "Spa Menu" courses, and vegetarian selections.

It did seem to us, however, that there has been a quantum shift in style of cuisine since our previous experience with a Conquest-class ship, and, again, given the fact that we sailed Freedom in its theoretically more sophisticated European stomping grounds, the shift went in the opposite direction from what we would have expected. On Carnival Valor there was a tendency toward more cutting-edge, fusion cuisine, featuring unusual pairings with such exotic ingredients as yuzu, baby bok choy, Yukon gold potatoes, rose hip, etc. Moreover, there were occasional degustation (multi-course tasting) menus featuring smaller portions of up to six courses.

Though the quality of preparation on Freedom was consistent and competent, the preparations were simplified. Even the offerings of Georges Blanc, Carnival's celebrated star consulting chef (who parted ways with the line in 2008), are mostly what we dub Continental comfort food -- such European standbys as osso bucco and beef bourguignon. When a cruise line spends hundreds of thousands of dollars for an uber-chef to provide unique menu choices, generally the expectation is that he or she will deliver recipes that can't be found in the frozen aisle of any local supermarket.

The Sun King Supper Club, located on Deck 10, and isolated from the rest of the ship's nighttime hullabaloo, serves the same fine steakhouse cuisine as its equivalents on other Conquest-Class ships, but lacks an atmosphere of intimacy and refinement. With all the painted-on gold color and crystal chandeliers it feels a bit like dining in the Liberace Museum.

Decor aside, there are still two major attributes that make the Sun King a great diversion. First and foremost is the cuisine; nothing cutting-edge here but if dry-aged prime meat, quality seafood and a great wine list ring your chimes, enough said. Secondly, Sun King is a true supper club, with a small combo that plays at a volume level that doesn't annihilate conversation; on the dance floor, before dinner or between courses, it's possible to tango and talk at the same time.

There is a $30 per-person charge to dine here, plus optional gratuity. Reservations are required, but we found the room lightly booked. For those that want to play it safe, there is a signup desk in the lobby on embarkation day right at the end of the gangway. Dress code for the Sun King is "upscale casual" (no jeans, shorts, T-shirts, etc.).

One little-known fact about the Conquest-class supper clubs is that the bar and dance floor are open to all passengers, even those not dining there. This provides a nice, intimate lounge to enjoy a quiet pre-dinner cocktail or a late night tete-a-tete. Those just enjoying the bar can order caviar from the dinner menu ($45) to toast one of those very special occasions.

Other food options include free soft-serve ice cream and yogurt in the Freedom Restaurant, and either sushi or tapas served at cocktail hour at the Deck 5 Meiji Sushi Bar. Coffee drinks and pastries are available for a fee at the Viennese Cafe. There is continental breakfast available during breakfast hours through room service, and there is a typical 24-hour menu of snacks, desserts and sandwiches. All room service is free of charge.

Also available on all of Carnival's ships is The Chef's Table dining experience, which affords a dozen passengers a multicourse dinner with a master chef, a private cocktail reception and a tour of the galley and its operations. This dining option usually takes place in a nontraditional venue, such as the galley or library, and it can be booked onboard at the information desk for a per-person cost of $75.

Gratuity

$10 per person per day is automatically charged to guests' shipboard accounts. This amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the purser's desk. Also, passengers can augment the automatic charge with a little extra cash in an envelope. Maitre d's are not included in the $10 daily charge. A gratuity of 15 percent is automatically added to drink orders.

Gratuity

Carnival recommends $11.50 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $5.80 to dining room services, $3.70 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff. An envelope is provided on the last night for those who want to extend thanks to the maitre d'.The 2,974-passenger Carnival Freedom -- the fifth and final incarnation of Carnival Cruise Lines' highly successful Conquest class -- debuted in 2007. Like its Conquest-class sisters, Freedom features a decent ratio of cabins with balconies, a poolside jumbotron, an energetic casino, an ornate three-deck theater, more than a dozen bars and lounges, and a series of shops. The hard-to-please teen set get their own nightclub, too (which is located along the promenade with the rest of the "adult" fare).

Freedom's basic architecture is a conventional sandwich with most public rooms on Decks 3 through 5; most fitness, spa and casual dining on Deck 9 and above; and most passenger cabins in between or below the public room decks. This basic design has been a template for Carnival new-build construction since the introduction of Destiny in 1996. There have been some changes and improvements in attributes and amenities since the class was launched in 2002, most notably the addition of the Seaside Theater, a giant outdoor screen poolside on the Lido Deck (now on almost every Carnival ship), but Freedom suffers from the same passenger-flow bugaboos as do the others in the class. 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.

But what really sets each Conquest-class ship is the design choices, some of which will invariably have you scratching your head, wondering how they came up with an ambience that was at the same time dark and gaudy. Metallic accents are generally in copper rather then the brighter choice of brass. Lighter colors -- beiges, creams and whites -- appear seldom, and then only as accents. Lighting sconces throughout the Freedom Restaurant, the ship's buffet venue, are fashioned from disembodied heads of the Statue of Liberty casting eerie watery light through their translucent blue fiberglass faces. And all over the ship there are banks of pulsating lights that constantly change color.

Patterns from nature are used as major background elements, but as if seen through a distorting filter. For example, in the Millennium Atrium and throughout the public decks, wood paneling with hyper-emphasized grain patterns in bright orange, black and gray proliferates -- looking like the result of a tiger and a zebra falling into a plywood-manufacturing machine. The ceilings and walls in both main restaurants are done in a black and deep red metallic snakeskin pattern.

Zaniness aside, Freedom ultimately gives you what you'd expect from any of the "Fun Ships" -- gambling, dining, partying, lounging and fun for cruisers of all ages.

Dining

Carnival Freedom has four full-meal dining venues. The two main restaurants, Chic and Posh, are situated midship and aft, respectively. The sprawling two-story Freedom Restaurant on the Lido Deck handles breakfast and lunch buffet chores, and provides an alternative casual dining venue at dinnertime. The Sun King, named for Louis XIV, is Freedom's for-fee, upscale alternate nighttime steakhouse.

The Freedom Restaurant, with its repetitive use of the iconic Statue of Liberty, is an open and light space with beaucoup choices for all palates. Morning options begin with early bird Continental breakfasts, followed by typical buffet offerings augmented by several omelet stations. In the main buffet area there are several lines and plenty of room to maneuver with your tray. But guests requiring assistance carrying their food to their table will find availability limited at best. Indoor seating is available on the Lido Deck (Deck 9) and the mezzanine one deck above. Outdoor tables are plentiful around the central pool, or on the fantail surrounding the aft pool, which is topped by a closeable dome.

In addition to the standard lunchtime 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 also tasty steak sandwiches; and a 24/7 pizzeria. Our favorites were a stir fry section, where diners select and fill a bowl with their choice of ingredients and hand it over to a chef who wok-cooks with a choice of sauces, and the Fish & Chips Cafe, which serves Bouillabaisse, shellfish, ahi tuna appetizers, fried oyster sandwiches and grilled fish over green salad -- in addition to its namesake.

Hint: The cafe is tucked away in the corner of the Deck 10 upper level of the restaurant, and many passengers don't discover it till four or five days into the voyage. Our recommendation is to visit it early in the trip when there are no lines. Dinner is also served in the buffet nightly for those who want a casual meal, with selections similar to what's being served in the main dining rooms.

The two main dining rooms are virtually identical in decor. The lower levels of these rooms stretch the entire width of the ship and are open in the middle, allowing those not along the outer walls a quieter and less claustrophobic dining experience. We preferred dining on the upper level as it was less crowded and relatively more intimate. Both dining rooms have numerous banquettes accommodating parties of four, and an adequate number of tables for as many as 10. It should also be noted that Freedom also has a large number of tables for two, more than 30 by our count.

There are two traditional dinner seatings at 6 and 8:15 p.m., or passengers can opt for "Your Time Dining," which offers open seating in one restaurant from 5:45 to 9:30 p.m. for those signed up. Service is friendly, patient, professional and refreshing from a dining room staff that is becoming increasingly Eastern European in makeup. We found the food (salads, soups, mains, desserts) tasty, promptly and accurately served, and usually piping hot. Each dinner menu also included "healthy" courses, and vegetarian selections.

Sun King, located on Deck 10, and isolated from the rest of the ship's nighttime hullabaloo, serves the same fine steakhouse cuisine as its equivalents on other Carnival ships, but lacks an atmosphere of intimacy and refinement. With all the painted-on gold color and crystal chandeliers it feels a bit like dining in the Liberace Museum.

Decor aside, there are still two major attributes that make the Sun King a great diversion. First and foremost is the cuisine; nothing cutting-edge here but if dry-aged prime meat, quality seafood and a great wine list ring your chimes, enough said.

There is a $30 per-person charge to dine here. Reservations are required, but we found the room lightly booked. For those that want to play it safe, there is a signup desk in the lobby on embarkation day right at the end of the gangway. Dress code for the Sun King is "upscale casual" (no jeans, shorts, T-shirts, etc.).

Also available on all of Carnival's ships is The Chef's Table dining experience, which affords a dozen passengers a multicourse dinner with a master chef, a private cocktail reception and a tour of the galley and its operations. This dining option usually takes place in a nontraditional venue, such as the galley or library, and it can be booked onboard at the information desk for a per-person cost of $75.

Other food options include free soft-serve ice cream and yogurt in the Freedom Restaurant, and either sushi or tapas served at cocktail hour at the Deck 5 Meiji Sushi Bar. Coffee drinks and pastries are available for a fee at the Viennese Cafe. There is Continental breakfast available during breakfast hours through room service, and there is a typical 24-hour menu of snacks, desserts and sandwiches. All room service is free of charge.

Public Rooms

Carnival Freedom's central public hub is its eight-deck-high atrium, punctuated by hundreds of color-changing lights, and a stunning glass elevator bank. On the atrium's ground floor, passengers will find the guest services and shore excursion desks, as well as a bar. Adjacent to the "lobby" area are the ship's art gallery and a card room.

Up one deck, passengers will find the tiny Monticello library, which features a smattering of best sellers and the like, and the photo gallery. Climb another flight of stairs to find the Fun Shops, a series of stores selling the obligatory jewelery, duty-free booze and cigs, and Carnival-ia. Passenger can rent formal attire at an adjacent storefront.

The somewhat hidden Internet Cafe is buried inside the Habana Bar, the ship's lounge for cigar aficionados, forcing anyone who wants to use the ship's computers to wade through a miasma of stogie smoke. Fortunately, there is Wi-Fi throughout the ship at the same rate as the Cafe ($0.30 through $0.75 per minute, depending on which package you opt for) so it makes sense to bring a laptop if you're intent on logging on.

Cabins

Carnival's cabin color scheme has become fairly consistent fleetwide, and Carnival Freedom is no exception, with a predominating palette of burnt oranges carried by the upholstery, carpet, bedspread and curtains offset by cream-colored wall panels. Cabinetry, end tables, moldings and other accents are natural-finished wood.

Carnival's cabins are spacious, with the minimum size (of standard inside staterooms) at 185 square ft. Sixty percent of standard outside cabins have balconies, though the smallest at 35 ft. are really too small for enjoying sunning or dining. Some cabins have extended balconies at 60 ft. or wraparounds at 75 ft.; ours had two reclining chairs and a small table, but there wasn't enough space to completely recline either of the chairs.

We found the amount of storage space available in both the bathroom and closets and drawers to be the most generous we've encountered on a mass-market ship. Plush terry robes hang in all cabins. In the bathrooms -- all with stall showers except for suites -- there is a bowl o' promotional samples, the sort that appear in your mailbox about the time Procter & Gamble launches a new product. Our selection included toothpaste, pain relievers, moisturizer and face cream, mouthwash, antacids and disposable razors. Shampoo and body wash dispensers are in the shower stall. One nice inclusion in bathrooms was a swing-out magnifying makeup and shaving mirror.

All include televisions, with satellite feeds of the major networks, CNN and cable movies, a host of infomercial-style offerings hyping everything from onboard shops to spa treatments and shore excursions. There is also a channel devoted to broadcasting talks, activities or 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 good selection of beer, wine, water, juices, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, as well as snacks. Cabin stewards check the fridge once or twice during the cruise and refill as needed.

Suites are slightly less than twice the size of standard cabins at 350 square ft. (275 in cabin, 65 on the balcony), and include the additional amenities of bathtubs and VCRs. One penthouse suite at 430 square ft. (345 in cabin, 85 on the balcony) adds a dressing room with vanity and walk-in closet. There are 18 "family staterooms" with floor to ceiling windows (so parents need not worry about Junior deciding to play "I am the king of the world!" while balancing on the balcony railing). These measure 230 square ft. and are located on Deck 11 (Spa Deck), one deck below the kids' pool area and Camp Carnival.

Prospective passengers should exercise care when booking to avoid nasty surprises. Six Category 5A standard outside staterooms, for example, have portholes rather than windows, a number of Category 6B outside cabins with obstructed views, and a fair number of cabins with twin beds that can't be combined into a single king bed.

Entertainment

Sea days are to Carnival what county fairs are to livestock breeders; they are the stock and trade, the raison d'etre of the enterprise. And nobody does activity-laden sea days better than Carnival. There are pool games like the vaunted hairy chest contest, trivia competitions, bingo, live music, bar-related activities (cocktail tasting), cooking and towel-folding demonstrations, and competitions derived from popular television shows: "Survivor," "Family Feud" and "The Newlywed Game." For those who like to compete on a different level, there are the ubiquitous art auctions where passengers can butt heads to see who can snare the most objets d'art. The few lectures and seminars are really not-so-thinly disguised self-promotional presentations mounted by the boutiques or spa.

Freedom has a complete range of musical offerings from heavily classical to heavy metal. For those who enjoy spending their days soaking up rays around the pools, there's usually a cover band that plays from after lunch till just before dinner. A classical trio holds forth at tea in the Posh Dining Room and before dinner in the lobby. Other choices on our sailing, which are subject to change, included a solo guitarist (who performed just outside the Casino), a jazz trio performing nightly in the Habana Bar, three different duos that performed in the Sun King, and Swingtime Lounge and Lobby Bar after dinner, and a pianist at the rotating piano in the center of Scott's Piano Bar. The International Lounge was home to a nightly round of Karaoke, and the 70's Dance Club was disco-central late nights.

Victoriana, the main show lounge, covers an expanse of three decks. We found a substantial number of seats less than desirable due to intervening columns or being under a claustrophobia-inducing balcony overhang. Seating is in banquettes with small fixed pedestals for drinks, or wide, theater-type seating in the balconies. The name of the lounge is supposed to hark back to the era of Queen Victoria, though with its tented-like ceiling of olive and salmon stripes with cream and gold filigrees, it looked to us more like Buckingham Palace meets Ringling Brothers.

The ship, however, does make good use of the room's capabilities. Though we normally don't review specific productions -- since they change fairly regularly -- we feel compelled to comment on two of the three production shows mounted for our sailing. The first, titled "The Big Easy," paid homage to New Orleans. Not only are the music styles -- jazz, blues, gospel, Zydeco, Dixieland -- of this great city overdue to be made the centerpiece of a cruise ship production extravaganza, but the timing is a real boon to NOLA, which needs to be kept in the public eye to continue generating tourism and awareness. The second show, "Ticket to Ride," is based on the music of the Beatles, and makes the best use of the technological capabilities of a modern cruise ship show lounge we've ever seen. State-of-the-art blending of computer animation with live onstage performance and laser light show effects had our boomer-intensive audience on their feet cheering by the final curtain.

One nice touch: The popular Seaside Theater features films every evening (and concerts and TV shows during the day), complete with freshly-popped popcorn.

In addition to the musical entertainment provided in the lounges, the Babylon Casino does a bang-up job with a slew of slots and just about every table game you've ever encountered. For those who want to get on the real poker (as opposed to "Caribbean Stud," "Let it Ride," and their ilk) there's a new high-tech gizmo which deals Texas Hold 'Em electronically to terminals situated around a typical green felt casino poker table. Guests put a cash deposit at the cashier's cage on a magnetically striped card which they insert into their terminal. There is no human dealer; a central computer deals electronic "cards" and keeps track of the bets. It's true casino poker (without having to tip the dealer) but the action moves at a lightning pace and those without a load of Hold 'Em experience under their belts can see their electronic stake disappear in a heartbeat.

Fitness and Recreation

One innovative architectural attribute of the Conquest class is that the sunning area has been maximized by structuring eight tiered plateaus from just above Deck 10 (Panorama Deck) to the surface of Lido Deck (Deck 9), creating an expanse of space to place chaises. That's not to say it makes enough difference that there isn't still a problem with books and towels mysteriously appearing on lounges at 7 a.m., though no actual guests show up to use the chairs till after 11 a.m. However, we never had a problem finding an empty chaise, even on sea days.

Kids have their own wading pool on Deck 12 (Sun Deck) right outside Camp Carnival. As for adult pools, there are three: two on Deck 9, each with two whirlpool spas, and one on Deck 10, basically a splash pool at the end of the water slide.

Freedom's spa is a Steiner's franchise operation, offering sauna, massage and salon services, with prices ranging from $119 for a 50-minute Swedish massage through $350-plus for a couples teeth whitening treatment, and everything in-between. There is also a fully equipped gym with loads of modern workout machines, free weights and a whole area devoted solely to spinning. The facility faces forward, offering dramatic views through picture windows.

Other fitness options include a jogging track on Deck 11 (Spa Deck) with nine circuits equaling a mile, and basketball and volleyball courts. There is a golf-driving cage, and instruction is offered through the ship's onboard golf program; for those whose golf horizons are more limited, there is a nine-hole miniature golf course.

Family

Along with Royal Caribbean, Carnival sets the gold standard for family vacations, both in programming and in physical facilities. Kids are broken into groups by age. There are three groups under the Camp Carnival banner, ranging from preschool to preteen (2 through 5, 6 through 8, and 9 through 11). There is an additional young teen group for 12- through 14-year-olds. A new program, Club O2, has been developed in conjunction with Coca-Cola, for older teens (15 through 17 years old).

Generally, the younger the group, the more their activities are conducted in the Camp Carnival playroom; the youngest ones are there for 90 percent of their supervised activities; the Club O2 kids' programs range the entire extent of the ship. The playroom measures 4,200 square ft. and features a video wall displaying nonstop movies and cartoons, a soft play area for under-2's (admitted only for supervised nighttime group babysitting), and ample space and equipment for arts and crafts -- everything from the standbys of papier mache and painting to devices that make spin and sand art, and even candy.

For preteens and teens there's the 1,800-square-ft. Club O2 Teen Club facility featuring a huge video arcade, a non-alcoholic bar, and dance club with its own D.J. On port days there are "just for teens" shore excursions for the 12- through 17-year-olds, and, in selected ports, Carnival offers "Family Shore Excursions"; however, this is more a matter of marketing than substance, since the experiences on these excursions differed little from those offered on the standard list, at least on our Eastern Mediterranean sailing. One popular aspect is the youth spa program where kids aged 12 through 14 can enjoy spa treatments together with their parents on port days.

Dining options in the formal dining rooms include the usual kids' menus and a daily kids' special. Kids can also dine nightly with the youth counselors sans parents in the Freedom Restaurant.

Group babysitting (which is available to under-2's) is available nightly at a rate of $6 per hour for the first child and $4 per hour for each addition child from the same family.

Fellow Passengers

Expect a casual, largely American group with high energy and a penchant for having fun. Caribbean sailings generally attract the younger end of the scale -- Carnival estimates only 30 percent over 55 -- and feature a healthy blend of Carnival loyalists and first-timers.

Dress Code

Casual. Though blue jeans are now off the verboten list, shorts and T-shirts are still unacceptable at dinner -- but that's about it. Even Sun King does not have a dress code beyond the vague "dressy casual." There are two cruise elegant nights, and a decent percentage of passengers go to the formal end of the scale: men in suits or tuxedos, women in cocktail dresses and evening gowns.

Gratuity

Carnival recommends $11.50 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $5.80 to dining room services, $3.70 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff.

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