This was my third Caribbean cruise, my first with kids, and it did not disappoint.
We went on an eight night Caribbean cruise from Port Everglades, Florida, visiting St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, Antigua, Tortola in the British Virgin Islands and Nassau in the Bahamas on the Carnival Freedom. We also had three full days at sea and some half days. This post is mainly about our days at sea and our overall thoughts about our cruise on the Carnival Freedom. You can read our other posts about each of our island stops, our experiences of cruising with a “baby” and a three year old and how we got to Port Everglades from Miami Beach.
We thought it was a great length of time to be on a Caribbean cruise with a good mix of sea and shore days. The islands were also a good mix, and it was nice to be able to try three new destinations.
The days at sea on the Carnival Freedom went far too fast. They always finished with me exhausted and wondering what I actually did to end up so tired.
We filled our time eating, playing at Camp Carnival, using the pools, wandering around, dancing to live music, napping and doing some of the onboard activities. It is a lovely existence. We also went to a couple of evening shows, although the first one was usually at 8:30pm which is already late for us.
It was easy to find things to do that catered to all our ages. For example, on the last full day at sea on our Caribbean cruise, S and I had an awesome time on deck swimming, eating yummy Indian food, eating frozen yoghurt (her), drinking frozen cocktails (me), dancing… It had a party atmosphere that was suitable for all ages and I’ve never had such an enjoyable time with kids where I still felt like I was in the adult world.
We were actually surprised by how spacious our cabin was on the Carnival Freedom.
We expected to be squished into a tiny room, but it was actually spacious. There was plenty of space for us and our luggage. They are very well designed, so we easily found a home for everything and it was nice to be fully unpacked for 8 nights.
We stayed in an outside cabin on our Caribbean cruise. We had booked the cheapest class of outside cabin – in this class you are guaranteed an outside cabin, but you have no say of which one. This is the second time we have done this and it has worked out well. Last time, we were lucky enough to be upgraded to a balcony. This time we weren’t that lucky, but we did get a great outside cabin that would have cost a fair bit more than what we paid. It was on deck one, but this was fine with us. I don’t actually understand why higher decks are seen as preferable as I find it far less rocky on the lower ones.
Our cabin on the Carnival Freedom had a queen size bed, a single bed, and an upper bunk bed in the ceiling which could be pulled down in the evenings. The single bed is along a wall like a couch. We didn’t use the upper bunk as Z slept in his travel cot. There was plenty of floor space for this, and we would stuff it under the beds when we weren’t using it. There is also a functional bathroom, lots of cupboard space, a TV and a fridge.
The TV was useless for the first part of the cruise. Apart from some channels about Carnival cruises, shore excursions etc, they had three movie channels which play the same movies every day and look really dodgy – like they are cheap Chinese knocks offs. The only kids one was the chipmunks. Lucky we have an iPad for when we have to try to force S to have some down time.
Overall, the food was very good on our Carnival Caribbean cruise.
The main places we ate were the main buffet and the main dining room. The main dining room is the fine dining option, and we loved it. We usually ate dinner here and sometimes lunch too. The staff were friendly and helpful and provided things like crayons and activity sheets for the kids. We actually found this setting easier than the buffet since we didn’t have to try to leave the kids to get food. I did enjoy the Indian food outlet a few times as well.
For breakfast, we would order the included room service. It is just too easy not to. We remembered ordering hot food last time, but we were limited to cereals and bread items this time. This was fine and I enjoyed starting every day with a cream cheese, tomato and salmon bagel. I am definitely getting into this American bagel thing.
We tried our best to be as healthy as possible, and I think we did a reasonable job, so it is possible to do a cruise and not purge on bad food. I definitely ate more than usual though, and I felt a bit ill from too much chocolate melting cake on occasion.
Water, tea, coffee, hot chocolate and some cordial is included in the Carnival Caribbean cruise price; you have to pay for everything else. On Carnival cruises you are allowed to bring onboard a bottle of wine per adult and up to 12 small drinks per person. Given my Pepsi Max addiction, we brought on 24 cans of Pepsi Max and Diet Coke as well as two bottles of wine.
The drinks are a very reasonable price. My favourite cocktail was absolutely delicious and only $7.50 plus 15% gratuity. It is called a mango swirl and is a “swirl” of frozen mango daiquiri and frozen pina colada. Delicious!
The first two days on our Caribbean cruise were rocky. So much so that it wasn’t pleasant to be on deck (very windy) and the water slide was shut on the first day and the show cancelled on the second. J felt a bit ill one afternoon and I did one evening (or maybe it was just too much chocolate melting cake). The kids were unaffected.
We enjoyed the Carnival Freedom. It is a big ship, although we had envy when we saw a bigger Carnival ship in one of the ports which had the water park on top – now that would have been great. We had a few minor problems – the biggest being when the battery died on the swipe card lock on our room so we couldn’t get back in! This took too much mucking around to fix, but otherwise the whole experience on the Carnival Freedom was fantastic.
One of the things I liked most about our Caribbean cruise experience was how happy the staff appeared and how friendly they were. Within a few days, many people seemed to know our names, especially S (not surprising as her red hair got her constant attention, even other guests started remembering us). The service overall was fabulous. We were especially happy with the staff at Camp Carnival. S fell in love with this place (more about Camp Carnival).
Read some cruise tips n tricks.
The Carnival Caribbean cruise cost about $1900 for the four of us. I think this is a bargain, and it’s only just over our $200 a day budget. If we had picked an inside cabin instead, we could have kept to our $200 a day. There is no discount for kids, so it would be the same price for any group of four sharing a cabin. It is far cheaper than any cruise I have seen in Australia which is why I keep coming back to the Caribbean to cruise.
It is also necessary to budget for gratuities. On this cruise, the recommended amount is $11.50 a day per person aged 3 and over. This obviously adds up and cost us $276. This is automatically added to your bill unless you go and explain why you want to change it. I am happy with this system as it makes it much easier for people like us who don’t understand tipping. We also tipped the people who would bring us room service a couple of dollars and there would be a tip added to any drinks bill.
On top of the cruise cost and gratuities, we budgeted $50 per island and $50 overall for the cruise for incidentals. This $50 went on our transport to the cruise ($28), a tip on arrival for someone to take care of our bags ($5) and our washing ($6) with a little bit to spare. We did our washing on board which was very easy as there are laundry facilities on most levels. We bought some cocktails using leftover money from our shore days.
This means that in total, our 8 nights cruising and all food and activities cost us about $2426 – so about $300 a day. We justified this extra cost when we booked it at home in Australia after we received a bigger tax return than expected. With an inside cabin and no extras, we could have got by on about $230 a day.
We continue to just love cruising. We loved both the shore and sea days. We loved the Carnival Freedom, all the food, our room, the entertainment, everything. We especially enjoyed doing our own thing on shore days. We usually did shore excursions on our previous Caribbean cruises, and we actually found this less enjoyable than exploring by ourselves.
We loved it so much that we came very close to cutting back our Deep South road trip so that we could do another cruise while we were in the US. It was very tempting. I just wish that cruises were such good value in Australia, so we could do far more of them. I have no doubt we will do another Caribbean cruise next time we are in the US.
Have you ever been on a Caribbean cruise? What did you think? Any questions?
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