Carnival Freedom’s itinerary provides an
up-close view of the famous volcano
on Stromboli, Italy.
Can a cruise line known for promoting a jovial “Fun Ship”
atmosphere make it in the sophisticated Mediterranean cruise
market? Can two American kids and their mom survive a 12-day
whirlwind tour of Europe? After cruising the Mediterranean with my
two young daughters aboard the Carnival Freedom, the answer is yes,
on both counts.
The Carnival Freedom is Carnival Cruise Lines’ second entry into
European waters. Eager to see how the ship would fare on the other
side of the Atlantic, I signed up for the Freedom’s Mediterranean
& Greek Isles cruise, with port calls in Italy, Greece and
Turkey. I also signed up my two daughters, ages 10 and 13. After
all, Carnival ships have a well-earned reputation for being
family-friendly. I wanted to see if we could combine a great family
vacation with an edifying European tour. Would it be fun and
educational, or would it be an adventure we’d soon regret?
It looked good from the get-go. The cruise had a promising, if
ambitious, itinerary: Naples, Italy; Rhodes, Greece; Izmir
(Ephesus) and Istanbul, Turkey, featuring scenic cruising of the
Dardanelles; Athens and Katakolon, Greece; and Livorno
(Pisa/Florence), Italy. It also offered 99 shore excursions, so the
education and culture angles were covered. The passengers’ age
range looked promising for family fun, too. A quick scan of the
morning buffet line revealed that this group was decades younger
than those I’ve sailed with on other Mediterranean cruises. In
fact, Freedom was packed with families, and there were plenty of
couples and groups in their 30s and 40s.
The Carnival Freedom
debuted in Europe in 2007.
As the newest SuperLiner in the Fun Ship fleet, Carnival Freedom
offers a host of amenities, including 100 percent “bow-to-stern”
wireless Internet, cell-phone service and a 270-square-foot LED
screen on the Lido Deck. The vessel also boasts 22 lounges and bars
featuring dramatic interiors inspired by prominent design themes
and styles of the past decades and centuries.
The ship offers some of the most spacious staterooms at sea and
includes a diverse selection of affordable accommodations featuring
private balconies. All staterooms will feature the new Carnival
Comfort Bed sleep system with plush mattresses, luxurious duvets
and high-quality linens and pillows.
Dining options include two formal restaurants with extensive
menus and wine lists, a 1,400-seat casual poolside eatery featuring
a 24-hour pizzeria that was a big hit with the kids, and a terrific
reservations-only supper club. All Carnival Freedom dining venues
feature Georges Blanc Signature Selections created by the
world-renowned French master chef. The shipboard activities are
equally varied, offering diversions from morning until well into
the night. All this unfolds against the casual, carefree and
energetic vibe that Carnival is famous for, and to my delight,
worked surprisingly well in contrast with Europe’s more
The itinerary was so ambitious that we found it hard to enjoy
everything the ship had to offer. Thank goodness for the three Fun
Days at Sea, which I used to catch my breath, sleep in, relax by
the pool or stay out late. (Most guests are so exhausted from
touring that staying up into the wee hours is difficult.)
A Beatles tribute is one of the
highlights aboard the ship.
The priority, of course, is to take in all those great port stops.
Let’s face it: The whole point of flying all the way to Europe is,
well, to see Europe. Freedom’s port-packed schedule certainly
allows you to do that. Just take a deep breath first, especially if
you are traveling with children.
A European cruise exposes kids to a variety of cultures along
with important museums, cathedrals, ruins, architecture and other
must-see attractions. My daughters experienced firsthand the
Pantheon, the Parthenon, Pompeii and Ephesus. We roamed around
Rome, saw the Vatican and gawked endlessly at the Sistine Chapel.
We also observed prayers at Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, got lost in the
Grand Bazaar and climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Fortunately, Carnival offers family-friendly shore excursions
and I found these to be truly terrific, particularly in colorful
destinations such as Istanbul and Naples. Of course, all this was
seasoned with socializing and making new friendships on board.
Your clients will be interested to know that sailing Carnival in
Europe is entirely different from sailing Carnival in the
Caribbean. The infamous “Hair Chest Contest” made it across the
Atlantic, as did some other silly Carnival fun and games. And the
lines were just as long in Europe, both at the buffet and for
boarding the ship after a long day of touring, but they didn’t seem
to frustrate anyone because of the crew’s efficiency. On our
voyage, the embarkation and disembarkation process was flawless and
something I wish Carnival could replicate in its domestic
Passengers dance away with a local folk
dancer troupe in Katakolon, Greece.
Another interesting factor to note is that the passenger mix was
pretty unique on this itinerary. Among the 3,400 people on board,
some 20 nationalities were represented. After a round of bingo in
the Victoriana Theater one evening, I talked with a woman from
Japan about finding interesting treasures in Istanbul’s Grand
Bazaar. In the Jacuzzi, I met a family from New Zealand who said
this was the best vacation they’d ever had. On the ship’s jogging
track, I met walkers from Minneapolis and Moscow; we traded tales
of cold-climate walking and reveled in the Mediterranean views as
we slogged around the track.
The bottom line for Carnival Freedom’s European sailings:
They’re ideal for enthusiastic travelers who would like a quick
taste of the best of the Mediterranean on a budget. If your clients
can handle the rigorous schedule and don’t want to waste a single
minute, this cruise is a good recommendation, especially for family
The Carnival Freedom will be based in Miami through the end of
April, sailing seven-day Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises;
prices begin at $569. The ship will sail in Europe from May through
October. Prices for the 12-day roundtrip voyages from Civitavecchia
(Rome) begin at $1,199 per person, with special rates for third and
fourth guests in the same stateroom. Carnival also offers roundtrip
airfares from a variety of North American gateways, as well as pre-
and post-cruise land packages in Rome.