A Passport to Fun

Carnival Freedom is a hit in the Mediterranean

By: Anita Dunham-Potter

This is the first Image
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.

This is the second Image
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 cosmopolitan ambience.

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.)

This is the second Image
A Beatles tribute is one of the entertainment
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 ports.

This is the second Image
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 travel.


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.