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Stepping onboard the 2,974-passenger Carnival Freedom with its additional 2.0 features is like opening a new book by a favorite author — you have confidence in the experience and you can’t wait to get into it.
After a 15-day, $10 million refurbishment, Freedom now offers more than a dozen new branded experiences found on the recent Carnival Sunshine and Breeze. The ship is also home to new family facilities and programming which will eventually be extended to the rest of the Carnival fleet.
Camp Carnival has been transformed into Camp Ocean, using the same space as before but with a clear configuration for different age groups, which they protect fiercely. Staff explained that the Sharks (ages nine through 11) loudly protest if a Stingray (cruisers between six and eight) enter their area. An enchanting space with an interactive igloo is home to the Penguins (ages two to five). More than 200 new activities are offered in Camp Ocean and most of them are sea-oriented. For example, the Penguins might play a game of ocean-themed bingo while the Stingrays make sea salt art.
Freedom is also the first vessel to have the dedicated Dr. Seuss Bookville space, filled with books, toys and games inspired by the author’s classic stories. The Seuss at Sea partnership also brought a huge procession of families together to parade through the ship with noisemakers, signs and cutouts of The Cat in the Hat, Thing 1 and Thing 2 and Sam. The event ended with an animated interactive reading of “The Cat in the Hat.” The Seuss at Sea program is being rolled out through the Carnival fleet and will be on all 24 ships by 2015; Camp Ocean will be onboard all ships by 2016.
Senior vice president of marketing Jim Berra noted that, with 700,000 kids sailing on Carnival ships each year, youth is a cornerstone of the product, along with entertainment and dining.
Freedom passengers lost no time whatsoever lining up for Guy Fieri’s burgers. According to Berra, Guy’s Burger Joint is getting even higher guest satisfaction ratings than the steakhouse. There’s also the option of having a beer at the RedFrog Pub, scarfing down a custom-made burrito at the poolside BlueIguana Cantina and Tequila Bar or quenching your thirst with a “perscription” at the Alchemy Bar, inspired by similar operations in New York and London. Guests can create their own drinks here, too.
Some of the changes made on Freedom were driven by observation of guest usage. For instance, more cardio machines have been added to the fitness center to accommodate the volume of guests. On our June cruise, the center was often busy but guests did not have to wait for the machines.
There is a limit to what can be done without the drastic renovation that produced Carnival Sunshine, but the team has been extremely creative in bringing all possible features onboard Freedom. Entertainment choices have been updated, too: The four new Playlist shows, featuring high-energy productions in half an hour, allow guests to enjoy more than one offering in a night.
“We are trying every imaginable creative solution, seeing whether we can add a space by pivoting it and standing it on its side, moving it here or there, and installing it within the time frame of a drydock,” said Lania Rittenhouse, Carnival vice president of product development.
With all its new features, Freedom currently sails five- to eight-day Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. In 2015, Freedom will be Carnival’s third ship in Galveston, which Berra described as the second largest homeport for Carnival, behind Miami.
“Texans are fun loving, and they have no problem driving several hours, if need be, to the ship,” he said. “We’re drawing more than half from Texas, but also from the Missouri Valley and, although we expect future growth to be primarily from Texas, we anticipate that a lot will come from the Midwest.”
Three ships — Freedom, the 3,690-passenger Carnival Magic and the 2,754-passenger Carnival Triumph — will be deployed in rotation from Galveston on cruises to the Bahamas and the Caribbean.