Oh, the stories I could tell about the cruises I took with friends throughout our twenties and early thirties! Starting around 1995 right up until 2001, I cruised on Carnival nearly every year with friends, and did we have a good time! (Such a good time, in fact, that when we showed up on a cruise one year, we found that much of the crew had moved there from the ship we sailed on the year before – including the piano bar musician and our favorite deck waiter – who remembered us from the year before.
Let’s just say we had a really great time on all those Carnival cruises.
Perhaps because of the stories I have told, my husband was hesitant to try a Carnival cruise. We had also cruised as a couple on a different line the year before we were married, and together we had taken the kids on several cruises already: two of the Mouse persuasion and one multigenerational river cruise in Europe while we were living there. We had a great time, but I think he questioned that it might have too much an adult party atmosphere based on the trips I’d taken in the past.
However, this trip we would be traveling during spring break, which equated to a more family environment, and I assured him there would be something for everyone.
Much to my delight, while some things had changed a bit, it was just as fun as I remembered (only without the accompanying hangover this time around) and his concerns were quickly laid to rest. We spent our spring break aboard the Carnival Freedom, sailing out of Galveston and to the ports of Roatan, Belize and Cozumel.
I sat on deck as we sailed off, a frozen drink in hand, and sent a picture to some of my former cruise companions. “Hey, they still make a Miami Vice”, one responded. (It’s half strawberry daiquiri, half piña colada, and I highly recommend it.)
And many things were still the same – dancing on deck, laughing at the hairy chest contest (much more respectable), playing miniature golf on deck, watching evening shows in the theater, towel animals on our beds. I even fit in a round of “Sweet Caroline” in the piano bar for old times sake!
And much was improved. The decor was toned down, portion sizes are more reasonable, allowing you to indulge in all three courses without feeling stuffed. The buffet lines at lunch time were ample and there were healthier options to be found. Food options are broader now with the addition of things like Guy Burger Joint (yummy), the Mongolian Wok at lunch time (where I found my veggie fix), or the Blue Iguana Cantina offering breakfast burritos in the morning and tacos and burritos at lunch. The flexible dining option meant we weren’t tied to a single dining time. And the wood fired pizza? It was a huge hit with all of us.
So were all the employees we encountered on board – everyone was friendly and helpful. And I have to admit – it was the fastest embarkation/debarkation process I have ever experienced with an ocean cruise. We were pretty amazing at how quick and painlessly Carnival handled the process.
But what I really love about cruising is that there is something for everyone, and this trip didn’t disappoint. My kids (and my husband) spent quite a bit of time on the water slide, allowing me some quiet time to stretch out with a book in the sun. We had no struggles to find a deck chair on the Freedom, surprisingly – something that I haven’t encountered in a while on other ships.
While my son and husband hit the sports deck to play basketball or soccer, my daughter and I would hit bingo. She was a demon with the dabber.
She was also a demon on the dance floor! One of her favorite evenings was the very first, where the entertainers took the dancing from the stage into the Lobby bar, and then proceeded to hit every other bar and club on the boat (the only time during the cruise she would really be able to hang out in an 18+ club). I can honestly say I’ve never done the Wobble, the Electric Slide or any other line dance as much as I did that week – but we had a blast, and she loved it.
The other thing that was a wonder to see was my husband dancing with her. He’s a busy guy and he works hard, and long hours, so it was a joy to see him truly relax, kick back and have fun.
The entertainment staff was wonderful, and I have cruise director Malcolm to thank for the “come HEEEEEERE” that I still hear from the kids when they need something.
In the Punchliners Comedy Club, they offered shows that were both PG-13 so the younger set could come along (a big hit with my son) and adult-only shows later at night. Actually, there was so much going on, I didn’t get to do everything I would have liked. In fact, I’ve been following along with my friend Michele from Honest and Truly on her Instagram account as her family cruises this week, and I’m surprised/not-surprised with how many fun things her family has enjoyed this week which make it a totally different cruise!
Our well-researched port excursions were a blast. While on past family trips we’ve tended to do our own thing when we hit port, this time we let Carnival do all the work! In Roatan we took a boat to Maya Key, where we snorkeled, swam, did some stand-up paddle boarding, and had a really wonderful buffet lunch before returning back to port. In Cozumel we went to Dolphin Discovery at Channukkab Park and swam with the dolphins. It was truly a bucket list experience for me to be able to interact with these beautiful creatures in the ocean.
Bad weather hindered dropping anchor in Belize, but the crew was quick to put together a full entertainment schedule for the ship as we plowed on to Cozumel. It was disappointing, but I’m always a fan of safety first – and appreciate the honesty with which Malcolm addressed the questions on the situation at a later Q&A session. Since the Belize day was Miss M’s 10th birthday, we were quick to head to the spa to book her a special birthday mani-pedi instead.
We also joined in a bags tournament in the Red Frog Pub, played a bit more bingo, maybe ate too much soft serve and even hung out on our balcony. While the port itself was a bust, we had a pretty remarkable day together as a family.
What was a real delight, too, was the opportunities it presented to the kids. For Miss M, it was the chance to try a LOT of dishes that she normally won’t try at home for me. She became a total carnivore on board, trying rabbit, prime rib, filet, and flat-iron steak off Carnival’s American Table and American Feast menus.
She also challenged the entertainment staff to try a difficult tap step, and earned herself a medal. She proved herself to be quite a joiner that week.
The Boy is a quiet one and passed on the Circle C most of the time, choosing instead to jump in with soccer kickarounds on the sports deck, and he met a few kids to hang out with that way. On Maya Key, he tried standup paddle boarding (more on that in an upcoming post) and walked away hooked. We’ll be sure to be doing that at the Outer Banks this summer.
Best of all its a great value for the money – with room and food included, it beats our beach rental hands down, cost wise – and I don’t have to grocery shop, cook OR do laundry at all.
That’s a win for any mom, right there.
Being together on board for a solid week gave us a lot of time to just hang out and do nothing – and that’s a rare occasion around here, too. Really, a cruise is all about the attitude you have when you go on board, and what you choose to make of it.
And that hasn’t changed at all in the time since I last cruised Carnival, either.
I can’t wait until our next adventure with them!
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*This post was not sponsored by Carnival. I’m just a cruise fanatic that wants to share my family’s experience with you.*