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Carnival Freedom Caribbean Cruise Review

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Nelson recently came home from a 7-night Caribbean cruise aboard Carnival Freedom out of Galveston, Texas.  This is his full review.

Pre-Cruise Thoughts:

Initially my wife and I had decided we were not going to do a cruise for our anniversary due to us already being booked for a cruise this upcoming December. After checking into several different options they were just more expensive than going on a cruise and didn’t sound nearly as fun. We originally had decided to do the 5-day cruise on Carnival Valor but when we went to book it was totally full. We ended up landing on Carnival Freedom due to port at Key West, Florida; Freeport, Bahamas; and Nassau, Bahamas. We choose this cruise mainly due to the ports. I’ve always wanted to go to Key West as well as go more eastern as we’ve only done western Caribbean cruises.

Embarkation:

So we made the crazy (and not smart) decision to leave Saturday morning which is the same day as we were supposed to embark. We got up at 3 am (which is the normal time that I go into work) and left the house at 4 am. It took us exactly 8 hours and 3 minutes to drive from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Galveston. I think it was like 520 miles but was all major highways. We arrived at 12:03 pm but weren’t scheduled to get on board until 1:30 – 2:00pm. We did a little sight-seeing around Galveston and then got to the port at 1:47. It took us exactly 20 minutes and 37 seconds from the time we arrived at the port until the time we stepped foot on the ship. Embarkation went extremely smoothly.

Stateroom:

We ended up getting a balcony room and were on the 10th deck on the starboard side. It’s just a regular size room but for two people it was plenty of room as far as storage and the balcony. We did get our extension cord confiscated so that was unfortunate. There are only two outlets in the room and it’s not convenient but we managed.

Food:

So here is where there is a little mix of bad and good. The first night of the cruise we chose to do the Sun King Steakhouse specialty restaurant. We’ve sailed the Freedom before and have done the steakhouse and it was a tremendous experience. This time not so much. To be quite frank it was terrible. The salad came out warm and the steak came out cold. The steaks weren’t tender and were overcooked. I was really disappointed.

Sun King Steakhouse

Now onto the good stuff. Guy’s Burgers and BlueIguana Cantina were amazing as always. The dining room was by far the best food I’ve had on a cruise ever. I am not a big fan of the American Feast menu but on this cruise it was extremely good. Also, my wife and I were sat with a young couple celebrating their 1 year anniversary and we were celebrating our 13th. We really hit it off with this couple and we had a blast at dinner each night with them. Overall the food was a hit minus the one night.

Entertainment:

This is another mixed bag of good and bad. The main entertainment in the main theater was the Playlist Productions. I’ve seen most of these shows before and I could take them or leave them but this group of singers just weren’t that good. So a little disappointing but they made up for it; there was a band onboard that is by far the best band I’ve ever heard at sea. I think they are called Run For Cover and they just added two singers to the band a month or so ago and they were amazing. The male singer in particular was incredible. As the week progressed they became more and more popular. By the end of the week they would have as many or more people listening to them as was in the main theatre. After the shows the singers and dancers and other staff would come and listen to this band. They were really good!

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Ship Flow:

We had really, really rough start to the beginning of the cruise and they pretty much had everything shut down on Saturday evening and all day Sunday, so that kind of put a damper on the beginning of the cruise. We thought it was fixing to get better on Sunday afternoon but then the captain came on and said the next 12 hours would be even worse than we had been experiencing. So on Sunday everyone just seemed to be walking around trying to find things to do. We ended up having an extra sea day because they had to cancel the port stop at Key West. That was big bummer because that was the reason we booked but it didn’t ruin anything for us. Once they decided to cancel, the ship slowed way down and the rest of the week was incredibly smooth. I never had to wait in line for anything the rest of the week. It wasn’t extremely warm so the pools weren’t really that crowded so there was a nice balance between people being inside and outside.

Atrium

Port Stops:

Key West – Canceled

Freeport – We didn’t do anything here as we had heard it was the Progreso of the eastern Caribbean. We just did a little shopping and hung out around the outside of the ship for a while.

Nassau – I fell in love with Nassau. I had heard it was nice but I was amazed at its beauty. We ended up doing a 2 ½ hour private tour that we payed $90 for just the two of us. She took us all around the island showing us the rich part and the poor parts. Then she took us over to Atlantis and let us hang out there for a while. We really enjoyed our time in Nassau.

Debarkation:

To put it frankly debarkation was terrible. I had heard bad stories about Galveston and the horrors of their debarkation process. We’ve sailed out of Galveston 4 or 5 times and it’s always been smooth. We decided to do self-assist because we were assured that this would be the quickest process. Well it wasn’t! Our checked luggage got called way before our self-assist floor was called. When we were called it took over 45 minutes to get through the line. I think we ended up hanging out on one of the floors for over 2 hours before we were called. Of course, I was in a rush to get home because I had to be at practice at 7 pm so that probably added to the frustrations.

Although there were a couple of negative things, the overall experience was great! We had a really good time and you just have to overlook the negatives and focus on the positives to have a great cruise vacation.

Photos courtesy of Heather Baxter.

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Review: Antigua’s Beachlimerz Bar & Restaurant

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Ever find a place you loved so much you want to tell anyone… and at the same time, you want to keep it to yourself so as to avoid it becoming too popular? That’s exactly the experience I recently had visiting Beachlimerz in Antigua.

How We Wound Up At Beachlimerz

Having never been to Antigua before, I didn’t really have any idea what to expect, and I certainly had no plans. Friends and I decided we wanted to go to the beach and — given that the island boasts 365 of them — started trying to figure out which one we’d hit. One member of the group didn’t want to travel far from where we were docking (in St. John), so we narrowed our search and found several positive reviews about a place called Beachlimerz.

Beachlimerz sells a limited number of passes, so the area never feels crowded.

From the start, this place felt right. I emailed the manager, Gail, to get info and she was as helpful as she was friendly. She explained that they had a pay-as-you-go plan as well as a day-pass which offered a couple drinks, lunch, beach chairs and umbrellas. We wound up going with that option, which was $65 per person, and paid half as a deposit to reserve our spot.

Fast-forward a few months and we arrive in Antigua on a lovely day. Gail had pre-arranged a taxi using a service she knew and trusted, Sammy’s Taxi Tours & Rental Service. We met our driver, Hilarie, at a designated location on the Heritage Quay at 9:30, and within about 15 minutes, we’d arrived at Beachlimerz.

You know how sometimes, you take people to your favorite restaurant and the place happens to have an off night? You feel crappy because you recommended the place. Well, by the time we got to Beachlimerz, our group had swelled from 3 to 11 people thanks to Facebook postings, and I was terrified… what if I’d booked us into some dive? But when the cab pulled up in front of Beachlimerz, and you could see the beautiful beach in the distance, the sighs of contentment I heard assured me this was gonna be okay.

Thanks to its location, Beachlimerz’ beach feels private and exclusive.

Gail and Marvelous, the bartender who definitely earns the nickname, approached with rum punches and big smiles. I swear, with the palm trees blowing in the gentle wind and the sound of the waves crashing on shore, I half expected one of them to pull a Mr. Roarke and declare, “Welcome to Fantasy Island!”

READ MORE: 7 Great Things To Do In Antigua

It turns out that Beachlimerz is a really laid-back bar/restaurant located on the far end of Fort James Beach. There are about 16 lounge chairs and umbrellas available for rental, and the location couldn’t be better. Because Beachlimerz is at the end of the beach, you not only have privacy but also something of a cove area. I walked the length of the beach — and it goes on for quite a ways — to another spot where people could rent chairs and umbrellas and, as these pictures show, the difference was striking. As in… crowds there, no crowds where we were!

The other end of Fort James beach was far more crowded than where we were parked for the day.

A short walk away is the abandoned Fort James for which the beach is named, and if you happen to be a cannon buff (as one of the girls in our group was), this is definitely worth checking out, as there are several dotting the property. And while we hung mostly at the treehouse-like bar or on the beach, Beachlimerz also has a front area would would be the perfect spot for a party. (One of the employees told me that only a few weeks before our February visit, they’d hosted a wedding, and I can’t think of a more beautiful spot in which to exchange vows.)

The bar at Beachlimerz feels a lot like a treehouse… although the one you hung out in as a kid probably didn’t serve drinks!

Now, this being the Caribbean, I’m not going to say that the service was necessarily the fastest. (To “lime”, by the way, means “to hang out and chill in an informal setting.”) But between Marvelous, fellow bartender Nathan and Mel, the charming-as-hell waitress, our group was definitely taken care of.

Lunch Is Served!

Our package included lunch, which was a platter featuring chicken, ribs, fish, potatoes, rice and veggies, followed by an amazing coconut bread pudding dessert with a rum sauce. I paid extra for an order of conch fritters and was really glad I did… they were awesome, and I consider it a crime to go to a restaurant in the Caribbean and not have at least one conch dish!

The included lunch was good, not great… but the conch fritters were amazing!

The waves were pretty big that day, but that didn’t keep most of us from taking a swim. And those who didn’t swim strolled down the beach, a few taking advantage of just how perfect an occasion this was for a little romantic hand holding.

Beachlimerz features an array of specialty drinks, including the Bob Marley… sort of a multicolored slushy with alcohol!

At 3 p.m., Hilarie’s son picked us up and delivered us back to the dock early enough that anyone who wanted to do a little quick shopping could, while the rest of us headed back to the ship.

Like I said at the beginning, Beachlimerz is a place I’m sort of reluctantly sharing, because I know I’ll be coming back… and I don’t want to have trouble getting a good spot! But I’m pretty sure if I email Gail, she’ll take care of me… just like she’ll take good care of you.

For more on Beachlimerz, visit their website by clicking here.

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BEFORE YOU GO

Review: Holland America Line’s Pinnacle Grill

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On every cruise line, there are specialty restaurants that you really look forward to. You might even save them for a special occasion or your final night on the ship, just to end the cruise on a high note. For me, the Pinnacle Grill – featured on many Holland America ships – is one of those restaurants. During a recent trip on the ms Eurodam, I swung by for dinner one night.

Making Pinnacle Grill Reservations 

There are a couple of different ways to make dining reservations for the Pinnacle Grill. You can dial 88 from your cabin’s telephone,  stop by the restaurant’s front desk and see a hostess, or make a reservation via the app when you’re logged onto the shipboard Navigator, which is free to use when connected to the ship’s internet.

The cost is $35 per person, and trust me when I say you should definitely make a reservation. This place is popular, and it fills up fast. We went to make reservations on a Sunday and found that there was nothing available until Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m. Proving that beggars can’t be choosers, we immediately booked the table… and then looked forward to it all week.

Scouting the Menu 

Pinnacle Grill

Photo: Holland America Line

Long before we dined at the Pinnacle Grill, I was stalking the menu. I viewed it online, I stopped by the restaurant during the week to check it out in person and then, when finally we sat down for dinner, I continued mulling over the choices. Everything on the menu sounded amazing, and I suspected I might even wind up getting two entrees. They charge an additional $15 for a second entree, but sometimes, a guy’s just got to splurge… especially in a steakhouse.

The choices weren’t going to be any easier when it came to the appetizers either. Among those that jumped out at me? The lobster bisque, the jumbo shrimp cocktail, and the spinach salad.

The main course section of the menu features entrees divided up by “land” and “sea.” On the land side, you’ll find exactly what you’d expect, with options like steak, pork chops, and lamb. There are also vegetarian options, including wild mushroom ravioli. (But come on… what kind of sadist takes a vegetarian to a steakhouse?) And if you really have an appetite, you can go for the President’s Cut. Weighing in at 36 ounces, this bone-in rib eye (a cut hand-selected by Holland America’s president, Orlando Ashford) comes at an upcharge of $59 and is big enough to be shared. (Unless you’re really, really, really hungry, in which case… have at it!)

Over on the sea side of the menu, there’s lobster, shrimp scampi, Alaskan King crab legs and more. Dessert options include a Not-So Baked Alaska with Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, creme brûlée, souffle and ice creams.

Read More: Holland America’s Pinnacle Grill Menu

The Pinnacle Grill Dining Experience 

Pinnacle Grill

We got to the Pinnacle Grill at 6:30 p.m. and were seated immediately. Entering the dining room, I noticed that most of the spaces allocated to booths are more intimate and reserved for couples. Four guys with appetites? We were seated at a great table in the center of the room and given menus. I still wasn’t sure what I’d be ordering. It was sort of like when the teacher hands you a test and, despite having studied, you’re not sure you know the answers!

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One of the servers welcomed us, offered suggestions and asked if we had any question. “How much,” I asked, “is the upcharge to add Alaskan king crab legs to my entree?” At $15 — less than they’d be back home — I was sold. I’m not a big wine drinker — I can tell a red from a white, although things get confusing when you start talking about rosés — so we settled on a $59 bottle of Portrait Barossa Shiraz.

So what did I wind up ordering after days of mulling over my options? I went pretty traditional. Jumbo shrimp cocktail appetizer, a 23-ounce porterhouse, and the aforementioned crab legs. Like most people, I’ve rarely ever eaten creamed spinach outside a steakhouse, but again, it’s sort of part of the true steakhouse experience. So I went with that and asparagus as sides, with a creme brûlée dessert to top off the meal.

Most Memorable Dish

Pinnacle Grill

I’m going to go with the Alaskan King Crab Legs. Is there anything better than crab legs dipped in steaming-hot butter? (Okay, maybe lobster, but…) As a big fan of seafood, putting a plate of these in front of me was all it took to make me happy. It didn’t hurt that they accompanied that 23-ounce porterhouse, perfectly prepared (medium rare) and beautifully seasoned.

Final Thoughts

Pinnacle Grill

You know how sometimes when you’re eating in a main dining room, you settle for food that might not be the hottest or prepared exactly the way you might like it? I think that when you eat in a specialty restaurant and are paying extra for the meal, the game needs to be upped. That was certainly the case here. Everything came out hot and perfectly prepared. Well, almost everything. I didn’t much care for the creamed spinach. The taste was fine, but it was almost like a puree, which was a different consistency than I’m generally used to in steakhouses. Whether it was an off dish or simply the way this particular chef likes to prepare the spinach, I don’t know. It’s not that it was inedible or even bad, just… different than what I’m used to.

The wine, food, and great company combined to make this yet another top-notch Pinnacle Grill dining experience. If you’re a fan of steakhouses, this is one at-sea venue that’s definitely worth checking out.

The Pinnacle Grill can be found on all of Holland America’s current ships. The restaurant also offers lunch at $10 per person, and the menus are known to change regularly to reflect the freshest available ingredients.

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Review: Carnival Breeze Cloud 9 Spa

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Pre-Cruise Thoughts

A few months prior to my Carnival Breeze cruise, my husband and I toured the ship for the day and went through the Cloud 9 spa. Carnival Breeze has one of the the best spas in the fleet, as it features multiple thermal suites and the popular thalassotherapy pool. We were instantly seduced by the relaxing aromas and bubbling waters, so we immediately pre-purchased the couples spa package online for $220 for our upcoming 7-day cruise. (An individual pass is $140 for the week.) It was a bit of a splurge for us, but like I said, we were totally enchanted.

Onboard Carnival Breeze Spa Experience

On Carnival Breeze, the ship has the standard complimentary saunas and steam rooms that every Carnival ships offers, and these are located inside the respective men’s and women’s locker rooms. However, those who book a Cloud 9 spa stateroom or who purchase access through the spa pass like I did are granted access to the thermal suites and the thalassotherapy pool.

The thermal suites include two dry heat chambers (the Laconium and Tepidarium) and two steam chambers (Oriental and Aroma) as well as an aromatic shower. Through the heat, these suites help you sweat out impurities in your body and cleanse out toxins. Some of these suites also include heated chaise lounges that are nothing short of heavenly to lie on. The thalassotherapy pool is a jetted pool filled with mineral-rich ocean water, and the pool is said to help relieve pain and soothe muscles. All these areas are co-ed, but don’t worry – everyone was clothed! Most people come in their swimsuits and flip-flops.

On our cruise in particular, though, we visited the spa only a handful of times. The truth is that after feeling so hot from sunbathing on lido deck all day or from touring an island on a port day, the last thing I wanted to do was go sit in a hot thermal suite. And since access to the thermal suites closes at 10:00 pm and I ate at the 8:15 dinner seating, I could never go after dinner either, though it would have been nice to end my day by relaxing in the spa.

However, when I did go I absolutely loved it. I tried all the suites, and my favorite was the Oriental steam room, mostly because I prefer steam rooms to dry heat and because the Oriental room had two heated chaise loungers as well that were usually unoccupied. The two dry heat chambers I found a bit unbearable, and I couldn’t stay in either more than a few minutes. But again, I am not one for dry heat anyway. I did try the aromatic shower as well, though the nozzles that spray from the sides of the wall weren’t working on our cruise. And, perhaps I wasn’t working it properly, but the aromas only worked with cold water, not hot, as that was another button beneath the scents. So it seemed you could only take an aromatic cold shower or a scent-less hot one.

As for the thalassotherapy pool, I’m still not sure I understand the hype around it. I swam in it several times and, while I enjoyed it immensely, it still didn’t feel very much different to me than a regular hot tub. Perhaps I’m missing something here, but I was underwhelmed.

One nice thing about the Cloud 9 spa is that Carnival limits the number of people with access to the spa to 50 per sailing. A crew member confirmed to me that means 50 people total, including those with spa staterooms and those who purchase a spa pass. This is a big perk, considering the spa can get rather busy on sea days. However, even when I saw it at its busiest, there was always plenty of room to enjoy the thermal suites and plenty of room in the thalassotherapy pool. Plus, people never spent too long in one place.

Final Thoughts

All in all, I left with mixed feelings on the Cloud 9 spa. As soothing and relaxing as it is, I feel the cost is a bit high to be justified. We splurged on this cruise, but $220 could have gone a lot further – to excursions, a steakhouse dinner, pictures, etc. – that would have given us more bang for our buck. And while you can argue that access is “free” with booking a Cloud 9 spa stateroom, keep in mind that Carnival intentionally raises the price of those rooms to buffer that cost. So, if you’re on the fence about purchasing access, I would hesitate to pre-purchase a spa pass. Wait until you’re onboard to at least take a spa tour first. But if you’re looking for luxury, go ahead and splurge here!

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Hi, this may be of interest to you: Carnival Freedom Caribbean Cruise Review. This is the link: https://cruiseradio.net/carnival-freedom-caribbean-review/