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Carnival Freedom Caribbean Cruise Review



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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: Holland America Line’s Pinnacle Grill



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.

holland america pinnacle grill

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Review: Carnival Breeze Cloud 9 Spa



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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Review: Norwegian Cruise Line’s Vibe Beach Club



This is a review of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Vibe Beach Club.

Whether you’re traveling with or without kids, there inevitably comes a time when you want a little adults-only time. It was that idea that drove Norwegian Cruise Line to introduce the Vibe Beach Club, a for-fee area aboard the Breakaway, Getaway, and Escape which provides a limited number of guests who are over the age of 18 an exclusive space in which to bask in the sun away from the more crowded public areas. The line has a similar area aboard Epic, although it is known on that ship as the Posh Beach Club. What is the area and is it worth the extra price? That’s what we’re here to help you decide!

How much does a Vibe Beach Club pass cost?

Located high atop the ship and behind doors only accessible to those who’ve obtained special keycards, the Vibe and Posh Beach Clubs feature everything one could need to enjoy a day in the sun (making them particularly popular on sea days). While day passes are sometimes available for purchase, most guests typically purchase the week-long pass, which runs around $99 per person. There are also private cabanas (which we’ll discuss later) available at prices which seem to vary by ship and, occasionally, even sailing, but run around $239 and includes Vibe Beach Club access for two guests.

Upon purchasing your Vibe pass, you’ll be given both a wristband which must be worn whenever accessing the area (although, truth be told, by day two or three, the staff generally knows who belongs and who doesn’t) as well as a separate key card which must be used at the entrance. You’re also given an envelope explaining the hours and exactly where to find the space, which while a tad silly can sort of make it feel even more “special.”

Important Things To Know

  • Passes are sold per person, not per cabin. If you want two, you must purchase two.
  • Vibe access is non-transferrable. Only the person who purchases the pass may use it.
  • The cost of beverages ordered at the Vibe Beach Club bar is not included, but your Ultimate Beverage Package is, of course, accepted.
  • No need to bring beach towels, as there are plenty available.

What’s beyond the door?

Perhaps the first thing you’ll notice upon walking into the area is what’s missing: Namely, the crowds. You’ll also notice what there’s plenty of: lounge chairs, with nary a chair hog in sight. And unlike the lounge chairs found elsewhere on the ships, those in the Beach Club areas feature thick, comfy padding and come in a variety of styles. You’ll find loungers for yourself, daybeds that can be shared, and a variety of other seating options, including chairs arranged around a table which are perfect for game play.

There’s a private bar catering to the needs of Beach Club guests, as well as waiters who’ll bring cocktails directly to your lounger. They’ll also periodically come around with fresh fruit skewers and even bottles of cold water with which to spritz sun worshippers so that they don’t become overheated. Some people say you haven’t lived until you’ve been spritzed by an attendant, others find it weirdly awkward to have another human being misting them like a hothouse flower.

While the Posh Beach Club aboard Epic does not offer any sort of water features, the Vibe Beach Club sections on the three other ships have hot tubs which are, as one might expect, a heck of a lot less crowded than those found around the public pool.

On both Breakaway and Getaway, private cabanas are available for rent within Vibe Beach Club, each designed to hold two passengers. While the cabanas do offer privacy, they aren’t designed in such a way as to offer an escape from the sun should it be shining directly on you, whereas those on the regular loungers can either open a nearby umbrella or move to a more shaded location when the sun gets to be too much.

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It’s worth noting that the atmosphere within the Vibe Beach Club is much, much different than what you’ll find around the main pool. While great tunes are piped into Vibe, the volume is much lower than the often raucous beats blaring around the other one.

Vibe Is Not Your Only Option

Perhaps the most important thing to know is that the Beach Clubs are not the only areas aboard the ships designated as 18-and-over sections. Spice H20 is also an adults-only venue featuring similar amenities, and it is available free of charge to all guests. There are many guests who actually prefer the Spice H20 area for various reasons. For example, on Escape, the Spice H20 area features a gorgeous rock grotto waterfall area that many passengers adore. Breakaway’s version of Spice H20 features a similar grotto, minus the faux rock walls which elevate her sister ship’s water feature to another level. On both ships, the Spice H20 area (where many of the nighttime parties are held) is located on the back of the ship, so it offers stunning views… at least from the sides. Unfortunately, the back of H20 is taken up by a massive screen which definitely takes away from the panorama!

Why People Love Vibe Beach Club

So what makes access to the Beach Club such a hot ticket? Exclusivity.

Ask folks familiar with Vibe, and they’ll tell you that the only way to gain access is by making sure that you’re among the first to board and, just as importantly, that the first thing you do upon stepping foot on the ship is head directly to guest services (or, in the case of Escape, the Headliners comedy club) to purchase a pass. This is because on each sailing, a very limited number of passes – which varies by ship – are sold. As a result, the Beach Club areas are perhaps the least crowded place on even a sold-out voyage. Even on a beautiful sea day, you’ll have no problem finding a spot at the bar, plenty of loungers, or room in the hot tub.

It’s important to note one very, very big difference between Vibe and Posh. Passes to the adults-only area on the Epic, unlike those on ships featuring Vibe, is given free to guests who are staying in The Haven, Norwegian’s high-end ship-within-a-ship area. Therefore, fewer passes to Posh are often available for sale.

Final Thoughts

Although loved by many, Vibe Beach Club is definitely not for everyone. Those who love all the big, splashy events which take place around the main pools will probably find Vibe’s mellow ambiance a little too low-key for their liking. But over the course of a week, a sense of community often develops within Vibe, as you tend to see the same people each day. It’s not uncommon that members will wind up making plans to see shows or do dinner together. At the end of the day, those who are looking for a private retreat – and are willing to pay for it – will find the Vibe (and Posh) Beach Club a perfect place to hang out.

See Vibe Beach Club video review: 


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