Carnival Cruise Lines’ Freedom is a winner of FTF’s Top 10 (Cheap) Getaways For Family Travelers 2008 award.
Hitting the open seas may sound a little too luxurious for the budget-minded family. Clear blue waters, an elegant wait staff serving you a five-course meal, nightly entertainment; all of these are just too extravagant for a family looking to vacation without breaking the bank.
Well actually, that is not true. And FTF found the perfect candidate as the Top (Cheap) Cruise Getaway: Carnival — the world’s largest cruise line, with cruises to Alaska, the Bahamas, Canada/New England, the Caribbean, Europe, Hawaii, and Mexico, and special voyages to the Panama Canal, South America and transatlantic. Are they family-friendly? Carnival Cruises carry more passengers under the age of 18 than any other cruise company, with 575,000 happy young sailors in 2007, making them our top provider of a cheap family vacation.
Believe it or not, for nine months of the year, prices for the six-day cruise on the Carnival Freedom from Fort Lauderdale range from only $399-$439 per adult and $219-$309 per child (based on children in the third and fourth bunk) for the entire floating vacation.
Even though the price tag is on the low side in comparison with other cruises, on Freedom, families can enjoy activities, entertainment, a diverse selection of food, and beautiful rooms on a journey that has been called the “best cruise for first timers” by cruisecritic.com. This perfect cruise itinerary includes Key West, Florida (day one); fun days at sea (day two and day five), Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands (day three); and Ocho Rios, Jamaica (day four).
When it comes to making sure your children are taken care of while having fun, Carnival’s supervised camps make it easy. Kids ages 2- to 17-years are broken up into five different age groups. The younger children have most of their activities in the Camp Carnival playroom, a 4,200-square-foot space that includes a video wall for both movies and cartoons playing on a continuous basis. There is also a soft play area for children under the age of 2 (open to all unless there are evening supervised group babysitting sessions). Teens love the huge Club O2, which has a video arcade and a non-alcoholic bar. The Freedom Restaurant features kids’ menus and daily specials — and if yours are tired of their parents, they can eat with youth counselors. There is also day time group babysitting available in the playroom at $6 an hour for the first child and $4 for each additional child.
Other highlights of the cruise are a 13,300-square-foot spa (separate fees), a jogging track and an Internet cafÃ©. Something to keep in mind is that to get to the cafÃ©, the only entrance is inside the Habana Cigar Bar; if you hate smoke and have a laptop, use the Wi-Fi (which has locations throughout the ship) for the same price. There are also four swimming pools (some kids only) and a 214-foot-long waterslide. For nightly entertainment, there are performances from up-and-coming musicians and comedians, outdoors, on deck or in the various clubs and lounges.
The top value excursion on this route is the Stingray City Sandbar Catamaran tour on Grand Cayman, which is three hours long, has a cash bar on board and makes two snorkeling stops ($39 for adults, children 10 years and under pay $27, children under 3 get in for free; equipment is included).
As far as the food goes, in addition to the regular dining rooms/restaurants, there are deli windows for made-to-order sandwiches, a window that serves Asian food and a 24-7 pizzeria. There is a grill that serves burgers, hot dogs and steak sandwiches. If you want a more casual dining experience, dinner is served in the buffet with similar selections to those found in the main dining rooms. For a more traditional dining experience, seating times are 6pm and 8:15pm.
If you’re thinking ahead to how much money you should put aside to completely enjoy this trip, the cruise price includes: stateroom/suite accommodations, plentiful meals (including 24 hour room service), non-alcoholic beverages, most onboard activities (i.e.: basketball, table tennis), entertainment, access to bars/lounges, port charges, government charges and fees.
Keep in mind that the price does not include gratuities ($10 a day is typical), soda, wine, beer, spirits, casino gambling, video games (tell the kids to bring allowance), shopping, taxis, meals while in a port of call, service fees in optional restaurants, excursions and pre- or post-cruise hotel packages.
Carnival Freedom is one of 22 Carnival fun ships sailing from several US home ports, so you can also save money by driving rather than flying to your port of embarkation. Rates vary according to season and itinerary. Why Carnival instead of its excellent competitor, Royal Caribbean? The comparable six-day Royal Caribbean cruise from Fort Lauderdale only sails four months of the year and its prices start $200 higher. Also, during the peak summer season, when Carnival Freedom prices rise (adults pay $679 in June, $719 in July and $469 in August), there are no alternative six-day cruises in this market.
For more information on booking the most relaxing and luxurious family vacation available in this price range, contact your travel agent or a cruise consolidator, or visit Carnival Specials.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.