There are people who live for cruises. They spread a committed gospel that cruising offers it all—a floating wonderland of all-inclusive entertainment, food and relaxation. The cruise industry continues to fight an old pre-conception that cruises are for the ‘nearly dead or newly wed’ because in the past, many of its clientele chose this vacation type for either honeymooning or vacationing with limited mobility. But today’s cruise lines paint a much different picture of the cruise industry, offering a variety of recreation packages, geared toward various age groups, tailored to varying adventure-levels.
Since moving to the Houston area, my husband has been trying to convince me to take a cruise. I’m not one for tight spaces, and honestly didn’t grasp the concept of scheduled meals with complete strangers with no easy escape plan. So when the Carnival Freedom invited us, along with 1,000 military families, aboard to celebrate Operation Freedom, a national nonprofit organization that supports military families, we gladly accepted.
The 952-foot, 110,000-ton Carnival Freedom joined the Carnival Magic and Carnival Triumph in February in calling Galveston its year-round homeport and what better way to mark the occasion than with a party? The pier side overnight event was a great opportunity for my inner skeptic to become a believer.
We, along with the military families, embarked onto this impressive vessel that hosts almost 3,000 people, wandering the hallways to our assigned rooms. While admiring the ship’s $70 million makeover, the art-deco design transported me to the romantic days of travel with all the contemporary amenities that could ever be conceived.
Our room provided a balcony, and since our trip coincided with Mardi Gras, we were privy to an afternoon of music and revelry held in the streets of downtown Galveston. Even though the ship was tethered, we could still felt the freeing breezes and island-attitudes.
Food & Fun
We left our cozy room to bar hop along the various eateries, including the Blue Iguana Cantina, Guy’s Burger Joint, the Redfrog Pub and the pharmacy-themed Alchemy Bar. Each restaurant offered a unique cuisine and appealed to a different type of customer.
The Carnival Freedom’s 2014 renovations also include an upgrade to the children’s area, including Suess at Sea and Camp Ocean Kid Facilities. There are also several swimming pools on the ship’s upper deck, a Twister Waterslide, spa, mini-golf course, dodgeball, volleyball and basketball court and Skycourse course.
By late afternoon, we discovered a boisterous crowd, awaiting musician Martina McBride and her band on the upper-deck’s outdoor stage. Carnival presented a check in the amount of $100,000 to Operation Homefront. “We are very excited to be partnering with Carnival to honor military families and celebrate the cruise line’s expansion in Texas,” said Tim Farrell, chief operating officer of Operation Homefront. “While we serve military families across the nation, we’re grateful for a partner like Carnival who wants to give back right here in our home state of Texas where we have the second largest active duty and veteran population in the country.”
McBride bounded on stage and played some hits, as well as covers of soul and R&B songs from her new album “Everlasting.” “Sometimes in a larger arena, you kind of feel like your job is to keep people on their feet all night long,” said McBride. “It’s harder, I guess, to make a really solid connection with the audience—even though that’s what I strive to do every time I go on the stage, no matter the size of the venue. It’s the most important thing to me, really, connecting with the audience. So in a setting like this with Carnival LIVE, it’s so easy to do that. Everyone’s excited to be at the show and on the ship, so it’s really a unique and fun venue to play.”
As the wind rose, we retreated back to the ship’s warmth and made new friends at our dinner table at the Posh Restaurant, where we devoured shrimp, lobster, garlic mashed potatoes and divine chocolate cake. We later found seats at the comedy club Punchliner and ended the night dancing at the 70s dance club.
During our pier side voyage, there were all types aboard the Carnival Freedom. There were the rowdy retirees, the boisterous young families, the seasoned gamblers, the karaoke fanatics and the simple people watchers. The Carnival Freedom invited each personality type to enjoy the cruise their way. I think this pier side experience just might have prepared me for the next real thing.
For more information on Carnival Freedom, call 1-800-CARNIVAL or visit www.carnival.com.
By Autumn Rhea Carpenter