This is a review of the Carnival Dream, back-to-back sailings February 25th and March 03rd, 2012.
Embarkation February 25: Easy and uneventful. We were onboard in half an hour.
Safety drill takes place indoors, without lifejackets. Nice and comfortable.
Ship movement: The ship moves. All ships do. Dream moves no more or less than other ships. Meclezine/Bonine pills solve these issues, and are readily available from the shops or room service. Our kids couldn't take Meclezine (not recommended for under 12 years old), so we had to purchase Dramamine from the infirmary for them.
Cabin: We had a quad inside. Quite small for a family of four. Both the hairdryer and fridge were not up to our needs. The hairdryer was not hot enough and the fridge was not cold enough. I had an allergic reaction to the pillows. The cabin steward said they were "hypoallergenic". They were most certainly NOT, as I awoke with my throat closing up many times. I eventually had to sleep with a beach towel over my pillow. Herein begins the odyssey of Carnival ships' staff absolutely refusing to address the small issues that can turn an acceptable trip into something downright unpleasant. They refused to even try to find alternate pillows for me.
Food: Food was plentiful, and selections abundant. That is, until 2:30pm... then something happens. Little cardboard signs come out, everywhere. They're funny, like "It's Past this Buffet's Curfew" and the like, but they basically mean "You're Out of Luck". All the lunch variety disappears at 2:30pm, never to be seen again until the next day. Dinner options are as follows: The Dining Room. Deli counter. Pizza Counter. And a very limited room service menu. The choices go from dozens to practically nothing. Even the burger grille turns into a pumpkin at the stroke of 6pm... right when many folks were getting hungry for a hamburger. The food service scheduling just doesn't make sense on Carnival. Well, I guess you can just fill up on the free 24-hour soft-serve ice cream/frozen yogurt. Until I saw a kid lick his finger, and then cut the ice-cream stream with the same finger. Gross. This happened a few times over the two sailings. So I told my family to "run" the ice cream after seeing this. Not Carnival's fault, just disgusting pigs for fellow passengers.... and the pitfalls of unsupervised soft-serve machines....
Most food in the dining room was fair to good. The notable exceptions were the "flat iron steak" and "roast prime rib", both being absolutely inedible. I also had a Chateaubriand that was excellent on the first sailing, and awful on the second. I also sent back the filet mignon one night, which was blood-red when I ordered medium. It took four plates before I finally got a medium steak. The waiter was cheery about all this, it just seemed wasteful to me. I'm not a lobster person, but the rest of my family said it was very good. The lobster tails were tiny, so we had to order them four per person. My 7-year-old son ate four lobster tails by himself. Service personnel try hard, but there are language barriers. Some waiters BARELY speak English, which can lead to errors and omissions.
The lunch buffet was excellent, many great choices, no complaints, with one exception: the Lanai BBQ was a huge disappointment. This outdoor BBQ featured the same (just smaller) burgers and hot-dogs as poolside, chicken quesadillas, and pretty much nothing else. I found it a waste of time. I read online that there were satay skewers and other offerings at the Lanai BBQ. I found none of these.
We had reservations for the steakhouse, but had to cancel, because Carnival does not offer child-care on embarkation day (which was day 8 for us). We did do our research on this point also, which again turned out to be wrong.
Camp Carnival: A BIG disappointment. Their hours are also annoying. They close early, pretty much every day. The reason: they want you to attend a Build-a-Bear workshop ($$$ - Note the pattern here). If it's not Teddy Bears, it's "Family Functions" which are also for a fee, or poorly attended, like "Family Trivia". Camp Carnival can certainly continue to operate while these activities happen (the space is HUGE), instead they just choose to close, inconveniencing everyone. My kids looked forward to Camp Carnival. But they hardly spent any time there. And we (the parents) were constantly watching the clock, and either running to drop off or pick up the kids, according to an arbitrary and highly annoying schedule. Not much of a vacation at all for us parents. Thanks Carnival.
One Camp Counsellor also singled my son out for a "joke" which upset him greatly. The other kids laughed at him as a result. I found this to be a result of poor training, by someone who supposedly was Early Childhood Education qualified. You don't single out children under any circumstances, especially when they are trying to make new friends, and tend to be very self-conscious.
Entertainment: Excellent across the board, no complaints at all here. Fun Force (Professional Hip Hop dancers) were fantastic. Shows were well presented. Just a small point: Bingo before every show, which sometimes ran late. Make money at all cost is the mantra on Carnival. Get used to it.
Bar Service: Long waits for drinks. Some never arrived. The waiters seemed to fill their order books before making deliveries. Left the tips at 15% for the most part, and I usually tend to be generous in this aspect, giving an extra dollar or two for good service.
Cabin service was punctual and efficient, no complaints here.
Pools and slides: Operating hours are spotty. They close the slides for "wind conditions" which were usually caused by the ship moving. Hmmm. If your ship moves enough to generate "wind", then don't put a huge waterslide on top of it, GENIUS. In the odd times the ship was not moving, and we were not onshore, the kids enjoyed their precious slide time.
Here we arrive at customer service annoyance #2: On embarkation days, the pools open at 11am. This is nice. However, our beach towels are in our stateroom, which is locked until 1:30pm. The pool towel counter has a small sign, which says "Towels will be available at 1pm" What??? My kids are in the pool, with lots of others, I might add. They will soon be freezing cold. I asked deck stewards, drink waiters and pretty much anyone I could find. Got the nice, polite runaround. So I called Guest Services. The gentleman who answered put me on hold, then came back and said to me, "towels will be there at Noon, sir" Very nice. Unfortunately, it was a complete load of BS. I called back at 12:30 wondering where the towels were. The SAME GUY now told me "the towels will be there at 1pm, sir" Why did you just LIE to me? He really had no answer, and now clearly didn't care one way or the other.
How hard can it be to supply 2 dozen beach towels???? Carnival clearly has no intention of making small efforts to see that their clients are comfortable, it appears. They will bring the towels at 1pm as scheduled, and everyone can just get bent.
Shore Excursions: We did the beaches whenever possible. The beaches were nice, the kids had fun. Belize and Costa Maya were a complete waste of time for us, as we do not do the $100 per person excursions.
Disembarkation: Uneventful and smooth. We had to disembark in between sailings, greet the Customs guy, and re-board. No problems. Final disembarkation was equally smooth and problem-free.
Summary: This was an okay cruise. We got what we paid for. I just wish Carnival would care a bit more about the little things, and not just pay lip service when a customer makes a legitimate complaint. It tends to ruin an otherwise very promising holiday experience.