Just back from Carnival Dream with our family of 5 and another family of 6. HAD A WONDERFUL TIME. Please disregard most all negative comments on these boards.
Briefly, a little about us. We are frequent cruisers having been on 22 in past 20 years. We love traveling with our kids who have been on approximately 14 of those cruises. Priorities for our family include cleanliness, above average food, good service. We are not pretentious and don't expect a large ship with families to provide service or food that one would expect on a luxury yacht. In other words, treat us reasonably well and we will take care of having fun together.
We absolutely love Royal Caribbean's ships which include Promenades (Voyager, Freedom, and Oasis class). The fact that the Dream did not have a central gathering area coupled with multiple negative reviews made me somewhat concerned about our decision to try Carnival again. We were pleasantly surprised.
CABIN: We had connecting balconies on the 10th floor which is same deck as pools and buffet. The rooms were very nice and noticeably larger than standard balconies on RCCL and markedly larger than balconies on Norwegian. Room and bathroom were very clean. Balcony nice, perhaps a little narrow. But we preferred the extra 20 sq ft in the room rather than on the balconly. Small refrigerator with sodas and some alcohol that was billed to acct. Only complaint: The cruise ship has ESPN playing every morning on outdoor theatre and in casino bar, but they do not have this in each cabin. I could not understand why.
FOOD: As stated by others, this is 'in the MOUTH of the beholder', but each of us found the food to be much better than Royal Caribbean. This was the case with both the dining room and the buffet. Selections were similar from both lines. But never had a cold meal. Presentation of food at dinner was nice. Not just thrown on the plate. Soft serve ice cream available 24/7 was a big hit for our kids. Burgers, Pizza and Pastries also much better than those served on RCCL.
Dining Room was very nice. First night our families were not at same table...seems that the reservations were not linked. The Maitre'D placed us the second night at the table normally reserved for the Captain. Center of the dining room with a large table for 11. AWESOME!!!
We did not go to the Steakhouse--so can not compare to CHOPS on RCCL. Restaurant itself appeared nice, but perhaps a step down from the steakhouses on RCCL. Again cannot compare the food.
We did however enjoy the CHEF'S TABLE with a special dinner with the other couple we travelled with. This was a great experience which included a galley tour during the dinner operation. Entire meal took 3 hours. Included appetizers and an introduction from the Soux Chef. We were then taken into the kitchen where a table of 14 was set up just a few feet from where waiters were coming and going. What followed was an amazing 7 course meal and unlimited wine (white or red). The glass never was empty. Portions were small, but when enjoying 7 courses, this is not a problem. The only issue was that when there was something good, you wanted more. Main entree courses were Salmon (I think that was the 4th course) and Marinated Rib Tips (last course before dessert).
SHIP: Very nice. Not as good as RCCL ships. Only 2 main pools...very crowded. There are enough deck chairs but some are on the 5th floor and not near pools. The chair hogging was HORRIBLE.
We have not previously liked the Carnival decor in the public rooms. I know that their newest ships are beginning to change this. The Dream still is very bright. The 2 dining rooms are Crimson and Scarlet and are decorated very RED. Not to our taste, but OK. We prefer the colors and more classy appearance of RCCL ships.
ENTERTAINMENT: Pretty good. They have comedians nearly every night. They do 5 30 minute shows. Kids loved the kid-friendly versions. We enjoyed both the family and adult versions. Big shows in theatre were OK. Piano bar was OK, but not nearly to the level of the Howling at the Moon shows on Norwegian Epic. Casino was good. Multiple table games. Slots are played by using your card. No cash required.
PORTS: Western Caribbean itinerary with Cozumel, Belize, Roatan, and Costa Maya. No Jamaica (yeah), No Grand Cayman (BOO!). We miss not stopping at Grand Cayman as often, but understand it is due to need for tenders and this is harder with larger ships. Costa Maya--book a day at Nohoch Key. Cozumel--loved Tucan Charter for snorkeling and sailing. Roatan--Snorkeling on reef at Opachya was awesome.
All in all, will definitely book Carnival again. The differences between the major lines are being blurred in recent years. Carnival is obviously trying to copy RCCL successes and vice versa. In our opinion, Carnival was best for cabin and food. RCCL ships are best..Promenades and OASIS class for activities. RCCL entertainment a little better than Carnival; but if you want entertainment....book Norwegian Epic.
But if you are a RCCL lover, please do not hesitate to enjoy a week on the Carnival Dream.