Traveled with wife and four children - we had three balcony rooms on Verandah (Deck 8) forward, starboard. It was our third cruise with Carnival.
Embarkation and Debarkation at Port Canaveral cannot be easier or faster. We arrived at port at 10:45AM and were on the ship by 11:15AM. We have learned to show up early - you beat the line and get on earlier. Even at this time we were loading zone 14 and could have come yet earlier. Clearing customs on the return was very easier - no more than five minutes. Clearing Jacksonville and Miami customs took much longer. We very highly recommend Port Canaveral and Carnival for their on/off process here - they do a very good job.
Ship overall - it is a muted theme relative to our previous Carnival Ships (Valor and Fascination). The Dream is a ship caught in transition between the old more glittery design and the now-emerging more-muted design that sounds to be taken to yet another level with the Breeze. We missed the glitz. For me the best room in the ship is the Burgundy Lounge (Deck 5, aft) where the comedy shows are. The Dream Atrium is nice, but again toned down. We loved the Atrium on the Valor. Overall the ship is very clean, our balcony rooms were large, clean and fresh. You can tell this is a newer ship - everything still shines and the carpets all look good. The room I liked the least was the Encore - the main theater. Not sure what theme Carnival was going for here - it looks like a 3-story leopard print. We ate in the Crimson (mid-ships) dining room which was 'okay' - we had lunch on sea days in the Scarlet (aft) dining room which has much better views.
Spa/fitness area - great. Yes, on sea days it is crowded. Get there before 7:30AM or you will wait for a piece of equipment. My wife did a spa special for 1 hour for $99, we both took advantage of the fitness room and I went to the sauna several times which is a great room - it has it's own glass window looking out to sea.
Serenity adult area - probably my favorite area. This area is two decks, forward, wrapping all around with two separate hot tubs and lots of places to get away from the roving mobs of teenagers (see below). Again, on sea days this place fills up early so get there early to get a lounge or chair. The lounges areas are all padded making this a very comfortable place to spend the day in the sun.
Shows - overall this ship has the best shows of all that we've seen sailing Carnival. The exception is the first evening's show which is just a brief sampling of what's to come (we recommend just skip this show and go dancing). And skip the last evening's show which is called Carnival Legends and is just a hodgepodge of passengers dressed up and singing. It was really dreadful but again the shows day 2-6 were all very, very good.
Waterslides - our kids loved the waterslides and waterworks areas and essentially spent the whole cruise in this area during sea days. The slide going into the 'toilet bowl' is 300 feet long and was really fun for the kids. We picked the Dream and stay with Carnival in large part because of these water areas and were not disappointed. This is a big highlight of the ship for us.
Food - overall excellent (to us). Dining room food came hot and tasty. On deck 10 we loved the Mongolian Wok and the Tandorian (Indian) Grill and on deck 11 we loved the Pasta Bar. The buffets were all good - overall I'd say the food on this cruise was the best we've had on Carnival.
Scheduled events - like the 'Marti Gras' party in the Atrium, to the Fun Force dance exhibition, to the laser shows/deck 10 party were all fun and unique from our previous cruises.
Service - was the worst we've had on Carnival. Worst of all was the dining service in the Crimson dining room. Bread is offered only once, the waiters never remember from day to day who orders coffee, and when they do bring coffee they never offer refills. Dinner the first three nights took two hours because the service has GLACIALLY slow. Spoke to the head of the dining room and service got better for the next three nights and then was terrible the last evening again. Could not engage the head waiter in a conversation. He flat out stated they are overworked and he will not return to the Dream. Our mistake was tolerating crappy service for three nights before speaking up and our second mistake was staying at the same table with the same waiter afterwards. Room service was prompt and the room was always clean but for some odd reason they wouldn't remove the dirty glasses or dishes except for once a day in the evening and sometimes not even them. We heard several times from the staff that they are just too overworked on this larger ship. It showed.
Mobs of roving and ill-behaving teenagers - by day five of the cruise the older teenagers grouped into roving mobs that became less and less well behaved. From jamming elevators to screaming in the Encore to yelling up and down the halls at night, to literally dumping pizza slices on the carpet in several places of the ship. I even found teenagers literally asleep in the stairwells of the ship. Incompetent parents obviously didn't care and the Carnival staff did nothing of notice to quell the mobs.
Take it or Leave it:
Crowds - yes, on Spring Break week it was crowded. We had 4500 on board and 2200 of those were 18 or under. So if you don't like crowds, then don't sail on Spring Break - just that simple. Now that said, I never waited more than five minutes in line at a buffet - even the Mongolian Wok. Sea days are crowded on deck, you just have to get there early. Crowds don't bother us as much as they bother others.
Kid's programs - unlike on the Valor, our kids found the programming on the Dream to be rather dull and repetitive. I would guess they only participated in 2-3 things all week.
Ice carving on deck 10 is an Indian head. It's always an Indian head. Do you think Carnival could every pick something else to carve into a block of ice?
Overall, we got our money with the cruise and will be back to Carnival but not back to the Dream. We liked the Dream enough to recommend it to others but not enough to spend money to go back a second time, whereas I'd happily sail the Valor again. We will likely sail the Breeze next - I'm hopeful Carnival won't have a confused theme on this ship and the transition away from neon and glitz will be complete rather than trying to mix/match themes from old to new. So this Dream trip was what we will call well-balanced - some highlights, some lowlights and some things you just take as-is.