Let's get right to it. I didn't like the Dream. I was on board for a week and felt it was too large a vessel for me. I'm more of a Legend guy. For those that are experienced Carnival customers, you know what Serenity is, and it is anything but on the Dream. I want my own adult pool for Serenity, on one level, accessible by elevator or escalator with an armed guard to prevent any children or teenagers from entering the area. Well, maybe not the armed guard, but certainly Serenity must be far enough away from a pool, area or hot tub where you can hear any little monsters screaming and doing cannon balls. I blame it all on Joe Farcus, who Carnival should have replaced long ago as their chief designer. One man should have never been commissioned to design so many cruise vessels.
I stood in front of the elevators on the last night of "our" Dream cruise and still had no idea where most things were. I felt I had to make too many connections and transfers to get from one place to another. There certainly needs to be more signs. Much of it has to do with my arch enemy -- the stairs. Carnival in all honesty does not handle passengers with stair problems very smartly. What you get is the elevator "stare". That's when a crew member just looks at you when you ask where the elevator is. It's happened on every Carnival cruise I've been on. "Excuse me, I have trouble with the stairs, every elevator has a X over it, where is the nearest available elevator?" Stare. It's like getting an error message on your computer screen when you know you did nothing wrong.
The stare is then accompanied by a look-see/glance-down of your legs to determine if you're as crippled as Bob Krachett's little son, Tiny Tim. What nonsense. Here's where you wonder about Carnival's training of their crew. In all fairness, Royal Caribbean has a similar problem. You've got to know your passengers. The proper response should be: "No problem sir, your nearest available elevator is -- insert easy to follow directions here". Future cruise ships should have no stairs, just elevators and escalators. To get to Serenity or your dining room on the Dream should not involve two elevator transfers, then having to walk up or down more stairs. There is a "secret" mini elevator to Serenity if you walk through the Spa, but why hide it? This is a good time to mention, that along with some other health issues, I have had double knee replacement surgery. So, to hell with stairs, anywhere.
Personally, my wife and I are 50+ and have been married 30+ years. She is a teacher, I am a writer. I used to be a trucker. Our biggest problem when traveling is mobility. Walking long distances -- I mentioned the stairs problem -- is just not our thing. I'm far too vain to use a cane or worse drive around in one of those annoying little red scooters that are always running out of battery power and beeping like a warehouse forklift in constant reverse. I have to admit that little step into the ship's bathroom, for us, up and down day after day does result in some pretty sore ankles -- could there not better design? Carnival management needs to open their eyes as to how difficult their ships are for passengers who want to go from one place to another without pain. We're on a cruise ship, not a naval vessel on maneuvers.
I find many people think of cruising as they do getting a tattoo. They really want to do it, but they have their preconceived notions and falsehoods that delay their decision. Some sadly never do it. First of all, I have a tattoo and it didn't hurt. So go get one. Second, much mentioned weight gain issue. I have never gained a pound on a cruise. I eat like a horse but since I am constantly walking and going on shore excursions, I have departed every cruise lighter than when I boarded. Third, boredom. I'm never bored. I come on the ship as stressed out as any other individual and whether the cruise is 4,5 or 7 days or more, I leave refreshed and happy. If Carnival can "transform" someone like me and show them a great time, they are worth their weight in gold and I always look forward to the next cruise.
The Dream departs out of Port Canaveral, though Tampa is my favorite terminal facility. Both handle passengers very efficiently. Pull up in your car, a porter will unload and check your bags and the next time you see them, they will be in your room. There is plenty of parking within walking distance of the ship. We got there a bit later than I recommend, about an hour before sail time, but it took all of 15 minutes to get our "sea passes" and get on board. That included getting through security. Carnival has relaxed their carry on beverage policy. So, since I must have Gatorade to keep away painful kidney stones and it is not available on the ship, I can now carry it on -- not in checked luggage -- just the carry on's -- along with some bottled water for my wife. You can also bring on small amounts of alcohol. That was not the case on past cruises. One time, we had some "xplain'n" to do to the security chaps when they discovered 12 bottles of fruit punch flavored Gatorade in our luggage. They confiscated it, but later released it to us when it was deemed "safe".
After much research, we decided on a 2nd floor "cove balcony" cabin. Now this has what they call an "obstructed view", which is basically that the sky above is partially blocked by lifeboats over head. It does not bother me at all. The closer I am to the sea, the better I enjoy the cruise. The view is marvelous. I do not like being on a higher deck where I feel disconnected from the water. I prefer a balcony, although I do not approve of Carnival's policy to allow smoking on them. One cruise was almost ruined because our "neighbors" were always "outside" smoking. It was miserable. The cabin itself was large enough for our needs over the 7 days of the cruise. A negative was the blurry small flat screen television which had no interactive capability. I would also prefer if Carnival gave its passengers the option of turning on the CD's (cruise directors) announcements in the cabin rather than having to keep the door open.
We had arranged to be seated at a table for two in Scarlett Upper -- table 638 -- at 6pm for dinner. The view was excellent, but the table should have been positioned more than a foot from the next table. I should have said something, but I didn't. Remember, my goal is to escape stress, not incur more of it on the high seas. Well, the service, unfortunately, was slow. Our waiter either was sick or upset at something. My wife order a baked potato and he forgot it. Just trying to get an ice tea or a refill was a chore. Toward the end of the meal, it seemed he had been moved to another set of tables and service improved slightly. The head waiter did ask if everything was alright, and I mentioned the slow service and he said it would be fixed, but it wasn't. The food over the next 6 nights of the cruise was excellent, the service I would rate a "C". The waiters didn't even seem enthusiastic about dancing when the music started. It was so different on the Legend.
I should mention that the food and service in the buffet areas was outstanding. The shrimp salad sandwich with chocolate cake for dessert from room service was a sheer delight. We had it on two occasions. I love waking up with fresh salmon and bagels delivered to my room with hot coffee and orange juice. The culinary highlight of the cruise was the $30 per person steakhouse dinner on our last night. This was an incredible experience. If you have ever eaten at Bern's or Ruth Chris' steak house, this was far better. It far and away was the best surf & turf we have ever eaten on our travels around the world. We've had no finer lobster bisque or jumbo shrimp cocktail. The dessert -- a very artistic and yummy chocolate sampler -- was incredible. We had only wished that we had booked an extra reservation for another night to eat there. This clearly was the best part of being on the Dream.
This particular cruise hit Nassau, St. Thomas and St. Martin. The onboard entertainment was very good, as it usually is. If there is music and dancing, we're there -- we don't go in for the comedians though. We're also not gamblers, but do indulge in a bingo game or two, just for the fun of it. My wife bought me a small Arturo Fuente -- the last one -- at the gift shop, but I didn't get the opportunity to smoke it this trip, mostly out of respect for other passengers. We hired our own cab to take us around Nassau for $11 a person and the driver was excellent. In St. Thomas, we did the tram ride up to the top of the "hill" (Paradise Point), then went snorkeling. There was a brief stop in the Senor Frogs pool, right next to the ship. We did the dual city tours covering both the Dutch and French side of St. Martin -- St. Maarten in a small comfortable air conditioned bus that managed to navigate the small streets and steep hill climbs.
The particular downsides were these -- Carnival might consider some increased street security in and around the tram ride in St. Thomas. Some rather nasty things were yelled at us and another passenger by a overly aggressive rogue street vendor upset we didn't buy our tram tickets from him. We also encountered a rather poor attitude of entitlement by some of the services on the island. For example, the driver of the "free" tram ride from the shopping area back to the Dream gave us the "evil eye" when we didn't pay or tip him for the three minute trip. We felt a great deal of resentment from the locals thinking we were rich American's there to smother them with our money. Apparently they don't watch the news or read the newspapers about our economy. It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth when your tired, hungry and cranky trying to get back on board and you've just been harassed by an aggressive shop keeper or shuttle bus driver with a chip on his shoulder.
I did a post on John Heald's Facebook page (he is Carnival's senior cruise director and writes a great blog -- actually he's more of their customer relations SVP) about giving kudos to all the shore excursions people for Carnival. The crew of the catamaran CastawayGirl in St. Thomas is just one example of the many amazing people that are in partnership with Carnival from Mexico to the West Indies. Kudos go to the crew and staff on board and on shore that make sure we get our tickets and get to the right places to go on the tours. The only thing I would mention to the "beards" -- as Herald calls Carnival management -- is that the less "we" passengers have to walk, the happier we are. My wife has also asked me to mention to please make sure that more Pandora products are sold both on board and at Carnival destinations.
Lastly, understand that a cruise ship is a floating resort hotel. With Carnival, the "hotel" services are always doing something, many transparent to the passenger. I've never seen so many staff and crew so constantly busy keeping things clean. Everything, I mean everything, is either being dusted, painted or wiped and sanitized. Our "team" that was responsible for our cabin was outstanding. They always are on Carnival. There was ice when we needed ice, towels were always clean, soft and fresh -- same with the bed linens. Every night the bed was turned down and a new and different towel sculpture was created and placed on top along with chocolates. Room service always was on time and accurate. I've stayed at the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago and didn't receive the level of housekeeping that Carnival provides. My only wish was that the cabin carpet be vacuumed daily.
I'm not an employee, consultant or paid in any way by Carnival. I have no affiliation with them whatsoever. If I was, I'd tell you I loved the Dream, which was not the case. I prefer a smaller ship. I truly feel more in a kind of partnership with this company because they have been such an important part of my life the past few years. I never really enjoyed being on holiday until I discovered cruising and I'm very loyal to the Carnival brand. I value the service they provide and appreciate the hard work their people do. I would hope Carnival management understands and acts on my comments and suggestions for the future. And if the airfare is affordable, I plan to be on the Carnival Legend from Tampa to Barcelona next year.