We are a family of 3 (with a 6 y.o.) who sailed on the Dream June 2011 (western itinerary) and loved it, loved it, loved it. This year we decided to do the eastern itinerary but are not raving about the Dream. Some good, but some bad and at times we thought Carnival may have been trying to cut costs. We gave much thought to the cruise line this year and decided to stay with Carnival, and the Dream in particular, due to (1) it is economical as compared to the other cruise lines (hey we can spend the extra $'s on the islands), (2) we knew and liked the Dream, and (3) our 6 y.o. was too young/small for some of the cool things on the other ships we were looking at (Oasis).
Embarkation: We are a Florida family so we simply drove to the port Saturday morning. No travel or hotels. Embarkation was A+++. The only thing that kept us from simply walking on board was I had to use the restroom and luckily, they are right there. Helpful hint: get your soda card at the bar in the Atrium where there are no lines. We saw a very long soda card line on the Lido Deck. While we are on the subject of the Lido Deck, I will add my two cents on the topic of odor. YES, the Lido Deck at times smells like a sewer. Not 24/7, but occasionally you get a whiff of it. Just stating the facts.
Stateroom: Both times on the Dream we have had a family stateroom which is another A+++ for Carnival. I compared the square footage of the different ships we were considering and the Carnival ship cabins are larger. All of our luggage fit under the king size bed which by the way was quite comfy. The sofa/bed was not as comfortable. We are not light packers (remember we drove in) but found there to be ample counter space, closet space and hangers. The two bathroom design is excellent. The larger bathroom has ample counter and shelf space, a shower with a shower curtain (which I would change and make the shower larger) and a toilet. The smaller bathroom has limited to no counter space, a sink and a junior tub with hand shower. Don't be fooled by "junior" as I was able to use it with no issues. Our cabin steward, Samuel, was very personable and our cabin was always clean and stocked. One morning Samuel saw me walking down the hall carrying a breakfast tray. He ran ahead of me and opened the door. We were very pleased with his service.
Shopping on the ship: I was so glad to see that someone else had a post similar to my experience and I REALLY wish I had read it before our cruise. The other poster said that Carnival will report you to customs if you buy anything on the ship greater than the duty free allowance. I don't know if that is a fact but here is my unfortunate experience. We had a "what were we thinking moment" and (I'm truly embarrassed to admit this) we bought a watch that was greater than our duty free allowance from the shop on the ship. We have never bought anything other than pictures on a ship before and will certainly NEVER make this mistake again. But it was Father's Day and it was my husband's Father's Day gift and I was already planning on getting it for him. You see where I'm coming from. Good news is that the price was consistent with what we saw on the islands. Bad news is that I got to spend some quality time in a little room with a U.S. Customs representative upon disembarkation. More on the horrible disembarkation process below.
Dining: Ok, so here we go. Last year we had an awesome table by a window with 2 other fabulous families that we keep in contact with still. This year we had early seating in the Scarlett dining room. Instead of an awesome table they crammed our party of 3 into a two-top in the middle of the lower Scarlett in a location where we felt like we could have a tray of food dumped on us at any moment and my chair was bumped each and every time someone walked by. We have nothing positive to say about the wait staff in this station. We did speak to the Maitre d' who moved our party of 3 to another two-top by a window but also by a wait staff serving/clearing station. We decided to make the most of it and look out the window instead of watching the waiters clear plates. Francisco and his team took good care of us.
The menu in the main dining room is a bit limited. The kid's menu is even more limited. That being said you should generally be able to find something that you will like. Some things will be quite good, some may be just ok. The melting chocolate cake is awesome. Order it with a plate full of pineapple so you can make your own fondue. I don't think anything we had was horrible. Overall I would rate it decent. You just have to keep in mind that this is a big banquet. We have had better but we have certainly had worse at a wedding. We did not try the Chef's Table because we wanted to eat with the 6 y.o. and questioned whether he would appreciate it. Besides it is not like we don't eat at these types of establishments at home. We just didn't see it as that big of a deal so why spend the money. So we won't spend $ on the Chef's Table but we did purchase a wine package. I'm not going to tell you that it is a deal because it is not but I'm certainly not going to say no when my normally non-wine drinking husband makes the suggestion. I look at it as it made the crammed two-top bearable and maybe the food tasted better.
The Gathering for breakfast was better than expected. The pizza/hamburgers/hot dogs on the Lido Deck were good as usual. The hidden jewels are the Tandoori and Grill (paninis etc) aft of the ship. We did not care for the pasta bar this time around. Tried room service for breakfast one morning but found the menu very limited.
Camp Carnival: 6 y.o. loved it. Another poster noted that their child came back with some undesirable new language. We have not experienced that on 3 cruises. Maybe I should add "yet" to the end of that sentence. That type of experience would certainly change my opinion. As we have not experienced that yet, we still have a very positive opinion of Camp Carnival. In our opinion it is another A+++.
Entertainment: All of the shows are an exact repeat of last summer. That being said, we enjoyed the shows the first time around. Took the 6 y.o. to one show this year. Fun Force dancers are awesome and not to be missed. Both cruises had magicians who were very entertaining and a highlight. Last summer we watched a couple of movies on the Lido Deck seaside theater which was fun. For whatever reasons, we did not watch anything this year -- selection/timing did not work. The cruise director Corey was a bore.
Comedy Club: This is our 3rd Carnival cruise in 2 years. The comedians on the first two cruises were side-splitting hysterical. This cruise, they just sucked. We saw 3 of the 4 comedians. The first one was so awful that I really wanted to just get up and leave or should I say "get the funship outta there". The second guy was funnier but nothing to write home about. The 3rd guy was hysterical last year. No kidding, same comedian with the same jokes two years in a row. We were finishing the jokes for him.
Music: Piano bar and band on the Ocean Plaza were entertaining.
Nassau: I was not necessarily looking forward to this port as we were only there for half a day. A longer day would have been much better. We would have liked to explore Atlantis but did not feel that half a day would be enough time to make it worthwhile. We did discover the Queen's Staircase which was a very pleasant surprise and made the day. At the top, we paid $1pp to go in Fort Fincastle. Not much as far as a fort goes but you do get a great photo op of all 5 ships in port. Spent the rest of our island time shopping. Some people complain in their reviews about the locals pestering tourists to buy things. We have found that to happen only at the port and a polite "no thank you" works wonders.
1st sea day: Rats. Ugly weather which we all know is unavoidable and there is nothing that you can do about it. But, this is when you really find out whether you like a ship or not. We spent some time on the water slides before the 6 y.o. headed off to Camp Carnival. Good thing he likes it. Unfortunately there was nothing appealing for the adults to do. We are not into the casino or any of the "planned" activities. Let's face it, our plan was to spend it at the water park with the kid. We skipped the spa tours on the first day so went up to take a look around thinking maybe we can pass the time in the spa. We were very disappointed with the attitude of the staff, as well as the packages that were offered. Said no to the spa. Maybe we can spend the overcast, gray day in a hot tub. First one was cold. Second one was warm but not hot. I really wished I had downloaded a better book.
St. Thomas: Yeah! Sunny day and the island is still beautiful. Taxi, ferry, taxi to Trunk Bay on St. John. We made our retirement plans today. Enough said.
St. Maarten: Another sunny day. The island does not appear to be as nice as the last time we were here way back in 1996. We liked some of the excursions that we read about on CC (america's cup and speed boat snorkeling tours) but the 6 y.o. was not old enough. We took a taxi to the French side and went to Pinel Island. We were a bit disappointed and don't know if we would go back and/or recommend it. Did some more shopping before heading back to the ship. The Dream was docked next to the Oasis of the Seas so there is a great photo op of the two ships side by side. You can really see the size difference.
2nd sea day: Darn. Bad weather again. Not sure if I will do a cruise with 3 sea days again. Water slides were intermittently closed. Kid to Camp Carnival. Still nothing for the adults to do. Didn't attempt the spa after last time. Read my so-so book on the serenity deck until it started to rain and then off to the cabin to watch Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher.
3rd sea day: Finally good weather. Spent the day at the water slides as a family. Regarding the chair situation, we found that you can eventually find a chair by the water slides without too long of a wait. Didn't ever try to find a lounge chair but did note lots of towels with no people. One thing of importance to note about the water slide area is it is very slippery. You have to remind you kids to walk, not run. The design is most confusing for my non-engineer mind to comprehend. The walkway to the stairs is obviously wet but coupled with a downward slope. Kids were constantly sliding and landing on their bottoms. It looks like at one time there might have been a texture applied to the deck to make it less slippery but it appears to have worn off already. Generally, but not always, Carnival had an employee there squeegee'ing up the water. We did see one kid slide and hit his head pretty hard. His parents were not close by but it was good to see the Carnival passengers jump into action to take care of him -- getting the attention of a Carnival staff, trying to locate parents, etc. Just be extra careful.
Disembarkation: I don't think it is possible to put enough minus signs behind an F to explain how bad this process was. We were on this very same ship June 2011 and the Fascination over New Year's Eve 2010 and, no joke, basically walked off both ships. This time around it was total chaos. They were calling the disembarkation numbers too quickly and way ahead of schedule. We were called 30 minutes prior to our scheduled time. This only led to lines everywhere, people everywhere, anger everywhere, Carnival employees standing around doing nothing everywhere, Carnival employees giving out mis-information everywhere. I cannot fathom the Carnival public relations department thinking this is a good final impression of their ship or company. We finally made it to the point where we put our key in the slot to leave the ship for the final time when I "win" my lucky prize of spending time with Customs (see shopping comment above).
Overall summary: We really struggled on selecting a cruise this year. We weren't sure if we wanted to move up to the next price point. We stayed with Carnival because of our past experiences and the price differential for the same exact itinerary thinking we could use the savings elsewhere on our trip which we certainly did. It has been said before, but it is worth repeating: with Carnival, you get what you pay for. 2012 cruise is still up in the air. Hope you find this helpful.
Pros: cabin size, economical, camp carnival
Cons: limited food and entertainment selections, disembarkation