We are first time cruisers and sailed on the Carnival Dream on August 11, 2012 from Port Canaveral. Our Ports were Nassau, St. Thomas and St. Maarten. My husband and I were with my parents (who brought my niece, 15) and my brother's family, including their son, 18, and daughters, 14 and 8. My parents and brother and sister-in-law have cruised multiple times on various lines.
We were disappointed in our cruising experience and will not sail Carnival again. This review is my attempt to be even-handed, recognizing the good and the bad of the trip.
Overall, the ship was clean and things were quite organized. There were numerous activities. The food was awful. Carnival did not enforce it's own rules, which allowed guests to bother others, and the ship does not have adequate support functions for the large number of guests (I think we had 4500 guests on board). They get it done, but it is not a special or even good experience. It definitely isn't something you want to repeat. Details are as follows...
The embarkation process was smooth, easy and organized. The ship was always clean and well-maintained. The decor of the ship's common areas, particularly the main multiple-level foyer, was horrible. The ship is only two years old, but the style of the decor seems liked outdated stuff from the 70's. The cabins were entirely different - a more modern and clean style.
We loved our cabin. It had great storage space and we were very comfortable. The balcony was a good size, with two chairs and a small table.
The food was the worst part of the cruise. It was literally terrible, although the food in the dining room was of somewhat better quality. The room service menu was extremely limited. The food in the grill varied. Fries were good, hot dogs were barely warm. The Gathering standard buffet was absolutely terrible - bland mush. The food in all areas, including the dining room, was barely lukewarm, and often downright cold. I'm a heavy person and definitely don't normally eat great food, but I actually lost weight on the cruise. That's even after buying junk food in the ship store because I couldn't find anything decent to eat on board that wasn't gross. I found myself eating a lot of salad and fruit because the cooked food was so bad. I picked at it and never finished a whole plate. Think limp, cold, greasy bacon. Soft, cold, not-sure-if-it's-cooked-all-the-way sausage links. Cold and bland fried potatoes, etc. Even the desserts didn't have much flavor. I had French toast or pancakes for breakfast most mornings because it was edible and warm enough. Others in our group liked the omelet bar and said the omelets there were good. The omelets in the dining room were not.
The lines were too long - it's as if the ship doesn't have adequate support structure for the large number of passengers. The first morning we went to the buffet for breakfast we waited in line (no exaggeration) for 20 minutes. Many areas of the ship were too crowded.
The service was adequate, but just average. We've always heard about the wonderful service on cruise lines - this isn't true for the Dream. The cabin steward service was no different than any middle of the line hotel maid, except there was a towel animal at night. The dining room wait staff didn't have any different service than you would receive at a restaurant as a first time visitor. Average at best, all the way around. People were nice and friendly, but there was no extra effort.
There is WAY too much of an attempt to sell you everything. For example, I got a massage in the spa. When it was done I had to listen to a ten minute speech about different lotions I could purchase before I was able to sign my bill and leave. I know I could have interrupted the girl and told her to skip it, but she was just doing her job and it wasn't her fault. When in the comedy club the host tries to sell you special drinks before the show.
The comedy club show is great. Steve the Fun Guy and the other comedians were wonderful and very funny. The shows varied, and the last night of the cruise we actually went to three entirely different shows. Make sure you arrive early to get in line for the adults only shows because the seats fill up fast.
The Dancing in the Streets Show with Fun Force in the Encore Theater is terrific. The other shows with the other dancers are disappointing - I've seen better in the palace at Six Flags. The choreography is fairly amateurish and I was shocked at some of the stripper type moves in a family show. The dancers also have difficulty dancing in unison, and it's fairly distracting when one or two of them (constantly) lag behind the others. That's fairly baseline for a chorus line.
Other reviewers had mentioned a sewer smell aboard ship and we were worried about that. We only smelled in twice. Both times were on deck five between Ocean Plaza and the rear of the vessel. This is one of the main decks of the ship, and a center of activity during sea days.
Our cabin had a balcony and we were on deck 9, Vista, just below the Lido deck. DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, BOOK YOUR CABIN ON VISTA DECK. The Lido deck has two pools, numerous places to eat, and is the site of dance parties and other events. The noise is ridiculous. We could have been on a lower deck for less money and not heard the noise.
At one point I was at a party on the Lido deck and went to our cabin, where my husband had been the whole time. He was steaming mad and the noise was out of control - imagine a few hundred people line dancing right above you. There was also significant noise from chairs scraping across the tile. It created a constant almost metal-on-metal scraping noise, at all times of night.
A good point for the ship - there were a number of activities and always something to do on board when at sea. You have the ability to make your trip as active or relaxing as you desire.
The casino employees at the craps table were very helpful, fun and accommodating. They really go out of their way to help you - and even gave us some good tips.
Steve the Cruise Director is a nice guy, seems to have things organized and seems to do a good job. By the end of the cruise you want to throttle him because he really likes to hear himself talk. It seemed like he was on the intercom during the day at least once an hour with a lengthy announcement. The embarkation instructional video featured him. The recorded intro announcement at the comedy club featured him. He ran the games and other things on stage at the Encore theater. It's all Steve, all the time. Gah! I have to believe there are other employees who are capable of doing some of it. Brittany the asst. director did a little of it and did fine. Rename it the Steve Ship.
I was really irritated that the ship did nothing to enforce it's own rules. For example, the Serenity decks are adult only, and signs are posted. Multiple adults brought their children on Serenity with them, and the kids ran around. There were numerous employees through the area cleaning, delivering drinks, etc., and nobody did anything. It was the one area on the ship that was supposed to be kid free, and wasn't.
In the Gathering buffet area, I was sitting down to eat and a man walked in wearing swim trunks - no shirt or shoes - gross! I asked an employee if they were required. He looked at the man, said yes, and did nothing about it. The man went through the buffet line, got his food and sat down and ate. He talked to a few employees while in line, and nobody said anything (they were obviously just helping him with his food). The pool is right outside the Gathering, but there is also a pizza place and the grill out on the deck where he could have eaten without coming inside.
Flip flops were not allowed in the dining room at any time. That would have eliminated about half the dining room patrons if anyone had done anything about it. On the two formal nights I think they required collared shirts and no shorts. They didn't enforce it. For example, one formal night the table behind us had a man and his three sons. They were all in cut off shorts, flip flops, and shirts with no sleeves. The sleeveless shirts weren't allowed in the dining room at any time, not just on formal nights.
We took my parents to the steakhouse for dinner. It was very good. The service there was a great experience and special. The food was quite good. It was an extra $35/person, and was worth doing.
We did two shore excursions through the ship. They were the snorkeling catamaran trip on St. Thomas and the tram ride to the top of a high hill on St. Thomas. Both were wonderful. We booked our own shore excursion on St. Maarten and it was terrific! Don't be afraid to look outside of what the ship has. If you're booking through the ship do it before your trip. I saw long lines at the shore excursion desk and many things filled up before everyone who was interested booked it.
We used the luggage express service when we returned to port. It worked perfectly and was well worth the $20/each. The debarkation process was very smooth and organized. While we were gone Carnival switched to a new place at the port. As a result, people were parked at a lot a significant distance from where we got off the ship. Carnival was well prepared for that, made announcements at the end of the cruise, and had shuttles ready to take people to the other lot.
The biggest problems on board were the food, the service and the enforcement of rules to ensure that everyone has a good experience. If they fix those it might be worth doing again. As my brother mentioned, though, Carnival is the WalMart of the cruise ships, and you should expect an experience at that kind of level. Spend more money and go elsewhere.