LIke many other reviewers, we were very nervous after reading the summer reviews. I have a couple hypotheses. Perhaps Carnival has been reading them, as well, and they have taken some positive steps. Perhaps, some people see their role as critic as fault-finding. Our role is not as critic until we return. For 7 days we set out to have a great time, relax, and enjoy the time away. We succeeded.
We booked the trip via Marriott Rewards Points. I got a tip that the cruise certificate cost would go up in August from 145,000 to 195,000 points (for $1,000). I was able to pay for the cruise with points. Very nice. Its still a pretty good points value, but, 210,000 Marriott points can get you a week at a very nice resort (probably worth over $2,000).
Embarkation: We flew to Port Canaveral. Pro's: closer to port. Cons: the luggage express program only works with MCO. We rented a car one way to Port Canaveral. They will shuttle you to the port. I was the only renter that dropped my passengers and luggage at the port before turning in the car. No offense, but, each car seemed to have 4 passengers and 8 oversized bags, filling up the buses and forcing many to wait. I was allowed to get on a full bus, because I had no other people and no bags. Probably saved a half hour or more. Embarkation itself seemed pretty normal. A necessary evil made as painless as possible, but it still probably took about an hour. Did anyone else think the lady continually harping on the PA was incredibly annoying. I think she was the only person that enjoyed hearing her voice.
Once on the ship, I was impressed with how well the buffet was working. We were off to a good start. Dinner was normal cruise fare in the main dining room. Not really better or worse. Our server team was very good. The chocolate melting cake is still as good as ever. We did the pasta bar on 2 occasions for lunch. The lasagna there is amazingly good. They did a barbecue on deck 5 on the sea days. Don't miss this. The sliders are really great. The steakhouse (Chef's Art) should not be missed. We always do the steakhouse on the last night of a cruise. We went earlier in the week, also. Steaks and service are on par with Flemings or Ruth's Chris. The desserts are enormous. Dinner would cost us $150 on land. Easily worth the $70 (for 2) up-charge. The steaks are clearly much higher grade than the main dining room.
Our cabin was great. We love the aft balcony. I like to smoke cigars. No better place to enjoy one. When Carnival bans balcony cigars (like NCL and Princess) I'll switch to land based vacations. Obnoxious drunks don't cause the cruise lines to drop alcoholic beverages. Interestingly, the Dream did not allow cigars indoors anywhere on the ship, but, did allow cigarettes. This is very annoying. I would appreciate a nice cigar lounge available on most upscale ships (including some of Carnival's). But, let me have a cigar on my balcony, and you'll get no complaints. I write this because I've read several posts from people complaining about balcony smoking.
The Serenity area was really comfortable. We ordered lunch there (complimentary). We both liked this touch. No, I didn't have a cigar there. They have a couple hot tubs, but no pool. The water slides are pretty impressive. You have to do each of them at least once. Some days the lines got pretty long.
Debarkation was easy. We wait until everyone has left, and then we get off. Did a one way rental car back to MLB. Easy.
Overall, this was the best Carnival ship we've done. We almost gave up on them after somewhat of a disappointment with the Liberty in 2011. Now we are thinking seriously about booking the Sunshine in 2013. We loved the Princess Crown, but, honestly, I think the Dream is a better ship. Not just better for me, but, better. I'm not sure what ship some of the earlier reviewers are discussing.