The Carnival Dream experience is mediocre at best. The sailing to the Easter Caribbean, October 20-28, was affected by Hurricane Sandy, which was not pleasant. However, this review does not reflect any of the experiences and flaws that were caused by weather -- Carnival has absolutely no control over Mother Nature! In fact, I was very pleased that the experienced crew of the Dream navigated the storm as best as could be expected.
I believe this ship may provide a fine vacation for the first-time cruiser, or for those who enjoy chain-restaurant cuisine (and there's nothing wrong with that!). However, the experienced cruiser and/or the traveler with a taste for gourmet dining experiences (which are expected on other ships) and a sophisticated cruise atmosphere will be sorely disappointed.
Let me first say that the staff on the Dream is comprised of absolutely WONDERFUL people. The members of the waitstaff in the Scarlet Dinning Room were simply marvelous, always friendly, and always smiling. They provided exemplary service, and made us feel very special. The bartenders and cocktail waiters were also wonderful, and they remembered me (and my drink preferences) even when they were working in different locations throughout the ship. These people work VERY hard, and they deserve a LOT of praise (and TIPS). The cabin stewards are the best in the industry; they keep cabins tidy, inviting and supremely clean without interfering with personal property/belongings. Bravo to the staff!
The outstanding down-fall of the Carnival Dream (and maybe Carnival in general these days) is the cuisine. The buffet on Lido deck provides little more than fatty, heavy cafeteria-style selections and sub-par boxed/frozen desserts. Breakfast on Lido deck consists of cereal, mushy fruit, and (ALWAYS) cold toast, bagels and breads, along with cold potatoes, swimming in grease. Lunch offered greasy fish drowning in cream sauce, cold pastas and a sad salad bar (iceberg lettuce and virtually no fresh vegetables).
The grill on Lido offered hot and fresh burgers and hotdogs, however the fries were always hard and/or cold.
A Tandoor (Indian) food station located at the aft Lido deck was the star of the buffet-style offerings. The food here was authentically spiced, well-prepared, and often hot.
The 24hr pizza station was good -- mostly because the pizza is hot and always fresh.
Dinner in the dining room was a the biggest disappointment of the entire experience. Cruise ships are famed for their outstanding culinary creations, and exemplary dining is an expected luxury on a cruise vacation. Every meal we had at our assigned dinner seating was sub-par, cold, and/or tasteless. I noticed that the "chef-crafted" menus offered on the Dream were actually the same dishes that were featured on the menus for a Carnival cruise to Canada/New England that I took two years ago -- only the food quality was diminished, and the dishes were cold. Every meal was comparable to dishes served at a poorly-catered business convention, or a chain restaurant.
The entertainment provided is, I'm happy to say, the very BEST at sea! The shows were outstanding, and the Carnival Dream absolutely wins the prize for best musical/theater productions on any cruise I've ever taken.
The comedy shows offered at the Punchliner comedy club are lewd and unimaginative, but I understand that some people do enjoy this kind of comedy. If you prefer more intelligent/better written comedy (i.e. Wanda Sykes, Aziz Ansari), you'll certainly find these comedians offensive and novice (most "jokes" are about the comedian's wife's butt or the comedian's desire to eat and drink with their fellow "fat" passengers).
---General Atmosphere, Cabins and Passengers---
Like all Carnival ships, the Dream has a relaxed, care-free, FUN atmosphere. The ship's interior is loud and vibrant, and the passengers like to have a good time. There's always something to do, and there's often music (really good singers and bands!) or sports telecasting (which can be good and bad) on the Lido deck and throughout the ship.
Passengers ranged from small children to elderly adults. The median age seemed to be 30s/40s, and there were plenty of families, couples and large groups on board. I noticed that many passengers were from the Southern US, and even more were from Florida. Most of the fellow passengers were laid-back, friendly and down-to-earth kind of people, which is pleasant.
I was happy to find that most people were well-mannered -- no one was cutting in line at the buffet, people would hold elevators for one another, etc.
Our balcony stateroom on Deck 10 was wonderful. It provided ample space, comfortable bedding, plenty of storage and a wonderful balcony with two chairs and a table. My only complaint is Carnival's policy on cigar smoking on the balconies. It's truly disgusting when you're trying to enjoy the balcony you paid for and you have to retreat to your cabin because your neighbor is puffing on a stinking cigar. Second-hand smoke not only smells horrible, but it is also a health-hazard -- Carnival really needs to change this policy.
I know this last comment will upset some people, but I must include it. Some of the passengers on this ship were somewhat ignorant. It was almost unbelievable that fellow passengers were whispering and pointing at my partner and myself as we walked by, or, worse yet, glaring at us with contempt. I understand that some people have never encountered fellow Americans from large cities, who are somewhat eccentric, but their lack of tact was embarrassing! We had no issues with their "I'm a Redneck" t-shirts, and we expected that they'd be just as indifferent to us. In my opinion, the Red Hat Ladies, in their sparkling hats and feather boas, provided more of a show than we did! :)
---> Bottom line: a cruise on the Carnival Dream could quite possibly be a fantastic vacation for a first-time cruiser, family, or anyone who wants a lot of "bang for the buck." Experienced cruisers, those looking for classic cruise cuisine, or those who want a more sophisticated cruise vacation should choose another cruise line.