My wife, daughter and I just returned from a 7-day Western Caribbean cruise aboard the Carnival Dream. My wife and I are in our late 40s and veteran cruisers. This was my 9-year-old's second cruise, my wife's eighth and my ninth, but first on Carnival since sailing the now-retired Jubilee 26 years ago.
We chose this particular cruise because of the kids and our friends had not seen 4 of the 5 ports. Our neighbors also went and their 10-year-old son is in the same grade as our daughter and they also have a 7-year-old son.
The ship was beautiful, although it took a day to figure out the layout. Some decks don't go all the way from front to back like Deck 3.
Before we arrived in Port Canaveral for our Dec. 8 embarkation, I had extensively read all the reviews regarding the Dream, and many were negative in nature. Stories of awful smells, poor service in the dining room, over-worked staff and unfriendly crew members permeated the message boards.
I don't know what ship they were on, but that could be further than the truth. In fact, the service and food far exceeded everyone in our group's expectations.
Our room steward (Dennis) could not have been nicer and his fellow workers near our cabin (9474, aft) knew our names after the first day. Ditto for our dining room staff. We had late seating and Suan (head waiter), Giofre (waiter) and Georgianna (asst. waiter) were fantastic! I will get more into the service later in the review.
The cruise director, Jaime, also was terrific. Probably the best cruise director among my nine cruises. She was gregarious and was not over the top like we've experienced with other CDs. She really was great to the kids and got to know our friend's children quite well. Sure, there were plenty of announcements during the day, but that's par for the course on cruise ships. Jaime, who is American (from Detroit area) gets A+ marks from us.
If you treat the crew with respect, they will come back to you with the same warm attitude. If you constantly bitch and moan and yell at them, they likely won't be friendly.
Now on to the rest of the review.
We flew down the day before and rented a 12-passenger van from Avis. This allowed for all seven of us to easily get to the port with our luggage. The cost was $135, which we figured was less expensive than using transportation service. This also allowed us to hit a Publix to purchase sodas, water, snacks and a couple of bottles of wine. We also hit a Sports Authority to purchase a couple of other items that we neglected to bring from home.
Since I am platinum with Marriott, we elected to stay at the Airport Marriott, where my VIP Athletic Rate was only $75, plus I got free parking and internet through my status.
We drove to Port Canaveral the following morning. Took us only 45 minutes. Since there were a lot of people waiting for the Avis shuttle, the folks at the rental car facility asked me to take everyone to the port to drop off the luggage and passengers. I then made the short drive back to Avis (10 minutes) to drop off the car. They gave me priority boarding and I was back at the cruise terminal within 20 minutes.
We purchased the Faster to the Fun option for $49.95 and boy was that worth it. We cruised through security and registration and were on the ship within 10-15 minutes. Wished the FTTF promotion also included priority seating at the shows as well. Maybe Carnival can add that.
A note for those planning on carrying on water/soda: the security folks did shake our water bottles for liquor. But I did manage to get my scotch and tequila on board. If you want to know how please send me an e-mail, which I'll provide at the end of the review. And no, I didn't use Rum Runners. All of my alcohol made it to our stateroom.
The Faster to the Fun program also allows you to go straight to your stateroom and your luggage gets to the cabin at about the same time. Three of our four bags were there. My daughter's came a little later, which wasn't a big deal.
Our cabin (Vista Deck, aft, 9474) had plenty of space. Can't say it was any bigger or smaller than other balcony staterooms we've had in the past. The balcony, however, was larger because it was adjacent to the aft wrap stateroom. The shower had plenty of water pressure and the temperature adjustment dial worked very well.
I only had two small issues with the room. One, there wasn't a lot of hangars, but I kind of anticipated this and brought extras from home. The other issue was the TV didn't have ESPN. You get NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, CNN, CNN HDLN, TNT, Cartoon Network, etc. but no ESPN. The Sports Bar on Deck 5 offered, which means Carnival can receive the signal.
We also brought a surge protector from home so we could plug in multiple devices such as IPod chargers, cell chargers, an AC adaptor for the laptop, etc. But on the second night, we got a note from Carnival saying surge protectors are a potential fire hazard and not permitted, and we could pick it up at the end of the cruise. We knew irons and other such devices were forbidden, but a surge protector? That was a head-scratcher.
We also informed our steward that we were removing the mini-bar contents (soda, beer, miniature liquor bottles) from the small refrigerator to put in our own sodas. Our friends also sent us a bon voyage soda gift that came in a portable Carnival cooler, which we used throughout the week to keep beverages cold. We just scribbled a note to Dennis and he always filled it up with ice.
Once we were settled, we made a spa reservation for my daughter (manicure/hair appt.), checked out Camp Carnival, signed up for the unlimited internet ($99 for the week) and had lunch at the Pasta Bar, which was very good. There was hardly anyone there since most people were a level down at the Gathering, which is the regular buffet. They offer water, lemonade and coffee as far as free beverages.
We then purchased the Bottomless Bubbles package at one of the bars on Deck 5. This gives you unlimited soda for the entire cruise. We only bought two, one for my DD and one for my DW, which came to around $88. Since we also brought on soda/water, we figured this was the way to go.
We aren't huge consumers of alcohol so we didn't feel the Cheers Bar (All You Can Drink) package was right for us. Each person of age in your cabin has to buy it, so that would have meant paying around $700. You need to consume 8-9 drinks a day to make the package pay for itself. Drinks were between 6 and $10 with the standard 15% tip added. It sure would be more convenient if CCL just included the tip within the menu price. In fact, all cruise lines should do this.
We saw a table for the Cheers package as we boarded the ship. You can also buy the package at any bar. I met one group that bought the package and was sharing the two cards among their group, which I think had 5 of-age adults. You just have to move from bar to bar to buy the drinks.
For dining, we switched from ATD to Late Seating, partly because we heard so many horror stories of long lines and disorganization and partly because our friends had Late Seating. Didn't hear of any issues with ATD and every time we walked by the Crimson Dining Room, it didn't look completely full.
But I am glad we picked Assigned Dining. Like I said early, our wait staff was phenomenal. They got to know us immediately, and even the bar server was bringing the kids and my wife sodas each night. We also brought wine to dinner and never were charged a cork fee. The wait staff always asked if we wanted another helping or to try another entree. I had an extra lobster tail on the first formal night (Sunday). The menu changed every night, but there were things you could order every night such as shrimp and fruit cocktails, Caesar salad, salmon and steak.
You can also get the famous warm chocolate melting cake every night along with assorted ice cream sherbets.
The only menu item I didn't like was the Caesar salad. It just wasn't very tasty. Everything else was terrific and more than exceeded my expectations. The food has definitely improved on Carnival in 26 years.
I also LOVED the pizza and pastrami sandwiches from the Deli. Wow!!! Delicious!!!
On Sunday, we had our M&G in the Burgundy Lounge, although the turnout was disappointing. Only about 12 people showed. We had around 50-70 people on the Roll Call and even a few of the more active members never came. It was scheduled for 10 a.m. and I guess too many wanted to just sleep in. Oh well, I enjoyed meeting the ones who did come.
On Monday night, we went to the Art's Steakhouse. It's a $35 surcharge pp but it is well worth it. The food was phenomenal. Plenty of great appetizers, including jumbo shrimp cocktail, escargot and tuna tartar. The Caesar salad was much tastier in the steakhouse as well. You can get a lobster tail, but only with the surf and turf entree. If you want to add a lobster tail to any other menu item, they will charge you an additional $20. I had the lamb chop and it was outstanding.
The presentation, service and ambiance made it a great evening. They did charge me a $14 cork fee for the champagne I brought to the dining room. We also added a tip to the final bill because of the great service.
In fact, we gave our regular wait staff and room steward a little something extra because of their outstanding service.
But here is my pet peeve with Carnival as it relates to dinner. If you say no t-shirts or flip flops in the dining room, then enforce the rule. There were so many people who showed up for dinner looking like they just walked in from the beach. To me, dining on a cruise ship is an experience. It's about getting great service and dressing up a bit.
Is it that hard to put on a pair of khakis and a golf/dress shirt? And on formal night, is it really that hard to wear a tie/jacket? There are only two formal nights (Sunday and Thursday). If you want to look like a schlep, go eat in the buffet.
And Carnival, if you have rules in place then enforce them. It just looks awful when people think just because you are on vacation you don't have to follow a dress code. It's only for a couple of hours anyway.
As for photos, be prepared to pay. It will cost you $21.99 for a portrait.
We also hired a photographer to shoot us on the first formal night. There is no obligation to purchase, but if you do want to buy these portraits, they are nearly $30 a pop and one medium package will set you back $1500. That's the cost of a cruise for two.
In the digital age, it cost Carnival almost nothing to produce images, but it doesn't stop them from price gauging. My wife bought six because she wanted some nice professionally produced family produced. But we might have bought more if the prices were more reasonable.
We did go to several shows. The best was Dancing in the Streets on Tuesday night. A cross between Cirque du Soleil and Rock of Ages. Really phenomenal. One of the best I have seen on any cruise.
But some of the scheduling of shows/activities had me scratching my head. One night, they did the Hasbro Game Show, but it was at 8:15 p.m. Those of us with Late Seating couldn't participate and it was not repeated. Why not have that show at 10 when everyone on the ship can participate?
And why does Carnival do trivia games only during the day? Would have been fun to do it either just before dinner or late night. Not everyone wants to sit at a bar and guzzle endless amounts of alcohol while listening to live entertainment or loud music.
Saw a couple of comedy shows in the Punchliner, which is located in the Burgundy Lounge (Deck 5 aft). Steven Scott was really good. He was featured Sunday and Monday before getting off in Belize. Chad Elstner was OK toward the end of the cruise. One of the other scheduled comedians missed the ship, so Jeff the Fun Dude filled in. He was also OK.
Each of the shows is repeated at least once and there is family friendly and adult (18 and over) shows. I didn't do the Brunch on either sea day, although my wife went to brunch on the last day and said the comedian was just OK.
Just remember to get in line about 30 minutes prior to the show to ensure a decent seat.
I decided to eat breakfast in the Gathering every day. Food was good. Plenty of choices, although you couldn't get any smoked salmon. They did serve it in the deli after 11 a.m. The omelets were also very good. They have stations set up in the middle of the buffet, and the cooks will make eggs as well. If you want eggs over hard, over easy or sunny-side up, they'll make them for you. There is also a selection of juices that are dispensed out of the machines. We also never had a problem finding a table and staff members were consistently cleaning off tables to make room for new arrivals.
The ship hit four ports: Cozumel, Belize, Roatan and Costa Maya, although we had a very short 7-hour stay in the latter. I booked all of our excursions privately. My DW and DD wanted to do the Royal Dolphin swim and while Carnival wanted $180 pp, I got it at $256 for four people (our friends went as well). It was a 2-for-1 booked online. Just put down you're staying locally instead of coming on a cruise and you can get the internet special. They had a blast and the massive savings (nearly $500) allowed my wife to purchase the photos for $109. They won't allow you to take your own pictures.
I just took a $7 cab ride into town to get some Cuban cigars from the LCDH shop.
In Belize, I went through Coral Breeze to book our snorkel expedition to Caye Caulker. They were great. Ivar met us as we passed through the Terminal 4 gate and his wife, Star, checked us in. It was $196 for 2 adults and one child w/o lunch. We took a 45-minute ride through the mangroves and Ivar explained the eco-system to our group, which only included 14 snorkelers. Our guide Mark, was able to get an eel to come up while we swimming above the gorgeous coral. We also saw a huge sting ray, a baby barracuda and a lobster that Mark picked up out of the water. We then went to a second location to see sting rays and nurse sharks before spending 2 hours on Caye Caulker.
The Dream has to tender in Belize because the water near shore is too shallow for cruise ships. We went down to the Burgundy Lounge, where we got a sticker and was in Belize City by 8:45. Purchasing FTTF also gets you priority tendering but we really didn't need it.
Roatan was absolutely gorgeous and is now my second favorite Caribbean island behind Barbados. Loved the topography and layout of the port. Our friends booked zip lining through South Shore. We met them outside of the terminal and took a van ride to the zipping location, where we did 12 lines. There just five of us and our three guides handled our cameras for us. My DW and DD did the eco-walk because my 9 yr old chose not to zip. After that, we were taken to a wonderful beach. The island reminded me of Tortola (British V.I.).
Costa Maya was our last stop and we purchased a beach break/waverunners. We took a short ride to Pez Quadro where we were met by Francisco, the bar/beach manager for the 40 Cannons Hotel. We had chairs and unlimited non-alcoholic drinks. The cost was $23 per adult. The kids were free. The waverunners were $50 to rent for a half hour. Because of the short stay, we were only there for 3 hours.
In reality, I wish we could have spent 2 days in Roatan and 2 days in Belize and just skipped Cozumel and Costa Maya. This was my fourth time in Cozumel and it doesn't do much for me. Costa Maya wasn't anything special.
Some on the boards have complained about chair hogs at the pool. We never had a problem finding a chair, either on the Lido Deck (10) or Spa Deck (12). Deck 11 had covered chairs. Just wish there were more whirlpools by the main pool area. The size of the pool could also be bigger for this class of ship. I also never used the Serenity area, although it was closed off the last sea day due to high winds.
The water slides were also a big hit. They also were closed on Friday due to the winds. My DD loved the slides.
We did use Camp Carnival a couple of times, although I can't figure out why they had their late-night party (to 3 a.m.) on a day when we docked at Costa Maya at 7 a.m. Our daughter enjoyed Camp Carnival, but she preferred the pool and water slides more. She also participated in a special Holiday Show the kids put on for the passengers on the last sea day.
Debarkation was also easy. We were assigned Zone 2 because of FTTF and we were off the ship and to Avis by 9.
My biggest beef with Carnival, however, has to do with the lack of a cigar bar. I enjoy a fine cigar after dinner and Carnival makes you either smoke them on your balcony or use a space located outside on Deck 5 midship called The Lanai. On our first night, this area was closed off due to high winds. This is where Princess and NCL score with me. Both have dedicated indoor Cigar Bars, where you can enjoy a drink a cigar on a comfy couch or chair.
The Dream certainly has space for such a facility. There are certainly enough regular bars.
I would prefer to smoke in a cigar bar over my balcony.
Another issue was some of the parents who let their kids run around the ship. I saw three kids goofing off in the workout area the last day and thankfully, a Carnival staff member came by to boot them out. One kid, who looked no more than 7, had the treadmill turned up to its highest speed and was hanging on to the side as he tried to keep up. The kid could have seriously injured himself, but he thought it was amusing to see thing revved up. When the Carnival staffer helped him off the machine, he fell backward and was very lucky not to bang his head hard on the back of the treadmill.
Other knuckleheads felt the need to push all the buttons in the elevators, which made for even long waits. This may sound cute, but it's not funny for those of us who need to grab the already-crowded elevators.
But even with that said, we had a terrific cruise. My daughter was crying when we had to depart because she didn't want to leave the ship. She wants to do another Carnival cruise. We would consider it if the price and itinerary worked.
If I had my druthers, I would prefer to sail on Princess or RCL because the passengers on those lines are a little more sophisticated, and I like NCL because its ships have cigar bars. But the Dream's service left a very good taste in my mouth.
I would be happy to answer questions. Send me an e-mail at email@example.com.