We are a married couple in our thirties with 2 young kids (DS 4 and DD 2). This was our 5th cruise, 2nd with CCL, all others with NCL. We like NCL and have come to find CCL very comparable with a few pros and cons for each line. Which i will list later on. We took this cruise with some extended family, my parents in law, sister in law, her DH and her DS.
We live in OH and in an effort to save $, we decided to drive down to FL. So glad we did! Sure, it was a long drive with the lils in tow but it wasn't bad at all. My family of 4 saved over $700 by driving. We did the 14 hr drive over 2 days, stopping in Columbia, SC on the way down. I am a firm believer in driving if it means more cruises in the future :)
Had a lovely time despite some major setbacks in the itinerary. Due to high winds, we missed both Roatan and Costa Maya. Going into the cruise I knew missing roatan was possible as this gets canceled from time to time but missing costa maya too really threw me for a loop. As a consolation, we ended up at Nassau on the last day for a total of 3 port days (instead of the 4 we planned on) and 3 sea days. My family and I prefer port days. Unfortunately for us, We have missed ports in 4 out of 5 cruises. Now I would expect missing ports when cruising during hurricane season but we have never rolled that dice so our track record baffles me.
So aside from that major bummer, we had a great time. The Dream is a great ship and we had great weather the 1st half of the week.
La Quinta Inn Cocoa Beach: nice staff but old and run down rooms. 1st room smelled discustingly strong of mildew, staff quick to put us in different room despite full capacity. Next room good. Inlaws room toilet flooded in middle of night, and was told maintainence could not be there for an hour. meanwhile, water was pouring out of toilet ontu floor and would not stop. DFIL ended up fixing it himself by turning off water supply to toilet and a plunger, and towels that he acquired from front desk. Breakfast pretty lame and super crowded. Pool was excellent! Warm! Aside from the pool and nice staff, this place was a bust.
Park n Cruise: exceptional service, quick, easy, close to port and 1/2 the price. Do not hesitate to use them. Parking lot seemed secure to me. Fenced and monitored. Great set up with curteous friendly staff. Gravel lot, did not bother us but may bother sme due to dust. Arrived at park n cruise around 10:15am. We strongly recommend them!
Port Canaveral: hectic but way more efficient and organized then POM. Arrived at port around 10:35. Security easy with FTTF. Checked in with FTTF a breeze, no problems on ship by 11:00am!
Carnival staff during embarkation were great. Curteous, effecient, friendly and smiling....so much better them POM. Score 1 for CCl.
FTTF: So glad we got it! Went straight to room dropped off luggage which is great with young kids. Got to beat the lines at the buffet. FTTF came in handy so many times when being able to skip lines for tenders and guest services etc. saved us a lot of time so nice with young kids since they slow us down enough to begin with. Do not think we would have needed FTTF with just me and hubby by ourselves because we operate so much more efficiently without the lils, that the fun happens fast on its own ;) score 1 for CCL for FTTF.
LOVED Her! Not much negatives about the ship. A little tricky to navigate and at times somewhat overwhelming but by the end of the week, I felt aquatinted...about the time we had to get off. Public areas were always clean. i rarely felt crowded except at the buffet and sometimes on the pool deck, which can be said of most ships.
Water park was the biggest perk for us. My kids road those slides till they collapsed ( my kids, not the water slides, haha). Only negative was that the larger slides closed for 2nd half of the cruise due to high winds (90 km/hr). Thankfully they do keep the 2 smaller slides and kids area open so it was still fun.
CHOGs were in full force but I did see the staff trying to enforce the policy and keeping tabs on unattended belonging by placing "naughty" stickers on stuff and if the person did not come back in 30 min they would confiscate the stuff. I thought this was awesome. As a result of this threat, the chogs seemed to chill out. We were always able to find lounge chairs within a few min of getting to the pool area, even in the middle of the afternoon.
Food: overall very good but a few disappointments. I still like ccl food better then ncl.
ATD: we had anytime dining in the crimson. I loved the ATD. Grant it, we are used to this style since ncl does all ATD with the freestyle cruising they offer. We had a large party of 9 and we only had to wait one night (wednesday night). We were handed a pager and waited about 25min. Other then that we were seated either right away or with in a few minutes. Sometimes there was a line to be seated, sometimes you just walked right up. Either way, it worked out well for our group. We did try to come early and avoide rush times but even when we came at 6:30, we still did ok except for Wednesday night.
MDR: I really liked the food in the mdr. Some meals that stuck out in my mind as exceptional we're the chateaubriand, filet, brisket, bacon Mac n cheese, most of the soups I tried we're amazing. Hubby really liked those too plus he liked the burger. Kids loved the Mac n cheese and sherbets.
DH disappointed with the Caesar salad, flat iron steak gravy, and he felt the menu options were a little blah and not edgy engough. I on the other hand liked the menu and was very pleased with the food. DH likes to try new things on cruises and would have liked to see more fancier options like duck as a main coarse. He also was looking fwd to the escargot but it was never served on this cruise.
Some of the main dishes (like prime rib and fried shrimp) were repeated through out the week which struck me as strange but not a bad thing per say. The flat iron this week was ok but not as good as the fascination last month. Desserts were pretty good, the wcmc came out perfect and gooey every time. DH likes the bitter and blanc, DFIL loved the Black Forest cake, MFIL loved the amaretto cake. The vanilla souffle was good but I prefer vanilla bean sauce with it where ccl serves it with an orange cream sauce.
Service in the mdr was good but Dinner always took 2 hrs. i know this is just part of crusing but on our previous cruises dinner did not usually take that long. i am sure part of it was the fact that we had a large group. The staff work so hard and are so friendly. We made lots of friends with the wait staff. Special shout out to Joseph, Jugoslava, Marius, Rodger, Thunisthu, and Michelle. Great job guys!
The Buffet (aka The Gathering Place, aka The Mob Scene):
I have to admit, I hate the buffet scene on any cruise but carnival has its own special breed of awful when it comes to buffet lines and buffet design. The food is typical cruise buffet food, carving station, rotating themes, pizza, deli, grill, Mongolian wok, pasta. I will break the food down more later but overall the food is fine, it is the buffet design that creates long slow moving lines.
1st ccl does not have an efficient line set up. On ncl, you just walk up to any area of the buffet and get what you need. The only time you wait on ncl at the buffet is if what you want is out and it needs restocked. On ccl, if you want fries or something else located in the middle of the buffet you have to go to the end of the line and wait to go down the whole line of foods before you get what you want. And many times you are waiting in a line of people who are wanting special made to order item when all you want is the stuff just sitting there already on the buffet. It is a stupid design. The grill should have a made to order area and a separate line for sides etc.
In addition, I have heard other ppl on here complain about limited buffet times. I thought this seemed silly since there is always "something" to eat on a cruise. After this cruise, I see what they mean. Since I tried to avoid the buffet during high times, I went during off times to find most things were closed, so then the stuff opened still had long lines.....so annoying!! Again, not a good set up at all. Score 1 for NCL on buffet design.
Pizza: delicious, amazing for a cruise ship, way better then ncl and way better then the fascination which surprised me cause you would think they would be fleet wide. Best buffet food by far! Open all the time. Score 1 for CCL
Mongolian Wok: waited a 1/2 hour and it was not as good as the fascination a month ago....not sure why. Lines are always long and move ridiculously slow. Very limited hours.
Deli: excellent mozzarella, arugula, and red pepper sandwich. DFIL liked the pastrami. DSIL liked the turkey wraps. Line was sometimes long but pretty manageable. Opened most of the time along with pizza. score 1 for CCL on good deli creations.
Burrito bar: ok, edible, but nothing to write home about. Pretty flavorless. Again, limited hours. Glad they have it though, more options are always welcomed IMO.
Rotating themes: never tried. Always had lines and nothing looked appealing enough to wait for.
Pasta Bar: DMIL and DSIL loved it! I never tried it but only because I was never in the mood for pasta during this cruise. It looked and smelled good though....maybe next time :) Score 1 for CCL
The Grill: I never tried this week but others in our group were a little disappointed with burgers after waiting in line for it. Burgers in mdr were delicious though. Kids liked hot dogs.
Ice Cream Soft Serve (aka Old Faithful) always good, always available, never a long line...woo hoo! NCL has this too, so tie.
Other buffet desserts: ok, but not that great considering it was saturated fats and sugars. I preferred to save my calories for ice cream and mdr desserts. The cheesecake was gelatin like and other desserts not impressive. DS loved the chocolate chip cookies though.
Buffet: again, avoided buffet during this time but tried it twice (once by default when room service never showed up). The room service debacle occurred in Belize so we quickly made our way to the lido grill area for breakfast where the lines were shorter. This worked out ok. The next day, in roatan, our port was canceled so the buffet was a mad house. It crazy and chaotic. After that it was mdr or punch liner brunch everyday.
MDR/Punchliner brunch: food was good. I really enjoy relaxing at breakfast and not fighting the buffet mob in the AM. Brunch was offered on sea days from 9am til 1pm in the MDR. On port days there was the normal breakfast and lunch served. we all really liked the cheese Danish, pancakes, eggs Benedict, and breakfast burrito on the brunch menu.
Breakfast room service: this was the normal continental fare that you order the night before via door hanger. We used this on early port days. The 1st time it never showed up which sucked. The 2nd time it worked out well. We did order room service once for the kids at dinner time and found the person who took the order to be rude and acted like we were bothering her. This was the only unpleasant experience we had with staff all week so I can not complain! Overall, NCL does a better job with room service so score 1 for NCL.
We had a cove balcony, 2254, port side, located just above shore excursion desk so very quiet. My parents in law had 2252 just next door to us and our balconies connected from the outside, we just asked the room steward to open it.
The room was way larger then NCL. Lots of storage, decent size bathroom for a ship. Comfy beds. Balcony was also a nice size for ship.
We liked the cove balcony the 1st half of the week, it was neat being close to the water. But the 2nd half of the week it got real windy and seas were rough so our cove turned into a water park from the sea spray. We could not really use it much then. I would still book it again to save the money though.
Excellent! From our room steward to wait staff, it was very good. A few hiccups here and there but CCL staff are such hard workers, attentive, and smiling. Very good. Slight edge to CCL on this, since NCL workers seem over-worked and unhappy.
CC was a mixed bag for our family since DD wanted to be there all the time and DS hated it. DD begged us everyday to go there and always wanted to eat dinner there and not with us. DS on the other hand, begged not to go. DS has Autism and limited verbal ability so we are not sure why he didn't like it other then he prefers to do his own things and avoids structure. The camp carnival staff were so kind and seemed very competent. They tried hard to get my son engaged so I am sure the problem is more with his preference.
This is where NCL shines and CCL just does ok. NCL brings in more variety acts thru the week and does less production type shows. CCL does way more production shows and less visiting entertainers.
The productions shows: to be fair, we don't like these in general. They are just not our preference. We tend to find the music, dancing and customs to be cheesy. Most of the shows on the Dream were no exception. In addition the lead female singer was annoying. I think she had a really pretty voice but I wouldn't know because every time she sang she used this over the top, forced, soulful, belly crunching sound, even when it didn't fit the song. The 1st show we saw was the Mo-town show so channeling her inner Arethra Franklin seemed appropriate, although not pleasant. But she also brought this same voice to the Counrty themed show...why in the world would you bring that style of voice to a hoe-down?? It just did not fit and sounded ridiculous to us.
Then there was the main production show of the week, we really wanted to see Dancing in the Streets because it is the only show that features the Fun Force dancers. So, we arrived at 8pm for the 8:30 show, thinking a half hour early was plenty of time. But when we arrived, they had BINGO going on and every seat was taken with bingo players. We waited till bingo was over thinking some would get up and leave but bingo went straight up till show time and no one left. I could not believe it. We arrived a half hour early and still could not get a single seat....this is ridiculous! Why would you have bingo right before the main show of then week? Since we had our lil ones with us, the late show was not an option for us :(
Juggling Comedian: was great! Best show of the week!
Punchliner comedians: saw 2 out 4, both were hilarious!
Cozumel: best port day of cruise! Went to Paradise Beach Resort via taxi from cruise port. Taxi was easy to come by and it cost $3pp for group of 9. After bout a 20min van ride we arrived at PBR. It is a beautiful resort with a pool, beach, restaraunt, bar, facilities, beautiful land scaping, inflatable water slides and trampolines, and kayaks and paddle boards. Admission is free but food/drink purchases are expected. You can rent lounge chairs or you can buy a $12 wrist ban which gives you access to all the fun things. We had a lovely time, the kids had so much fun and we found it relaxing. The food was delicious. Overall, it was a great deal and wonderful beach day. The weather was perfect that day too which helped greatly!
Belize: Another great day at port. We booked a cave tubing trip with Charlie's Cave Tubing. We got off the ship and met Charlie and his sons just outside of terminal 2. They Arrived shortly after us in their passenger van. Charlie was very nice and made us feel at ease. He immediately informed us, it had rained the last 3 days there so the rivers were not safe for tubing. He offered to take us on another tour of our choosing instead. He gave us a few opts and we decided on exploring Herman's Cave and Blue Hole National Park. We had a great time. The hike thru the rainforest to the cave was so cool and the cave was really neat. It had a river that ran thru it. After the cave we went to Blue Hole (a sink hole nestled in lush jungle area) and we got to swim. Now normally the water is bright blue and clear (hense the name), but with all the past rain the water was a bit murky...but still blue, and still beautiful...just not as breath-taking. Charlie had us back to the pier with plenty of time to spare. We got back in time for late lunch on the lido and few waterslide runs for the kids. All, in all it was a great day and I would highly recommend Charlie's Cave Tubing. I hope next time we are in Belize we will go with him again and actually get to tube!
Roatan: boooooooo! Canceled!
Costa Maya: double boooooooo! Canceled. On to Nassau instead!
Nassau: Thankfully we had recently been to Nassau so I had some fresh research info in my head and I knew what we wanted to do. We went to the Sheraton Beach Resort at Cable Beach. We got off the ship at 8am and headed for the taxi's. it was $5 pp each way. Once there, you pay $25pp for a wrist band and then you are free to enjoy their pools, beach, loungers, water toys, and towels. This resort is beautiful, with lots of free form pools with waterfalls, hot tubs, one heated pool with swim up bar, and a beautiful beach with lounge chairs and hammocks. It turned out to be a fun and relaxing day even though the weather was a little chilly and cloudy at times.
Debarkation: waking up from our Dream.
It was a smooth disembark with FTTF. We got to pick our disembark time and get luggage tags to correspond with that time from guest services. We chose 8:30am. After a lovely breakfast in the MDR, we skipped the line and walked right off the dream and back to the reality of port Canaveral.
It was an easy transition back to reality as this port runs smoothly. We got our luggage, sailed thru customs, and made our way to shuttle area.
ParkNCruise was waiting for us with a shuttle all ready to go and we were banc to our car around 9am.
All in all, it was a great week. I left a CCL fan. While I still like NCL I think I like CCL a little better. DH and his parents both like NCL slightly better but we all agreed they are close. Next time it will come down to price and itinerary for sure!