This was our first cruise. However, our family is well traveled. We have lived and traveled overseas and all around the US. I consider myself to be very frugal but willing to spend money on quality when it seems appropriate.
We have never been to the Caribbean and knew that we wanted to hit Eastern Islands on our 1st trip. I priced out our options and chose the Dream (as opposed to its competitors on the same or similar routes) based on cost and somewhat favorable reviews. I would describe the last week on the Dream as a mixed bag.
The ship, its entire staff, comedians, shows, cruise director etc. definitely met my expectations. Jaime the cruise director was so energetic and authentic. We loved trivia with Mr. B and Ben. The kids loved the Fun Force dancers. All 4 comedians were great. Everything was clean. Room steward was amazing.
I am a picky vegetarian and there was an adequate selection of food for all meals. My husband thought the food was a step up from Ponderosa-style buffet food but not impressive. We tried eating in the formal dining room once but it was slow and food was not worth the wait so we used alternative dining options for all other meals. Besides - we dress up for work. The last thing that we want to do is dress up on vacation. It was almost comical watching the outfit combinations that some people come up with on elegant nights. It felt like a bad high school dance with the cheesy photographs and tacky poses to boot.
My 7 year old loved Camp Carnival. My 11 year old refused to go as he is in Jr. High and did not want to be with "little kids". I see his point. So we had no alone time all week. The programs for 12 and above have minimal supervision and most of those kids were roaming the ship on their own. They were well behaved. Not a lot of interest in Circle C. Both teen rooms were always empty.
Excursions: We booked all of them privately and very glad that we did. Much more affordable and we were happier than people that went on the same (more expensive) Carnival tours. Sharmeka Smith with Sunshine Tours and Transportation in the Bahamas. Godfrey Tours in St. Thomas. Bernard Tours in St. Maarten. All tours were well worth the cost and the guides all did an amazing job of showing us around the islands.
Cabin: Interior on deck 8 that sleeps 4. It was minimalistic but met our needs. We did not plan to be there and did feel like an upgrade was worth it. Happy with our choice.
Fitness: gym was awesome but $12 fitness classes - no thanks.
The things that greatly disappointed our family:
1/3 of the daily activities were presented as educational but were aimed at getting you to buy something. Watches, jewelry, stuff at ports that Carnival gets kickback for (Watches & Jewelry), baaaad art, overpriced spa treatments (by any standard), quackish weight loss treatments, future cruises, $150 acupuncture treatments - you get the point. It felt like once massive slimy sales pitch disguised as something for our benefit.
The Fun Shops on board have a minimal selection of stuff that people might need to restock mid vacation (snacks and toiletries) but huge heaps of booze, cigarettes and tacky gifts to bring home. Bulk up those items and they will sell.
Our biggest complaint was with the type of people that were on the ship. I hate to sound biased but what we observed that did not make us feel like Carnival is a good match:
Note - I was initially fearful of the "drunks". People that I know that are frequent cruisers gave me the expectation that Carnival would be loaded with alcoholics on vacation. I was shocked at the lack of obviously drunk people. A few here and there but WAY fewer than expected.
1) The average cruiser was 65-80 years old. If you fit in this age category - the Dream would be awesome for you. We are under 45 with 2 kids - that is not us.
2) There were far too many mega-obese people (many on scooters) eating 24/7. I have not observed a gathering of so many massively unhealthy people in one place - ever. Gluttons paradise.
3) There were smokers in way too many places. Deck 10 and 11, drifting up from balconies, spilling out of the casino. I will never sail Carnival again because of this above all other factors. In fact, one of the designated smoking areas is right outside of the Camp Carnival entrance. Anytime I took my child there or picked them up, we had to walk by a pack of smokers. Not acceptable.
4) I kept finding myself thinking I was trapped on the People of Walmart boat. People that looked like they were beyond worn out by life - very rough looking. I grew up in rural America. I grew up in a trailer. So it is not like I am making this judgement as some urbanite with her nose in the air. This is what I witnessed for 7 days. And I just got tired of it.
It is what it is. We got a few days of warmth from our freezing home state. But would I do it again on the Dream - no.