We flew from Gatwick to Bridgetown by Thomsonfly with all the comforts of the Premium cabin but still found the nine hour flight a real drag, so were relieved that arrangements had been made to bypass airport security and go directly to the cruise terminal, which took about 20 minutes by minibus. We had not seen our luggage since check-in at Gatwick, so were not dragging suitcases about. At the quayside check-in, we discovered that our Deluxe cabin booking (along with Suites) was classed as Premier, and gave us priority check-in, so we jumped the queues and were very soon on-board and escorted to our cabin on deck 9. We had been warned that our luggage may take 2 hours to arrive, so had packed shorts & tee-shirts in our hand luggage, enabling a quick change and repair to the bar for a much-needed refresher. In the event, our luggage reached our cabin only 30 minutes later.
The cabin was much larger than expected. The door from the corridor opened to a vestibule with wardrobes and en-suite off, with a secondary door to the main cabin, which we later appreciated as an effective sound barrier -- we never heard a thing from the corridor. The cabin had a Queen-sized bed, 3-seater settee, 2 armchairs, 2 occasional tables, flat-screen TV, fridge, dressing table, stool, various lamps and tea & coffee-making facilities. The bathroom was a decent size, with WC, bath/shower over and a large modern washbasin. (all much bigger than in the Deluxe cabins on Celebration) We were a bit concerned, however, to discover that this was the Promenade Deck, with people walking by our window. However, this proved a non-problem, as the windows were coated, allowing vision out, but not in. (except when dark outside and cabin lit) Our cabin steward (name too difficult to spell) was good, although possibly not quite as attentive as we had experienced previously.
At 55,000 tons, the Dream is not a big ship by modern standards, but feels big enough without becoming impersonal. The Lido 24 hour self-service restaurant and pool are on this deck (9), but most of the bars and entertainment are on Deck 8, with the main Orion waiter-service restaurant on Deck 4. The main pool and Sirens self-service are on Deck 11. It takes a while to get your bearings, as not all lifts & stairs go to all decks, and coming out onto the Promenade Deck you don't know whether you're on Port or Starboard, facing bow or stern, especially after a drink or two.
We preferred Sirens for breakfast and lunch, as it had a more relaxed atmosphere than the Lido, where the emphasis seemed more on eat-as-fast-as-you-can-and-get-back-outside. Breakfasts were excellent, with lots of choice from the hot or cold buffets. We found lunch a bit restrictive and repetitive, especially for salads -- we never saw Tuna or Prawns, for example. (I'm sure Celebration offered better lunchtime fayre) Both self-serves had much the same food, though not necessarily on the same days, so if you couldn't see anything you fancy in one, it was worth looking at the other. In theory, it was waiter service for drinks, but you were lucky to catch one, so we took in drinks from the bar just outside. It worked-out more economical to buy a bottle of wine -- if you didn't finish it, they'd label and keep it for you until the next day -- but that didn't happen often! We could, of course, have gone into the Orion for breakfast & lunch, but didn't want the relative formality.
We had dinner in the Orion every night, opting for about 8.45pm. We never had to wait more than a minute or two and were never asked to share a table. The 7-course table d'hote always had something on it we fancied for each course and the quality was good, and always hot. Portion sizes were a bit erratic, which amused us, especially starters, which were sometimes microscopic. You don't need big portions with multiple courses, and we never said anything, but other times it was a real plateful -- I had a steak one night that overhung the plate both sides - and it was gorgeous. Perhaps it was due to dining quite late -- they were either eking it out, or using it up. Service by the mainly Filipino staff was amazingly slick, and friendly. They worked brilliantly as a team without any obvious communication, but always knew when you were ready for the next course, or drinks top-up. We had a bottle of house red every night, which we found very palatable. Again, any left could be saved for another night, if required. The Rose was too sweet for us, and the white was good for lunchtimes. There was never any pressure to move out, although we were often among the last, at about 10.20pm.
There was live music in several venues at any one time. The Medusa bar had a musical quiz at about 7pm most nights, and a band. We liked Oceans bar, pre-dinner, which had a 3-piece of piano, Spanish guitar and singer who were very versatile. We like the way the waiters become gradually more familiar, in a nice way, as the week goes on. They start with "Sir", then "Mr xxxx" (surname), then "Mr Alan" (Christian name) and finally "Alan" with a friendly touch on the arm. They are always smiley and happy and seem so eager to please. We went to the Broadway show for the second house at 10.30pm most nights, and found the shows first rate. With early starts for shore excursions, we were ready for bed at 11.30, but other venues and the casino went on until at least 2am.
There were published daytime activities throughout every day, but we did not take part in any.
The first day, at sea, saw the usual problems of fighting for sunbeds, and many, in the prime locations, were "reserved" from very early and kept all day, irrespective of actual occupation. The threat of removal by crew, as given in the Newsletter was not implemented and selfishness prevailed. We were fortunate to get a sunbed after breakfast, but were in the shade all day. There appeared to be space and stacks of beds on deck areas not open to the public, which would have helped. Also, the little-used Sports Deck on 12 could have been a sundeck for the day. There was no problem on other days in port.
We had pre-booked half-day shore excursions for every port. These turned out to be a mixed bag, three being very good and two lacking. The best were "Best of St Kitts" , "Butterfly Farm & Marigot" on St Maarten, and the "Trolley Train" on Dominica. "North Shore and Pusser's Landing" on Tortola was spoiled by a very poor guide and failure to deliver the advertised content. "Highlights of Antigua" was marred by the "specialist guides" at Nelson's Dockyard, who abandoned us when it rained briefly, ruining the highpoint of the trip, although our guide on the bus was excellent. In company with other guests, we complained to Destinations staff on-board about these and await Thomson's response.
As usual, we had to leave our luggage outside the cabin at bedtime on the final night, and collect it from the quayside on disembarkation, and this was all quite slick. We transferred to an hotel on Barbados for our second week. The transfer was fine, but Thomson had taken us (12 in all) too early and we arrived at the hotel before 1.00pm for earliest check-in 3.00pm, so were hanging about for 2 hours. We could so easily have stayed on the ship for lunch to avoid this -- some guests were not leaving for flights home until 5pm. Thomson have done this to us before, and the hotel said they have complained to Thomson about it, as they get the flak.
In summary, we were very pleased with all aspects of our cruise. Cabin, food, service, atmosphere all met expectations. If Celebration (in our experience) set the standard for general atmosphere and friendliness, Dream scored 9/10. The decor, closely following its Platinum makeover, was quite plush. The itinerary perfectly met our intentions, giving us an overview of six islands in one week. Only a couple of the shore excursions were a disappointment. We would certainly cruise on the Dream again, and could recommend it to friends without reservation.