We are second time cruisers and I have really enjoyed reading other reviews so I thought that I'd add my two cents. My goal is a fair review of this cruise and to give helpful tips.
First tip, I don't understand wasting $50 on the Faster to the Fun program. Everyone seems to love it but no one likes to admit they've been taken so that explains the positive reviews. It's an Emperor's New Clothes thing. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that others do it because ultimately, it's a way for Carnival to make money without raising prices on more savvy customers. We arrived at the port kind of late, around 12:30 and although, at the peak of embarkation, we never waited. Carnival has this process down. We were on the ship in less than 30 minutes and our rooms were ready by 1pm. Thus, the faster to the fun would've been a waste of money in our case and everyone else on the ship. Tip your room steward and extra $50 or buy a few drinks but don't buy the "Faster to Separate You from Your Money Program. " Bring a carry on with your swim gear, self-disembark and go to guest services at off hours and you are $50 better off.
Second tip, and biggest tip of all....pack to be able to self-disembark. This will save your hours getting off the ship. Self-disembarkers get off the ship first, before Platinum and before the FTTF folks. Another part of this is that, Carnival tells you that the will self-disembark by floor. Not really true but the truth is better. At 6:45am, they announce that all self disembarkers, from any floor, may proceed to the third floor to exit the ship. We were ready and we were off the ship in ten minutes. We actually were able to catch an elevator being ready so early. We had room service deliver at 5:30am that day.
Third tip, we did the parking at the Radisson (not the stay and park), just the daily parking. It was $3.95 a day, $33 for the week with tax. They were amazing at arrival and when we got off the ship. The bus was right there and it's like a 5 minute ride. Bus was waiting when we got off the ship at 7am and left immediately after the driver loaded our bags. Please note, the lot is across the street from the Radisson but used to be behind the Radisson. We had a Radisson employee misdirect us to behind the hotel in the former location so they need to let their own staff know that it moved and there are still signs in their parking lot directing you to the wrong place. The address for it is correct on the site and you can pre-pay online. $87 less than the port and no hassle whatsoever.
We did the cheers program and made out. Each frozen drink is about $9 with tip. I saved all my receipts and we paid about half using the cheers program. Bottom line, you have to have about 7 frozen drinks per day or and about 8 beers per day to break even. We had no trouble getting there. I hope that they continue this program and it took the guilt out of each drink purchase. If you don't drink at least 7 drinks per adult, each day, you might want to buy as you go.
The food was fine, especially in the dining room. We didn't eat much in the buffet, except the specialty places like the burrito bar, deli and the Tandoori buffet. I eat Indian food at least once a week and from an area that has a lot of Indian restaurants. Although limited in the number of dishes, the taste of the food on the Tandoori buffet is easily some of the best Indian food that I've had. There was never a line at it and I'm guessing that it's because most folks are unfamiliar with Indian food. I hope that they keep it because it was really good. Service in the dining room was good at night. They really work hard in there. This ship was more crowded than my last cruise and the service was slower but it wasn't the fault of the staff. It's the number of tables that they have to service. It took 2 hours for us to eat every night but we had a table of 12. A tip here is that if you think that you want multiple appetizers or entrees, order them up front. This saves the servers walking back and forth (which they always obliged) and really sped up our meal after we figured this out the second day. The lobster on the second night was really good, albeit small. Just order 3 up front, they don't care and it makes their life easier. We had lunch and breakfast or brunch in the dining room. Food was always good. They tried to do the outdoor grill on the 5th floor one of the sea days. They got it all set up and a line of about 10 people formed before they figured out that the wind was blowing out the grill so they didn't do it. I was disappointed and you'd think this wasn't the first "windy" day on a ship moving 20 miles per hour and they would devised a workaround for this! Anyway, a bummer but not a big deal. We did the steakhouse and it was awesome. Service was amazing. I'm not a big red meat eater so I had the lobster and it was small but good. I'll say it again, the service was amazing. Bring cash to tip them more, they deserve it.
Ports, we stopped at Nassau, St Thomas and St Martin. Don't forget your sign and sail card and a picture ID when getting off the ship. We did not bring a picture ID in Nassau and it was a little hassle getting through the gate. In Nassau we walked to Junkanoo beach with a few beach towels. They had a little grass shack with beer and rum punch pretty inexpensively. Nice folks, fun, short day. In St. Thomas, we took a catamaran for snorkeling. Was a great trip with only one drawback. They hit you up for tips like mad at the end. I want to make it clear, I'm a big tipper and spent over $500 (in addition to pre-paying my standard tips) on the Dream in tips. I leave a cash tip on the table after every meal on the ship, with each drink purchase and to my waiters and room steward at the end of the week. My problem with the tipping on the catamaran was that I think that they are either disingenuous or foolish. They tell you that they work for tips only like waiters or bartender. I just can't believe that is true. If it is true they need to a buy a calculator and talk to their boss. There were 160 people on 2 catamarans at $80 each. That's $12,800 and they do 2 trips a day, at least. So, $25,600 a day and probably 5 days a week (or more) so this equals $128,000 a week times 52 weeks is $6.6 million dollars! Wow! Yes, I know Carnival takes a cut for bringing the customers and I know there are slow weeks but even if they make half that, a $3 million dollar a year business begging (perhaps lying) for tips or not properly paying their employees is unconscionable. You can see why I think that they weren't being truthful when they said they work for tips only. I'm ok with tipping, but I don't want to be lied to in order to get me to tip or to tip more. I did leave a $20 bill but, man, think about it! We went on the power rafting tour in St. Martin. Smaller boat only 32 people and our guides were great. I wanted to leave them a tip so I left $40. They didn't feed us any bull that they only work for tips and didn't particularly push for tips, I handed them each a $20 bill. Great tour, nice guys, no complaints. If I had to do it again though, I'd just take the water taxi to the beach across the bay. My friends did this and they had a great time and not much of a different experience (they had a beach and shopping too).
Entertainment was bad in the Encore stage in my opinion. Shows were boring and singers were not good, we thought. The one exception was the magician/juggler. Funny and entertaining, he was excellent. I didn't care for the break dancers' show. The female dancers were inappropriate for kids and garish for adults. Comedy club was funny too. Gets really crowded, so go early and line up.
Cruise directors were Willie and Gumby. Very funny and not intrusive over the speaker, just every now and then, an announcement. They are both everywhere and approachable. They are really great at their jobs. One really, nice touch was that they were both at the disembark gate thanking everyone and wishing them well. This was at 6:50am and again, they were very thankful. Again, this was a very, very nice touch and leaves customers with a positive final experience, smart!
Our room was on the Lido deck. Perfect location. I was worried about noise at night and during the peak of the day. Not a problem. The Dream is well sound insulated on that floor and the even the midnight deck parties (one or two of them, only Â½ hour each) could not be heard from our rooms. Definitely book floor 10 if you can.
Camp Carnival was ok for my 14 and 16 year old. My 11 year old was bored and it was overcrowded. They kept them in a room on the 4th deck and basically just ordered them around. We tried it twice and left.
Final thing, there are a lot of people on this ship. Carnival manages this well except the elevators are always slow (we took the steps most of the time) and the area around the pool is silly-small. Chair hogs are in full force. There was even a guy reserving two chairs in the sun and two in the shade. I saw him do it and leave it there all day. He never used the shade chairs. Carnival should limit unoccupied chairs for 15 minutes and that would fix this problem. I can see why others on this site complain about the crowds but try to not worry about it. There were always chairs on the 11th, 12th and 5th deck, even on seas days.
All and all a great cruise, ship is clean, staff are great and the embarkation and self-disembarkation are a breeze. I would sail the Dream again tomorrow.