Background: My husband and I are both 30. We were looking for an inexpensive week in the Caribbean over the summer of 2013. Only a few cruise lines stick around in the summer and run Caribbean cruises. We booked only 6 weeks in advance. and Carnival had the ports we were most interested at a price we could easily afford. We also live 30 minutes from Port Canaveral, so the Carnival Dream was the perfect fit for a last minute cruise choice. Our first cruise in 2006 was with Carnival. We have also done NCL in 2010 and Disney in 2012 and 2013. We did not purchase faster to the fun and we chose Your Time Dining.
The Dream was late getting into PC the day we were set to leave,. We weren't able to enter the terminal until around 1pm vs the 'normal' 11am. Despite the delays, we happily arrived at 1:30pm, checked in VERY quickly and they started the boarding process around 1:50 pm with the special groups and faster to the fun. They started general group boarding around 2pm, we had group 14 and we were called to board at 2:15. Anytime I arrive at the terminal and start "walking on the ship" within 1 hour, is a great experience.
Meh. This is where I really feel we got what we paid for. Main dining room food was mediocre and its not that we go out for fancy dinners all the time, we eat out at Moe's, Chipotle, Panera, Chilis, Carrabbas, etc. Sometimes it was underseasoned, or over sauced. One night my tiramisu was frozen in the middle! Which led me to wonder how old anything was that we were eating, if it was frozen. I would rate dining lower except the Deli, Mongolian Wok, and Tandoor were EXCELLENT! We didn't get a chance to try the pasta bar, because we were out in port during lunch on most days. In fact, that was our biggest complaint. The deli is open most of the day, so it's always a good option, but the rest of the GOOD stuff is only open a few hours at lunch time.
This is a big ship and our sailing was sold out. So we and our new 4500 friends got to share all the public spaces. The ship was very nice and the layout was pretty decent. Most of what you do is on decks 5, in the main theater, or on the pool/outdoor decks up top. I was worried that such a large ship would take a few days to figure out, but we had a good handle on the orientation by day 2.
The only times we found 'crowds' were during the nightly entertainment and during some meals (on lobster night everyone goes to the dining room). The buffet specialty areas got backed up a few times too. Other than that the number of people wasn't very noticeable.
The ship is decorated nicely. I thought it had a very modern yet glitzy feel to it. On our first Carnival cruise, I felt like we were stuck in old school neon Las Vegas at sea. This ship is a definite improvement over our first experience. The only time the layout got us was when we tried to use the middle bank of elevators, unless your stateroom is near that elevator bank and you need to get to the promenade deck, or pool/buffet area, don't use them! One other complaint are all those poles in the main theater and main lounge!! They create too much obstructed viewing.
As far as the headlining acts go, we only went to ONE show in the main theater. It was dubbed the best in the fleet, "Dancing in the Streets". It was pretty decent and the break dancing team made the show for us. The singers were way too loud and the sound engineers didn't exist to fix the levels... I don't think i ever saw someone sitting in the booth!! Two of the nights were dedicated to country music, not our thing, and that's OK.
Like I mentioned, the break dance team "Fun Force" was really good and we tried to attend each of their events going on after we realized they existed. I had seen "Fun Force Dancers" listed in the fun times earlier in the week, but had no clue what it referred to. They do a show in the Atrium that is GREAT.
The comedians that we got to see where pretty good! But, the lounge they perform in is way too small and its the second largest venue after the main theater. This makes us think Carnival needs to switch this up. Some nights the comedians were the 'only thing' going on, so why not have them in the main theater instead? That way a lot more people can see EVERY set. When one set would finish, you had to exit the lounge and either get back in line and try to get a seat, or just leave like we did and try to find something else to do that probably isn't as good. There were too many occasions on this cruise where we had to arrive way to early to get good seats and were stuck sitting around staring at the walls for 30 minutes before EVERY show/comedian.
The service people on this ship were fantastic!! Our room steward was so nice and very attentive. We saw her every day but the first. She was always smiling and asking us how we were doing and what we did during the day. All the servers were quick, very nice, and had a happy demeanor. Dinner service is slow at times, but that is expected on a cruise with this many people on it. Everyone we encountered spoke good English.
Every day there were large blocks of time that didn't have anything going on that we wanted to take part in. But, there was plenty going on during some parts of the day that it balanced out well enough. We took part in a lot of trivia! We also liked attending the 'game shows'. We did one that was "18+", I say that in quotes because children were in fact present. It was a battle of the sexes trivia war. Men vs Women and the questions were things the opposite sex would know. It was interactive and fun. We attended another game show, twice, that was music trivia related.... lots of music trivia on this ship!
We tried something new on this cruise... the champagne art auctions. This is my new favorite thing to do on a cruise! It is incredibly fun to experience a real auction and I got to learn about newer artists. I wish we had attended one of these sooner in the cruise! We got to experience the final 2 on the ship. Each time we went you got an art print to take home.
We watched a couple games of Bingo and they were horribly boring! Disney's bingo on board is amazingly fun and exciting... Carnival needs to take some lessons on how to spruce up a mindless game like Bingo. Other activities involved deck parties and hairy chests... no thanks! We aren't in college any more.
We had access to the spa facilities on this cruise and it was a lot of fun. We had never been to a sauna or steam room before. We also did a spa tour, in which I learned that I really want a full body hot stone massage, just not at their prices! I also visited the gym and the equipment was very nice and there was plenty to go around and had a nice view of the ocean.
Out on deck we didn't take part in the pools. We did visit 1 hot tub in the Serenity deck (adults only). It was quite hot. Not sure if that was because not many people were using or because the sun was shining openly on the tub. The serenity area was a nice, quiet area to escape to outdoors. I wish we had more time to sit outside and enjoy it. We did 3 or 4 games of mini golf on this cruise. They have a full 18 holes and it was a lot of fun. Only a few wear and tear issues in some areas. Otherwise it was one of the better kept courses we've visited lately!
We booked late, so we didn't get to take part in the early saver rate that would have earned us quite a bit of OBC. No ones fault, just bad timing. Other wise Carnival is the lowest prices around, even last minute on a cruise ship that is about to sell out.
We had cabin 11-207, a handicap assessable interior Cloud 9 Spa cabin. We were able to book this cabin because it was the last one in this category. The room was spacious but it was lacking in storage space. Other cruises we have been on, there is always a place to stick all of our things.
This category came with a 'free' week long spa pass for the two of us. Booking this cabin got us a $50 discount off buying a week pass and got us a cabin all the way up on deck 11. I was worried about the cabin being all the way forward on a high deck, but the movement was not bad at all! The placement of the cabin is right next to the door that leads to the back entrance of the gym/spa. The location was extremely convenient for the spa, not to far to the Atrium elevators, and a brisk walk across the ship from the buffet areas. One inconvenience we had was on port days. Most mornings we lugged our daily excursion bag with us to breakfast, so we could go straight down to get off the ship and not backtrack to the cabin (we had early days & tenders). Otherwise, I felt like the location was good enough for getting around day to day.
I would rate the value of this cruise as good. It is what it is, a cheap vacation that includes all you can eat food, transportation, and entertainment. We picked this cruise because of the ports we visited and because we were limited in who was sailing during the summer. In the future, if we have a choice between Carnival and spending a little more, we will spend a little more.
The 'rules' on this ship were a mere suggestion in most cases. Children attending 18+ activities, and I don't mean high school kids that are probably OK with the content, I'm saying it was middle school and younger. Weird! Dress code really didn't mean a thing in the main dining rooms. We saw a guy in t-shirt and shorts on lobster night. It didn't ruin my experience, but why create a dress code if you aren't going to enforce it. I feel like Carnival is 'copying' NCL freestyle cruising without outright changing the 'code' and admitting it. It's not bad, just misleading?