We recently returned home from a 7 day Western Caribbean cruise aboard the Carnival Dream. This is the 3rd Carnival cruise we have sailed and we have also been on Disney (Wonder) and Norwegian (Gem). Since were were in Orlando for the first week of July, we decided it would make sense to piggyback a cruise from Port Canaveral for the second week. We contemplated booking the Disney Fantasy but with 3 kids (as a family of 5) in the end could not get ourselves to spend that kind of money for one week. In the end we went with the Dream and were excited since this was the "Chipmunk" cruise - the boat featured in the movie Chipwrecked. :)
EMBARKATION - DAY 1
Embarkation was extremely fast - but we owe this to the fact that we got to the cruise terminal fairly early (on an aside note, on debarkation day our shuttle came really late and part of this was due to the absolute chaos at the cruise terminal as about a hundred shuttles attempted to drop off passengers and they had about 5-6 guys semi-working at helping to take luggage off the shuttles and onto the carts. Bite the bullet and pay the little bit extra and take the Meers Transportation the cruise offers - we went private with "Port Canaveral Shuttle Service" and I was gripping on for dear life the whole ride to the airport - not to mantion they were almost an hour late, we sat at the cruise terminal for 2 hours watching all the new passengers arrive and board the ship!!) Anyway, once on the ship, we headed straight to the lido deck for lunch and was in the pool before 1pm. It took a little longer than expected for our cabin to be ready and our luggage was not deleivered until the late afternoon - but we packed accordingly, so it wasn't a big deal. The mandatory muster drill for our section was in one of the dining rooms and something that always surprised me about Carnival is how easy going they are about this - no attendance, no need to bring life vests. I looked across at the Disney Fantasy and I could see their passengers outside on the decks practicing with their life vests. Personally I think they SHOULD take attandance and hold people accountable. It also irritated me that we arrived early to be responsible and the "drill" which was really more of a talk started late and people literally walked in the last 2 minutes of the talk.
We chose "Your Time Dining" and on most nights we were fine because we lined up at 5:45. On many past reviews, I noticed several comments about staff not being overly friendly on this ship and right away, I kind of felt that too. For the first couple of nights, we ate on the right side of the restaurant and just didn't feel the positive vibes. On one night it felt like our waiter was purposely ignoring us (sitting there with dirty dished piled up and with annoyed looks on our faces) until we finally got up (3 kids under the age of 8 have limited patience) and only then he turned to us as we were leaving and said "Oh! Aren't you going to stay for dessert?" The next night we ate on the left side and had an amazing waiter Charlie and his assistants and stayed there for the rest of the cruise. The last night of dining was pretty brutal though, over an hour to just get our appetizers. We finally gave up and left again with no dessert. In speaking with a few people on this ship, it sounds like they were just overworked for the same pay they would get on a smaller ship. Most said they couldn't wait for this contract to be up and move on - workers only have 6-8 month contracts on a boat and then they move on.
I want to be careful what I say here because it's unfair to say that all of the Camp Carnival staff were not great, because certainly there were a few that were super friendly - but none as outstanding as our last cruise which MADE the week for my kids. On the first night we attended the family dance (as we always do on every Carnival cruise) and it right off the bat, we felt bad karma with the staff that showed up. Our first day at Camp Carnival was a bit of a disaster, the kids all hated it and said they didn't want to go back. There was one staff member in particular - her name started with the letter "J" that seemed to always have a scowl on her face and was yelling at the kids. My kids nick-named her the mean one. In the end, they did attend here and there through the week and I was impressed at some of the things they gave to the kids including a Freddy Book and a stationary set. I liked that they had someone dress up as Freddy and a towel elephant - they should do more of this on other ships.
The shows were okay, not the best we have seen. On the first night they had a country themed show which was a bit of a snoozer but the other nights with the singers and dancers, we enjoyed the show. We really liked the comedian juggler guy. The cruise director Jaime and her assistant Gumbie were both great, but not sure if it is a Carnival thing or could be we just sailed the ship they were both last on in December (The Pride) but many of her jokes and bits were recycled from the past, but whatever. The lead singers were average - not super strong vocalists, just "okay". The dancers were really good. The Carnival Legends show they do is exactly the same on every Carnival ship. I wonder if they can change this up a bit, same lineup of "singers", same songs, basically the same show. The Dolly Parton bit was funny the first time, but after seeing it 3 times later .. not so much.
PORTS, POOLS and PARTIES
The only port we got off at is Mohogany Bay - which was great. We woke up to one of the most beautiful sights I have every set my eyes on, the views are just breathtaking. For this port, basically you get off the ship and walk to the beach. There is no need to pay money for the "ski lift and clamshell" package - just walk it yourself, there are lots of nice photo ops you will miss if you take the chairlift and if you get to the beach early, lots of free loungers and small trees for shade. My husband and oldest daughter enjoyed snorkelling by the coral and seeing all the fish and underwater creatures. On the other days (Cozumel, Belize, Costa Maya) we enjoyed the empty ship and the great water slides they have on the Dream. They also have a great mini golf course (pirate themed) with a bucket of clubs and balls to help yourself. On the last ship we had to use our S&S card to sign out clubs and balls before heading to mini golf - just a pain when the kids are looking to just play a few holes when walking by.We enjoyed the aft pool and hot tubs every day - in the late evening, it was never too busy and this pool closed at midnight. We had two late night themed parties Monday was Caribbean and Wednesday was Mexican. Carnival throws the best parties, probably just the right crowd - lots of involvement and lots of fun.
In summary, we had a great time and we really liked many things about the Dream. The ship was beautiful, we enjoyed the big screen and all the movies they played outside (and popcorn!), loved the Tandoor restaurant on the lido deck and unlike other reviews, personally we didn't feel overwhelmed with the amount of people on the ship - except for the very last sea day, it was pretty busy - but we could always find a seat or a place to put down our things. Remember that you can always go to Guest Services and opt out of the prearranged gratuities they post on your bill. It works out to $80 a person - if you are travelling with a lot of kids for example, we asked for 2 gratuity charges to be removed and we tipped cash to the wait staff and room steward. Overall though, can't say exactly why we didn't fall in love with this cruise - I think a lot of it had to do with the staff. In the past, we always connected with someone - an entertainer, a camp carnival staff member, a waiter ... but this time it just seemed wherever we went everyone was just luke warm with us. Nothing really stood out on this ship to make it the most amazing, unforgettable cruise we have been on ... but having said that, remember that my experience may not be the next person's experience next month when the lead singers may change, the cruise director and the camp carnival staff. Would we book this cruise again? I would definitely explore other options first but yah, I think I would - there was enough I liked about it that would make me book again if there were no other good choices or if it was a really good deal and so much of the cruise depends on the connections you make (the one super waiter, the amazing room steward, the camp carnival staff that just loves your kids...) and this may happen if we go on the Dream again, unfortunately it just didn't happen for us this time. Happy sailing, enjoy your cruise!