This was my family's first Carnival Cruise. So even though I booked less than a month ahead, I found the CC forum through Trip Advisor and started doing extensive research making sure I'd get the full picture on what to expect from the Dream. I must say I was pleasantly surprised at the awesome customer service and the luxurious feel of many areas of the ship. I'd be head over heels for Carnival if it wasn't for the disappointment in the food.
I was used to cruising RCCL but my last cruise with them 6 years ago made me almost want to give up cruising. We left from a bad port, which equals not-so-great guests filling up a massive ship that closed in on me after 9 days. Our ship was sold out so we couldn't switch rooms when we realized our bathroom was emitting a sewage smell at various times throughout the day. Um, yeah, that was not one of the best vacations.
My family has stuck to going to the Pacific coasts of Mexico almost every other year to stay in a fractional ownership villa at a luxury resort. And I really never gave cruising another thought until I saw a deal on the Carnival Dream I couldn't pass up one day I was trolling the travel sites for a last-minute vacay. My thought was I could go on a 7-night cruise with my DS and DD for the same price I'd pay for R/T plane tickets to just get us to our villa in Cabo! All I'd have to do was drive us to Orlando where DD wanted to visit some colleges and we could see family we hadn't caught up with in a few years before we made it Cocoa Beach for the night.
That drive from MD was rough but we stopped in St. Augustine and hit the outlets nearby for some pre-cruise, first day of school clothes shopping. I wish we had more time before the college tour because I didn't even get to step foot in the Gucci outlet. LOL. After visiting UCF, we made the hour drive over to Cocoa. We stayed at the Comfort Inn & Suites right up the road from Port Canaveral. It was way better than I expected and I only paid an extra $22 in addition to an inexpensive suite for the 3 of us to ride a R/T shuttle to the ship AND park my car at their lot for the entire week. I'm floored they can offer such cheap prices and I admit I was a little worried my car might not be safe but it was fine when we got back.
The hotel asks you to meet in a conference room ready to get on the shuttle by 9:45 am. Of course, the shuttle is really a 10-passenger van so we had to wait until it came and went a few times before we got on. Nonetheless, we were at the port checking in before 11 and on the ship by 11:30! It was great that we were able to get on before the crowds and buy DS his soda package for the week, me a Margarita on the rocks (no salt!) and head up to the Lido deck. So the buffets weren't open and they only had food like hot dogs and hamburgers. No pizza. I was disappointed but I figured the buffet food wasn't very good anyway so I avoided eating there except for lunch on sea days and the occasional quick breakfast. It did remind me of a small step up from Golden Corral. I mean, it's a buffet and you paid for it but the food isn't necessarily that good. There is a just massive amounts of it. More on the food in a bit.
They opened up cabins before 1 pm, and the CD encouraged us to check out our rooms, which also impressed me. I'm used to the other cruise lines asking you to wait so that the CMs can finish getting them ready. This tells you how organized they are on the Dream. Also, I've seen many great reviews about Jaime, the CD, and I will attest to the fact that she is very good at what she does. She makes everything seem fun but is professional at the same time. I enjoyed watching her on TV and listening to her over the speakers each day. I even observed her laughing at talking with a guest at one of the ports. She definitely takes her job at making it a "Fun Ship 2.0" seriously.
We checked out our room and the stewardess wasn't in sight. But she came by later to introduce herself and didn't make the best impression. I asked her to take out most of the contents of the refrigerator (as I've seen suggested on these boards) so we could put in our water. She said no and there was no place to put it all. She said they had no storage except in their own rooms. Of course, I wouldn't want her to take it all there but I thought that was odd. I could've followed up and asked Guest Services but we let it go. My kids and I just noticed she wasn't very genuine or helpful toward us. There was another small incident with her assistant and she never offered an apology but her tone bordered on defensive. I know these people work hard on low wages but they chose that profession and should do their best for their guests. She was, thankfully, the exception and not the rule when it came to service over the course of our week. Only other thought about embarkation was how we all were herded up to the Encore Theatre for the Muster Drill. It's always annoying but it was quick and efficient on this ship. Took about 15-20 minutes total.
The Dream really is a nice-looking ship and I grew to appreciate her beauty over the week. I LOVED the Cloud 9 spa areas and bought the spa pass for the treatment rooms so I could indulge the whole week. The whirlpool was lovely but I wish it was more private and did not overlook the tiny fitness area. The VIP sauna rooms were very upscale and relaxing. I even fell asleep in the one with no heat after a couple of Margaritas on the sea day. I could kick myself but I totally forgot to check out the Serenity deck. A lady at our dinner table said it was very nice and quiet there, but kind of small. The steakhouse was uber-trendy and luxe. My DS enjoyed Circle C all week playing video games and watching movies on the Lido Deck's giant screen. DD and I caught a karaoke session in the Burgundy Lounge and sampled the Taste Bar in the Ocean Plaza. DD even caught the tail end of an art auction in the art gallery. I had a wine tasting seminar in the Crimson MDR. Our dinner was in the Scarlet MDR upper level at the aft near gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows. The dining rooms were pretty and very RED. All of the furnishings/decor throughout were still looking practically brand new and reminded me of a nicer line like NCL or Celebrity. DD and I got a kick out of making stories up about the Art Deco characters painted next to the staterooms when we walked the hallways. They were a nice touch!
The ports were fun and we had too many options of what we could do at each of them. We did not buy even one shore excursion through Carnival but kept it low key and simple. I didn't want to rush on my vacation. I hate that feeling. So we woke up whenever we wanted to and made our way to the ports at a leisurely pace. The weather cooperated and most days were gorgeous, with the exception of some overcast in Belize. Other than that, we had a blast in Cozumel, Roatan and Costa Maya. Would do that same itinerary again in a heartbeat because there are so many options available for shore excursions at those ports.
Didn't make it to many of the entertainment offerings because, like I wrote above, I was on leisure time. We caught two shows after they began in the Encore Theatre very late (we had 2nd seating) and there were never open seats. We sat waaaay up on the 5th floor on bar stools attached to small tables. It was uncomfortable and the shows were just okay. Not terrible but not breathtaking. I went to Caliente solo on the night of sailing and never went back. Looked like fun with a large group but also looked like a lot of very young people were going in as I was leaving. Not my style anymore. It would be nice if they had an upscale champagne and jazz lounge for older adults that don't want to hear loud, blaring hip hop or electronic music. Sam's Piano Bar looked cheesy. Most of the singers in the Lobby Bar, Casino and Sam's were horrible vocalists. DJ on Lido deck was okay but I got sick of hearing "Wobble" and "Blurred Lines" every hour. Trivia in Ocean Plaza was fun but rushed.
So the only real con I can think of is the food. It just wasn't that good, even in the MDR. The best meal I had was in the steakhouse. It was AH-mazing!!! I mean, really. I love steakhouses and have been to top-rated steakhouse restaurants in Baltimore, NYC, DC, Las Vegas, Miami and Mexico. I even worked in one for a few months, so I know a good steak and about top-notch service in a fine dining establishment. Chef Art's delivers a slam-dunk experience. The ambiance was fabulous and I almost forgot I was actually on a cruise ship. Yep, it's that good. But it does bother me that they are so good in there yet the other food is just okay, like eating at Applebee's or any other chain. I used to tour cruise ships several years ago and they give the TAs lunch after the tour. I remember gushing about Carnival's food back then. Now it all just seemed mediocre, bland and rushed like cafeteria food at a hospital or large university. You could tell how they recycled items night after night. The choices weren't that inventive either. Don't get me started on the room service menu. I was really disappointed in most of the food offerings and my kids usually stuck with pizza even with all the other buffet options.
If food isn't your biggest selling point and you like nice decor, countless onboard activities with an engaged CD, friendly and dedicated CMs and fun, exciting ports then BOOK THE CARNIVAL DREAM NOW. I'm still curious about the other ships in this fleet and the Carnival Sunshine, so I'll definitely try CCL again soon. Hopefully, my all-around food experience will be much better next time.