I'll preface this by saying that my wife and I are both in the travel business. This was my 15th cruise and my wife's 5th. Neither of us have ever been on Carnival before. We have always preferred Princess and Celebrity. We can go on any cruise for cost. You just have to keep in mind, you get what you pay for and you have to have an open mind. That being said, we would certainly go with Carnival again as long as there was a ship or itinerary that we wanted to do.
We picked this cruise for 2 reasons. Cost: we had a balcony cabin on the upper deck (6221 - starboard- forward) for less than $1000 for the 2 of us for a 7 day cruise. Itinerary: I have been to the Caribbean many times and been to most of the Islands multiple times. We visited Cozumel (both of us have been there), Costa Maya (new to us), Belize (new to us) and Roatan (new to us and our new favorite island in the Caribbean, more later).
Ship - The Dream is probably the newest and nicest ship we have been on. The atrium is unbelievable! The ship is very well laid out and easy to navigate around. Every area was clean. We never felt crowded. The cruise director said there was 1000 kids on board! You could have fooled me as we very seldom saw any kids. My only complaint is the size of the pools (only 2 of them)! They are full with 20 people in them. On sea days with 4000+ passengers we are talking overload! Carnival really needs to rethink this in future upgrades to the Dream and other ships in their fleet. On the positive side Carnival has very few shops compared to the competition. We appreciate that, however the "shoppers" won't. They do lack a "general store" however, which seemed odd. If you need sundries you have to wait for the 1st port.
Cabin - We had a balcony cabin (our first time ever! We don't spend a lot of time in the cabin so it isn't a priority for us). But it was nice to have an early morning cup of coffee on the balcony and watch the sun come up, or watch us sail into port. We had plenty of room and it was nice to have a sofa. The only negative was the beds were uncomfortable for us. Other cruise lines have more of a luxury mattress. We found the mattresses hard and unforgiving and ended up with backaches. A couple of things about noise. Our cabin was very quiet for the most part, except a couple of nights when the neighbors came in late and were a little amorous. However, on the way back to Orlando we had some cross currents overnight and the waves hitting bow below us (mind you we were around 60' above water and 250' or so from the bow) were frighteningly loud! It was as if a giant hammer was hitting the hull of the ship. (the waves were smallish 3' or less). I cannot imagine what it was like for the people in the lower decks especially in the cove balconies at the sea line. Some of the waves coming off of the bow were being pushed 50' or more off the hull. We were in 10' seas in the Pacific on the Sapphire Princess in February and never experienced anything like that.
Cabin Service - Our cabin steward was polite as was his assistant. We really don't ask for a lot of attention, but I do ask that the ice container be full at all times. Carnival only provides a minuscule ice container. You might be able to fill 2-10 oz. glasses with ice and it's empty! So keeping it full is a challenge. (come on now Carnival). I found out the 1st day at sea that the room stewards are off from 1pm until 5:30 pm. so if you want anything (ice) you have to call room service! If you want room service, you are expected to tip (not a big deal, unless you have to call all the time for "free ice"). If you do get room service ice at least they bring you a large bucket! So keep the bucket and tell your room steward to fill it!
Our steward never did anything out of the ordinary, he just did his job. (see tipping)
Food - Food for the most part was good! We don't prefer eating buffet style, however with Carnival you don't have many options at lunch other then buffet style eating as the restaurants are not open for lunch. The good news is you have multiple choices from Mongolian wok, to deli sandwiches, hamburgers/hotdogs, pizza, burrito bar, regular buffet, even bar-b-q/salad bar, and the stand out was the pasta cafe (even though it is hidden on deck 11 and not well publicized). All were acceptable the pasta was the best by far!
Breakfast was either buffet style with an omelet bar, room service (full menu) or some days the restaurant was open (yipee). Breakfast in the restaurant was good for the most part depending on what you ordered, they have a huge selection from eggs Benedict to Steak and eggs! We had room service almost every morning for coffee and had breakfast once, which was good.
Dinner was the highlight of the food each day. We chose open seating (even though we usually eat around the same time each evening). The advantage is you can change your seating time if there is something else you would rather do. The down side is you usually will have a different wait staff every night (this can be a big negative in our book as you don't get to know them and you can be treated indifferently) (See tipping again).
When we boarded we went to lunch at the gathering place (lido) and met Florin. He is a waiters assistant in the Crimson Dinning room assigned to Gede (waiter) and Dewa (asst. waiter). They are all in the downstairs dining room for open seating people like us. Florin told us about Gede and invited us to their station that evening. We were thankful that he did! We sat at their station every night with the exception of the night we ate at the steakhouse. Gede, Dewa and Florin were excellent hosts from the get go. We had top notch service throughout the cruise.
The food quality for the most part in the restaurants is good to great. Unless you have a very limited palette, go with what your server tells you to eat. He/she really does know what is the best and what is so, so. He/she can also point you to things that may only appear once on the cruise that you shouldn't miss, or something you should try because you may never have it again.
We did go to the steakhouse. We recommend that everyone do it as a splurge. It's not cheap $35 per person plus tip, but you will get unbelievable service, fantastic food and leave saying "I'm glad I did that." Remember it is a 2 hour plus meal, and you need that time to enjoy it. My wife had the best cheesecake she has ever had in the steakhouse (it was huge!). She says she can never eat cheesecake anywhere else now. That is saying alot!
Shows - We didn't go to too many of the main shows other than the "Dancin' in the Streets" which is by far the best show I have ever seen on a cruise ship! Don't miss it! We usually try and go to the shows, but we have found we prefer to take our time for dinner and then we usually miss the late show. Oh, well, you can't do it all.
However, I did go to every comedy show. (yes, the adult version). DO NOT MISS THESE SHOWS! They are top notch comedians every night (they only had 4 nights on our cruise). Insider tip: Get in line early! Yes there is a line for every show if you aren't in line at least 30 minutes before showtime, forget it!
Tipping - We are not fans of automatic tipping. We prefer to do it the old fashioned way, but those days are gone. So we accept the new policy. However we usually tip over what the recommendation is for great service. Keep in mind the people who take care of you aren't really getting paid by the cruise lines, they are away from their families for 6 or more months at a time, live in a bunk bed, and have to smile when they are having a bad day. They work 18 hours a day to keep you happy. All for a couple of dollars per person per day. My rule of thumb is if they just do their job they get what the cruise line gives the out of our automatic tip. If they do a great job, I give an additional tip commensurate with the service they provided. I wish I could adopt some of the staff over the years!
Attitude - Keep in mind that this is your vacation and it's only as good as you make it. Everything isn't going to be perfect! It isn't a perfect world. Nothing bothers me more then to listen to people complain about everything while they are on a cruise! Most of the complainers are the veteran cruisers. Don't go on Carnival expecting it be like a Rhine river cruise. Don't go in an inside stateroom when you are used to the best suite!
Roatan - What can I say. Our new favorite port! Nice people, beautiful island, and they love Americans. We hired a private tour guide for the day (Thanks Arnold from Rony's Tours http://ronystours.com/ ) who showed us the whole island. We went snorkeling, had a great local grouper and conch fritter lunch, did some shopping all for a reasonable price. We will be back to spend more time at this fantastic island paradise.
Belize - We did a snorkeling tour on the barrier reef and an airboat tour, both got rained out and we got literally soaked to the bone. Oh, well. I guess we will have to go back.
Cozumel - been there done that, did a short shopping spree in town and had the ship to ourselves!
Costa Maya - Didn't feel like going into town, shopped pier side and had the ship to ourselves.
Overall - Loved our cruise, would do Carnival again depending on the itinerary and ship. Would definitely recommend the Dream and this itinerary!