This was my wife and I's second cruise. Our first cruise to Europe (as well as being our first time in Europe). Our first cruise was a Caribbean cruise on the Carnival Legend in August of 2007, so that's the only thing we can compare with. We had a fantastic time, and while some things were better than the Legend, other's weren't quite up to par yet.
Embarkation: This was an amazing process. I remember waiting in line for hours on the Legend and the embarkation area was just crowded and did not seem efficient. In Civitavecchia it was the exact opposite. We arrived at a little after 10:00am, and embarkation was scheduled to start at 10:30am. It started right away, if not a bit early, and we were on the cruise ship within 30-40 minutes minutes of arrival with absolutely no delays or hassle. It was a fantastic experience. Since we were some of the very first people on the ship, we had time to walk around and fully explore the ship without any crowds. We weren't able to schedule anything or buy anything except for a fountain card, as embarkation had just started and the staff were still getting prepared.
Guest Services: My wife was not registered as a past guest due to her having her maiden name registered for the first cruise, and so she didn't receive the Gold card like I did. Originally we didn't think much of it (although my wife was a little jealous of my gold card I think!) until we found out that I was invited to a past cruise function and she wasn't. I went down the guest services, and they immediately found her past guest record and printed her a Gold card and gave her an invitation to the past guest function on the spot. Every single time I had to deal with guest services they were incredibly nice, knowledgeable, and efficient. Most people who complain about them were the people I saw with the ridiculous demands or claims. I always made sure I smiled and thanked them, because they really put up with a lot of crazy people on that big of a ship.
Staff/Entertainment: The thing that impressed me most about the staff is that they never said "I don't know". They always had an immediate answer for you no matter if your question was regarding where something was located on the ship, or if it was a question regarding a particular port of call or shore excursion. Our room steward was good, and he was great at chatting with us and making jokes, and even waved and said hi when we saw him off the ship as well. My only complaints were that the ice wasn't filled up very often, and since my wife needed to ice her hip and ankle each night that was kind of annoying. Also, it's incredibly hard to find a bag on this ship to hold ice as no one had anything. You'd think that they would have some zip-lock bags or something. We never ordered room service, so we have no comment on that. We only had to contact our room steward once regarding a problem and he was at our door in less than a minute.
Our dining experience wasn't nearly as good as it was on the Legend. Our water was alright, but he seemed distant at times and it was obvious that he had bonded more with the table next to us. He tried very hard to please us, but since his English wasn't that great he often didn't seem to understand some of the things we said or if we were trying to make jokes with him. Because of that no one at our table could really have any conversations with him that weren't very short or primarily about the menu. On the Legend we made sure we were early, and NEVER missed a single dining experience as our waiter was amazing. This cruise we skipped the dining room 4 times. He was nice though, and the waits usually weren't too bad. The drinks waiter rarely ever came to our table. I believe he only came to our table 2 or 3 times throughout the entire cruise. I didn't know who the Maitre'd was until the second to last day of the cruise, nor did I even hear him speak until then. On the Legend we heard from him every night, but here he just seemed very distant. Also, the dances at the last dinners weren't that great and very few people participated. Dining was definitely the one thing that was no where near the experience that we had on the Legend.
The entertainment staff was fantastic. I barely noticed any of them on the Legend, as well as the cruise director. James and Todd did such a great job on this cruise. I only saw Todd once just roaming around, but he made it a point to say hello to us, and as busy as he obviously was he even chatted with us for a few. That was nice, and I was even able to joke with some of the entertainment staff during some of the events (one of which promised me she would eat her hat if she lost the ship wide red vs. blue game, and it was a pretty humorous event when i confronted her about this when she lost!) and they were always happy to chat and entertain.
The country show was alright, but everyone kind of seemed out of sync and all the dance moves were forced. It wasn't all that fluid, and although I'm American the hardcore pro Americanism of the last song(s) were kind of ridiculous considering the fact that this is a European cruise and there were so many non-americans on board. I understand that this is a Caribbean cruise technically and all the shows are geared for that, but it would have been a nice little touch if they could have at least done a few minor changes or special events to turn this into a Carnival European cruise instead of a Carnival Caribbean cruise in Europe. The Dancin in the Street show, however, was amazing. I can't say enough good things about this show and I encourage anyone who sails on the Dream to see this show. You will be absolutely amazed. It was a lot of fun to watch. We didn't see the third show, and we saw one comedian who was pretty funny. His material wasn't anything original, as I had heard most of it on email forwards throughout the years, but his presentation was superb and really that's one of the most important aspects of comedy.
There were many things to do and games to play across the ship, but the unfortunate thing was that a lot of it closes at 5pm. Mini Golf, basketball, water slide, ping pong, etc. We started joking around that at Carnival, "The fun stops at 5", because there was really no reason to close it that early as it was still daylight out for most of the cruise. 6 would have been more appropriate. Mini golf was a lot of fun, and the water slide was everything it's hyped to be...except for the fact that i only saw it open once due to winds, but that's nothing they can control.
The giant television was great, hardly any glare, but I noticed a few dead squares on it already. The laser show was pretty good the first time we saw it, but the winds made it a little difficult to really see what it was all about. In Monaco we had no wind and they did the laser show again and it was perfect. I was really amazed by just how much fun that was to watch. They did a handful of Pink Floyd songs, and it was a really good time.
The FunHub terminals were nice and well placed throughout the ship They were kept updated with sports scores, the goings-on of the ship, and the weather we were expecting. Plus, you could pay (way too much money of course) to get on the internet if you wanted. At first you had to go through their own very inadequate browser to get on the internet, and it usually crashed, but eventually they made it so you could just use a restricted windows desktop (so you could actually have more than 1 browser window open, which is important when you're paying by the minute!) and that alleviated a lot of problems. Obviously there were a huge amount of people that were furious that the system wasn't perfect, but you have to realize that it is a satellite based system, and if the weather isn't cooperating there isn't anything that IT is going to be able to do.
The Spa was great, but the staff were quite obnoxious. It's one thing to tell your staff to suggest the Elemis products, but an another thing entirely to try to cram it down our throats at every moment possible. The tour of the spa at the beginning was nice, but it was more of a salespitch than actually showing what it did. Most of the prices are just not worth what you really get, especially considering you're going to have to spend 5 minutes at the end listening to them tell you how these particular Elemis products will change your life. The access you get via the spa staterooms however, was perfect. The staff never intervened, and it was all very relaxing and well worth it. The mineral jacuzzi was a nice way to unwind and relax after a day of walking around, and all the other rooms you have access to are very nice. The spa rooms are worth the price you pay, plus the robe you get is much nicer and more comfortable than the standard carnival robe. The slippers are a one size fits all type of thing, and if they fit, they're comfortable!
Stateroom: We had a spa stateroom, and it was fantastic. The paintings on the wall as well as the overall motif were great, and it was great not to smell any cigarette smoke anywhere. For the first week probably we had virtually no water pressure in our sink (shower was fine), at first I thought it was a problem, but then I just assumed that it was to conserve water. I got to thinking that this was really a great idea as you don't need a lot of water pressure and I'm sure this saved water! I was ready to commend Carnival on this until I came into my room one day and I had full water pressure and apparently it was just a problem that I hadn't been negatively effected by obviously! One evening we came into our stateroom and we could smell cigarette smoke. We called our steward and he came by in less than a minute and smelled it and called his supervisor and the supervisor said they could re-freshen the room for us. I agreed, and they did it that evening. Everything was perfect after that and we never had any issues. They assumed it was from the air conditioning. The bed, and especially the pillows, were outstanding. Very comfortable. The online downside to the room was that since it was an interior room, there was absolutely no light once you turned the lights off. Which, I suppose is obvious, but i think I prefer the natural light from a window or balcony suite.
Food: I've heard lots of complaints from the food from previous reviews, but I didn't think it was that bad. Most of it was very good! Some things were worse than others on certain days, but there is such an amazing variety of food that you're always going to find something good. The Pasta bar never seemed to be open when we wanted to go to it, and the Pizza place was actually delicious, if you didn't mind waiting 5-10 minutes for your Pizza to come out of the oven as they rarely ever had any ready to go. I heard the steakhouse was great, but since we were in Europe, if we were going to spend $60 on a meal, we would be eating out in one of the ports of call, so we never went there. There were crowds in the buffets, especially during breakfast time, but that isn't really avoidable on a ship of that size.
All in all it was a very enjoyable cruise. I don't think we'll go on a cruise ship of this size again, as the crowds were just ridiculous at some points, and 40 person shore excursion groups that were, at times, combined with more than 1 group were unbearable at times. They did a very good job of getting everyone together in one location for the shore excursions, as on the Legend it was just a leave whenever and catch up to your group type of thing and we ended up missing a shore excursion due to not knowing where to go. On the Dream everyone meets in a central location and everyone leaves together, so that was nice. Debarkation was even smoother than embarkation. We just walked right off the ship without seeing anyone else. No lines or anything. That was pretty astonishing. I'm not sure why the Dream only has 2 small pools, yet 10 or so jacuzzis for a primarily Caribbean cruise destination, as everyone we spoke with thought that this was good for our slightly colder European cruise, but they wouldn't enjoy that in a warmer climate.
The Carnival Dream is a fantastic cruise ship, but the size (crowds) is really it's main downfall. However, the amenities and just how overall nice the ship is and the gratefulness of the staff for getting to work on such a beautiful ship makes up for that and it is truly a unique experience to be able to cruise on such a magnificent vessel.