A little background to get started: We are a family of three (29, 24, and 2) who had been living in Italy for the past 2 1/2 years (my wife is Italian and our daughter - who just turned two for the cruise - was born there) and had gradually become disenchanted with living there. Italy is a great place to visit and spend a few weeks but actually living there is another story and allows you to appreciate even more being able to live in the USA. Anyway... after going through all of the bureaucratic hula-hoops to get my wife's residency visa, we decided that it would be nice to take a cruise to the US instead of flying - we needed a vacation - and hence settled on the Carnival Dream out of Civitavecchia. The ports of call seemed interesting, it was a new ship, we thought our daughter would be best suited on a Carnival cruise, and Civitavecchia was not that far for us, given that we were coming from Sicily.
After renting a car and driving up to Rome the day before, we got up in the morning and headed to Roma Fiumicino as we had to ship some stuff off to the US, and then took a taxi (actually a huge Mercedes van that could have fit 10 people) to Civitavecchia, which is approximately an hour from Rome via car. We were driven right up to the ship and boarding was incredibly simple. It literally took us 10-12 minutes from the time we entered the terminal until the time we were on the ship. We were onboard by 3:30 and took a little time to relax in the stateroom and then head out and meet some CCers at the Sunset bar and grab a bite to eat before getting back to our room (where our luggage had already been delivered), cleaning up, and then it was time for departure.
Overall, most of the aspects of the cruise met my expectations, several exceeded, and unfortunately a couple fell short, and now I'll delve into detail about all of that.
THE SHIP: The Carnival Dream is obviously a new ship; this was the fourth sailing following three Mediterranean journeys, and is definitely grandiose. On a side note, in Barcelona - the first port - it was docked next to the old Royal Caribbean Sovereign of the Seas, which had once been the largest cruise ship in the world and was actually the ship on which I did my first cruise when I was 11, and just towered over it). The decor was not overwhelming but added an elegant touch, which was nice, given that many people had complained about the last new Carnival ship (Splendor). The exception to that was the Lido buffet area, which didn't really jive well with me. I thought that the ship was designed quite well but there definitely did seem to be a problem with space in several areas, especially outside when the weather was nice and basically all days for breakfast and lunch in the Lido. With this push to continually build larger ships, someone needs to realize that regardless of how many decks you add, your outside space remains extremely limited, and architects can only increase that slightly by adding to the length and width of the ship. Therefore on a ship with 2000 or 3500 or 5500 passengers (i.e. the new Oasis of the Seas), the outside space still remains more or less equivalent to one deck. Many of the guests who had previously sailed with Carnival as well as much of the staff lamented on this very issue. One other consideration is that this was a Transatlantic sailing that generally played to an older crowd... I'm sure the space issues would be compounded in a Caribbean setting with a younger crowd. Overall I was pleased with the ship itself but people need to be wary of that fact that at times they will definitely note the 3600 passengers.
STATEROOM: We were in a balcony stateroom (8F) on the Panorama deck and had no complaints whatsoever. The room was spacious enough for the three of us with a large bed, a sofa, sitting area, etc., and it was well designed. No space issues, no storage issues, and I thought the location of the room was perfect for us as it was very close the gym, easy to get outside and head to the Lido deck when we wanted to go enjoy the sunshine or go eat at the buffet, and close to the central elevators to get around the ship. No noise issues either.
GYM/SPA: I'm into working out, natural bodybuilding, and personal training, and hence I did head to the gym basically everyday. The equipment that is there is new and definitely high quality, but the gym itself is limited by the space available and again, I feel that it could definitely be an issue with a younger crowd that is more physically active. The first few days it was packed, mostly with people who had no clue what they were doing and several who failed to practice proper gym etiquette (sitting on machines and talking, improper technique, improper gym attire). Furthermore, they need to invest in heavier dumbells and a free weight area would not be a bad idea. I understand that it's a moving ship but as long the heavier weights are utilized by guests who know how to workout, it's not a problem. I never used the spa services but from what I saw, it seemed nice but the products/services are overpriced.
SERVICE: For the most part, the best part of our cruise. Maybe we were just fortunate, but I found the service on the Carnival Dream to be wonderful, especially for our 2 year old daughter who was treated so well by the vast majority of the staff and really assisted us in making it a pleasant cruise for us. Our stateroom steward and his staff were always available, took care of every request, and kept our room in immaculate condition, which can be difficult when a certain 2 year old is free inside! The dining staff did a fantastic job as well; we were in the Crimson dining room with "Your Time" dining (hence on the 4th floor) and always had fantastic service, starting with the hostesses and continued by the waiters/waitresses, their assistants, etc. One of the bar waitresses, Usanee, basically babysat our daughter after she was finished eating so that we could enjoy our dinner. Our comment cards were filled with praise for the dining staff.
PORTS OF CALL: I will be brief here, as these are ports that will not be visited by the Dream again in the foreseeable future. Basically the ports that we thought were going to be the worst turned out the best and vice versa (with the exception of Bermuda, which we were expecting to be nice and was). Barcelona was okay but it's more of a city to visit for two or three days at a leisurely pace instead of just 10 hours or whatever. Palma de Mallorca was wonderful; very clean and lots to do and not too touristy (it probably is worse in the summer, but great for us). We did not like Malaga (Sunday/holiday and hence nothing was open) or Las Palmas in the Canary Islands (the city seems dirty and the beach was nothing great), and as previously mentioned, enjoyed Bermuda.
CAMP CARNIVAL: In one word: AWFUL. The biggest disappointment of the cruise, without a doubt. I was expecting my daughter to have a wonderful time but she absolutely hated it. Yes, she is 2 years old and likes to have her mommy and daddy nearby, but the camp counselors were no good at all and did very little to interact with the younger children and get them involved. Kids who are 5 or 8 or whatever are able to independently play and organize themselves a little bit, but two year olds?!? The room itself seemed wonderful but they basically just sat the kids there and watched TV or had them do whatever, and often didn't follow the planned schedule that was given to us. Perhaps the counselors were so pathetic and lethargic because they were always out during the night getting plastered?!? This includes the Youth Director who I saw out one night and was so inebriated that she couldn't put a sentence together. Disgraceful. Needless to say, we stopped even attempting to bring our daughter to Camp Carnival after a week or so.
POOLS/OUTSIDE AREAS/WATER PARK: Never used the pools or hot tubs (again, crowded) but did enjoy the water slides with my daughter, who after discovering them wanted to go basically everyday) but could only do the little ones because... well... she's 2. When my wife was there with us, I had a little liberty to enjoy the twister slides.
NIGHTLIFE/SOCIAL AREAS/ENTERTAINMENT: Average, but that's kind of what I expected, given the older crowd on the cruise. I only stayed out after 11 PM or so on three occasions and just for a couple of hours (as my wife went to bed with our daughter), but it seemed that us "youth" always ended up at the Piano Bar. The Caliente disco was nothing great and the music sucked... never really spent much time in the Ocean Plaza. I'm not one for shows and entertainment - I tend to keep myself entertained pretty well - but I did see the hypnotist and then one of the main shows ("Dancing on the Streets", I believe). The hypnotist was amusing; the main show was average for my tastes but others enjoyed it.
FOOD: I hope this is the last thing that comes to mind because I'm getting a little tired of typing, but here it goes... Overall, the food met my expectations and I get a little tired of reading complaints from people who are under the impression that every meal on a Carnival cruise should be like a restaurant with 3 Michelin stars or whatever. People need to realize that there are 3600 guests and obviously some of the ingredients are not going to be completely fresh as they have to keep them stored. With that said, the breakfast was fine at the beginning but they could have used a little variation; the only variation that I noted was that one day they had pancakes and then the next french toast. The Lido buffet lunch was not so great; often food was cold and undercooked. Towards the end of the cruise, we avoided it all together and would always go for the pasta bar, the burrito bar, or the grill. The pasta bar was good - yes, it's not Italy, but I thought it was fine for a cruise. The burritos were wonderful; at least for me, the best part of lunch. Room service was fine; nothing special on the menu, but always got there reasonably quick. I was happy with the dinner in the MDR (we went to the buffet the first night but then the MDR every night afterwards with the exception of one night in the Steakhouse). Some people complained about the lack of variation of the menu but it seemed okay to me. There were a couple of nights that dinner was not so great (but still edible); however most of the meals were tasteful, well presented, and of a quality that I was expecting.
Overall, it was an enjoyable experience. I'm sure that there are several minor details that I could have covered but I hope that I've hit most of the major points here. It wasn't a perfect cruise but it was definitely good and was certainly a great way to move back to the USA.