We booked this cruise about 8 months prior to departure. We booked two rooms, which ended up being on opposite floors on opposite sides of the ship. I roomed with my brother, T, 17 almost 18. My mother roomed with my brother A, 15 years old.
TRAVEL PLANS: We flew into Orlando the night previous to our cruise departure. We stayed at an Orlando hotel and got a $20 p/person shuttle through AAA Transport the next day. AAA Transport was quite a mess, stopping at almost 20 stops after picking us up before finally leaving to Cape Canaveral, about an hour drive.
EMBARKATION: Upon arrival at the pier, our shuttle driver dropped us off right at the baggage location. Several guys were handling our bags and giving us tags to write our names and cabin numbers on. This was a little bit of a stressful process, as we were somewhat confused on what to do or where to go. Luckily, we did all get our baggage in good time and it appeared it had been well handled.
BOARDING THE DREAM: We arrived in the check-in line about 1:30. The line was enormous and stretched outside and around the massive Carnival building. Security onto the ship was slow. It took about an hour to get inside the building, and another 1/2 hour to get through security to the desk to check in. At this line, we were given a card to fill out and sign that stated we had no flu-like H1N1 symptoms. The check-in process was quite smooth but time consuming. We were issued our "Sail & Sign" cards at this point. Before getting on the ship, a crew member put our Sail & Sign card into a reader which took our picture. (See Sail & Sign Card below). We each took a small carry-on bag with us when we boarded. It was difficult finding our rooms at first, but once we found them and dropped off our small bags, we decided to grab some lunch.
1ST DAY: Then the nightmare started. If you've read other reviews, you've read about the 10th floor "Lido" deck being an absolute nightmare. The first day, it is! The crew was completely overwhelmed - dirty tables were everywhere and people were very grouchy. Trying to get something to eat on the lido deck the first day was like going to Wal-Mart on Black Thursday. I HIGHLY suggest you eat lunch before boarding The Dream to avoid the massive lines. Seating is next to impossible, and it was just an all around nightmare. However, the rest of the time we were onboard, the Lido deck seemed to be fine, but sometimes a little crowded. Our guess was that the crew is pretty tired on Saturdays since they debark the previous guests and embark new ones. The muster drill was easy and we were glad to not have to take our life jackets all over the ship. However, the muster drill was extremely ineffective, and the foreign-speaking crew members were very hard to understand. Dinner service on the first night seemed extremely unorganized. Fortunately, it got much better. However, we were quite concerned out dining experiences were going to be terrible. Luckily, we were wrong.
DREAM DECOR: Give your three-year-old some swatch samples for tile, paint, fixtures and carpet. Tell your three-year-old to match these swatches for rooms. Your three-year-old just did a better design job than the designer of the dream. The ambiance and decor is so tacky it will make you literally sick. We had a really fun time mocking the "designer" of the dream. You'll see mirrors with gold flecks in them and what appears to be neon colored bouncy balls cut in half and glued to the outside of the mirror (Dream Atrium/Lobby Elevators). In that same room, you'll see olive green swirled marble tile, pink carpet, gold mixed with chrome mixed with stainless steel and blue glass. Oh, and don't forget the cheezy artwork. And that's just the atrium. Encore Theater (the main theater) is also a decorating nightmare with the pink and orange zebra striped upholstery mixed with granite tile and bright red painted rocks on the walls. It's really just something you have to experience yourself. Did Carnival have a whole bunch of extra products leftover from other ships when they built the Dream? It almost appears that nobody particularly thought any of it out. Hallways to staterooms are filled with tacky 40s/50s types of art deco with unmatched carpets and ceiling tile and chair-rail which doesn't make any sense. It didn't ruin our trip by any means, but it sure could have been much better for the price of the quality products they put throughout the ship! There was absolutely no theme to anything and we couldn't make heads or tails about the color palette. We're guessing there wasn't one.
CARNIVAL CAPER: The Caper is the daily newsletter left in your room by your room steward while you're at dinner. It contains information about the next day's activities with a time table and descriptions about activities. The Caper also advertises all the other crap you can spend your money on, like "specials" to the spa "Only $99!" and specials in the duty-free gift shops (big whoop, you'll save $2) among other advertisements.
DAYS AT SEA: We expected to have lots of "activities" to do. At first, we wanted to do everything. Unfortunately, it seemed all the good activities went on during our first day at sea. There's always so much to do, and you're never really sure what to expect until you actually get there.
HOUSEKEEPING: Our housekeeper pleasantly greeted us the first day we boarded. We rarely saw our room steward. Our room was always very well cleaned each morning. Every day, we took a nap before our early dinner time (6:00). We would simply put our "Crusin': Service, Please" tag on our door while at dinner and our rooms would be cleaned and beds made a second time. These people know how to make a nice tight bed - it was wonderful, and our room steward did awesome. Everything was always spotless.
ROOM SERVICE: Of course room service is complimentary. Using the TV, you can make an order if you don't want to call. This way, you can see everything that is offered. Several unusual but smart items are offered including ziploc bags full of ice in case of an injury, things like that. The cookies were terrible and crunchy. The list is limited, but it is free and they bring it right to your room. Don't forget to cash tip your delivery person. Chocolate milk is only 1% and tastes kind of gross when you're used to 2%. Most of the time we were so full, food didn't seem like a good idea.
DINING: Carnival has some great starters. I especially enjoyed the fresh fruit that was offered the first three nights. Also, every time there is bisque, be sure to order it. The strawberry bisque and chilled Indian spice pumpkin bisque is incredible. Overall, the food was always very good. T ordered the duck and didn't like it, probably just not his taste. We told our waiter the first night that we would like a large glass of milk with our dinner each night, and they were happy to do this for us. The water at dinner always tasted a little funny and chlorinated. Every night, the Mat'r dee would say "SSShhhhhhowtime" into the microphone, and the servers would all roll their eyes. For some reason, Carnival thinks that guests enjoy interrupting a nice meal by having dining room servers "perform" to ridiculous singing and dancing routines. Not only was it embarassing, but it made my dinners much less enjoyable. It made me uncomfortable. Plus our dinners were usually 90 minutes to two hours anyway, and this just made it 15 minutes longer. We rarely had our desert ordered before "Sssshhooowtime" so we were held hostage to watching the stupid routine if we wanted desert, which I usually did. Quite a trade off I'd say.
DINING WINE SERVICE: Absolute fail. The first night, I requested a wine menu. There were several options that I wanted to try, so I asked for an opinion from the wine server about which cabernet was the dryest and oakiest. He suggested a chardonnay. What an idiot. I asked if I could have a sample of a wine which was sold both by the glass and the bottle before I purchased a bottle (almost every restaurant that serves wine offers this). I was told that would be fine. Then the server brought me an entire glass and charged me for it. Needless to say, that was the only wine I ever bought onboard the Dream. This story may sound snobbish, but when you save your money and take time off work and make all the travel arrangements, you expect to have good service while on your vacation. I'm big into wine, so this was disappointing.
ENTERTAINMENT: We didn't attend the country show, but my mom and brothers went to "Dancin' in the Street". I didn't go because by the time I got to the theatre after dinner, it was almost completely full and only nosebleed seats were available (there are some really terrible seats towards the right and left sides of the balcony). They said it was fantastic. I attended the Mo Town show which was really great - the female singer can really belt out those high notes. I was very impressed. I was also cast in the "Legends" show with 8 other karaoke winners, where guests on the cruise get costumes and sing live to pre-selected songs. The live band at all the shows was great. The lighting, set, effects, and dedication the cast puts into each show is simply amazing.
CASINO: Total fail. Nobody got paid anything at the casino. My mother played quite a bit and finally gave up. Apparently in international waters, casinos don't have a required payout. I played the first night for about an hour and gave up, even though I'm a diamond member at Harrah's casinos and love to gamble. The slots were incredibly tight, I never saw anyone winning. At table games, if you don't have cash, you can use your Sign & Sail card, which charges a 3% "convenience fee". The casino is small and wasn't usually very crowded, probably because of the terrible payouts. About 1/4th of the casino slot machines are in a smoking area. You can put cash into slot machines, but you are required to put your Sign & Sail card into the machine, too. When you cash out, your credits go onto your sign and sail card in a separate casino account. To get your money back, you must visit the cashier's desk. This was likely done to control minors gambling in the casino.
SMOKING AREAS: There are about 4. This is not a smoking-friendly ship. The piano bar, Caliente dance club, 1/4th of the slots at the casino, and one area off the Ocean Plaza outside on the fifth floor are smoking areas.
BEVERAGE SERVICE: Nobody approached me to buy a drink until the 3rd day. There were very few cocktail waitresses, which was almost a good thing - it helped avoid temptation to spend $9 on a drink. Yes, I said $9. Most well mixed drinks with juice or soda are $7.50. Beers are $6.50. Crappy wine is around $8 a glass. All in all, the prices are way too expensive. Even though we were previous Carnival guests, there were no free drinks at the "past customer reception". The ONLY free drinks were the last night at the "Fun Farewell Party" from 5:00-6:00. Drink up - this is the only time it will be free! IF you like to have a few drinks, you'd better plan on having about $750 budgeted towards it. The drinks are SO expensive....it's ridiculous.
BINGO: Cruise Director Todd would often wake us up from our afternoon naps by announcing Bingo specials over the ship's PA system. For this reason (and so many more), we really hated Todd. (more on this douchebag later). The first several nights before shows, they would have a $500 Bingo. $10 p/card or $20 for 3 cards. Now, keep in mind that the Dream has about 4,000 guests. We usually counted at least 100 people (usually more) getting bingo cards, and you can bet money that most of them were buying 3 for $20. Simple math suggests that Carnival rakes in about $3,500 from bingo alone each night, giving only about $500 to the winner. And if there are two winners, that amount is split. What an incredibly cheap ripoff. Save your money.
ACTIVITIES/PUBLIC AREAS: SCATTERGORIES: This pathetic game of scattergories was run by Cruise Director Todd's flaming Brittish friend, James. It was terribly unorganized and not fun in any way. I highly discourage anyone from attending any events where James is coordinating them. For the record, if "O" is the letter rolled in scattergories, "Old Sock" does not count as a piece of laundry. We walked away after about 7 minutes of his inability to create a fun atmosphere by enforcing the rules of the game. NEWLYWED GAME: KARAOKE: Karaoke was held in several locations throughout the cruise. Unfortunately, the times for karaoke were weird. For example, 7:30-10:30, or 10:30-midnight. Obviously, karaoke with this many people needs to be open longer. Mouna, the karaoke director, is a really great person who I worked with during the Legends show. She's got a great personality and is a lot of fun. COMEDY ACTS: Several PG and R rated comedy acts go on throughout the cruise. Unfortunately, every time I would try to go to one, the Burgandy lounge was completely packed. They run several shows, but if you're not there half an hour before the show, you won't get a seat. PIANO BAR: The Dream has two piano players. Ronnie reminds me of Morgan Freeman and plays lots of old-people musical numbers. He's great and is a lot of fun. Ronnie usually plays before dinner times, we really enjoyed his playing. The other piano player is Barry. We really liked Barry the first time and second time we heard him. After that, he was just plain repetitive. Be careful when walking through the piano bar; he may single you out and make friendly jokes which will cause people to point and laugh, all in good humor.
CALIENTE (dance club): Caliente usually gets hot around midnight and goes all the way until 3:30AM. The DJ is pretty descent and the atmosphere is really cool. Lights in the dance floor and around the entire club are great - lots of cool seating. Pretty typical of a metropolitan dance club you'd find in most large cities. If you're still up after Caliente closes, you can have some great fun on the lido deck pizza place.
OTHER SHIP FEATURES: HOT TUBS: There are several hot tubs open on the Dream - I think we counted 10. However, they are all open at different times, all posted in the caper. Many of these tubs were closed with signs "High Clorination Process - do not enter" when they were supposed to be open. This was disappointing to us. SWIMMING POOLS: Swimming pools were open at ridiculous times/hours. There are two and they aren't very big. Don't get too excited about swimming while on the Dream, because when the pools are open, they are filled with kids. WATER SLIDES: The water slides were shut down most of the time were onboard because of weather. They looked like fun for kids, but not really an adult experience, and not as great as the Carnival website claims they are. MINI GOLF: Yes, there is an 18-hole mini-golf course. My brother played it and said it's not much fun since your ball rolls around with the pitch of the ship. BASKETBALL COURTS: A full-size regulation basketball court is on the 11th floor of the Dream. Good luck finding it - it's tricky to get to. If you play basketball, this looks like a great court. LIDO OUTDOOR THEATRE: We sat and watched a few movies at the outdoor theater but they're uncomfortable to watch because there are so many people walking back and forth. Most of our cruise, it was chilly on the Lido (we sailed during an unusually cold period). Blankets were available on the Lido deck. LASER SHOWS: Unfortunately, since the ship is moving, the laser shows are kind of...dorky. The idea on Carnival's part was great, but the actual execution wasn't. It's all a bit underwhelming, but fun to check out. Be sure to grab a hot dog while you're up there - the lido deck chili dogs are awesome and high quality, as far as hot dogs go.
CLUB 02: 15 y/o brother A really enjoyed Club02. He hung out there lots and played video games. I didn't get to hear much about it, but he met lots of friends and had a really great time. The staff at Club 02 seemed really competent.
SAIL & SIGN & SIGN & SIGN CARD: The sail & sign card is your stateroom key and your charge card, connected to your credit/debit card. Cash is not used anywhere for anything on the ship except in the casino (and don't expect to get that back!). Every time you purchase something, a credit card receipt is printed and your folio is charged. Your folio total is charged to your credit card on the last day of the cruise.
TIPS: $70 is automatically charged per person onto your sign and sail account. We felt that this was mostly fair, so we didn't make any changes to it. You can see your sign and sail folio charges anytime on your stateroom TV.
CRUISE DIRECTOR & STAFF: Cruise Director Todd quotes: "And we're just all really excited to have you here, you're our favorite guests we've ever sailed with". How fake is that? "And you just won't want to miss it - everyone is going to be talking about it - it's just going to be so great, so be sure to be at Bingo tonight". He must get a cut of that bingo money. We were sick and tired of Todd by the end of our cruise. He's very insincere and really doesn't make anything "fun". In your stateroom, you can watch a channel completely devoted to the cruise director's staff interviewing people and acting like they are comedians onboard the ship. Unfortunately, none of them are at all funny. It's all very stupid and didn't enhance our experience whatsoever. They were all very annoying, but we had fun making jokes about them, as did many of the other Dream guests.
DEBARKATION: Relatively easy. The night previous to debarkation, our room steward left color-coded tags for our bags in our room. We left our bags outside and the crew delivered them to an off-boat baggage claim so you don't have to carry them all over the place through customs. You also have the ability to take all your bags off the boat yourself, but the baggage claim was really easy. Although customs lines appeared long, we were off the boat in about 1/2 an hour with our luggage from the carosel in hand. Customs was very easy, as we already had our customs cards filled out which were left by our steward the night before. I suggest you stay on the boat as long as possible; feel free to sleep in, as it seems there is no hurry to get off the boat. We debarked at about 9:00AM, but likely could have stayed considerably later to catch some extra sleep and to avoid these lines. Also, Cruise DIrector Todd puts on a special "Debarkation" meeting, which you really don't need to waste your time with.
PROS: Cruises are always great. The important things like roomservice, food and dining service were pretty good. We really liked stopping at Belize and Cozumel.
CONS: Carnival's standards have gone WAY downhill since we last sailed with them six years ago. They now offer much more in the way of things you can pay extra for, and it seems like less and less is included in the actual price of the cruise. Carnival is charging WAY too much money for drinks. Casino was aweful. The first few days, the crew seemed to be struggling to get anything right. This boat is just WAY too big; you can really walk for miles each day just to go to dinner and shows. Our walkie-talkies we brought with us didn't work because of the size of the ship.
Conclusion: It's likely that we'll sail with RCI again on our next cruise. Although it is a little more expensive, it really is that much better in all areas. Just because the Dream is the biggest ship in the Carnival fleet does not mean it's the best. The Dream does not have any more features than most boats that handle 2,000-2,500 guests. The Dream simply has more floors with staterooms, creating much more crowded public areas than what you experience in most ships. The Dream overbuilt staterooms and underbuilt public areas. It was just too crowded for us, and next time we'll travel on a smaller ship. Part of what makes a cruise fun is the people you meet and the people you're traveling with. We had a great time, and I met some really great people, and that's what I took away from the whole experience. I hope you have a great time on your next cruise, too!