Bottom line... everyone's experience will be different for various reasons, so go and experience this ship for yourself!!! We are experienced cruisers (40/34/17/8/5) and have traveled with Carnival on three ships (Dream, Inspiration & Victory) We have also sailed with Royal Caribbean, NCL and Princess. I will try to be brief with our experience:
EMBARKATION is a breeze. We arrived @ Port Canaveral (Terminal 10) around 11am and were onboard the ship having lunch in less than 45 minutes. The space shuttle was scheduled to launch the following day, so all the hotels in the area were booked solid and we had to stay in nearby Orlando. Let me say that our stay @ the Hampton Inn on John Young Parkway was GREAT!!!! Comfortable beds, large room (King Suite), Flat Screen TV and a pretty good free breakfast.
THE SHIP is big with lots of public areas, but not as well thought out in design as a Royal Caribbean. Carnival has a bad habit of designing ships with bottleneck areas and dead ends. It's not a deal breaker by any means, just interrupts your flow enough to never really get a good grip on how to get around the ship. This ship is beautiful with many nice modern touches. One of my favorite areas is the pool deck. If you have ever been on a Carnival ship, then you know this is the area they spend the least money on. Carnival pools look like something out of the "Jetsons" with their 70's futuristic style, but this ship FINALLY was designed for the 2000's. We had a great time watching the Saints spank the Colts in the Superbowl on the big screen.
PREVIOUS REVIEW COMPLAINTS: I did catch a whiff of the smell others were talking about from time to time, but it is not much more than a person with a little B.O. The lines were typical of a cruise ship and actually a bit faster that previous experiences. In the longest line I experience while on board, I may have waited 4-5 minutes... and I ate ALOT. I had no trouble with baggage, my cabin stewart was fine and the waiters were always friendly. However, this is one are I found disappointing. I did not think our waiters had the memorable personalities of past staff from previous cruises. They got the job done, but I honestly can't remember their names, and they never seemed to remember mine either. We had a party of 10 and the dining room management is VERY big on having your party arrive at the same time before serving you. Kinda upset me on a few days when were were trying to make it to a scheduled event after, but again not a deal breaker. I just don't think I should be held accountable for my table mates timeliness.
THE FOOD was ok, and I usually think that Carnival has the best tasting food of all the cruise lines we've traveled. I thought the Mongolian Wok was awful and had no flavor. The only meat available for omelets was ham (which was a bit disappointing) and the onions were precooked, so much of their flavor didn't get mixed into the eggs. The burgers in the grill are very good, maybe the best eating area on the ship. The Mexican Midnight Buffet was the best food experience I had during this trip, don't miss it. I wanted to try Chef Arts, but because the food was so average in the other dining rooms, I was afraid I would not enjoy it (which would be bad since the cover charge is $30/person). I'm definitely a FOODIE, so this was a big part of the trip for me and it was average @ best.
ENTERTAINMENT was good, but not what I expected from Carnival. ALL the main shows were great and the comedy club was good, but it felt like there was something missing. The water slides were closed most of the time and at strange hours when they were open. The Seaside Theater was barely used. Yes it showed an occasional movie and even the superbowl game... but it mostly was used to run commercials, warn about saving pool chairs and a few highlights of events around the ship. Would have been nice to have movies all the time or music videos or something entertaining!!!! Also, I barely saw any bands playing during the day to provide music around the pool. People who want to read should stay in their rooms or go to the ships library... the pool should have festive music playing during the day. Also, the usual fun stuff like scavenger hunts, pool contests and other stuff just seemed boring on this cruise and I'm pretty sure of why. The staff that normally gets the crowd started was absent this ENTIRE trip. John (the Cruise Director) was funny in the theater, but he mostly broadcast his "fun" leadership on the TV's and was not out and about very often with the crowds. This just did not feel like a Carnival "funship".
RUN OUT OF CLOTHES? Be prepared to pay dearly. The cost of a washer is $3/load and the same for the dryers. Detergent is $1.25 each and the box is so small you just about need two. Thumbs down Carnival!!!
THE PORTS were a mix of good and great. I am very fond of Cozumel, we've been there four times now. We usually rent a jeep and travel the highway along the coastline to discover beaches and local food/shops. This time we decided to visit the Mayan Ruins in Tulum. WARNING: Most of your trip time is spent it transit to and from the Ruins. Also, you can not access most of the ruins, so many of your photo's will be at a distance. The best part about this tour was the beach and views of the water/reefs. We spent $400 for a family of 5 and if I could do it again, I would stick to renting a jeep or just walking around the shops/mall areas near the pier. Friends of ours did the Dolphins and had an amazing time.
ROATAN is nice. Carnival built a very nice port area with new shops that will cause even the frugal to want to spend money. Fat Tuesday's is a great spot for drinks and music. The beaches are beautiful, but we did the Pirates, Monkeys and Birds tour. To me it was a total waste of money. Again you will have a good long drive to eat up a lot of your time. They describe it as a place where the monkeys & macaws are wild and come down out of the jungle. But in truth, this is a rescue habitat and a few animals are even caged and/or have a leash. John (the Cruise Director) made special mention of one excursion @ each port of call that he would be attending, but we never saw him on any of them. We thought because of his personality, the trip would be fun regardless, but he was a no show EVERY time. Save money here and just go to the beach.
BELZE was my least favorite port. We chose the Cave Tubing/Zipline Adventure with an outside company and again... a really long drive. But more importantly than that, it's also a really long walk from the park entrance to the river where you will be tubing (about 45 minutes). If you don't have "water shoes", you will have to rent them for $3, which isn't bad... but I was HIGHLY suspect of their hygiene once the shoes were returned. The walk there is over a path of small to medium river stones and not very comfortable on your feet at all. It may sound like I'm complaining, but I assure you I'm not. Only trying to give everyone an accurate account for you to be prepared if you choose this tour. Bottom line for me... the walk is long, the river was cold (February and cloudy), there really wasn't much to see compared to other caves I've been in and the river was low, so I've got a got a few butt-bruises from where I crashed into a few large stones on the riverbed floor. It was not nearly as exciting as it was advertised to be.
COSTA MAYA was amazing and the best port of the entire cruise. Carnival delayed disembarkation at this port (30-40 minutes) because the NCL ship was having such a hard time docking. Ships were rocking, waves and water were splashing and winds were howling... but thank God they let us experience this place, because it is simply beautiful. We took the bus to the downtown area and found a great spot on the beach. DON'T LET THE TAXI PEOPLE FOOL YOU. They will tell you (just to get your business) that you have to pay for restrooms, chairs and beach access in certain areas on you are there... but nearly any restaurant will happily allow you to use their set-up if you plan to eat or drink at their facility. We did neither and still were welcomed and allowed to use everything, even the restrooms. We got a couples massage for 1 hour at a cost of $15 each. The massages near the pier were going for $1 per minute, which was cheaper than the ships Spa, but not nearly as good as the deal we got for the short $5 round trip bus ride.
ALL IN ALL the ship is beautiful, but could use a Royal Caribbean like promenade. For those of you who have been on RC similar sized "Of the Seas" class ships, you'll know what I'm talking about. The food was ok, but I doubt if experienced cruisers would remember any specific meal. Our kids really enjoyed Camp Carnival and didn't want to leave. Skip Belize and ask the Captain to stay an extra day in Costa Maya. MOST OF ALL, take my review and all others with a grain of salt. Everybody's experience and expectation levels are different, but this is a boat worthy of a visit (maybe even two). I personally expected more because Carnival has been our favorite cruiseline because of their "fun" atmosphere. But this ship did not feel like a Carnival "Funship". It felt more like RC without all the bells and whistles. What I mean by that is Carnival usually goes out of their way to entertain you. Royal Caribbean give you a bunch of things to entertain yourself, which is fine when you have rock walls, ice skating, flow riders, zip lines and operational water slides... but the Dream has none of this and no staff to make up for the lack thereof , like on other Funships.