First let me say we are very seasoned RCL and X cruisers and wanted to try CCL again after a 15 year hiatus, plus our "cruise virgin" friends asked us to "escort them". We are mid-sixties and pretty tolerant of mistakes. We had a group of 100 from The Villages go Feb. 6-13, 2010.
EMBARKATION: Surprisingly smooth. We've seen long lines for Carnival in Ft. Lauderdale but the Port Canaveral facility seems to work better than the others. We arrived by bus at 12 noon and it took 8 minutes to get through security on the first floor with only two lanes. Seems a little tight here and we don't know why they don't do this upstairs where there's lots more room. Check-in was fast and no wait at the moment we walked to the head of the line. The desk agent was pleasant and before long we were on the ship at 12:20. No complimentary champagne or rum runners here.
DISEMBARKATION: By special arrangement we got Number 1 tags and were off by 7:30 AM. The only hassle were the annoying porters. The luggage claim is airport style with zig-zag conveyors. One in our group never got one of their bags and had to fill out forms. I suspect someone else may have grabbed that bag by mistake.
CABIN: Comfortable and pretty well laid out. Our cabin (#6440) had a pretty small balcony that overlooked the Promenade (not objectionable if you like to people watch). The balcony door is hinged, not sliding, and slams easy when there's wind. Closets were roomy. Nice bathroom with functional shower. Plenty of new towels. The couch gave us room to lay out clothes and the desk was large. Unfortunately or cabin was almost right above the Dance Club and the loud beat was hard to ignore. So was the slamming of cabin and balcony doors that went on into the night. It's not the fault of the passengers but the ship designers not having door checks on the mechanism. TV shows and free movies in the room was welcome. So were two fluffy bathrobes to use.
CABINS TO AVOID: Cat. 8B (Balcony) and 4D (Inside) on Deck 6 between midship elevators and aft elevators (roughly #6382-6452 port side and #6365-6439 starboard side). These are right over the Ocean Plaza and Caliente Dance Clubs where the music is loud until almost 3 AM.
CABIN STAFF: Our steward was Joselito (Philippines) and he was pleasant and did a good job. I asked him for two wine glasses and he set us up with an iced bucket for our wine bottle and clean glasses every day after our $5 tip set the tone. Towel animals every day is always a nice welcome. Always called us Mr. Richard and Miss Ellen. He got an extra tip envelope at the end of the week too.
SHIP LAYOUT: One of the hardest ships to get around in our opinion. Hard to get used to the atrium being in the front of the ship instead of the center. Thank goodness there are 3 sets of elevators. The fold out Deck Plan card is useless. It has a profile of the ship but the print is too small to read. Suggest you cut out the two page deck plan from their brochure and bring it with you. It too has print too small to read. Better yet, print the deck plan pages from their website and make a book. From the main floor of the Scarlet Dining Room (Deck 3) to the lower floor of the Encore Showroom (also Deck 3), it's impossible to walk the length of the ship. There is no passage around the galley. You must go up or down one level and if you go up to Deck 4 to walk forward, you'll run into another dead end on the port side, since the Crimson Dining Room blocks the way. Only the starboard side has a narrow hallway around the middle restaurant. The aft elevator lobby on Decks 3 and 4 is the only place to wait for the restaurant to open and it can get pretty crowded there at 6:00 and 8:15 PM; so much so, that people can't get off the elevators or down the stairs if they chose that alternate method.
ELEVATORS: Never enough of them with a full house. Don't know what they will do on President's Week with 4,800 people on board.
SERENITY DECK: Great idea. Other ships that cater to families should copy this feature.
SHIP SMELLS: Only once did we notice the "Carnival Sewer Odor" everyone speaks of. Not objectionable - more fleeting. Our friends commented on the smell of "Mary Jane" on their deck (#2). Casino is smokey. Sunset bar is smokey. Some cabins are smokey. Carnival attracts the smokers, other lines don't want.
SHIP STEADINESS: Like all new ships with stabilizers, the Dream rode the 15-20 foot swells in the Florida Straits with ease. We didn't notice any rolling.
SHIP DECOR: Typical of Carnival. Lots of glitz and mixed colors and textures. Downright tacky in many places. 12 deck atrium is an engineering feat.
THE GATHERING: Not one room but two and a half, with food stations scattered around. Pizza here, Wok there, Deli here, Tandoori over there, etc. Very crowed embarkation day from 12 noon to 1:30 before cabins were available for occupancy. Many ships have this problem where thousands are waiting to get into their cabins. During the week was better except on sea days when the Gathering was crowded again.
THE GATHERING FOOD: A pretty good assortment of food. The Deli station was one of my favorites. Nice pastrami sandwich. The pizza was bland. Didn't taste fresh made at all. The Wok was a nice alternative. Didn't get to the Tandoori station since we had a port intensive cruise and were off the ship at lunch. Breakfast was the same every day. Never wanted to wait for the Omelet station. The scrambled eggs were "a process product", just uniform moist light yellow. Sausage changed daily but bacon was hard to find. The danish was exactly like Sam's Club 24 pack. Flakey but no flavor. Even the cream cheese was a whipped product. The Pasta Bar upstairs was a disappointment. Again, little flavor to my Farfale Bolognese. Ice cream machines were cold but not real custard or ice cream. They sell real ice cream at the pastry shop. Mediocracy prevailed. Nothing objectionable - nothing memorable.
THE GATHERING STAFF: Pleasant but did more walking that bussing. Had to call them over to remove obvious finished plates.
SCARLET DINING ROOM: We had table #421 main dining next to the window in the back corner. Nice and quiet here but walls blocked views of the main room. Decor was tacky. Round butler islands help the servers. The red light fixtures looked like red plastic tumblers facing down. The wall was covered in interesting small red tiles. Typical Carnival bold color scheme.
DINING ROOM FOOD: First night, I had Black Tiger Shrimp Cocktail, Caesar Salad and Chicken a la Grecque. The 3 shrimp were large, limp and tasteless. Close your eyes, you would not guess you were eating shrimp. Salad was ordinary. The chicken ended up to be chicken breast on pasta. I didn't remember reading "pasta" on the menu. Dessert was (cold) Creme Brulee and it was just OK. Other nights I had Stuffed Mushrooms (good), Duet of Lobster & Grilled Jumbo Tiger Shrimp (overboiled and bland), Cherries Jubilee "flamed with cherry brandy" (ice cream and cherries but not flamed), Seafood Chowder (excellent), Roast Rack of New Zealand Spring Lamb (excellent and tasty), Roasted Prime Rib (surprisingly good), Escargots Bourguignonne (not exactly Burgundy style but we had two servings each), Chateaubriand (nice tender meat), Amaretto Cake (good), Smoked Duck with Caramelized Oranges (interesting), Tom Ka Gai Soup (excellent), Wild Mushroom Cream Soup (excellent), Duet of Petite Filet Mignon and Short Rib Confit (very small portions but tender), New England Crab Cake (very good and crabby), Lobster Bisque "with oak wood aged brandy" (OK, not the taste you expect and no brandy flavor), Grand Marinier Souffle (fluffy but no taste of orange and certainly not grand). In general, we found the soups good and hot (and not salty). Some entrees very good to excellent but for the most part, most had little flavor and were bland. Some people in our group complained about insipid flavor and cold entrees. Calling this to the attention of the maitre 'd (Claudio) did not correct the problem. Carnival is not to the level of RCL, PCL, HAL if you are familiar with their food and far from X.
DINING ROOM STAFF: Our waiter and helper were Orlino (Philippines) and Gede (Indonesia). They worked well together. Orlino was more concentrated and hustled, Gede was more friendly and smiling. Both worked very hard to please. Only a few times did we have to ask for a missing utensil or other item. Extra tips for these guys.
WINE STEWARD: Non-existent on Carnival. No wine knowledgeable person to help you select the right bottle of wine for dinner. The waiter takes your order (by bin #), opens it for you and pours your first glass. After that, you're on your own. We miss a knowledgeable sommelier. We're sure they would sell more wine if they had a few.
ROOM SERVICE: Used it once for breakfast and it arrived only 10 minutes late.
ALTERNATE DINING: We did not have time to sample this at $30 pp but others who went said it was worth every penny. Those prices sure keep creeping up every year.
ENTERTAINMENT: Carnival finds the solution to costly entertainment by having shows about every other night but having excellent ones. The theater is too small for the number of passengers and many seats in the back had poor sightlines. Plus the main floor is not sloped down, so you had to look between the heads in front of you. Get there early and sit in front! The "Dancing In The Streets" routine was by far, the best we've seen at sea. "Get Ready" was also a good production. Hats off to Carnival. The name entertainers were fair. "Edge" seemed to have more conceit than talent. Cruise Director, John Heald, is an asset to the cruise line industry. Very comical man that plays a big part in the enjoyment factor of this ship. Carnival has always had full Caribbean Bands on board. I can even remember a Steel Band on the Holiday years ago. They have been replace by two guys (guitar and keyboard). Not the joyous music and dancing waiters I remember on deck. The Comedy Club is a keeper and since there is no show some nights, the Comedy Club fills that void. The "Fun Dude" (Jeff) however, needs a full time job (and not on a ship or in a comedy club!).
PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENTS: One for Muster Station Drill is enough. But during the week, every day there were several, promoting art auctions, photo gallery or shopping. It is quite annoying.
ONBOARD ACTIVITIES: The usual array but Carnival makes them more fun. Some activities had no staff show up at all.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: As usual, overpriced and heard mentality. Luckily, the two we did go on with our "cruise virgin" friends were pretty well organized. One took 45 minutes to get started. But we hardly ever take a ship excursions. Ship sells a tour to the beach for $49 pp, when a cab will take you there and back for $4 pp (Costa Maya). Use Cruise Critic port reviews to find out how to go on your own.
POOLS: Only two small shallow ones but lots of whirlpool tubs. The giant slides seemed closed most of the time.
CAPTAIN'S CELEBRATION: No free champagne, $1 off some drinks, free tuna and cheese canapes but no captain!
PHOTO GALLERY: Wow! Highest photo prices I have seen at sea. $22 per 8x10. When the ship is full, they print 150,000 photos and throw away 95% of them. At $22 each, we know why!
MIDNIGHT BUFFET: A Carnival staple for many many years has disappeared.
CRUISE CRITICS: 65 members met for a Sail Away Party and got a chance to meet each other. We're sorry we couldn't spend more time with all of those nice people.
ADVICE: Go for the fun. Great for first time cruisers. Avoid noisy cabins and weeks when the kids are out of school. You'll have a good time but it's not a superior class cruise.