We are a family of 3 with a 14 year old boy, all experienced cruisers on not only Carnival, but other cruise lines. We were excited to try the Dream and having been on a Christmas cruise on the Freedom, were very aware of the number of kids that would be on a Spring Break cruise. Interestingly, there were not many more kids on this much larger ship than there were on the Freedom over the Christmas holiday. (for those who don't want a lot of kids, sail HAL!).
Pre-Cruise Hotel: Residence Inn by Marriott right at the port was a great location. They have a nice pool area, a poolside bar, and a basketball court to entertain our son and the boys of another couple we traveled with. I'd stay here again for sure.
Embarkation: Painless as usual--never had a bad experience with Carnival. We arrived at 11AM, were assigned zone 6, and were on the ship within 30 minutes.
Cabins: We booked a Spa Balcony cabin, 12216. Pros of this cabin were the convenience of deck 12 (we had a "private" hallway behind the water slides) as well as the use of the spa thermal suites and Thalassotherapy pool. I would not recommend deck 12 at all from a balcony perspective, however. Deck 12 balconies have no "roof" so you are joined on your balcony by anyone above at the rail of the serenity area--particularly noticeable at sail away. The location of 12216 also was a problem because the steps that go up to the waterslide are on the outside wall of this cabin--if we slept in, we could tell when the slides had opened because of the "pitter patter" of feet up the steps and over our heads. I would choose a lower deck for a balcony cabin--but I've decided a balcony cabin simply isn't worth it. I don't spend enough time on them to make it worth the cost.
Food: Good. My husband thought it better than on our recent Freedom cruise while my son and I thought the food on the Freedom was a bit better. The starters are the best--we often ordered many starters and skipped the entree. I thought the lobster was really good. We did the Chef's Art steakhouse one night and it was nice. During the "Behind the Scenes" tour, DH asked the head chef at the Chef's Art which cut of meat he recommended--he said they were all good, but if he was ordering, he'd order a strip, cooked medium. DH followed his advice and was VERY pleased. I had surf and turf and the filet and lobster were very good. The cheesecake is HUGE. The ahi tuna starter is phenomenal. First night dining room service in the Crimson dining room was not good--in fact DH and I moved from that table to another table in the restaurant because of some seating issues. My son stayed at those tables with his friends and was routinely slower getting out than we were...we'd ordered dessert before they got their entrees on several occasions. The mongolian wok and burrito station were very good--I never waited the "40 minutes" others reported. Maybe 10 minutes, and I thought it was quite efficient given the fact these guys are cooking the food in front of you. DH and I thoroughly enjoyed the brunch served on the ship (complimentary mimosas included) twice during the sailing. We started eating breakfast or lunch in the dining room rather than the Lido-far more laid back and less stressful than jockeying for a table while balancing a tray. HINT, there is a real grill on the lanai on deck 5 where they cook hotdogs and hamburgers...we never ate them, but smelled them and people said they were great. Surprisingly, I found bar service to be very slow--lots of people to ASK for your drink order, but once you ordered, it took a long time to get it. This was true at the pool as well as in the casino.
Pool area: Nice, better than the Conquest class ships, yes, the chair hogs were out, but we did usually find a seat. Serenity area was nice as well--I'm amazed at the number of people who will find themselves a couch in the serenity area and sleep for hours. Its a bit uncomfortable-some of these folks are not the most beautiful of sleepers. ;) Added bonus is the lanai on the Dream extends deck 5 so that there is ample room for additional chairs--unless you MUST be by a pool, there was plenty of space to find a spot to sit.
Dream in General: The ship is big and beautiful, and for Carnival, very tastefully decorated. The disco is good sized, and there are lots of neat little club areas and places one can get away. The outside area with tables on the lanai is also very nice. There is no sports bar which I was disappointed to see as I really enjoy those on the ship. The Dream is much better laid out as it relates to children's clubs, locating them on deck 4, below the main promenade, something they could have done differently on the Freedom. The sewage smell was there--very noticeable off and on in the spa area (and in the spa stateroom).
Ports: My biggest complaint was that the Oasis of the Seas ran the same run as we did. In St Thomas and St. Maarten, there were as many as 7 other ships in port, that equates to about 24,000 extra people. I generally don't get off the ship in the Bahamas, but friends of ours encouraged us to get off and walk around with them...they too agreed that never getting off at this port again is a good idea. St. Thomas is usually wonderful, but it was simply overcrowded because of all the ships in port. We usually go to Coki beach, but assumed it would be more crowded so we went to Sapphire. Beautiful beach, very little in the way of amenities. Chairs were quickly sold out as was snorkeling gear. Snorkeling here, however, is very good. St. Maarten is still my favorite place in the world. Though crowded, there are plenty of places to sit at Great Bay Beach in Phillipsburg and people who wanted to rent an umbrella and beach chairs could do that without a problem As usual, we enjoyed the best guavaberry coladas on the planet at the St. Rose Beach Bar (a tradition dating back to our first cruise 9 years ago).
Spa: Nice spa-thermal suite is very nice, lots of steam rooms and loungers. Not sure I'd pay extra for this service but it came with the Spa stateroom and was enjoyable. One complaint is that the view of the Thalassotherapy pool is the backs of the people working out in the gym. Would have been nice to get some sea views there.
Casino: We spent a lot of time here and a lot of money. Primarily we play blackjack and 3 card poker. Pit bosses were pretty nice. I thought the dealers were also good, but not quite as personable as the ones on the Freedom or the Miracle last year. Added bonus is that there were smoke free slot and table areas which was really nice, although it probably caused me to lose more money since I didn't have to get up and walk away to breathe.
Entertainment: Good. The dedicated comedy club is a great idea although Jeff "the Fun guy" got on my nerves after the first night. All the comedians we saw were pretty good. We did see Dancing in the Streets which is well worth the admission. We also thought the laser light show as pretty cool--try to get a seat on the pool chairs "under" the lights for the best effects--it does not compare to watching it from the sides of the ship.
Behind the Scenes Tour: We did do this very limited tour (two groups of 16). It was interesting. We did get to see the bridge and have pictures with the captain. There were areas I would have liked to see that we didn't (the brig for instance). It would have also been nice to see a crew cabin--I understand this wasn't done because of crew privacy, but it still would have been interesting. I am glad I did it, but I won't pay $95 a person to do it again.
Overall-enjoyed the Dream and would sail her again, but don't know that it is worth the extra money to sail her vs. any other Carnival ship. I will make sure to take note of how many other ships will be in port when we sail next time--a little schedule rearranging would have made St. Thomas and St. Maarten more enjoyable.