Carnival Dream - Western Caribbean - May 1-8, 2010
Background - My DH and I are in our early 30's, no kids. This was our fifth cruise in total, second Carnival cruise (the first was on the Carnival Liberty). We have also been on RCL's Mariner of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas and the Emerald Princess. We really enjoyed ourselves on the Carnival Liberty and we were eager to check out Carnival again.
We had an uneventful direct flight from Toronto to Orlando. We usually fly from Buffalo for a much cheaper fare but I think the Canadian airlines are catching on and being more competitive so we were able to find a very reasonably priced flight on Westjet.
We decided to stay in Orlando for the night because our flight arrived at 11:00pm and driving to Cape Canaveral would mean a very late arrival at the hotel. We booked a room at the Springhill Suites Orlando Airport. It's a nice hotel, had the basics and was clean. They have a simple breakfast spread in the morning, nothing fancy but just enough to fill us up before lunch on board!
I definitely wouldn't hesitate to stay again...in fact, we stayed at the Springhill Suites post-cruise as well.
There is a 24-hour Wal-Mart close to the hotel so we picked up some last minute items including water and wine.
We rented a car from Budget at MCO and departed for Canaveral around 9:30am. Traffic was very light and the drive was quick. When we arrived at the Budget location in Canaveral, I was expecting to be greeted by hoards of people dropping off their rental cars or picking up rental cars to get back to Orlando but the office was very quiet. There was only one other couple waiting in the shuttle when we arrived. We were whisked to the port and arrived around 11:00am.
Check-in was also painless. After we received our Sign & Sail cards, we were given a zone number for boarding and directed to a seating area. We were Zone 11 and only had to wait a half hour before our number was called. We were onboard and having lunch before noon!
I was looking forward to lunch in the dining room as our first meal but they were both closed for an event. Our second choice was the pasta bar on the second floor of The Gathering buffet. It was very quiet up there as not a lot of people were onboard yet. We were given an order slip to fill out and then the pasta was custom made and delivered to our table, along with a Caesar salad. It was piping hot and tasted very fresh. Off to a good start! After our lunch, we explored the ship, people watched and then headed to our stateroom at the 1:30pm ready time.
Our room was 7204 which was at the very forward of the ship. It's a category 4J (interior with an obstructed view). We enjoyed having a window to let some sunlight into the room, as well as easy access to the "secret decks". The room location is very quiet, although it is directly in front of the steward supply closet so we did hear some rustling in the mornings, but it did not disturb us. Also, there was a gentle hum from the air conditioning fan, not sure if this can be heard in all rooms but I noticed it in ours. We thought of it as the room's own white noise.
There was a deck just outside of our room but it was rarely used. It can be quite windy up there but I still enjoyed have a window and easy access to the deck. The doors to the deck were never locked. I never worried about anyone peering into our room as there was rarely people out there, and to see into any room with the drapes open, I'd have to press my face right up against the window (I tried this with our room only). Deck 7 is right below the bridge. One day, we saw a few officers in the bridge. We waved to them and they waved back.
We found that there was some motion at the very forward of our ship, especially en route from Canaveral to Cozumel and then to Roatan. It could have just been the weather conditions for that week but for cruisers who have a weak stomach or prone to sea sickness, I wouldn't recommend this room location. We don't mind the motion of the ship but I did feel a little queasy one night.
Our cabin steward was Marius and his assistant Dedde. They did a good job with keeping our room neat and clean. Towel animals appeared each night, along with chocolates and a copy of Fun Times. No complaints here.
My Trip to the Naughty Room
DH's suitcase arrived before the muster drill and we returned from that, there was a note slipped under the door that I was to go directly to the security desk to open my luggage. I really wasn't sure what in my bag had alarmed security. Was it my medicinal marijuana? My ivory paper weight? My one liter bottle of absinthe?
I proceeded to Deck 5 to find the security desk and the officers there brought me and a few other guilty passengers downstairs to the luggage. When the opened my suitcase, they riffled around...the offender - my flat iron for my hair. They tagged it and gave me the receipt. It would be returned on the last night to my stateroom.
Well, goodbye expensive haircut. Hello ponytails for the week. I had no idea that flat irons were forbidden. I knew that clothes irons and steamers were not allowed. Now I was going to be cursed with a whole week of bad hair. We sailed the Emerald Princess in October 2009 and I had no issues bringing the flat iron aboard. Eventually the flat iron was returned to us at the end of the cruise but the damage to my self esteem was already done.
Update: I just read on John Heald's blog that hair straighteners and curling irons are NOT on the forbidden list: HYPERLINK "http://johnhealdsblog.com/2010/05/12/photos-of-your-holiday/#more-14235" http://johnhealdsblog.com/2010/05/12/photos-of-your-holiday/#more-14235
Well, I wish someone had told security on the Dream this information!
Food Dining Room - Breakfast
We tried to have breakfast in the dining room as often as possible. The menu was the same throughout the week. It would have been nice if they had 1-2 specials to choose from. The French Toast was definitely my favourite. I found the bacon to be a tad on the greasy side. Sometimes, there was a small pool of oil in the dish that it came in.
We go to the dining room for breakfast, mainly for the pineapple juice but they ran out by Thursday. Service during breakfast was spotty. Sometimes the wait staff would be right on with coffee, juice and water refills, and other times, there was a wait or we would have to call them over. Not a huge problem though.
Dining Room - Lunch
We only got to the dining room once for lunch on the last sea day. It turned out to be the most disappointing meal of the entire cruise. The service was very slow...took over 25 minutes just to get our salads and then a little more of a wait to get the mains. The menu also wasn't that fantastic. I had the Asian Salmon while DH had the Clubhouse Sandwich, which did not come with any sides, like fries. We did see a couple at another table order burgers which at their requests came with a side of onion rings. That option was not on the menu but I guess they just asked for it. Dining Room - Dinner
We choose the late dinner seating at 8:15pm and were assigned to the lower level of the Scarlet dining room. We were seated at a booth for four and our dinner mates were Sydney and Tammy from North Carolina. We got along very well and since it was their first cruise, we were happy to impart some cruise tips and tricks of the trade to them.
Our waiter was Suta from Indonesia and assistant waiter was Rilwalfe (not sure if that's the right spelling) for South Africa. The dinner service was the fastest we've ever had on a cruise. Usually the late seating takes about 2 hrs. In the past, I remember wolfing down dessert just so we can get to the theatre for the late show. This was not the case on the Dream. We were usually done our dinner and out the door by 9:15pm-ish...latest we stayed was 9:30pm. It was really nice to be able to finish dinner, go back to the room to change and then still have plenty of time to grab a good seat at the theatre or comedy club.
We definitely enjoyed the menus at dinner...DH usually ordered 2 appetizers. Standouts included the stuffed mushrooms (OMG, I wish I had ordered two) and DH loved the lamb. I also tried something called "martini" fish on Thursday night which I think maybe new to the menu. I don't remember seeing it on the menus before but I could be wrong. It was also very good. Lobsters were good on formal night but the jumbo shrimp that came with it really stole the show. They were gigantic and perfectly cooked. For desserts, I liked the diet coconut cake and the banana split, which is not on the regular menu but found on the kid's menu. The only thing I wish Carnival would offer is a selection of whole wheat breads in addition to their French baguette and dinner rolls.
I would recommend either Tuesday or Wednesday evening for reservations in the Chef's Art Steakhouse, just based on what is available on the dining room menus those nights.
Chef's Art Steakhouse
On the first sea day, we attended the cooking demonstration in the Chef's Art Steakhouse. Unfortunately, the steakhouse is located under the basketball courts so it was difficult to hear at times with the sound of bouncing basketballs overhead. The chefs demonstrated how to make a 4-course meal and we were provided with the menu and the recipes, and of course the best part was the samples of each course. We started with a leafy spinach and mushroom salad, followed by a cream mushroom soup, a herbed grilled chicken with mac and cheese was the main and dessert was tiramisu. The cooking demonstration was about an hour in length.
We made reservations to return to the steakhouse on Wednesday night. I did this online before we boarded and received an email confirmation. We also received a note in our stateroom on the morning of our reservation.
We thought the meal here was fantastic and definitely worth the $30 per person surcharge. We also ordered a bottle of wine to share. We started the meal with 2 appetizers each - beef capacchio and crab cake for DH, escargot and lobster bisque for me (insert oink-ing noises here). We also ordered the Caesar salad which came with delicious salty, salty anchovies. For mains, I ordered the lobster with broccoli side and DH ordered the filet mignon (medium rare) with mashed potatoes. The meat was definitely the stand out choice. We opted for just a salt and pepper seasoning instead of one of the standard sauces. The filet was done just right and tasted phenomenal. I regretted my lobster choice immediately.
We decided to take dessert (cheesecake and fresh fruit) to go as we were both stuffed. Just a warning, the cheesecake is a very generous portion. We saw a poor lady who ordered it and when it came, she was shocked that it was almost the size of her face. Her partner laughed at her while he ordered 2 small scoops of ice cream!
The Gathering Buffet
We're not huge buffet people but we did have a breakfast, a few lunches and a first dinner here. I tried the burrito bar which was pretty good, although the shrimp burrito was on the bland side. DH got some food from the Tandoori which smelled amazing, and satisfied an Indian food craving. We also tried the pizza and burgers from the grill. All very good. And the main feature of the buffet - the soft-serve ice cream and frozen yogurt machines. Drink stations were easily accessible for water, lemonade, ice tea and coffee.
The only thing I found strange about the buffet is the hours. It would close at 3:30pm on port days, leaving only pizza, burgers, sandwich bar and room service as the only food options. We always returned to the ship around 3:30-4:00pm and we're happy to grab food for ourselves but ended up ordering room service because we weren't up for pizza or burgers. The buffet would re-open at 6:00pm for dinner, which we peeked in on one day, but only one side was opened and we didn't find a lot of variety there.
On sea days, the buffet would close at 2:30pm which left minimal options for food again. I wish they could have left at least one side of the buffet opened for lunch while they closed one side and prepared it for dinner.
Food on Ocean Plaza Deck
Sushi Bar - We tried the sushi here twice. Sushi was okay, probably on par with the stuff bought at grocery stores. At lunch time, a salad and sandwich bar is set up in this area.
Ocean Plaza Bar - The bar area here would offer a daily drink special and some small snacks to accompany it. The first night was chips and salsa with margaritas, another evening it was martinis and olives. No drink purchase is necessary to have the snacks.
Lanai BBQ - DH tried a slider burger and a chicken quesadilla from this fifth deck BBQ. It was good alternative to the offerings on Lido deck.
The previous reviews were right - the BLT sandwich from Room Service is great, along with a side a chips and an extra side of chips. We also tried the crème caramel dessert and wished we had ordered it again. Our dinner mates ordered a grilled cheese which they said came with mayo in it. Not sure which recipe for grilled cheese room service chefs were following there.
Ports of Call
Cozumel, Mexico - We have been to Cozumel twice and twice the weather was dark, raining and windy. Well third time's a charm because it was dry as a bone and hot, hot, hot when we arrived on Monday. We booked two spots at Nachi Cocom resort in advance ($49/person - $12 deposit upon booking - balance to be paid in cash at the door upon arrival). Cab ride to Nachi was $15/cab carrying 1-4 passengers.
I had read a lot of raving reviews about the service at Nachi but maybe arrived on an off day. Our waiter was Miguel. He wasn't unpleasant but he certainly wasn't offering free smiles. He showed us to some chairs that were right at the entrance to the bar/eating area. I asked if we could move further down the beach. He mumbled something that sounded like "No" and huffed away but we decided to move down anyway. He came around to take our first drink order and then we didn't see much of him again. We went to the bar to get our own drinks...definitely not a huge deal since the bar fairly close.
Around noon, Miguel returned with some menus but didn't come back to take our lunch order. We noticed that the beach area was deserted now and when we headed up to the lunch area, we discovered that's where everyone had gone. For lunch, I had the shrimps with rice and DH had the steak fajitas. Both were good and I must warn about their salsa. It's tres spicy but I just washed it down with some banana daiquiris. Definitely my favourite as they were made with real bananas and were quite strong. For dessert, we ordered coconut ice cream with some Kaluha liqueur on top. I have to give credit to another CC reviewer who had suggested it before. It was fantastic, from what I remembered. After lunch, we stumbled back to the beach for an afternoon siesta. When we got up, we jumped into the pool and tried the swim up bar...more banana daiquiris, please! The pool is a good size and very clean
I can definitely see why Nachi is a favourite amongst the CC community. It's a small quiet stretch of beach with killer drinks and a tasty lunch. Service wasn't stellar that day but that's not a deal breaker for us. Since my history with Cozumel weather wasn't that great, I was just happy to be warmed by the sun and nap to the sound of ocean waves. We headed back to the ship around 4:00pm by cab, which was waiting at the entrance.
We were about an hour late for our arrival in Roatan. Due to high winds, the Dream could not dock at Mahogany Bay as scheduled. We watched on deck as she did a U turn towards the other pier. Luckily the captain extended our stay by an hour.
We booked a private Best of Roatan tour through Victor Bodden tours, which included the highlights of Roatan, the monkeys and the beach. Our driver and guide was Joanne and she was very friendly. She asked us what we were most interested in seeing as she would try and tailor the tour for us. We asked about real estate and to see some nice bigger homes...she did do a drive by of a few big homes during our tours but mentioned that most of the mansions were hidden away in jungle for privacy; some homes were possibly only accessible by boat.
We stopped at Victor's monkey farm and zip line area. The tour of the animals cost $5/person. When we arrived, we noticed it was quite busy already. Our tour guide walked us around to each of the cages but it felt rushed. We saw the barramundi (raccoon relative), kinkajous, white tail deer, parrots, rabbits and the monkeys. We were at the farm maybe 10-15 minutes in total. I wish we could have stayed a little longer, the tour felt hurried but with the amount of visitors already there and on their way in, lingering was not possible.
Next, it was on to the beach in the West End. Joanne dropped us off at a lovely resort called Infinity Bay. She mentioned that we were free to use the chairs at the resort as long as we bought some food/drinks from the bar. We decided to walk down the beach to check it out and found a section to the left with a few palm trees for shade.
For drink options, visit the lady who braids hair in the area. She not only offers braids but also 2 beers for $5 and soft drinks. The beach here is lovely...white soft sand, clear blue waters. We stayed at the beach for 1.5-2 hrs and then headed back to the ship by 4:00pm.
We enjoyed our tour of Roatan with Joanne of Victor Bodden Tours ($40/person, plus $5 for the monkeys). I would recommend this tour for groups of 4 or more. The price drops to $25/person.
Belize was a tender port and the ride over to shore was about 20 minutes. Since Belize was two hours behind ship time and we had booked a non-ship excursion, we decided to sleep in and take it easy. Sounded good until we woke up in a pool of our own sweat that morning. The air conditioning for most of the ship had croaked in the middle of the night and technicians were now working hard to revive it. We decided to get up and out of our room to avoid the heat.
We boarded a tender around 9:30am (ship time) and there was no wait. We were actually on our way down to the Encore Theatre and when we passed a staff member, he said we could just go down to Deck 0 as a tender was about to leave and there may be space for us.
We booked a Bannister Island/snorkeling excursion Eco Tours along with a few members from our roll call. Price was $40/person. Once everyone in our group arrived, a small boat speeded us out to Bannister Island. We were given 40 minutes of beach time here and then back on the boat for the snorkeling tour.
I felt that the snorkeling tour was crowded. I would say there were probably 30+ people in our group and only 1 guide. He asked us to stay close and not stray. I spent most of my energy trying to avoid being kicked in the head or kicking someone else in the head with my fins. We didn't see too many fish, only two small spotted string rays. After about 35 minutes in the water, it was back to the boat for another 40 minutes of beach time on Bannister Island. We arrived back at port in plenty of time before sail away.
Costa Maya, Mexico
This was possibly my least favorite port on the itinerary. Upon arrival at the port, the first we noticed was how damaged it was due to the hurricane a few years ago. The beach area around the port is very rocky, not a lot of green foliage, just not very pretty.
We took a cab to the beach area. Cost is $2/person but our cabbie conveniently didn't have change for $5 (I hate imposed tipping). As soon as we exited, we were approached by many vendors for hair braiding, water sports, excursions, souvenirs, massages, etc.
We took a walk down the boardwalk and found Pez Quadro restaurant and resort. It wasn't busy at all and the waiters were very chill. In fact, their first visit to us was about 2 hrs after we had arrived. We ordered a few beers and then waved them over to order a second round. It was very low key and that's what we liked about it. Although our entire time on the beach, we were visited by beach vendors hawking their wares. A firm "no thanks" sent them away but they visited frequently. The beach was busy with water sports - jet skis, snorkel boats, banana boat rides, etc.
Our return to the ship was an adventure. We decided to walk the boardwalk towards the ship to see what else was on that strip of the beach. When the boardwalk ended, we continued walking on the dirt road...I think this was the point at which I said "Yes, we can totally just walk back to the ship". We passed some construction on a condo building and then the road started to narrow to a path. We could see footprints on the path so it was definitely traveled, and I just kept saying "The ship is within our reach".
As we kept walking, the path narrowed again but we continued until we saw a fence with some barb wire and brick wall. At this point, we were so close to the ship. I saw a worker on the other side of the fence and asked him how to get back to the ship. He pointed towards the water. We shimmied against the brick wall and ended up at the shore.
Just on the other side of the wall was the restaurant and pool at the port but in order to get to the other side, we had to step out into the water and go around the wall. It seemed to be an easy task but I was wearing flip flops and the shore was quite rocky with a few waves. We decided to brave it and go around the wall. As soon as we were on the other side, a security officer came over and asked us for ID.
Could we walk from the beach back to the ship? Yes. SHOULD we walk from the beach back to the ship? Probably not. We would have been better off taking our cab with the self-imposed tip.
Encore Theatre - We saw a few shows in the Encore Theatre including Welcome Aboard, the comic juggler, Dancing in the Streets and the comic magician. I thought that all the shows were quite entertaining, especially Dancing in the Streets. And as corny as a comic juggler and magician sounds, they were actually both funny, especially the magician. Burgundy Lounge - We saw all 4 stand up comedians in the Burgundy Lounge. Really like the setting for stand up comedy here. It's definitely more intimate than seeing stand up in the theatre. The 9:45pm shows can be busy and usually sold out so arrive early fo r a seat. There are also performances at 11pm and midnight.
Fun Force - I think the addition of Fun Force, Carnival's b-boy break dance crew, really targets their younger audience and shows that they are doing a good job at staying current and relevant. The Fun Force dance demo in the Atrium was great although arrive early to get a good spot. The Atrium has a few areas with an obstructed view.
We used the gym twice during the week. I was there mostly for the treadmills; DH had to use the stationery bike. The gym has relatively low ceilings and at the height of 6'2, DH was not be able to use the treadmills or elliptical without smacking his head on the ceiling. I suggested wearing a helmet. I felt the gym was quite small for a ship of this size but all the equipment was brand new and top of the line. The temperature in the gym was warm for me but the water fountain dispenses super cold water! Towels are provided.
Pools, Hot Tubs, Water Slides, Deck Spaces
I felt that for a ship of the Dream's size, there should have been more pools. There really is only one in the middle of the Lido deck, an Aft pool, and a splash pad area for kids but there was an over abundance of hot tubs. When it's searing hot in the Caribbean, I don't really find any relief by sitting in a hot tub. There were many hot tubs throughout the ship.
We also tried the water slides...fun for me until I hit the bottom and the force of the water pushed my bathing suit top to the side making me flash everyone. Luckily no camera men from "Girls Gone Wild" were in the area.
We enjoyed lounging in the Serenity area at the very forward of the ship. It was just a few flights of stairs from our room. Also, the loungers are padded for extra comfort. On sea days, when seats on deck are at a premium, we noticed that there was always plenty of room on Deck 5, although the only relief from the heat is a few outdoor showers and the hot tubs.
We also found the casino to be tiny for a ship of this size. I usually put in a few donations at the slot machines but didn't use them this time as they didn't have my favourite, The Cleopatra.
CC Roll Call
We had a huge roll call that met on CC. One of our members (Sandra) was kind enough to organize an open bar meet and greet on the first sea day. Cost was $17/person for an hour and a half party. It was a really good chance to meet some people we had been chatting with online and the drinks were definitely flowing throughout the party.
Past Guest Party and Farewell Party
Our sailing had a very high number of return guests and I think they all came to the Past Guest Party held on Thursday around 5:00pm. Almost the entire first floor of the Encore Theatre was filled. Wait staff came around with trays of drinks - screwdrivers, melon balls, rum punch, whiskey sours, beer, red/white wine and blue margaritas. They were also serving a few appetizers - tomato and mozzarella sandwich bites and deep fried crab balls. I thought they did a good job of handling the large number of attendees. The party lasted about an hour.
A Farewell Party was held on the last sea day around 5:00pm in the Burgundy Lounge, and not that many people came out. Wait staff came around with the same choices of drinks as the Past Guest Party and were quite generous with handing them out, although no food was provided here. This party also lasted about an hour.
Eulogy to My Digital Camera
I had every intention of posting photos for this review but had not one but TWO camera fails.
The first failure was purely my fault. While stuffing my face with sushi on embarkation day on Deck 5, I accidentally left the camera on the bench next to me and walked away. I was really hoping that a good Samaritan would return it to Guest Services. I filled out a report and checked with Guest Services every day but no one turned it in. My faith in human kindness has shriveled.
So now in my sorrow, please allow me give this brief eulogy to my camera, the Fuji Digital Camera F20.
Purchased in 2006, you have been with us on many adventures - Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Thailand, Cuba, Mexico and four cruises to the Caribbean. Ski trips to Vermont, friends' birthdays, family gatherings, holiday celebrations. My only regret was my forgetfulness as I left you behind. We had many good times. Wherever you are, whoever you're with, I hope they treat you as well as you deserve. You will be sorely missed, and most likely be replaced with a newer model.
After losing our camera within the first 5 hours of our vacation, I was upset but not all hope was lost. We still had a brand new Olympus "waterproof" camera that we had bought specifically for this trip and a snorkeling excursion in Belize.
Well, I should have realized that the term "waterproof camera" is an oxymoron because not even 2 minutes in the water and DH noticed that the camera would not turn on. It was guaranteed to be waterproof up to 10 feet and we were snorkeling on the surface, no diving. When we returned to Bannister Island, we noticed some water in the camera lens and some water came out of the battery compartment. Yes, the death of another camera. I just can't catch a break.
Although not having a camera meant there's no photographic evidence of my limp gross hair since my flat iron was confiscated.
End of the Cruise
Debarkation was extremely smooth and quick. We were given Zone 5 tags and scheduled to leave around 7:30am. The disembarkation process started right on time at 6:30am and followed the schedule quite accurately.
We exited the ship at 7:40am, walked through customs and when were arrived at the baggage carrousel, we saw our luggage go by. We walked out to the rental car shuttle service area and the Budget van was already there waiting. The driver immediately took us back to the Budget office where we picked up our rental car and were on the road by 8:00am.
We drove back to Orlando for some outlet mall shopping and a night at the Springhill Suites before our 6:30am flight back to Toronto on Sunday.
Overall Impressions We really enjoyed our cruise on the Carnival Dream, just as much as our cruise on the Carnival Liberty. Just my thoughts on some concerns that had been discussed previously:
Is it crowded? No, we didn't find it any busier than previous cruises that we have been on.
Were there lines? Yes, but they weren't that long at all and definitely manageable.
Is it stinky? No, we didn't notice any sewage smells throughout the ship.
Is it too big? No, we thought the layout of the ship was great, especially Deck 5 where we could walk around the entire ship, and also stairs at the very forward of the ship connecting Deck 5, 6 and 7
Will we be back? I definitely wouldn't hesitate to go back on the Dream, perhaps on a different itinerary, as these ports weren't my favourite. We're going to have to cruise on the Dream anyway so I can get all the pictures that I wanted since I currently have none to show for this cruise!