To put this review in perspective, we this is our 5th cruise, having cruised twice on RCCL (Sovereign and Mariner) and twice on Princess (Crown and Caribbean Princess). This was our first cruise on Carnival.
We booked this cruise just about a year prior, before all of the features of the Carnival Dream had been fully defined. We liked the idea of a Spa-class cabin, since we enjoyed the use of the thermal suite onboard the Caribbean Princess so much. We decided on a deck 12 Spa Balcony, since it appeared to have the easiest access to the thermal suite.
We arrived at the port around 12:30. Lines were minimal but the embarkation process was kind of haphazard. Lots of reps standing around, but not directing people where they should be going. It went quickly though. Rooms were not yet ready.
There's no denying that the Carnival Dream is a beautiful ship, with a design aesthetic that is considerably more restrained than Carnival has a reputation for. We found that most of the public areas were very tastefully done. The ship seemed to me to be very stable, comparable to any of the previous ships we had been on. Winds this week were pretty constant, and the ship moved around a bit, but it wasn't anything that I would consider unusual in a ship this size, particularly considering the winds we experienced.
I don't think the Lanai / Ocean Plaza concept really works. The whirlpools are indeed constantly populated, but the rest of the deck space is very lightly used. I was under the impression that Ocean Plaza was originally conceived to be an area open to the Lanai...this idea must have been ditched during the actual construction, because it is certainly an enclosed area now. It would have been impressive if it they had been able to follow through with the concept, but it probably would have been impractical due to wind. Noise from the lanai is very clearly heard as far up as deck 12.
I will also say that the staff was the most welcoming and most courteous that I have seen on any of my previous cruises. No matter how busy, every crew member we passed acknowledged us with a smile and a greeting.
The gym is a little cramped, but there are plenty of machines, and rarely a wait. The thermal suite, free for spa cabins, additional charge for every one else, was very nice, if a little oddly laid out. It features a tepidarium with heated ceramic lounges, an oriental steam room (this was out of service for much of the week while tile replacement was being performed), a dry heat room with heated ceramic loungers, an inhalation room, multi-function rain showers, and a thalassotherapy pool. Lockers and spacious showers were also provided. A co-ed dry sauna was also available for free use by anyone on board, if you knew where to find it.
If you're in a spa cabin, you need to trade in your sail and sign card for a spa access card that will unlock the doors to the private areas. You have to turn it back in to get your sail & sign back, so you can't just freely move between your cabin and the private spa areas. It would be much more convenient if they eventually re-key the doors to work with your sign and sail card, but I don't know if they ever plan on doing that.
TABLE SERVICE DINING
We utilized "Your Time Dining" for this cruise. The computer system that is used to seat you remembers your table number, and you are automatically asked if you would like to utilize that same table and wait staff on each of your subsequent visits. Since we enjoyed our waiter, Iki, we sat at our regular table in his section most evenings.
We generally eat early, and found that there was no wait for seating most nights around 6pm. One night, we arrived a bit later, and there would have been a 20 minute wait to get a table for two in Iki's section, so I think they've got the anytime concept down pretty well.
The meals in the dining room were generally very good, often exceeding our expectation of banquet quality fare. Of course there were some items that fell short (the flat iron steak, for example), and others that were really quite excellent. Food is always a subjective subject, but it is fair to say that most everything we had was well prepared, with good quality ingredients.
The exception was desserts. Desserts that were exclusive to the dining room (such as the melting cake and the soufflé) were generally pretty good (although the ice cream was grainy and full of ice crystals). Desserts that were offered both in the dining room and the casual dining venues were often very poor quality. I think they simply use a lot of extenders in these products to keep the costs down. Generally speaking, items such as cheesecakes and flavored pies had very little flavor and a light foamy texture that indicates to me that gelatins and food starches are the main ingredients. Seeing the way people heap their plates in the buffet, I can't say I blame them...they would go broke if they were using authentic NY Cheesecake.
The buffet dining on board the Dream is "The Gathering". Breakfast here was fairly well executed. There are four omelet stations, each running three pans, so the lines for custom eggs are pretty short.
During lunch, lines were a bit longer, but not intolerable. This is due in part to the opening of a number of alternative lunch venues...the dining room, the lanai bbq, the grill, the pizza station, the deli, the pasta bar, and the Tandoori.
During dinner, the Gathering is a different story. For some reason, it is reduced to one two-sided station for dinner. Dinner selections are very limited, generally 4 entrees similar to those being served in the dining room. The more costly dining room options are pared down for presentation in the buffet...for example, while the dining room was serving veal parmigiana, the Gathering was serving chicken parmigiana instead. The Pasta Bar, Mongolian Wok, and Burrito Bar sections of the Gathering are all closed for dinner. Again, the desserts are uniformly awful. We found the Gathering at dinner to be a very poor experience.
OTHER DINING VENUES
Our favorite dining spot on board was the Tandoori at the rear of the ship, open only during lunch hour. If you've never had Tandoor, it is generally skewered meats and vegetables cooked at very high temperatures in devices very similar to kilns. The Tandoori featured a variety of fish, chicken, and beef dishes, prepared Tandoori-style, often covered with very spicy dry and wet curries, accompanied by fragrant rice and Naan bread. If you like spicy foods, this is definitely a great option for lunch.
The Deli offered a variety of sandwiches and panini, served cold or grilled in a sandwich press. Again, a very tasty option, and open through the dinner hour.
A pizza station offers "hand-tossed" pizza and calzone with a variety of toppings. We didn't care for the pizza, as it had a thick, bready crust, and we prefer a thin crust, but it appeared to be well prepared with plenty of toppings.
The Grill offers the standard variety of hamburgers and hot dogs, as does the lanai barbecue.
The Ocean Plaza coffee shop offers espresso based coffee drinks as well as ice cream, pastries, and "fat cakes", all at additional charge. This was a disappointment to us, not because of the pricing, but because it just wasn't very good. The espresso based items all tasted burnt, and the apple strudel and pound cake we sampled were stale and dry.
The Wasabi sushi bar offers sushi and, occasionally, tapas. We never really tried it, and honestly, the fishy odor permeated the whole corridor in the vicinity of the shop.
We only caught one show in the theater, a comedian/juggler (Edge) who offered an entertaining show with some audience improv. For the production shows, unless you get there very early, you just won't find a seat.
The Burgundy Lounge at the rear of the ship became a comedy club most evenings, with two headliners. PG rated shows were offered early in the evening, and R rated shows at night. The club was often standing-room early, but the comedians on board for our cruise were very entertaining. The master of ceremonies, Jeff "The Fun Dude" was pretty tedious...I felt bad for him. He tries very hard, but he's warming up for professional comedians and just comes across as, well, not awfully funny. I will say that he did circulate through the theater during the R-rated shows, and evicted anyone who was under age. The comedy club is a great concept.
OTHER RANDOM ENTERTAINMENT
The other musical acts performing on the lido, in the casino, at Ocean Plaza, or in the atrium were typical cruise-ship background music. A performance by Fun Force, the resident hip hop/break dance troupe in the atrium, was fun an entertaining. I'm sorry we missed their full show in the theater.
Our cabin was actually the most significant disappointment we had with Carnival.
We stayed in a deck 12 Spa Balcony. While access to the spa was wonderful, the cabin itself was not. The cabins are well-appointed with upgraded Elemis amenities and different beach towels from the rest of the ship (tan instead of blue). The bed was comfortable, medium firmness.
Flat screen TVs are mounted to the wall, and offer a selection of movies, network, and news, as well as pay per view. Either the cabin walls are exceptionally thin, or our neighbor was an inconsiderate jerk, because we were able to clearly hear his TV at all hours, even when our own TV as on.
The chiller in the room (I hate to mischaracterize it as a refrigerator) was stocked with mini bar items. We asked our steward to remove all the stuff, but he said he couldn't, so we just pulled it all out and stuffed it in a drawer for the week.
The deck twelve spa balcony cabins have a very short overhang, and that's it. They are fully exposed to the sun and the Serenity deck above. When we originally booked, we were told that these cabins were fully covered. By the time we found out they were not, it was too late to change (thanks to early saver). We honestly didn't think it would be a huge problem...Serenity deck should be pretty quiet, right?
Wrong. I actually felt compelled to go up to the Serenity deck to see if someone had posted a "Please Congregate Here and Make a Lot of Noise" sign above our room. We constantly had loud, drunken passengers hanging over our balcony, shouting, whoo-hooing, dripping beer on our heads, and generally making asses out of themselves. The ship's personnel weren't much better, with bartenders and entertainers often choosing that spot to hang out.
Whatever entertainment was occurring on the Lido deck was also audible, loudly and clearly, from our balcony, so if you're looking for peace and quiet, stay away from these rooms! It would have been more private if we had booked on deck 11 instead.
The pools were relatively small, but never really crowded, although chair hogging was definitely a popular activity. The Waterworks is a great feature. It includes a children's play area, with lots of fun splashy things for kids to do, as well as three water slides...a set of racer slides that have a one-deck drop, the high speed "Drainpipe" that dumps you into a swirling bowl at the end of a steep, high-speed drop, and the Twister that discombobulates you through 4 corkscrew twists on your way to the bottom. A lot of fun, and never a very long wait even at the busiest times. Unfortunately, these need to be closed occasionally for safety reason during high winds.
THAT "NEW SHIP SMELL"
It's real. We're used to the occasional whiff you get sometimes at sea, but this was something else entirely. When I spoke to a ship's officer during the meet and greet (I won't use his name, as he may not want to be quoted) he explained to me the cause.
There is a vent stack for the grey-water system embedded in the foremast, above the Serenity deck (grey water is any used water that does not contain human waste...sinks, laundry, dishwashing, etc). During certain wind conditions, the sewer gasses emitted from the vent stack are swept down onto the deck, covering the Serenity area, the forward balconies, and the water park with a foul odor of sewage. The odor is also picked up through a set of air conditioning intake vents near the foremast, and distributed via the air conditioning system to various locations inside the ship.
During our cruise, the wind conditions were perfect in all the wrong ways, and the odor was unrelenting for almost the entire voyage. Our room steward left us a concentrated bottle of deodorizer to use inside of our cabin when things got a little too ripe, but on too many occasions our balcony was virtually unusable due to the odor.
The officer acknowledged that this has been a major problem (which is corrected in the Magic's design). The solution is going to be to re-pipe the grey water vent so that it exits through the funnel instead of the foremast. The work on this is supposed to begin at the beginning of June, but he didn't say how long it would take to complete. Once the replumbing is done, the odor problem should be solved once and for all.
DEBARKATION AT THE PORTS
Debarkation at the ports was an ordeal, especially if you needed to get off the ship early. Everyone gets funneled through the forward stairways, and they keep all the elevators running, so it just becomes a mad crush. It seemed very disorganized, and no staff was on hand to try to keep order.
The tender process at Belize was reasonably smooth, in spite of the difficult weather conditions.
DEBARKATION AT PORT CANAVERAL
Very smoothly done. We had a late flight, so we were able to remain in our cabin until 8:30, at which point we needed to move to one of the designated public areas to wait. Our bag number was called right at the advertised time, and our wait at the luggage carousel was very brief. Altogether a very smooth disembarkation.
Overall, we were pleased with the cruise. True, there were problems and flaws, but we tried to laugh at them rather than let them ruin our cruise. Our most significant complaint was the odor, which prevented us from utilizing our balcony as much as we would have liked. With the noise and privacy issues, we might have enjoyed this cruise much more had we chosen a different cabin.
Comparing to other cruise lines, we thought the casual dining dinner options were limited, and thought that the closing times of some of the venues were inconvenient.
I'm not entirely sure I'd want to choose Carnival again (Princess seems a better fit for our cruising style), but we did enjoy a very relaxing week on board the Carnival Dream.