Let's start off by saying this was my 16th cruise, and 13th with Carnival, so you can guess where my loyalty is! I selected this cruise because of the ship itself not the itinerary, as we have been to each of these ports, Nassau, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten many times. We had read a lot of reviews on Dream both positive and negative so I was unsure what to expect. We are the kind of folks that try to find the good in any situation and do not dwell on the negative things. After finally sailing on the "Dream," while cruising with my family for the week was fantastic, I am not sure I would sail on the "Dream" again. So, I'm writing this review with an open-mind and will let the reader make up his own mind.
We sailed out of Port Canaveral - one of our favorite ports. As we always do when sailing out of this port, we drove down from our home in North Carolina and stayed at the Radisson by the Port. I highly recommend this place as you can leave your car there for the week free of charge, the prices are reasonable, and the staff is very friendly. The breakfast is so-so, but there is a restaurant right next door called "Zacharys" that serves a killer breakfast and really gets you into, what I call, "cruise eating mode!"
Our group was a party of 10, me, my DW, my three sons (28, 25, and 10); their respective spouse/fiancEe, my sister, and my in-laws. When you travel in a big group it's a much different cruise experience then when traveling as a couple or even just the immediate family. With a big group there is always someone available to go out and do something with. In a small group there seems to be more down time and time to relax. Let's just say I came home from this cruise exhausted from running all week!
On cruise day, the Radisson shuttle took us from the hotel to the port at 11am. This is supposed to be "peak" embarkation time. When we got to the Port (about 1115am) they were already calling "loading zones" and there was absolutely no waiting for anyone. My DW, my ten year old and I are platinum, so we boarded via the express VIP line. To our surprise, the others in our party (zone 8) were only 5 minutes behind us. We all got to gather for a group embarkation photo. At 1145 we were in the grand atrium of the Dream. Let me first mention the dEcor. This ship is very tastefully decorated. It has lots of bright lights and glitter, but you don't notice it as "cheesy" as you may with some of the older ships in the Carnival fleet. All-in-all, I rated the embarkation as one of the smoothest we've ever had.
As you board, you get the standard written notice stating that the cabins will not be ready till 130pm (some times we "push" this by heading to our cabins early but we were not in a hurry). We headed up to the Lido deck for some lunch (deck 10 in this ship as opposed to Deck 9 on the rest of the fleet that I have been on). I am not a big buffet person and I had read horror stories about some of the lines on the Lido deck during peak lunch times, and I will attest they are accurate. Waits of 20-30 minutes or more to get lunch and breakfast were very common during peak times. I did my best all week to avoid these lines as you will read. I started right out by trying something new I had not seen on other Carnival ships, the "Pasta Bar." This was an excellent experience. The pasta bar is located upstairs (on deck 11) above the main Lido restaurant (the Gathering). As you enter, they give you a form to select the type of pasta, sauce, mix-ins (meat, veggies), bread, or the featured pasta of the day. Over the course of the week, I sampled several items and liked them all (keep in mind I am of Italian descent so I am picky about my Italian food). You turn in your form to the cooks and after about 10 minutes max, they bring your food over to your table (they give you a number also to locate you). At the same time my wife tried the new "Burrito Bar;" also an excellent choice if you want to avoid long lines, as this never seemed to backup much during the entire week.
Our cabin was a balcony on Deck 8 (port side fwd). I like to sandwich our cabin between decks with cabins to avoid late or early morning night noise. The cabin itself was very nice, with a small flat screen TV. The flat screen gives the cabin a more open feel than the older TVs. The room safes have digital keypads now, so you don't have to swipe an old mag-strip card for access.
One other nice change that Carnival has made is a "friendly" format for the mandatory life-boat drill. Instead of lining up like cattle outside in the hot sun near the lifeboats you meet in interior locations such as the dinning rooms or the lounges, thus you can sit and watch the crew demonstrate the ship's safety procedures. Also, you are no longer required to bring your life vests to the drill.
Right before dinner our "VIP" bags finally showed up, so much for "express" service. This was our first negative experience of the trip; we had packed 2 bottles of special wine in our checked bag to celebrate Mothers Day and my birthday later in the week. We have done this on several cruises as Carnival lets guests bring on a special bottle of wine/champagne per person. When we opened our bag, we found a note inside that said they had confiscated our wine and where holding it til the last night of the trip. I immediately took the note and marched down to the Information Desk, VIP line. The rather stern, cold woman at the desk took the note and said she would check on it. In a few minutes she came back and told me yes we have your wine and you will get it back at the end of the cruise. When I noted to her that Carnival policy allows you to bring a special bottle per person, she told me to read my cruise documentation that states you must "carry-on" the wine - not check it in your bags. The ensuing argument was of no avail and we lost the wine for the week. Great way to treat your best customers, Carnival. Warning to others, "carry" it on do not check your wine/champagne!
We dined each evening at the early seating (6pm) in the Scarlet dining room (Deck 3 Aft). As we where a large group we had our own table for 10. Our waiters "John" and "Ivany," did an excellent job all week. My wife and I pretty much know the entire menu, so on any given night of the cruise we generally know what we are going to eat. I tend to love all the soups and on most nights had 2-3 appetizers, a main course, and just picked lightly at the desserts with a cappuccino. The cakes are "blah" but as my DW says, anything in a soufflE dish (chocolate melting cake, bitter and blanc, crème brule, Grand Marnier soufflE) is worth the calories. In fact, we enjoyed the service, the company, and the food so much in the dining room we turned down a chance to eat at the specialty steak house that my kids wanted to give me for my birthday. We also ate a few lunches in the dining room as a good way to avoid the Lido lines.
We woke up on Sunday (Mothers Day) in Nassau and ordered room service for breakfast (thus avoiding the lines in Lido). We really did not have any big plans in Nassau. I'm not a big fan of this port, and the ship was only in port till 2pm. Generally, we just walk around, look in all the shops, and drink a beer in a brown paper bag as you walk (why? cause you can!). As my wife was getting ready for the day, she was drying her hair with the in room hair dryer (located in and attached to the top desk drawer) when our second negative experience of the trip occurred. As she was nearly done drying her hair, I saw a huge blue flash out of the corner of my eye, the hair dryer shorted out at the cord, tripped the room breaker, and gave my wife a 220-volt shock. She jumped back yelling that she got shocked (good sign it did not kill her). I looked out in the hall and got the room steward to get help. As my wife lay resting on the bed, I asked if she needed medical help she kept saying she was OK just a little shook up. She did eventually develop a migraine that wiped her out most of our day but otherwise was lucky. Maintenance came, not medical folks, and quickly replaced the blown hair dryer (that left a burn mark in the drawer). About an hour later, I got a call from the Information Desk asking if she was OK, I told them she was resting and had a bad headache. They also called the next day to check up on her, so at least they were showing some concern. This was just a freak accident that could have turned out much worse, so you count your blessings and move on.
It was during this morning too that I first noticed a really rude sewage smell in the halls and eventually in my and some of our parties' cabins. This smell just came and went all week with no apparent pattern and can at times be very offensive. In my cabin I just propped the balcony door open to clear it out, but the folks in the interior cabins had to exit their cabins to let the smell dissipate.
I did get a chance with the ship relatively empty to go try out the Carnival Waterworks with my ten year old. This place is awesome! Two excellent water slides, one really long with lots of twists and turns that ends in water, the other that is built for speed and it dumps you into a funnel that you go around 2-3 times till you stop. Also there are a pair of straight racer slides. Waterworks is very cool and at least when we went was not very crowded, as the older guests on the ship tend to avoid it. One thing I thought was a bit odd is that the adult only "serenity" lounge area is located right next to the water park.
While I am talking about outdoor activates. The ship only has two outdoor pools, one in the middle of Lido, the other in the back. The middle one is larger than most pools I have seen on the Carnival fleet, but at times was very crowded,(4000 guests and 2 pools!). There are more hot tubs on this ship, so if that is what you are into, you'll be fine. One of the best features on this ship is the "Lanai" on Deck 5. On the Dream, from deck 5 downward the ship is actually wider than the decks above it so Carnival has created an outdoor deck here that is an excellent place to lounge in the sun or sneak away to the BBQ for lunch and totally avoid the Lido deck mayhem. I actually ate lunch at the Lanai BBQ 3 days and only once did I have to wait more than a few minutes. Lunch here included sliders, hot dogs, and quesadillas, all very tasty. There is a small sitting area here or you can take your lunch back to your lounge chair or inside into one of the Deck 5 lounges.
One other outdoor feature we took advantage of, was the 18-hole miniature golf course. This was a really nice course almost comparable to some on land that you would pay for. You can "check out" the putters and balls by the Lido main pool by showing them your sail and sign card and there is no fee if you return everything.
I am pleased to say the rest of our week went off without any further "shocking" experiences. We spent much of our 3 sea days playing trivia games, lounging or just having fun. That's the best part about cruising, you can do as little or as much as you like.
On St. Thomas, we all started our day by going shopping downtown. We walked. It's probably slightly more than a mile, but a really nice walk through up-scale shops (e.g., Coach, Louis Vitton, Tommy Hilfiger, etc) and gardens close to the pier and then along the water (the taxi drivers will tell you it is 2-4 miles). You can also take an open-air taxi bus for a few dollars per person. This is one of the best ports (for US citizens) to stock up on liquor. For most international ports, US customs allows you 1 liter of alcohol duty free for each adult over age 21. On St. Thomas (also Puerto Rico - both US territories) you are allowed 5 liters per person. The prices are comparable to ship prices, but buying on the ship gives only a 1 liter per person duty free allowance. Prices were generally less than half what we would pay for these products back in North Carolina. Also the stores will deliver your liquor directly to your ship and it shows up at your cabin the last night of your cruise. (I was amazed, as we where disembarking, how many folks offered to help me carry these items!) While several folks in our party jumped in a taxi and went to Sapphire beach, we once again took advantage of the empty boat to and played around in the water park. We also got back off the boat and hit a local bar (W!kked) for a $2 miller lite bottle happy hour (ok not my beer of choice but the price was good and they were cold).
On St. Maarten, we actually rented a private catamaran for the ten of us. I had made the arrangements before the cruise via the internet. This was probably the highlight of our trip, for $690 plus another $120 for roundtrip transportation ($81 per person), we go anywhere and do anything we wanted for about 4.5 hours. We elected to hit a few deserted beaches and just snorkel. The trip also included an open bar, and some snacks consisting of local (French) bread and cheeses.
Also, forgot to note on the Dream's Eastern itinerary, that the formal nights (now called cruise elegant) are Sunday and Thursday, and the return guest party (still has free drinks) is Monday evening. They have also taken away the free drinks at the Captain's receptions (Sunday evening before dinner) but instead offer $1 off drink specials. There is another free drink happy hour later in the week, but they kind of keep this quite, I think it was Friday evening.
The "nightlife" on this ship was interesting... A laser show up on the lido deck was featured on several nights. It was fun to watch, but it did not exactly "wow" me. They also had a big Mardi Gras deck party along with beads, dancing, and conga line (I missed most of this). The production shows were very good. Carnival has rolled out several new shows. The hypnotist and the comedian/magician were both fun as well. The entertainment staff, now known as the "fun" patrol was very good. We have sailed with cruise director "Todd" before on the Freedom so we knew we would like Todd. My ten year old just adores him as Todd has dubbed him "junior cruise director", his assistant James is up and coming star and kept things upbeat and moving all week. I though the entire fun staff did a real nice job with activities for all ages, but keep in mind there is the same number of them (I think 6) for a ship with 4000 guests versus a ship with a couple thousand fewer guests.
Another nice "Dream" feature is that the clubs are centrally located on deck 5 aft. This made bar-hopping relatively easy. I usually like to spend time in the piano bar and sing along to some old tunes. Well, this piano player (Barry) was different than other I have encountered; he was more of an "R-rated" guy. It was all in good fun, so we actually went in there for the abuse several nights. Just be forewarned, if you are not into that kind of thing, you may be a little shocked (oh no that word again). The disco was just that, a disco with loud music, a really cool dance floor, and a late-night 20-30s (and pretend you are 30 something) crowd. Another nice entertainment option on Dream (and a few of the other ships we've been on recently), is the comedy club. Most evenings there are several comedians doing 2-3 shows each. One evening we laughed through 3 shows!
Let's see what else did I miss, the Dream has a beautiful gym, along with 15 or so treadmills and a dozen elliptical, a dozen bikes, free weights and anything else you might need to try to fend off those extra calories (my DW was excited to see Bosus and exercise balls - not very common on some of the other ships). I did hit the gym 3 times during the trip, almost always took the steps, but still managed to bring home an extra 5 pounds!
Debarkation was very timely (well it should have been), except that they lost one of our bags (which was group 1) and we had to wait about 1.5 hours till it finally came out with group 34! Not what you want to do when you have a ten hour drive in front of you! Self-debarkation folks (called in groups by deck number) were off the ship by 715am! We where right behind and were standing on the street (minus 1 bag) at 800am. The last stragglers got off about 930am.
All in all, I liked several features of the Dream. This is one big ship! I am a runner (slower now) and it is a hike from one end of this ship to the next. There are too many people for some of the amenities such as the buffets, the grill, and the pools. Would I sail on her again? Probably not right away. We'll likely opt for a smaller vessel next time. Would I recommend her? Probably not for a first time cruiser; but an experienced cruiser would quickly figure out what we did and find ways to make the most of their time. In my opinion, any day cruising is better than a day at work.