First a background. This was my 6th cruise and my wife's 3rd cruise. Although all with Carnival, close members of family and friends did cruise with other companies such as RCCL, Princess and MSC cruises. So we are aware of other offers even though we did not experienced them yet.
This cruise was special to us since we had invited 20 people from family and friends to attend our wedding on the beautiful St. Thomas Island and, for most of them, board a first cruise on a mega-liner.
This trip took all 13 months in the planning. 19 of us where on the same flight from Montreal arriving in Orlando the day before the cruise departure. 3 other members of our party where on different flights and plan. evertheless, everyone made it on the Carnival Dream on time for departure.
I thought I've seen the best embarkation procedure and port when departed from the San-Diego port in April 2008. But that was before going through the Port Canaveral embarkation procedure. All More
in all, we arrived at port at 11:40am and everyone was on board by 12:45pm. The boarding procedure was just perfect considering the amount of passengers.
Debarkation was just as smooth as the embarkation... Carnival has made tremendous improvements in the last couple of years... This as nothing to do with the 3-4 hours debarkation procedures waiting time experienced in the early 2000's!
The ship itself... Well after reading lots of critics since the ship inaugural cruise, I was a little sceptical of what my family and friends would experiment on this cruise. I can now say, that we only got big thanks upon our return from this cruise. Even coming from the more experimented cruisers on our party they, also, found this cruise perfect.
Considering what we lived on this 7 day cruise on the Carnival Dream, I would like to point out a couple of things as well as answer some negative critics posted in the last months:
Regarding the not so famous smell: We got NO complaint from any of our party members and did not, ourselves, experienced any specific smell different from any other Carnival ships. Perhaps this was resolved. We had members of our party in staterooms on decks 7, 6 and 2.
Regarding the amount of people, food lines, crowded outdoor decks, etc...: Not any different then the Freedom, the Triumph or the Victory for that matter. These our big ships... Lot's of people our expected. You need to be flexible and have workarounds; First, we do not like crowded and noisy area, so we hanged at the back of the ship (deck 10) or on the sides (deck 11) near the back of the ship as well as deck 5... Very calm and pleasant... Chairs were always available and considering that we could be 10-15 people sitting together. I think this is pretty good. Second and to avoid the food lines, eat outside standard hours... For instance, I would go training from 8 'til 9:30am before eating breakfast at 10am. Eat lunch at 2-3pm and dinner at 7-8pm... Absolutely no more waiting time than any other ship experienced in the past. Conclusion: Be flexible and everything will go smoothly. Nevertheless, we still feel cruising on a smaller ship, like the Spirit class, is more suitable for us... But this would not prevent us from going on a Dream class again in the future.
Regarding the "Your Time Dining" formula: This was our first time using this formula and, again, where a little sceptical after reading some negative reviews. Having a group of 22, we did not expect to be seated at the same table knowing that the ships largest tables seat approx. 10 people and have very few of them. So, with that in mind and on the first night, we just explained the situation to our lady host from the Crimson dining room. This turned out to be a wise decision since I would estimate that 5, of our 7 dinner nights, were we able to have every 22 of our party seated in the same dining area spreaded on 3 or 4 tables. We found this perfect and everyone was very happy. We were almost always in the same areas so the waiters got to know our group very quickly therefore transforming our dinners in very special moments interacting with the staff. I was even surprise that they learned most of our first names! About waiting times... Not a concern at all as only once did we need the pager for an enormous 15 minute wait... Just enough for an extra drink! Hey, your on vacation remember! :o)
Regarding the Behind the Scene Tour: Worth every penny for curious mechanical and technical minds! The tour lasts nearly 4 hours with 3 to 4 pictures to keep plus nice surprises such as a Carnival cap and in stateroom chocolate platter for each participants. This tour will bring you through the galley, the crew quarters such as their lounge, their private deck, the behind the scene on the the Encore theatre and, of course, the bridge were you get to know most of the controls and are offer to ask any questions regarding the ship. Please note that cameras and camcorders are not permitted. All this for $95/person. For those interested, book this as you board on embarkation day through shore excursion desk. That is what we did, and it was already 70% booked! Remember that there is only 2 groups of 16 people that make this tour... Not allot considering the 3700+ passengers.
Regarding the shows: You do need to get there at least 20-30 minutes in advance for the late shows (10:30pm) to get good seats. 45 minutes before is exaggerated. In regards of the comedy shows, we did attend 2 of them and found them Okay... Nothing more. We did attend better ones on previous cruises... Nevertheless, it seemed most of the attendance enjoyed... These late night shows, 11:00pm and 12:00am, you need to get there 30-40 minutes in advance and hope to get in... They tend to be full house at the Burgundy Lounge.
About the negatives on this cruise... Well can the following be considered negatives: I do feel that Carnival should change its ship designing team as the Carnival ships look, more or less the same. Same go's for most of the on board activities... They tend to be the same also. But, then again, perhaps we should ourselves try cruising with other cruise companies!
It is worth to point out the lack of an extra pool. Although, we are not pool users, we still think either they should be bigger, or have an extra one. 2 pools is not enough on a ship with this amount of passengers. Perhaps, the most negative would be the port times. The Nassau half-day port is definitely not enough time for first timers on that port. Furthermore, overnight stays on certain destination (St.Thomas and St. Martin for instance) would be a definite plus. We do know they have this incentive in certain Acapulco cruises. Anyway, this is sorted of an answer to those who are fed up with certain ports of call... Experiment other destinations... Go out and explore the world... There is to much to see out there then to stick with only 5 or 6 ports of call year after year! After 6 cruises in the caribbean and the coast of Mexico, we now hope to start cruising in Europe in a near future. Like I said, explore the world. Come out from your native America and see what you are missing!
One last thing! The jogging track. Boy does Carnival need to educate their passengers on this matter. Avid runner myself, I cannot explain myselve why people take the full track width for... Walking? This track is for runners, not walkers. Specially on the Dream now that they have deck 5 for an all around walking tour. If you do feel better walking on the JOGGING track, please do it in a responsible manner... One single file on the outside lane. Then, and only then can we share the track... But this will not explain why you are NOT walking on deck 5!
All in all, this is a cruise we will forever remember. I also think we got new cruisers for the future since most of our family members really appreciated this adventure. Would we go on the Dream again? Definitely yes, depending on the port of calls. But we will prefer smaller ships (2000-2700 passengers size) when possible. Like previously stated, we will now look for European deals before any other destinations in the future now that we seen quite a lot in the southern part of North America.
Please do not hesitate to ask any questions. It will be my pleasure to give you the most accurate answer.