ARRIVAL AND EMBARKATION
We arrived in Orlando on Friday and rented a full-size passenger van from Budget (you do not travel light with four daughters). ? We spent time with friends and family on Friday afternoon and Friday evening and woke up on Saturday ready for our cruise adventure. We swung by the cruise terminal around 11:00 am and dropped off our luggage and then drove the van over to the Budget office in Cape Canaveral (about a 5 minute drive from the cruise terminal). We rode the Budget courtesy van back to the cruise terminal. NOTE: Both Budget and Hertz are conveniently located to the cruise terminal. This is a good option if you want to fly down a day or two early.
Embarkation process was the best ever. We could not believe how quickly we moved. Probably took us all of 20 - 25 minutes (and everyone was nice and pleasant, from security, to check-in desk, to Sail & Sign Card picture processing). We did not have much in the way of carry-on luggage, but this is an option. NOTE: You can carry sodas and bottled water through security in a carry on bag if you do not want to pay ship prices. We did not do this, but saw several families that did.
The Carnival Dream is a beautiful ship! Cruise Director (Todd) told us during the opening show that there were more than 4,000 guests onboard, but it did not seem that crowded. I attribute this to overall ship layout. The Carnival Dream has a similar layout to Glory, Liberty, etc., with some nice enhancements. First, they added a Deck 4 passageway that runs the length of the ship (below the main Deck 5 passageway). Carnival used the extra passageway to help with passenger movement fore-and-aft as well locate their pre-teen and teen social clubs. Second, they added a wrap-around outside area on Deck 5 (Lanai with hot-tubs, opening to the new Ocean Plaza area, etc.). This was a nice feature. Third, they added a really nice adult-only area (Serenity; Deck 12 forward) with pergolas, hammocks, etc. Fourth, they added a really fun water park area. Although Carnival was a pioneer of the water-slide at sea, they have really taken it up a notch with the Twister and the Dumpster. Make sure that you take some time out of your day to ride these slides. ? Fifth, they used the extra size to enhance their already nice public areas and add a few niceties (Fun Hubs throughout, Art Gallery, etc.). Finally, they added some food service extras (Pasta Bar, Burrito Bar) not present on other Carnival ships. All in all, a great new ship design.
The only negative statement that I will make is that after Carnival produces a few more of the Dream class ships, they need to update their overall design and add some fresh ship layouts to their fleet. As I mentioned earlier, the Dream has a similar layout to Glory, Liberty, etc. While the overall layout is great (as described above), you only have to look at the new Oasis of the Seas (which sails the same itinerary as the Dream) to see some amazing ship design innovations. Don't get me wrong; my family and I prefer the Carnival cruise experience to the Royal Caribbean cruise experience (we have done both). I also agree with another reviewer that the Oasis looks like a hotel on a barge (i.e. I am not suggesting that Carnival copy Royal Caribbean in this regard). I am simply suggesting that the basic Carnival ship layout is becoming stale and needs some updating with the post-Dream class ships.
ALMOST FORGOT; NO SMELL ON OUR CRUISE. There have been so many comments that it must be true, but we did not notice any strange smell at any time, and we were checking (because of all of the comments that we had read). Not sure what to say, but definitely no smell on the June 19th sailing. ?
Our family of six shared two adjoining staterooms on Deck 8, port side aft, both with balconies. We typically travel on the cheap when it comes to staterooms (interior staterooms that are low in the ship), but we decided to splurge on this trip. We could not have been happier. This location was perfect for the Carnival Dream. First of all, balcony staterooms are balcony staterooms; nice. ? You can read a book and watch the ocean, enjoy morning coffee in the sea breeze, watch the sunset, etc. Second of all, the adjoining staterooms were perfect for sharing showers and making sure everyone was up for early morning shore excursions. Lastly, being on Deck 8 and close to the aft elevators/stairs was a dream on the Dream. Walk down three flights of stairs and you have complete fore and aft access to the ship; walk up two flights of stairs and you have complete access to all of the casual dining facilities and pools/sun. RECOMMENDATION: Other reviews concerning clogging of the elevators are accurate (especially during rush hour). Unless you have bags or are limited in mobility, USE THE STAIRS.
Our experience with the Carnival Dream staff was OUTSTANDING. Room Steward (Celio) (Deck 8, port side aft, balcony staterooms) was very professional and pleasant. He did a great job of caring for our daughters. He provided lots of extra information and extra care. Despite working long hours, he always had a smile and a friendly greeting. Dining Room Staff (Florian and Jaya) (Scarlett Dining Room, early seating) were perfect. They learned our names the first day, spoiled each and every one of us, and made the evening meal the highlight of the day. Once they learned our individual tastes (especially those of our daughters), they delivered without fail. Cruise Staff (Cruise Director and Associates) were just OK, but in fairness to them, we didn't partake in many "cruise staff" activities, e.g. hairy chest contest, battle of the sexes, etc.
The entertainment onboard Dream was top notch. After our last cruise onboard the Liberty, we all commented that the Carnival entertainment program was getting a little stale. Carnival has definitely fixed this problem. Other than the opening number (which was the same opening number we have seen for the past six cruises), everything else was fresh and new. Best show in the Encore Theatre was "Dancing in the Streets." Part of the allure of the shows was a group of guys known as Fun Force. They augmented the normal group of singers and dancers. You have to see these guys perform. A couple of them performed in Step Up 2 and Step Up 3 (your teenagers will get this). Carnival also had a couple of acrobatic performers in the show. These two guys were amazing. See as much of the Fun Force gang as you can; you will not regret it. ?
If you like comedy, you will also enjoy the comedians. The Dream had two comedians the first half of the cruise and two new comedians the second half of the cruise. They performed five separate times on select evenings (two PG-rated shows and three adult only shows). Only complaint is that the performances were in the Burgundy Lounge (Deck 5, aft). The shows were so popular that the lounge was standing room only. Not sure what the fix is for that other than moving some of the shows to the Encore Theatre or outside to the main pool area on the Lido Deck.
One must do event is the deck party on the second sea day. I read several negative comments on this event in prior reviews, but my girls and I had a blast. Could be that the level of fun varies from week-to-week, but we had a great time for about 45 minutes or so (until the laser show started). As far as the laser shows go, I have to agree with some of the previous reviews; kind of lame.
We always try to do one really fun shore excursion on our trips (with a family of six, every shore excursion is expensive). We picked St. Marteen for this trip (more later).
You will only have five hours in Nassau. To be honest, I am not sure why Carnival continues to stop in Nassau for such a short period of time. They need to consider a private island stop instead (something similar to the Disney Cruise Line).
Since the stop was so short, we decided to make it a quick shopping trip. It is an easy walk to the downtown shopping area as well as the straw market. My wife and daughters were able to negotiate some good prices on purses, clutches, etc. They enjoyed the experience (because they like to shop), but I passed after a quick swing down one of the narrow and extremely hot aisles (it was maybe around 1,500 degrees F, give or take a degree or two...?). I bolted for the air-conditioned spaces of Senor Frogs.
For those who have never been to St. Thomas, you will love this island. It is beautiful. As I said earlier, we picked St. Marteen for our big shore excursion, so we picked a more laid back experience for St. Thomas. We were here four years ago and did a complete tour of the island (Meghan's Bay, Drake's Point, Blackbeard's Castle, etc.), so we did not want to do that again, nor did we want to take one of the many trips to nearby St. Johns. We decided to take the sky ride to Paradise Point. You can walk to the sky ride from the ship and the view is fantastic. Once on the Point, we hung out for a while and had a really good time (they have a few shops, a bar and restaurant, and a great view of Charlotte Amalie). We had some great drinks, but the price was crazy ($10 a pop for virgin Pina Coladas). It was hot though and we had to get them, so I just did the "grin and bear it" routine. We did have a great time (met some nice folks and took some great pictures).
This was our big day and we had one of the best shore excursions EVER. We left the ship around 0900 and met the tour guide for the Rhino Riders Adventure. We didn't know what to expect, but the description of the tour looked fun and the tour itself did not disappoint. After about a 35-minute bus ride (lots of traffic, but a good tour of the Dutch side of St. Marteen), we arrived at the waterfront. After a safety briefing from "Bob," my family of six split up into three of the Rhino Rider boats (two per boat). The boats were a blast!! We got to see the harbor and the bay as well as the ocean (you leave protected waters once you cross to the French side of the islands). After about a 40-minute ride, we stopped for an hour or so at Happy Beach (for those with children, you will see some "European" sunbathing, i.e. nude or topless sunbathing; not that much, but be prepared). Some of us swam, some of us snorkeled (don't go just for snorkeling; there are better snorkeling tours), and some of us played on the beach. During the ride back, we got to jump some waves, ride through some rain, and have "all-in-all" a really great time. "Bob" was great (we got pictures with the "Bob" seal of approval), the boats were fun, the beach was nice, and the overall excursion was excellent. Highly recommend this trip if you have an even-numbered party (remember, only two to a boat).
On a side note, when we were here four years ago, we did the America's Cup Regatta. If you love to sail, that is also a great experience. For overall family fun though, I would rate Rhino Riders as a better tour.
Leaving the Dream was both sad and efficient. We had a great vacation and did not want to leave, but once we started walking, it was the best debarkation experience ever. We were group number 25 for debarkation. After our number was called, we were literally crossing the brow in about 5 - 7 minutes. Once we arrived in baggage claim, it took us maybe 5 - 10 minutes to collect luggage. In another 8 minutes, we were through customs. NICE. ?
We decided to get a couple of rental cars at Budget for the return trip to Orlando International. We left the cruise terminal, boarded the Budget courtesy van, and were in our cars by 0945 - 1000. Renting the cars gave us the flexibility to be with our family (and not in a bus load of 100 or so people) as well as eat a nice and relaxed lunch in Orlando before getting to the airport. With a family of six, the cost was around $30 less than six bus transfers (since they have gotten so expensive of late).
As stated over and over again, the Carnival Dream was GREAT! Embarkation and debarkation were the best EVER, we experienced no smell, the staterooms and public areas were immaculate, the entertainment and food were outstanding, and the staff was friendly, courteous, and professional. My recommendation for all is to visit the Dream as soon as you can. It will not disappoint.
As for the crowds, just remember that this is a large ship, so you will have lines and congestion from time-to-time. Only recommendation that I have here is travel on a smaller ship or in the off-season if you really want to avoid to crowds. Like it or not, the mega-liners are here to stay and are healthy for the industry. Even so, you can still avoid most of the crowds on the Dream by eating breakfast and lunch during "off hours" (e.g. don't eat breakfast at 0900; go earlier or a little later). You can employ similar strategies for leaving and boarding the ship during port visits.
Hope this review helps anyone who is trying to make some decisions on their family vacation. Enjoy your trip. ?