Carnival Dream Cruise Review Western Caribbean July 10-17, 2010
This review is from the perspective of two families, enjoying a vacation. There are four adults and four children in our group. Adult ages ranged from 42-50. Children's ages range from 9-16. Both families have been on previous cruises with Princess, RCCL, and Carnival. We chose this cruise because of the itinerary and because the Dream is the newer ship in the Carnival fleet. We had been reading the not so great reviews about the Dream during the past many months. The negative reviews concerned us but we're people with reasonable expectations and understood that we'll be on a ship with thousands of others, from all walks of life. We knew things wouldn't be perfect but we were going to have a good time anyway. During this review, we'll provide observations and some confirmations of other Dream passengers.
Embarkation: We rolled the dice and gambled that we could fly from OH to FL on Saturday morning and get on board the cruise, without any delays from weather, etc. We thought about coming in the night before to make sure we arrived on time but our gamble paid off. We had an uneventful flight to FL. We booked private transportation with LuxTranso, LLC to get from MCO to Port Canaveral. Our party of eight, along with our 7 large pieces of luggage and carry-on items fit very comfortably into the large van. We stopped at a local Publix store that was close to the port and purchased some bottles of wine and a few cases of bottled water. We printed out luggage tags from the Carnival site and then laminated them, just in case it rained. I had read about another group that purchased cases of water, taped luggage tags to them, and the waters were delivered to their rooms. We tried this also but the luggage porters told us they weren't allowed to bring the cases of water on board. So we carried the cases of water through the embarkation process without incident. I don't recommend this for anyone because the cases of water are very heavy and a pain to carry around. Upon entering the ship, we proceeded to our deck, opened the fire door, and went to our cabin. (around 12:30pm) There are signs on the fire doors that read that rooms won't be ready until 1:30pm. We weren't challenged by anyone when going to our cabins early to drop off our carry-on bags and the water and wine. If it weren't for the heavy cases of water, we would have waited until 1:30pm like most everyone else. None the less, our rooms were ready and we began to unpack and get settled. In general, the embarkation process was very smooth and it only took about 30 minutes to get on board. Nicely done Carnival! The safety drill was conducted around 3:30pm in the main lounge area, the Encore Theater. This also went smoothly and it was great not having to bring the life vests to the safety briefing.
The Ship: The Dream is quite large and I think comparable in size to the Liberty of the Seas that we sailed during 2008. However, because of the design to maximize the number of cabins / passengers and skimp on the size of the public areas, the ship didn't feel as comfortable as the Liberty of the Seas. The Dream is a beautiful ship, tastefully decorated and pretty well taken care of. She reminded me a little of the Crown Princess that we sailed on during 2007, in terms of size and layout. There is a mild raw sewage type odor that we encountered every so often in various places around the ship. We'd hoped this would be corrected by the time we took this cruise in July but the smell is still there. The smell was never overwhelming and it didn't impact our trip negatively. I just wanted everyone to know that this issues still exists. The water slides and the kids water play area were a big hit with the kids and adults. These water attractions are a nice touch and brought laughs and smiles to many people during our trip. The two tall slides were closed during our last day at sea because of high winds and rougher than normal seas. There are many deck chairs to be had around the ship on the various levels of decks 5, 10, 11, and 12. If you wanted to have chairs by either pool, I recommend you get yours reserved by 9am. We never had a problem getting chairs on deck 12, in the pool area, around mid morning. The most concerning part of the outdoor ship experience is the pools. There are only 2 pools. One is mid-ship and the other is aft. They are both very small for the number of passengers on board. They are both filled with salt water. I'm not sure why I never read this anywhere prior to our trip. I really can't believe that Carnival botched up the pool design of this ship so horribly. Two small pools filled with salt water is unacceptable to us. Maybe Carnival can convert these pools to chlorinated water to make them somewhat enjoyable. Our three cabins were on Deck 9 Forward, port side. We did feel the ship movement but it wasn't anything unusual. We had a couple balcony cabins and one inside cabin for our group. The cabins are nicely appointed and livable for a week's time. We found the beds to be comfortable also. The beds have plenty of room under them to store large luggage. One observation we made about the balcony areas is that unless the crew cleans them regularly, they become "the land of other people's hair". When others are standing on their balcony and the wind is blowing through their hair, some is released and it's blown back into the other balcony areas. It tends to stick to the damp decking, balcony dividers, and even the ceiling. We used some dirty towels to wipe up the hair from our balcony since the crew didn't do it. Our cabin steward, Ci Ci, did a very nice job taking care of us for the week. (other than the hair on the balcony) ? One of the best kept secrets on the ship are the forward balconies on decks 6,7,9,10, and 11 I think. These are common area balconies on the very front of the ship and they are terrific to spend time on. Even though we had our own private balconies, we spend time standing on the forward balconies and watching the ship move forward through the various stages of our trip. The wind in your face and the beautiful views are fantastic! I highly recommend visiting these areas. The balcony on deck 9 is the best because it's on top of the bridge and has extra viewing space on each side of the ship.
The Food: In general, the food was average. The food in the Steak House was good and worth one visit. We actually made reservations for the Steak House for another night but cancelled that second reservation because we didn't think the experience was worth another $30 per person. Some of our family ate at the BBQ place and really enjoyed it. Others ate at the pasta station and enjoyed it. There were some dishes in the main dining room that stood out above most others. The chef actually made some very good soups throughout the week. Those were the most memorable items to me. Again, the food in general wasn't bad but it wasn't outstanding either. We always made the best of it and tried to identify the highlights. The ships drinking water was actually pretty good most days. There was a distinctive taste but it wasn't a bad taste. If you purchase a "Soda Card" for your trip, you'll be interested to know that all the soda served on board is from cans. We liked this because of the consistent taste. It's hard to believe that they don't use the fountain guns for soda but they don't. If you order a soda, and don't have the soda card stamp, you're provided the entire can of soda. If you order a soda with the soda card, they will pour from the can but you're not provided the entire content of the can. The kids in our group loved the soft serve ice cream in The Gathering (buffet) area. Our group tried breakfast in The Gathering and also the Scarlett Dining Room in the mornings. The overwhelming opinion was that eating in the dining room is the way to go so that you didn't have to fight the crowd and find a table. Hint: Eat breakfast on the bottom floor of the dining room because the upper floor is far away from the galley and some of the beverages. When we ate on the upper floor of the dining room, some mornings we were there for a long time before we were served. We always received quick service on the bottom floor.
Kids Clubs: The children in our group used the Camp Carnival and other kid activities sometimes but not each day. The younger kids (9 and 10) like some of the Camp Carnival activities. Parents have the option of letting their children sign themselves in and out of the kid areas. For the most part, our observation of the kid activities, in these areas, was a positive one. Yes, during these summer months when kids are out of school, there were many on board. Some were well behaved and some others weren't. We did experience some running up and down hallways and making unnecessary noise but there wasn't a lot we could do but grin and bear it.
Entertainment: We tried to participate in a little of everything on board. We saw most of the shows in the main Encore Theater. Most of these were worth the time. The Dancing In The Streets show is a must see. You'll want to get there early for good seats, as is the case for most of the shows in the Encore and the Comedy Club (Burgundy Lounge). There were four comedians on board and they were all funny. Some were funnier than others. Our group played trivia, bingo, etc. It was all what you made of it. We always had fun.
Cozumel: We did the Dune Buggy and Snorkeling in Punta Sur. This is a fun excursion. We traveled to the Southern part of the island in a convoy. It's a great opportunity to see some of the less traveled places. The snorkeling is off the shore and it takes a bit of a swim to get out to the reef where the corals and fish are. We did see some really cool things during the snorkeling but you'll be very tired afterwards. Lunch was served, then we convoyed to a lighthouse. You have the option of climbing to the top. (232 stairs) We then convoyed back to the pier area. It rained on us during the trip back and this added some fun to the experience. It's a good excursion!
Roatan Honduras: We booked our own snorkel tour, not through Carnival for this stop. We booked with Upachaya.com. Duane is the owner and has partnered with a few people to get his guests to the wellness center area and then onto a pontoon boat for the snorkeling adventure. We were taken out to a couple of snorkeling sites on the reef. There were many things to see and some of the best snorkeling we've done. Lunch and drinks were included in the tour and our group had a great time on this excursion. We recommend it!
Belize: We did the Land Rover / Cave Exploration excursion here. This tour leaves the ship early so it's an early rise type day. They tendered us to the pier area where we met our guide. We were put onto another boat that took us across the bay and up a river to the site where we got into our Land Rover vehicles. Getting there was half the fun on the boat trips. It's a beautiful ride up the river to the vehicle staging area. You'll see some wildlife along the way. We convoyed in our vehicles to an area in the jungle that had some thick bamboo growth. It was very pretty here but the mosquitoes are TERRIBLE! We put on plenty of bug spray but some of our group members were still eaten alive. The bugs are REALLY bad here. I don't recommend this tour if you aren't prepared for this. Once we dismounted from the vehicles, we were guided across a suspension bridge and up to an area where we entered the caves. The bugs followed us into the caves but weren't as bad once we were deep inside the cave system. Mayans once lived in these caves. The caves are home to some bats and it was interesting to see them and have them fly around us. Some of the bats had young and were nursing and that was interesting to see also. Some of the cave areas are very low and tight to get through and some of us had to crawl on our hands and knees to get through these areas. It's very hot in the jungle and in the caves, so be prepared for that. Once we exited the caves, lunch was served and also rum punch. We boarded a "party bus" back to the pier area and they served rum punch to the guests on the way back. This was a fun tour if you could stand the bugs and the heat. We won't do it again really soon but it's quite the adventure and very memorable!
Costa Maya: We didn't plan any excursions during this stop. This is a cruise line created stop and there are many shops and some restaurants here. There is a swimming pool here but it also if filled with salt water and it looked nasty. Some of our kids wanted to get into the pool but we wouldn't let them. We went back to the ship and let them play on the slides and the kids water area. Unless you're doing an excursion here, there isn't a lot to do. We needed the relaxation day from all the activities we'd been on already.
Debarkation: We chose the self-assist method and we took our own luggage off the ship that morning. The ship will arrive back into Port Canaveral early and clear customs around 6-6:30am. We were off the ship by 7:20. I recommend the self-assist method of debarkation if you don't mind taking off your own luggage.
In closing, a cruise is what you make of it. We all had a nice time on the trip. We probably wouldn't sail on the Dream again because of the overcrowding and the lack of pools with fresh water. She is a large and beautiful ship but we think Carnival got really greedy with this design and didn't give the passengers enough public space. We had a good experience with the majority of the staff on board. These folks work a lot of hours. We were outgoing and friendly to them and most of them were friendly with us in return. The Cruise Director, Todd, was at certain events and show intros but we didn't see a lot of him mingling with the guests. His staff did a pretty good job of keeping guests entertained but we've had much better directors and staff on other ships. If you're getting ready to sail the Dream, know the pros and cons going into your adventure and make the best of it. If you're still deciding whether to sail on the Dream, I hope this review gives you some additional perspective to make your decision.