FIRST CARIBBEAN CRUISE!!
A BIT ABOUT US: This was our second family cruise with Carnival. We went on the Splendor last July to the Mexican Riviera and loved it! So we made reservations for an Eastern Caribbean cruise on the new Dream on the July 17 - 24 sailing. My DH and I are 37 & 41, respectively, and have 3 children ~ 9, 8, and 5. We also traveled with my in-laws who are in their late 50's-early 60's and are very active adults. This was their 3rd Carnival cruise. We are Southern California non-smokers and enjoy staying at fine service establishments. We chose the Dream over the Oasis because of the value and we knew what to expect from Carnival. We knew we would get a great vacation for a reasonable price. We are easy to please and our travel mantra is this: Whatever goes wrong, we will always have a good time!
THE START: We flew from Long Beach, California to Orlando, Florida the Thursday before the cruise. We stayed at the Marriott Imperial Villas and spent the next day at Universal Studio's Islands of Adventure. With the new Harry Potter rides, I highly recommend this park! Spend the extra money and get the Express Pass. We had an amazing day there!!! Saturday morning, we drove our rental car to Port Canaveral. Seeing the Dream in the distance was superb! She is a large and gorgeous ship!! We were handed a Zone 27 card and had to wait a bit. I loved how many of the embarkation employees had pom-poms and were hooting! It added to the excitement. After about 15 minutes of waiting, we walked the gangway onto the Dream...wow...what a ship!!!!! After reading many reviews, I knew NOT to go into the Lido for lunch. I dragged my family all the way into the back and upstairs to the Pasta Bar. What a treat! It was quiet and the food was amazing. It didn't feel chaotic at all. We dealt with some seating problems with the maitre-d, double-checked our Chef's Table reservations, and then were off to find our rooms. Muster Drill was very easy. We just went to the Encore Lounge for a quick 15 minute video and were done. No life jackets required.
ROOM & STEWARD: We were on the Vista Deck, balcony rooms 9227, 9231, & 9235. Two of the rooms were adjoining and all the balcony partitions were open to create a large balcony for our family. Room was clean, big, and exactly like the one we had on the Splendor. I was afraid of the lanai hindering our view but it didn't bother me at all. We were so far forward that we rarely saw anyone walking it. Our neighbor was very quiet and since we were far forward, we rarely heard any hall noise. I would recommend this location! Our steward was Patrick and he always knew our schedule. He had chocolates and towel animals for us every night, except the last. Bathroom was clean and the shower pressure was nice. The shower-head is detachable so you can take it off the holder and use it. There was a hairdryer in the room and one outlet. Both my hairdryers and extra outlets were admitted on the ship, no problem there. Our luggage got to us on the first day at just about 6PM. A little late to our liking but at least it arrived! The beds are some of the coziest beds ever!!! We enjoyed the top decks for sail away and had our DoD! YUM! It was fun to wave at everyone on land as we were sailing away.
THE SHIP: The DREAM is BIG. (Except sitting next to the Oasis in port! :-)) The layout is similar to that of the Splendor except for the Lanai and Ocean Plaza. The decor is rather classy with muted tones. I loved the pool area and the Waterworks area. The Serenity Deck was gorgeous though we never used it. The Aft pool was pretty too, and yes, children are allowed. There are only two pools on the ship! For over 4000 people! The few cons I feel regarding this ship are the smaller public areas in relation to the amount of people. They need one more pool, at least. The Splendor had three pools and yet the Dream has only two and an extra 1000 people. There were people everywhere. We had to fight every night for seats in the Encore Lounge and in the Burgundy comedy club. And we would get there over 30 minutes early each time! The Encore Lounge needs to get rid of the poles that block people's views. And there should be no saving of seats. We would constantly see people saving entire rows for over 30 minutes. We would get up at 7AM each sea day to grab a few deck chairs by the pool. One of us would always stay with our stuff and then we would rush to be there and sit all morning so we wouldn't be complete chair hogs. By 8AM, the entire deck area would be "saved" by towels and magazines with no one around. I was pleasantly surprised at how smoke-free the ship was. Rarely smelled any smoke NOR the dreaded "smell". It must be gone completely!
ACTIVITIES: The mini-golf was small but my family had fun using it. We also tried the $5 pp Laser Tag in the Encore Lounge and my son enjoyed that. We had fun watching the Hairy Chest contest and my husband & I participated in the Rubber Chicken Olympics. Silly but it IS a Fun Ship!! The Waterworks area is so neat! The slides are great (went on them all) and the benches in that area are the coolest seats on the entire ship if you are hot! We hung out there a lot. The Lido pool was nice & warm and we enjoyed that too. Yes, there were children all over it but that didn't bother us as our children were in it too. If someone wanted peace away from children, the Serenity Deck was for them. The Waterworks area is all fresh chlorinated water and the Lido/Aft pools are salt water. We went to all the shows except for Legends. 8 Seconds is a Southern show and was cheesy but entertaining. I enjoyed Dancing in the Streets but my family just thought it was OK. They liked VROOOM on the Splendor better. Fun Force is great!!! Get Ready, an R&B show, was pretty average and forced. I love Heather Wagner and could listen to her sing for hours. She was a singer on the Splendor and it was nice to see her talents on the DREAM. We saw Edge in the Encore and he is enjoyable. We also saw his act on the Splendor. Comedian/Magician Bob Brizendine was hilarious and did a big show in the Encore Lounge. The Welcome/Laser Show on the first night was great. Lasers looked very cool. The Mardi Gras party was OK. We caught some beads and then left after a few songs as it seemed all they were doing was throwing beads. Todd Wittmer, the CD, was awful. He was only on TV and talked before some of the shows but that is all. My hubby says he seemed quite cocky and needs a punch in the face to bring him down a notch! :-) His fellow activities crew seemed overworked and not very enthusiastic. That was OK since we make our own fun! Comedy shows in the Burgundy Lounge were good. Except for the lack of seats and standing-room only, we liked watching them. Our kids liked Marc Simmons and his Funship Freddy joke. We saw one R-rated comedy act and it was pretty good. Some of the jokes were a bit dated though. The comedy club is a great & popular addition to the cruise line. Our kids played in the Warehouse Arcade one night. It was typical arcade fare but could use more games. There were SO many activities on this ship! I don't see how anyone would be bored. There was so much to do and we didn't do it all. I could go back and hit up all the other things offered and have a totally different cruise experience.
FOOD & DINING: The food is pretty spectacular for a cruise this large. We loved the Pasta Bar, Omelet Bar, the Reuben sandwich from the Deli, the pizza, and the main dining room food. The ice cream is pretty great too! The Lido for breakfast is usual standard fare. Nothing bad. The Tandoori Grill on this ship was too spicy for me. The Lanai BBQ we could have skipped~nothing special there. Hamburgers at the Grill were better IMO. The sushi was decent and a nice appetizer before dinner. We did not eat at the Mexican Buffet that was held one night after the Mardi Gras party as it was too late to eat for us. We tried the chocolate buffet and I was disappointed in that. Not many things all chocolate except for a few cakes and a chocolate fountain. Not much else. We ordered room service for breakfast a few times and it was great having our coffee on the balcony. One afternoon we ordered room service and though they told us it would take an hour, we never got the food. The order must have gotten lost but that was OK as it was a snack between lunch & dinner anyway. We had breakfast in the Scarlet Dining Room a few mornings and it was calm & enjoyable. Lunch in the Scarlet was fantastic and we wish we would have done it more! The food was amazing for lunch!! We had table #663 in the Scarlet Dining Room and shared it with some ladies from Connecticut. Nice group of gals. The table had a view of the back of the ship. We love seeing the ocean while eating dinner. Our servers were Marcello & Bilyanca. They were very nice and efficient. We enjoyed everything! Lobster, prime rib, crab cakes, Caesar salad, Greek salad, Mint Fatoush salad, short ribs, the chocolate melting cake & bitter n'blanc! Everything was great. A few times my girls ordered from the kid's menu but mostly they ordered from the main menu. My son would order things from the main menu to try for the first time. The kids always loved their food. We ordered a 40th anniversary cake for my in-laws from Celebrations shop and it was brought to the table. GREAT chocolate layered cake for $8! The waiters sang and danced too. I LOVE this part!! Three of the songs were J'ai Ho, Low, and Shake it. Such fun!! Elegant Nights are Sunday & Thursday. We were shocked at how many people on this ship were dressed to the hilt! Formal dresses and tuxes were everywhere! Our California elegant style was a bit underdressed in comparison. BTW, the demographic for the ship was middle class families from the East coast and Southern states. We were in the minority being from California.
CHEF'S TABLE: I had read about Chefs Table on Cruise Critic and was excited to try it. I made reservations a few months before our cruise and then once onboard, confirmed our reservations. My in-laws went the first night, Monday, and we went the second night, Tuesday. We met at 6:30 PM in the Song Lounge. 12 people total. Chef Daniel came in and talked with us about his life and ship experience. We enjoyed champagne and hors d'oeuvres. He then walked us down one floor into the Galley. We were amazed that we were sitting right in the thick of things! A table was placed smack-dab in the center of the busy galley! We had a slew of chefs and waiters watching us and waiting on us hand & foot. We ate a 7-course amazing meal, walked a tour of the galley, saw a melting chocolate cake cooking demonstration from the pastry chef, and had all the wine you could ask for. The service was the best. My hubby and I were waiters in college and were amazed by the cleanliness of the galley and the quiet organized way the waiters got their food. We got pictures and a signed cookbook. It was a good 3 hour dinner and worth every penny of the $150 we spent for the two of us! HIGHLY recommend this!!
SHOPS & PHOT GALLERY: The few shops on this ship were pretty nice. Large jewelry store, large fun ship store with many nice designer duds, such as ROXY. There was even a cosmetics store that sold perfumes and name-brand cosmetics such as Smashbox, Dr. Brandt, Clinique, etc. The photo gallery was very organized as compared to the Splendor. They had tags on the events so one could find their photos quickly. Yes, photographers were everywhere but they weren't pushy at all.
WEATHER & PORTS: We encountered some winds and rain this cruise. The ship was rocking & rolling one night. It was loud and the banging was frequent throughout the night. Since we are from California, we kept feeling anxious about earthquakes when the ship would suddenly quiver & shake. But I still slept well. It wasn't terrible and didn't cause anyone in our party sea-sickness. We docked in Nassau, Bahamas and did the Atlantis Aquaventure through Carnival. It was expensive but so worth it IMO. The lazy river and slides were SO much fun!! It was a great family thing to do together and the weather was perfect for it. St. Thomas was disappointing and partially because of the weather. My in-laws honeymooned in St. Thomas 40 years ago and it was a bummer to them not being able to enjoy the island like they should have. We booked a tour through Sunny Liston. We were dropped off in a shopping area and we had lunch at a place called Glady's Cafe. Great local food such as conch fritters and jerk chicken. The tour was pretty bad as we had Elvis as our driver and he didn't sing much or talk at all during the three-hour ride through torrential rain. We only got small glimpses of the beautiful island through the heavy fog and rain. We couldn't wait to get back on the ship. We did try to make the best of the situation by joking with other cruise people on the tour bus and enjoying the experience of being in such heavy rain. St. Martin was fantastic! Perfect weather and the greatest tour ever! We booked a private tour through Bernard's Tours. Our guide was called The Mailman and he was awesome! We had an air conditioned van and a cooler full of beer, rum punch, water, and soda. Mailman waited on us hand-and foot, talked to us about all the sights constantly, taught my son how to take pictures of the planes on Maho Beach, and took us to a French bakery, a Rum stand, and to Orient Beach. We rented snorkel equipment on Orient Beach and saw many tangs and parrotfish. Awesome! The girls even got their hair braided. We had lunch at the Sunset Bar & Grill on Maho Beach and mailman joined us to eat. It was an amazing day!!! The weather for the rest of the cruise was very warm. Perfect for lounging at the pool and enjoying the water slides.
DEBARKATION: WOW. Debarking self-assist style off the Splendor was awful. We chose "relaxed debarkation" this time and it was great! We put out our bags the night before and then were given a Zone 7 debark time. We got up the next morning, enjoyed a relaxing breakfast in the Scarlet Dining Room and then just basically walked right off the ship. No struggle, no crowds, just pure ease. Took about 15 minutes from the gangway through customs and luggage retrieval. We had Carnival transfers on a Meers bus and that was smooth. From the port to the airport in less than an hour.
OTHER TID-BITS: We did not use the casino. It was a large and clean looking area of the ship that didn't seem too busy. We did not use Camp Carnival either. Our children prefer to do activities with us. We enjoy that as well. We saw many children having fun doing games and scavenger hunts with the clubs though. The internet was fine. My husband bought some time for $30 to keep up with his office. I saw very few people in the Fun Hub. I think it is an underused feature on this ship. We did not try the spa either. We looked around and also at the gym which seemed a bit small for a ship this size. The Captain's Party was held in the Ocean Plaza. There were drink waiters taking orders and some live music but that was all. There were live musical acts throughout the ship. The Lido pool area had live music during the day and I loved it. Very island-like! We did not see Avatar on the big screen at night though I heard it was cool and one could buy popcorn. We enjoyed Icees at the Lido & Waterworks area.
CONCLUSION: We had a great family trip! Carnival has not disappointed us! It is not fancy, stuffy, or quiet, but it is a good time. I would recommend Carnival to anyone. They keep you happy, well-fed, and entertained. Our friends think we are crazy for sailing with Carnival as they think it is all booze cruises but it is not at all. Didn't see any drunk crazy people on this ship nor on the Splendor. The food is amazing and the activities are plentiful and FUN. The crew is very friendly and they make you feel special. The ships are CLEAN. There is also nothing like sitting on a balcony and hearing the ship glide through the water! I am a cruiser for life!! I would like to try a smaller Carnival ship like the Conquest in the future. And I will try another cruise line to experience the differences. Seeing the Oasis in port with us made me curious about Royal Caribbean though I don't think I would try the Oasis. It is TOO large a ship. I was happy with the DREAM though I don't think I would sail on her again. I will try another Carnival ship in the future. Life is too short and there are many other Carnival ships to try. The DREAM was a nice vacation tough. She is one big & beautiful ship!!! There is nothing like unpacking once and being taken to different places without the stress of airports, taxis, and bulky luggage to carry around. And thanks to Cruise Critic members for their reviews and board talks! You really helped prepare me for my trip and gave me the information to help make it a special one!