This was our second cruise and our first with Carnival. Our first cruise was with Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas. We traveled with my parents and two sons, 15 and 11. Our travel agent originally steered us away from Carnival but after seeing the variety of kid's activities on the Dream, we decided to take a chance on it.
My review might be long but I want to be as thorough as possible as I know I've relied on these reviews to make our selection for vacations.
The good and there was a lot of good.
Boarding was a breeze, however, see the bad below on getting to the port..ha. The airlines need to take some lessons from cruise ships.
The food, especially the buffet food was a very pleasant surprise, there was a pasta bar (upstairs) and it was terrific-made to order, burrito bar, Mongolian BBQ (always a long line but it was worth it) as well as a rotating standard buffet and a grill with burgers, pizza and hot dogs. (Don't bother with the nacho sauce, it was flavorless and watery) They kept everything so clean! I would consider myself a "foodie" and if you understand that they are feeding 3000 people in line, you could appreciate that the food was nicely done. The buffet was head and shoulders over Royal's. Things were nicely stocked and fresh. The dining room always had a nice selection and again....given the limitations of feeding 3000 people in a sitting, the food was very very good. We opted for the early dining. (did late dining on the last cruise and it was too late for us) We didn't find lines for the dining room to be a problem ever. I absolutely love the fact that the tables were set up to accommodate single families rather than the "shared table concept" of other ships. I'm in sales and the last thing I feel like doing on my vacation is schmoozing. On my birthday, we went to the Chef's Art Steakhouse and it was delicious...definitely on par with a Morton's steakhouse in the states. Nice wine list and the service was impeccable.
The cabins were a nice surprise as they were slightly larger than Royal's with much better storage. We had adjoining suites and I liked the bunk bed that dropped from the ceiling much better than the pull out sofa concept at Royal C. (it creates absolutely NO walking space when the bed is pulled out) We were able to open up the balconies between the suites and it made for a great outdoor space. I'm not sure what every one is talking about with the lack of courtesy from the crew, we found everyone that we encountered to be extremely friendly and helpful. They were cleaning and primping on that ship constantly! The common rest rooms were impeccably clean even by the pool. Loved that! Bernie was our steward and had a permanent smile on his face, he was so very helpful all the time, even delivered aspirin to my husband at 2:00 am. Our dining room servers were very efficient.
The comedians were top notch and we loved having a separate lounge for taking in their shows. We laughed until we cried on both. Drink service was fast. There was the karaoki bar, casino (I hate smoke so I didn't spend any time there) and always a variety of activities. They are committed to keeping you as entertained as possible.
We found the fellow travelers to be very friendly and overall courteous. Of course there is always the exception to the rule with people butting in, etc. but did not find it to be a problem. There were a lot of kids and teens but didn't find them to be out of control with the exception of the last night when there were a lot of people who were out for the last hurrah. I have two sons, so I can't relate, however, the only thing I found odd with the teens were the gathering of teen girls sitting and visiting in the stairwells, and on the floor by the elevators. I'm not sure if that was a reflection of the camp facilities (my boys didn't participate in them this time).
We took in the movie (Blind Side)on the second night, it was such a nice change of pace from the shows and we didn't have any issues finding a good seat. My son loved swimming while watching the movie and there were only a handful of people in the pool at that time.
Our excursions were -- Snorkeling and beach in Bahamas. Great snorkeling and the beach was truly the most beautiful water I've ever seen! Catamaran and snorkeling in St. Thomas -- great ride out and back but it was too short on the snorkeling and they kept begging for tips and telling us what to tip. Very tacky. St. Martin -- my favorite, the helmet dive was TERRIFIC and not scary in the least. Sea trek. Look them up. Those guys were fantastic! My only complaint for them was they were too short. Getting on and off the boats went very smoothly at all ports.
Now the bad.....
For our first cruise, we used a shuttle service from the airport and stayed at the Marriott's Comfort Inn. This time, we stayed at the Radisson which was much closer and they offered complimentary shuttle service to the port. Aughghgh! That was nuts. It was full of cruisers, packed and the service was like herding cattle. Not Carnival's issue but thought you should be warned. It was so much nicer to stay near the beach and it was worth hiring a shuttle to pick your time to get to the port.
The ship --- I'm a bit mixed on my feelings about the ship. I liked the variety of kid friendly options (the slides, movie screen, camps, etc) but it was a very closed in feeling. I missed the center Pavilion of the Mariner of the Seas. It was a little "Vegas" for my taste but still was a nice ship. When we boarded, we took some time to acquaint ourselves with the layout, otherwise, we would have been lost the entire week. It was kind of like a maze. There was always ALWAYS a line for the elevators. The dining room was nice but not as nice as RC. The early dining was a mixed bag. It was nice for my personal taste but they are trying to get you out to accommodate the late seating dining so there were times that you felt a bit rushed. And, although our servers were good, they were not nearly as interactive as our last cruise and didn't really show a lot of love, haha. Efficient would be the best word to describe them. And the captains dinner....no captain! That was nuts. Why did they call it a Captain's Dinner? The pool situation was interesting. Rather than have a central pool area, there were two. We never had a problem finding chairs but it felt a bit choppy. Since we had our kids with us, we didn't frequent the Serenity Pool but I thought the placement right under the water slides was a bad choice for an adults only area.
The entertainment. Wow. I don't expect Broadway shows on a cruise ship, however, the first night was just terrible. The lead male singer was very good but the lead female was awful and their production team had a time trying to tame her microphone as she overpowered everyone. The show was a tribute to the south. Think Branson Missouri meets Las Vegas. Terribly tacky and a bit racy in spots...bump and grind. (and I'm no prude) To top it all off, they tacked on this tribute the the US. Felt very gratuitous and odd considering the international audience on the ship. The fiddle player was amazing and they should have simply featured him. I didn't return to another one of their shows, however, my son went to the juggler and said it was much better and my other son and husband went to the magician and felt it was just so so. Royal C wins on the entertainment. The theater was a good size but rather tacky in decor.
Another thing to note. When you order cocktails or other food, the 15% tip is automatically tacked on. No one bothers to mention it when I added another tip to a couple of items the first day. I quickly caught on, however.
The Ugly ---
The infamous smell in the back of the ship. It came and went and although it wasn't overpowering, it was there. Yuck. They need to find a way to fix that.
Overall, it was a great trip and Carnival did a nice job. That being said, our next cruise will be on the new RC Oasis. We kept bumping into it at our ports and it was truly dazzling and our visits with the cruisers from that ship were glowing with praise.