I will write this review in sections, so you can skip to the section that interest you the most, and will leave a few miscellaneous comments at the bottom. Just so you have a grasp of my perspective, we traveled as a group of 3 and this was our 4th cruise. (All with CCL)
Embarkation: Absolutely the best I have ever had. I arrived at the port by 9:30am. I knew that I was not able to board the ship until 12:30, but I had waited too late to book my excursions online, so my group and I decided that we would arrive early so we could be the first group on board. We arrived at the port where we were greeted by porters who were friendly and efficient. Walked right through security with no hesitation/nor line. (There was no line at the terminal, because the previous guests were still leaving the ship). Upon entering the terminal, we were met my one of the check in representatives who checked us in right away. Check in process was less than 10 minutes. We were assigned to zone 3. (Zone 1 being VIP and Zone 2 being guests with disabilities, so we were essentially the first group of "average" guests to board the ship). And the best part was the CCL and the Port work so well together, that they let us board the ship at 11am. CCL told me to not arrive before 12:30pm. All in all, embarkation was top notch.
Guest Services/Shore Excursions: Like I stated before, we were in a rush to book our excursions. As experienced cruisers, we knew the importance of booking early, but we are also an indecisive group, and by the time we made a decision, CCL had discontinued online sales of shore excursions, so we had no choice of booking them once we got on board. Being the first group on was great. The line at guest services(purser's desk) was already long 20+ people, but it moved quickly. Being that we were on the ship by 11:10am, we were the first quests in line for the shore excursion desk (opened 11:30am). Very good and informative service. She worked very quickly to book us before the excursions we wanted sold out. I will talk more about our experience in the port of call section, but the service was very good.
Cabin: In an effort to save money, we booked our first ever interior cabin. Room 6391. For an interior cabin, this was great. All three of us shared the cabin and we had room for all our luggage (6 suitcases) and enough room in the closets and drawers. Granted, we had to share closet space, but everyone's clothes were on hangers and everyone had a space for their non-hanging clothes. The bathroom was like any other ship, counter with shelves for personal item, shower stall, and commode. Small but usable. The Cabin steward was nonexistent. He never introduced himself nor did we ever run into him during the week, but the room was well cared for. He did his job, but not the best as personal service. Beds were incredibly comfortable (as is on all carnival ships). On a personal note, I would never book an interior cabin again (I like having daylight to wake me up. It is real easy to sleep longer than you planed in a room with no window; unless you set an alarm, but who wants an alarm on vacation?) Also, I think it is important to note that there is some noise that comes from the Ocean Plaza bar on deck 5. You can hear the bass/drums but it was never anything that kept me awake. Often times the noise/vibration from the ships engines was worse than the noise from the bar downstairs.
Public areas, lines, etc: I have to say that I was concerned about over crowding on a ship this size. The Cruise Director, Todd, stated that there was almost 4500 guests on board. Yikes! Surprisingly, I never felt crowed. There are plenty of places to be, and every location seems to be well staffed. The only time that I really noticed the number of people was on the lido(pool) deck. But even then, I never had trouble finding a chair on the same level as the pool. (there are deck chairs on decks 5, 10,11, & 12. Both pools are on 10) I personally am not one who needs a chair within arms reach of the pool. I don't care to walk 25-30 steps to the pool, and finding a chair with 20 or so steps of the pool (some even under shade umbrellas) was never a problem.
Also, I had read a lot of complaints about food lines. I ate at almost ever food venue at least once, and never did I wait more than 7-8 minutes in the line. I wait longer than that at buffets here at home. If you can't wait 8 minutes in a crowd of 4500 you probably need to stick to yacht cruising, rather than ship cruising, because 7-8 minutes is really not that long.
Also I do think that the theater was not big enough for the size of the ship. Granted, it was bigger, but not big enough. However, I went to the show every night but 2 and all five nights I was able to count no less than 30 open seats scattered about the theater. Like any theater, if you want a "great" seat, you have to arrive/book your tickets early. That is a concept that applies on land just as it does at sea. Better seats for those who arrive/reserve early. Nonetheless, I was always able to find a seat, and never once did I sit behind one of the ever obtrusive poles that are around the theater. Could the theater stand to be bigger, yes! But is it so small that those who want to see the show can't, no. You may not get the "best" seat, but you can always find a seat.
Food: Some better than others. I personally did not care for the breakfast on the buffet. Breakfast was ALWAYS better in the dining room. But hey, to each his own. It was not bad, but I opted for the "better" option. Breakfast buffet is just not my personal cup of tea. But lunch on the other had was great. There was always plenty of options and within 10 minutes, I could always find something that I liked.
Food in the dining room was on a scale from 1-5 was closer to a 4.5. But like any restaurant, there will be items on the menu that some like and others don't. There was a few times that I personally didn't care for what I ordered. It doesn't mean that it was bad, it just means that it did not suit my personal taste. But I was able to find something that I liked every night. Some nights it was incredible, and others it was just okay, but I chalk that up to a matter of personal taste and preference rather than a shortfall in dining room cuisine.
Entertainment: The entertainment was pretty good. But again, I will review this with the disclaimer that this is a matter of personal preference. The shows in the main theater (Encore! Lounge) were all good. The only two I did not see was the comedy magic show, and the Carnival Legends show(Karaoke show). I don't remember all the names but "Dancing in the Street" is INCREDIBLE!!! Musically, vocally, sets, effects, props, the show band, the whole nine yards. In fact, I am one who attends live theater on a regular basis on land, and this show would rival many professional shows that I have seen on land. Absolutely fabulous. Also "Eight More Seconds" and "Get Ready" are also very good. The Break Dance Shows are also a must see. They are done in the dream atrium so get a spot on deck 4 or 5 and look down, and you can get some great picture/videos.The piano bar, and the Dream Atrium both feature piano/easy listening music every evening. It was par for the course. Nothing great, nothing bad. However, the Blackjack band who plays in Ocean Plaza is very talented and plays a pretty good variety. I really enjoyed them.
The only entertainment I did not like was the guy who played next to the Casino. He was not talented whatsoever. Not sure where Carnival got him from, but they need to give him back!!!!!
The casino was good sized I never had to wait more than 5 or so minutes to get a spot at any table. Slots were plentiful, but I never used them I prefer table games. But the casino host was not that energetic. I had fun in the casino, but it was one of those activities that you had to bring the atmosphere with you. But I enjoy playing cards, so I was okay with it, but I did notice a difference from other ships who's casino was much more lively.
In addition to the Encore! shows, the Comedy Club was also very good. I never went to the family (PG rated) shows, but I did attend some of the R rated shows. I didn't see all the comedians, but the ones I say were great.
Also there was always something going on around the ship. Just check the FunTimes (f/k/a Capers); and if it happened to be an activity that I did not care for, the I would take that time to utilize the pool. But I never felt board.
I also feel the need to address some of the comments that I have read about Todd Wittmer as CD. Before going, I had read that he was almost unsociable and never seen. This to me was not at all the case. In fact, he was probably one of the best CD's I've ever sailed with. You have to understand that this ship is huge and with over 350 events during the week, it is physically impossible for him to be at every event. That said, I personally saw him at every show, every deck party/laser shows, he hosted two or three of the game show type games during the week, and he was the host of the past guest party. Additionally, I saw many people speaking to him at each of these events, and personally spoke to him during the Behind the Fun tour. And others in my group tell me that he was at the piano bar singing with the pianist one night too. I thought he was funny, energetic, informative and very approachable. He is a very qualified CD and obviously has earned his spot as CD on the flagship of CCL.
As a side note... If you are one that is interested in the inner workings of the ship, the Behind the Fun tour is great. It is sold as an on board excursion and is $95 but for those like me who find that sort of thing interesting, it is worth it. Meeting the chef, engineers, touring the galley, engine control room and the bridge and meeting the captain personally is just some of the activities on the 4 hour tour. But if your interested, then book early. It is EXTREMELY exclusive. It is only open to 16 people and is NOT available online. It is sold only on board and is first come first served.
Debarkation: This was okay, but I think the hold up was shore side with US customs, not with the on board procedure. We were told that we would be docked by 6am and self assist guest would be called to debark by 6:30. Sure enough, at 6:15, Todd called for self assist guest to debark the ship. And this efficiency continued until he got to the 8th or so group of "zone" debarkation guests. (zone debarkation being those guests who leave luggage in the hall and get their bags at baggage claim after leaving the ship)The debarkation process was running great until then. And for no explained reason it drug on for the next 8-9 groups, then it started to pick up again as it got closer to my zone. (zone 18). But it seemed that the malfunction was shore side, not shipboard, because I waited in the lobby and the line off the ship was moving quite well, but we were spending large amounts of time between zones. But nonetheless, I was told I would be off between 8:00 and 8:30 and I got off at 9:15, so it was a little slow, but not bad.
On the whole, the food was always on par or better, I always had something to do, and was always entertained. Carnival really did create a wonderful ship and I am excited to know that the are expanding the Dream class with the addition of the Carnival Magic and the Carnival Breeze. I enjoyed the trip and for the first time ever, I can honestly say that I would love to sail on the Dream again. More times than not, I leave a ship saying that " that was nice, but lets try something different." That was not the case this time. I would go back tomorrow if I could. Below you can read about the ports of call. Hope this helped. If you have any specific questions, feel free to email me at email@example.com