We sailed the huge Carnival Dream on its 7/31/10 sailing. I am in my late 30's and I went with my 2 older sisters, my parents, and my 2 children ages 10 and 3.
We normally fly in the day of the cruise but this time decided to fly in the night before and spend the night at one of the hotels on the pier so we would not be so worn out the day of the cruise. We flew in American Airlines to Orlando International Airport and was transported from the airport to our hotel by Travelynx. The pier is about an hour from the airport and Travelynx was wonderful. We enjoyed our ride. The driver was friendly, engaging, and on time. He assisted us with our luggage and even helped us on and off of the van. No problems there!!
We arrived at our hotel, which was wonderful. We chose the Residence Inn at Port Canaveral. The hotel was nice and clean ( and I am a stickler for clean rooms). The rooms are very nice sized. We were tired once we got there so we didn't want to leave to get any food. There are two local restaurants that will deliver to the hotel. A chinese place and a pizza joint. We chose both. You have to get the wings from the pizza place(they're like baked, delicious) and even the fried wing from the chinese joint were delicious. The next morning we did the free breakfast at the hotel. Pretty standard food for a hotel but very good, (Oatmeal, pancakes, waffle maker, potatoes, cereals, muffins, etc) You can definitely find something to snack on before the cruise.
We boarded a bus to get to our cruise ship (you have to ask where that bus is going before you get on because there are more than 1 cruise ship that leaves from port canaveral). I think the fee was $3.00 or so. It's only a 5 min drive and you are to the port. Once off, you start the embarkation process. I have special needs where I can't walk or stand for long periods of time so I was able to snag a wheelchair provided by Carnival that was located in a wheelchair area before you even begin to stand in line. They do have large and standard size chairs. My father started pushing me but a Carnival employee took over and helped us from there. We were able to go through the handicapped lines (my entire party) and he got our sign and sail cards and we were on the ship within 30 to 45 minutes of being off the bus. (We did tip him).
Rooms are not ready until 1:30 so we went up to the Lido deck to find a seat and eat. YES IT IS CROWDED!!! The reviews are not lying when they say that but if you are patient you will eventually be able to find a seat and eat. The lines that move the slowest is DEFINITELY NO QUESTION ABOUT IT the Mongolian Food. We got that one time because my sister was in line for about hour to get it. The line may be shorter when people are off the ship in the different locations the ships stop at but I am not sure. Quickest thing to get is Pizza 24 hours open and burgers, hot dogs fries,etc at the grill. Pasta Bar is rather short and tasty. Never did try Tandori station. My mom and sister tried the sandwich station and said it was not good. Breakfast is the same way, CROWDED. Just be patient.
Yes the pools are small and it really makes no sense for the ship to be that large and the pools so small. The absolute best time to get in them is when everybody is in port in the bahamas or the other 2 stops. NO PROBLEM getting a chair or room in the pool. Even the WaterWorks is basically empty.
The decor on this ship is very classy, although I was not wowed particularly by the atrium. I've been on 5 ships so far and they were all wow but this one, not so much. It's pretty now, I just was not amazed. Also, they layout of the ship is pretty weird to me in the respect that everything is all on one side. We were in cabin 6258 and we were located midship. We seemed to be right next to the Gathering (food place on Lido) our dining room, Crimson, Camp Carnival (next set of elevators down) Ocean Plaza and Burgundy (next set of elevators)so we had a pretty cool room. Cabin stewarts are great as usual. She even took requests for towel animals from the kids.
Crimson dining room is simply gorgeous! We had early sitting, Robert our waiter was great and sings really well. We had a problem the first night that we'd never experience on any other cruise (I have been on 5 other carnival cruises)and that was the service in the dining room. The first night, our orders were mixed up and the service was slow. We hardly ever saw our waiter. When the assistant maitre'd came to the table and asked how was everything, we definitely told him. After that,every night we were treated like kings and queens. Fabulous service. They sing and do shows every night on the ship in the dining room which was fun.
The shows in the Encore were just ok. Everyone is right about Dancing in the Streets. If I were you that would be the only one I would go to. It is simply amazing. I would pay to see that show!!! The others were simply mediocre and everyone is also correct about Heather (the female lead). She has a nasaly almost irratating voice at times but was just okay. The male lead was just great!! Other than the Dancing in the Streets show the dancers and the leads just seemed to run out of steam. they never seemed to give their all or even care anymore before or after that one show. The dancers were HORRIBLE in the Welcome Aboard show and the Legends show (especially the ones backing up madonna, whew so bad)
My 10 year old LOVED laser tag but it is an extra fee. They do it about 5 times during the week so you have to watch the Carnival Capers. Camp Carnival my kids only went to once because my 10 year old told me my 3 year was being treated rudely and was being yelled at and believe me I addressed that with the lady in charge. They didn't go back.
And the legendary smell, I did smell it a couple of times but only on the 5th floor right in front of the Burgundy Lounge. It was strange but it was only for a moment.
We only did one shore excursion which was in the Bahamas 9the underwater submarine which was fun for my kids but kinda boring for me. I'd done the same thing in Cabo in 08'
All in all the ship is fun and it was a very enjoyable vacation. I would probably not choose this ship again only because of the overcrowding.