The Dream 9/11/10
Our traveling party of six finally decided to venture out of home port of Galveston for the uncharted waters of Port Canaveral. We are all adults 45-56, wife and her two siblings and spouses. All of us are seasoned cruisers, this being my wife's and my 7th.
We also decided to arrive in Orlando and spend a day at Universal, mainly to get to experience the Harry Potter area and ride! Lots of fun for that day. We stayed at the Hard Rock hotel on-site there at Universal. Nice enough hotel, but they need to figure out if they want to be a Hard Rock or a Kids Rock hotel. Closing down the great music at a very lively pool bar scene in leiu of a projected Shrek movie was ridiculus. But, I digress. So, with all that, let me say I've never had a bad cruise. And Dream will be no exception. I will point out things that are negative but will balance with positive.
Embarkation was a breeze in Port Canaveral. Here's something new that I'd not seen before. They take the group welcome aboard photos with a green screen background. They digitally insert the scene behind you later. They also took an individual mug shot for facial recognition purposes and ties that to a scan of your cruise card. Very smart in theory but ineffective in practice. When you're ready to see your photos, just scan your sail card and it'll pull up all your photos or tell you were to look for the prints. So thru the week, the photographers are scanning your card while taking the portraits. This is very new and buggy as hell. Scanning your card at photo stations worked well. Facial recognition failed miserably. They relied on FR when exiting the boat in ports, dining room photos. Places where if they scanned your card, it would have slowed things down too much. Random people kept coming up on my screen. Another downer... Our six took several group shots. Only the person that had their card scanned gets to see and purchase. They had no ability to add other card scans to the photos. Once they get the bugs worked out, it'll save us and Carnival time. Until then, expect lots of bugs.
Day 0 We got to our rooms by 1pm or so, bags arrived by 2. The room had a rank odor. Smelled like the last group in here had left a bunch of wet salt water clothing laying around. Our room steward promised to spray us down that afternoon. It didn't help too much. Room was warm while hallway was very cool. Room smelled all week but we eventually got used to it.
In my previous six cruises, I've always brought a bottle of my favorite tequila. This time they confiscated it and left me a note. No biggie as I got it back the last night. They did leave my sugar-free margarita mix in there thankfully. I won't go into details on all the creative ways people would tell me they smuggled aboard but suffice to say, people are very serious about bringing their own hootch on board!
I did learn a new trick. I called room service and ordered a bottle of 1800 tequila and it was delivered to my room immediately. Mostly, I've experienced where if you buy booze from one of the on-board shops, they don't bring it to you until the last night. Since these shops are independently owned and operated, Carnival makes them wait. But a quick call to room service and I had my tequila. It set me back $55.00. That's a lot more than my local liquor store but I had my sugar free margaritas. For comparison, the ship's room service sells Patron silver for $70 and a Margaritaville brand for $40. So, I'm happy to have booze in my room and Carnival gets their cut. Hit the main dining area about 7pm for our anytime dining. I love this option. But tonight, the food wasn't very good and the service was terrible. Came back to our balcony cabin and it still hadn't cooled off, so we called maintenance. Ugh..
So, we wake up on our first full day and we are coming into Nassau, Bahamas. Nassau turned out to be sort of a waste for us as we just wandered about and bought some trinkets. I think Carnival would be better off skipping Nassau and giving us an overnight stay in St. Thomas or Maarten. So, off we sailed at 2pm (actually we sailed 30min late). Two Dream guests didn't get back in time and were left. Ouch, that's gotta hurt. I always wonder what happened that folks miss the departure. I'm pretty anal about making sure we are back with plenty of time to spare. First formal night this night and we skipped it. Didn't want to blow another 2.5 hours for marginal food. Came back into the room that afternoon and the AC wasn't cooling again. Now we had left our curtains closed all day figuring it would help. But, paying for a balcony and subsequent view gets defeated quickly if you have to close your curtains to keep things cool. Maintenance was called again and they said they fixed it. Not really.
The real stars on this ship are the places that prepare food fresh as you stand there. Examples would be the Pasta Bar, the Burrito Bar, Wasabi bar (full salad bar during the lunch), etc. The Gathering Buffet was hit or miss this week. For lunch, very good food overall. For dinner, the buffet seemed to encourage one to go the main dining! The coffee shop was outstanding from the product to the delivery to the deliverer. Don't miss the carrot cake! Search out the various lunch spots. You'll thank me. Outside on deck 5 near Wasabi, the put on a BBQ buffet that everyone raved about. By the back pool was an Indian Food spot and also a Deli Sandwich shop. I'm not much on the Indian food, but the Deli was outstanding. As always, Deli/Pizza/Burgers were available for many hours during the day. Downer for us was they seemed to add many more anchovies to their Caesar dressing on the ship than we prefer.
Our first full day at see was Monday. Breakfast (food) in the main dining room was so so. Service again was just not very good. We went up to the Serenity area up in the bow area, high up above the spa area. This would have been excellent, but the wind was just too much. So we headed aft and hit the pool above the stern area. This back pool area is laid out well. Lots of chairs, not too difficult to get a spot with a wee bit of patience. The ship is laid out a lot like the Conquest I've been on twice. But the pool area in back of the Dream and the adult Serenity area up front are clear upgrades. So, Monday evening was our Steakhouse reservation night (we went formal), we came back to the room after lunch to let my wife get a nap and time for me to hit the gym. Yep, you guessed it...AC not cooling again. This time I got the pursers desk on the phone and complained politely but sternly. I asked to speak to the Hotel Manager. Those two words got the attention of the person on the other end of the phone. She asked cautiously why I wanted to speak to him. I told her that three days in a row with warm room was a first in my seven cruises. Within 15 min, I had maintenance as well as a junior officer in my room. They ended up opening up my vent to the point where it cooled fantastically. Remember those words 'hotel manager'!
Steakhouse food was phenomenal. Up to that point, my best meal on the ship was the Burrito Bar. The steakhouse is mandatory for one night in my opinion. Everything was delicious, service impeccable. Yes it is a $30pp upcharge, but worth it to me. I know tip is included, but we tipped a bit more.
Tuesday was to be St Thomas, Wednesday St Maarten, but the captain announced that due to Hurricane Igor, we were reversing the days. Well that sounded fine, but our St Maarten excursion booked thru Carnival was cancelled. Luckily, an email to the sailboat we booked on St Thomas was answered that they could still accommodate on the next day. So, if you cruise the Caribbean in September, you just have to be flexible. Stuff always happens on cruises...4000 people on a a large boat. Stuff happens. Expect it, keep a positive attitude.
We booked a snorkel trip, but they cut the rate and offered a booze cruise. The swells from Igor were making scuba and snorkeling near impossible It was a nice boat ride. We did swim a bit, but the boat and crew were forgettable. And I did. I did go back and look at a photo and the boat was named Swept Away. The guy that sold us on taking it promised they'd take us down to the airport so we could get a photo or two, but the crew refused. So, I'd skip "Swept Away" if I were you. Headed back to the ship and gave the anytime dining a try again. We timed it about 6:15. Nathaniel was a perfect waiter. Friendly,funny and kept the courses moving on time. But, as desert got to us, they sort of forgot about us again.
We were mid-ship, deck 8, room 8315. I love balcony rooms, but be advised. If you get one on Deck 6,7,8 or 9, you do not have the privacy you have on other ships. Deck 5 juts out so much that folks sitting in the hot tub below our room could see pretty well onto our balcony. Just something to think about if you like privacy. Once again the cigarette smokers on the balconies were intense and it was something I had to deal with. I sure wish they'd make one side of the ships balconies non-smoking. I think the Cove balconies will give you more privacy if that's your thing.
In St Thomas, we booked the Treazzure sailboat for snorkeling to St Johns. Captain Joe, Danielle and Jack the pirate cat were great hosts! The Treazzure is a 63' sailboat, beautifully maintained. Danielle arranged for Mitch the cabbie to pick us up from the ships. $20 per person cab ride, round trip. The Six hour trip on the Treazzure was roughly $130 pp when we arrived at the marina, Joe meet us in a dingy and zipped us out to where the Treazzure was moored. Danielle and Jack met us with mimosas, breads, pastries, etc. They do a great job, rate was reasonable, bring your tip money as they will earn it. We saw turtles, rays, deer on a beach in St. Johns, all sorts of fish. Two snorkeling stops with a nice lunch in between. When we got to the boat, Danielle had prepared pastries, fruit and mimosas for us. The Treazzure featured an open bar all day. Music of our choice. Great stories on the local scene. Joe has so many years experience here. We motored out to St. Johns and that gave us more time to snorkel compared to the other boats that just sailed. We were there an hour before any of the rest! On the way back, Captain Joe hoisted the sails and we got the real sailing experience. And, of course, fresh baked chocolate chip cookies on the way back. It was a great day. Mitch was waiting for us when we got back. Off we went back to the Dream. Perfect day.
Day Five & Six
Two FULL Days at Sea to wind down the trip. I really liked that. On all our other cruises, we only had one final day at sea after our last port day. Having two really allows me to decompress and just flat out relax with nowhere to be, no time schedule to keep. I loved it!
Boo, we have to leave. ? Port Canaveral has their act together in comparison to my only other debarkation experiences in Galveston. In PC, you go thru customs prior to getting your bags. In Galveston, you have to go get your bags and then schlep the entire gang and bags thru Customs. In PC, the put your bags on a carousel like at an airport. Much smoother. In Galveston, they load out your bags in a warehouse and group the in areas. I liked the PC way much better. We were off the boat and back to the airport in what seemed no time at all. We had a 2:30 flight and probably could have booked a noon flight. But, as soon as I booked a noon flight, something would have happened.
Any time dining... not sure but I think we overall got much worse service using this option. I am guessing but I'm sure the automatic tips for the Your Time dining folks goes into a pool and are split out evenly to those waiters. Since those tips also go to many other wait staff that never gets tips, I have no issue with that. But, let's say I had pulled my tips. It really wouldn't have affected those dining room waiters that much. So, I think most of them just don't pay the same attention as they do when you have an assigned table. This is my 2nd cruise where I've used this dining option and can honestly say I have gotten lousy service overall.
The food overall on the Dream was first rate. But, the buffet at night was forgettable. Small station food spots were the true stars.
Very Cool Stuff --- Watching the Cowboys-Redskins game on the Jumbotron over the pool one of those first nights. Fans for both teams were rowdy and it was a very good game, although I'd have preferred the Cowboys had won it. But an amazing experience for a football fan. I can only imagine booking the Dream for the Superbowl. I might do it. It's the only way to watch the game.
I'm excited that Galveston will be getting the Dream's new sistership next year. I want to try the Cove Balcony rooms next.