This was our second trip with Carnival and second cruise overall. We are both in our early 30s with a 2.5 year old who went on his first cruise this year. He has traveled a lot - been on long plane rides (Maui) and a bunch of other places. As with our first cruise when the little guy was still a bun in the oven, we went with both sets of Grandparents. Enough about us and background.
We flew on our favorite airline from Buffalo - Southwest. We stayed at the la quinta inn west the night before. I was nervous about this hotel because of the reviews on tripadvisor. We booked it for $29 - yes $29 - after booking our flights on Southwest. It is a little dingy and could use some updating but I felt it was a safe, clean place to sleep for one night, especially for $29. Also, the staff was very nice and helpful. I mentioned the air force park in passing while on the shuttle from the airport and we went by it to show my son. Add to that getting us utensils and plates when the Chinese food came with too few of them without us asking and you have a great staff at the hotel.
Transfer from Orlando to the port
I had booked our transfer to the port with Laura's shuttle. Mike1 was great to talk to over the phone and they are very organized. We called to sure up our time Friday and then Mike called Saturday to see if we wanted to leave a little earlier - of course we did! A fast drive on a mini-bus and we were there in 45 minutes or so. Getting back to Orlando was just as easy - called Mike when we got into port, disembarked, got a porter to help with the luggage and we were at the airport by 10am. I would go with Laura's shuttle again for sure. Of note, the little guy was free .
Boarding was easy. We used the porters since we had the 2.5 year old and arrived at different times than the grandparents - who booked their transfer thru Carnival. For $1 per bag using the porters is a must. The lines at 11:30am were long for getting their early but they moved quickly. As with all travel, just have your documents ready. Also, if you have a carnival credit card, remember that you can get reimbursed for cruise related purchases later if you have the points - so we changed our sign and sail to the carnival card even though we never use it otherwise - we still have bonus points on the card. You may want to limit your carry on luggage to just what you need or must have on you between when you get on the boat and when you get your bags on the ship. You cannot get to your room prior to early afternoon and may not get your bags until as late as 8pm. We had ours when we could first get to the room but the grandparents did not. A good idea for the first lunch on the ship is to hit one of the alternative options for lunch because not everyone knows about them - hit the pasta bar, Lanai BBQ, Mongolian, or Tandoori that first day. You can also make it easier on yourselves and sit on the Lido deck or another outside area since most people just cram inside. Overall the boarding process was easy and fast. Remember that dinner the first night is wear what you bring since not all people have their bags.
We decided on an interior room this cruise - we loved our balcony last cruise on the Legend but figured that a balcony and a 2.5 year old typical boy would not go well together. We were in 8355 which was a great location. We were close enough to the elevators to make them easy to get to but not close enough to hear any elevator noise. Jay our main man for housekeeping was great. I really liked the design of the room. You walk in and the small but livable bathroom is on the left. Three 6 foot tall closets line the right wall. The room then opens up with a king bed in the center flanked by two small night stands each with a lamp. On the wall shared with the bathroom is the mirror with a small table and a vanity stool. The wall after the closets has the nice TV above a small table top with the safe and mini bar. Our room had a pull down bed that folds into the wall to make it parallel to the king bed overhanging the right side of the bed. We just kept it down the whole time along with the ladder. We did hit our heads a few times but learned quickly For our purposes, the room was perfect. My only wish is a bath but that will not happen at that price point. It is just easier with a 2.5 year old to use a bath. Any screaming heard from our room was him yelling about the shower, poor kid.
The pull down bed. For those with young kids - the pull down bed is definitely OK for older kids. There are rails preventing rolling off away from the wall. There is space between the head of the bed and the wall, which was my only source of anxiety. The foot of the bed also has no rails. The ladder is supposed to go on the left foot of the bed but goes at the end foot of the bed since the king bed is below the pull out. We felt comfortable having our 2.5 year old up there, even with me being a pediatrician.
I highly recommend eating breakfast in the Scarlet Room at least once. We ate there Friday and wished we had done so more than just once. Great service, of course, and great food. Not to mention the wonderful view. My favorite were the eggs benedict and banana pancakes. The other days we met the grandparents on the lido deck or deck 11 and then hit the buffet or omelet bar and ate with the great view from decks 10 or 11. The weather was wonderful so we did not sit inside! I highly recommend the omelet station and remember that you can grab ingredients from the buffet (bacon, sausage, Swiss cheese, etc.)
I had fun with all the lunch options. My favorite was the Mongolian - just a warning the Szechuan was HOT HOT. For the Mongolian you choose you ingredients - rice or egg noodle, various vegetables, and then 1 or more meat. The meats varied from shrimp, salmon, beef, chicken and port - always 3 kinds. The sauces are Szechuan (2 chili and HOT), Thai BBQ (1 chili), and black bean. I liked all three. Do not neglect the different lunch options as they are a great way to avoid a rush if the rains come AND they have great food. For those curious, the pasta bar is upstairs from the buffet. You go up and get a number and a sheet. You then check off your ingredients and hand your sheet to the cook. You wait upstairs and they bring you your bowl when it is done. You can then take it anywhere. So the lunch options I enjoyed were Mongolian, pasta bar, tandoori, Lanai BBQ, Deli, grill, and buffet. I enjoyed all of the food but for me the Mongolian was the best. My son LOVED the turkey paninis. My one suggestion for lunch is a small kids type food area similar to the dinner kids menu.
Dinner, as on the Legend, was wonderful. Great choices for all courses, delicious food, top notch service, and quick seating made our time dining wonderful. Thank you to Budi, Damir, and Rennei for great service. Also, thank you to Danaya for giving our 2.5 year old loving attention - he was so shy it was adorable. Our son was able to order from the kids menu. The kids menu for dinner has hot dogs, cheese pizza, pepperoni pizza, PBJ, cheeseburger and a few other choices. We also utilized the appetizers as his main course. One of the nights they made mac and cheese when it was on none of the menus - another example of above and beyond service. The regular menu had a good assortment of food types to choose from with daily changes in appetizers, entrees and deserts with Carnival Classics always on the menu (fruit assortment flat iron steak, melting cake as two examples.) There also is a daily low calorie Spa 3 course option as well. I ate a lot of steak, lobster, and shrimp for my dinners and all were excellent. The deserts were always excellent and the always present sherbert is an excellent fall back.
We did go to many of the shows and all were good. The gentleman who did Sinatra at the Legends show was unbelievable. I know future cruisers will not have him since he was a fellow cruiser but wow! We also enjoyed the comics, though I wish we could have stayed up for the R versions The juggler comic was awesome (too tired to remember names.) We attended Carnival Legends, Game of Love, Battle of the Sexes, Juggler Comic, the PG 13 comic shows, and a few others. In total, they all were very entertaining and worth the time. We also attended the return cruiser reception which was nice.
Nassau We figured we did not have a ton of time in Nassau to go far or to Atlantis, considering how expensive it is. So we walked 5-10 minutes to the right of the pier to The British Colonial Hilton. A quick check in and we hit the beach. The bar does not open until 11am - I am unsure if this is only because it was a Sunday but we swam and hung out. At 11am we started on our $30 vouchers and enjoyed the time until we left around 12:30 to hit up the straw market. I had no interest but the women did. I think that if you need a snack or will drink $30 of mixed drinks per person, the vouchers come in handy. Drinks are up to $8 depending on what you order plus there is a 15% gratuity added. If you book with an online local excursion provider, you can decrease the $55 pp day pass to $50. Under 4 is free. So the cost is $50pp + you get a $30 voucher. The pool is nice but we did not use it. They have hammocks on the grass. They also have a sea kayak.
St. Thomas My wife and I were last in St. Thomas for a long weekend back in 2001. One thing that has always stood out in St. Thomas is the poverty. St. Thomas is an island of riches and poverty. Anyway, our original plan was to shop in the morning and get off the ship right at 10am. We hit the cobblestone ready to shop - well I was ready to hold bags It was nice to be back at Cardow where I purchased my wife's engagement ring. She ended up finding a rainbow topaz ring to match a set I got her in Maui last year. She also found something at Effy. We then went back to the ship and ate lunch. At around 2 we got off the ship and took a taxi. We were originally going to go to Megen's Bay but decided on Coki after some convincing from our driver. We had already been to the jewel of St. Thomas so Coki was new. It is a pretty beach that reminds me of when my wife was on St. Kitt's. Shacks with food and beverages on a beautiful beach with crystal clear water. Coral world and its associated buildings were closed, or at least it seemed so. We had a nice time and enjoyed talking to a few of the locals.
St. Marten The friendly island was, of course, friendly. The pier was not completed the last time we were on the island, I think 2002? We decided to take the water taxi to Front Street which was a great decision. It is $4 one way or $6 unlimited per person. Under 4 is free. I am unsure if they have life jackets as we brought our little guy one from home. We shopped until lunch time and then grabbed a quick snack at McDonalds as this seemed the easiest thing to do. We then hit the beach right at Front Street a few buildings west of where the jet skis come in. The water is not as clear as Coki but it was easy to get to and still wonderful to swim or wade in. There are a ton of chairs/umbrellas and I imagine at high tide it would be tough to get a towel in front of the chairs if they are all occupied. But we did it since not all were filled. A quick water taxi back and we were on boat again. I think that overall St. Marten is a cleaner place to visit than St. Thomas.
Shore Excursions As mentioned above, we made our own activities. The only true excursion we booked ahead of time was the British Colonial Hilton. Everything else was walking or taxi to a desired location. We enjoyed the Carnival Excursion we booked on the Legend in 2007 but will always book our own if possible.
The Ship The ship is gorgeous - she is beautiful! She is a very large vessel but once you get a hang of her lay out you will be getting where you need in no time. Our favorite area of the ship is Deck 11 above the Lido Deck. Great views of the seas or ports, a nice breeze, and a place to eat, drink and relax. Another of our favorite places on the ship is the Lido deck itself. Again great views of the seas or ports combined with a table to eat and drink made our lunches wonderful. Do not forget about the front deck on 5 (I think it is on 5 or 4). Great place to be when the ships enters and leaves ports!
The Staff The staff, all of the staff, were wonderful to our son. Whether it was origami with paper, folding napkins, playing with his soccer ball with him, getting apple juice from the grill for dinner, making macaroni and cheese just for him - the attention given him was touching and is the kind of thing that makes us return cruisers.
We did unfortunately experience the medical bay. It was unfortunate because our son got injured - the bay and staff were excellent. The little guy was playing on the king bed and tried to roll of quickly -> scalp laceration from the end table. It could have happened anywhere. A quick trip to the medical bay and he was fixed. If anyone is interested, it is $90 for a consultation and then of course the cost of procedures, medications, etc. Honestly that is cheap compared to ERs, etc. We will submit to our insurance/HSA later. The staff in the medical bay was fast, kind, and excellent.
We participated mostly in our own fun - miniature golf, ping pong, bean bag toss, swimming, relaxing, reading, and taking naps. My father did play volleyball and basketball which he enjoyed - I was with the little one. The women played bingo but it was pretty expensive. $10 for 1 card pr $20 for a triple card for 1 game, though they usually played a short bonus game.
Camp Carnival Our son tried out camp carnival once but we probably picked a bad time to give it a try. He loves his daycare but usually takes some time to warm up to new situations. He initially started playing but after we left he cried. He was overtired so that was likely part of the problem. We did all go to the cuddle bear time and made a frog for him with a carnival baseball outfit. They were out of the St. Jude's bears - $20 for the bear and this all goes to St. Jude's! We will donate more money later instead. This was a wonderful activity!
The sad day - disembarkation Disembarkation was easy. For those unfamiliar with the process, you put your luggage out the night before unless you do not have much to carry. Save one carry on for your clothes for disembarkation of course! We spent our morning on the Lido deck having breakfast and then waited a short time to until our number got called. Lines to customs of course We grabbed our luggage and a porter, went strait to zone C and were off to Orlando on Laura's shuttle quickly.
Overall, the Dream was a wonderful vacation. We enjoyed the ports, the food, the service, the room. After sharing the seas with Oasis of the Seas and seeing their unique ship design, trying out a new cruise line came across our minds. After talking about it, my wife and I both agree that Carnival delivered again this cruise - they provided us with a fun and safe vacation with easy access to wonderful ports and activities on board. Above all else, everyone in our 7 person group, even the 2.5 year old, loved the vacation. We will not be trying a new line again and once our second child is born and old enough to travel, we will be on a fun ship again.
For a select group of pictures, please go here http://s1176.photobucket.com/albums/x339/aeneasiii/