We sailed on the Carnival Dream on October 2, 2010 out of Port Canaveral, FL. Altogether, the experience was good, but we were disappointed in a few situations that we feel the staff could have either avoided or have rectified.
This was our 7th cruise, the 3rd with Carnival, with the others being with Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. As with most of our other cruises, we brought along our two young daughters, one 7 years-old and the other 13. As with all our other cruises and vacations, we chose this one based on several factors...price, itinerary, amenities, and activities for both us and our children.
When we arrived at the port (being shuttled from our hotel), we found it to be very simple to maneuver around and find our way to where we needed to be to register. (TIP: Register online as much as you can! It saves lots of time!) The people at the registration counter were perhaps the friendliest people we experienced during our entire trip! They were extremely efficient, but mostly, GENUINELY willing to help us begin a smooth and relaxing vacation. Granted, we began to feel like "herded cattle" at the port, but it wasn't unexpected and wasn't as bad as we have experienced in the past. From the point of driving into the port at around 11:00, we were on the ship within 45 minutes, as the lines seemed to go rather quickly.
Rooms weren't ready until 1:30, so, like all 2500+ guests, we were directed to the Lido deck trying to find a table so that we could sit with our bags and hopefully find something to eat. Alongside the other "new" guests, we found it very difficult to maneuver around the unfamiliar space, determine where the back of the line was, and hope that we were in the line that had the food that we wanted. Lucky for 2 of us, we were in the right line, yet for the other 2, they waited over 30 minutes to learn that they weren't! By the time we got our food (carrying our bags with us the entire time and spilling most of it along the way) we were faced with the task of finding a table. After about 20 minutes making circles around this ENORMOUS Lido deck, we found a small table for two and let the kids sit on our laps while we ate. Many guests already on the ship had been onboard since 9am, sitting at tables playing cards, chatting, etc, and taking up much needed space for those who needed a table to eat. As one can imagine, this wasn't the "ideal" first impression of the ship.
Eventually, we were able to gain access to our cabin right on time, and found it to be the BEST cabin we have ever had on a ship! It was a COVE BALCONY room...less expensive than a regular balcony cabin, with MUCH more privacy and a SPECTACULAR view being close to the waterline! During the trip, we enjoyed sitting on the balcony watching jellyfish, dolphin, and many other sea creatures, and at times, even getting sea spray on us when the ship plowed through giant waves! As others have mentioned, these rooms are probably not recommended for those who easily get motion sickness or need ultimate quiet. Many nights, we even propped the door open to enjoy the sound of the crashing waves and the cool breezes to help us sleep, however whenever the neighbors' balcony doors began slamming early in the mornings, the resulting noise is only amplified by the metal enclosures, jarring us out of our sleep and ruining the idea of sleeping in late.
Not only was the ship immaculately clean, the cabin was as well. The room layout was perfect, and the bathroom was the nicest we have had on any ship. Our favorite part of our cabin, (other than the balcony) was the bed! I must say, these beds were PERFECT! The combination of the pillows, linens, and mattresses were superb, and led us to researching ways of purchasing them for our home!
The ship was laid out well, and we found it very easy to find our way around after a couple of days. The voyage was smooth, quiet, with only a couple of times being reminded that we were on a ship as it rocked and dipped...nothing major, just gentle rolls in the evening, usually around dinnertime. The decor was typical of Carnival...mirrors, bright colors, and instead of all the neon on prior ships, this ship had lots of LED lighting, many changing colors. For example, the glass elevator you boarded on the 2nd floor was lit in blue, but by the time you reached the 11th deck, it had changed to yellow, orange, and red. One of our favorite features of the ship were the "1930's/40's style" graphics in the hallways outside the cabins, and the artwork in the stairwells! (TIP: Check out the dancing polar bears and the flying cat!) Signage, lighting, carpeting, furniture...everything...was well done and beautiful. The most beautiful spaces, in our opinion, were the Serenity deck areas and the Spa elevator tower. SPECTACULAR! The Promenade deck was wonderful, and at night, make sure you walk up front (in the dark) and enjoy the wind and the stars (and the peace). The waterslides were nice, but make sure that you wear a snug-fitting suit or else you may give an unwanted show to those other guests walking around at the bottom of the slides! We never had to wait in lines for these, and the water was warm and chlorinated! (TIP: Wear a shirt or a suit that covers your back. The seams on the slides don't meet smoothly, and it is painful on your back as you slide over them.)
Food...well...when one is cooking for over 3000 people, one can't expect it to be fantastic. It wasn't. Mediocre food...but still good. By far, the best meal was the night where Filet Mignon was served. It was a tiny piece of meat, but was tasty! (Good thing that our server noticed how much I enjoyed it, and brought me another!) Room service was quick and efficient, however had a very limited menu. On other trips, we were able to order what was being served in the dining room upstairs to our room through Room Service, but we were not able to do this on this ship. I was disappointed in this, and inquired about it, only to be told by the lady on the other end of the line that "we don't use that kitchen". Hmmm. Couldn't someone walk over to that kitchen? Dining room service was excellent, and as usual, we were able to develop a relationship with our server...the only "constant" person we met on staff who knew us by name and remembered our likes and dislikes. Our children were pampered by these staff so well that they now expect us to cut their food for them and spoon it in their mouths!
Cruising, in our minds and in many others, is something where we can feel pampered, and special for just a few days, while floating around the oceans of the world. Many times on this ship, we were faced with "I'm sorry. We don't do that", or "We do it THIS way on our ship". It isn't as if we were asking for any special treatment, but when asked if my rare prime rib sandwich could be cooked a bit longer, or the toast on my Room Service BLT could be buttered, or the sauce be left off on the entree being served in the Dining Room, I was given the same response..."Sorry sir. They are already made up that way. We can't help you." This was surprising to hear, and gave us the feeling as though we were just another customer.
Always being fascinated with the idea of working on a ship, I looked forward to being able to speak with several crew members to get their take on what it is like living and working at sea. After speaking informally with several crew members during the 7 days, I was given lots of valuable information, with many referring me to speak with their supervisors and management. Leaving several messages with Guest Services including my name and cabin number, I was disappointed that no supervisor or manager followed up with me during the entire trip, only being told that I could pay extra for a "behind the scenes tour". I understand that these people have important jobs to do during the day, but when they are seen lounging in the bars in the afternoons, I can't help but think again that we were "just another customer". Granted, this is a big ship with lots of passengers and crew, but we got the feeling that the staff and crew have certain policies and procedures that they must follow to keep everything efficient. After making a couple of requests, we learned early on that special requests aren't as welcome as on other cruises and vacations we have experienced.
The Cruise Director and the entertainment staff were very energetic, and although it was very obvious that they do and say the same thing over and over each week, they still were convincing that they enjoyed their jobs. The shows were good, but we were disappointed in the large amount of recorded music and the lack of live musicians and vocalists. Those "live" musicians that they had were mostly accompanying recorded or electronically programed music. It was good, but not what I would consider "live" music.
Kids programs were good. My 7-year-old had a good time in Camp Carnival, which was set up and operated beautifully! Security was their prime concern, with the kids joy following close behind. The Circle C program for my 13-year-old was also good, but their space was disappointing compared to the space allotted for the older teens. Nonetheless, both programs were excellent and are one of Carnival's strong assets.
Debarkation was like embarkation, very smooth. We were surprised, however, to already be back in port by 5am with many guests already off the ship by 6am. Once a ship "wakes up" in the morning, there is no sleeping in, and even though we were able to be in our rooms until 8:30, don't expect to be able to sleep past 5am as the announcements seemed to begin shortly afterwards.
Finally, I would caution families with younger children to be prepared to see lots of intoxicated and obnoxious people throwing all inhibitions to the wind. Perhaps it was because there were more "adults" on this trip as most children are back in school, but I was unprepared to have my children exposed to drunk men physically and verbally abusing their wives/girlfriends, the intoxicated ladies having catfights in the elevator lobby, or the group of young men who had apparently been drinking all morning to sit beside us at the afternoon reception barely able to hold themselves up in their chairs while cursing like sailors, and demanding that they be served additional alcohol by any bartender that walked by. Additional security and/or training for those who serve the alcohol would have been welcome. Definitely a "Fun Ship Cruise" for those who enjoy getting "wasted", but not for those wanting a relaxing, "family-friendly" vacation in my opinion.