Carnival Dream Cruise Review by ickletarakins: A Dream of a Honeymoon Cruise!
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A Dream of a Honeymoon Cruise!
THE SHIP (4/5)
The Carnival Dream was right at a year old when we sailed on her, which meant that she would still be squeaky clean...or at least she should be. And she was. Although we'd read many reviews mentioning "the dreaded smell", I don't recall more than once even thinking that I smelled said stench. And even that time, it could have been something else--it was faint and short-lived, not the lingering odor that many swore they experienced.
As per the usual Carnival Standards, patterns and colors were a bit bright and garish in the common areas--but the hallways were more muted, with a sort of 1940's or '50s cartoonish mural on the walls. The design is classy and will stand the test of time. I also enjoyed the animal-print-esque curtains, carpeting and seating in the Encore Theater--it was very refreshing.
The Dream is definitely big--the largest ship I've been on so far, and during the first few days it was a bit overwhelming at times playing the "am More I going the right way? am I on the right floor? how many times will I have to double back to get to where I need to be?" game. But as on all ships, one just had to remember which portions of which decks were closed off and by the third day we had no issues. By the end of the week, as is usually the case, we knew the ship like the backs of our hands ;o)
The common areas did get quite crowded on our first day at sea, as is to be expected. By about 11 AM there was nary a lounge chair to be found--at least not in the sun. We didn't really venture near the pools as the music was just too loud for our tastes. We did however check out the water slides--neither one had more than a ten minute wait and both were fun, although the hubby did get a scrape on his elbow from the rough seams inside the main slide.
We spent some time in the Serenity adults-only area, but unfortunately the chair saving there is as rampant as it is everywhere else. The most comfy options--the couches, the hammocks and the big round chairs--were pretty much always filled or saved with towels and books and the like. At one point I actually took the initiative and asked a couple who was taking up an entire huge couch on their own if we could have two cushions at the end of it. They grudgingly obliged, thankfully. ::rolls eyes::
THE STATEROOM (4.5/5)
We got a great rate on an inside spa stateroom--the entire cruise cost us right about $1300 for two people, and our room was on deck 11, at the end of the hallway closest to the stairs and elevators. The room itself was honestly smaller than I'd expected--when I cruised with Carnival in 2005, I had an oceanview stateroom on the lowest passenger deck and the room was quite large compared to staterooms I experienced on Royal Caribbean (porthole oceanview on the lowest passenger deck) and Princess (balcony stateroom on deck 6--I think). We apparently got a bit spoiled with our decent-sized inside stateroom on the Disney Wonder this past May :-/
Thankfully, our stateroom location was impeccable and the spa package was worth every extra penny. It consisted of unlimited access to the steam rooms, glassed-in rooms with heated loungers, VIP relaxation rooms (with constant supply of hot teas, fresh fruit and iced water), VIP locker rooms (which appeared to have actual real hairdryers--or at least better ones than they have in the staterooms), and the Thalasso Pool (which was as hot as the jacuzzis and probably a lot better for your bathing suit/hair/skin). Also, we had special robes and slippers in the room, as well as Elemis brand bath products. I heard we were also supposed to have upgraded linens, and while the towels and sheets were good quality considering, I'm not sure they were actually better than what anyone else had...as I have nothing to compare them to.
I was pleased with the amount of storage. Although more drawers would have been nice, there was a lot of closet space (including shelves) and being able to slide the empty suitcases under the bed was great as well.
THE FOOD (3.5/5)
Obviously you get what you pay for, so I don't expect amazing gourmet meals from Carnival. However, hearing so many negative things about the food on the Dream did have me a bit concerned. Thankfully, my worries for all for naught, The food on this cruise was as good if not better than what I experienced on Princess, which is supposedly a higher-end line (at least when compared to Carnival). We avoided the buffet for the most part, although on our first afternoon we did try out the Mongolian Wok. The food was good, but honestly it was mostly spice and lacked real flavor.
We also had burgers and fries from the Lido Deck on the first sea day, and I was thankful to find that they were still the same delicious burgers and fries that I remembered from over five years ago :o)
The dinner food in the dining room ranged from the plain old "good" (the French Onion Soup and escargots) to absolutely delicious (the pumpkin soup appetizer, the Grand Marnier Souffle). Nothing was bad and many meals were stellar. Again, though, I'm comparing these meals not to eating at, say, Shula's Steak House, but rather maybe a slightly higher-end chain restaurant than, say, TGI Friday's.
We ate breakfast in the dining room three mornings as well. The eggs benedict were decent and the French toast was really good. If we'd had time I would have eaten here every morning and tried a few other things, but we got room service most mornings. Obviously this was mostly just fruit, yogurt, cereal, bagels and the like--the milk and yogurts were rarely cold and the fruit was half rotted on a couple mornings. Nighttime room service was a bit better--I had an absolutely delicious hot veggie sandwich before bed one night and worth the approximate hour it took to get it.
A note on the pasta bar: it's really a must, the food is delicious and worth the wait. But make sure you know how it works, which is as follows: you enter, they give you a number and an order card. You find a table (hopefully), fill out your order card and bring it up to the cook station. When your food is ready (we waited about 40 minutes) a waiter brings it to you.
THE EMPLOYEES (3/5)
The employees that we had contact with on a regular basis--our server and stateroom steward, mainly--were good. Our room steward always greeted us by name, our room was always made up in a timely manner, and his towel animals were exceptional! I did find it a bit weird that he never officially introduced himself, but that's more of an observation than a complaint :o) Our server, while not necessarily friendly, was very good at her job and no worse than any server I've had on a cruise.
Other employees that we encountered throughout the week were for the most part friendly, helpful, and the like, but to be honest we did meet with a couple bartenders who were polite but certainly not more so than they had to be, which was a bit annoying.
THE ENTERTAIMMENT/NIGHTLIFE (3.5/5)
We cruised over Halloween and to be completely honest, I've never seen nightlife on a cruise better than that one night on the Dream! Every bar and club was packed 'till the wee hours of the morning, and it was great. Other than that, the disco was actually something more of a hot spot than I've seen it be on other cruises, and the music was more current top 40 than I was expecting.
We did everything from salsa dancing in The Song, to karaoke in the Burgundy Lounge (which was actually kind of dead, a big change from it being the most popular nightlife option on my last Carnival cruise), to singing along at Sam's (the piano bar). I would say that our favorite spot was probably the piano bar--the player was extremely talented and had a huge repertoire of Beatles songs, which was perfect for us.
The entertainment options that we partook in were fairly varied. We played in the casino a bit, and whereas the dealers were no Vegas dealers I suppose they could have been worse. We watched some of the break dancing demonstration in the Atrium, went to the Dancing in the Streets show, and even watched part of a comedy show late one night. We enjoyed most of what we experienced, although the Dancing in the Streets show would have been improved by some sort of story- or time line and the comedian simply wasn't that funny (disappointing as I'd heard the ship comedians were great). Our favorite entertainment option, however, was probably watching movies on the Lido Deck, which we did three nights out of the week. The movies were forgettable but the experience was decidedly not :o) Less
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Cabin review: 4S11242
Small room. Great location. Decent closet/storage space. Loved the spa category!
Port and Shore Excursions
Our bus ride was not quite an hour and a half. Once we arrived we were given time to rent lockers ($5) and change before being outfitted with the usual cave tubing gear--life vest (pfft), helmet with light, and tube. After this we hiked through the woods for about 30 minutes. I think they told us it would take longer, and we weren't wearing watches but it didn't even feel like a full 30 minutes, let alone 35-45 or whatever they told us. And other than having to wade across the river and walk up a flight of steps at the beginning, it was an easy hike. Of course...I'm 27 and very fit, so I may not be the best judge. Still, the path was pretty flat, worn, and clear...I wasn't uncomfortable, even with just wearing water shoes, a bikini with a tank top over it, and of course the life vest and helmet. Yes, carrying the tube got annoying...but never extremely uncomfortable. Our group of 8 consisted of mostly people 20+ years our seniors and none of them seemed bothered by the hike, either.
And in the end...it was so very worth it. This excursion was topped only by the one we did in Roatan, IMO. Saul continued to regale us with stories of Mayan culture, the area, the river, the caves themselves. The float was pretty tame...but the couple of times we hit little patches of "rapids" were definitely fun :o) And the caves and scenery were all beautiful.
It was a five minute walk back up to the locker/bathroom area. We dropped off our gear, got free samples of cashew, pineapple, and blush wine, and then purchased some yummy local taco-type things for a few bucks each to stave off hunger. As we were boarding the bus, they also gave us granola bars to munch on.
However, we chose to do a Mayan Ruins excursion--Chacchoben to be exact--which I'll give a 3.5/5 or so.
Basically, Costa Maya day wasn't too early for us, but in hindsight we should have made it so. Basically, our tour (Chacchoben Mayan ruins) met at 9:30 AM and was supposed to be...I think four or four and a half hours long? We boarded the bus and it was a ride of about an hour and twenty minutes or so to the ruins, which by the way were great. These ruins were discovered more "recently" (in the 1970s to be exact) and haven't been re-built as much as some other ruins in Mexico. Our guide (I think his name was Venizio? I could be seriously wrong there, though) was very knowledgeable, though his accent was very heavy and you had to pay a lot of attention in order to understand him. He also kept us at the ruins a lot longer than I think we should have been there...a lot of standing in one spot and listening to him talk, so much so that we pretty much missed two of the three main/major pyramids at the site.
And of course, silly me had put off shopping for anyone until our last day. I figured, hey, we have a short day in Costa Maya, but our tour is only a few hours long. We'll have plenty of time!
That would be a resounding NO.
We overstayed our time at the ruins by close to an hour. When we arrived back at port it was 2:25 and we were technically supposed to be back on board by 2:30 (for I think a 3 PM departure). And darnit, we wanted tequila! We literally ran into the first Tequileria (sp?) we saw, grabbed two bottles that were quickly suggested to us by one of the employees, and hightailed it back to the ship. We boarded at about 2:45...oops.
We did the Xcaret excursion through Carnival, which I also rate a 3/5. Xcaret is beautiful. It's clean. And I was really excited to experience the cenotes. But I was just a bit disappointed at how man-made everything was--they had some natural cenotes, but they had taken away from those by combining them with a man-made underground river...so you never knew what was real and what was fake. That's just...not really our thing.
After the cenote swim, we did find a lovely sandy area with a lot of hammocks strung between palm trees, where we dried off. After relaxing for a while, we were starving and decided to get some lunch. And here is my other "issue" with Xcaret--unless you want a $30-ish per person buffet (and buffets also aren't our thing) or a burger, there really aren't that many food options there! We finally found a restaurant that offered some fajitas and a few other things, and prices were average (for an appetizer, a fajita meal, a burger and fries, two bottled waters and a big fun pineapple drink with rum plus tip it was maybe $45?), but the food was just okay. I've had better fajitas at local Mexican places here at home. Sad.
Once we were finished with lunch, we spent the rest of our afternoon wandering around the park, mostly to see the animals. It's not really a "zoo" per se, but it was neat to get VERY close to both wildlife (tons of lizards especially) and some of the friendlier animals (we were literally a foot or less away from tapirs, baby deer, and parrots). Also really neat was that in the gift shop they had incubators hatching quail eggs...although to be completely honest I'm not sure how humane this was!
Lastly, our Xcaret excursion was that it was just a bit too long. The cenotes took an hour at most and we had over four hours in the park. Even with laying in the hammocks for a while, eating a sit down lunch and wandering around the park, we ended up with a good 45 minutes to kill and not much to do other than wander around the gift shop or go back out into the park to see things we'd, well, already seen. Personally I think this excursion could have been an hour shorter, which would have gotten us back to the Cozumel port in time for a bit of shopping rather than getting off the ferry and rushing right back onto the ship as the whistle was blowing.
Our excursion today was "Clear Kayak, Snorkeling & Gumbalimba Park", again through Carnival, and I guess I'll rate this excursion a "mere" 4/5. My reasoning for this (because we really did love the excursion and the park) is as follows:
We met for this excursion in the Mahogany Bay shopping area just before 10 AM, and here comes the one complaint of the day--we must have sat there for 20 minutes or more before we were led to a bus. There was no communication as to what was going on or why we were waiting, and yes, I was impatient to get the day started!
After a 20-25 minute ride, we arrived at Gumbalimba. The park was spotlessly clean, but admittedly the beach/sunning area was small. (Not that it ever even got crowded while we were there) They had lockers available for free, but you had to pay $3 for the lock and key (man, they know how to get you!) After about 10-15 minutes of "free time" to use the restroom, change, get your locker situated, etc. we went kayaking. We did this (with guides) for about 30-45 minutes. The clear kayaks were actually a bit wider than regular kayaks, and to be honest I'm not sure if it was the fact that it was cloudy when we arrived or if the kayaks were scratched or if it was the material they were made out of, but there was really no seeing through the bottoms of them...which to me was the point of "clear kayaking", so I'm not sure if I would do this portion of the activities again.
When kayaking was over, we returned our paddles, gathered up snorkel gear and were assigned to a guide. I was a bit surprised at this portion of the operation--(a) because they insisted we wear life vest and (b) because I've never had a completely guided snorkel "tour" before. To be completely honest, the life vest was an annoyance and burden and I think they should give you the choice of not wearing it and maybe just make you sign a waiver if you choose not to do so.
Having a guide had pros and cons to it. Pros: He pointed out fish to us and gave us their names; he kept us on track so that there was no looking up from the water and having a mini panic attack at the realization that you were half a mile or more from the beach and didn't know the best way to get back over the reef (which happened to me at Tabayana in 2005). Cons: The snorkeling portion of the day was very much timed and not long enough! And if you enjoy kind of "wandering" while snorkeling (as we do), obviously a guide does more harm than good.
The snorkeling was still some of the best I've experienced, but it also wasn't as great as that off Tabayana Beach in Roatan. There weren't the 50 (or more) foot cliffs of coral dropping into crystal clear waters with dozens of huge, colorful parrot fish swimming around.
The walk through Gumbalimba park passed a hummingbird area (they were buzzing *so* close to us--within inches of our heads!) and included a silly little touristy cave and a rope-type bridge that I seriously wish they'd warned me about (I'm not one for heights, especially ones with water underneath them i.e. any sort of bridge). We saw an area where there are usually plenty of lizards hanging around, but it was still cloudy and therefore most of the lizards were hiding. (We'd seen plenty of those at Xcaret, anyway) From there we visited some birds...lots of parrots and a couple other types of colorful local birds. They let us take pictures with the parrots with our own cameras...no forcing you to buy a $13 8x10 here!
And then, FINALLY, we headed to the monkey area, and the monkeys here were GREAT! They had one on a leash that they put in your arms...and man, they are not kidding about these little guys liking shiny things. I had a dull, light brownish bobby pin in my hair and it ended up in [I think his name was} Sopa's mouth! Even better was when we were standing off to the side, and lo and behold two more monkeys jumped down onto our heads/shoulders (and crawled all over us for quite some time) :o)
Once our allotted monkey time was up, we went back down toward the beach and meandered around the tables of wares for sale before grabbing a bus back to Mahogany Bay (which we had to wait about 10 minutes for). Once we arrived back at the port, we did some more shopping, but nothing available there was as nice or as well-priced as what the people at Gumbalimba had out.