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 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)