This was our first cruise. We cruised with our family of 4 (Mom, Dad, 18yr old daughter, 16yr old son). First our room was so much more than I expected. I had heard horror stories of how small the cruise rooms were so we went ahead and booked 2 rooms (a balcony and an inside cabin). The cabin was huge (relatively speaking). It had a sofa, king bed and a balcony with a good size bath. The inside cabin was fine place to sleep with 2 twin beds—perfect for the kids even though it was against the rules to have children in the room alone. It worked out well - they even gave us extra keys.
We booked our cruise about 6 weeks before hand and got a great deal. I read the critic results and am glad we waited--we were flexible for the times and got a great bargain. Also we did not have to wait a year to go on vacation. I think I would do that again instead of paying the prime rates.
If this was a 3 or 4 day cruise, we probably would not be cruising again as our first few days at sea were bumpy at best. We had "patches", but the side effects from the patch were almost as bad as the sea sickness would be like (so I think). By day 4 we finally got our sea legs and did not require the patch. My son who gets car sick easily and even he went without the patch with no ill effects. Grant it we were now stopping once a day and got lots of land time, but the cruise home was just as bumpy and we did fine. I even enjoyed the bumpiness at night as it rocked me to sleep.
This was a holiday cruise so we spent Christmas and New Year's Eve on the ship. It snowed on Christmas eve in the Atrium, what a great time we had singing Christmas carols while the white stuff fell. The one thing about the Holiday cruise—there are kids, lots and lots of kids. So if you don't like kids, I don't recommend this cruise. They are what the holidays are all about, so we enjoyed them. There is the Serenity area that does not allow children, but you have to walk through the children's water park to get there, but once there it is quiet. It was quite cool and windy during our cruise, so we didn't get out on the pool decks too much. New Year's eve saw a great party on the Lido deck with a laser show, the bad part about this is that we had to get off the ship by 8 am the next morning. Another day would have been nice so you could recover. We had a 2 day drive home and that was a loooong drive.
There were plenty of activities to do on the cruise. We played all of the trivia games and Win Lose and Draw games—they split the ship into 3 different teams (red, white and blue) and you complete all week to win points and small trophies they call "24 carat plastic ship on a stick". My daughter won one for winning Twister. Our team came in second—White team.
Since this was our first cruise I relied on other folks to tell me what to do and not to do. One thing I did do that I am glad is we planned our trips on our own. We only went on one Carnival sponsored shore excursion. Cozumel Amazing Race which was a blast—more about that later—check the excursions. I got info from cruise critic and they provided great advice.
I know a lot of people go on cruises for the food, but we were not really that impressed with the food. We ordered the continental breakfast in our cabin from room service and this worked fine for us. We usually would check the menu for dinner and only go if to dinner if they had something good like lobster or steak. The lobster meals were very good and we ordered seconds both times. My husband liked the lamb meals as well. These are meals we don't usually eat at home. Other times we visited the buffet. I think they should have the pasta bar open for dinner too. The kids loved the 24 hour ice cream and French fries. I still managed to gain 5 lbs—even with a couple of trips to the gym—which was a bit small and crowded.
I don't recommend playing the BINGO. The price of the cards ($20 for a 3 card)and the prizes they gave away were pathetic. On the last night there were I would guess over 200 people playing bingo—they had to go get more cards cause they ran out and the prizes were only $100-175 and of course there were more than one winner each game and they had to split the prize. So my advice: pay attention to the prizes. They did give away a $750 and a $1500 prize earlier in the week.
The comedians were very funny and we enjoyed all of them. There was a juggling comedian who was excellent—had a way with the kids!! He highlighted the many unaccompanied children (i.e. the children at the show while the parents were at the Casino or elsewhere--this should not have been allowed). The children were young too not much older than 10 or so.
The kids had a blast. The teen club according to my son was AWESOME. I was so nervous as my daughter was 18, but she is still in high school. We thought they would not include her in the teen club since the advertised age was 15-17, but much to her excitement, she was allowed to go. They asked for a school ID, but she was allowed in even though we did not have her ID with her. The only time I saw my son was in the morning at breakfast and dinner. My daughter spent time with us as well as at the club. They can't wait until the next cruise and are still keeping in touch with the friends they met.
We had a long wait to get on the ship. Lesson learned here. We read online that you could arrive anytime and get right on, but had we arrived when we were told to (1:30-3:30) there was a much shorter line.
All in all we had a great time and definitely recommend the Carnival Dream for a cruise. We are already planning our next cruise.
Hope this has helped. Enjoy your cruise!!