Embarkation - Carnival had left us a voice message the day before our cruise date saying we should arrive at the Port Canaveral terminal at 1:30pm. We actually arrived at the terminal at 10:30am; there was virtually no line...we were all checked in by 11am, and on the ship by 11:30am (having lunch on the Lido deck). We were not allowed to go to our cabins until 1:30pm; after they were cleaned and prepared for us.
Public Rooms - The Carnival Dream was very attractive and clean. We had been on the Carnival Valor a couple years prior, and the ship layout was very similar (I think the Dream has one more deck of cabins). Other interesting spaces on the ship included the hot tubs on deck 5 (on the Lanai), and also the mini-golf on the Lido deck. The waterslide seemed to be a bit hit for the younger kids (up to ~ 10 yrs old) - our older teens went on it several times, but were not hooked on it. The waterslide closed during one day at sea due to high winds. The Serenity Deck was a nice break...there is not a lot of seating, relatively speaking, but if you time it right you could find a seat.
Cabins - We had two cabins on the Empress Deck (7320 and 7344) - both located mid-ship on the port side. 7320 was a standard balcony cabin, and we felt it was a good size. The balcony was worth the extra cost because of the ability to have a private view and sitting area (great for waiting for the significant other to get ready...and for our kids to hang out with us when siblings were still getting ready). We had a couple very windy nights while At Sea and the balcony got very salty from the sea spray...in port half-way through our itinerary the crew did a full exterior wash of all balconies. One day, I chose to clean the window/door glass, railing, and chairs/table myself. 7344 was an interior cabin for our 3 kids (15, 16, 20 yrs old)...it had two twin beds with a bunk bed over one of the regular beds. 7344 was located next to the elevators...no problem, our kids never complained about any loud noise, etc.
Dining - Our dining experience was very good overall in the Scarlet Dining Room (Salmon / Tilapia was excellent; Prime Rib was very good; Lamb was good; other steaks were ok). I had lunch in the dining room twice during the At Sea days, and loved the New England clam chowder and Norwegian Salmon - The Banana Cream Pie was delicious! The general buffets were good with a good selection for breakfast and lunch. The Pasta Bar was excellent (great bolognaise sauce and clam sauce!). The Mongolian Wok gets mixed reviews from our family (others liked it, but I just thought it was ok...would have liked egg/spring rolls, rather than just make-your-own stir fry). The Pizza on the Lido deck was awesome, especially as a mid afternoon or late night snack. Also, the 24/7 softserve ice cream was a family treat.
Wine Package - This is a good deal if you enjoy drinking wine. The ship offers wine packages (at three different price levels), which include 5 bottles each for a discounted price as compared to the standard onboard wine list prices. We purchased two packages during the cruise - a total of 10 bottles. During the later days of the cruise, the dining room was not able to find the wine choices we wanted in our package...but we were able to do a little searching on our own, and got what we wanted. In the last couple days we got my wine from the Lobby Bar and brought the bottle to dinner (no corking fee because we bought the wine onboard).
Entertainment - This category gets mixed reviews in our experience.
The live bands (on the Lido deck, in the bar areas, and the pit band) were all great…true professionals. The comedians were also very good; I think we had approx 4 different comedians onboard. We also enjoyed a juggler performer - nice tricks and a good personality and good sense of humor. The hypnotist show was pretty entertaining as well.
The on-stage performers (dancers and break-dancers) lowered the cruise experience to a cheesy level [note: my family says I'm too harsh with this comment; they say this is what is expected with cruise entertainment…hmmm]. The performances were 'just ok', but not nearly as good as they (the performers) appeared to think. The cruise director (Butch) asked / instructed the guests to applaud and smile for the performers (even before the performers started). The break-dancers were pathetic with their hand/finger gestures looking for praise after each little act…and then appearing angry when the audience didn't respond. Sorry Butch/dancers, but it is your job to entertain us (your guests) and to earn our gratitude. If the audience didn't respond it was either because you didn't earn it or because we didn't appreciate being coached on how to react to your performance (one more factor might be that we might just be very tired from a long day). I will give credit to the Dancing in the Streets show - it was the best of their performances, and the sets were very impressive (did I mention that it was a multi-million dollar production - no worries, Butch will tell you a few times during the cruise)… In spite of these comments, it was clear the performers all worked hard to pull together the shows.
Service - Service from the ship's staff was very good. Everyone was pleasant and courteous. Our cabin steward, Jenny, was friendly and did a good job keeping our cabin tidy at least 2 times a day. Our dining room servers, Percy and Komang, were both very friendly and attentive. The staff always remembered our names and said hello when we saw them, and they celebrated my son's birthday with a card in his cabin and the staff singing Happy Birthday in the dining room.
Nassau Bahamas – Catamaran / Snorkel; this was a nice catamaran ride along the blue water and white sand beaches. The snorkeling was only so-so due to a cloudy day and cool water temp.
Cozumel Mexico – Twister / Isla Pasion; another nice ride along blue waters. Pepe and Ricky on the boat were fun guides, and Aidah (sp?) on Isla Pasion was a great hostess. The buffet and open bar hit the spot. My wife got a very good back massage from Hugo for $35 (1/2 hr)…
Isla Roatan, Honduras – Relax on the Beach (Magic Chairs / chair lift); truly relaxing with a great beach-side bar and restaurant. In retrospect, we didn’t need to pay for this in advance. There were plenty of seats available on the beach if we wanted to pay there. The magic chair wrist-band could be purchased once walking off the ship (just before getting onto the magic chair) without purchasing in advance from Carnival. Snorkel equipment and paddle boats were also available for rent if you wanted without reserving in advance.
Belize – Cave Tubing (www.cavetubing.com); lots of fun and great lunch! Our guide, Junior and the driver “7” were terrific!! We booked this on our own, and saved a lot of money – this is the way to go…they do a great job. They explained everything and made everyone feel very comfortable – we felt safe with our guides. Belize may be a country of poverty, but our guides showed us that they are rich with kindness. For our next cruise we will want to explore more of the direct excursions – www.cavetubing.com was great!
Costa Maya, Mexico – Dune Buggy and Beach Break; Excellent!!! It was a blast driving the dune buggy for 2+ hrs along the roads in Costa Maya and along sand roads aside the ocean through beautiful small villages. We spent about 1 hr relaxing on a white-sand beach.
Costa Maya, Mexico – Jungle Beach Break provided a comfortable bus ride to a beautiful white-sand beach with lots of chairs. There was an open bar, and lunch for sale (good deal / good service). Watercraft and snorkel equipment was also available for rent.
Debarkation – Overall, the debarkation process was smooth. Our holiday cruise arrived back at Port Canaveral on Jan 1, 2011 at 6:30am… The night before was New Year’s Eve, so most people were up late celebrating. We packed our suit cases and left them in the hallway on New Year’s Eve around 9:30pm. On debarkation day, everyone needed to be out of their cabins by 8:30am, and everyone needed to be off the ship by 10:30am. We were given debarkation numbers of 6 and 7 (for our two cabins), and were scheduled to leave the ship approx 7:40-8:00am; but we decided to take a little more time to pack our final carry-on gabs, and went to the breakfast buffet…we actually left the ship later (around 9:30am) and we only had to wait in line approx 15 minutes. The cruise director kept making announcements over the PA for people to keep people moving off the ship according to their debarkation numbers, saying that US Customs ‘required’ them to hurry the process, but in my opinion I think it was just Carnival wanting to move the people to keep their own schedule for transitioning to the next cruise passengers.
Overall – We had a great vacation on this Carnival cruise. With our family of five, we were all able to be involved in what we enjoyed most, and were always able to find places on the ship to ‘get away’ when we wanted some solitude now and then. The overall cruise experience was very organized and clean, and we never felt crowded onboard. We did feel that there were too many areas on the ship where people were smoking – would like to see that change in the future…