Before we went on this cruise, we tried to find information about cruising with young children and came up short, so this is for anyone who is thinking about traveling with little ones and a couple of older folks. BTW, we are past cruisers (4x Disney Magic, 1x Royal Caribbean Liberty) but this was our first Carnival cruise.
Overall, we had a nice time, but then getting out of 18" of snow and sub zero temps at home to 80* temps in the Caribbean, how could we have not had a nice time? :) The ports of call were fine - our itinerary was for Cozumel, Belize, Roatan Honduras and Costa Maya. Due to high winds the ship was unable to dock in Roatan (which was a big disappointment, as the stop in Roatan was the primary reason we booked this ship and this sailing). But you can't fault the captain for bad weather and we had another day at sea, cruising slowly toward the next day's stop, Costa Maya.
Finding things to do with little ones and older folks proved a challenge, but we were able to find nice beaches in both Cozumel and Costa Maya.
The best parts of the cruise (other than the weather) were the quality and quantity of the food (though that's not really a big thing for us, the food was really good -- compared to our beloved Disney Magic, on which the food is only so-so, the food on the Carnival Dream was great!). The girls enjoyed their Camp Carnival experiences, though compared to Disney, the activities were lacking. Still, they had fun and came back to us with faces painted and temporary tattoos on a couple of occasions! The pools were a big hit, though small, but our daughters simply loved the hot tubs best.
The entertainment was okay, but not nearly as family friendly as the Disney ship, though a couple of the family-friendly comedians were great. The "big" shows were much too loud to really enjoy, and one of them (the one deemed "Not To Miss" was entertaining -- singing, dancing and acrobatics -- but inappropriate, in parts, for the youngest cruisers. I was very uncomfortable with my 4 & 5 year olds listening to songs about prostitutes and the seedy New York nightlife (some of the costumes were way too sexy for little eyes!) and left before the show was over, but was dismayed to see the 6-11 year old Camp Carnival kids in the audience as a group activity. Unfortunately, though, our room was directly over the Encore Lounge and we heard every show (twice) each night.
The worst part of the cruise was the incessant smoking by other passengers. Smoking is apparently permitted just about everywhere on the ship except in the restaurants and staterooms (though the 6th floor forward always smelled smokey in the hallways). Smoking is also allowed on the verandas and every time we went out on our balcony our neighbors decided they needed a smoke break on theirs. Very unpleasant. Also, the designated smoking areas (on decks and in bars) did not have great ventilation systems, so walking through them, or near them, was awful for people who cannot stand the smell. Is there such a thing as a smoke free cruise ship? If so, I'd book our next cruise in a heartbeat!
Our stateroom was great - lots of storage space for a family of four. Plenty of closet space for hanging things an ample cupboards and drawers for folded items. In fact, we found as we were packing to go home, two HUGE storage drawers under the couch/bed in our room! Never knew they were there. I wish that there had been a curtain between our bed and the bunked beds, as our daughters had to go to bed much earlier than we wanted to, and since our neighbors were usually smoking on their balcony, we were trapped in our room with little girls who didn't want to sleep as long as a light was on! The bathroom was adequately sized, but had a shower only (no tub). The lip to the shower area was only 1 1/2 inches high and was not effective in containing the water that splashed over it. Fortunately, the entire floor was made of the same material as the shower and there was a floor drain so it the water was easy to mop up.
Unlike the Disney ship, you are assigned a table and wait staff in the same restaurant each night. If you arrive early, you stand a good chance of getting your food in a timely manner. If not, you might be sitting there for a good long while (which is difficult with little kids who get bored easily). We ended up eating up on the 10th floor Gathering Restaurant several nights just to expedite the process and found the "alternative dining" menu varied and delicious. If we were to book again, I think we'd have dinner at The Gathering every night and skip the formal restaurants.
One more thing, the ship automatically deducts a gratuity for your dining room servers/stateroom stewards and miscellaneous other folks ($70 per passenger). This was irritating to us as we were not aware that they would automatically add it to our bill and effectively removed our option of awarding gratuities according to level of service. Recommended amounts were $5.50 per person per day for dining room servers, $3.50 per person per day for room stewards, and $1.00 per person per day for "other"). Guest services removed these automatic charges and allowed us to specify the gratuities we wanted to give to these people.