We're a group of family & friends who travel together frequently on big and small vacations throughout the year: cruises, baseball, Vegas, Tunica, Branson, Orlando & all-inclusives. This year, we had four couples come along with an age range of 31-50. We did not travel with any children.
I recommend flying in at least one day prior to boarding at Port Canaveral. Given the fact that Orlando Int'l is the servicing airport for Cape Canaveral, we took a taxi/shuttle van from the airport to our hotel. I highly recommend A Busy Traveler (http://www.abusytraveler.com). We were charged $320 for round-trip service (airport to hotel and then sea port to airport), including a 20% gratuity (mandatory). The van was a large 12-pax van with a trailer in tow for our luggage. Both to/from trips with A Busy Traveler were quick, super-friendly, and professional. I look forward to booking with them again!
There are several hotels/resorts in Cape Canaveral/Cocoa Beach that are within 10 minutes of the terminal. We stayed at the Radisson at the Port (http://www.radisson.com/cape-canaveral-hotel-fl-32920/flcocoa). There are mixed reviews about the hotel. It is definitely pink. I was humming the Golden Girls theme song all night/morning long. My wife and I had an outstanding room: complete with a ceiling fan, king-size sleep number bed, and pool access. The pool area is simply amazing. We had complementary breakfast, parking, and hotel to sea port shuttle included in our rack rate for a total of $169 with tax. We could have negotiated out the parking since we didn't drive, but they do include "free" parking at the hotel if you are driving and then cruising. It saves you roughly $120 for the week. Without the breakfast and parking, I believe rack rates are approx $110 for the night. The hotel to sea port shuttle service is a great benefit; HOWEVER, BE SURE THAT YOU BOOK YOUR SHUTTLE FOR YOUR ENTIRE GROUP AT LEAST FOUR WEEKS IN ADVANCE! The Carnival Dream starts embarkation between 10:30 and 11:30 AM. Everyone at the hotel wants to be on the first shuttle. We booked three weeks in advance and got on the 11:30 AM shuttle. It wasn't too bad, but we could not get on any earlier shuttles. It is VERY crowded outside waiting for the shuttles as they service Carnival, Disney, and NCL.
Amazingly smooth if you arrive before 12:00 Noon. The line looked much worse that it really was. We got on our shuttle right at 11:30 AM from the hotel, arrived at the port at roughly 11:45, and were on the ship by 12:15. It seriously took us 30 min to embark. The porters took our bags from the shuttle, and we carried on all of our necessary items in small bags. We got into our rooms at 1:30 PM, and recieved our luggage by 4:30 PM. We were sipping drinks and relaxing well before the crowds joined us. We had early dining at 6:00 PM and were able to walk in the restaurant wearing cruise casual attire. Everyone was in shorts/blue jeans, t-shirts, and flip flops. No issues with the wait staff.
Too big, too many people, pools are too small, too few deck chairs, TOO MANY CHILDREN, plenty of hot tubs, plenty of casual dining options, GREAT BBQ on Deck 5 Lanai, and AMAZING Serenity adults-only option (if you could snag a seat). The ship is beautiful to look at, inside and out. However, it is too big. Too many people are able to book rooms, resulting in a horrific shortage of free space on the ship. We were unable to access seats near the pools on Deck 10 Lido during the whole trip. The pools are way too small and are teaming with children. It took us roughly 45 min to an hour to secure seats for our group of eight. We found space on the starboard and port sides on Deck 5 Lanai every day after hawking open chairs. We also found space on forward port side Deck 13 Serenity/Waterslide access; however, children were running non-stop to the waterslide...infiltrating Serenity. The waterslide and Serenity access design is HORRIBLE. How do you keep kids out from an adults-only area when access to the most kid-appealing feature of the ship is right in the middle of the adults-only area? They need to change this. A resounding theme in my critique is the mind-numbing volume of children on this cruise. No offense to anyone with children...but you should leave them at home, regardless of winter/spring break. I don't care how important you are, how important your job is, how infrequent you get to take a vacation, or how much money you make: you have no business bringing your kids with you on a cruise...unless that cruise line is operated by Disney. Children accompanying you = DISNEY CRUISE! If you have enough cash to bring 3-4 kids along with you, you have enough cash to save up a little more loot to book a kid-friendly Disney cruise. Or better yet...GO TO A FAMILY-FRIENDLY ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT ELSEWHERE! Kids do not make it pleasant for the rest of us without children or who have left them at home to get away from the chaos. I STRONGLY ENCOURAGE CARNIVAL TO OFFER ADULTS-ONLY CRUISES! My lesson learned: check random school calendars on the East coast to see when winter/spring breaks are scheduled and book around them. It was next to impossible to secure an elevator on the ship due to the fact that children were operating them as their own personal roller coaster. Another disgusting sight on the ship: teenage girls dressed like skanks in next to nothing asking for drinks and smokes. NOT COOL PARENTS! YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED!!! Oh yes, the ship does rock and roll in moderate winds and seas. No one got sea sick, but we could definitely tell that we were pitching from left to right. Bigger doesn't mean safer or less rocky. Cruise ships are top heavy, and roll more gently than cargo ships...but they have more distance to roll. I WOULD NOT TAKE A CRUISE ON THIS SHIP IN HURRICANE SEASON!
COVE BALCONY (Room 2329):
Great mid-ships location on the starboard side! We never faced any of the ports. Being close to the water line was awesome! The sound of the water and gentle mist of the ocean is absolutely refreshing. The shade provided by the life boats above is NICE (definitely not a drawback what-so-ever)! It was great reading and relaxing on the balcony for breakfast. There is nothing better than enjoying a carafe of coffee in the morning with the sun coming up on the horizon. Being low and in the middle helped my wife sleep better on the rougher days/nights at sea. There was plenty of room for four bags and our mountain of clothes. Our room steward was super-friendly, very accomodating, and new our schedule to the minute. Room service delivered when requested, never a minute too early nor late. The only drawback would be the sewer smell in the hallway (NOT IN THE ROOM EVER) on the days we were in port. It was stinky, but it never entered our room. I believe it has something to do with dumping and refreshing the waste water tanks while in port at secure waste water dumping locations.
FOOD, SCARLET RESTAURANT, BURGUNDY LOUNGE, ENCORE THEATER & BARS:
Overall, the food is the same-ole' stuff that you would expect on a cruise. The buffets offer slightly above-average cafeteria food. The desserts on the buffets were awesome. The Tandoori, Wasabi, Burrito Bar, Pizza/Burger station, and Deck 5 Lanai BBQ options were by far THE BEST way to go for lunch-time nibbles. These food offerings were definitely of much higher quality than the lunch buffets. Tandoori rocked my world. I LOVE HUMMUS and they had BOWLS AND BOWLS of it to go along with pita and naan bread! The Scarlet Restaurant offered up great meals and desserts each night. The shrimp, filet mignon, escargot, lobster tails, Indian vegetarian, and molten chocolate cake were my favorites...not to mention the double espresso offered up with dessert. Our wait staff was super-friendly and flexible, and made us all participate in the fun, games, and dancing that accompanied our early dinners. The Burgundy Lounge was our favorite night spot for late-night comedy. The comedians were riotous and used the adults-only crowd to their advantage. I love having stand-up comedians on a ship. They make my evenings complete! Be sure to get there 30-45 min early to secure a seat in the lounge. The comedy shows fill up to capacity and they kick people out if the room is full. The Encore Theater was the same size as most cruise line theaters, but again it fills up quickly so come early to the shows. I caught the "Dancing in the Streets" show. It was very entertaining. The bars all around the ship were always accessible and I never had to wait for a drink. My only complaint is that bar prices are astronomical. I'm prepared for this and save up more than enough cash to pay off my bar bill upon return, but I just don't know why they keep the prices up. The bucket o'beer option is nice, saving you roughly $2 overall across the price of four individual beers. The only nice thing about the beer prices is that premiums (Guinness and Boddingtons, my favs) are only $0.20 more than domestics. I went with premiums. I also drank more mixed drinks...the Chocolate Mocha Getaway IS THE MOST AMAZING THING IN THE WORLD, if you like iced drinks. I sipped on Gosling's Black Seal Rum and Coke for a good part of the trip as well. It is a great pick me up!
Gym was over-crowded. Couldn't get on any equipment in the morning. There were 30 min lines to get in! The spa was great. The couples massage was expensive ($329 with tip) and they hawk their wares the whole time. Better to get a massage back home.
PORTS OF CALL:
All of the ports are the same in Mexico and Belize. It makes no difference where you are...Diamonds International will be there along with 30 other stores ALL SELLING THE SAME OVER-PRICED CRUD! There was nothing to make these ports unique. All of the bars sell over priced beer, booze, and food. You may as well be on the ship. In fact, I may never get off of a ship again. Mexico and Central America have nothing to offer that I can't get back home via the internet or offered up on the ship.
COZUMEL - Downtown isn't fun. Too many shops. Carlos N' Charlies and Señor Frogs suck. Las Palmeras restaurant is nice, but over priced. Shops didn't sell anything unique. I recommend taking an all-inclusive beach excursion or a bar-hopping tour to the other side of the island if you must go and see Cozumel. If I ever go back, I'm going to take a week at an all-inclusive resort FAR AWAY from downtown and the ship terminal.
BELIZE CITY - Mildly OK. Tendering sucks and takes WAY TOO LONG. Get to the Encore Lounge early and be prepared to wait, wait, and wait. Get off of the tender and wait, wait, wait some more. The cave tubing excursion is breath-taking once you get in the water and start tubing. Just beautiful. The hike to the river isn't bad, just 20-30 min long. The ride from the port to the tubing center is 1.5 hours long. DON'T BELIEVE THE TOUR BOOK - IT IS 1.5 HOURS LONG. Whether they tell you or not, you get a tour of Belize City and the country side on your way to the tubing center. I could have done without. I would have rather had more time on the river. No quick rapids/currents on our tour, but this does change. There have been fatalities on the river and in the caves. I wouldn't take kids on this one...make this adults only with swimming experience. I'll never go back to Belize. It is too poor and just unappealing. The water and temperature is great, but there isn't anything I'd like to do there other than stay at a well protected all-inclusive resort. I don't dive or snorkel, so that might be worth a trip back for some people.
ROATAN - NEVER HAPPENED! We showed up right at the entrance to the turning basin, and we NEVER DOCKED...something about being too windy and rough. Funny thing is, two other ships of our size and draught depth were already in port. ROATAN IS THE REASON I TOOK THIS CRUISE. Excursions were reimbursed in full, but all anyone else got for the miss was $9.80 per person (port fees). I've heard rumors that Carnival and the Honduran gov't operating the port are at odds with each other over the cost per head to dock at the port...don't know if this is true. Regardless, it was BS that we didn't get to go. I doubt that I'll ever return to Roatan...I'm never taking a Western Caribbean cruise again.
COSTA MAYA - Fake town if there was ever a fake town. Think "The Truman Show" but in a tropical climate. There is no need to ever leave this port area if you aren't seeing the Mayan Ruins. There are the same crud vendors selling the same crud that was offered up at Cozumel and Belize City. The only positive to it is that there are a couple of open-air restaurants with swim-up bars right there as you got off of the ship. The beer/booze prices are slightly less than the ship, and the food is fairly decent. We all enjoyed the party atmosphere and a pleasant day off of the ship with minimal children present. It was my favorite day. However, I'd never go back to Costa Maya for any other reason than to stay at an all-inclusive resort.
PORT SUMMARY - I'll never go back to Mexico on either coast. We did the west coast of Mexico two years ago, and the security situation is now so bad that resort towns are closing up. I'd only go back to Cabo San Lucas if the security situation improved...it's beautiful and laid-back. I'll never visit Belize again. Just too sad. I saw the jungle and did the cave tubing...that is enough for me. I'd recommend an Eastern or Southern Caribben cruise on another Carnival ship or another cruise line altogether if you are intent on spending some quality time off of the ship.
Smooth as silk. Leave your bags out the night before, and voilá they show up when you get off of the ship. The zoned approach works well. We got off of the ship and at the taxi/shuttle van zone in roughly 30 minutes. Our "A Busy Traveler" van was already in the port complex and picked us up 10 minutes after calling their dispatch. He even let us hit a gas station for a restroom break and to buy water, snacks, and drinks to enjoy at the airport (before security). We waited for a good while at Orland Int'l for our flight. The ship docked at 6:00 AM. We got off of the ship at 9:15 AM (our zone was called at 8:45 AM). We arrived at Orlando Int'l at 10:30 AM. Our flight left at 2:15 PM. Pick your return flights accordingly. I like a safety cushion just in case of port congestion, traffic, accidents, and other mishaps. Plus, we had a direct flight back. We avoided a lenghty lay-over in Atlanta.
Too many children. Too many people on a boat with not enough features to accomodate all cruisers. The ports are too commercialized and offer no diversity. Drinks are too expensive. On-board food is good/great. Cove Balconies ARE AWESOME! Friends and family are PRICELESS and MAKE THE TRIP MUCH MORE FUN AND APPEALING! I did indeed have the time of my life. I didn't stress about anything, I had uninterrupted time with the love of my life (my wife), and I got to share my trip with some of my best friends in the world. Each cruise is unique and has stand-out qualities. This cruise was high-lighted by my travel companions. I love them all, and look forward to our next adventure together!