My husband, kids, and I just returned from the from a great vacation on the Carnival Dream. This was one of the best vacations we have ever had. We traveled from Feb 19-26, 2011. This week was winter break for our kids as well as many other schools across the country. There were many families with kids on the ship. For us that wasn't an issue, but if you want peace and quiet it could be. Remember, it was winter break. I don't know if the ship would have had as many kids otherwise. I will try to address items in the order we did them.
Embarkation: Piece of cake. I went online and fill out the fun pass. This made getting on the ship much easier. We arrived to the port around 12:30. We drove from Michigan. Parking at the port was not a problem, but it is paid parking. Very fast and convenient. The porters took our luggage and my husband parked the car. It maybe took us 30 minutes to get on the ship.
Cabins: We had 2 adjoining balcony cabins on deck 7. The kids had their own room and my husband and I had our own (nice if you want some alone time). I had no concerns regarding the balcony and the kids. The lock is located high on the door where the kids can't reach it.
Odor: I had read reviews that said people had smelled an odor on the ship. I did smell a mildew like odor occasionally, nothing that was really significant. It was only in the hallway on our floor.
Food: The food was excellent. We did not eat at the steakhouse. I could not justify spending money on steak for a 6 year old. We did meet a couple on the ship who did eat there and they said it was worth paying money for. We had the anytime dining. I wasn't sure if I would like this but it worked out fine. The dining room opened at 5:45 for anytime dining. We pretty much ate at this time every night. We requested the same waiter every night. The kids got a kick out of it. We only had to wait once. The buffets were good too. We only ate there for breakfast and lunch. The kids loved the round the clock ice cream.
Soda Cards: It is cheaper to buy the soda cards for the kids rather than the adults. I only bought two even though I have 3 kids. It is a sticker that is put on the kids sign & sail card. My husband & I used the kids cards too. They don't really look at the name on the card. I think the soda cards are worth it.
Camp Carnival: Very nice. My kids only went a couple of times, but they had fun when they were there. It gave my husband and I some time alone. We went to the casino.
Pools/Water Slide: One word...Awesome. My kids loved it. I think they swam the whole time. Lounge chairs can be a challenge. We always managed to find a place to sit in the sun.
Excursions: We booked our excursions thru Carnival. I did not think the prices were unreasonable. If you book thru Carnival your excursion will be credited to you if the port or excursion is cancelled. One port had rough seas and the snorkel trip was cancelled. If you don't book thru Carnival you will be out of luck if this happens to you.
Disembarkation: No problem. We put our luggage in the hallway the night before. When we got off the ship and cleared customs our luggage was on a conveyor belt like the airport. Porters are available to help.