This review is written specifically for parents who are taking toddlers and babies on board. We went on a 7 day cruise to Cozumel, Beliz, Costa Maya and Honduras in March 2011 on the Carnival Dream. On this cruise was my husband, two teenage sons (ages 14 and 17), two babies under age two (9 months and 20 months) and extended family. This was a family reunion vacation; otherwise we probably wouldn't have chosen to cruise with babies. But...if you do go with the little munchkins here is my best advice on how to survive the ordeal and still have a great time. My first paragraph is an overview of the ship and the rest is for parents with toddlers.
The Carnival Dream is a very beautiful ship. The public rooms were amazing. The spa looked enticing and I would have definitely paid for the spa pass if I wasn't so busy with babies. There was never a crowd in there and it looked super relaxing. Don't book spa packages ahead of time, they are always offering deals especially on port days. The average price for an hour massage on a port day or during special hours is about $100. The adult's only section of the ship was nice and quiet with lots of comfy chairs and two hammocks. I never saw the hammocks empty so if you want one you'd better get up at the crack of dawn. The main dining room was well laid out and the tables and chairs weren't as crowed and shoved together as on other lines I've been on. The food was great at dinner; you must try the Chocolate Melting cake at dessert, simply awesome and addicting. Breakfast was lacking because the pancakes were always cold and they didn't serve biscuits and gravy (a personal favorite) or Eggs Benedict (hubby's favorite). Lunch was fantastic; I ate almost every day at Tandori. I love Indian food and an endless supply of hummus was just fine with me. There was a pasta bar restaurant above the main buffet. My in-laws went and they loved it. The pools were crowded on sea days but this was to be expected. My kids loved the Water Works area it was never crowded on port days. The art area was huge and had beautiful paintings. We never went to the art auction (babies again). The panorama deck was great to walk around or sit in one of the hot tubs. The water was never very hot in the Jacuzzi's on that deck but I found it to be better in the adult's only section.
I wish we had gotten a Cove Balcony instead of a deck 6 veranda. I didn't like deck 6 because directly below you is deck 5, the Panorama deck. So instead of looking down and seeing the ocean, you see people sun bathing, smoking, eating and sitting in the hot tub. On the first sea day the ship offered an outside BBQ almost directly below our veranda. The smoke from the BBQ was chocking and the noise wasn't very nice. At night the lights from the deck produced enough glare to make it difficult to see over the railing to the ocean. The Cove Balconies are under deck 5 and less expensive, more private and a much better view. I would definitely go with one of those next time. Over all, we were really, really impressed with Carnival. The service was fantastic, the ship was beautiful and there was a plethora of activities offered all day long.
Advice for parents with babies:
The Room: Be sure to get a balcony stateroom. You'll be spending more time in your room than you thought so you might as well enjoy the view. We had two cribs in our stateroom. We had to get creative to fit them in. Here is what we did: First my husband unplugged both nightstands and gently put them under the bed. They're small, narrow and light weight so they were easy to move. We moved the beds together and as far toward the couch and away from the window as possible. Then we fit both cribs in a line between the window and the beds. There was absolutely no room between window, cribs and bed but it worked. And we were able to keep our couch a couch and the small coffee table in the room. The original set up that the cruise line had was to put the cribs on top of the couch. It would have worked but then we wouldn't have had the use of the couch. I'm sure our room steward hated it because it made it hard to make the beds but we tipped him extra in the beginning.
What to Pack: Pack toys and a portable DVD player with lots of Dora the Explorer videos or whatever your child likes. The TV in your stateroom has Cartoon Network but my toddler likes The Wiggles and Dora. The DVD is fantastic for when you are dressing for dinner and need to keep your toddler occupied. Don't forget the Children's Motrin and a nose syringe. Your baby is almost certainly going to get sick with the way he puts everything in his mouth. Bring a power strip. There is only ONE outlet on the vanity and not enough for everything you'll need. Bring one of those over the closet door shoe organizers. This was invaluable to keep pacifiers, sunscreen, toiletries, etc all organized. It can be put on the hooks on the bathroom door. Don't forget that you have storage under your bed and two drawers under the couch. I'm not a proponent of the overuse of antibiotics but if you can convince your pediatrician to give you a prescription to have "just in case" it might be a good idea. Our 9 month old son has asthma and I believe that the only reason he didn't get horribly ill from putting everything in his mouth is because he was on an antibiotic while we cruised. The ships medical facilities are great, we visited to get a nose syringe (they didn't have one) but the doctor was super nice. Bring swim diapers. Even though you can't use the pools doesn't mean your child won't get wet in the splash area (more on that below). Bring more formula, diapers and wipes than you think you'll need. The cruise has a laundry: it is $3.00 for a wash and $3.00 for a dry. The washer and dryers are incredibly small so bring extra clothes for your kiddies. You can get quarters in the casino. Don't bother bringing bottled water. The water in your stateroom is absolutely fine. It's the same water they serve you in the dining room and perfectly clean. We used it for bottles and didn't have any problems. Also, the refrigerator in your stateroom does not get cold enough to keep yogurt or milk at a safe level. Better to order a bucket of ice from room service or put the bottle in the ice bucket like we did. We had the stateroom attendant clean out the mini bar and used it to keep soda cold. We brought our own soda because we didn't want to pay for the soda card for ourselves (almost $40) we got those for our teenagers. We also brought diaper disposal bags. These are handy little baggies that you can put dirty diapers in. This will keep your stateroom from smelling like a diaper pail. I wish I had brought Lysol wipes to clean off all the surfaces when we arrived. It may have helped little man from getting sick. Bring a stroller. Your kids will get tired. We had a double stroller but if you only have one child than an umbrella stroller is just fine.
The Pool: Some boards suggested bringing a blow up pool. We did and never even took it out of the box. The pools all have a large ledge surrounding the deep area with about an inch of water and mini water fountains that the kids can splash in. We never took our baby or toddler in the pool because babies in diapers are not allowed, although we saw some parents doing it. Quite frankly I don't see any difference in hygiene between a baby in a swim diaper and a 3 year old without one. But we didn't want to make anyone mad so we didn't go in. The splash area at Water Works has a mini water slide for little kids. Our toddler was too young to be allowed to go up the stairs (there were only 4 stairs) but she could use the slide? So we picked her up and let her slide from the top. Also on Port days there was no one in the area so we let her just sit and splash at the bottom of the slide trough. It was about 10 inches deep just enough for her to have fun. We didn't get any grief for doing that.
Port Days: I stayed on the ship while my husband and two teen sons went scuba diving and did all the port adventures. We have been on so many cruises in the past and we live by the beach so staying on board wasn't a big deal. I volunteered to stay knowing that the ship would be practically empty and the babies and I would have the place to ourselves. We did and it was awesome! My husband and sons did the caving and zipline tour on Beliz. They did not go through the cruise line they booked it through: http://cave-tubing.com/ They LOVED it. It was less expensive than the cruise AND they got to do both the zip lining and the caving tour. With the cruise you have to choose one or the other. They would highly recommend it but be sure to bring water shoes. It's mandatory. Thankfully my son was able to rent some.
Camp Carnival: On port days Camp Carnival has an Under 2 Program. They open up for 3 - 4 hours in the morning (usually from 8am - Noon) for babysitting. It was $10 an hour for two kids and well worth it for me to get a mini break. The only thing I wish is that it started later in the morning and went later in the afternoon, by the time I got the kids dressed, fed and bag packed we didn't arrive at Camp Carnival until 10am. By then I only had 2 hours. The workers were super nice and wonderfully attentive to the kids. On Sea Days they open up Camp Carnival for "mommie (or daddy) and me play" for two hours from 8am - 10:00am. They make this available before the regular campers arrive that's why the hours are so odd.
Club O2 and Circle C: We have two boys age 14 and 17. They loved the program. We went during Spring Break so there were 1,000 kids on board. The only caution I would give is to warn your children about the teenagers who drink. My sons told me that a few kids in the high school group were drunk. Apparently their parents were buying them alcohol (according to my son). This is the parent's fault not the cruise lines. I don't think that they were drunk in the camps or the counselors would have noticed and I'm certain that the cruise was not serving minors alcohol. My boys were able to find other nice kids to hang out with.
Dinner: We had the early seating. There were 11 of us in our group so we had our own table. The service was a little slow. No matter what time we arrived (the first in the dining room, a few minutes late) we were always the last to leave. We wanted to get in and out quickly but I don't think our waiter could manage that. So bring a few toys to dinner and a lot of patience. The dining room was very loud with conversation and clanging plates so unless your child is screaming, no one will hear him make noise.
Breakfast and Lunch: To avoid the long lines with a squirmy baby go to the BACK of the ship, outside by the pool for breakfast. They serve breakfast there with all the items available on the regular buffet (except omelets) including coffee and juice and there is no line. We ate out there every morning. At lunch they have Tandori an Indian buffet. Awesome.
Shows: Didn't get to see them. We didn't want to irritate the other passengers with screaming babies so instead we walked around the ship looking for live music. Our kids loved it! Be sure to see the country western band on deck 5. They have a great fiddler.
So that's it. I hope this review helps if you are brave enough to bring a toddler. If this review was helpful to you would you please consider writing your own review whenever you cruise? I have gotten my best ideas, tips and tricks for cruising on this Cruise Critic site. Thanks!