For families that want to take a cruise, the Carnival Dream, which sails out of Port Canaveral, may be just the ticket to a fun-filled and memorable vacation. My own family sailed on the Dream last week and I can honestly say that it was a dream vacation that will be remembered for years and years to come.
The 130,000-ton Carnival Dream hosts 7-day sailings year-round from beautiful Port Canaveral, Florida to exotic Eastern and Western Caribbean ports of call. As one of the largest cruise ships in the Carnival fleet, it can accommodate more than 3,500 passengers and sails with a staff of 1,367. The Dream has 1,823 staterooms, many with private balconies (which we had and I highly recommend).
Serenity Retreat: This kid-free oasis was one of my favorite spots on the ship. Huge double chaise lounges with cushions and umbrellas, relaxing hammocks and bubbling hot tubs provided the perfect escape for busy parents.
Cloud 9 Spa: The invigorating spa features beauty and salon treatments, a complete, modern exercise facility and a Thalassotherapy pool with jets of water that massage your body in a special formulation of ocean water rich with trace elements of vitamins. This is a real treat and should not be missed!
The Lanai: The 1/2 -mile promenade features outstanding views and four relaxing hot tubs.
Dazzling Entertainment: The shows on-board were extremely entertaining and high caliber. From the opening night welcome show to the final night's tribute to America, the performers did a great job at keeping the audiences entertained. The adults-only comedy shows were absolutely hilarious. The adults in our group of eight checked out two different shows and we had a ball laughing ourselves silly. The Piano Bar is a ton of sing-out-loud fun and the music in the atrium and Ocean Plaza is always very good.
Delicious Dining: The food on the Carnival Dream was surprisingly good. We heard not to expect much, especially compared to the food on Royal Caribbean. However, we found the opposite to be true. We actually enjoyed Carnival's dining room food better. Great choices were the shrimp and fish dishes, the ribs, steak dishes and the delectable salads. For a real treat, you've got to try the chocolate warming cake at least once. It's simply sinful, but delicious. Unfortunately, my review of the food in the Gathering Place buffet is not so good. The breakfast buffet was the worst, so try to eat in the dining room whenever possible. If you're traveling with kids, choose the early 6:00 p.m. dining time for dinner.
Jackpot Casino: The spacious casino features slot machines from one penny up to one dollar, poker, blackjack, roulette and craps. If you reach 1,500 points, your drinks in the casino are free. We spent time in the casino in the evenings after dinner and before the shows. I found that the machines weren't as tight as one might expect, and I even won $350 on the last night. The slot machines were mainly of the video variety, including Cleopatra, Troy, Zeus, Wolf Run, Hot Hot Penny and a slew of newer games. I also found some luck at traditional spin slots.
Butch, Cruise Director Extraordinaire: Butch Begovich was our Cruise Director and he is fantastic at what he does. The energetic host bounces from one end of the ship to the other all through the week, making each guest he comes into contact with feel right at home. His 9:00 a.m. Morning Shows are broadcast in all cabins and provide a hilarious glimpse into the day's activities.
Age-appropriate Clubs and Activities: Camp Carnival is for kids ages 2-11. The groups are broken into individual ages and all are supervised by a camp counselor. Parents are required to check their children in and out. Circle C is exclusively for 12-14 year olds to connect, cruise and chill. The separate and spacious room features state-of-the-art video games and comfy lounge chairs. Activities are endless and include a Meet & Greet, teen disco, Twister challenge, dodge ball tournament, masquerade party, volleyball, swimming under the stars and so much more. My 13-year-old loved the Circle C Club and said it was a highlight of his cruise. For teens 15-17, Club O2 was the place to be and be seen. The huge room is decked out with bubble lights, cool seating coves, a jukebox and even a disco ball. Activities are non-stop and include dance parties, sporting tournaments, pizza chills, gender wars, trivia hunts, a fantastic farewell party and much, much more. We had two older teens in our group who had nothing but great things to say about Club O2. Kids are free to come and go in Circle C and Club O2, but a parent must first fill out a permission form. Because Carnival breaks out teens into two separate areas and clubs, they seem to have a better time because they're with kids their own age. Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines do not go this extra step.
Waterworks Aqua Park: Includes an on-board Drain Pipe waterslide and a splash zone that's perfect for splashing and sliding. Kids love these on-board slides, even if the lines can get a bit long at peak times.
Carnival Seaside Theater: The jumbo 12x22' LED screen plays family-friendly movies and exciting sporting events. The picture is great and the sound excellent.
18-hole Mini Golf: Clubs and balls are available on Deck 10.
Full Court Basketball: The full-court basketball area is fenced in and a real hit with teens. It's located on Deck 14.
For Families: Exciting Ports of Call:
Our family booked our cruise with another family of four, making us a party of eight in ports of call. Because we were on the 7-day Eastern Caribbean cruise, we visited the ports of Nassau in the Bahamas, St. Thomas and St. Maarten. We did not book any excursions through Carnival because they can cost 3-4 times the actual cost. Instead, we handled our own travel in the ports and saved a lot of money. Below are a few tips for families visiting these ports of call:
Nassau: The #10 jitney bus will take you to Cable Beach for just $1.50 per person. For $10 per person, you can use the pool and beach area at the Radisson. We did this and spent a beautiful and relaxing day at the beach, complete with beach chairs, towels and restrooms.
St. Thomas: Our ship docked in St. Thomas, but we made the collective decision to venture to neighboring island, St. John. After a taxi ride that resembled Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and a 20-minute boat trip, we were thrilled to discover the untouched and unparalleled beauty of one of the world's most beautiful beaches. White sand as soft as pillows cushioned our feet and sapphire blue water surrounded us. The highlight of our day was snorkeling at the live coral reef. I would definitely recommend an excursion to St. John, as it was one of the best highlights of our cruise.
St. Maarten: Our cruise ship docked on the Dutch side of the island. The other side is known as the French side, which includes topless beaches. If you're traveling with children, I would definitely recommend staying on the Dutch side. After a short water taxi ride ($6 per person for the entire day), you'll arrive in the center of gift shops, restaurants and be within walking distance of a crowded beach. The best options for families include duty-free shopping and al fresco dining at a beachfront cafe. On the beach, you can opt for jet skiing, banana boats or parasailing. Be forewarned - locals stalk the beach selling hats, towels, and more. You'll be asked more than one time if you'd like to buy something.
Overall Review of Carnival Dream
Our party of eight sailed on the Carnival Dream from June 4th-11th, 2011. Unfortunately, a tropical storm/depression plagued the Caribbean that same week. Yes, it rained. A lot. OK, more than a lot. We had a deluge in St. Maarten. Fortunately, there was so much to do on board that none of us were ever bored. Bingo, trivia contests, shows, and of course - the kids' clubs kept everyone entertained, even when the Lido Deck 10 was quiet due to the rain. Many passengers complained about the soggy conditions, but we looked for the rainbow. Despite the weather, all eight of us had a great time on the Carnival Dream.
Carnival Dream for Families in Atlanta:
If you're considering taking a cruise and live in Atlanta, the Carnival Dream may be just your ticket to a memorable vacation. The beautiful ship leaves from Port Canaveral, a one-day, 9-hour drive from Atlanta. Because it is closer to Atlanta than Port Miami, no hotel stay is required if you make the drive in one day, like we did after debarking the ship. Simply shoot down I-75 to Orlando and cut over to Port Canaveral. Disney cruises also leave from Port Canaveral, but they tend to be much more expensive.
A cruise is more affordable than you think, especially when you consider that it includes all food and entertainment costs. If you're traveling with children over the age of ten, the Carnival Dream is the perfect choice.
All-in-all, despite the unfortunate weather conditions, our two families had a marvelous time on the Carnival Dream. So much so that we're planning a second cruise on the Dream for yet another dream vacation next year. We can't wait!