We took the Carnival Dream on her eastern Caribbean route from August 13th through August 20th. For my husband and I, this was our 5th cruise together. The previous 4 had all been on Norwegian Cruise Lines. This was not only our 19 month old son's first cruise; it was his first ever vacation. (For my review on cruising with a toddler, please see the family section under special interest cruising on the message boards...post is here http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1468964.) We also traveled with my parents, my older brother and his wife and two sons (aged 7 and 5), and my younger sister.
I'll start with the Dream herself. Overall, she had everything you want on a good cruise ship. Plenty of room for everyone, good amount of bars and lounges, lots of space for kids, a nice adult's only area, lots of fun activities, etc. We never used the pools ourselves but they did look pretty small and crowded. Also, the decks around the pools were always jam packed. And with the huge TV constantly blaring something or another, I don't understand why. However, there were plenty of deck chairs throughout the ship and always many empty ones. There were so many empty deck chairs on deck 5 on the promenade. I think they should take out a few so walking around that with a stroller would be a lot easier, but that's just me. There were lots of very large hot tubs but they always seemed packed. The water slides were awesome and lots of fun for everyone (even my mom!).
However, honestly, we were not too impressed with the flow of the Dream. We had lots of issues navigating around her. They really did all they could to jam as much as possible into her interiors. My biggest complaint was the location and the smell of the casino. The casino was right in the middle of the ship. To go from the atrium to the lounges, you had to go through it (or go outside and go around it). On all other cruises I've been on the casino has been at one end of the ship and was pretty easily avoidable (usually with a hallway that went along side it). And even when the games were closed, it reeked of smoke. I'm usually not a complainer of this but this was almost unbearable. I love a good game of blackjack but I couldn't spend more than 2 minutes in there so I never did. Moving on, the bars were one after another and again no hallway. You had to walk through them. There was a clear walkway but there were always tables on both sides so you felt like you were always interrupting something. Also, we found the dEcor to be quite gaudy. Very old-style Vegas. Every doorway had LED signs telling where it led and sometimes there would be over 10 locations listed, all in different font and sizes. Plus, the paintings in the center stairwell were...unique. I'm sure some people enjoy a good painting of rubber ducks or a cat chasing a butterfly but not me. That stairwell did lead to Camp Carnival so I guess that could be why. But still, not everyone is going to Camp Carnival. And finally, the steps on the stairways were very narrow. When I was wearing heels, I found these stairs to be almost dangerous to walk down. I had to go very slow, especially when carrying my son.
However, none of these things affected our overall cruise experience. We had a fantastic cruise. Our balcony room (7342) was huge and our room steward, Eva, was the best. She remembered our faces from day one and would address all of us by name no matter where she saw us. Our dining time was the early seating in the MDR. We had our own table, which was nice. We were away from the action, up against the window, pretty near the kitchen. That was fine with us though we did miss some of the good dancing. Our waiters, Alvin and Anthony, were perfect. They made dining with our active son so much easier. The bar waitress wasn't the best, often taking forever to bring our drinks or putting them on the wrong bill. The food was very good. I'm not going to say it was the best food I've ever had but I don't expect that. I cleaned my plate every night and never had a complaint. We only ate in the buffet for lunch and found it to be kind of a mess. The flow of it just didn't work for the amount of people onboard. Plus, their selection seemed small to me. We ate lunch in the pasta bar 3 times and that was very good (though very slow on the sea day). The Mongolian bar was good but I would have liked more sauce options. The deli was good as well. I'm not a pig when it comes to eating at home, but on cruises, I tend to eat way too much. I did find the hours when food was available to be kinda rough. You could always get pizza or a sandwich during the day. But around 4pm, we would have liked some cheese and crackers or something other snackie type food and you couldn't get that. That was annoying. Plus, the late night snacks at 11:30 never happened. We went up twice to the buffet at the time and it was closed. Still, I managed to gain a few pounds so obviously I got plenty of the food.
We didn't use the spa but my parents went twice and said it was great. Since our son was under 2, we didn't get to use Camp Carnival that much but the times we did, we were very impressed. My nephews both had a good time there. The Fun Force was awesome! The band from New Zealand in the Ocean Plaza was fun to listen to and we spent a lot of nights there. We saw one comedy show in the Burgundy Lounge and it was very funny, but very short at 25 minutes. We only saw one show in the Encore Theater and it was their signature show. It was good but we had bad seats and could only see half the stage. Thankfully, they had screens up so you could see what you were missing, that was a nice touch. The shopping area was pretty big and had lots of things to wish you could afford. In the photo section, I love love love the screens where you can find your photos instead of having to look through the thousands of prints. And unfortunately, we did have to visit the medical center for my son and his adventure in falling off the bed and they were great down there. Quick service, good doctors, and reasonable price.
My husband and I didn't get off the ship at Nassau because my parents and sister took our son with them on their Atlantis excursion, which they enjoyed. We took advantage of the quiet time for some relaxing in the Serenity adults only section. The chairs in there are very comfy. (We went back on an at sea day and understandably couldn't find a place to sit.) At St. Thomas, all ten of us took an open air taxi downtown and spent a few hours wandering the shops. Pretty much the same shops you find at any Caribbean port but it was very nice to spend that time as a family. At St. Maarten, we all took the Golden Eagle catamaran snorkel and beach excursion. That was a lot of fun. The ship was at capacity but didn't feel crowded so that's nice. My only complaint was that you snorkel at the beach and they don't dock. If you want to just go to the beach (like I was doing with my son), you have to either swim or they take you over on a dingy. It was okay but if I had known that, I wouldn't have brought so much stuff for the beach. Still, it was a great time. The beach was very nice and there was plenty of not-weak rum punch. We got to spend over an hour at the beach which might have seemed too short for some but was perfect for us. After we went back to the ship for a shower and lunch, my husband and I took our son and ventured out on our own. We took a water taxi to the downtown area and wandered around there for a few hours.
I know I had a few negative comments but we really did have a good vacation. Since I'm a longtime NCL traveler, I was constantly comparing the experience. Overall, I think I still like NCL better. I feel like the activity options, the food options, and the overall ship layouts on NCL are better. Plus, the bathrooms on NCL were bigger though the cabins are smaller. But if I liked the itinerary, I would take Carnival again without hesitation. I hope that the crews on all Carnival ships are the same because the crew on the Dream was one of the nicest we have ever encountered. I couldn't believe how much of the staff remembered you by name, something I've only encountered a few times on NCL. Everyone always said hello and smiled and asked how you were. We are very happy we took this trip and would recommend it to anyone.