This is our first cruise. I spent the prior 6 months reading reviews, hanging on every comment, wondering how the cruise will be, will it be as good as some say or will it be as bad as others say. All I can say is that, after my cruise with my wife and 2 kids (16 year old son, and 13 year old daughter), I should have spent less time worrying about the complaints, we had an awesome time!!! The cruise will be as good, or as bad, as you allow it to be.
As a disclaimer here, My comments are my (and my families) opinion. You may agree, you may disagree.
Flew in the day before and stayed at the Raddison at the Port. Definitely recommend coming a day early as it eliminates any fears of delays the day of the cruise and gives you time to get into "cruise mode". The Raddison was OK as far as accommodations go, comfortable for a single day stay (though I wouldn't stay much longer, and the Sleep Number beds were nothing to write about - save your money, get a standard room) , pool was very nice, restaurant was excellent (Devon was our waiter and he was fabulous). Transportation from hotel to Port was very well done, hotel has this process down pat. Hassle free, worry free.
Arrived at Port Canaveral at 12:30pm and was on the ship by 12:50pm. Pulling up to the Port, the lines looked long, but they have the boarding process down to a science, and were able to get almost 5000 people on the ship in short order. With our room category (Room 7242 / 8A) we had VIP boarding, but I spoke with many people who checked in at different times who did not have VIP check-in and the longest time I came across was about 30 minutes.
ONCE ON THE SHIP:
The Dream is a BIG ship!!! A BIG Beautiful ship!!! When you cross the gangway, you are funneled into the Atrium. Everyone seems to work their way up to the Gathering (Buffets on deck 12) but we had read earlier reviews and went to the Pasta Bar (go to the Gathering, and then take the stairs up to next level). Pasta was fabulous, service was great, and the place was very quiet. I heard the restaurant was open as well, which was another option, but I can not speak of since we did not check it out. Muster drill was quick and easy, and it is nice not having to dig up life vests.
As for the comments about kids and crowds, listen...We had almost 5000 people on the ship, and almost 1500 kids. Any complaints about kids need to be sent to their parents, not Carnival. The kid on our cruise were not out of control, there were the few that play in the elevators, and the few that run around, and the few that are abandoned by their parents for the 7 nights, but overall, was not an issue unless you get irritated at the sight of kids. As for crowds, there are 5000 people on this ship, if they all choose to eat at 12pm, guess what, you have lines - that should be a no brainer. We ate breakfast around 8AM in the Gathering and/or the Restaurant, lunch around 1pm in the same places, and while it was busy, never had a long line or difficulty finding a nice place to sit and enjoy the food. Again, learn when the crowds eat, plan accordingly, and you will be fine. DO NOT WORRY.
Unless you want to spend your whole cruise sniffing around and wondering, don't bother. Never smelled anything as "offensive" as I was led to believe.
THE CREW& ACTIVITIES:
Butch and Amy were GREAT!!!, Also had the chance to meet Gumby, Irish Bob, Lady HAHA, Lemon, and Buttercup and all were lively , friendly, and fun. If you wanted to be involved they welcomed you in 110%, if you are more reserved, they gave you your space. Perfect combination! I am more reserved (as are my wife and kids), but by mid-cruise, they had us screaming "Go White Team, Go White Team, Go!!!" (those on this cruise will know what I am talking about). Let yourself go, get involved, have a great time, you will NEVER see most of these people again and you will miss out on a wonderful time!
The comedy shows were funny. We went to the family friendly shows and they had me and my wife, as well as my kids hysterical. You don't need to go to the "X-Rated" show to have a great laugh, and sometimes the cleaner show is actually funnier. We wanted to, but did not get the chance to see Dancin' in the Streets (next time), but did see most of the dancers perform individually throughout the cruise and they were wonderful. Singers were good as well. Were all the dancers in complete sync? I was too busy enjoying the shows to notice and complain about it.
We spent a LOT of time in Ocean Plaza (Mid ship, deck 5). The trivia games were a blast, and while we didn't win a "ship on a stick, we had a blast trying. While your on Deck 5, (the Lanai Deck) , you can walk the entire periphery of the Dream on this deck. Loved the wind towards the front, and you must go to the front at night, it is super dark, and you will see millions of stars!
Restaurant: We were in Crimson Dining Room, 6pm seating, and had Anthony, Ronnie, and Sergio as our servers. The food was exceptional, and their service one step above. Again, I have not cruised other lines, but compared to what I have around me in NY, this food was great. Again, my honest opinion, your may vary, and thats ok.
Gathering: Good amount of selections, something for everyone, and as far as buffets go, one of the best I have been to. They keep the food and presentation fresh. The unlimited ice cream/ frozen yogurt machines were very well liked - never a line here...
Chefs Table: You MUST eat here 1 night!!!! The food was fabulous, probably one of the best meals and service I have had in 25+ years. Again, perhaps I lucked out with the food and service, but I do not think so.
Carnival does a great job planning and organizing these trips. Could you do more on your own? Perhaps. However, for me (in my opinion) I like the guarantee that the ship will not leave without me, the secure feeling that someone from Carnival checked out the vendor for safety, and a whole boatload of other details and assurances that you can't get when you go out of network. Again, that's just me. The service I got and the convenience of gangway to gangway service was well worth the investment.
So much to write....
If you are planning a trip on the Dream, all I can say is do not worry about the size of the ship. You will find your way around the ship in short order, you will learn when and where to eat to avoid crowds if you wish, you will enjoy the food, you will like the shows, and the people are wonderful. ENJOY!!!