We are a family of 4 (us in our mid-late 30s, 18 year old son and 12 year old daughter) who had never cruised before. I spent four years on this site off and on before I finally was able to book a cruise, so I had definitely done my research. I chose this particular cruise because of the itinerary, the ship, and the price. I felt that while we may not be AS happy on an older Carnival ship, the newest (at the time of booking) and biggest would be great. I also really liked the idea of the cove balcony.
As a first time cruiser, I was worried about a few things. Maybe you are too, so I will address those first.
1) Motion sickness. I am SO PRONE to any kind of motion sickness. I even get car sick when I am the one driving sometimes! Medications tend to make me feel even worse, so I was just winging it and hoping it wouldn't be a big problem. Risky, I know. There are some reviews out there regarding motion felt on the Dream, which made me even a little more worried. Did I feel the ship move? Yes, definitely. On a few sea days, you could feel quite a bit. But for whatever reason, I didn't feel the least bit sick from it. I don't know if it was mind over matter, or if it was just that the movement wasn't dips and rocking, per se, but I was very thankful. I actually enjoyed the movement in the end. My husband, on the other hand, who could spin and roll and dip for an hour and be fine, felt "off" the first night. When we were eating dinner and could see the water moving outside the dining room windows, it didn't sit well with him, but he did get better.
2) Food. I think I was trying not to get my hopes up for great food so I wouldn't be disappointed, so therefore I honestly didn't expect anything much better than cafeteria or hospital food. Thankfully I was very pleasantly surprised. I loved every single thing in the dining room, though I will admit the filet mignon's quality could have been a little better. Against my recommendation, my husband ordered the meatloaf one night and didn't like it, but I was surprised there. Pasta bar was excellent (I'm sad it won't be on the Breeze), Mongolian Wok was pretty good but not worth the long wait to get it in my opinion. I didn't try the burrito bar or Tandoori. The deli, as well as the sandwiches from room service, had to be one of my favorites, and my daughter's too. One night when my husband and I were at a comedy show and our son was out with friends, my daughter ordered four sandwiches from room service and pretty much ate them all - and she's a little skinny thing! We ate breakfast at the buffet every morning and did experience some lines there, but nothing intolerable. The food there was excellent, especially the pancakes.
3) "The Smell". Yep, we smelled it from time to time. If no one had ever posted about it, I probably wouldn't have even noticed it. You get 5000+ people on a ship including crew, it's going to produce some odors here and there. It was always fleeting and never overpowering and I am not going to waste any more review time talking about it :).
4) Reputation. I got the impression from reading different forums that Carnival is known for its lower class clientele and party atmosphere. I know better than to believe everything I read, but I will admit I was a little apprehensive about the type of ambience we would be experiencing. We are not drinkers but we aren't uptight either, we just wanted a fun family experience. Well that's what we got. You're going to find rude people anywhere you go, but I have to say, I found less of them on the ship than out in the "real world". Maybe everyone was more relaxed because they were on vacation, I don't know, but we really didn't find any issues. The cruise was definitely fun and had a lot of energy to it, but it wasn't crazy and wild. It struck the perfect balance. As for kids, sure there were a lot on the ship, including our two. But they were just normal kids. Not angels, not devils. None of them did anything to bother me, so I didn't see a problem with them having fun. After all, it's their vacation too! So what if they take a little extra ice cream on their cone!
5) Smoking. We were so very happy to see Carnival change their smoking policy a few months ago, as we can't stand the smell of cigarette smoke. I still thought it would be prominent in some areas. The only area it's unbearable in is the casino, but that's any casino you go to, so I exepected that. Other than that, the public smoking areas are very easy to avoid, so we were thrilled about that.
Embarkation flew by, though we were so excited we wouldn't have noticed if it didn't. Once we got on the ship and walked into the atrium, we were greeted by some photographers and took some quick pictures. Based on others' recommendations, we headed for the pasta bar and had our first lunch. The buffet lines overall at that time weren't bad at all, and the pasta bar was mostly empty, but it did fill up and accumulate a line by the time we finished eating. After that we walked around a little and made our way to deck 2 because it was close to 1:30 and we couldn't wait to see our cabin.
At 1:30 on the dot they let us in, and we already had two of our bags waiting outside the cabin. After all four of us checked out the room for a few minutes, the son went to explore, the daughter laid on her couch/bed and ordered her first room service via the TV, and I started unpacking. In the process of unpacking the first two bags, the rest of our suitcases showed up one by one (you can hear them leaving them outside the door) and I had us completely unpacked before 3:00. The timing couldn't have been better.
The cabin in general was big enough for all of us (the bed pulled down from the ceiling for my son - the steward would pull it down in the evening and put it back up in the morning). It could get cluttered quickly if I let it, so as long as we kept on not leaving stuff laying everywhere, it stayed roomy. The bed was sooooo comfortable and the AC worked great. We like it on the chilly side and had no problem even on those 98 degree days.
Storage was definitely adequate, and I had taken others advice and brought over the door compartment hanger things for toiletries. That might be the best advice I could offer others. The blow dryer is in a drawer outside the bathroom which worked out well so other people could shower while I dried my hair, but it didn't get very hot, so I would bring my own dryer next time. Oh yes and don't forget the power strip!
The balcony itself was worth the whole price of the trip and then some. They are so private and relaxing and close to the water. Experiencing that was amazing. The people on the 6th deck who had balconies overlooking the Promenade Deck, I felt bad for them, actually. They looked down and saw a deck, where we looked down and had an unobstructed view of the blue water. We did see dolphins one morning too.
We were under the galley, so I expected some noise from that, but only heard it one night out of the whole cruise. It was at around 10 pm one night and it sounded like they were dropping bowling balls over our heads, but it was short lived and just made us laugh. We didn't hear a sound any other time.
The shows we saw in the Encore Theater were great, especially the Welcome Aboard show (more entertaining than I thought it would be) and Dancing in the Streets. The theater was so comfortable to be in with its long couch-like seating and tables, and it was so pretty, too.
The comedy shows were our favorite, though. It's nice that they rotate comics halfway through the cruise so you get new material. That lounge was also extremely comfortable and the shows and showtimes were great. We also liked that they had some family friendly shows so our daughter could enjoy them.
Speaking of our daughter, she surprisingly didn't participate in any activities through Camp Carnival/Circle C. The first night on the ship we checked it out and there were about five kids sitting in the room separately, no one talking to each other, and it just turned her off to the whole thing. I think if she had given it more of a chance she would have had fun, but she had a good time anyway, which just goes to show how much there is to do on the ship. She spent time at the pool, watched movies on the deck, went to shows, watched contests, used the slides, etc.
My son on the other hand, even though he was 18, they allowed him to participate in Club O2 (max age 17). He quickly made friends with a group of kids around his age and we hardly ever saw him after that! It was a good group of kids from around the world and he's made lifelong friends.
We didn't use any spa services but we did see the area, and it was beautiful. Even the spa crew was impressive with their uniforms and put-together look.
The ship itself is immaculate. There were people cleaning, polishing and painting all day, every day. One day while we were in port they left us a letter saying they would be cleaning our balcony and changing out our bedskirt.
Service all over the ship was excellent, and our waiters (Fredrick and Oscar) and bar waiter (Jason) became our friends quickly. It was so impressive how they all remembered our names and preferences after the first night. I know it's their job but it's still impressive.
Our room steward (Ricardo) came twice a day and replenished everything quickly. No complaints there. I think I liked the towel animals even more than the kids did!
Butch and Amy (CD and assistant CD) were lots of fun and very visible on the ship.
The ports were everything we expected and more. We did the shallow water dolphin interaction at Atlantis, which we purchased from the Carnival website before the cruise. This also gave us passes to explore Atlantis after the interaction was over, which was beautiful in itself. We just wish we had more time there, we had to be back on the ship for 1:30.
In St. Thomas we took a taxi over to Sapphire Beach. The water was a little rough because of the time of year, but we were still able to snorkel, and the iguanas were fun, too. There was only one little stand to get food from, and it took an HOUR to get two burgers for $12 each, so I might choose a different beach next time for that reason alone. Either that or bring food off the ship. And because of the location of the beach, taxi was $10 per person each way. I thought I had read on these boards about buses being a lot less, but we were told those buses don't exist, so we paid it.
St. Maarten/St. Martin was our favorite. We used Bernard's Tours, which we highly recommend. We got a tour of the entire island as well as narrated history, trivia, etc., by our very pleasant driver Dave. He had a cooler full of free drinks (including rum punch) and brought us to Orient Beach for an hour or so (we could have stayed longer but again it was a little rough). We did some shopping for about an hour in Marigot, and we also spent a little over an hour on Maho Beach and saw quite a few planes coming in, including the biggest of the day, an Air France 747. That was our favorite beach of the whole trip. The water was clear and calm and sandy and the planes were something to see, too.
On our last two days, we had our pictures taken by some of the many photographers set up around the ship in the evening. My family fought me on this, and yes some of the poses they have you do are extremely corny, but I figured it's free to have them taken, let's see what we get. We ended up getting a few really nice shots and bought them from the photo gallery. We do wish you could just buy a whole CD with all your pictures from the cruise as the individual pictures are pretty expensive, but it wasn't an option. So I just bought our favorites and will scan them to make copies for family.
Overall we had such a great time, we are still all having dreams about being back on the Dream (my daughter just had another one last night)! We can't wait to cruise again, and will probably do the Western Caribbean next summer on the same ship.