We recently returned from the August 20-27 Western Caribbean Sailing on the Carnival Dream. This was our 7th Carnival Cruise. Overall we had a wonderful time. Cruise Critic has been an invaluable tool for me for my past cruises and I just wanted to share a few of my observations and experiences. Myself (44) DW (43) and DS (7) left NY on Thursday Morning and Started our drive down to Florida. We stopped in South Carolina for an overnight break and arrived at Cocoa Beach Friday around 2:30PM. We stayed at the Four Points Sheraton in Cocoa Beach. The hotel was immaculate and we really enjoyed our stay here. They have an outdoor pool with a waterfall and Jacuzzi. The Lobby is quite unique. It contains a Starbucks, The Cocoa Beach Surf Company and a restaurant with a large aquarium. The restaurant was quite good and I was able to pick up some inexpensive water shoes right in the "Lobby" at the surf club store. The Hotel is 2 blocks from the beach but a ways away from the Cocoa Beach Pier. They do offer a shuttle to the port and a cruise/park package but we chose to take our car to the port.
DAY 1. Embarkation
We awoke Saturday Morning and Headed out to the port at 10:30AM. Arrived at the port 10:40AM and on the ship at 11:10AM. Port Canaveral embarkation is a breeze, The best of any port we have cruised out of. My First Impression of the ship as I entered the grand atrium was that it was beautiful but rather small for such a large ship. It felt more like something between a spirit class and Conquest Class atrium. We really enjoyed the overall dEcor of the ship. It is more toned down than past ships that Joe Farcus designed. We are probably in the minority but all of us really enjoy the Farcus themes on the ships we have sailed (Glory-colors, Victory-oceans, etc.). Even the famous grapes in the Miracle dining room did not bother us. As soon as we boarded we headed straight up to the pasta bar on deck 11 and had a great lunch all by ourselves. We followed the CC advice and enjoyed this experience before everyone found out about it. We also hit the water park and DW and DS enjoyed the slides while everyone else was busy boarding and eating. After that we went to check on our dining arrangement and got on a very long line of people waiting to see the Maitre D. We then headed to our room. I booked room 8270 which was Verandah deck forward and very close to the atrium elevators. I read on many reviews about the awful experiences with elevators so I figured why not just pick a room that has 10 elevators right around the corner (6 regular and 4 glass). This turned out to be a very smart move since I always noticed a logjam near the rear elevators around dining and showtimes. We NEVER waited more than a minute for an elevator. The room is the standard carnival room and my biggest fear when booking this room was how much the lanai below our balcony would bother me. I picked deck 8 figuring we would be 3 decks above it. Privacy was really not an issue as the lanai is quiet most of the time and people did not really look up. The biggest attraction by far is the oversized chess game they have. There were people playing this day and night! The hot tubs were fairly quiet most of the time. I did miss having nothing but the ocean right below and will probably try a cove balcony on my next Dream Class Cruise. Muster Drill for us was held in the Crimson Dining room (which was also our dining room) and is a much more pleasant experience than being lined up 6 deep outside in 90 degree weather. After muster we watched sailaway
We then went to the Camp Carnival welcome party and DW & DS danced together. DS is shy so he does not go to Camp Carnival but we don't mind since we enjoy spending time him and he is very well behaved and just goes with the flow so to speak. We then had early dining in the Crimson Dining room. The Maitre D had promised us that we would have our new table tomorrow evening. We were originally assigned a table for 3 which we requested but the table was right on top of another table (Think Manhattan restaurant) so I requested something in a more desirable location. To our surprise they turned our original table for 3 into a table for 6 for the first night and we were seated with another couple with a son around our age. The other couple was shy so we all just kind of kept to ourselves and enjoyed our meals. After dinner we walked around for a while and DS and DW headed off to bed and DH (That would be me) Headed to the Casino. Casino was a good size with a wide variety of slots and table games. One side of the casino was non-smoking and about 70% of the other side is smoking. The rule is that you cannot smoke unless you are playing at a table or slot machine in the smoking section. They did seem to be on top of this with constant announcements as well as signage. As a smoker I guess I should let you know where smoking is allowed. On The Dream the ONLY indoor areas that permit smoking are the Casino (Only While playing) and the Disco. Smoking is permitted in cabins but only until December 1st. Outdoors you can smoke on the balconys, Deck 10 Port Side near the pool/TV and a tiny spot in the rear of the ship, and on Deck 5 portside outside of ocean plaza. It really seemed to be a fair compromise for all and did not bother me one bit. Btw I have never smoked in the cabin before and actually find the smell of cigarettes repulsive (The taste is a different story!) Enough about smoking and on to day 2.
DAY 2. Fun Day at sea.
We awoke to a beautiful day. Headed up to the Gathering (Lido deck buffet) for breakfast around 8:30. The lines were not bad at all and I ordered an omelet and then went to the other line and got the rest of my food. We then headed back to the room to catch Butch the Cruise Director's Morning show. It was enjoyable and he seems to have a good Rappaport with his sidekick Amy who is known as 6'3". Later in the morning I arranged for DW to go to the food and wine pairing ($17 charge) and she really enjoyed it. While she was there DS and I explored this large ship. For my son it was quite an experience since he has only sailed on Spirit class ships. We headed down to the Lanai at noon to try out the barbecue (Only held on sea days). Line was not too bad (Maybe 15-20 people) and moved fast. They had sliders which were miniature steak burgers as well as mini hamburgers with no buns and Steak Tacos. There might have been something else but for the life of me I cannot remember. DS and I ate the mini Steak burgers and Steak tacos and they were very good. We then headed up to the Lido deck to catch all of the Lido Deck Activities (ice carving, hairy chest). We then headed to Ocean Plaza for 70's music trivia (I had 38 out of 40 points yet still lost!) Someday my ship on a stick will come in LOL! Later in the afternoon I headed to the casino to make a donation and then on to dinner.
Tonight was the first elegant night as well as the captain's celebration. We decided to get some formal pictures taken and then headed to our new table assignment which to our delight was in the same section as our old one. This meant that we would continue to be served by our head waiter Sebastian and his assistant, Riu. They were wonderful and really did go above and beyond one evening later in the cruise (and later in the review). After dinner DW went to see the comedy show (Jason Blanchard) and I spent time with DS. Later in the evening I headed back to the casino.
We really explored every corner of this ship today so now would be a good time for my opinion on some of the things I noticed. For the most part this ship is a conquest class ship with many more cabins. The two biggest changes are Ocean Plaza and The Lanai. Ocean Plaza is a wonderful addition. There always seems to be something going on in this area whether it be a band or trivia contest. The area includes the specialty coffee bar (Which I frequented quite a bit) as well as a bar and large seating area. The other addition is the Lanai. This is the open deck which goes around the entire ship on deck 5. There are tables and chairs outside Ocean plaza and loungers spread out throughout the rest of the area. There are several hot tubs and aforementioned chess set and sea day BBQ. I liked the lanai BUT it came at the expense of the deck on other ships that are above the lido deck (Deck 10 on Spirit class) that goes around the entire ship. Deck 11 on this ship only goes around the pool areas for the most part. The other public spaces were similar in size to those on other CCL ships. Overall this ship did not seem much more crowded than my previous 6 cruises. This was also my very first CCL ship with a big screen TV in the pool area. It is really cool walking though the lido deck at night when they have the movies under stars. During the day there are concerts, movies, and CNN is on each morning. I have never ever watched a news program on a cruise ship (I leave ALL of reality behind when the horn sounds and that includes blackberry, news, and internet) but this cruise was different. There was this gal named Irene and by day 2 of this sailing they were predicting a direct hit on central Florida Friday night. So naturally I wanted to watch this closely (Extra day of sailing perhaps, one can only dream!). While on the subject of TV the Dream has a channel that is focused on the Lido Deck 24/7. I actually really enjoyed watching this on several occasions. DS was too tired to watch the laser light show one night so he watched it from bed!
DAY 3 Cozumel
We awoke to another nice day and headed up to the gathering for breakfast about 9:00. Today the lines were very long for breakfast so I took the advice I read here on CC and headed all the way to the rear of the gathering where there was a buffet set up outside. Sure enough no line at all! Not sure if they had omelets outside but they had enough of everything else to satisfy me. This would be the ONLY morning that we would see lines like this at the buffet. After breakfast we headed down to the gangway and out into Cozumel
We had decided to do Chankanoob Park so we hailed a cab for a short 5 minute ride to the park. I downloaded $3 off coupons from their website so the general admission was $18 Adult and $11 Child I think? I came to Chankanoob back in 2003 and it has changed quite a bit from the way I remembered it. The place is beautiful. They have a good snorkel area right off the beach. You go down a ladder and the fish are already at your feet. It is about 4-5 feet deep at the ladder so keep that in mind if you have young children. I saw plenty of fish. They also have a small beach area for swimming. The water is very shallow and perfect for children. It is a sandy bottom and we actually saw a huge fish about 20 inches long in about a foot of water. There are also numerous crabs walking along the rocks on the perimeter. They also have a large pool area which we tried out. In addition to swimming we attended the sea lion show which was very good and we did a tour of the dolphin and manatee area with one of the guides. During the tour we were able to watch all of the people who were swimming with dolphins, kissing dolphins and even riding dolphins! DS decided right there that he wanted to be with the dolphins so now we have a plan for the next time we are here. We also got to see 3 manatees up close which was the highlight of my day. At the end of our stay we walked through a sort of rainforest that goes around a pond and took some pictures.
We then headed back to the ship and there was a long line to get back on. Why there was only one Gangway open is beyond me but they did open the second gangway shortly after we arrived. We grabbed some lunch and then DW decided to go back to the port to do some shopping. When DW came back from shopping I could see that she was not feeling well. She insisted on going to dinner anyway. When we got to the dining room we placed our orders. Shortly thereafter DW had to leave so DS and I had dinner together. Our waiter team of Sebastian and Riu insisted on having her entire dinner delivered to the stateroom. Since DW was nauseous I told them not to worry about it but they insisted that they must deliver her dinner to her. They were really serious about it so I said OK. I later found out that our head waiter personally delivered it to our cabin. As it turns out DW felt better later in the evening and did indeed have her dinner!
I also wanted to mention our room steward Karim. Many times the room stewards kind of work behind the scenes and maybe we will see them twice throughout a 7 or 8 day cruise. Not Karim. He was always visible. He did a marvelous job throughout the week and especially on this night when he was unable to get into the cabin since DW was there all night he actually was waiting in the hallway for me to return from dinner so that he could see if we needed anything without disturbing DW. We saw him daily and he always addressed each of us by name. We spoke to him on several occasions and he always displayed a genuine concern that we were having a great time or that DW was feeling better. He is the best room steward we have ever had.
DW and DS hit the sack early and DH (me) Hit the casino.
DAY 4 Roatan.
Far and away my favorite day of this cruise.
We Booked Victor Bodden for this port. We used Victor back in 2009 when we came here on the Legend and decided to do so again. We were able to get our same tour guide (Joanne) which was nice. After breakfast we headed out to meet Joanne and sure enough she remembered us. We started the day by visiting the monkeys and birds at Victor's house. One spider monkey who was in a cage actually reached out his long arm and grabbed my hat as I walked by. He was not very happy when I asked for it back! We then went into cages to play with the monkeys and then the birds. One huge parrot actually landed on my head and it took some work to get him off. You have to lower yourself and move away very quickly. It sounds a lot easier than is! This was our second time doing this and it was just as awesome as the first time. After the monkeys we headed to the Bananarama Resort on West Bay Beach. Joanne got us set up quickly with chairs and into the water went DW & DS. I stayed behind for a bit to try some local coffee and talk to Joanne about the culture, etc. The 3 of us then took a short walk down the beach to the snorkel area by Tabayana Beach. The Barrier Reef extends all the way to the beach in this spot so it is a very easy entry into a great snorkel area. Saw some nice coral and a huge variety fish including one species that I had never seen in my life. They were these 2 triangle shaped fish with huge eyes, don't know how else to describe them. After the beach ended we drove around Roatan as Joanne narrated and continued to talk about the culture and her life on this island. I had really enjoyed the coffee I had earlier on the beach so Joanne suggested we go to the supermarket where she shops and pick some up. This is why I love the Victor Bodden tours - They give you an opportunity to get away from the touristy areas and get a real feel for the people and the island. We went to the grocery store and picked up some coffee, vanilla and a few other things. They had a little craft/souvenir store nearby so we picked up a few things there as well. As we continued driving Joanne was talking about the local delicacies. There were some cookies that sounded really good so we actually went to a ladies house to try them but she had run out of them. There are a lot of people in Roatan who sell food right from the front of their homes. We then returned to Mahogany Bay and said our goodbyes. The tour was such a personal experience and I highly recommend it.
We headed back onto the ship and rested a bit before dinner. After dinner we all went to catch "Dancing in the Streets" Because of all the positive reviews we were really looking forward to it. Well I can say that the show does live up to the hype. It is an action packed show featuring the fun force dancers. They are a group of 4 or 5 break dancers who are very talented. The Fun Force dancers put on a show earlier in the week which was in the grand atrium right after dinner. DS and I watched and it was good. The best part of the Dancing in the Streets show comes towards the end and I can promise that it will make you smile. I thought it was the best show I ever saw on a cruise ship. DW thought it was comparable to another excellent show that we saw back in 2002 on the Pride.
After the show we headed up to Lido deck for the Pink Floyd/Rush Laser Light show. DW & DS were tired so they left at the beginning and watched the show from our room. The show was good. As others have said it is hard to get the smoke to stay in one place when you are on an open deck in the middle of the sea but it was still enjoyable. After that I went to casino for a short time then off to bed. They held the big Mardi Gras celebration this night but it started around 11:30 and I was tired so I skipped it.
DAY 4 Belize.
Today we booked a tour through Carnival. This is one port where I feel better doing a tour through the ship since the excursions pick you up and drop you off right at the ship. No need to tender to the mainland. We Booked the Goff's Key Snorkel excursion. This excursion sold out quickly so if you want to do it I would suggest booking before you board or soon thereafter. We ended up with the 1:00 excursion. We gathered in our meeting area at 12:30 and at 1:00 were told that the boat had some engine issues and they were sending another one over to get us. We were delayed about 45 minutes but were assured by staff that we would get our entire 3 ½ hours.
We boarded our tender and headed out to Goff's Key. The island itself is very small. It is only about an acre if that. It is located on top of the barrier reef and the surrounding waters around the island are shallow. There is a small covered area with drinks, a BBQ and a few trinkets for sale. There is also a restroom which we did not use so can't comment on it. There were chairs available for rental. There are only about 6 palm trees on the island so not a ton of shady spots but enough for the small amount of people on the island When we arrived to the island we could not dock because the dock area is less than 4 feet of water and our replacement boat was too large. So we boarded another boat about 20 feet from the dock and then had a 10 second ride to the island (Literally!). I booked this tour because I wanted to give DW a special snorkeling experience. Since DS does not swim I just stayed on the Island with him and we went swimming. DW went on an escorted snorkeling tour around the island and told me that it was the most beautiful corals she had ever seen. She was out there for a good hour and a half. When she returned I headed out on my own and explored some of the reef. The Coral is indeed beautiful. Did not see a ton of fish but from what one of the tour guides told me you can get anything from stingrays to turtles to even manatees depending on the day. I Highly suggest water shoes for this island as the entry to the water is extremely rocky and the beach had some of these prickly things from the shrubbery that were quite sharp.
We returned to the ship and relaxed until dinner. After dinner I started watching the news on Hurricane Irene and this is when I first learned that the Hurricane was forecast to make a direct hit on NYC. I live in New York City AND I live on the water so I started coming out of cruise mode and back into reality mode. What an awful thing to happen with 2 cruising days still ahead.
Later in the evening after DW & DS went to bed I spent some time in the casino and went up to the Lido deck to watch parts of the deck party. I love the deck party atmosphere where you have the band, the lights, the people and of course the Mexican buffet complete with the Ice sculpture we had watched a crew member create days earlier outside under the stars in the Caribbean Sea.
DAY 5: Costa Maya
We had a 7:00 AM arrival today which is early for me but not so much DW & DS. Today I had reserved a spot at Tropicante. I found all of the info here on the CC ports board. We went up to Lido deck to get a quick breakfast and watch CNN for updates on Irene on the big screen. I then tried to forget about it and go enjoy Costa Maya which was exciting for us since we had never been there before.
We headed out through the cruise port shops and towards the area where the taxi stand is. When I had reserved Tropicante Steve, the owner had emailed me specific instructions on how to get there. I was to bypass the shuttle buses and head to the taxi stand. He told me that the shuttle buses would not take me to his place but to some other resort where they would herd everyone off of the bus. For some reason which I can't quite explain I boarded the shuttle bus not realizing that the taxi stand was still 2 blocks away. Well as Steve had told me we were brought to the beach area and herded off the bus and directed into a resort. We immediately started walking down the main street and eventually found a gentleman who directed us to Tropicante. I must say that every person we met in Costa Maya was extremely nice!
The cost to reserve chairs, umbrellas and tables at Tropicante is free. They are counting on you eating, drinking and perhaps getting a massage in order for them to make their money. When we arrived we were greeted by a gentleman named Jorge. He immediately got our chairs umbrella and table set up for us and let us know what activities, food, drink etc. were available and to ask him for anything we need. He was non-intrusive and did not push anything on us. He would just check in from time to time to make sure we were enjoying our stay. Jorge was truly a rock star here. First I had Coffee then DW had a 60 minute massage right on the beach. Then in between swimming , we all were eating and drinking. We had nachos, fried burritos and for drinks I had several excellent Mexican beers, DW had a Pina Colada and a Margarita and DS had a couple of sodas. They did have buckets of beer 6 for $10 but I could not drink that much at 10:00 in the morning! Wanna guess what the entire day cost us? How about $70 TOTAL including the massage! Thank you Cruise Critic! During the day Steve the owner came by and spent quite a bit of time talking about Costa Maya and himself (He is originally from Texas I believe). He is very friendly and did an excellent job to insure that our stay in Costa Maya was a memorable one. DW was interested in looking at some silver so Steve sent her about 100 feet down the path from his restaurant to a local silversmith who handmade all of his jewelry. DW found an incredible bracelet that she fell in love with. It was .95 silver with Australian opals. I am not really into this type of thing but this was possibly the nicest piece of Jewelry I have ever seen. DW bargained the price down but guess what? DH did not bring his credit card with him!!!! From all the reviews I read I did not expect to find a nice piece of jewelry and so I only had brought enough cash to cover the day's expenses and perhaps a few trinkets. Well that bracelet is still in Costa Maya as we speak and we look forward to going back there to get it in the future ? We then said our goodbyes and were each given a "lucky" seed which was put around our necks. With Irene coming I knew that I was going to need this seed in the coming days! We hailed a cab back to port.
Back on board we rested and continued to follow the news. It was at this point that the New York MTA announced that they were shutting down all subway and bus service Saturday. For those in other parts of the country reading this that is a big deal to us NY'ers. The Subways and buses have NEVER been completely shut down before. So now I am becoming more focused on the hurricane and less on the cruise. We did have an enjoyable dinner that evening and DW went to punchliners comedy club to see Tony Esposito who I was told was quite funny. After that I headed to the casino to relax and have a few drinks (and make my donation).
DAY 6: Sea Day
Today we decided to try breakfast in the MDR. The food was very good but the service was painfully slow. After breakfast the day is kind of a blur to me. We spent quite a bit of time watching the hurricane coverage on TV and discussing how it would affect us and how we were going to get home (We drove from New York) I had mentioned to DW that once we past Key West and got towards Miami later in the day that we would be right in the middle of Irene's wake. Butch mentioned this on his morning show as well and provided updates on the Orlando airport (Open) and a few other things. By lunchtime I had formulated our plan for getting home and discussed it with DW & DS while enjoying the Chocolate Buffet. I was so nervous about the storm that I skipped lunch and went straight for the Chocolate LOL!
In the afternoon we just kind of wandered around and explored the entire ship one last time. We also checked all of our pictures and only purchased one! shocking since we usually buy 4 or 5. DS went swimming in one of the hot tubs on deck 11 and that is all I remember. We returned to the room around 5:30 and I put CNN on. What do I see but the local New York news! It was our very own channel 7 that I was watching on a ship! I never expected that but it gave me every piece of information I needed and prepared me for the coming days. It was also about this time that the seas started kicking up a little.
We then headed down to our last dinner. I usually cry when they do the "Leaving on a funship" song the last night but tonight I was already checked out so to speak. The one thing that stood about this final dinner was the fact that I could not feel the movement of the boat in the dining room. In seven cruises I realized that this was the first one with no motion in the MDR the entire trip. We were in the Crimson dining room which was mid-ship and this was the first cruise that we did not have our dining room in the rear of the ship. What a difference it made!
After Dinner we extended extra gratuities to Dining wait staff, Maitre D and Room Steward for going above and beyond. We got back to our room and by now the ship was really moving! It was not swaying from side to side but was rocking forward to aft and going up and down as we started to get into 20 to 30 foot swells. The sounds of the ship (A creaking noice) was a bit scary! I went out to the balcony and could see the skyline of Miami behind a beautiful sunset. We were probably about 5 miles off the coast of Miami and for some reason that gave me a sense of security as the ship continued to bob around in the ocean. I would not want to be in the middle of the ocean in these seas!
DW and DS went to bed and I went down to the Casino one last time. I played for a couple of hours then headed back to the room. I went out onto the balcony and the ship was going through swells like I have never seen before. The swells were hitting the ship dead on so there were waves crashing over the bow that were unbelievable. Considering the sea conditions I thought the Dream handled it well. When I finally went to bed I felt as though I was going up and down in an elevator. The motion did not bother me as much as the creaking sounds which were constant at this point. I just kept telling myself that we were near the coast and would be out of this mess in a couple of hours. What a big baby I am LOL! We have been through rough seas before. I remember one year sailing on the Miracle in 15 foot seas. DW did not do well on that cruise but DS and I were fine. For this cruise I did bring ginger pills with us and I guess they worked since none of us got sick.
DAY 7. The end of the Dream and the Beginning of Irene.
We awoke and went upstairs for a leisurely breakfast before debarking. We had Self Assist but since we were going to be trailing Irene on the trip home we were not In a major rush to get off the ship. We ate and watched CNN to get the latest news and then we made our way off the ship. Normally there is a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I do that final 'Ding" exiting the ship but not today. Too much on my mind.
We left Port Canaveral at 9:00 and headed north. My Plan was to drive to the northern part of SC which was about as far north as we could travel without heading into Irene and stay overnight. I also planned to stop every hour from South Carolina heading north and top off the gas tank since there were many areas that had gas shortages or no electricity. I also realized that many people were evacuated from shore towns so I called ahead to a Holiday Inn Express that was up in the northern part of SC and made an advance reservation.
When We got to the Holiday Inn I called my Father who told me that my apartment was going to be going under water according to what info he had and we discussed what items he could bring up to higher ground and away from the flooding. I Watched the local NY news which was now going 24/7 on my laptop and headed to bed.
DAY 8. Heading Home.
We awoke and had breakfast. I called my father about 8:30 AM and told me that the bay (We live on a bay) was already up to the street and high tide would be at 11:00AM. So we headed north slowly with no idea on whether we would go home as scheduled or in the event of a disaster stop off again for an overnight around DC or Maryland. Well 11:00 came and went. The water came up to my front door but did not come in. Amazing!! Whew!!. Remember that lucky seed I got in Costa Maya? It Works! We continued our trek north keeping the gas tank full (Good Idea since the entire state of VA did not have power as far as we could see from the highway) and arrived home around 10:00PM.
We Trailed Irene from North Carolina to New York yet we never experienced a raindrop. We were always one step behind her. Everything was timed perfectly. It was very windy when we got home but that was it.
We really enjoyed our cruise on the Carnival Dream. Would we sail on her again? Absolutely. My Wife liked being on a larger ship and there are more things to do and see on this ship than others we have sailed but with that being said I still prefer the Spirit class ships.
As far as common complaints go we did not find the lines to be any worse than any other ship we have sailed on. We never encountered "the smell" although there was one day that the gathering had a peculiar odor towards the rear that lingered the entire day. We also did not notice much movement with the vessel itself except on the last evening as we trailed Hurricane Irene. Elevators towards the aft do get quite crowded but book a room forward and that should solve that problem for the most part.
This was a port intensive cruise with 4 port days and 2 sea days. My wife loved this but for me another sea day would have been nice. I was exhausted after 4 ports in a row LOL!
Service by all staff was wonderful. Activities were plentiful (Although some were a bit too late - Mardi Gras at 11:30 comes to mind) and the Dream was a dream for this family!