This was our 11 Carnival cruise, and we made the trip to Florida specifically so we could experience Carnival's largest ship in the fleet. I was impressed with many aspects of this big ship, still, in the end, my expectations were not exceeded. On the plus side, there were many outside public areas with good shade and plenty of deck chairs where you could get away from the pool side masses and enjoy the outdoors without the noise and confusion around the pools and bars. Speaking of NOISE, the live poolside band on the Lido deck was a hideous, caterwauling, off key assault on the senses. No doubt, if put to a vote, they'd have been set adrift in a lifeboat, minus microphones and instruments (which would have already been comitted to de deep blue, or vice versa). Beyond being an incentive to drink yourself into a stupor, I don't understand Carnival's reasoning in employing such untalented "entertainers".
Food and dining: We ate every evening in the Crimson Dining Room. The first thing we noticed was far fewer large tables seating 8 to 10 guests. Instead, there were lots of 2 seat and 4 seat tables, with many 4 seat tables assigned to a single couple. This met our preference, but if you prefer the variety of dining with a table full of new friends, be sure and request assignment to a large table when you book. Otherwise, you can request a change from the Mait're De at 3:00 PM on departure day. The food in the main dining rooms was good, and in some cases, great. I noticed a significant improvement in the quality of the beef products. The last 2 or 3 cruises left a LOT to be desired in this department, so they must have changed suppliers. Our waiters were personable and attentive. Service was paced by the galley's ability to fill orders, but the delay was not objectionable and we were never in a rush to finish dinner and make it to a show or after dinner activity.
Lido Dining: This ship services twice as many passengers as a Spirit Class ship, and the Lido dining area is OVER twice as big. Some of the tables are a bit close together, but we consistently found a place to sit much quicker than on any other Carnival ship we have been on - and we have sailed on every class of ship in the fleet. If the first buffet line you come to is too long, move on to the next one. With 6 lines to chose from, one or more will always have a short que. For breakfast, they have improved the omelet lines, so what looks like a long line for omelets tends to move quickly.
The Mongolian Grill is a great experience, but it is a SLOW process, so a long line equates to a long wait. We never tried the Pasta bar but many said it was great. If you don't want to take the stairs, the aft elevator goes to deck 11 and the pasta bar is right there. The drink station is hidden on the forward starboard side of the room, so you kind of have to look for it rather than running back down the stairs.
Peave: Drink stations. Seriously. Ice machine, cup stack, drink machine? This is a design flaw straight from the shipyard and has been carried forward from past ships.. Not only are guests constantly fumbling over each other to grab a cup, backtrack to get some ice, then push forward past the cups to get a drink, but add a service worker trying to resupply ice, cups or drink concentrate and you have the perfect storm.
The grills were good a cooking "just in time", versus serving piles of dried out burgers that were cooked in advance. This is a training issue and all the food workers on this ship have been trained well and have good leadership. The efficiency award goes to the guy running the deli. What always looked like a long line moved quickly.
Vegas shows in the main lounge: The performers were talented, harmonized well, and since it had been 51 weeks, since our last cruise, every production was new to us (even a Beatles tribute gets old after the third time). Even when arriving just before showtime, we were able to find acceptable seats every time.
Comedy Club: The lounge on the back of the ship is used for comedy shows. Both the PG and R rated shows are popular and the lounge is large enough to accommodate a big crowd. They start the week with two comedians who do four shows, two nights in a row. Then they swap in two new entertainers for two more nights of shows.
Serenity Deck: Good concept, but the usual population of chair hogs made it necessary to get there early or toss abandoned I-Pods, sandals and towels overboard in order to have a seat. This was of minimal impact since there were plenty of outdoor spaces elsewhere on the Lanai Deck (5), Lido, Panorama, Spa, Sun and Sky decks, all having plenty of lounge chairs set out both in the sun and the shade.
Balcony Cabins: Chose carefully, then prepare to be disappointed. The balcony cabins from deck 6 through 9 overlook the Lanai Promenade on deck 5. The noise and light pollution from below are absurd and the view and sound of the sea are blocked by the Lanai deck which projects 25 feet or so from the side if the ship. We paid extra for the privilege of selecting a cabin directly above a hot tub and the outdoor bar area of the ocean plaza, both of which proved to be a great source of unwelcome noise. With all the outdoor public areas available, I will be booking inside cabins on Dream class ships from now on. The one possible exception may be the "Cove" balconies on deck 2. They have an unobstructed view of the ocean directly below and are shielded from all the noise and light pollution from the decks above. If you go with a cove, get one at least half way back on the ship to avoid ocean spray when running in seas over 5 feet.
The Port: Processing through Port Canaveral was quick and efficient. We arrived at 10:30 AM and there was already a crowd that had been processed and was waiting for clearance to board, which came a little before 11 AM. We are Platinum (as were 1200 other guests) so we were in Group 1 to board and I was 1st in line for the Mongolian Grill! Boarding this early in the day really made the first day on the ship feel like a full day aboard. Out processing through customs was equally efficient. The que from gathering luggage to passing through customs is short and there is no advantage to getting a luggage porter to bypass the crowds. In fact, you don't encounter any porters until after you pass through customs. Of course, it always pays to pack light enough to do the self assist disembark rather than waiting to be called by section.
Parking: I used Park n' Cruise, which is a lot 2 miles West of the port. Transport *TO* the port was prompt, however we waited a good 20 minutes for pickup on the return. They had up park so close together (gravel lot) that it was difficult to get out of the car. The unacceptable rub was being charged 8 days parking for a 7 day cruise. I didn't notice the overcharge until I was on the ship. On return I was told they charge for the Saturday I left AND the Saturday I returned. There are plenty of area hotels with Park and Cruise packages that include parking and transportation in the room rate, so I won't subject myself to any more "redneck accounting" practices on my next visit.
Next visit: Yes, I will return, probably within the next 6 to 8 weeks, so overall, I obviously enjoyed the ship. All in all, it accommodated all 4000 plus passengers well and offered good food and good entertainment that were both readily accessible. In fact, I hope you enjoy your cruise on the Dream as much as I enjoyed mine.