We sailed aboard the Carnival Dream 5 months after an absolutely phenomenal cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas. After that "once in a lifetime" type of experience, we wondered if we would be able to enjoy a Carnival cruise again. We would soon find out....
For this vacation, we decided to bring our mother in law along (in her own cabin, of course). We started our vacation by driving 7 hours the day before the cruise to Cocoa Beach, FL, where we spent the night at the Doubletree Oceanfront. It's a nice property located right on the beach, and only about 15 minutes from Port Canaveral. The following morning, we parked our car at the Park N' Cruise facility. With reservations, they charge $6.99 per day (much cheaper than the $15 per day charged at the cruise terminal). Their personnel is courteous and service is prompt.
Check In -
We arrived at the port around 11:30am. Lines were long, but since this was our 13th Carnival cruise, we took advantage of VIP/Platinum check-in. From the moment we entered the cruise terminal until we boarded the ship, we advanced to the front of the line at every point. Wonderful perk! We were checked in an on the ship in less than 20 minutes!
The Ship -
The ship is nicely decorated (it's still Carnival decoration, but it's much more toned down than most Carnival ships we've been on). She's a modern looking vessel and even though this was our first time on a Dream class ship, we quickly learned our way around (her layout is fairly similar to the Conquest class ships, so if you've sailed on one of those before, expect to learn your way around the Dream quickly as well). However, she feels a bit crowded, especially in places like the buffet restaurant. Tables seemed to be crammed together. During busy times, it's hard to walk about. More stringent smoking rules result in a ship that doesn't smell like stale cigarettes. Sorry for the smokers, but I hope that the trend of less smoking venues and more strict rules continues!
We booked a balcony stateroom midship on the Upper Deck (6). My mother in law booked an inside stateroom forward on the Upper Deck (6) as well. Our cabin was nicely appointed and spacious (more spacious than our previous cabin on the Allure of the Seas). Our balcony looked at the promenade one deck below us; however we didn't have any issues with noise or privacy (as others had previously reported). Unfortunately for my mother in law, her cabin was located right above the Encore Theater. Every time there was a performance, the sounds and vibrations were SO loud, that it was impossible to sleep through it. After the second night, she requested a different cabin. I was very satisfied at the way Carnival handled the situation. Thankfully, another cabin on deck 10 was vacant, so she was promptly moved to it. Additionally, a $50 onboard credit was posted to her shipboard account!
Fellow Cruisers -
Fellow cruisers seemed to come from all walks of life. As should be expected on Carnival, we saw several families (many with school aged kids, even though we sailed when schools were in session). We also sailed with many seniors. Most passengers were very pleasant (except for a select few rotten apples).
Majority of our meals were divided among the Main Dining Room, The Gathering (buffet), and Room Service. Overall, our favorite food venues were the Tandoori and Mongolian Grill at the Gathering. Everyday meals at the Main Dining Room and the buffet were good but after a few days, they started feeling very repetitive. The Room Service menu is limited but adequate for a quick breakfast in the cabin.
The absolute highlight of this cruise (and other Carnival cruises we've taken) was dinner at the Steakhouse. On this ship, it's called the Chef's Art and it's tucked pretty much away from everything. The ambiance is upscale, the service is unhurried, and the food is superb. We enjoyed it on the second Elegant night and dressing up for the occasion added a touch of class to our evening. We will continue going to the Steakhouse on any Carnival ship that offers this dining option. It's well worth the $30 per person upcharge.
We visited 4 ports of call on this Western Caribbean itinerary. Our first stop was in Cozumel, Mexico. Unfortunately, I didn't get off the ship here. I was feeling sick (with what felt like food poisoning, but thankfully it was over in less than 24 hours). The following day we visited Belize City, Belize. Since we were traveling with our 2 year old son, we opted for an easy, short excursion (Belize City Tour). Belize is a beautiful country, but it's also a poor, under populated country. Our tour guide highlighted the way Belizeans live more than actual landmarks along the city (there aren't that many). The visit to the Anglican Church and Museum of Belize were enjoyable though. The following day, we visited Roatan, Honduras. The ship docks at the new facility (Mahogany Bay). Very nice facility with shops and a "ski lift" type ride to the beach. Nice place to relax if you're not taking any excursions, but unfortunately it's just another tourist trap. You won't get a feel for what Roatan is truly about unless you leave Mahogany Bay. Our last stop was Costa Maya, Mexico. Like Mahogany Bay, Costa Maya is another "tourist trap" type of destination. It has changed since our last visit back in 2005 (and I hate to say that it has changed for the worse). A few years ago, it felt relaxing, with plenty of space to walk around and enjoy. Now, it feels like they've kept cramming more and more shops making it feel crazy and unwelcome. Instead of dealing with this, we took a $3 cab to the village of Mahahual. MUCH better! While there are still plenty of shops and restaurants catering to tourists, it's much less crowded. You can actually walk around the beach without having to step on other peoples belongings. My wife and mother in law took advantage of 1 hour massages right on the beach for $20! (and my wife said that it was one of the best massages she's ever experienced in her life). After a few hours of relaxation, we returned to the ship fully recharged!
Entertainment on the Dream is your typical Carnival lineup, including pool games, trivia, shows at the main theater, comedians, etc. While there was nothing truly innovative, Carnival still packs the day with activities. We enjoyed the performances at the main theater more than on previous Carnival cruises. One thing that was innovative, (but a bit of a disappointment) was the Laser Show on the Lido deck. It was too windy so the smoke kept blowing away, which meant we could barely see the lasers. I left halfway through the show because, plain and simple, there was nothing to see.
We traveled with our 23 month old son. Although we knew that he would not be able to participate in Camp Carnival activities (he missed the age requirement by a month), we still felt a bit disappointed. This is one department where Carnival SEVERELY lags behind Royal Caribbean. When we sailed on the Allure of the Seas back in May, our son was able to attend the Royal Babies and Tots program. They had wonderful facilities with an area specifically dedicated to kids between 6-36 months. They offered babysitting and Fisher Price sponsored activities beginning at 8am and ending at midnight, in addition to a dedicated TV channel for kids. A free play area where our son could play supervised at any point in time during the day was also available. We could drop our son off for a few hours every night while we had dinner or went to a show. The program has been so successful that its now being deployed throughout the rest of the Royal Caribbean fleet. Its not a free service, but its one we were happy to pay for.
On Carnival, the only thing offered was a drop off service for a few hours on port days, 2 hours of play time on sea days (from 8am-10am), as well as babysitting after 10pm. It was truly a joke. There are no dedicated areas for kids under 2 where they are allowed to play freely, (even supervised), so we would take him to one of the empty lounges so that he could run and play with the toys that we brought from home. In our opinion, Carnival is missing out by not offering anything for kids under the age of 2. They could be making money if they offered it! We wouldve gladly paid to have the option to drop our son off for a few hours.
Now that we have another baby on the way, the availability of babysitting and activities for kids under the age of 2 will definitely weigh heavily on our decision of which cruise line to choose for our next cruise vacation.
Our last day at sea was very choppy (courtesy of a weather system as we returned to Port Canaveral). As choppy as it was, our midship cabin location proved to be a good place to ride out the rough seas. The following morning we were back in Port Canaveral in blinding rain. Even with that, we were off the ship by 720am, and on the expressway by 750am. Priority Debarkation was well organized and FAST! Another wonderful perk!
Overall, we had a very enjoyable cruise. Carnival Dream is definitely an improvement over other ships in the Carnival fleet, and we would be happy to sail on her or one of her siblings again! We do feel that Carnival's newest and largest class of ship is still lagging behind other cruise lines' newest and largest ships, but at the same time Carnival's prices are considerably less than on those other cruise lines. The Carnival Dream definitely delivered quite a bit of bang for our buck!