This was my 6th cruise & my DH's 5th and we sailed with four other couples -â€" several who are cruise veterans as well. While these are our opinions, most of our group was in agreement with us. We chose the Dream because it is one of the newer ships in the fleet, was sailing the Exotic Western Caribbean itinerary and because we would be sailing during Halloween. Carnival is our preferred cruise line; however, we have only sailed on Disney and have no other lines to compare them to except for friend's experiences on Royal Caribbean and Norwegian.
Due to Hurricane Rina, we were diverted to Nassau, St. Thomas & St. Maarten. We always sail during hurricane season and are fully aware of the possibility of an itinerary change. We continue to sail during this time because it allows us to choose a balcony cabin -â€" something we are not be able to afford during other sailings. It also reduces the number of children on board -â€" horror stories we have all read about here. For this particular sailing, there were approximately 430 children on board and they were very well behaved.
Pre-Cruise: I booked the Courtyard Cocoa Beach's Fly, Snooze & Cruise package for $249. This included shuttle from the airport to the hotel, one night stay, shuttle to the cruise terminal and shuttle to the airport after the cruise. The package utilizes Travelynx Shuttle whom I highly recommend. In our case, we flew into Orlando on Friday and utilized the shuttle service as planned, but on Saturday after the cruise, they took us back to the hotel where we stayed another night (paid for one night -â€" no package) and then picked us up on Sunday to go back to the airport. Cocoa Beach is approximately 45 minutes from the Orlando airport. The Courtyard is approximately 10 minutes from the cruise terminal and less than a 5 minute walk to the beach. There is a Subway, Dairy Queen, pizza restaurant, Winn Dixie grocery store, Waffle House, Ron Jon Surf Shop, various other surf/beach stores and a Harley store within walking distance. Walmart is a short cab ride away and I highly recommend Pay What You Want taxi. They shuttled us all over Cocoa Beach (stores, restaurant, bank, bars) and as the name says, pay what you want.
The Courtyard was very nice. They have a fabulous lobby with a bar that includes a light restaurant menu and serves Starbuck's coffee. It also has a very nice internet area with several computer stations and great areas for hanging out or watching TV. We did not use the pool or exercise facility but they looked very nice as well. The front desk held our luggage for us before we checked in and after we checked out the following Sunday so we could check out the area, do our shopping, etc.
On Friday night, we took the cab to Grills, which is a restaurant near the cruise terminal and is frequented by locals. This is casual restaurant and the food was very good. They also have a great tiki bar with very reasonable prices.
When we came back the following Saturday, we had dinner at the Shark Pit Grill which is located in the Sheraton next to Ron Jon Surf Shop. Again, casual, great service and the food was very good.
Embarkation: Saturday morning, Travelynx sent a tour style bus to pick us up. This package is very popular so there was a large group of us. There was not enough room for all of us, so another van was sent about a half hour later and we were on our way. As I have read, embarkation was a breeze! We were on board by 12:30-12:45, had a great lunch in the buffet and were in our cabins to drop off our carry-ons by 1:30. Each of us carried on a 12 pack of soda or water and 1 bottle of wine each. We emptied the refrigerator (which did not get very cold), put our items in, hung out in the cabin for a while and were headed to the Muster drill about 3:30 and sailaway around 4:30.
The Ship: The Dream holds over 4,000 guests and approximately 1,300 crew members. It is larger than the Conquest & Splendor class but it is laid out almost the same. Due to the restaurants and public rooms on the Promenade deck (Deck 5) and the Galley below, the elevators do not go all the way up and down mid-ship. We had cabins on Deck 7 -â€" Empress Deck which were near the aft elevators and stairs. I always choose cabins sandwiched between other passenger decks and I typically book mid-ship to eliminate feeling as much movement as possible. We also prefer to use the stairs and frankly, the elevators on this ship were probably the worst I have ever experienced. Be prepared to wait but if you can do it, I recommend using the stairs as much as possible. Plus, it's a great daily workout!
We had a standard balcony for two, which was sufficient for us. It is smaller than previous balcony cabins but the bathrooms appear to be the same size as other ships unless you have a larger cabin (suite, handicapped accessible, etc.). As usual, the shower curtain doesn't keep the water from getting all over the floor (clothespins on the bottom of the curtain help) but it's not a disaster either. There is great storage in the cabin and in the bathroom where there are three shelves on each side of the mirror. I also bring a cheap over the door shoe holder to hold miscellaneous toiletries that don't fit on the shelves. There IS an outlet in the bathroom but it can only be used for a shaver or electric toothbrush. Facing the mirror, look up to the right -â€" it's at the top of the wall with a plastic cover that flips up. In the cabin itself, there is only one outlet at the corner of the desk -â€" bring a power strip (two or more) if you need to plug in multiple items. I bring my own hair dryer and I was able to bring my straight iron for my hair. No regular irons or steamers are allowed but they do have laundry rooms on board with irons. Our friends had a suite next to our cabin and we were able to open up the divider between the two cabins for one long balcony. We also felt that the suite was a bit smaller than other ships. Our other friends had a cove balcony and even though we did not get to see it, they enjoyed it.
There have been many complaints about the amount & flow of people. While the ship was sold out and it was not spring or summer, we did not experience passenger "grid lock" very often and when we did, we were moving within minutes. The worst grid lock was prior to entering the dining room and the other food areas when the buffet was closed. Eating earlier or later than peak times in those areas alleviated this for us but throughout the cruise, the buffet lines moved fairly quickly. Some of our group did any time dining and didn't have to wait very long to be seated each night.
There have also been many complaints about the wear and tear on the ship, the cleanliness and a foul odor. Yes, the ship has some wear and tear but it is at sea every day and salt water is harsh on everything! They are constantly cleaning, painting and repairing at every port. The only area I experienced dirty spaces was in the bathrooms behind the buffet which are used by people from the aft pool. They didn't do a great job on those but passengers need to bear some responsibility as well. Clean up after yourself people! As for the odor -â€" there was a distinct smell of rotten eggs in our cabin for the entire cruise & I swear they were cooking the bacon in my bathroom every morning at 5:30 a.m. However, we kept our balcony door open when as much as possible and that seemed to help. (Bungee cord!) It wasn't horrible but it was noticeable. Others said that they did not have this problem in their cabins on other decks, our friend's did not notice it in their suite next to our cabin and I did not notice this in the public areas of the ship.
The Lanai on Deck 5 is ok but might be a bit of wasted space. The grill that they set up to serve mini burgers (sliders) steak & chicken quesadillas, etc., was very good but is not open every day. I didn't like that I couldn't see straight down to the water from my balcony (and people could look up) which was a bit of a bummer for people & wildlife watching in port but it wasn't a huge problem for us. I still got a great shot of a large stingray swimming towards the ship in Nassau!
We had a booth for four on the lower level of the Scarlet Dining Room and chose the late seating. The booth was a little difficult to navigate in a dress but otherwise, we had a great view of the evening's festivities every night. We also always had spectacular service from our wait staff. The food was always hot, cocktails & wine came quickly and the food was amazing! There were very few dishes that we did not like and that was simply because they just didn't suit our tastes.
We enjoyed the Gathering Buffet, Deli, Grill, Lanai Bar-BQ, Tandoori Grill and the Wasabi Sushi Bar. I did not try the Pasta Bar, Mongolian Wok, Burrito Bar or the Chef's Art Steakhouse. The pizza was pretty bad and the service wasn't too great either. Desserts, which in the past have not been great, were pretty good this time around. Free ice cream is always a bonus but do try the ice cream for sale in the Plaza Cafe on the Promenade. Yummy!
We enjoyed Sam's Piano Bar with Dave although it seemed to turn into karaoke each night. He liked to let the guests sing with him so we didn't spend every night there like we normally would. However, he remembered us every time we came in and we still had a great time when we were there. In regards to the Caliente Disco, we spent limited time there. We had our Cruise Critic Meet & Greet there and Carnival put it in the Fun Times (no longer known as the Carnival Capers) for us. I can't say for sure how it was each night, but I heard that it was always a good time later at night. The Jackpot Casino bar is also the sports bar and is quite large. It's an open air bar so you can watch TV or you can watch the goings on in the casino. There is still smoking in some areas of the casino, but it's not as bad as it once was. The Martini bar was great fun for one of our friends (and apparently worth every penny spent!) and the bar in the Atrium had terrible service. We had one drink there and never went back. Overall, alcohol is expensive but they are not cheap when they pour!
I used the free weights (and the scale!) in the gym one time and never went back only because I just had more fun things to do! We did the couples massage at the Spa. It was good but very expensive. The internet connection was expensive and not great, although I expected this. I could never get into my e-mail on our laptop or in the internet cafÃ©. Our friend has a Mac and was able to log on with no issues. He used Skype to contact family at home every night. Shopping, as usual, is very limited. If you need toiletries, buy them before you get on the ship or in the ports. There isn't much in the way of these items in The Fun Shops. I won a little money in the casino but it was very difficult to get on a machine. I can't comment on any of the table games as I didn't play.
Activities -â€" We did not go to any shows except for the Love & Marriage show, which was very funny. There was a Past Guest cocktail hour but we did not attend. We did watch the Master Mixologist competition on the Lido deck but we spent limited time in the pools, hot tubs and Serenity deck. However, we always found chairs each time we were there. We did the Behind the Fun tour and it did not disappoint. It is well worth the $95/pp charge and we got to see areas of the ship that not even all the crew is able to see, including the Bridge, which was the highlight of the tour! Book this tour as soon as you board the ship at the Shore Excursions desk. It is not available on-line and has limited space - 16 per tour and only two tours. Halloween on the ship was the most fun I have ever had on a cruise and lived up to my "dream"! There were a lot of people dressed up, including us and there were so many good costumes!! We also decorated our cabin doors, as did many others. However, even the strongest packing tape did not stick well due to the texture of the doors.
The Crew: I cannot say enough good things about every crew member we met. They all had a smile on their faces, said hello and were always very helpful. Our CD was Kirk Benning and his assistant was Jamie. They were the best CD's I've ever had. Our room steward was Ihar (E-Har) and was FABULOUS!!! Our wait staff was Sr. Head Waiter Luciano who, unfortunately for all of you, has left the Dream and moved on to Splendor for a month and half and then will be retiring. Negara was his assistant and Natalia was our cocktail waitress. Konstantyn, the Maitre' D was always checking on us. He and Luciano always stopped to speak with us in the buffet where they worked every morning. I have never tipped a Maitre' D on a cruise but this time, we tipped Konstantyn and we tipped Luciano, Negara and Ihar extra as well. Victor in the piano bar and Gabriel in the casino bar -â€" great service! Emma was our Behind the Fun tour guide and she was extremely knowledgeable about the daily goings on. For Halloween, we decorated Konstantyn & Luciano with flashing beads and they were great sports and wore them for the entire dinner! Luciano also wore my DH's head lamp that was part of his costume too - hilarious!
On Thursday night, a crew member became very ill and had to be airlifted off of the ship by the US Coast Guard. Scary for the crew and the person who was sick but what an amazing thing to watch -â€" just like you see on TV! I took a ton of pictures but was totally in awe. That is a scary job to have so kudos to the US Coast Guard!!
On Friday night, we had to make another stop in Nassau to drop off a passenger who became very ill. After doing the Behind the Fun tour, I have an even greater appreciation for the Captain and his crew as they navigated that huge ship in and out of Nassau so quickly and for all of the hard work that every crew member puts forth to give us the best experience possible.
One side note - do fill out the questionniare about the cruise. The crew members can win things such as calling cards, internet access, etc., and every month, the monthly winners have dinner with Captain Queirolo in the dining room. Our comments are also posted in the crew quarters as well for all members to see.
The Ports -â€" As previously noted, we were diverted to the Eastern itinerary. We've been to all of these ports before so we did not book excursions at any of them.
Nassau -â€" We ran to the Harley store, visited their "flea market" and were back on the ship within two hours. Nassau is just not a place we really care for.
St. Thomas -â€" We took the gondolas up to the top of the bay where they have a short nature walk, a restaurant and some stores. We went back down into town and tried to do some shopping but there really is nothing more here than jewelry stores. We hit their little flea market as well, but everyone had the same items.
St. Maarten -â€" We rented beach chairs and umbrellas, had appetizers at the Hard Rock Cafe and shopped. The stores are a bit better here. Still a lot of jewelry stores but more souvenir stores than in St. Thomas. The beach peddlers were a bit pushy but were willing to bargain with us and the beach is very clean and the water was like bath water.
Disembarkation: Due to the extra stop in Nassau, we were a bit delayed getting back into Port Canaveral. However, we had breakfast at the buffet and were still off the ship by 10 a.m. Luggage comes out on a carousel, just like at the airport. So much better than walking through a sea of luggage! It was a bit chaotic finding our shuttle back to the hotel but we called Travelynx who helped us figure that out and we were back at the hotel before noon.
Despite the minor issues I mentioned, this was our best cruise yet! Carnival's crew works very hard to cater to and ensure the safety of 4,000+ passengers. I say this all of the time -â€" a cruise is what YOU make of it. Do your homework when selecting a cruise and remember that everyone has their own opinions of what they think is good and bad. While onboard, do have a little patience, be aware that things can change at any time and always keep an open mind. If you follow this advice, you will have a great time on this ship or any cruise that you take!