After reading the many reviews on the Carnival Dream, as I did prior to departing, one will easily come to the conclusion that it's a "love it" or "hate it" kinda ship. No real middle ground in the reviews.... Given that it was our first time cruising with Carnival and we were to be on board for two weeks doing a back-to-back East/West Caribbean sailing, it did have me a bit concerned and it led me to walk on board with a certain level of expectation. I'm happy to say that the ship and crew exceeded expectation in just about every way.
Embarkation was easy and facilitated by the Carnival shuttle from MCO right to the pier in Port Canaveral. Upon arrival at the airport we were directed to the Carnival shuttle desk and waited to board our bus for the pier. Once the bags were loaded on the bus, we didn't see them again until arrival at our stateroom later that afternoon. In about 30 minutes we went from standing in the security line outside the terminal to walking through the Dream Atrium. After our first lunch at The Gathering, our luggage was waiting for us when we first ventured down to the stateroom at about 1:30pm. Very efficient. We were lucky in that sense as it looked as if they were well into the evening delivering luggage.
The ship itself is huge.... It took a couple days to familiarize myself with the layout and the locations of the various bars, restaurants and activity areas. Once used to the size, movement about the ship became easy and I thought the variety of on board amenity impressive. The Lanai Promenade all around the circumference of deck 5 was a great -- and long -- evening walk enjoyed by many. Serenity is a great, sunny and private adults only spot as well.
The stateroom was another nice surprise. Balcony stateroom on deck 9 forward and was in a quieter spot in the boat. Perfect location as far as I was concerned. It was spacious, with ample closet space. Beds were high enough that we could stash the luggage underneath. The bed was perfectly comfortable and the bathroom/shower was surprisingly spacious, even for a 6'3" lad such as myself. The air temperature was regulated, always set to the coldest AC setting, and was comfortable no matter what the outside temperatures were.
The room was cleaned twice daily and we got to have some fun with our room stewards. So pleasant and friendly and always spoken to by name, they met our requests promptly and the room was always kept neat and tidy with a new towel animal every evening. We were very respectful of how hard these individuals worked day in, day out. Displayed an impressive work ethic, and always with a smile on their faces.
Dining was a bit of a hit or miss, depending on where you went and the time you chose to eat.
The main dining room was a huge hit for us. We went with Anytime Dining - Deck 4, Crimson. The dining room food was always very good and included items like Chateaubriand, prime rib, lobster, steak, KC ribs and old favourites like the bacon mack n'cheese and chocolate melting cake. We were very impressed with the quality of the food in the dining rooms and, given what I had read in some reviews, it far exceeded expectation. Making the experience all the better was the service provided by the Anytime Dining wait staff. They truly went above and beyond and provided a real professional service with a personal touch.
The Gathering buffet up on the Lido Deck was a bit of a hit or miss, depending on what station you hit and how many people were around. The people movement management in this area of the ship was a bit of a disappointment. Going at peak times was an exercise in patience and lines did tend to be long at certain spots, especially so at the burrito bar, deli, Mongolian and omelet stations. Breakfast was always the most crowded and we pretty much passed on it most days and just grabbed some pastries and went back to the stateroom. The Tandoor was always the least crowded and the food was pretty good if you are into Indian fare, although I wish that they would have butter chicken every day rather then just two. The line at The Grill always moved quickly and the burgers/hot dogs were always really good. The sea day Lanai BB Q's were also a bit hit as well, with the sliders and grilled quesadillas being a fantastic fast food option.
One word of caution.... The tiles in The Gathering always were very slippery. Saw more then one person slip and even fall up there.
Another bit of advice is to take advantage of the Chef's Table. It was an incredible evening, dining right in the galley being served under the direct supervision of the head chef. A fantastic and unique dining experience well worth the $75 price tag. Book well in advance by contacting John Heald via his website. The Chef's Table is limited to only 24 people per cruise so the demand is huge.
The entertainment on board was okay, with the exception of the comedy in The Punchliner Comedy Club -- which was tremendous. Over the two weeks we were on board, with the rotation of talent between the ships, there were 6 different comedians and we enjoyed each and every time in the Punchliner. By far the top entertainment offering on board in our opinion. We took in a couple of the production shows, art auctions, cooking demos, ice carving, bingo, towel folding, hairy chest contests, etc, etc, etc, which were all well done and fun. Spent a fair bit of time in the casino as well, and broke even.... Yippee!!!!
We did excursions in 4 of the 7 ports, each booked through Carnival.com. Thought it a bit pricey doing it through the Carnival website but it really paid off when our original excursion in Cozumel was cancelled due to weather. Being guaranteed, the cost was automatically refunded back to our sign and sail account, no questions asked. If porting in Belize, ensure that you do book an excursion. The port is a bit underdeveloped (with lots of folks outside the 'compound' soliciting you for tours and the like, quite uncomfortable....) and we had a surprisingly long 5 mile tender into shore from the ship. We spent more time waiting for tenders and tendering then what we did actually in Belize. Some people we spoke with really enjoyed the Mayan ruins tours in this port. We also did the flying chair and beach day in Mahogany Bay. We were a bit disappointed in this too as it looked like a man made beach that was full of seaweed and crowded with both the Dream and the Valor docked that day. Our clam-shell was 5 rows back from the water so our view -- was the back of another clam-shell. Not quite the idyllic beach scene there.
Another issue that was a common complaint was the situation with the elevators. Embarkation and debarkation, it was almost impossible to get one and it was a persistent issue throughout. As one Carnival veteran lady put it in describing a Dream Class ship "It was like they added two floors of passengers to a Conquest Class boat but didn't add any new elevators." I got used to traversing the stairs during the busy periods and was fine with it. Others not as mobile as me,
I also have to make mention that the weather wasn't at all ideal at times with some 100 km/h winds and it lead to some fairly rough seas, and some very "green" passengers. It was the tail end of hurricane season after all..... While I enjoyed the boat in that weather and had no issue with seasickness at all, many others had mentioned that they were surprised a vessel of the Dream's size wasn't handling the seas a bit better and that it was the roughest time that they had experienced in their cruising careers. It indeed was rough and the listing was very noticeable and prevalent at times. The crew even went so far as to put supplies of vomit bags at each of the elevators, which was a first for me in 5 prior cruises. While the weather experienced was an extra ordinary and a rare occurrence, other ships that I had been on in somewhat similar conditions fared a bit better then the Dream.
In all, I quite enjoyed the Carnival product and will for sure go Carnival once again in the future. The value for money was fantastic and the service provided by the crew was above and beyond while the positives far outweighed the couple of negatives. It was a great experience and I'd recommend the Carnival Dream to anyone.