This was our family's first time on Carnival, my second time. First time on the Dream.
Embarkation: Port Canaveral is so easy. We shuttled over from a nearby hotel, arrived around 1:00 and were onboard and in our cabin by 1:30. When boarding the ship, the Dream Atrium is loud and busy and a bit chaotic but there were plenty of clearly identified crew members available to direct traffic and help us find where we wanted to go.
Cabin: We had a Cove Balcony, port side, deck 2, located just beneath the Shore Excursions desk. Great location as gangways were Deck 0 forward so it was easy to get on and off the ship in the ports. We also liked proximity to our assigned dining (Crimson, Deck 4 - we had YTD) and Encore Lounge for main shows. We bought the bottomless bubbles and used the Lobby Bar as our main source of beverages, just one flight up from our cabin so easy to access for us. Cabin steward and assistant met our needs after we let them know we wanted the upper berth folded up each day. I barely saw them - but DH spent a lot of time on our balcony so he was quite friendly with them. All I know is our cabin was clean and we had everything we needed.
Food: We had Your Time Dining so we ate in the Crimson dining room three nights, at the Gathering buffet two nights, and from the Grill the other two nights. The food was good, nothing too "weird" except the meat lasagna they have on the Pasta Bar menu. We ate lunch at the Pasta bar a couple of days, at the Burrito bar once, and the Lanai BBQ one sea day. We found a great variety of food at each meal. Room service was off and on - sometimes quick, sometimes unavailable by phone, and never consistent on the amount of cookies they would send when ordering cookies and milk. None of us gained weight on the cruise but we certainly didn't lose any!
Entertainment: We enjoyed the Punchliner Comedy Club and attended each of the All Ages (family friendly) performances and three of the Adult shows. We saw two shows in the Encore Lounge which were good - I preferred the 8 More Seconds over the Dancing in the Streets, but both were well done. We enjoyed mini-golf, but sea days were hard to get clubs, so it's better to try to play on the first day or port days. The pool area was nearly always busy (both main and Sunset) but we didn't try to sit out or use the pool. The Lanai hottubs were usually occupied, more on the port side than the starboard side. Plenty of seating on the Lanai promenade deck.
Shore Excursions: We did two shore excursions through Carnival and felt that they were well organized, especially on the tendering day at Belize to get us off the ship and to the tour provider.
Youth Activities: Our teenagers participated in the Circle C activities and said that they liked the variety of things to do. We have sailed with Disney most of the time (most recently in summer 2011) and they prefer the youth activities on Disney over Carnival but liked Carnival better than Royal Caribbean. What they didn't like was that there were gaps in the day when nothing was scheduled and there weren't alternative activities if they didn't want to participate in the "after parties" that seemed popular on the activity sheet. The counselors were great - absolutely in charge of the 12-14s.
Debarkation: We put our luggage outside our cabin and had group 16 for disembarking. We had time for a non-rushed breakfast in the Gathering and plenty of time to pack up the morning items we kept out. We left our cabin about 8:15 as we knew they wanted us out by 8:30 and waited in the Encore Lounge (again, just one flight up!) until they called our group. Our luggage was available pretty quickly on the carousel when they called us and we went right through Customs without even a glance at our passports (which we had ready).
Overall, we would sail on the Carnival Dream or her sister ship(s) again.