I went on the Carnival Dream with a group friends from college. We had booked this cruise more 6 months in advance and were really looking forward to having an awesome vacation. Prior to this, several people in our group have cruised with Royal Caribbean and NCL. While we enjoyed the cruise overall and had a lot of fun, we felt the Carnival experience was still a few notch away from an excellent cruising experience.
We flew into Orlando the night before and had arranged for Cocoa Beach Shuttle to pick us up. Our flight was about two hours delayed, which caused some hiccups with the shuttle company. Finally, after paying $20 extra for a late pickup + 20% tip, we arrived at the Four Points Hotel in Cocoa Beach. The hotel was very nice and was right across the street from a 24 hr Walgreen's, an IHOP and a McDonald's - great location! The double beds were pretty comfortable but sofa bed was a very different story. If you are a party of 5+, I would suggest booking 2 rooms instead. The next day, we took a taxi to the port.
EMBARKATION: Very quick and smooth. No complaints here.
CABINS: We had two cabins - a balcony and an inside cabin on deck 8 mid-ship. Both cabins had ample room for storage. The shower was nicely designed and did not feel crowded as other ships. They also had shower gel and shampoo in the showers. My guy friends used them and said they were decent (nice smell too). I brought my own shower gel and conditioner. Of note, we found a used Q-tip in our closet on arrival (not a big deal but it was disgusting). We reported this to housekeeping but it was never cleaned out during the entire cruise.
DECKS: Nice big ship with a lot of great features - water slides, mini golf, hot tubs, large casino and an outdoor movie screen. However, despite its size the ship felt quite crowded to us. There were long lines everywhere, especially at the buffets. Deck 5 was very congested on formal nights with row of photographers trying to lure us into their photo booth. The ship layout was also quite confusing for those new to the ship. We got lost a few times and saw many confused passengers. The Lanai deck with open air seating and 2 hot tubs on each side was quite nice. They had a Bar BQ buffet set up on sea days.
ACTIVITIES: The Punchliner comedy club was a big hit on-board. They had two comedians during the first half of the week and two more later. We went to one of the 18+ showings and it was awesome! The daily featured performances were decent but lacked variety. We have been on cruises that featured Broadway shows, live music, acapella, and an illusionist. On the Carnival dream, it was mostly singing/dancing type performances by the SAME group of people on multiple nights. We were pretty excited about the Fun Force break dancing group at first. However, the same moves got boring very quickly and there was nothing new to see. We thought the best show on board was the Legends show on the last night. They had passengers on-board audition to perform and it was great fun/hilarious! Sadly the most entertaining show was not even performed by Carnival casts...
There were also a number of game shows - the Gender Showdown, Love&Marriage and the Liar's Club. Similar to the other cruise lines but the execution was a little strange. For example, in the Gender Showdown game, they simply had the entire audience split into two gender groups and asked multiple trivia questions - not the most exciting. Sadly, we woke up late and missed the Love & Marriage show.
DINING: The food at the Gathering (buffet style) was better than average. They had the usual burgers/pizza with some great hits like the Mongolian grill, burrito bar and pasta bar. Breakfast featured a made-to-order omelet station - yum! We did YTD dining in the Crimson dining room. On the first night, we had to wait around 10-15 mins but every other night we were seated immediately. Our waitress was Pranee and she was excellent and attentive. One night her table was unavailable and we ended up with someone else - the ass. waiter abandoned us and left our glasses empty for over 40 minutes. Thank god we were put with Pranee again on the remaining nights. The food was very good overall with great selections for everyone. The lobster night was our favorite of the cruise. I had steak several times and they were always cooked perfectly. However, beware of the pasta dishes. With exception of the spaghetti carbonara with bacon, every other pasta dish on-board had much to be desired.
We also ordered from room services several times and it was very convenient. The menu (available on our TV) is limited but decent. They had quite a few continental breakfast items and sandwiches/salads during the day. The chocolate cake was very good.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: We did cave tubing with cavetubing.com in Belize and the Chacchoben Mayan tours with Native Choice in Costa Maya. We had an awesome experience with both tours and they were half the price of the Carnival excursions.
This is where Carnival really screwed it up for us. Two of my friends booked the Discover Scuba tour through Carnival online months before the cruise. The excursion was originally set for 10:15AM. The second night of the cruise, they received a physical ticket in their stateroom which states a NEW TIME of 12:45PM. Feeling a little unsure, we made sure to check with the shore excursion desk on this and they confirmed the new start time of 12:45PM. The next morning after we docked in Costa Maya, my friends received a call at around 10 AM informing them to report to the meeting location immediately. Since they expected the excursion to start much later, they were still in bed. My friends jumped out of bed and rushed down 8 flights of stairs with no breakfast, no contact lens, and no towels. By the time they got back in the evening, they were extremely exhausted from lack of food. On the last day of the cruise, we went to guest services to file a complaint only to be told by a rude supervisor that it was our fault we did not report the incident sooner. The supervisor did not offer to compensate us for what happened and told us we needed to talk to shore excursions (which was already closed). We were very frustrated but didn't know what else to do since it was the last day.
DISEMBARKATION: We selected the express service and carried our luggage off the ship on our own. We had ample time to eat breakfast that morning and leave the ship when we wanted. The process was easy but many people were confused where to go. It would have been better if they had staff members at every deck ushering people to the right direction. By the time we saw any staff member, we had already made it to the atrium.
Overall, we enjoyed the cruise but who doesn't like hanging out with friends on a ship with unlimited junk food for a week? Our favorite aspects of the cruise were dining, the staterooms and port of calls. With better entertainment options and customer service, we would not hesitate to cruise with Carnival again. For now, we're leaning toward RCL, NCL and Disney for our next vacation.