ABOUT US: This was our first cruise, but I felt pretty well informed because I did a ton of research. It was my husband and me, and our two sons ages 6 and 2.5
EMBARKATION: Very smooth, exceeded our expectations. We arrived in PC around 11:15 a.m. and had really no wait to get through security and get on the ship, everything seemed well organized. When we got on board we went straight to Gatherings and up to the pasta bar which was nearly empty at that time but later filled up. The pasta options were great but my food was really bland. I am not that into pasta so we never went back the rest of the week, but it was OK for the first meal. We went to our room around 1:45 and our bags arrive at about the same time.
NEW YEAR'S EVE: For anyone considering a NYE cruise, Carnival did offer free champagne all day (assuming you could find a server passing it out). I had a couple of classes in the Gathering during lunch. That evening there was a huge deck party and NYE countdown, lots of dancing, DJ, etc., and free champagne. It was fun.
CABIN: I really liked our cabin (2357, Main Deck, Cove Balcony) I was impressed with the amount of closet space, although I wish there had been a few more drawers. The layout seemed great, even in a quad room. We had enough space. The only challenge was our toddler constantly grabbing everything down off of the shelf (toddlers.. what can you do??). Our older son LOVED the upper berth, he could not wait to sleep in it every night. Our toddler did well in the single sofa bed, which was pretty roomy.
Our King bed was extremely comfortable. I loved it and slept really well. So well that I am considering ordering the Carnival bedding that is available online. The bathroom had a lot of storage and the shower and water pressure exceeded my expectations.
Our cabin steward was wonderful, catered to everything we needed. I loved the turn down service and he replenished ice in the afternoon and evening.
We ordered 2 bottles of alcohol from Bon Voyage the day before the cruise, and they were there waiting for us. We also brought 2 bottles of wine on board. There is no corkscrew in the cabin, but we asked our steward to open the wine which he did.
When we first got to our room on embarkation day, our Cove Balcony had about an inch of water on it. I called guest services and within a few minutes our cabin steward appeared to clean it. He got his supervisor who checked it out. Apparently they had washed the balconies twice from the outside and too much water got in to the coves. The balcony next door also was very wet. This was resolved, but it happened again on the morning we docked in St. Thomas. Our cabin steward cleaned it up after we left the room, but we were not able to go on the balcony that morning before we left the ship. Some water appeared at the back of the balcony here and there on other days, but it was not a big deal.
SMELL: I definitely smelled the notorious smell. As reported by others, it is sulfur-like smell that seems to be concentrated around the hallways by the mid-ship elevators on Main Deck, which was right by our room. My older son (who has a keen sense of smell) commented several times about it (I did not tell anyone in my family in advance about the reports of smells). It was just a minor thing like when you walk by, like getting a whiff of a sewer-smell on the street once in awhile. A few times it was very strong. Other times I walked through the same area and did not really notice it at all. I never smelled anything in our room or elsewhere on the ship. Overall this was not a big deal and I probably would not have thought much of it if I had not heard so much about it on this Board.
CROWD: Seemed like a good mix of people. A lot of families and in particular a lot of kids ages 6-12, as well as a good number of young adults in the singles crowd. There were a few kids who at times seemed to be running around the ship with no supervision, but it was not a big issue that I observed. A pretty normal and well-behaved crowd. Anecdotally it seemed as though 75% of the passengers were Canadian, and the Cruise Director even commented on that one day.
FOOD: Overall the food was good, not great. We had anytime dining and ate in Crimson (upper level). Margarita was our server the first few nights. She was very nice and paid special attention to our kids. Because the first night of our cruise was New Year's Eve they switched the menu to the typical Night 2 menu. We had the shrimp and lobster which was good. We ordered a third one to share (it took awhile to get the 3rd one so we almost regretted the order). The pumpkin soup and the crab soups were very good. Overall the soups on the ship were excellent and I am a big soup person so that made me happy. On Day 2 (the normal Night 1 menu) I was not that excited about the offerings. We got the sweet and sour shrimp. The shrimp was pretty good but the noodles that came with it were awful. Tasteless and a bad texture. I recommend avoiding them. Night #3 we got the french onion soup (very good), the sushi (decent) and I had the short ribs which I really liked, including the eggplant and fried rice. It was a huge portion of food, I did not come close to finishing it. My husband got the flat iron steak which was good, but it came a bit too rare and not warm enough. My husband's entrees frequently were served lukewarm. I had better luck with temperature. A few of the entrees/meals did not feel that special... I would note that you could get some of the same meal upstairs at the buffet and spend a lot less time waiting. Knowing that some of the entrees were just the buffet food took a little bit away from the "fine dining" feel for me. So the food definitely was not 5-star (nor did I expect it to be) but for the most part it was good and I did not have any major complaints.
One big standout in terms of the menu was the Fatoush salad on the last night - absolutely delicious, one of the best salads I have ever had. I wish that was a nightly option! The vegetarian Indian option also was very tasty (available every night).
In terms of desserts, we loved the Chocolate Melting Cake, although the consistency was very ... inconsistent. Sometimes it was extremely melty, and other times more like cake. In-between was the best. I ordered it with extra ice cream. But the Baked Alaska and the Cappucino Pie were big disappointments. I had been looking forward to both and I found both to be basically tasteless, a total waste of calories. They looked good, just no taste. Same for the vanilla creme brulee on night 3... very disappointing. Pretty tasteless and the sugar shell was too hard. There was one (!?) berry on top.
Our kids ate with us in the MDR every night (not by our choice, but it worked out). They managed to handle it fine. There was an amazing server on one side named Orlando who came over and did magic tricks for the boys on two nights. They could not stop talking about that. I ended up wishing that we had been in his section every night. But we never had any problem with the service other than sometimes it was a bit slow and on one side of the MDR (Orlando's side) it was more difficult to get alcoholic drinks. On the other side (Margarita's side) they were ready with your next round the minute you were finished.
Generally our experience with MTD was very good. Only one night - Night 2 - did we have to wait. We arrived just before 7 and for whatever reason they seemed to be really backed up and we ended up waiting 40 minutes for our table. Not ideal, obviously, but we just dealt with it. Then when we arrived back at our cabin after dinner there was a delivery of some special little desserts and a note from the MTD manager apologizing for the wait. Very classy. We had not complained or said anything about the wait, but obviously they were aware of how long it had been (and we were not the only ones who waited that long). We never waited any other night. I would absolutely do MTD again.
We were really looking forward to the Chef's Table on Night 3 but we had to cancel it (24 hours in advance to avoid a $25 pp charge) because our youngest son was generally refusing to spend more than 15 minutes in Camp Carnival without one of us being there (more on that below). We did not think we would make it through even half of the Chef's Table experience without getting the dreaded cell phone call from Camp, so we cancelled. I was really disappointed not to get to experience this, and I hope to do so on a future cruise. Same story with our Steakhouse reservations on the last night. I know that we theoretically could have taken the kids to the Steakhouse but we decided not to for several reasons.
We had one MDR lunch (in Scarlet). It was a nice lunch, although I was not feeling that well because it was the day after the roughest night of the cruise (tons of rocking and up/down motion, very windy). It was still windy and high waves and Scarlet is at the back of the ship so you could really feel the movement. Food was very good. My only problem with the meal was that we wanted to order dessert and by the time I asked to order they said the kitchen was closed (I think it was right at 2). I wished they had come around and told us "last call to order dessert".
Breakfast: We got room service once and were very disappointed. It came on time (breakfast), but obviously the menu is limited and the croissants were almost rock hard, really not edible. Actually the croissants in the buffet were about the same most of the cruise - very stale. We also found it to be more trouble than it was worth to try to feed the kids in the room with no good place for them to eat. We ate breakfast at Scarlet twice and it was very good with nice service. I wish we had done that more often.
Buffet: The Gathering was decent. Nothing really standout other than the Tandoori. I wanted to go back and get that on the last day but unfortunately the entire upper aft portion of the ship was closed for most of the last sea day because there were TWO different medical evacs and they had to clear the whole area. There was never much wait for the burger bar and that was pretty good. The Mongolian Wok always had a good line. It was pretty good, I got it twice, but probably not worth more than a 10 minute wait. The chocolate buffet was good, although nothing was a big standout. We found the service very good at the buffet and usually had no problem getting a table.
CAMP CARNIVAL: Sorry to say that we did not have a positive experience with Camp Carnival. The biggest issue was that our youngest child (2.5) just refused to attend. He just hated it. I do not blame this on Camp Carnival necessarily, because toddlers are unpredictable. We dropped him off at the New Year's Eve party on the first night, which in retrospect was a mistake. They called us within 30-40 minutes saying that he had been crying nonstop. Part of the problem was that he wanted to be with his brother, who was in the 6-8 group and obviously he could not be in that bigger group.
They have a good space for the kids, but we did not find the counselors to be particularly helpful or friendly (there were a few exceptions). For the most part the counselors were very curt and unfriendly, a few were actually bordering on rude. Not a welcoming atmosphere in general from what we experienced. The check in/check out also was ridiculous the first few days. They only had 1 person at any given time handling this activity and so whether you were checking or checking out you had to wait in the same (long) line, which included parents at the front who would be asking a ton of informational type questions. Of course parents have questions, but it is a problem when there is only one line for everything. Many parents were grumbling in line waiting 15 minutes to pick up their child. I also heard other parents comment that they were not at all impressed with the staff. When we dropped off my 6 year old the counselor typically just said "ok, go wash your hands"... no "hi", "welcome", "glad you are back" or anything like that. It just was not quite what we expected. I had expected my older son to really love Camp Carnival but he really wasn't into it. He would have stayed and participated if my little one had done it, but since we had to keep the little one with us we all just stayed together as a family.
Other than Camp Carnival, we found the rest of the staff on the Dream to be excellent.
POOLS / SLIDES: It was extremely difficult to get a deck chair on sea days. Chair hogging was completely out of control. Every single chair would have a towel on it (empty, of course) by 8:45 a.m. or so on sea days. I went up every day around that time to survey the situation. Of course very few people showed up to occupy those chairs until much later in the day. I don't blame Carnival for this, I blame rude guests. Absolutely ridiculous to expect to keep a chair saved for you the entire morning until you decide to show up after lunch. But so many people did it. I did move a towel or book a couple of times after I had been there for at least an hour and was certain that nobody owning that chair was anywhere to be found and someone else was looking for a chair.
Due to my toddler not being in Camp, we were not able to use the pools, although most people did not seem to get in because the water was quite cold. Speaking of, I tried one time to get in the hot tubs on Ocean Plaza one evening and they were COLD (well, certainly not warm or hot). That was really disappointing to me, as we were looking forward to experiencing the hot tubs and spending time in there.
My older son really enjoyed the water slides - they were a blast for him. My toddler enjoyed the baby slide area. I specifically checked with a Carnival employee on the first day to make sure that my son - who is still in a swim diaper - could use that baby slide and was told yes. Many other swim diaper babies used it too, even though the stated height was 36" (the height limit on the bigger slides seemed to be enforced). BUT one day during the week an employee was telling parents that their kids in swim diapers could not use the baby slide. That was strange and inconsistent, but it did not impact us directly. I was very grateful for this slide because it was one of the only things that our toddler could really do on board outside of Camp Carnival.
SHOWS: We went to Dancing in the Streets which all of us enjoyed, including the kids. For a cruise ship it exceeded my expectations. We tried the hypnotist show which I found really silly but my older son actually liked it. One of the major production shows, I cannot recall the name of it but I think it had a country/western theme, had to be cancelled due to some technical difficulty. We also attended the Legends show on the last night which was really cheesy (of course) but was a hoot. In one of my (very few) moments of adult time during the cruise I had seen a few of the auditions for the show so it was fun to see how those people did when the actually performed. It was obvious that some had perfected their routine in hopes of making the Legends show. Funny. I loved the Burgundy Lounge where they held the auditions. Unfortunately that was the only time I got to set foot in the place the whole cruise. I would have liked to spend more time there. Beautiful atmosphere.
We expected to need to get seats for the shows at least 30-40 minutes early and even for Dancing in the Streets we did not find that to be the case. For the late shows there were plenty of seats up until just before showtime. We sat in the balcony for DITS and had a good view.
SPA: The Cloud 9 Spa was really beautiful. Shortly after boarding I went there and got a weekly pass ($150). I had planned on spending a lot of blissful relaxation time in the thessalotherapy pool and the steam rooms. But given that our toddler refused to go to Camp Carnival, I only had precious moments here and there to actually use my pass (thanks to my husband who watched the kids - in exchange I watched the kids at night and he went to the casino). If I had known that I would not have paid so much to get a weekly pass. But if you don't have the kid factor to worry about I think the weekly pass is worth it. The steam rooms are fantastic and there are two solariums to relax with heated chairs. Loved the thessalotherapy pool and the workout rooms. Nice locker rooms as well. One day they had to close the pool because of high waves and winds and the water was just sloshing all over the place. The Spa is all the way forward and very high on the ship, so that is probably where you feel the most motion. The ship always felt very rocky up there.
On the last sea day I got a hair color and cut package. When I signed up I thought it was $149 but they only charged me $99 which was a great deal because stylist spent 2.5 hours with me and she cut and highlighted my hair and gave me a deep conditioning treatment. Money well spent and I gave a large tip!
PORT EXCURSIONS: Nassau was New Year's Day and everyone was exhausted so we slept in and made no plans for any excursions. The Dream is only in Nassau from 8 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. (have to be on board by 1:30) so if you do not get up early and go you cannot really do much here. That was fine with us. We got off and looked at the other ships and we were herded through the straw market briefly... not too impressed, so we wandered back and just enjoyed the ship.
In St. Thomas we had booked a sailing excursion with Morningstar Charters to take us over to St. John and go snorkeling. This has come highly recommended on the St. Thomas message boards and it did not disappoint. We had purchased this directly from Morningstar for $135 per adult as a holiday gift to each other and had been planning on leaving the kids in Camp Carnival while we went. Obviously that did not end up being an option. Not knowing whether we could take the kids on the sailboat (either due to age or whether there was room), we decided to just take the taxi that they had pre-arranged for us and go to the place and see what they could do. The backup plan was for my husband to take our toddler, and both kids if necessary, to a local beach. It turned out that we were the only ones who had booked the sailboat that day (the capacity is only 6 plus 2 crew) so they gladly took the whole family, assuring us that they had young children on board before and it was fine. Sure enough the waves lulled my toddler to sleep on the way over and back from St. John. We had a really cute and friendly captain, Mike, and his girlfriend, Bridget, as our private crew. Bridget is a bartender on St. John so she made some great drinks and while we were anchored for snorkeling they cooked up a delicious grilled lunch. It was amazing what they were able to book on that little boat. It was one of the best meals of the trip. A really relaxing beautiful day. The taxi ride over from the port was about 20-25 minutes with some good views of the island. Then we walked down some steep stairs to the water edge and met Mike who took us in a dinghy out to the boat. After a safety briefing (kids have to wear life jackets) the ride over to St. John was about 60-75 minutes. We anchored in a great spot and had plenty of time to swim and snorkel, with all equipment provided. Mike taught Adrian to snorkel and let him "drive" the boat for a bit. He even took video underwater and emailed it to us. It was a really nice day and I would recommend Morningstar to anyone including people with young kids. The excursion was about 5 hours. The Dream is in port until 8 p.m. in St. Thomas so you have plenty of time to get back. Taxi going back was arranged. Taxi was $10 pp each way, so plan on bringing enough cash for that.
In St. Maarten we attempted to take a taxi to Le Galion (French side) because we had heard that this was an excellent place for kids with low waves. We got in the cab with another couple and told them where we wanted to go. After about 20-25 minutes of driving we were nearly there and we asked the driver where we could get cabs to get back to port. The driver was very unfriendly and she told us that we would likely not be able to get a cab there because cabs don't generally go there. We asked if she could come back and pick us up at a specified time and she said that she might have other fares and could not commit. Obviously not wanting to be stranded there we quickly change plans and got dropped of at the (fortunately) nearby Orient Beach. We paid our annoyed cab driver a bit extra for the drop off at Orient. Not a good cab experience, but Orient Beach was quite nice, although very crowded. There were several large ships in port that day including Oasis OTS, Navigator OTS and the Dream, so crowds were to be expected and we were far from early. But a very friendly attendant took care of us and for $10 (total) we got two nice beach chairs in front and bathroom passes. We had some delicious shrimp from a beachfront place - amazing. There were tons of cabs waiting there to take people back to port so getting back was no problem. I had some time to shop around the area adjacent to the port before getting back on board. We did notice the enormous line to reboard Oasis of the Seas. Not sure if there had been a problem, but it was just a huge line. We never waited to reboard the Dream. The Dream ended up leaving more than 30 minutes late because of some late passengers. I can only assume that they were on Carnival excursions and something had gone very wrong. There were 5-6 of them and they golf-carted them to gangplank from the security area. Good view of this from my Cove Balcony!
DEBARKATION: Self assist may have been OK, but the regular debarkation was a nightmare! We waited until many zones had been called because we were not in a hurry, but when we got down to Deck 3 we found huge lines, people were everywhere and the lines were snaking through and around the lobby area and into the terminal. We really lucked out because we had a stroller so once we got off the gangway they whisked us down the elevator and into a special line. We did not request that, but from the looks of things it saved us 25-30 minutes. I don't know if it there had been some kind of customs issue that day, but people did not seem happy and it definitely was not the orderly rapid debarkation that I had read in other reviews. We had a very helpful porter help us with our stuff and we took a Mears shuttle back to the airport. We just bought our tickets when we boarded, you do not have to pre-arrange that. I think it was $35 per person and they did not charge for our 2.5 year old. There are many buses and they just fill them as people get off the ship.
OVERALL: We had a good family trip overall. We booked the cruise specifically because of Camp Carnival taking 2 year olds and in anticipation of having some adult time which we rarely get (on vacation or otherwise). I was particularly looking forward to the Chef's Table and the Steakhouse, both of which we had to cancel due to the lack of viable childcare options.
We were really happy to have a balcony, particularly with the kids sleeping and we were able to go sit out there at night. A couple of nights we could see other cruise ships fairly close by (NCL Epic passed right by us one night).
Knowing everything, if I had to do it over again I may not have booked the cruise at all. But we had a good time and it was an introduction to cruising that has whet my appetite for more (when my little one is a bit older and less clingy). The Dream was a beautiful ship.