First, let me introduce myself: 46 year old male from Michigan, traveling with wife and two boys (13 and 9).
In a nutshell, this cruise was, well... OK. The crew tried very hard, in most cases. Aside from one minor concern, there was nothing to really complain about. The food was just good, but the selection and hours were limited. The housekeeping crew did a nice job, and, while it is a very large ship, for the most part it was automated enough to handle things efficiently. However, efficient was not exactly what we were looking for!
Dining room staff: Great effort from most. Our dining staff was very good, but limited by the size and structure of the ship. One example: My wife ordered Prime Rib one evening. It was just OK -- Probably slightly less than Outback quality. With her meal, they served a baked potato. The waiter came by quickly to offer her sour cream for her potato, but she declined because the sour cream that they served has chives (green onions) mixed in. She asked for plain sour cream, and was told that they couldn't do that. Mind you, later someone else came by and got some, but it demonstrates that when you are on a very large ship the size of the Dream, EVERYTHING is automated. Any variations from the "norm" are typically met with resistance. This seems to work in some areas (embarkation and debarkation, for example), but not too well in dining. In itself not a big deal AT ALL. But simply an example of the entire experience.
On the other hand, the staff was extremely friendly and personable. The shortcomings didn't seem to be their fault, but rather dictated to them by their corporate staff on land. In fact, the Maitre D' was very kind to us in arranging a very nice table in the Dining room for our family. Again, the effort and ability is there, they just seem to need the tools to help them succeed...
Housekeeping staff: These folks did a nice job on the cabin. Nothing unusual or special, but nice. On the other side, the ship was kept VERY, VERY clean at all times.
Food: Quality, as most will tell you, has declined. Not to the point where the food is inedible, but certainly to a level that is mediocre at best. In addition, the timing of dining choices is quite limited. No midnight buffet of any sort on any night, and most of the "interesting" choices are available for only a few hours during the mid-day hours (eg. the pasta bar is open from about 12-3:30 PM ONLY). Lots of choices during the afternoon, but in the evening / late night, you are limited mostly to pizza and the room service menu (sandwiches). The deli closes at 11PM, and the grill is open for an hour or two starting at 11, so some (pretty bad) hamburgers are available. One recent suggestion on John Heald's FB was to add bar food or munchies as a late night option. Even that would be welcome. Hopefully they start doing it!
Cruise Director / Entertainment: Again, good but certainly not great. No real complaints, but there were no moments that made us stand up and scream "WOW" either... They got the job done, but it seemed like a bit of a tired routine. Only newer option seemed to be the Fun Force, that is a group of younger, acrobatic dancers that did several routines. While not my style, my kids liked it, and it felt a bit more fresh than the rest of the entertainment.
In an odd entertainment twist, I heard a good amount of fairly benign pop or rock music on the ship (typically around the pool), but almost no caribbean music (think Jimmy Buffet style or Steel Drum band). Very disappointed in that. Actually heard MUCH more country music than "island" music. AAARRRGGGHHH!
The Ship: Very clean, well maintained and efficient. Can be crowded due to the number of folks around you, but if you plan well, you can avoid most of it. As I stated earlier, embarkation and debarkation were very, very well done -- quick, professional, and efficient. Only thing that I think they should do better is monitor for the constant flow of chair hogs... We saw many, many groups reserving chairs for up to 15-20 people, while only using 4 or 5 of them at ANY given time. Staff makes announcements that they will enforce the 30 minute rule, but I didn't see it done even once.
Ports: We were on the Western itinerary, and it was nice, but not great. I really think that they need to get rid of Belize as a port stop -- All reviews warn you that the ONLY real option is to set up a private or Carnival excursion, but that means either an extra tender ride to the excursion (in addition to the long ride to shore) or a special tender from the ship that can take up to an hour to reach the excursion itself. No, thank you...
Costa Maya and Cozumel still seem pretty safe, but with the way Mexico is heading, who knows... Roatan was, in our opinion, the best of the four.
Ship features: Nice, but again, not really utilized as well as they could be. Kids loved the water slide. Pools, like most ships' pools, were small and crowded. Spa was nice, but we didn't really use it much. Casino staff was nice enough, but for the length of time and dollar amounts that I played, there was no offer at all of drinks, or any concessions whatsoever. Now, mind you, I don't drink, so I wouldn't have taken advantage of the offer, anyway. However, it seemed to be a recurring theme from others that were also playing that the Casino Hosts simply never watched the tables to get an idea as to who was playing what, when, and for how much in terms of $$. Didn't bother me, because I wouldn't have utilized it, but I know that others were NOT happy with the feeling of being a bit ignored, even though they were playing pretty good $$.
Other: I know that Carnival is trying to shake it's "party ship" reputation and move towards families. However, in my only real concern about our cruise, it seems that not everyone has gotten the memo on that one...
One one day, after a stop in port, I was with my 9 year old getting him a slice of pizza. Behind us in line was a VERY intoxicated pair of men, about 30 years old. They still had their souvenir glasses from one of the bars in port with them, and were still going strong -- They had obviously refilled them on board (most probably in their cabin). They began to unleash a stream of obscenities at the poor worker behind the counter, who couldn't handle the customer load alone -- He clearly needed assistance from another worker. Now, I'm certainly no prude, but I didn't appreciate my 9 year old hearing "Ef this" and "Ef that" ad infinitum. And when the worker served my son his slice, they started to direct the venom to the other customers in line.
I certainly understand that there is only so much that Carnival can do about this person. He is responsible for his actions. But I immediately went to another staff member and pointed out that the worker and passengers were getting attacked by this joker, and it took about 15 minutes to get security there. By this time, he was sitting at a table about 50 feet away, eating his pizza, and still swearing up a storm. When I explained it to them, their only concern was whether it had gotten physical. I replied that it had not, but that they really need to intervene before it does, either with a crew member or another passenger who may not be as willing to sit as quietly as I was. They asked that, apparently for our safety, we move to the other side of the ship, which I did gladly. They then did nothing. Didn't approach him, or even cut him off (I saw him order a drink from the bar staff 5 minutes later). I REALLY hate to think of the family who's vacation probably got ruined by this guy's idiocy, or even the liability that the ship took on by continuing to serve him. In short, I get that they can't control how drunk he got off of the ship... But to let him assault staff and passengers, and then keep on drinking. Again, No thank you...
All in all, I'd sum it up in one word. Meh. Would I cruise Carnival again? Perhaps, but not likely. Would I cruise the Dream again? Probably not. While Carnival is still the slightly cheaper option, it is still a lot of money, and when I choose to spend that much, I expect more in return.
Just my $.02!