Carrying nearly 700 more passengers than its predecessors, 2009's 3,646-passenger Carnival Dream is the first of three ships in Carnival Cruise Lines' Dream class. (Carnival Magic
and Carnival Breeze
are the younger sisters.) But anyone who has sailed on Carnival's Conquest
-class ships will recognize Dream: The ship is the taller, younger sister sporting a few more baubles (including a pair of themed bars and a comedy club added during a fall 2012 dry-dock), but recognizably sharing very similar genetic makeup.
Dream is the penultimate ship designed by infamous interior architect Joe Farcus, who has designed every Carnival ship currently at sea except Breeze. Farcus toned it down a few notches from the glitz and flash that characterized many of the line's earlier vessels, but the decor still offers lots of drama. A soaring 11-deck-high atrium wiith a seemingly suspended piano, an indoor-outdoor dance club with enough flashing diodes to cause hallucinations and a comedy lounge decorated with 109 Venetian masks are just a few of the over-the-top touches that let you know you're on a Fun Ship.
So what's different about Dream? Think of what happens to a regular burger and fries when you say "Super Size Me," and do the same to the ship's bars, promenades, spa and kids' activity clubs. On a ship that's the length of nearly three football fields, the menu of food, entertainment and facilities is expanded and the portions are straight up beefier.
But back to what's different about Dream. For starters, add a couple of new additions to the already varied cabin choices: Cove balconies are down on Deck 2, where the flying fish are at nearly eye level. And family quints can sleep a family of five comfortably, with two bathrooms.
The two-level Cloud 9 Spa is one of the largest afloat, and the "pamper-me" set can opt for adjacent, smoke-free cabins with included access to the spa facilities. And yes, the usual massages, facials and manicures are served, but dozens of other treatments tackle everything from yellow teeth to frown lines.
Forget the ship's been-there-done-that jogging track for that early-morning run or stroll under the stars. A bigger, better alternative is the Lanai promenade, a 20-foot-wide outdoor walkway that runs the circumference of Deck 5 (just 2.5 times around add up to a mile). And, with its outdoor whirlpools, oversize chess sets and covered seating areas, those who don't want to work up a sweat are also welcome.
The Lanai's outdoor seating areas open up to one of Carnival Dream's best features, Ocean Plaza, an expansive meet-and-greet hub that is often missing from smaller ships. With a specialty coffee bar, a stage with dance floor, plenty of tables and chairs, a large bar and a smaller bar offering drinks-of-the-day and coordinating snacks, the Ocean Plaza has a little something for everyone.
As for the kids, Dream is not all about them, but it still devotes more time, space and energy to the young'uns than most Montessori schools. Kids 2 to 11, broken into three age groups, are entertained at Camp Carnival, which takes up a sizeable chunk of Deck 11. And two separate disco-like retreats are dedicated to the tweens (ages 12 to 14) and teens (ages 15 to 17). Dependents who eschew anything organized can keep themselves entertained with mini-golf, a basketball court, outdoor movies on a jumbo screen, a water park and even a teen spa pedicure party.
Food and entertainment follow the typical Carnival pattern: The tried and true are still available -- yes, you can still get a soft-serve ice cream cone at midnight, and the hairy-chest contest lives on. But break-out options are also on the table. Watch from several decks above as street acrobats perform in the Dream Atrium. Conjure your own pasta creation and present it to the Pasta Bar's chef for preparation. Listen to rock music while laser lights flash across the deck. Sip on rum or tequila concoctions poolside at dueling theme bars.
The downside? Being bigger isn't always better. The additional public space often doesn't seem quite large enough to absorb the extra deck of passengers, especially on bad-weather days. Good luck getting a chaise at the adults-only Serenity area during a sea day. On formal nights, when early-seating diners are leaving, late-seating diners are arriving and photographers are lining everyone up for photos, it's gridlock on Deck 5. Wokked-to-order Mongolian fare is scrumptious, but it also creates long lines at the buffet. Performing the marquee production show only once allows for other entertainment choices, but also turns away some who can't find seats.
But those type of complaints are not unique to Carnival Dream. And, after all, this ship isn't trying to reinvent the wheel, just pump it up with more exotic rims and fatter tires.
Carnival attracts a diverse mix of vacationers, but they're typically upbeat and ready for fun. You may or may not approve of the guy wearing the T-shirt with the cartoon squirrel that says "I'm so old, I can't remember where my nuts are," but he'll have a smile on his face and give you a hearty hello. The friendly crowd is having a great time, and they're sometimes proudly loud about it. The ship's high energy level is one of the reasons repeaters keep coming back.
The average age is 40 to 50, but there are plenty of multi-generation families and a fair share of seniors from Florida enjoying a last-minute deal. Caribbean cruises in March over college spring break weeks attract lots of happy young adults, but the crew keeps them in line with special activities such as late-night pool parties. Summer and holidays mean more young children.
On the "cruise elegant" nights in the main dining rooms (typically two on a seven-night cruise), most passengers look dressed up, but evening gowns and tuxedos are the exception, especially in the Your Time Dining area. On casual nights, the norm for men is a collared shirt and nice jeans, and most women wear sundresses or capri-blouse combos, but you'll see T-shirts and shorts. During the day, just about anything goes, although you won't see bathing suits in the Scarlet restaurant.
Carnival recommends $12.00 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $6.10 to dining room services, $3.90 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but it can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping a couple dollars for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff.