Carnival Dream is a happy ship; passengers, who primarily come from the southern United States, have no pretentions about who they are and are onboard to have fun. Many come with a posse of friends and family, and laughter is one of the first sounds you'll hear when embarking.
Crew seem genuinely happy, too, and honestly interested in making sure passengers have a great cruise. We never met an unsmiling crew member and everyone always asked us how our day was and what excursion we'd tried and showed genuine interest in the answer. This attitude has helped the ship win Carnival's internal Flagship award for best guest services in both 2014 and 2015, something no other Carnival ship has done before. (Crew "in the know" told us the ship stands a good chance of winning for a third year in 2016.)
The ship does not boast the line's most modern amenities and has only one specialty restaurant; it'll be getting a whole host of new eateries and bars during a January 2017 dry dock. If you're looking for multiple dinner options, you won't find them here. We also missed having a sports bar to watch sports on the weekend, as well as a pub for a larger selection of beer as well as a place to just hang out.
That said, there is always something to do onboard, especially during the day when the Fun Times schedule is packed with activities both inside and out. Trivia, dancing, pool games and movies are just some of the many ways you can stay busy onboard. Evenings are similarly busy, and the most popular venue by far is the Punchliner Comedy Club, which was always standing room only for the adult shows on our cruise.
In some areas, the layout on Carnival Dream causes a few headaches, with many narrow passageways that can create bottlenecks when crowded. Examples include the Lanai corridor on Deck 5, next to Ocean Plaza, a piazza-esque area with seating for games and a small dance floor for live music that's surrounded by the Plaza Bar, Plaza Cafe and one of the FunHub internet stations. In the evening, getting through there to go from one end of the ship to the other can require a bit of a squeeze. Same for the entry into the Gathering Buffet right next to Mongolian Wok. On Deck 4 near the tween and teen hangouts, the tweens are always hanging out in the chairs and blocking up the passageway, which is one of the only ways to get to the Scarlett main dining room. The Gathering Buffet is also crowded during peak times, and it can be quite a task to find a table.
But who can grumble for long about such minor inconveniences when you're on a ship that's determined to show you a good time? Carnival Dream's assets far outweigh its flaws, and it would take real effort not to smile and have fun onboard.
A huge chunk of the passengers you'll find on Carnival Dream (about 87 to 90 percent according to ship's hotel director) drive to their cruise from states all over the southern United States. Ages run the gamut from kids (lots of 'em in the summer!) to folks in their 60s and 70s, though the average age (at least on our July sailing) was probably somewhere in the mid-30s to mid-40s. The ship is popular with groups, including family reunions and wedding parties.
Casual is the name of the game on any Carnival ship, and the only time you'll really see anyone dressed up is on Cruise Elegant nights. On most days, you'll see men in shorts and t-shirts and women in shorts and tees, capris, sundresses or bathing suits with cover-ups. On all nights, cutoff jeans, men's sleeveless shirts, basketball shorts, T-shirts, sportswear, baseball hats, flip-flops and bathing suits are not allowed in the main dining rooms, though we saw lots of women in flip-flops and men in baseball caps. On Cruise Elegant nights, you'll see women in gowns, sundresses and pants and blouse combos, while men don anything from tuxes to full suits to trousers with button-up shirts (with or without a jacket and/or tie). You'll also see plenty of people who choose not to dress up at all.
Carnival charges $12 per person, per day, for gratuities that go to the dining room and cabin crew, as well as to "alternative" service members, which can include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff. The charge is automatically added to your shipboard account, but can be adjusted at the guest services desk. A 15-percent gratuity is automatically added to all bar and spa bills and cannot be removed. No tip is automatically added to room service deliveries, so a couple of bucks handed to your server are appreciated. Note: On sailings departing September 1, 2016, or later, gratuities will increase to $12.95 per person, per day, for most passengers, and $13.95 for those staying in suites.