If you’re thinking of taking the Carnival Dream for a spin, you’re reading the right review! My wife and I have taken two cruises on the Dream (both before and after it was dry-docked and remodeled), and hopefully we can all glean some insight together and help YOU decide if the Dream is a good fit for you. So, without further adieu, here are “10 Things You Should Know Before Cruising the Carnival Dream”.
*WARNING—This review is long and detailed. But in the end, at least you can say you were informed.
1. Embarking Is A Flippin’ Nightmare
On both our cruises, my wife and I ported out of New Orleans, LA which was both awesome and not-so-much at the same time. It was great being in New Orleans, but our second time there was right at the beginning of both Mardi Gras and the NBA Playoffs, so you can imagine how much fun the traffic was. For both trips we booked a hotel to stay the night before that offered a shuttle bus to the cruise terminal. This is something you’ll want to do as well. Why? The Carnival Dream holds a little over 3,600 guests at full capacity. So while there are 3,600 of us trying to get on, there are also 3,600 people try to get off at.the.same.time.
The line of cars to get to the cruise terminal sat gridlocked for about six or seven blocks, so taking the hotel shuttle let us bypass that and get right up to the terminal entrance. But, that wasn’t just a whole lot better, as now there are some 7,000 people standing in lines, crisscrossing paths while carrying a week’s worth of luggage for each person. If you get the option (even if you have to pay for it) to get express entry into the terminal, for the love of God take it. If not, you’ll be doomed to spend hours in line outside toting fifty pounds of luggage just trying to get through the door.
Be sure and have your photo ID, birth certificate (or passport), and printed off cruise pass in your hand at all times (while also toting your carry-on luggage), as you’ll be asked for it about five times just trying to get through all the different checkpoints inside the terminal. Then it’s on to the x-ray machines and bag searches before you’re finally let in to the main room to wait some more. You’ll have to go through yet another checkpoint (where you have to show your paperwork, because apparently the first four employees didn’t check it well enough) and there you’ll get your official Carnival cruise card (room key and onboard money card) and then you’re off to be herded like cattle, sitting and waiting, sometimes for over an hour or longer, before you’re called onto the ship.
Once your group is called, you’re rushed like maniacs (with all your carry-on luggage and in our case a toddler who refused to ride in his stroller which I was then dragging behind me) through an inclined corridor about the length of a football field leading into the ship. Once you finally get on the ship, you’re taken aback by its beauty and gargantuan size, but your joy only lasts a moment as you realize that you’re not allowed to go to your cabin for about four hours while the crew finishes up cleaning from the last batch of people who just got off. By this time your back, arms, and legs are killing you from hauling around four overnight bags and that extra duffel of nothing but shoes your wife just had to bring, so you’re relieved to find out they are at least serving lunch. When you finally get to go to your room, you’re absolutely exhausted, cranky, and only keeping a smile on your face because the ship’s starting to move and you know you’re on your way to a week’s worth of sun, palm trees, tiki drinks, and relaxation.
2. The Food Is “Meh” At Best
When my wife and I booked our first cruise, we were so looking forward to the midnight buffets, exotic cuisines, and all the glorious fare we’d been told came with going on a cruise. What we found out once onboard was that there were major ups and downs to what was offered. The breakfast is good—just about anything you could want (except biscuits and gravy, and being from the South this was a letdown for me), but since they serve the exact same things every single morning, we got bored with it quickly. They have different types of foods on different days on the buffet. Some days it’s American, or Jamaican/Caribbean inspired dishes.
There are several onboard restaurants like the Guy’s Burger Joint (which is arguably the best food on the boat), there’s the Pig & Anchor barbecue bar, pizzeria, sandwich shop, Italian, and even Indian food (hope you like spicy curry!). The formal dinners in the evenings are okay, but if you aren’t an adventurous eater you might not like most of what they have to offer. Even simple dishes like pork chops or fried chicken are made in such a way that is just, well… different.
In fact, most of the food on the ship tastes different. Don’t go to the buffet thinking you’re getting Golden Corral, or you’ll be disappointed. Every dessert we had was nearly inedible, with the exception of the Carnival Melting Cake which is only offered during the formal dinners and the fresh fruit and ice cream.
In addition to the food quality, there will be lines to every restaurant and food bar that you will have to endure. And the better eating joints will have the longest lines. Even at the formal dinner there is a lot of waiting. Though you’re being served like a five-star restaurant, most dinners include about four different courses, and there was at least a 15-20 minute wait between each course, meaning the formal dinner usually lasted 75-90 minutes and if you are on the second dinner shift sometimes this will cause you to miss out on certain shows or other night life affairs.
A final point about the restaurants that should be mentioned is the closing times. Most of the restaurants, and even the buffet close about 9pm. Which sucks, because if you come out of the midnight comedy show or stumble out of the nightclub looking to counteract the alcohol in your gut with something nice and filling, you’ll be sorely disappointed as the only places that stay open are the sandwich shop and pizzeria. Everything else is locked up tight until breakfast the next morning.
Now, onto the drinks.
You can order Carnival’s “Bottomless Bubbles” package and get all the canned soft drinks you want. The only problem is that it’s $42 per adult/per day (for a 7-day cruise) and everyone listed in your cabin must all have the Bubbles package for anyone in your party to be eligible. Which means that if you and your partner plus two children are on the cruise, the Bubbles package will end up costing you about $150, just for canned sodas.
If you choose to not get the Bubbles package, Carnival offers an “amazing array” of free drinks like water (that takes like it’s being held in a big plastic tank somewhere in the hull of the ship), unsweet tea (which is made from powder and has some kind of nasty fruity aftertaste), and lemonade which will flare up heartburn quicker than you can say, “Mylanta”.
As for the alcoholic drinks, they are quite expensive (mixed drinks range from about $10-20 each) and most are so watered down you’d have to order them in bulk to catch a good buzz. The most affordable way to get “feeling right” is to order their beer bucket special, which clocks in at $25.00 for four longnecks in a bucket of ice. Like the soda, Carnival offers a Cheers! drink package for alcohol, but you’d have to drink like a German all week to make it worth it. To get the pass is $54.95 per person, per day plus a 15% gratuity. So if you and your partner decided to get the all-access pass to Drunkville, you’re looking at a pricey $884.80 for the week.
(Where’s the free lemonade machine at again??)
3. People, People EVERYWHERE
One thing I didn’t expect before we cruised the first time was how overcrowded the ship would be. Mind you, the Dream is absolutely massive. But when you’ve got upwards of 5,000 people on a ship (counting passengers and crew) it gets stuffy very quickly. Everywhere you go is another line—breakfast, lunch, dinner, shows, onboard games and activities, bars, and if you get stuck in the line for guest services, I pity your soul.
After dinner is when the ship really livens up with parties, clubs, shows, etc.—which means everybody’s pretty much on the Promenade Deck together at one time since most the entertainment, shopping, and clubs are all on the same deck. Wonderful planning guys. The Dream is over a thousand feet long, and some 16 stories high. Now, I’m no cruise ship designer, but I think even I could probably do better than that.
Port days are frustrating because everyone is trying to get off the ship at the same time, and back on that afternoon. And once again there’s checkpoints, x-ray scanners, and more to deal with so it’s kind of like embarkation day all over again, just on a smaller scale. The pools and hot tubs are almost always constantly full, especially if you’re unlucky enough to go during school breaks when the ship is absolutely overrun with kids and teenagers.
And don’t get me started on the elevators. One ginormous ship… 5,000 people… 16 elevators. Yeah… it didn’t make sense to me either. It also means that most times you’ll either concede to stand there 10-15 minutes or more waiting for an available elevator, or take your chances hiking up thirteen flights of stairs to one of the main decks in your high heels or bucket of beer in tow.
4. The Entertainment Is Entertaining… Mostly
One of the good things about the Carnival Dream both times we’ve gone is that there’s hardly a dull moment. There is always something going on, and there are things for every age and personality type. The Punchliner Comedy show was a hoot every time we went, there is a live music/dancing show, clubs for adults and teens, casino, piano bar, arcade for the kids. Just understand that these aren’t Broadway performers. Don’t get me wrong, they’re pretty good, but don’t go expecting to see award-winning performances, unless you happen to book a cruise with a celebrity music act.
The dance clubs are okay, but not very active. The times we went there were only maybe 20-25 people inside, most of them sitting back sipping cocktails and watching the four of five drunks on dance floor. The piano bar was cool, if you like getting hammered and belting out Elton John’s Tiny Dancer at the top of your lungs. There’s an onboard art exhibit where you can buy paintings for upwards of $50,000—$100,000 if you just absolutely have nothing better to spend your money on. And there are a few shops onboard like a jewelry store, candy shop, and souvenirs.
My advice? Save your money for port days. My $12 Carnival mug literally fell apart in my hands less than a month after getting it home.
5. The Truth About Porting
On our first cruise, we stopped in Honduras, Belize, and Cozumel. After you go through the pandemonium getting off the ship, you’re met in every port with an outdoor shopping area full of cool little local shops, jewelry stores, and theme restaurants in what the cruise line calls “The Safe Zone”. You are allowed out of the Safe Zone, and can venture into the country, but it’s not recommended.
Since my wife and I weren’t about to spend $300+ dollars to scuba dive or swim with dolphins and get stung by jellyfish, we decided to take cab and horse and buggy rides through the city. It was a little unnerving being that far away from the boat, since the Cruise Director is quick to tell you that if you are not back by the time the ship is scheduled to leave, they will leave you behind. Well, that and we had the cab stop at a gas station in Honduras so a couple people riding with us could get some lunch, and all of a sudden a crew of police officers with machine guns strapped to their hips (no, I’m not kidding) surrounded the store like something was about to go down.
I was offered “ganja” in Belize (which I turned down—a. because my job does random drug tests, and b. there was a Belizean police officer no more than fifty feet away and I didn’t feel like being the next episode of Locked Up Abroad) and during our horse and buggy ride in Cozumel, the driver took us downtown where people stood on the sides of the roads watching us, so when he started slowing down I instinctively put my hand on my wallet. It was a good time though.
If you’re looking to go to the beach, the experience will differ depending on which port you’re at. Some will have free accessible beaches—which means they’ll be packed because not only are there people from your ship there, there’s also three or four other cruise companies there and so the whole port, beach, stores, all of it is being overrun by some 15,000—20,000 people. Most ports have beaches where you have to pay to swim, but even those sometimes are overcrowded.
Just a side note though… stay away from the hot dog vendors in Belize. Sure they have $2 draft beer… but it’s hardly worth the gastrointestinal showstopper you’ll endure later that night. Take it from someone who knows.
6. The Cabins Are Comfy But Cozy
So after you’ve had your long, adventurous day at port, getting sunburned and body-cavity searched by the Jamaican Port Authority, you’re ready to get back on the ship, go to your cabin and relax. On our first cruise, my wife and I got the cheap room—an interior stateroom on the next to bottom deck of the ship. They are small, but adequate. Beds are comfortable enough, just don’t expect pillow-top mattresses.
The bathrooms are tiny, so if you’re a big guy like me, taking a shower in the casket-sized stall will be a challenge. There’s plenty of storage, a makeup vanity, and a TV that gets about 4 channels (besides the Carnival infomercial programming). I took a small fan with me, because even though the room stayed cool, being in that small of a space made me feel like I was sleeping in a fallout shelter and I needed some noise to keep me from feeling claustrophobic.
Don’t judge me. I’m sure you have your quirks too…
The second time around, we opted for the porthole room, which was great. It was bigger, and slept more people, and had a nice ocean view right behind the bed. Before our second cruise, I would tell people, “The interior room’s good enough. You won’t spend much time in there anyway”. Which is true, but after I experienced the bigger room with a view, I couldn’t go back to the bomb shelter.
7. Don’t, I Repeat, DON’T Take Small Children
Our first time on the Dream, my wife and I went by ourselves. It was the Honeymoon we never had when we got married. We had a blast and were talking about booking the next cruise before we even left New Orleans the following Sunday morning. But somewhere along the way, we thought it would be the grandest idea to take the kids along. And besides the time I bleached my hair blonde in high school because Eminem was cool and I wanted to be “cool” too, this was the biggest mistake of my life.
Yes, the Carnival Dream does have lots of activities for all age groups, so during the day it wasn’t a problem. But the Dream is also geared more toward adult fun—bars, parties, clubs, raunchy comedy, etc. at night when everything comes alive. The problem is that you can’t party, relax, or even attend most of these activities due to age restrictions, so you’ve got one of two choices—do something lame like watch Pirates of the Caribbean at the Poolside Theater and eat cheese fries every night, or take your kids to Camp Ocean (Carnival’s babysitting service) for a hefty hourly fee.
To make matters worse, we took our then 13 month old son along since my wife refused to leave him with family for a week, and in the end, with the exception of one night (out of six that we were onboard) we sat around doing the same thing we do at home—watching movies and corralling a toddler who’s just learned to walk. Only now I’ve been out close to three grand to do it.
Our 11-year-old got bored all the time, because there weren’t enough things with a screen to plug in and play, so she singlehandedly cost me about $150 just in Camp Ocean fees. And our sixteen year old made some new friends so we didn’t see much of her, which wasn’t a problem until we wake up at 3am and she’s not in the room, so now we have to go searching this monstrosity of ship to find her. Yeah… that didn’t end well.
After that little experience, my wife and I decided that next time, everybody but us is going to Grandma’s for the week.
8. D-Day (Debarkation Day)
Much like embarkation day, debarkation day is pure pandemonium. It’s pretty much the same hellish encounter you experience the first day, only in reverse, and this time you have to go through the hassle of U.S. Customs (ugh…).
Here you’ve been pampered, waited on hand and foot, haven’t done laundry, dishes, or even had to make your own bed in a week and now you’re waking up at 5am in the morning, pulling the 72 luggage cases out of the closets and heading down to leave the ship around 7am that morning—oh, and everybody else is doing the exact same thing.
After you’ve pulled your 72 luggage cases back down the forever-long corridor, been looked over and checked thoroughly by Customs Agents to make sure you don’t have any wacky weed shoved in any ungodly places, and fought the crowds not only getting off the boat but all the folks now trying to get on for their cruise, you call your hotel shuttle, and wait an eternity for them to show up, all while lugging all your bags, your kids, and all the random crap you bought at port.
And the funny thing is that when you get home, you look back on the experience and think, “Man that was an amazing time. We can’t wait to go again!” You forget all about the issues, the problems, the people. But you do remember sitting on the back of the ship looking out into the deep blue nothing with the sea breeze in your hair and that little pink fruity drink in your hand.
I guess that’s why we’ve already booked Cruise #3. And just for kicks, we’ll probably take it on the Dream again. Who knows… maybe we’ll see you there. Read Less