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.
Dream is the first Carnival ship that doesn't have a design theme, so the Farcusian feel is muted. (Carnival Breeze is actually the first not designed by Farcus.) Floors look as if they are embedded with river stone and pieces of colored glass. Neon, which is actually the more reliable LED lighting, is used as an accent rather than as the main event. But sparkly bits, such as silver wall mirrors backlit with yellow translucent flecks, are still evident. Glass elevators overlook the dramatic depth-of-the-ship Dream Atrium, which starts on Deck 3 and ends with a see-through dome that looks up at the outdoor waterslides.
The ship offers FunHubs -- 36 computer stations mostly located on Decks 4 and 5 -- rather than an Internet cafe. The computer stations are integrated into the hallways, and the only time I saw more than a couple being used was the day before debarkation, when passengers were printing out boarding passes. Guests who have their own laptops can access the Internet from anywhere aboard ship. Internet access prices, ranging from 30 to 75 cents a minute, are hooked to the number of minutes purchased, and larger packages come with use of a free laptop notebook; save money by figuring out beforehand how to read emails offline. The FunHub concept includes Funville@sea, a free Intranet service in which passengers can view onboard activities and events, see food and drink choices, create public discussion groups, check weather in the next port and read news.
It's apparent that the printed word has taken a back seat to technology. The Page Turner Library, which doubles as a meeting place for bridge and card players, is an afterthought with half-empty shelves. Hence, a pre-cruise shopping spree at a discount paperback store is definitely in order. Across from the library, the Rendezvous Club Lounge, with its cozy tables and small bar, is billed as a place for Your Time Dining patrons to wait for dining room seating, but the place was basically empty and the bar untended when we wandered in. Down the hall is the 30-person-capacity conference room, called the Chambers. The ship does not have a dedicated chapel, so shipboard weddings are held at various venues: One took place at the Burgundy Lounge on our embarkation day.
The ship offers the usual bank of stores on Deck 5 selling jewelry, booze, clothes and trinkets. And to entice buying, there are "spot the fake diamond" and "guess the carat weight" competitions. As part of Carnival's Fun Ship 2.0 refurbishment in 2012, the ship got the Cherry on Top shop, which specializes in candy and custom apparel. The Collection Art Gallery on Deck 5, the largest in the Carnival fleet, holds several Champagne art auctions; Thomas Kinkade and Peter Max are well represented. On Deck 4, the photo gallery spans both sides of the ship's midsection, but crowds still form in front of the popular electronic kiosks and the boxes of hard-copy prints.
Launderettes and ironing rooms are available throughout the ship. A load of laundry costs $7.25 to wash and dry, including a purchase of detergent and fabric softener.
Smoking is fairly restricted throughout the ship's public areas. Outside, smoking is allowed portside adjacent to Ocean Plaza, and this is the only area that allows cigars. On the Lido Deck, smoking is restricted to the portside bars forward and aft. Inside, Sam's Piano Bar, the Caliente Club and sections of the Jackpot Casino are the only venues that allow smoking.
Carnival Dream Cabin Photos
Carnival Dream's standard cabins are larger than average; the smallest cabin is the 185-square-foot inside cabin and the largest is the 450-square-foot modified ocean suite with 110-square-foot balcony. In between, you'll find outside cabins, ranging from 185 to 220 square feet, most with 4-by-3 foot window; 230-square-foot deluxe outside cabins that sleep up to five; and 185-square-foot balconies, with private verandas ranging from 35 to 75 square feet. For a splurge, several suite categories include the 345-square-foot grand suite, with separate seating area, bathroom with twin sinks and 85-square-foot balcony; and the 275-square-foot ocean suites and junior suites, both with balcony (ocean suite balconies are 65 square feet, while junior suite balconies are 35 square feet).
Among these are some special cabin categories found only on Dream, Magic and Breeze. The 193 "family quint" cabins, can sleep up to five as the accommodations are configured with two regular twins, two bunk-style beds that hang from the wall and a sofa that converts to a twin. (Note to parents: The two regular twins cannot convert into one queen-sized bed if both bunk beds are utilized, as it would block ladder access to one bunk.) The cabins also have two bathrooms -- one with a sink, toilet and shower, and the other with a tub-shower combo and sink. None offers balconies, but they all have a large picture window.
The second configuration unique to the Dream class is the "cove balcony" on Deck 2. These cabins are located beneath the lifeboats, so other passengers can't see the balconies from public spaces or from balconies higher up. The 110 cabins in this category are about $150 cheaper than a regular balcony cabin and are a good choice for those who like privacy and who don't mind some sea spray. These cabins are the same 185 square feet as many of the standard cabins but have a slightly larger than normal 45-square-foot balcony.
While not necessarily new, spa cabins and suites -- which include priority spa appointments, free fitness classes and access to the spa's pool and steam, dry heat and relaxation rooms -- are located on Decks 12 and 14 adjacent to the spa. (If you are prone to seasickness, avoid these cabins, as they really buck when the seas are high). Wake-view extended balcony cabins, which are several hundred dollars more than a regular balcony cabin, are situated out of the wind and have a 60-square-foot balcony.
Basic cabin styles offer some variations: For example, some inside cabins sleep four with bunk beds, and some of the larger outside cabins have portholes instead of windows.Cabin decor is fairly low-key, with a burnt-orange color scheme that will remind you of either that vacation in Tuscany or the 1970's shag carpet in your mother's house. Artwork is pleasant, but ordinary -- the kind you'd find at a local Sunday morning hotel sale. Storage is more than adequate, and layout, while tight, is efficient. Just don't try to get something out of the closet while someone is coming out of the bathroom. The living/sleeping areas have night tables and a small seating area that faces a mirror. The hair dryer, which is not very effective, is permanently attached in the seating area's pullout drawer. Most cabins are equipped with two outlets, but the one in the bathroom is fairly well hidden in a top corner.
A 24-inch flat-screen television (larger in suites) includes news stations such as CNN, the Cartoon Network, pay-for-view movies and several Carnival channels that cover everything from ship activities to your up-to-date Sail & Sign statement. (It's a good idea to monitor this on a daily basis, as those specialty cocktails add up quickly.) You can also order room service or shore excursions via the TV, but it's much easier to pick up the phone.
Lighting is great, with round-the-room well-disguised fluorescents and other individual lights. Amenities include a safe and a reasonably priced mini-bar, which is stocked with the usual beer, soda and liquor -- and it doesn't ding you for just looking.
Most bathrooms offer showers only. The shower has permanent shampoo and liquid soap dispensers filled with generic (but yummy smelling) product. The only other toiletries are free samples, which run the gamut from a nice Schick razor to Pepcid heartburn reliever. The makeup mirror with a magnified side is a nice touch, as are the comfy bathrobes and the fluffy duvets.
Balconies are furnished with comfortable, quality furniture, typically two high-backed chairs of tightly webbed plastic over tubular aluminum and a small cocktail table.
Noise is an issue in all but the most isolated cabins. Much of it could be mitigated if passengers would gently close doors and use inside voices, but that's not going to happen. Hope for no rambunctious kids -- or honeymooners -- in the cabin next door, but bring earplugs or a portable sound machine just in case. Also, some cabins are noisier than others because of location. If you're sensitive to sound, avoid Deck 6 cabins that are above the disco, casino or other busy public spaces. Deck 7 is generally quieter than most.
If your goal is to cover a large chunk of the action, get ready to sacrifice a large chunk of sleep. From 7 a.m until 3 a.m., something is always going on, from casino play to cooking demonstrations to Michael Jackson "Thriller" dance classes to Champagne art auctions.
To accommodate such a packed agenda, lots of crew energy and ship space, both inside and out, is dedicated to keeping the crowds entertained.
Encore!, a two-level theater, seats 1,400 and presents two shows most nights at 8:45 and 10:30. The shows, most of them heavy on song and dance, change each night. A favorite on our cruise was the marquee Dancin' in the Streets show, themed as Broadway musical meets Cirque du Soleil. Definitely get to the theater early to snag a good seat that isn't behind a pesky view-blocking pole. Before the shows and during the day, Encore! is used for bingo, trivia contests and game shows.
The aft lounge, formerly known as the Burgundy Lounge, was transformed during the fall 2012 dry-dock into the Punchliner Comedy Club, which is associated with George Lopez. A rotating lineup of comedians offer family-oriented (early) and R-rated (late) shows.
Ocean Plaza, as mentioned earlier, is one of the ship's best new features. With its small stage, seating area and adjacent bar, as well as a specialty coffee cafe, it's a busy hub where scavenger hunts are launched, games such as "Scattergories" are played and live music is performed. Each night, a different drink/snack of the day, such as margaritas served with chips and salsa, is featured.
The atrium holds the large, but generally quiet Dream Bar, where drinks can be enjoyed while listening to a pleasant piano playing in the background. The best event we saw there was the Fun Force Acrobatic Show, a crowd-pleasing explosion of gymnastics and break-dancing that drew hundreds of onlookers looking down from the atrium decks' open railings.
Two new bars were added in fall 2012, as part of Carnival's Fun Ship 2.0 fleetwide refurbishment program. The RedFrog Rum Bar and BlueIguana Tequila Bar offer rum- and tequila-based frozen drinks and cocktails, as well as the line's signature ThirstyFrog Red beer.
The medium-size Jackpot Casino has an adjacent sports bar with a large bank of televisions, 189 slot machines, two automated Texas Hold 'Em tables and 17 gaming tables that cover roulette, craps, blackjack and poker. The casino runs the usual slots and Texas Hold 'Em tournaments. But what's different about the casino is that smoking is allowed at only 43 slot machines and six gaming tables on the port side, so the venue is much less smoky than most of its ilk.
The Caliente Club, with pulsating lights and music, opens at 10 p.m., with its closing time listed as late. Don't bother going until after midnight, when the place starts cranking. Sam's Piano Club, which also gets going fairly late, has nightly piano bar sing-a-longs and is a gathering place for smokers. A Latin band plays the Song Jazz Club most nights.
Just about all of the ship's educational seminars, which include "Secrets to Art Collecting," "Swiss Watch Seminar" and "Introduction to Acupuncture" are connected to buying something. If you want to learn about the native culture of Honduras or the birds of Belize, this is not your ship.
If you're not an outdoorsy type, daytime indoor activities are part of the mix, although it's slim pickings during days in port. Games -- such as Win Lose or Draw and Motown Music Trivia -- and bingo are the main events. Live music is sometimes performed in the atrium. The towel-folding demonstration always draws a crowd. Several open scrapbooking sessions are also held.
Hundreds of shore excursions on offer run the gamut from shopping to cave tubing. Prices also span a wide range, from $25 for a two-hour shore snorkeling excursion to $251 for a 5.5-hour tour assisting dolphin trainers. Special teen-only shore excursions are also offered.
Carnival recommends $11.50 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $5.80 to dining room services, $3.70 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 can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff.
The happiness of Carnival's youngest passengers is not an afterthought. The ship has 19,000 square feet of space and a lengthy list of activities devoted to those 17 and younger.
Camp Carnival, which takes up the entire midship area of Deck 11, is divided into two parts, with those ages 2 to 5 on one side (babies are not accepted), and two other groups -- ages 6 to 8 and 9 to 11 -- on the other. Activities for the youngest set include art projects, songs and face-painting. The older kids get more sophisticated organized activities, such as rehearsals with the Fun Force acrobatic troop, plus access to Wii and PlayStation 2. Hours are long, with the camp opening between 6:45 a.m. and 10 a.m., depending on the day. When the organized activities end, usually at around 10 p.m., on-site babysitting for ages 2 to 11 ($6 an hour for the first child, $4 an hour for each additional child) is available until 3 a.m.
Two inviting and well-designed teen clubs for ages 12 to 14 and ages 15 to 17 are located side by side on Deck 4; both are generally open from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. on days in port and from noon during sea days. Circle C, for the tweens, has a dance floor, video jukebox and Internet stations, and activities include dance parties, game shows and Wii competitions. Club O2 for the older set also has a full array of gaming consoles, a dance floor, music-listening stations and soda bar, plus activities such as karaoke, dance classes and midnight mini-golf forays. Both have dedicated directors.
For both big and little kids, the Warehouse, next to Club O2, features more than a dozen arcade games and air hockey.
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.
|Fitness and Recreation|
With two outdoor pools, 10 whirlpools and one of the largest at-sea water parks onboard, lots of passengers stay wet all day. Both pools are on Deck 10 within easy striking distance of food and drink, with the main Waves pool at the center of the ship and the smaller, quieter Sunset pool at the aft. It's easier to nab a chair at the Sunset pool, but its two whirlpools are always busy.
During sea days, live music starts by noon on the Lido Deck, and outdoor movies and concerts are shown on the 12-by-22 foot screen that overlooks the Waves pool. The deck chairs around the crowded main pool area are not for those who want to rest: bingo, an ice-carving demonstration, the hairy-chest contest and Miss Carnival Dream contest are just a few of the nearly constant distractions. On laser-show nights, trippy videos are shown on the big screen while loud music, laser lights and smoke machine fog waft over the crowd. It doesn't really work, but maybe twinning Pink Floyd with Rush is the disconnect.
The outdoor Lanai Promenade on Deck 5 is the place to go for a stroll, although the wind, when it's kicking up, can interfere with those plans. Four whirlpools sit along the open-air promenade, as do a couple of oversize chess sets. Outdoor tables and chairs flank the indoors Ocean Plaza area. To get away from the crowds on the Lido deck, retreat to one of the dozens of lounge chairs long the promenade's length.
The ship's three top decks are dedicated to spa, fitness and water. WaterWorks aquapark includes the Twister, a 303-foot-long corkscrew tube; the Drainpipe, a 104-foot tube that empties into a giant funnel; and two side-by-side racing slides. Don't put off a ride on the tubes, because they'll close if it's too windy. Adjacent to the water park is the adults-only two-level Serenity area, with its own bar and seating, including privacy-plus shaded double loungers. There are also two predictably busy whirlpools. (Best bet for an unoccupied outdoor whirlpool is either of the two situated midship on Deck 11). Entry to Serenity is free.
The 18-hole mini-golf course on Deck 12 and the basketball and volleyball courts on Deck 14 see a lot of daytime action. For the athletically inclined, contests abound involving bean bags, volleyballs, golf balls, etc. The 1/8-mile-long jogging track on Deck 12 does a brisk business, especially during sea days. Ping-pong tables, where tournaments are held, can be found midship on Deck 11.
Cloud 9 Spa, which, at nearly 24,000-square-feet is one of the largest at-sea spas, has a well-equipped fitness center open 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. that runs classes, some which charge fees, such as boot camp, spinning, abs attack and yoga. The spa's thermal suite, accessed for either a daily or weekly fee, is decorated with colorful glass mosaics and includes a thalassotherapy pool, two steam rooms (one offers aromatherapy), two dry-heat rooms, the 7th Heaven relaxing room and the Rasul Bath mud room. Dozens of treatments, including acupuncture, body sculpting, hot stones massage and even metabolism tests and body composition analyses are on the menu. Visit the spa on embarkation day to get free tours and seated neck massages.
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