Carnival Dream Review - Western Caribbean May 26, 2012 (LONG)
Just returned from the Dream last week and did the Western Caribbean leg. I was skeptical because of all the negative reviews so I will try and answer to what I saw from some of the more popular ones (crowding, sewer smell, chair hogs, etc.)
I am going to separate this review by day of the cruise, sorry if it is too long, but I have a lot to say about the ship.
Quick and dirty summary:
There were 4 in our group (2 Cove Balconies) and we had all cruised before. We never had slow service in the MDR, food was always hot, we were always able to find chairs on deck, and the service we received was good. We made all 4 ports and booked 3 excursions, none of which were through Carnival. The bad: the amount of smokers everywhere was terrible. Serenity is full of chair hogs. I wish there was a 3rd pool. Room service menu could be expanded.
Other then that, loved it and had a great time.
Carnival Dream – Western Caribbean Cruise May 26-June 2
7C – Cove Balcony
2342 and 40
4 adults total (in two cabins) ages from late 20’s to early 30’s
Previous Cruise History:
My 3rd cruise (2 Carnival and 1 RCCL)
Wife’s 4th cruise (2 Carnival, 1 RCCL, and 1 Norwegian)
This was delayed due to a medical emergency on the previous cruise. We were told by Carnival not to arrive at the port before 3:30 or we would be turned away. I was impressed by the great communication by Carnival as we received an email the night before and a “robo-call” as well; we also received a $15 credit (each) to our sign and sail account, which was a nice gesture. We arrived at the parking area at about 2:45 or so. We used Park N Cruise instead of the port; this could not have been any easier (or cheaper). I made on-line reservations so when I got there all I did was pull into the building, they unloaded our car for us (and loaded onto the bus), and the wife paid as I parked the vehicle. We then got onto the (waiting) bus and away we went! Total cost, $59, or about half of what the port charges. By the time we got to the port it was just past 3 and they were not turning anyone away, in fact we already saw people walking on the ship, so I’m not sure what time they actually started boarding. Check-in was super quick. There was a line but it kept moving. Had 1 carry on with 2 bottles of wine and a 12 pack of diet coke, which they did inspect (but did not open) to see if it had been tampered with. I considered trying to smuggle some beer on, but I’m glad I didn’t as it would not have been worth the hassle.
We walked onto the ship by around 3:45 and to my surprise we were able to go directly to our cabin. We stayed in a 7C or cove balcony, room 2342 (port side). Loved the cove! We had a connecting state room next to our friends, but for the life of me I can’t understand why the rooms can connect but the way the coves are constructed you cannot open the divider on the balcony between connecting staterooms, maybe it was just ours, still weird. This was my first non-inside stateroom, can’t go back now! Since we already had lunch we changed quickly and headed up to Serenity deck. We didn’t end up leaving port until 8pm, which by that time it was nearly dark so sail away was kind of blah. Dinner was un-impressive, it was good but I don’t remember what I had so it didn’t blow me away. We had anytime dining, Crimson dining room deck 4.
Day 1 – Sea Day:
The seas were a little bit rough through the night, I think due to that sub-tropical storm near Jacksonville and because we were moving at over 22 knots to make up lost time due to the late departure. Decided to go for a nice run around the jogging track, I was told it was 9 laps = 1 mile, come to find out it is actually 7 so I ran more then I intended but that’s never a bad thing. Around 10am we tried to hit the deck to find some chairs and it was pretty crowded, which is to be expected on a sea day. Serenity deck was overrun with chair hogs, but we ended up finding some chairs along deck 11. There is enough open deck space on this ship to find some chairs, yes you may not get your first choice but keep looking, there are plenty of chairs. We signed up for a food and wine pairing at noon, $15/pp, which got you a small tasting plate with cheese, steak, salmon, and fruit and 5 glasses (half full) of different types of wine. This was attended by maybe about 30 people and turned into one of the highlights of the trip. The sommelier was fantastic and really opened our eyes about pairing the right foods with the right wine and how adding lemon, lime or salt can really change a flavor, wish I had taken notes. If you even remotely consider yourself a wine person, pay the $15 it is well worth it. For lunch we took part in the Lanai BBQ which was awesome. Dinner was cruise elegant night #1, we requested a booth which ended up in a wait of 45 minutes, but no worries, took some pictures and went to eat. My one big complaint from the cruise was the corkage fee for wine. On the first night we asked our waiter and he told us, don’t worry, just bring it and we’ll open it for you, no fee. So we did just that this night, brought our own wine, and they gave us 4 glasses, opened it and that was that. We tried this on the next night and were told we would have to pay $10 corkage fee. We did have a different dining team because of the anytime option, but my gripe is, do it one way or the other. Charge the fee or don’t but don’t change your policy from night to night. Each night thereafter we poured it in our room and brought it with us to dinner, our room steward kept us stocked with wine glasses in the room. We went to the main theatre show which was horrible, we left after about 15 minutes, the vocalists were terrible, especially the male.
Day 2 – Cozumel:
We arrived on time right at 9am ships time. We were swimming with the dolphins at Chankanaab Park at 11 so we briskly walked through the port and boarded a taxi ($10 for 4 people) and got to the park 90 minutes before we did our swim. We did not book the excursion through Carnival, even though Carnival forces you to, but we got around that and saved a ton. Nobody at the park could have cared less if we were on the ship or not, Gripe #1; I’m really disappointed in Carnival for making cruise ship passengers book the swim with the dolphins package through the ship. We saved several hundred dollars by booking it ourselves. If you go to the Dolphin Discovery webpage and input you re coming in on the Dream they will refer you to Carnival for booking. We contacted Carnival about this and they told us it was so everyone who wants to do the swim gets a chance to or some BS like that. There are free lockers for use and showers and changing areas available for use. We did a Mayan history tour before the dolphin swim by one of the park guides. He did an excellent job; I wish I could remember his name. He took a ton of photos for us and knew great spots to do so. This took us right up to the time for the swim. Gripe #2; before we arrived we were under the impression that we could take a water proof camera with us as long as we did not have it on our person when we were interacting with the dolphins, this is not true. They do not allow any cameras in the area at all. Oh well, we booked the royal swim which gave us an opportunity to do the kiss, hug, fin shake, nose touch, dorsal fin tow, and foot push. This took about an hour and was an amazing experience! Be warned, the picture CD’s are very expensive. Yes you can get 1 picture for $30, but a CD for the 4 of us cost $169.99. They were nice enough to burn it on 2 separate discs (one for each couple) and it worked out to about $42.50 per person for the CD, which had about 110 pictures on it. Since this was a once and a lifetime opportunity and we saved a bundle by not booking through the ship, we bought it. There are a few places to eat lunch there that serve Mexican cuisine and beers. Food runs $6-$8 a plate plus $3/beer, kind of pricy for what it is. After lunch we decided to hang out at their beach area which is fantastic for lying around in the sun. They have plenty of lounge chairs and some are under thatched roof umbrella type structures for shade. Be warned, however, the entrances into the water are built into the rock and there is really no place to hang out on the beach and be in the water at the same time. Once you’re in the water it drops off quick. The water is beautiful and was great to swim in, but you’re constantly treading water once you leave the rocks. Took a taxi back at about 3:30 for another $10, shopped in port, and got back on the boat with about an hour to spare. The room service menu on the ship is great if you like sandwiches, because that’s about all there is. We ordered a few sandwiches and ended up skipping dinner in the MDR, which is a first for me on a cruise, so I’m not sure what they had that night.
Day 3 – Belize:
This was probably my overall favorite day in port. We booked an independent tour for cave tubing and zip-lining. My main concern was getting off the boat in time because of the tenders. Belize is 2 hours behind ships time so we ended having plenty of time. Tendering is done by going to the lounge on deck 5 and getting an assigned number. We got there right at 8 (when the first tenders were scheduled) and got assigned #9. It took them a good 30 minutes to start calling numbers, but they called 4-6 numbers at a time. This whole process took maybe an hour to get on the tender. Once on the tender it takes about 15 minutes to get to shore. The port area itself is very unimpressive and the locals yell at you through the fences to book tours with them or buy their goods for sale. Take note however this was the only port on our itinerary where I saw an abundance of fake “designer” hand bags and luggage if you’re into that sort of thing.
We booked our excursion through VIV Tours. My only negative is that you pay when you get to port, I don’t like having large amounts of cash on me. We had to exit the cruise area to meet with the group. Once we paid we had to wait for a few minutes, which ended up being a non-stop barrage of “buy this, do this, look at this, let me braid your hair” by many different people, some would absolutely not take no for an answer. Once we met up with our tour guide (Favoulous, or Fab as we called him) we climbed in a van and started off. There ended up being 7 total people in the van, the additional 3 persons only booked the zip lining I believe. The drive out of the city and into the rain forests was rainy and very bumpy over the last couple of miles. Once you turn off the main highway the road is horribly rutted and filled with pot holes. I was glad we were in a van, and not one of the busses we saw, which had to be an awful ride. After an hour or so drive we arrived. You can leave everything in the van, though VIV had arranged lockers should you wish to use them. The group ended up being just the four of us and two employees of VIV, though the other one was just along for the tour. We pretty much had a private tour, awesome! VIV no doubt, has the best tubes of any company. The bottom has mesh so your butt doesn’t fall through, they have headrests, and they hook together so you don’t have to have someone’s feet under your armpits. Another nice touch, my buddy and I had to carry our tubes but VIV had some waiting at the river so the wives didn’t have to hike through the jungle and carry a tube. The hike was easy and we saw no creepy crawlies or animals. Again, our guide was fantastic and really knew his stuff. After the river we did the zip lining which was also awesome. Note; the only lunch option they have is a $10/pp buffet style, no sharing. Do yourself a favor and snag some snacks off the boat to eat on the way back, prices on snacks were outrageous, $2 for a tiny bag of Cheetos or Doritos. On the way back we took a nice tour through Belize City before we were dropped off over an hour before last tender. I’ll have to admit I was worried about the time, but Fab did a great job getting us there and back, and the price we paid ($75/pp) was again way cheaper then the cruise line and instead of a group of 20+ it was just the four of us. If you plan on doing any type cave tubing or zip lining in Belize, please do yourself a favor and use VIV!
Back on the boat we went to a late dinner, no wait. The wife and I checked out the show again, which was way better then the previous night, but still worse then I remembered.
Day 4 – Isla Roatan, Honduras
Mahogany Bay is a great port and removed from any “real” part of the island. The location is great. We got a late start since we didn’t have an excursion planned. There was one other ship in port with us today, Carnival Conquest. This was the only time we saw another ship, all of our other ports of call we were the only ones in port. We were in port from 8am until 6pm, because of this we decided to split our day in two halves, the first part we would do some shopping, go back to the ship for lunch, and then go to the beach which worked out very well for us. Gripe #1 I don’t like the trend of building the shop (Dufry Duty Free) at the entrance to a port (here and Cozumel) that everyone has to funnel through. It’s annoying and if you have personal space issues or are claustrophobic I could see where it could make some one nervous. Other then that one complaint the port area is very nice. The typical shops dot the port, though they do have a nice Christmas store and an area with some “local” crafts. Back on the boat I got to take part in the Lido Buffet for the first time since we missed lunch embarkation day, had the BBQ on day 2, and were on excursions the previous 2 days. Crowding was not an issue as most were off the boat. I got a chance to try out the burrito bar and it was great. Not as big as say Chipotle or Moe’s but still plenty filling. The chips and all the different salsas were great too. My wife got the Mongolian Wok and hers also looked (and tasted) very good. I can see why these spots are so popular.
The beach here is OK, if not a bit crowded when 2 ships are in port. Save yourself the $12 and walk instead of the “flying beach chair” option, it’s not that bad of a walk. On the beach there are plenty of chairs to be found. The water is very murky where the majority of people are, its amazing (and kind of gross) how clear it gets once you go all the way towards the pier and back to the rear of the swimming area; also it stays relatively shallow 4-5 feet maybe. There is a lot of coral and sea grass underfoot, my buddy and I ventured out to the end of the island and regretted not having our water shoes as the rock and coral was killing our feet. There is a nice secluded stretch of beach just around the end of the island that is worth a swim over to. There also is what appears to be a crew beach fenced off from the rest of the area at the very end towards the pier. It was nice to see everyone in this area having a good time, the crew works hard and they deserve to blow off some steam too. For my fellow beer drinkers, note there are 4 main types of beer in Honduras (Imperial, Cerve Vida, Port Royal and Barena) and they are all pretty much variations of Bud Light/Miller Lite. I love craft beer and unfortunately there is almost none to choose from on a Carnival cruise. Thirsty Frog Red wasn’t too bad, so I’d stick with that.
We got back on the ship about 2 hours before we departed and enjoyed the water slides without much crowd. They are a bit bumpy especially if you’re not wearing a shirt, so be warned, my back was pretty red after a few trips to the bottom. Also, the water at the end is a little deep so be prepared for that as it caught all four of us by surprise the first time down. Dinner in the MDR was great; I believe this night was the alligator fritters which were awesome. I also enjoyed a great bowl of soup each night, this night I had the mushroom soup.
Day 5 – Costa Maya:
Please note that you get to this port very early, 7am ships time, 6am local time. We had to be back on the boat by 2pm if I remember correctly so plan excursions accordingly. The weather was absolutely terrible when we got in. I was up at 615 to watch us pull into port and the waves were very high and it was raining heavily. At one point I thought we might not be able to dock, but we did. We planned on going to the Mayan Ruins through The Native Choice Tours but due to the nasty weather and time concerns, I originally thought we had until 3pm in port, we decided to cancel. Though we had already paid they were very nice and understood our concerns though they assured us we would make it back on time. Looking back I wish we had gone on the tour, rain or not.
There are a few shops in the port area to look at, with again most of the same stuff. If you are so inclined they have a baby tiger you can hold and take pictures with for $25/pp; hadn’t seen that anywhere else. Outside of the “secured” area is a “town” that looks like most of it is either shut down or on its way out. The Carlos and Charlie’s Outlet is closing for business. There is a Hard Rock Café that just opened a few months prior to our arrival. Interesting fact: it is the smallest Hard Rock Café in the world. Back in the port area they do a Mayan show with dancers and reenact a human sacrifice, interesting to watch for a bit and then move on. For you liquor buffs note there is only 2 stores inside the port area that sell tequila ONLY. Out in the “town” there is another one of those Dufry Duty Free places with all types of liquor next to what is possibly the saddest Diamonds International store in the world.
We were back on the ship by noon. This port was highly unimpressive to me. Do yourself a favor and book an excursion here. Other then the large pool in the port, the shops are the same and there is nothing of interest to walk to. Also, all prices in shops here were listed in pesos, so be aware of that. Lunch at the Lido was enjoyed in the Pasta Bar. I can see how people don’t find this place until the end of the cruise, if you’re not looking for it you won’t find it. There are a couple different types of pasta, sauces, and many add-ins to choose from, along with bread and Caesar salad. This was also our second elegant night. The beef tenderloin and grilled tiger shrimp were excellent.
Day 6 – Sea Day:
This was a late sleep in day. We managed to find 4 chairs together on the Serenity deck to enjoy some sun and reading until the skies opened up. It rained for the majority of the final day and was overcast when it wasn’t raining. I didn’t see if they had the BBQ on this day or not, though with the rain I imagine they cancelled it. What a difference a sea day makes for lunch though. We ate around 1pm and appeared to miss the rush. No problems finding a table and a short wait for my burrito, though my wife waited a while for her pasta. The key is to be patient and go before or after the peak times. Most of the rest of the day we read or played cards in the room or on the balconies. This was a relaxing day and a good way to end the cruise.
Day 7 – Disembarkation:
The Dream pulled into Port Canaveral pretty early (around 6). We placed our luggage outside our staterooms the previous night and were assigned number 17. On our previous cruise on the Inspiration we did the self assist and it was a nightmare with lines and the elevators. This time was much easier. Snagged some food at the Lido buffet and brought it back to the room. We were supposed to vacate the room by 830 but Ronnel, our steward, said we could stay later if we needed to. No need to, they rolled through the numbers fast and we were off the boat by 820. Customs was very quick and we had our luggage shortly thereafter. Park N Cruise was waiting on us when we left the terminal and away we went. We were headed down 528 towards Orlando just after 9am.
Loved almost every minute of the cruise, and had no problems. I will try to summarize a few of the issues people complain about from other posts.
Crowding – yes there was a lot of people on the ship, and this is how Carnival keeps their costs low, but I really didn’t notice it that much. Going to lunch anywhere (land or sea) around noon is never a good idea. I’d eat a late breakfast and hit the buffet at 1 or 130, much better.
Elevators – only one time did we have a long wait, and that was embarkation day when the whole middle bank of elevators were shut down for baggage. We were down on deck two and still took the stairs most everywhere.
The “sewer smell” – Yes I did smell it on occasion, but only in the hallways, and it was anything but overpowering.
Chair Hogs – yep, they come along on every cruise, but what can you do? They were present on our cruise too, but there are more then enough chairs to go around all over the ship. Just walk a little bit and you’ll find something. Deck 5 largely gets ignored and has hot tubs and plenty of lounge chairs on it.
The food – Everything I had was good. Of course there were some things that I did not like, but I doubt it was because of improper preparation, probably my personal taste. Try everything. Each person at our table had 2-3 appetizers nightly plus 2 main courses. The soups were all fantastic.
The boat movement – I did feel more movement on this ship then I had in the past, but I am not sure if it was due to the weather or not. You could feel it, but not enough to make any in our group sick. No big deal.
What I didn’t like:
Smokers – I generally despise all smokers anyway. However I really don’t like how they feel like it is their right to smoke anywhere and everywhere they want. This seemed to be the case all over the ship. Serenity deck, pool deck, outside lido area, and why, WHY, do all smokers assume the beach is one giant ashtray? I also had a smoker on the balcony right next to us. I realize smokers get balcony cabins so they can smoke when they want, but I wish Carnival would group smoking balcony rooms together so they could smell each others smoke.
Wine corkage fee – I spoke about this earlier. If you’re going to charge it, charge it, if not then don’t, but don’t go back and forth and do different things on different nights. One bottle of wine per adult won’t eat into their profits so much that Carnival should feel the need to charge $10 to open my own bottle of wine.
Costa Maya – nothing to do here, do yourself a favor and book an excursion or stay on the boat.
What I did like:
The service – We never had a slow dinner, or saw dirty areas. There was always someone cleaning something. Ronnel, our steward was great. He anticipated us needing new pool towels in the mid afternoon and us needing wine glasses in the evening. Bar staff was attentive though not overly friendly. My only complaint was I didn’t see many roving bar staff on the decks.
The other three ports – This was my second time in Cozumel and it still has the best prices on liquor I have found. I wish I hadn’t realized this until we docked in Costa Maya. Everything seems more expensive in Belize, and they are less likely to haggle with you.
Shore excursions not booked on Carnival – Why anyone books excursions through Carnival escapes me. You get the same tours, to the same places, with less people and better service, for a lot less money. And no, you are not going to miss the boat; they do this several times a week and know what time you need to be back.
Cove balcony – A great room! The balcony was not constantly wet and the position above the water is awesome, with a cheaper price too. Never experienced the door slamming issues I have read complaints about.
Let me know if you have specific questions, I also have 6 of the fun times (I don’t have the embarkation day) I can scan if you would like .
I would absolutely appreciate if you could scan the fun times to me. AA9191@aol.com We are on 2/1/13 sailing. Great review.....except Im worried about smokers too.
Hi, my husband and I are headed out on this ship in June. I would love it if you could scan the fun times to me at email@example.com. Thanks so much!!
Glad to see a positive review. Had the same cokage issue on our last cruise. Asked the CD about it. Was told the policy is a $10 fee, they do know that some waiter will open wine for you without charging it. And that with anytime dining yes it will be hit and miss on if you get one who folllows the policy or not. He did add that ussaly it is newer waiter who follow it as they don't know that they won't get burned for not.
I know going on that if I choose to drink the wine I carried on in the MDR that I might be charged a corkage fee, so I drink it elsewhere.
However, on RCL I object to them charging a corkage fee to wine that we bought from them and was delivered to the cabin .. which we carried into the MDR and they charge corkage on their own wine?? That seems totally unfair to me.
I dont think its unfair that Carnival charges corkage on wine that you carried on the ship.
I know it's been awhile since you posted this thread but if you could scan the fun times to me at firstname.lastname@example.org it would be GREATLY appreciated :) We will be taking the same cruise you did the review on this fall and would love to get an idea of some of the activities offered. Thanks so much!!
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