By David G. Molyneaux, editor, TheTravelMavens.com
If you have sailed before on Carnival Cruises, you know what to expect on the line’s newest ship, the Carnival Dream. The food’s good, the cabins roomy, the dress very casual, the casino chinging, the alcohol flowing at an upbeat, rather high decibel party at sea.
You may tire of hearing the word “fun” in announcements aboard Carnival ships. But energetic fun is the agenda -- around the pools, on the dance floors, in the bars, and in the dining rooms, where waiters sing for and dance with passengers in a conga line that snakes around the tables.
The wackiness continues in port, such as in Cozumel, Mexico, above.
The Dream is less flashy than the neon of Carnival’s older ships -- designer Joe Farkas said he didn’t really have a theme for the Dream –- but frequent cruisers will recognize the bold design and colors (main dining rooms are named Scarlett and Crimson).
The new ship, Carnival’s biggest at 130,000 tons as compared to 113,000 tons on the Splendor of 2008, offers bigger and better water slides, a laser show, an impressive lanai on Deck 5, cove balcony cabins only three decks above the water, a snazzy enlarged Serenity sunning area for adults only (at no extra charge on Carnival), a new comedy club that is packed for every adult show, and a lunch buffet with the most choices at sea.
Thoughts from seven nights at sea
Carnival Dream began cruising seven nights into the Caribbean in December 2009 out of Port Canaveral, Fla. The Dream holds 3,646 passengers at two to a cabin, up to 4,631 with a shipload of kids. Next comes the Dream’s sister, Carnival Magic, in 2011.
Size, dealing with the crowd on Carnival’s largest ship
Time and effort to get on and off the ship were typical, though I wish U.S. security folks would let you indoors when it's cold and rainy at Port Canaveral. Most lines moved rather quickly. On board, the bars, casino, sunning decks and main dining rooms handled the 4,000 passengers well.
Where I noticed the crowd was in the lido buffet area -- called the Gathering -- at lunch, especially on days at sea The Gathering is bright and airy, with lots of windows, and aft doors that lead to tables outside. Inside, the tables are much too close together, and on my cruise passengers often were milling around, bumping into each other as they tried to find a seat.
Suggestion to cruisers: Never be timid about asking to share a table that has empty seats.
Gathering may be a victim of its own success, because the choices for lunch -– from the usual fare to food from Mongolian woks, a burrito bar, a pasta bar, Indian tandoori oven, pizza and a deli –- make this one the best buffets at sea.
Carnival is working to change passenger lunch patterns on the Dream, offering incentives to eat in the main dining room and at a barbecue, which has been added to the lanai on an open deck that encircles the ship on deck 5.
Suggestion to cruisers: Eat lunch in the dining room or on deck 5 on sea days. If you do go to the Gathering on a sea day, skip the long wait for Mongolian wok items. Even on port days, when the ship is emptier at lunch, the line for this tasty choice -– fresh veggies and chicken, beef or mussels -- may be 15 minutes or more. I found no wait for Indian tandoori fare, aft.
New or improved accoutrements
One advantage of a ship with a wider hull is that the two lower passenger decks have cabins that are bigger than normal. Carnival has placed the new cove balcony cabins (CLICK for review of the cove balcony cabins) on Deck 2, and the new family cabins, with 1 ½ bathrooms and beds for five, on deck 1. The second bathroom has a small tub, shower and sink.
The Dream has a Chef’s table, in the galley, for up to 12 people, twice a week. Fee is $75 each, including wines.
Cloud 9 Spa is Carnival’s largest at 23,750 square feet. I was talked into a hot oil and bamboo massage at $159 and liked it so much I almost went back for a second one later in the cruise. My only complaint at Cloud 9 was that the waiting area for massages was noisy and busy, not the proper way to get into a massage mood. The spa needs to find a better waiting area.
One passenger, new to cruising, complained about not being told the best procedure to prepare for her treatment. She noticed that I had showered in my cabin and wore my robe to the spa. At land spas, guests normally arrive early, change and shower at the spa. “Nobody told me,” she said. Spas on ships should notify passengers about procedures, how early to arrive, whether to shower before or at the spa, and that they will be required to fill out a form listing medical conditions before the treatment. This is particularly important with so many passengers new to cruising.
Smoking in the casino. Carnival is trying a new smoking plan on the Dream, and it seemed to be working on my cruise in January 2010. Much of the casino is non-smoking, and I found the air cleaner as I walked around. The Carnival Dream rule is supposed to be that you may smoke in a designated gambling area, at the tables and slots IF you are playing. I saw several people smoking who were not playing, at least not at the moment, so I don’t know how this will play out.
“We are seeing an increased use of the casino by making much of it non-smoking,” said hotel director Donato Becce.
“On the other hand, when we tried to make the piano bar non-smoking, nobody came”
And the piano player probably sang the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.”
Photos of the new Mahogany Bay Cruise Center on Roatan, Honduras