Carnival Dream Cruise Review by cruisedreamer2
- Sail Date: October 2015
- Destination: Eastern Caribbean
- Cabin Type: Cove Balcony
This was our first time on Carnival (previous cruises were with Norwegian and Celebrity) and was Carnival’s first official “Journeys Cruise.” These are longer itineraries that include some new ports. In the case of this cruise, it included the opportunity to go to Bermuda and some Eastern Caribbean ports, which are rarely offered from New Orleans. We booked a Cove Balcony. What was great about this cruise besides the itinerary? The staff. I never encountered a cranky staff member on this entire cruise. The vast majority were smiling, welcoming and seemed entirely engaged in talking with passengers and ensuring that they had a great time. We also enjoyed the extra activities that were added especially for this “Journeys Cruise.” I was almost never bored on this ship, something I cannot say for other cruise lines.
As to the ship itself, hmmmm. It feels older than it is. It has a dark decor and the designer seems to have minimized the view at every opportunity. Never have I seen so many grids, partial walls and columns blocking the view. This ship is designed, as many are, to try to force the client to walk through the casino, which allows smoking in one area. A heavy smoke odor emanates from the casino doors on either side—so much so that we always went up or down a floor rather than walk through. Many daily activities are held in an area called the “Lanai” on deck 5 midship. It includes a small stage area for evening bands, a bar and many seats and tables. On both sides are automatic sliding doors to the outer decks. In this area you will either be too hot or too cold. Air conditioning is turned high in this area to try to counteract the constant intrusion of warm outside air that enters when the doors open, creating a small hurricane when both doors open at the same time. Here again, the view that one would expect is absent—blocked on both sides by large elevated hot tubs. Also, just outside the doors on one side is a smoking area. When the doors open, cigarette smoke wafts in with the warm air.
Notably absent is an area I have come to expect (as there was one on every other cruise I have taken) which is an inside viewing room with floor to ceiling windows and lots of comfy sofas and chairs that are used by those who want to enjoy the view without going outside or just want a quiet comfy place to read. The Dream lacks this amenity and we missed it. Much space on this ship is taken up by the adults only “Serenity” area, which is very nice and has all the needed attributes for reading and viewing except that it is an outside area. It was usually relatively empty.
Absent on a Carnival Cruise are the “wash-washy” people at the entrances of the buffet/eating areas who welcome you and spray your hands. Carnival does have self-use hand sanitizers, but most clients pass them by and proceed directly to handling the tongs. Some even ignored the tongs and reached directly into a tray to pluck food items. By the end of our cruise, the coughing and sneezing had dramatically increased and I felt like I was living in a petrie dish.
Odors are a problem on this ship. On first embarking, we noticed a strong sewage smell in several of the elevators, in stairwells, and in hallways. There were certain areas of the hallways that had a persistent odor of sewage throughout the entire cruise. The elevator and stairwell smells ebbed and waned, were prevalent mostly on port days (perhaps they were pumping out the sewage tanks?) I’ve also never smelled so much smoke as on this cruise. There seemed to be a large number of heavy smokers.
Service was excellent in the Scarlet dining room. Our team included Eddy, Rafnedi and Francis and they were terrific. They were fast and efficient and always wanted to make sure you were happy with your meal. We loved them! The food here was very good for the most part and beautifully presented. The lobster was perfectly prepared, tender and succulent. The desserts were consistently excellent everywhere on this ship. Yum! Three dishes to avoid include the “Red Snapper” (not fresh and not Snapper), the meatloaf (which had an odd consistency), and the seafood pasta with the “creamy lobster sauce” which has an unexpectedly tasteless brown-colored sauce. If you don’t like your dish, speak up and they will cheerfully bring you another. We had many enjoyable meals here.
Open seating meals in the Scarlet dining room (breakfast and lunch) were hit or miss with service, but we were never in a hurry and so never minded if it took a long time to bring our food. On those mornings we lingered over our coffee and juice and enjoyed chatting with other passengers. I did notice (at breakfast/lunch only) that the tablecloths weren’t always changed between uses. Once at breakfast, our waiter (I don’t remember his name but he was from Jamaica) realized after serving all the plates on our large table, that he had delivered my plate of Eggs Benedict (the one with extra hollandaise) to another passenger. When he realized the mistake, he simply reached over and picked it up from her plate (after she had started eating her food) and plopped it down on my plate.
The sea day brunches were excellent (steak and eggs with bearnaise—yum!), but weren’t offered on every sea day, so don’t miss them when they are. The Dr. Seuss brunch was fun to do one time and I am sure kids would love it. We never ate in the Crimson dining room, but it was our muster station and whenever we would walk through it, we noticed a persistent smoky odor. Coupled with the lack of a view—well, I would not have enjoyed eating in there. (This is where they put folks with “Your Time Dining.”) The buffet was good at lunch, but had limited choices in the evening. It was noisy and not sufficiently staffed to keep the tables cleaned. Once a waiter plopped his tray on our small table and proceeded to scrape multiple plates from a nearby table right under our noses. Gross.
We never ate at the outdoor bar-b-q, discouraged by the long lines. The Lido buffet is not set up in stations as on so many other ships, also causing long lines. I finally gave up trying to eat at the Mongolian Wok due to the lines there. The pizza was good, the Tandoori grill was great at times. Once I got delicious Tandoori chicken. The next time it was under-seasoned. There never seemed to be enough Naan bread ready. The hamburgers and pizza were tasty. Pasta Bella was good, but often crowded with folks from Lido seeking a clean table. We did not try the Steak House because we were enjoying the food in the MDR. Please note that this ship has not yet switched over to the new menus.
Once in the dining room and once in the Lido, my husband's milk carton (for his cereal) was warm to the touch and tasted off. Carnival needs to do better here.
The entertainment was very enjoyable, with some great staged shows. The special effects were awesome! Try to sit on the bottom level and in the center area. If you sit too far to the right or left, you won’t be able to see the entire stage area and will have to watch the show on the screens at either side. Also, don’t sit in the balcony. The seats are narrow and the seat backs uncomfortably straight. You will see many people who sit up there move shortly after.
We enjoy Trivia and, except for the last two sea days) there were more daily sessions than I have seen on other ships. Carnival also does a good job with prizes, giving the coveted “ship on a stick” trophies, and sometimes bingo cards and for progressive Trivia rounds, bottles of champagne. Some of the staff who handled this activity were very good (we enjoyed Leon), but others either rush through or babble on about nothing until many players get up and leave out of frustration. There was also a lot of blatant cheating, with players googling their answers shamelessly. Carnival does not have the players exchange sheets for checking the answers as on other ships. All you really have to do to win on a Carnival ship, is claim to have won by clapping the longest. That takes the fun out of it.
We usually book private excursions in port, but took two Carnival excursions that weren’t available otherwise. One was the Jamaican Jerk Experience in Ocho Rios. This is a highly rated experience on Tripadvisor, but Carnival has expanded the number they take on this tour to the point that it was a tedious experience. The tour is described as a guided garden tour that includes picking and smelling fresh herbs for the meal, and a cooking class with audience participation. The bus they sent had weak air conditioning and was small and crowded. When we arrived, the tour made an unexpected stop at a place where 4 camels were waiting. Most people did not want to ride or touch the camels, but the guide wheedled and coaxed until some got off the bus, a few did ride the camels and others took photos.
We later realized that the reason for this stop was that the group in front of us was running way behind. We arrived at the site and were left to stand in the heat outside the house (a tour of the inside is not included). And we stood in the heat and waited, and waited, and the guide apologized saying that the previous group was not finished, and then we waited while they cleaned up and re-set up for us. The tour of the garden never happened. Finally they ushered us around to the ocean side of the house where there was a cool breeze and a pretty view. The cool breeze however was only on one side of the porch. Half of the folks on this tour ended up on the hot side and later said that it was a miserable experience. The work tables seat only 3 people each, so many couples were not able to sit together. The seats were hard backless wooden stools, too high for the work surface. As soon as we arrived, one of the people at each table was handed a list of beverages for purchase. Water and fruit punch were supposed to be included and we were by now all hot and thirsty. Instead of bringing water to everyone at the outset, they waited and took extra-pay drink orders and delivered those, then went around to each person asking if they wanted a bottle of water. Of course everyone did. They did not offer the fruit punch until near the end of the experience, and then only if people asked for it. Many did not know it was included and so did not ask for it. I did get a few sips of mine right before it was time to go and it was fresh tasting and delicious and I was sorry that there was not time to finish it.
Participants were given plastic aprons and hair nets to wear. Every step of the way is slow and plodding as each person receives what he needs to prepare that part of the meal. At times they would, for example, ask for 8 volunteers who would proceed to the front only to be handed a bowl and asked to scrape the contents into the pot. We did rub a piece of chicken in some seasoning, mixed several items with water (with some of the folks using water from the water bottles that they had partially drunk). We also chopped some greens. At each step, every participant had to go up to the pot/grill to add their prepared food. It was slow, slow, slow. The jerk chicken (1/4 of a chicken breast or about 4 bites) was delicious, the shrimp in coconut sauce tasty. My fritters were not good, one was too dry, the other, a banana fritter, was missing the sugar. Everything you ate varied depending on the person who made it. That’s right. You do not eat the food you make—you may get food prepared by the person who added personal water to the batter, or who contaminated a plate with raw chicken, or who wasn’t diligent at keeping away the flies, which swarmed everywhere. There were too many of us for the staff to keep up with what was going on. On the way back, the driver got very busy the last 5 minutes or so of the drive talking about how little he is paid and how much tipping is appreciated.
The other tour we took through Carnival was on St. Maarten. This was a special tour just for the journeys cruise and we enjoyed it. We were first taken to Marigot market where Chef Dino met us and and allowed us to taste some local fruit and smell some spices often used in Caribbean cooking. Then we went to the home of a local artist whose work is highly prized by the likes of Jackie Onassis. His gallery and the garden were lovely, but there was no seating outside and the gallery doors were open, so it was also hot inside. Then the artist, Sir Roland, gave a lecture, during which most of the participants had to stand as there were only a few seats. He had a tendency to ramble and repeat himself, until finally his wife interrupted him to allow us a short time to look at his paintings. Despite the heat and lack of seating, I enjoyed this and the paintings were beautiful.
Then we went on to Chef Dino’s restaurant, which was set up outside on a patio. Here we enjoyed a bit of a sea breeze and a very tasty meal. I had two disappointments however, one was that the main entree was chicken. On an island with an abundance of seafood, I would have preferred some local fish, but that is a matter of taste. Also, they were very slow to prepare the included before dinner drink, so that ours was not served until we were almost finished, and so had less time to enjoy it. Finally the tour headed to its final stop, for a steel drum lesson. We were happy when the guide said that this last stop would be in an air conditioned facility. Wrong. Picture an oversized garage complete with a metal door. We learned to play a passable version of “Feeling hot, hot, hot!” and my husband and I very much enjoyed this. It would have been much more pleasant however if we had not been feeling so hot, hot, hot. This tour cost $260 per couple. For that price, I think they could have provided some water on the bus. Our guide told us that each participant would receive a photo and we did not.
Other private tours that we took: Joyce Prince on our second day in St. Maarten. Excellent, wonderful, amazing tour. I will post all about it on Tripadvisor. Long story short, she books up fast. If she is available, book with her, and enjoy the best tour guide and the most personalized service ever!
St. Thomas: we shopped one day, and rode the tram another. The tram is a bit disappointing as you do not get a 360 degree view at the top. There is a pretty view of the bay/port, an overpriced fast food outdoor restaurant and a little shopping. Meh.
St. Kitts: poor island, lots of trash. Made me sad. Our tour guide, Ashton of Royston Tours, no-showed us. We ended up touring with a guy named Sylvester, whose idea of sharing the history of the island was driving up to a historical plaque, and stopping to read it to us verbatim. It was a hot day and he stopped and got a drink for himself without offering us one or even the opportunity to buy one. Then he drove on to the next plaque. The place he went to get food for us looked so unsavory, that most of us passed on eating. He took us to a beach with a picnic table with wet dirty seats where the few people who got food ate it. It was raining and as soon as it stopped, swarms of small biting insects attacked. Our group literally ran to get back to the van.
Grand Turk: great for a pool/beach day. Waves can be surprisingly strong so be careful. Take some dry dog food if you can for the hungry dogs.
Nassau: we booked the “Taste of Nassau” tour privately. Well done overall. Murray was our enthusiastic, well-informed and pleasant guide. One thing to know, the food on this tour was been de-spiced to make sure everyone can enjoy it including kids, so… some of it was disappointingly bland.
Bermuda: we toured with Heidi of Byways Tours. Enjoyed it. One caveat: don’t ask her if you can take her picture—she will say “no.” We climbed Gibbs lighthouse, saw all the good beaches and overlooks. Had a great meal of fried fish on homemade cinnamon bread with homemade tartar sauce. Just order half a sandwich. You will barely be able to finish it. Sat at some picnic tables with a pretty view.
Carnival frequently promises more than they can deliver. They sent a letter indicating we would get VIP re-embarkation in Puerto Rico because we were back to back. Instead we spent 2 hours in endless lines in an airless building. Although it was blamed on Customs, we did not have to go through customs. One lady in line collapsed. After enduring the line to get our sail and sign cards and having our photos made, one of two machines to re-enter the ship was not working and every person in that line had to have their photos re-taken. The maitre-d graciously promised to send me a recipe that I requested, but never did, they promised a Garden Tour that never happened. They promised a nice cool air-conditioned building at the next stop… and instead it was an oven. They promised a free photo is you went on the Journey tour with Chef Dino but never sent it.
So my overall impression: Carnival has good intentions, but many logistical problems. Communication is lacking. I and many others asked for information on the additional Journey’s activities before sailing so that we could plan our days in port, and were all told the info would be coming. It never did. After I got home, I had an e-mail apologizing for this. They weren’t able to provide a room for our first leg Cruise Critic group Meet and Greet (“unless every member of the group would buy a drink package”) and so we had to have it on the pool deck—it was noisy and raining, with flooded decks. On the second leg, they offered a room on the last sea day. My experience on other cruise lines was very different and Carnival is missing a great PR opportunity with its dismissive attitude toward folks who are active on Cruise Critic.
Bottom line is that of the 3 cruise companies that we have used, Carnival ranks at the bottom.
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After 5 days of balcony maintenance, we came back to find yet another letter telling us that they would be performing maintenance the next day. So we went to guest services and complained. They did then stop the maintenance on our balcony but continued working nearby, so we still had the noise or would came back to a dirty deck where chips and rust had washed down from higher balconies and left ours a mess. As much as I loved the Cove Balcony, I would be hesitant to book one again due to the issues with maintenance. Why pay for a balcony if you can’t use it?