Gadling reviews the new Carnival Dream cruise ship

Last week, I took a 3 day cruise “to nowhere” on board the newest member of the Carnival Cruise Lines fleet. The Carnival Dream is the first in their “dream class” line of ships. The ship itself is massive – 130,000 tons, space for just under 3500 passengers, spread out over 11 decks.

Unfortunately we’ll start with the worst part of this trip – getting on board the Dream was nothing short of a disaster. Carnival chose the Manhattan cruise terminal as its departure point, and it is obvious that this port is not equipped for ships this size.

I arrived at the terminal at 1pm, and was not at my stateroom until 3:55. Keep in mind, that time includes me being lucky enough to be allowed to use the “VIP” security line, which shaved about an hour off my wait. I spoke to one couple that had been waiting in various lines since 11am, and did not board until 4:50pm. The procedure involved waiting for security, waiting for the ticketing desk, then waiting for your boarding group to be called, then waiting in line for actually getting on board, then waiting about 30 minutes on the ship for an elevator. Because this was just a 3 day cruise, no luggage service was offered, and dragging your bags up 9 flights of stairs was not an option for everyone.

Carnival apologized for the delays, and a New York port worker told me that they had never dealt with anything this large. The ship is in fact so big, that the covered gangways could not reach her, forcing everyone up a slippery temporary walkway.

This embarkation is not a huge deal for Carnival – the normal home for the Dream will be down in Florida, where they are much better equipped at dealing with large ships. Carnival apologized several times for the boarding hassles, and they were clearly pretty annoyed by it as well.

On board – the stateroom

I was assigned a balcony stateroom and was quite happy with its layout. The room features 3 large closets, a desk with power outlets, two beds that form a queen bed, a sofa and a surprisingly large bathroom. The bathroom in my room was larger than other cruise ship rooms I’ve sailed on. The bathroom comes with a dish filled with various sample sized amenities, including 4 packets of Pepcid – a warning of things to come in the food department?

The room itself is nice and bright – lighting comes from the desk lights, overhead fluorescent lights and 2 lamps on bedside tables. At night, the cabin steward makes the towel animals Carnival is famous for.

In front of the bed (on the wall) is a flat panel TV. Sadly, the TV service on the ship was quite limited – 28 channels, 12 of which were Carnival promotional channels for the various (paid) attractions on the vessel. The local news channels were Denver affiliates of ABC and NBC (no idea why they picked Denver) and the TBS station was an odd mix of Spanish and English content. In total, there were only 3 or 4 “normal” channels in the lineup. In addition to this, Carnival have also blocked the video inputs on the TV, which means your iPod won’t work on the TV in your room.

Despite the nice room, things did get spoiled by really bad noise isolation. Not only could I hear people in the room next to me, I could actually hear every word they said, without needing to put my ear on the wall. The hallway noise isolation is also very bad – and I woke up in the middle of the night several times thanks to loud drunk passengers.

On board – attractions

The Carnival Dream is the first ship in the world to offer a full water park. On the top deck is where you’ll find two water slides, as well as various other water related fun. One deck above the water park is the Serenity “adults only” area. This is where you’ll find somewhere to get away from screaming kids and relax in one of the hot tubs, or on a hammock.

There are three pools on the ship, and none of them are indoors. With the lousy weather, all these pools were drained. In addition to the pools, the ship also has two other hot tubs that extend over the edge of the ship – these were a huge hit, and despite the rain and wind, many passengers took advantage of a dip in the warm water.

Non-aquatic entertainment comes from a big variety of attractions. Towards the rear of the ship is the three level Encore theater. This is also one of the 5 muster stations where passengers are briefed on safety aboard the ship. Unlike other vessels, passengers were not required to wear their life jacket to the briefing.

Deck five is the heart of the entertainment district. It is where you’ll find the casino, shops, sports bar, ice cream bar, sushi counter, comedy club and piano/jazz/karaoke bar. Starting at the Casino, you can make your way from attraction to attraction, while getting your cup refilled at each of the bars. The margarita bar was a very welcome attraction.

Deck 10 is home to the main pool, and the Carnival outdoor theater. On a massive screen, you can watch blockbuster movies (we were treated to Mall Cop and Star Trek). Sadly, the weather was so miserable that it wasn’t much fun to be outside for more than 10 minutes at a time.

In the evening, the screen and outdoor area are home to a fantastic laser show. The show combines lasers with a video presentation, music and smoke to create a really cool effect. The effect itself is quite like what you’d expect from most discos in Europe, but it is still nifty to experience on a cruise ship.

Of course, the ship also offers the standard things you’d expect from any cruise ship – mini golf, a spa and various cozy corners with nice chairs where you can sit back and relax with your beverage of choice.

On board – food and drinks

Food on board the Carnival Dream can be described in three words – hit or miss. My first meal was in the Lido deck buffet. Now, I’ll admit that most people were probably starving from their 4 hour embarkation fiasco, but the wait in line for food was about 35 minutes at each station.

One hidden gem in the buffet is the pasta bar. It is accessible via a narrow staircase to the 11th deck. At the pasta bar, chefs prepare fresh dishes. When you arrive, you fill in a form “designing” your perfect pasta dish, hand it to the cook, and a waiter will deliver it to your table.

The main buffet area is split into 2 zones. At each zone, you’ll find a desert line, a salad bar, a custom line (where you’ll find custom omelette’s in the morning, burritos for lunch, and a Mongolian wok for dinner). Towards the front of the ship are two real gems in the buffet lineup – a deli and a Tandoori/Indian counter.

The deli serves surprisingly good sandwiches, freshly created and grilled to perfection. The Indian counter features fresh Naan bread, Tandoori chicken and various other dishes. At the beginning of the buffet area is the pizza bar and the “grill” (hot dogs and burgers). The pizza bar is one of the 24 hour locations, along with a snack selection at the buffet and a couple of soft serve machines.

Food in the dining room was the real miss part of hit or miss. Service was fairly spotty, and it was quite hard to get a refill of your drink. On the first night, I attended a dinner with my various press colleagues. This was of course the perfect opportunity to be food critics. Sadly, my appetizer was the most pathetic Caesar salad I have ever seen. My table mates were actually laughing at it – it was that bad. It was followed by a really good Chateaubriand. Desert was supposed to be the signature molten chocolate cake – which was actually just a dried out piece of chocolate cake. Oddly enough, the exact same dish served in the buffet was very, very good.

Dinner was sadly spoiled by a fairly poor singing and dancing performance by the dinner staff – in what is supposed to be a classy dining room. They were all doing their very best to entertain us, but their performance just out of place in a formal dining room.

On the final night, I decided to test the room service delivery. I wish I had not. From the moment I placed my order, till actual delivery took an hour and a half, and the food arrived cold. The ship was only on her third voyage, so it is understandable that there are still a couple of issues to be resolved.

Technology on board

The Carnival Dream offers a good amount of technology for its guests. So much in fact, that I’ll devote a second article to the various hi-tech services you can enjoy. The ship has various “fun hubs” where you can access the Internet (for a fee), access the ships social network or read the news. WiFi is available in all rooms and cellphone access is provided.

Final thoughts

The Carnival Dream still had that “new cruise ship smell” – it was nice to be on board a vessel that is still in such great shape. The staff were all smiling and had most of their tasks down to an art. Rooms are nice, there is a decent amount of entertainment and despite the “hit or miss” food, it was not too hard to find something tasty.

But at the end of the day, there just didn’t seem to be too much really special about this new ship. I’ve cruised before, and this felt a lot like any other ship, only larger. The water park was closed due to the bad weather, but it does look like it’ll be a ton of fun when opened. The laser show was mildly entertaining, though the thick fog did make it a bit more fun.

As with most ships, a lot of emphasis is placed on the paid attractions. Shops, photo galleries, the casino and the paid ice cream bar all add to your “ship and sail” credit account. Unless you come prepared, you’ll quickly find yourself bored and in need of some of these paid services. Thankfully, there are plenty of free things to do if you keep a close eye on the schedule in the Carnival Capers, the nightly paper you’ll find in your room.

Despite these very minor issues, I can highly recommend a voyage on this new ship. At her home port, the boarding procedure won’t be an issue, and I suspect Carnival will make some tweaks to the buffet setup and room service to reduce the long wait.

I would like to make a special mention of cruise directors John Heald and Todd Wittmer – these guys do an absolutely amazing job, and they have an awesome entertainment team to work with. Their “good morning” TV show was one of the funniest things I’ve watched in months.

Important disclaimer: Carnival paid for this trip – but the opinions in this review are my own.