Thursday, July 24, 2014

Carnival Dream Cruise Review

  Carnival Dream Cruise Review

July 13, 2014

Just The Facts
Ship:  Carnival Dream
Ship Captain:  Luigi DeAngelis
Cruise Director:  Mat Seguin
Ports: New Orleans, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Montego Bay,
Weather:  Very good all week

This is my 46th Carnival cruise, 93rd cruise overall, but my first time on the Carnival Dream. The ‘dear wife’ (DW) and I are sailing with friends from Bosque County.

Day Zero--Saturday--Travel
We left the ranch about 8:15 am, picked up our friends, and headed south using some pretty Texas blue highways. We had a very nice lunch at McKenzie’s in Conroe, Texas...the BBQ Pork Ribs  and their attached family Bakery are wonderful.  We had an uneventful trip until we reached Lafayette, Louisiana where Interstate 10 was closed due to an accident and spill on a bridge.  As this was near the beginning of the Atchafalaya Basin there are few roads with bridges crossing the area.  Traffic was bad, but we eventually used some back roads to get to Henderson where we ate at the institution: Pat's Fishermans Wharf located on the Atchafalaya Levee.  Unfortunately the entry to I-10 was also closed in Henderson, but the bartender at Pat’s (I believe it was Pat’s son Harvey) with his heavy cajun accent, gave us directions how to cross the levee and take a back road to the next I-10 entry.  It was a very interesting detour through the bayou but we were successful and once again traveling on the interstate highway. Soon we crossed the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge and arrived in Gonzales, Louisiana about 7:10 pm. to stay overnight at the new LaQuinta.  A little longer travel day than was originally planned, but we had two nice meals and had a little adventure.

Day One--Sunday--Embarkation
Carnival Dream Lobby
I was up very early (4:00am) so I updated cell phones while I had the chance (very limited bandwidth at home), ate breakfast, and serviced the car before meeting our friends. We left Gonzales about 9:00 am for the easy one hour drive to NOLA and the cruise terminal arriving just before 10:00 am.  We parked at the official port of NOLA Julia Street Terminal.  It is pricey @ $16.00 a day, but it has a baggage drop, covered parking, and it’s just an elevator ride down to cruise check-in area. They have a very nice VIP area for check-in area and I was processed and waiting by 10:30 and hoping for an 11:00 am boarding.  About 11:15 they began announcements and as soon as the large wedding party boarded began boarding suites, platinum & diamond guests. There were a lot in these categories, but it went well, followed by the FTTF guests.  We went strait to our cabin and it was ready and waiting for us. In fact Ryan the cabin steward greeted us by name as we walked up.  The cabin is next to the forward bank of elevators so it’s a convenient location although I would prefer aft.  We unloaded our carry on bags and were soon on our way to the Mongolian Grill for lunch.  There was already a line and by the time we left there was already a LONG line to get to the Mongolian.  It was very good as usual and I will have to be clever to eat here again.  It was time to explore the ship so we checked the Lido deck, walked the Promenade deck, then down to the Lobby Bar for a cocktail and Thirsty Frog beer.  We returned to the cabin and very soon (1:30ish) the first bag arrived, in the parking garage I asked the porter to attach extra VIP labels that I knew they have as the printed Priority Tags are sometimes overlooked. The second bag arrived 15 minutes later so we could unpack, hang clothes, and settle into the cabin while watching the finals of the World Cup on the cabin TV.  Since I was up so early it was now nap time until they began announcements for Safety Drill.  Germany scored in extra time just before they shut off the TV’s for muster drill so timing was good there.  We sailed away about 5:00 and DW went up to Lido to meet our friends at the sail away party and we all met later in the Lobby Bar for drinks.  We have late dining (8:15pm) in the Scarlett Dining Room (MDR) at a nice ten-top table near the center of the lower level.  It is the traditional Carnival menu items tonight and I had the Creme of Sun-ripened Tomato Soup, Linguine as a starter, the Fried Shrimp with Plum Sauce, the Grecko Chicken, and two desserts: the Creme Brulee & the Black Forest Gateau Cake.  The shops don’t open until we are out of the Mississippi River, but the casino and bars are doing a brisk business.  We retired soon after dinner to get some last minute internet time and rest.

Day Two--Monday--Fun Day at Sea
Martyn Lucas
Very calm in the Gulf of Mexico and we had a very good nights sleep.  Nice and sunny today and quickly warming.  DW always orders room service and we were still asleep when it came at 8:30 am. so we had a nice casual morning. I left a bag of laundry at the door and went to the SeaDay Brunch in the MDR about 10:00 am.  I ordered my usual Fruit Plate, Steak & Eggs, and side of Bacon.  It was very good.  I did a short walkabout  and it must be a very full ship as there are guests everywhere: Sun & Lido decks, Promenade deck, Casino, et al. This afternoon we had cabin time watching a movie and balcony time as well.  I have never seen the gulf water so flat and calm, it looked amazing. We ordered room service BLT’s & snacks and they also delivered the Platinum ‘Elegant Night’ sweets early so we had a very easy relaxing day.  We met our friends in the Lobby Bar for cocktails then went to see the production show Eight More Seconds in the Encore Theater. It’s an excellent western themed show with a full orchestra, a dozen great dancers, and two feature singers.  The show had lot’s of colorful costumes, dances, songs, and a feature fiddler.  It was the Captain’s Elegant Night menu and as usual good selections from the menu.  I ordered the White Stuffed Mushroom, the Spaghetti Carbonara, the Prime Rib, and Cherries Jubilee.  Of course Lobster was on the menu and a popular item.  Dinner was good, but service was better.  After dinner we went to Sam’s Piano Bar to see Martyn Lucas.  He was an excellent performer, much more than a just a piano bar player.  The DW is NOT a piano barbarian, but she insisted on staying through three sets, I enjoyed him as well, I would say it was much more of a ‘Nightclub Performance’ than a sing-along Piano Bar entertainer.  When we returned to the cabin we had some goodies from John Heald and some special gifts from the Carnival Dream Team staff in lieu of a Diamond event.  Very fair and I’m a happy cruiser.  A FUN day on the Carnival Dream.

Day Three—Tuesday—Cozumel. Mexico
Buccanos Beach Club - Cozumel
Another good nights sleep and again very smooth seas as we are entering the Caribbean.  We were docked before 7:00 am although I did not wake until 7:30 so it must have been smooth.  We are docked next to the Carnival Conquest at Puerto Maya.  DW had her usual room service breakfast and our friends and I went to the MDR for breakfast, I ordered the Eggs Benedict+ and they were very good.  We left the ship about 9:30 am and took a taxi ($16+) to Buccanos Beach Club located in the Zona Hotel Norte area of Cozumel.  We got a nice outdoor table in the shade and enjoyed the beautiful view, some guacamole & chips, cervezas, and more.  I actually swam from the beach out to the far buoys enjoying the Caribbean water for the first time in several visits to Cozumel.  It was very enjoyable.  The ship had a very early departure time of 3:00 pm so we returned about 1:30 to allow a little shopping time for the ladies at Puerto Maya.  I returned to the ship and ordered some BLT’s from room service and fortunately the buffet lines on Lido were still open so DW was able to get a nice salad from the salad bar.  The extended buffet hours are a good idea since there is no food venue similar to Guy’s to quickly feed a large number of guests.  There was time for a nap before cocktail hour by the piano bar and dinner.  For dinner tonight I ordered:  French Onion Soup, Fruit Cocktail, Penne Marscos (as starter), Sliced Braised American Beef Short Ribs, and Banana Split for dessert.  The production show was a Hypnotist, but we retired after dinner.

Day Four--Wednesday--Georgetown, Grand Cayman
Dancing in the Streets - Carnival Dream
Again calm seas and a good nights sleep. I went to the MDR for breakfast and enjoyed a ‘country’ breakfast ordering Fried Eggs, Bacon, Corned Beef Hash, Hash Browns, & Toast.  Very Good.  As I returned from breakfast I could see guests lined up to get their tender tickets to get to the island.  Guests with Carnival Excursions met in the theater and all others went to the aft lounge to get a tender number.  I understand many waited for well over an hour to get a tender ticket.  We had an easy morning as we are staying on board ship.  I did take a nice walking tour of the ship while most guest were off the ship visiting the upper decks, slide areas, and Serenity Deck.  For lunch today we went to Pasta Bella the Italian venue on deck 11.  This is similar to what became the Cucina del Capitano Italian  Restaurants on subsequent Carnival ships such as the Magic and Breeze.  It is not open for dinner, but the lunch offerings were very good. We had cabin and balcony time in the afternoon.  It was really too hot to enjoy the balcony for an extended time, but it was nice to view the beautiful water from the cabin.  We met our friends for cocktails in the lobby at 6:00 then got good seats for the 7:00 pm production show: Dancing In The Streets.  This was a very unique show featuring the talented Dream Dance team, the urban dance troupe Fun Force, the two featured production Singers, and the Dream Orchestra.  This urban themed production is a fantastic show, one of the best I have seen on a Carnival ship and certainly not to be missed.  It was now time for dinner, tonight I ordered two Shrimp Cocktails, the Lasgna Bolognese (as starter), the Petite Filet Mignon and Braised Boneless Short Rib entree.  After dinner DW went to see the late movie, Monument Men, on the Lido deck big screen. 

Day Five--Thursday--Montego Bay, Jamaica
Another good nights sleep and calm Caribbean seas.  We were docking at 8:00 am when I went down to the MDR for breakfast and ordered another ‘country’ breakfast. It was again very good.  DW is staying on the ship today as are many other guests, I’m just walking over to Partners Restaurant & Bar to use their high speed internet ($2-$4).  I stayed for several hours and also had Fried Chicken with Rice & Peas (Red Beans & Rice) for lunch.  For one Ting, one Red Stripe beer, my lunch, and unlimited internet it was $20…very fair I thought.  I was really the only passenger guest although several crew were there…nice to keep this place as a ‘secret’ for a while.  I have still been having trouble with a sore knee and just as I arrived at the gangway from the walk back to the ship my calf muscle cramped on me.  Now I’m really limping and in pain.  Fortunately it wasn’t too busy and an elevator came strait-away and I went from deck 0 to deck 8 and back in the cabin easily.  After a refreshing shower on this very hot day it was time to exercise and medicate the calf muscle.  I did make it down to the Lobby Bar for cocktails, but retired to the cabin following.  We didn’t go to the MDR tonight so I ordered Grilled Reuben sandwiches from room service for dinner, served with potato chips and were very good.  It was massage and TV night in the cabin this evening.

Day Six—Friday--Fun Day at Sea
Scarlet Dining Room - Carnival Dream
Again smooth seas overnight.  My leg is feeling better this morning.  We had chilled a bottle of wine overnight and met our friends for the Sea Day Brunch about 10:00 am in the Scarlet Dining Room.  Rarely does DW make an appearance for a MDR breakfast, she had a cheese omelette & cheese grits and I had the Steak & Eggs.  We visited the shoppes on Promenade deck and I went by Guest Services to put some $ in our account.  For lunch we went to the Lido buffet and each made a nice salad from the salad bar, I also had some Indian food from the Tandoor food station. The decks were full with guests enjoying the weather, but the hot sun was on the balcony so it was a relaxing reading afternoon inside the cabin for us.  We met our friends for cocktails in the Lobby bar then went to the theater to get close seats for the final production show: Get Ready. This was another new show to me and was a very good show. It featured the LIVE orchestra, Dream dancers, & Dream production singers…all very good.  We did make it to the Scarlett MDR tonight for dinner, DW ordered the Spanakopita & Rice and I ordered Escargot, Penne Siciliana (as a starter), the Chateaubriand entree, and baked Alaska for dessert.  After dinner they had the Mardi Gras Party in the Lobby & Atrium that we could see from our deck 8 landing, we participated on our previous cruise from NOLA so only observed and listened to the music for a brief time. 

Day Seven--Saturday--Fun Day at Sea
It was smooth seas again and I had another very good nights sleep.  As this is our final day, this morning I reviewed my ship account on the interactive TV system.  I also updated email with the final minutes I have left on my internet package (240 Minutes for $89.00 ($0.37/min)).  I enjoyed a good breakfast at the Sea Day Brunch, ordering Eggs Benedict with a side of Bacon and Corned Beef Hash.  This morning the ship had it’s Green Eggs & Ham breakfast featuring Dr. Seuss Characters in the Scarlet MDR.  This is a  great idea for families with younger children.  Yesterday they set a record serving 2000+ in the SeaDay Buffett and I thought that it would not be as busy today with the special Dr. Seuss breakfast, but when I left at 10:00ish the MDR was full with a line beyond the rear lobby area to the stairwell. It is a very good menu and extended times so I can see the popularity.  It helps with lunch demand as does the BBQ on Ocean Plaza on SeaDays.  Our friends joined us for lunch today at Pasta Bella for an Italian Lunch and it was prepared very well.  A casual day on ship and it clouded up, but the decks were again full of guests.  The deck five Ocean Plaza offers a great outdoor location to relieve the crowds on Lido deck.  They have four hot tubs and showers as well as loungers on deck five.  The VIFP party was held in the Encore Theater at 4:30.  It was the usual format and I was the only Diamond Guest on board.  Afterwards we met for Cocktails in the Lobby, visited with other guests, and stayed for the Fun Force break dancing show.  It was quite amazing.  Final dinner tonight was good, I ordered the Grilled Chicken Breast on Fettuccine as starter and two entrees: Panko Crusted Jumbo Shrimp and Roasted Prime Rib of Beef.   DW and friends attended the Carnival Legends show, but I retired to the cabin since we are now in the Mississippi River and I had wifi from my personal hotspot so checked some late email and arranged some items to pack for the following morning.

Ranch Hand- Chicken-fried Steak
We arrived back in NOLA very early.  It was a really great view of NOLA at dawn as we sailed by Lafayette Square and downtown. I was up early and finished packing by 6:30 then went to Lido for my only omelet of the week. It was very good.  They began calling self-debark guests about the time I made it back to the cabin so our little group soon met and we headed to deck three about 7:45 am. The timing was excellent as we went straight through the lobby and onto the gangway.  They had the casual inspection at Customs and we were soon to the elevator and at 4B our parking area and car by 8:00 am.  Overall debark went very smooth and we were soon on Interstate 10 heading to Texas. We stopped for lunch at the Ranch Hand Cafe near Cleveland, Texas for a very interesting and delicious lunch.  I had a very good large Chicken-fried Steak (see photo).  We arrived at our friends place in Bosque County about 6:30 pm and after some shopping in town were home at the ranch soon afterward.

Crew / Staff / Entertainers
I found the crew to be very good.  My cabin steward team lead by Ryan was excellent, one of the best I have had on Carnival.  Our MDR waiters were good.   I didn't interact with staff or Guest Services very much.  My first time to see Mat the CD and he was good.  The entertainers are where this ship excels. The full orchestra, full dance team, and feature singers are all very good.  The Fun Force guys (break dance) were very different and what a great surprise with Martyn Lucas, former Phantom of the Opera performer from London's West End, in the Piano Bar.  Amazing entertainment.

Food / Drink
I have been spoiled having a Guy’s burger on board the past dozen Carnival cruises I have taken.   They make all other venues better, for example on the Dream there were long lines at the Pizza, Deli, and Grill locations.  Also room service took a minimum of 30 minutes, I know it is less on ships with a Guy’s.  After 46 Carnival cruises the MDR food has become very routine to me and I really don’t get excited about it as I used to do.  The quality has fallen over the years as well, but there are some very nice selections on the menu.  I did enjoy the Pasta venue and room service was good.  Our friends enjoyed the Steakhouse.

We had cabin 8267 a category 8C Balcony on deck 8 very near the elevators.  The cabin is the usual Dream Class layout with door at balcony, full couch, three closets, nice table, bed stands with lamps (mentioned as these are going away in some categories), push button safe, mini refrigerator, and stool at dresser/desk.

Cruise Highlights
Productions Shows especially Dancing In The Streets
Piano Bar with Martyn Lucas
Mongolian Grill
Lobby Bar

Another fantastic FUN cruise!!