First Time Cruisin’

Carnival DreamNick and I had the great fortune to go on many vacations over the years, but we have not yet embarked on the very popular cruising option as a vacation package.  This past November, along with his family, we did just that.  The choice of ship was the new Carnival Dream cruise line, going to the Western Caribbean with 4 ports:  Cozumel, Mexico; Belize; Rotan, Honduras; and Costa Maya, Mexico for a 7 day trip.
Arriving at Cape Canaveral via the Orlando airport, we rented a car from Avis instead of the cruise transfer option.  shuttle service (outside cruise) cost about $45 a person.  with the cruise, about $80 a person.  A Caravan rental cost about $80 total one way, which managed to fit all 6 of us. score!
Nick’s parents are cruise experts, but as it was our first time, was in a bit of awe going through all the check points, security and sign in.  no doubt, the cruise ship was checking in 4000 passengers; it’s easy to forget that you are actually going through national security since we will be leaving US soil.   But i would still say everything was quite organized and fast considering. Carnival Dream 2 Carnival spared no manpower in getting people quickly through in a very efficient manner.  Looking back, i would say it took us approx 45 mins to an hour to actually board the ship.  (side note to future self: always pre-register online…will expedite process)  You get this credit card look alike – which is your sail and sun card.  it serves as your ID on the ship, and also your credit card since it’s linked.  that’s all that you need to bring around with you on the ship.  (when you are off the ship – you need to bring a drivers license as well.)
My first impression stepping onto the cruise ship was the amazement of the sheer size of it.  looking at the ship from the port didn’t do it justice. once you are inside, the amount of dining halls, lobbies, private rooms can overwhelm you. 12 decks in total. but once again, Carnival does their job to organize you.  You get a package that tells you where to go find your own room where your bags will arrive (eventually).  We explore our own room first.  it’s a very decent sized room.  it has a balcony.  can’t really say how big it was – but enough to have a king size bed, a 2 person couch, and a decent sized bathroom with standing room shower. and enough closet and drawer space to tuck everything away.  That was the one plus of cruise IMO at that point – you literally unpack and live out of the ship for the next week even when you will be exploring new places/countries.    Looking from the balcony viewpoint, we are 6th level up, and above the walking deck (3rd floor).  we can see people walking the deck below us, the port and open water ahead.  good times.


On to the exploration of the ship.  we roam the many floors and discover new areas.  (we actually continue finding new areas during the week – ie. Arcade room! library!)  most importantly we figured out where and when we go eat.  Carnival organized the 4000 passengers eating schedule by early seating or late seating for dinner.  that means you either eat in the formal dining rooms (designated table) at 6pm or 8pm.  we got the 6pm.  or there’s always the buffet should you want to eat at your own time.  (there’s never a food shortage issue – the ship has various points that has food around the clock – sushi bar, pizza bar, tandoori bar, on top of the regular buffet. ) We typically did the buffet for lunch (when we were on the ship), and formal dining for dinner.   The quality of the food was surprising good given the mass quantity of food served.  The variety was very pleasing too.  Every night, there is a different menu (you can choose between the classic menu or the menu of the day, which still gives you 3 or 4 entres to choose from) .  My favourite is always the desserts – best being the molten chocolate cake. yumm!    We also got accustomed to attending the mid night buffet which consists of hot dog, chilli and fries.  very bad for you, but o so good.   There were a few places on the ship where you have to pay extra (ie. not part of the cruise package).  alcoholic drinks, and this particular delicious looking dessert and cafe bar.  Prices were typical approx $3-4 for a latte etc.
Deck on Deck Main Lobby Looking down dining room ceiling Mini Putt Mini Putt 2 Waterslide Top of twister
During the day, Carnival has a variety of activities: mini putt course, waterslide (check out video), pools, suntan area, adults only area, jacuzzi, shopping, and more eating.  As for ship entertainment at night, can choose between the various lounges, comedy shows, stage performances, or if you are us, the casino.  a la the craps table.  the one night i did not show up due to an oncoming cold, the craps dealer asked Nick where I was. lol.  There’s also a bit of shopping on the cruise ship – if you are not particular – wait for the last sea day, lots are on sale then.
As for the many option of what to do off the boat, Carnival publishes an Excursion booklet for you to take a look.  There’s also an excursion desk for you to place your order and ask questions.   There’s lots to choose from every port.  depending what your style is.  We ended up with:

plus the 2 days of sea day for relaxing/lounging/suntanning/watersliding…we had our schedule packed.

Overall, my impression of Cruise ships are positive, though I would not place that as a favourite type of vacation.  Here’s my list of the downsides of cruising:

  • they take all these lovely pictures of you and hijack them until you pay their exorbitant price to buy them @ $20-40 each. they don’t even offer a package/volume deal. sigh.
  • the ports are always tourist traps filled with “local” crafts and jewelry which all starts to look alike.  there was a diamond international at every port. how many diamonds does a girl need?! (well…)
  • really don’t get enough time at each city/port to explore.  you are told at very strict terms that you MUST be back on the ship by the designated time or else the ship will leave you – the scare tactic works.  but it also does not make for a relaxing time.
  • after 3 days on the ship, the night activities gets repetitive.  perhaps that’s just us, since we finish the 6pm seating, then head to the photo area to see the pictures of the day, and onto the casino, then mid night buffet.
  • it’s pretty hard to stay healthy – yes there are those that goes to the gym on the ship.  we are not those people.  our form of exercise consists of taking the stairs to go up 2 floors rather than waiting for the elevator.
  • pray for good weather.  we were fortunate to only have one rainy day (in costa maya).  most activities/excursions bank on having good weather to go ahead.  even sea days would be sucky if it was rainy.  puts a damper on suntanning on deck when there’s no sun.

Aside from the activities of the ship – I would say that the staff on the Carnival Dream was extremely friendly and really looks after you. the cleaning staff was great – seems the moment we leave the room, they’re there cleaning. always tidy, with a towel animal on the bed to welcome us back at night. My evaluation – will go back and try another cruise – maybe a mediterranean one.   no big rush, as we have our 2011 vacations all planned already!

Leave a Reply