We embarked on a week-long cruise from New Orleans on the Carnival Dream, bound for the Caribbean during the December holidays. The itinerary included two days at sea, along with a day each at Costa Maya, Mahogany Bay, Belize City, and Cozumel. We were three couples travelling together on a family trip, and overall, we all loved the experience.
We booked the cruise directly on the Carnival website, and received $50 on-board credit for each room for booking in advance. They allowed us to make a deposit and then pay the remainder over a few months at no additional charge, and sent constant reminders about the payments required and also regarding the embarkation process and what documents would be required. It was all very straightforward, and you just need access to a printer to print out your luggage tags and boarding pass. Make sure to print it single-sided, as we printed it double-sided and had to wait for copies to be made.
We opted to stay at the Hilton Riverside, and would highly recommend it as a base if you’re cruising from New Orleans. Bonus points if you’re a Hilton Honors member, as it speeds up the check in process immensely, and the complimentary breakfast was delicious, particularly the range of spice jams to enjoy with fresh bagels and the powder coated beignets served every morning. From there to the port was a twenty-minute walk at a leisurely pace, through the adjoining outlet mall. The only problem was walking down the double staircase when we got to the port, but with plenty of porters on hand, we navigated it without incident.
We booked a 12:00 check-in, and immediately joined a snaking queue to get on-board. It moved rather fast, and we were on board in no time. Once on board, the buffets were chaotic and the queues long, as most rooms would only be ready at 16:00, which made the common areas unnaturally busy. Even with the crowds, we had no trouble finding pool-side loungers to relax on and while away the time. Our luggage was checked in, to be delivered to our rooms later, but note that if you keep essentials in a carry-on, you’ll have to navigate through the crowds with it, which is cumbersome.
We booked inside staterooms, as we knew we wouldn’t be spending much time in the rooms, and the extra charge didn’t warrant a balcony room on this itinerary. The rooms were small and basic, but practical and served our needs well. Make sure to do your research before choosing a room, as some are more prone to rocking and if you suffer from motion sickness, this becomes a huge problem. Rooms situated near the nightclub or main theatre are also rather noisy at night, and will disturb your sleep, so check the ship plans prior to your trip. Also think about how far you’re willing to walk, depending on where you plan on spending most of your time, and book your room accordingly.
There are tons of food options on board, most included in the price, such as 24-hour pizza and fully stocked buffets, a pasta bar, taco bar, burger bar, and formal restaurant. Paid options include a seafood restaurant, sushi bar, and steak house. Unfortunately, none of the food is halaal, so we were pescatarians for the week. The staff were all quite obliging about cleaning their utensils to avoid cross contamination in the buffet areas. In the formal dining room, we had assigned seating with the same waiters every day. On the first evening we explained our food requirements to them, and they provided invaluable assistance throughout our trip, pointing out which food options were not suitable for us, and even arranging special vegetarian soups and key lime pie at our request. The food was largely delicious, and the signature lava cakes served for dessert every night were my favourite, although there was a large variation each night in the degree of gooeyness of the lava cake. They also serve special items on port days, that allow you to taste local specialties on board. The breakfast in the formal restaurant is especially tasty, and the eggs benedict were perfect every time!
The service on board was impeccable, with staff often going out of their way. We asked if they have a firmer mattress, and within the day, they had changed out the mattress, given us complimentary chocolate covered strawberries for our trouble, and followed up the next morning to check if it was adequate.
The Carnival app is also a useful resource, as it doesn’t require an expensive wi-fi connection unless you want to send message to fellow cruisers. It has information regarding available shore excursions per port that are available, and you can book straight from the app and view excursions that you’ve booked. It also details the daily schedules, making it easy to find suitable activities without having to carry around the daily newsletter. The app keeps track of menus as well as predicted weather and other general information.
Aside from planned entertainment, there are tons of amenities on board to while away your time. There is a moderately sized swimming pool and hot tubs, along with a couple of water slides. There’s a gym, and a spa, and an adults-only area to relax in. There’s a casino and arcade, basketball court and mini golf course, pool and table tennis, a library and shopping arcade, regular quizzes and karaoke. The entertainment on board was quite lacking, and the night time productions are quite inferior in quality compared to other lines such as MSC. The only show that was decent was Illusions, but even that was oversold, compared to what was delivered. However, we did enjoy the resident comedians, and made a special point to attend those shows. There are also movies every evening at the poolside screen, and blankets and popcorn are provided, which enhance the experience.
Due to a Black Friday discount code we received, we booked three shore excursions with them, as the discounts made them comparable in price to booking independently, while providing peace of mind. Read reviews at these links of our excursions in Costa Maya, Mahogany Bay, and Belize City. In Cozumel, bad weather prompted the cancellation of all water based activities for the day, and their communication of these last minute changes was lacking. After making alternate plans with a local operator on the day, we actually got stuck on board when we returned to collect some items we needed, as the staff at the pier didn’t inform us that a neighbouring ship would be docking, thus preventing movement on or off the ship. This delay resulted in us missing our transport and having to pay extra for the inconvenience, and after bringing the handling of the matter to the attention of the service desk, we were given $5 drink vouchers as recompense.
One of the things we enjoyed was watching sunrise over the ocean, and since most people are asleep at the time, it is a peaceful experience. If you don’t have a balcony, the best place to appreciate it is on the top decks. If you want a quieter place, walk to the end of the passages on the higher decks, between the staterooms, until you reach the doors that lead to the front of the hip. Not many people come out there, especially at sunrise, so chances are that you’ll have the place to yourself.
Disembarkation was a bit more tedious than embarkation, but that may have been partly due to our excitement at the prospect of exploring New Orleans in earnest. All in all, it was a good experience with a great itinerary at a fair price, and aside from the quality of the entertainment, we had a blast!