I was invited to attend the inauguration of the brand new Carnival Dream in New York City on November 12, 2009. My main host agency, Crown Cruise Vacations, secured some invitations and they generously gave one to me. (Thank you!) The inauguration included a day of activities plus a one-night stay on the ship. Since my husband had to watch our son, I invited my friend, Kim, to attend with me.
The Carnival Dream, docked at Pier 88, NYC
The day started with Kim and me getting car service to Pier 88 in New York City. We were going to drive in but, when we called Carnival, they told us there would be copious amounts of TV and newspaper coverage in attendance, not to mention plenty of upper management. In fact, while the ship holds about 3,646 guests, over 4,100 were invited for this event. About 3,000 of those ended up staying overnight on-board, yours truly included.
We arrived at the pier around 12:30pm. The last time I was at the NYC Port Authority Cruise Terminal, it was not the prettiest of its species. The outdoor facade almost screamed “Welcome to NYC, what are you lookin’ at?” with its cement floors, bad lighting, and security guard glances that could turn your heart to stone. However, on this rainy, cold fall day, we were greeted by the charming people from Carnival and Port Authority. We were escorted to the upper level to check-in and were introduced to a warm, carpeted, brightly lit embarkation area. Also, I heard what sounded like the best public announcement system in all of the city – clear, concise, and at the proper volume. Since I took the PATH train system for many years in the late 80s and early 90s, a good PA system (in any public space) is most impressive to me.
There were different lines for check-in. The longest was for “Travel Agents” and the shortest was for “Bankers and Investors”. Seriously, these people needed their own line? Not that it was even a line. More like a quick twenty steps to the front of the line where they just cut in front of the rest of us. Ha! Well, I suppose if you helped pay for the ship, you should get priority service.
After checkin, we were given some paperwork and a zone card. The zone cards are used to help passengers find seats in the staging area before boarding. Once the cruise personnel were ready to board our zone, they called our number and we proceeded to security. After passing through metal detectors three times (who knew earrings could set them off!), Kim and I made our way onto the ship …
… and thus began our confusion.
Most folks used the normal passenger entrance where they received a detailed itinerary of events for the day, instructions about lunch, and their cabin location. Because it started to rain heavily, and the crew did not want us to get soaked, they sent some of the agents to the crew member’s entrance. Now, if you have never been in the crew area of a ship, I can tell you that it is usually green or beige, and many landmarks throughout it look alike, in sharp contrast to the rest of the ship. From this entrance, we did not receive any paperwork … and thus this skilled cruiser got turned around very quickly.
Our inside cabin
I eventually found a nearby elevator and went straight to Deck 9 (my cabin number was 9329). We were given an inside cabin which we found to be quite roomy. It also included a nice sized bathroom and shower.
After a quick refresh, we knew what to do next. I knew Carnival would offer lunch in the Lido deck buffet. It was already 2:30pm and we were both a bit hungry. Once I figured out which way was aft or forward, I realized it was a simple matter of going one deck up to visit the buffet area, aptly known on the Dream as “The Gathering”. Offerings included The Grand Buffet, Mongolian Station (made to order stir-fry), Grill, Italian Pasta Bar, Salad Bar, Dessert Bar, and I’m sure a few other spots that I missed this time around.
While lunching, I started to notice many visitors holding these unfamiliar papers in red, white and blue tones. That is when I put 2 and 2 together. The inauguration materials were only handed out at the regular entrance! After lunch, I made a beeline for Deck 3 and visited Guest Services to get everything I needed for the day.
By the time I had a schedule in-hand, it was about 3:30pm. I had just 90 minutes to review the “Interactive Trade Show” and visit selected cabins for viewing. However, 4pm was the naming ceremony, and at first I wasn’t sure which one to attempt. I decided that I could always watch the naming ceremony online, so I began to check out various areas of the ship and fill out my itinerary card. For the uninitiated, think of an itinerary card as a scavenger hunt for travel agents. Visit all the areas on the card, turn in the checked/completed card, and you get a bunch of Carnival-branded parting gifts, which in this case included a mini office set (business card holder, pen, keychain) and a cushiony travel bag filled with goodies (eye cover, travel pillow, blanket).
We visited the Cloud 9 Spa (so heavenly!!), Club O2 teen club, Camp Carnival, Fun Hub station, various lounges, Ocean Plaza, The Lanai, Conference Center, Video arcade, Internet Cafe, Water Works, Serenity (an adults only retreat), Art Gallery, Jackpot Casino and, of course, the Lido pools with its Seaside Theater.
We also checked out a Suite cabin, Penthouse Suite, and standard balcony cabin. The Penthouse was nice, but I liked the standard Suite better. The Suite is only 90 square feet smaller and features a better layout than the Penthouse Suite. (My advice: Book the category 11 suite and save a little money.)
Oh … let me tell you about something funny I overheard from another agent as we were in the Penthouse Suite. In the bathroom, there was a toilet and bidet. One agent walked into the bathroom and exclaimed, “Oh look! They have a toilet for women and men!” It took all my self-control not to laugh out loud, and I quietly explained, “It’s a bidet.” She looked at me for a beat and then it hit her: “Ohhhhhh.” LOL!
No, that is not a sink.
After completing our travels, we decided it was time for some peace and quiet. Yes, peace and quiet. You see, there were so many sales people onboard, and guess what sales people do? They talk! A lot. There was so much chatter everywhere that we were both getting splitting headaches.
Therefore, we decided to head upstairs to the Cloud 9 Spa. They were offering treatments until 10pm that evening, and there’s nothing like a nice, calm, quiet spa session. Kim had a back/neck/shoulder/foot massage while I had reflexology on my feet. It felt so good! Along with the new Spa balcony and Spa inside cabins offering special spa amenities and private access, I think Cloud 9 Spa is going to be very very popular.
Dinner was at The Crimson Restaurant at 7pm. Accent on crimson! Lots of red tones, a bit unusual to see all in one place. I would have liked lighter hues but, again, this is Carnival and they do tend to use loud, rich colors. It’s just part of their overall design. Someone walked up, more than a little inebriated, and asked me point blank: “Do you do cruises only?” I answered yes. Before I could get another word in, she plowed ahead: “I do EVERYTHING. Right now I’m in the middle of a $22,000 European tour, full F.I.T.”
It was at this point that we were 100% certain we did not want to talk shop with any other agents over dinner. Thankfully, Poseidon smiled upon us and we were allowed a table for two. (“Thank you ocean deity!”)
Dinner was … fantastic! I had Strawberry Bisque soup, Spa Fruit Cocktail, Broiled Lobster & Shrimp, and an Apple/Caramel pastry for dessert. The waiters were wonderful too. They even mustered some home-grown Michael Jackson moves to entertain us along the way.
Did I mention that it was open bar for everyone all day long? Yup, I got to have my standard-issue scotch sour with the meal. Yum!
Couples massage room at Cloud 9
After dinner, we went to the main Encore show lounge. As we made our way there, I ran into Mr. John Heald. John is the Senior Cruise Director for Carnival, he writes a blog every day … and I read it every day. This man is great, one of a kind! He is completely politically incorrect yet makes complete (common) sense. He infuses his writing with intelligence, humor, love, and overall fun. He is quite British and has that wonderful dry sense of humor. I realize not everyone gets it, but I sure enjoy it. (He even cracked a joke about the French during the naming ceremony earlier in the day. You can watch the ceremony at Carnival.com. The aforementioned jokes begin around 34 minutes and 20 seconds in.)
Anyway, there he was, surrounded by a mere three people, and I finally got to meet him, easily the highlight of my day. I knew he was going to be busy but, thankfully, he was able to spend a few minutes, enough for me to shake his hand, offer a few kind words, thank him for the great laughs and, of course, pause for a picture.
Nancy D'Andrea and John Heald, Encore Lounge
Kim and I found some great seats in the mezzanine and, after a Marketing talk, we watched Carnival’s newest production “Dancin’ in the Street”. This was (in all caps for deserved emphasis) THE BEST SHOW I HAVE EVER SEEN ON A CRUISE SHIP STAGE. Now, I am from New York and I have seen lots of Broadway and NY theater. This show was a cross between a Broadway musical and a Cirque du Soleil production. Costumes and makeup were perfect and, although I thought the music was a bit loud, it worked well within the show. The theme centered on various types of street dancing from the past 30 years. In order to show true break dancing, Carnival hired six people to demonstrate various forms of breaking. Add a stage length trampoline upstage, plus several skilled tumblers, and you’ve got one huge, high energy, non-stop show.
The band was on a moving platform that lowers to pit level when the show is in progress but then also surface with – and rise above – audience level when the band is performing solo. Everyone in the audience gave the performers a standing ovation, and – wow – did they ever deserve it. The show was about a hour long and nonstop fun. Should you ever travel on the Carnival Dream, go see this show! Consider it a “Topsail Cruises imperative”.
The atrium of the Carnival Dream, in full-tilt party mode
Afterward, some of the breakers entertained us in the main Atrium. Carnival also offered four comedy shows to round out the evening. Two were family-oriented and two were adults-only. We missed all of them due to dinner and the Encore lounge show, plus we were just too tired to stay up for any more entertainment. As an FYI: Tommy Drake and Percy Crews were the comedians and, from what I heard the next morning, they were very good and very funny.
The lido pool and dining area, Deck 10 Aft
Now, even though Kim and I headed up to our cabin to retire, the ship was still rocking (metaphorically) until the wee hours of the morning. Besides the breakers and comedians, Carnival offered live music in various lounges, singalongs at the piano bars, Laser Tag in the main show lounge and, to top it all off, a late night show with well-liked performer Marcus Anthony. Even more fun awaited at the huge outdoor Seaside Theater, where they showed various movies and concerts all day and night including Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Pavarotti, a Welcome Aboard Laser show, three different movies, a Pink Floyd Laser Show (being from NY, this is extra awesome!) and more, all until 2am.
Our cabin steward turned down our beds and left us a towel animal + parting gift. The beds were very comfortable and the new duvet bedding was quite nice.
In the morning, everyone had to be off the ship by 9am. Basically it was “Good Morning! Now, get off.” This is typical with events such as this since, within three hours time, another ship load of passengers (I said ship load) were boarding for a two night “cruise to nowhere”. (Yes, this next group would get to sail for a bit!) We ate a quick breakfast in The Gathering and, as usual, there were so many options. They turned part of the buffet into a full-blown Omelette Station, too.
All in all, we had wonderful time aboard the new Carnival Dream. However, I do have to pause and mention a few things I did not like as much. (Your mileage may vary.)
1) The decor. Yes, I know, this is Carnival. I have sailed Carnival several times already, but I just was not digging this decor. I did like the little jewel theme throughout the ship, but the really rich colors were just overpowering to me. To be fair, I did like the decor in the Serenity (Adults Only) retreat, plus the Cloud 9 Spa … but everything else was just a bit visually “loud” for my tastes.
2) The temperature. Now, this may have been a problem because we were docked, in the cold, with a lot of people onboard. However, except for Deck 10 and higher, it was really really warm on the ship. I found myself stepping outside into 40 degree weather to cool off every now and then. Perhaps, when the ship is sailing and in its normal warmer climate, the HVAC will be just fine.
3) The low ceilings in the dining rooms and in the buffet area. Tall passengers, beware! I guess I’m hooked on larger, open-space dining rooms, but the combination of these lower ceilings with the colors of the ship did not work for me.
Thankfully, none of these things impacted the food, overall service, or entertainment quality. We could tell that the crew gave it their all, and they succeeded in a big way. Everyone was friendly, helpful, and ready to make their best possible impression.
Bottom line: The Carnival Dream is going to be a huge success. Good food, great shows, a wonderful crew and a really fun cruise. You’ll most certainly get your money’s worth!