by Jamie Grau
October 9, 2010
I'm a cruise enthusiast, to me, cruising the open sea on a luxury liner and visiting exotic ports of call is the ideal vacation. I cruise more than the average person; I try to set sail at least once or twice a year. I have been on over twenty cruises with six different Cruise Lines, so I'm fully aware of the standards of practice in the Cruise Industry and changes that have occurred over the past decade.
I'm also an Accredited Travel Agent and I spent several years as a Consumer & Travel Industry Sales Agent for The Walt Disney Company. I'm an extremely detail oriented young man, and I think outside the box. Needless to say, I can spot a burnt out light fixture or a Crew Member chewing gum from the corner of my eye a hundred feet away.
This was my fourth cruise with Carnival, which is about average based on my personal cruise experience. My first and second experiences with Carnival were excellent, John Heald, Carnival Cruise Director, made it a most memorable vacation. John has to be the best Cruise Director I have ever had the pleasure of sailing with, and his "Bedtime Stories" are most entertaining.
My third cruise with Carnival was going well until an incident with the Security Team ruined my vacation. I was traveling with a Thirty-Five Millimeter Camera and using eight hundred speed film, which should never be x-rayed. Even a low level security screening x-ray will ruin that type of film.
While re-boarding the ship at a Port of Call, I explained to a Security Crew Member that I was a Professional Freelance Photographer and that Eight Hundred Speed Film, or "Scientific Film" and it's sometimes referred to, should not be x-rayed. Needless to say I lost the argument and a Security Crew Member took my Camera Bag, which contained the camera and six rolls of used film, and ran it through the x-ray machine without my consent. It was at that point that I decided to never sail with Carnival ever again.
I normally cruise with a group of seven friends, this year we were shopping for a Cruise Vacation and narrowed it down to four choices that were literally the same exact price. Our Choices, listed in order of travel distance from home, were The Disney Magic, The Carnival Dream, The Celebrity Solstice, and the Norwegian Epic. We selected the Carnival Dream based on the distance from home to the ship, the fact that Freestyle Cruise Dining is a hassle for last minute cruisers, and that fifty percent of the Cruise Ship's population would not be screaming children.
Six years and nine cruises later, I decided to give Carnival another opportunity. My friends and I booked a last minute Vacation literally at the ninety-six hour cutoff time. We were to set sail on the Flagship of the world's largest Cruise Line, what could possibly go wrong?
We boarded the beautiful Carnival Dream in sunny Port Canaveral shortly after noon on October 9, 2010. Besides The Oasis of The Seas, The Carnival Dream is one of the most spectacular Cruise Ships I've seen. After being a sea for a few hours I noticed that the vessel was extremely stable in the water, I didn't feel Sea Sick at any time while onboard.
Our Verandah Stateroom on Deck Eight Forward was average in comparison to other Cruise Ships. I prefer to have a verandah door that slides open rather than having to open it outward and jam an object into the hinge to prop it open. Besides finding a Bobby Pin on the floor between the bed and the window, the Stateroom was immaculate.
The Stateroom Attendant was genuinely friendly and eager to please. He was always very polite and conducted his business in a stealth like manor. He rarely knocked on the door, he mysteriously knew when the room was vacant and cleaned it to perfection when we least expected it.
I was however disappointed with the quality of the Hand Soap, Body Wash, and Shampoo products that Carnival provides, not to mention the complete lack of a lotion product, especially on a sunny Cruise Ship traveling in a salty ocean where Guests may experience abnormally dry skin. I know that most Cruise Lines provide premium name brand products; luckily I remembered that Carnival provides substandard generic products, so I packed enough toiletries to sustain us for a week. Just a friendly suggestion that Body Wash and Shampoo products provided by a Cruise Line typically smell like something Marine Derived or Natural Botanicals, not lemon fresh.
I was also irritated to discover that we had some type of insect infestation on the first night that seemed to linger on for the duration of the cruise. Something was literally feasting on our flesh while we slept. I believe that the Stateroom may have had an infestation of Bed Bugs or something similar, the fact of the matter is that something with a healthy appetite was in the Stateroom eating us alive all week.
I contacted Guest Services and filed an inquiry about the bites that we were experiencing, I actually had to sit on hold for longer than five minutes before I was able to speak with a Guest Services Crew Member. They reported the issue to the Housekeeping Team who supposedly inspected the Stateroom and of course found no infestation of any type. The situation was never fully resolved and I'm angry that Carnival literally swept the issue under the bed.
I also want to make a comment about the dark Navy Blue towels that are issued to each person for fun in the sun use. The towels are so much softer and more absorbent that the previous version, however the color is an issue. These new dark Navy Blue towels absorb sunlight and tend to heat up, I felt like I was on fire while lying out in the sun on one of these super heat absorbent towels.
One of my favorite things to do on a cruise is eat. If it's not bolted down, I'm eating it. I may be a scrawny one hundred and forty five pound guy, but I can eat.
I was extremely dissatisfied with the Dining aboard The Carnival Dream. It probably had to be the worst part of the Cruise, and the worst service I've ever experienced on any Cruise Ship. Imagine the favorite part of your week long vacation becoming the worst aspect of the experience.
We spent our evenings dining in the Scarlet Restaurant. On the first night we sat at our assigned table promptly at 8:15pm. At 8:20pm, five minutes after arriving at the restaurant, we were kindly asked by the Maître d' to move to another table.
We decided to go ahead a make the move in order to facilitate the needs of the restaurant. We settled into a new table by 8:25pm, ten minutes after arriving at the restaurant, unfortunately we didn't meet either of the Servers until 8:35pm, twenty minutes after arriving at the restaurant. At 8:45pm, thirty minutes after arriving at the restaurant, we finally received the menus and glasses of "Ship Water," whatever that means.
At 9:00pm, forty five minutes after arriving at the restaurant, the Head Server took our order. In the interest of time, we only ordered appetizers and entrees, and skipped the soup and salad courses. At 9:15pm, one hour after arriving at the restaurant, we received the appetizers.
The Entrees didn't arrive until 9:45pm, one hour and thirty minutes after arriving at the restaurant. I explained to the Maître d' that this level of service and the complete lack of attention by the Head Server was not what we expected. The Maître d' apologized and graciously offered us a bottle of Carnival's Finest Free Champagne to make up for the issue.
We rushed through dinner in order to make the 10:15pm Showtime at the Encore! Main Lounge. I want to make it clear that the Head Server was unfriendly and provided extremely slow service. I also want to make it clear that the Assistant Server was doing most of the Head Server's duties and making an honest effort to serve us.
After the Show and some other entertainment, we were kind of hungry again, probably because we missed three of the five courses at dinner and we were in a rush to make the 10:15pm Show. Like on any Cruise Ship at midnight we headed up to the Lido Deck for the Midnight Buffet. We arrived at The Gathering Lido Restaurant to discover that the Midnight Buffet no longer exists on any Carnival Cruise Ship.
Our choices were the Pizzeria or Room Service. The Pizza offered at the Pizzeria looked like something you would see at a $4.99 Pizza Buffet; needless to say we opted for Room Service. Coincidentally, the only midnight buffet offered on board consisted of my body on a bed being eaten alive by the insect infestation in our Stateroom.
When we returned to the Stateroom we took a look at the Room Service menu, which seemed extremely limited. I remember Carnival having a decent size Room Service menu, no cheese and fruit platter, but a decent selection none the less. We eventually discovered that page twenty seven was missing from the Green Stateroom Information Book, which is apparently where most of the Room Service Offerings are listed.
After receiving the missing Room Service Menu Page we placed an order for two Hot Pastrami on Rye Sandwiches with Spicy Brown Deli Mustard. Room Service on the Carnival Dream is Fast, Fun, and Friendly! Within fifteen minutes we received two Cold Corned Beef on Rye Sandwiches with Generic Yellow Mustard, which isn't even on the Room Service Menu.
On the second evening of the cruise we arrived at The Scarlet Restaurant and were seated at the new table promptly at 8:15pm. The Head Server immediately greeted us and provided us with the Menus and glasses of "Ship Water," yum. We never saw the Head Server again for the rest of the Cruise.
At 8:30pm, fifteen minutes after arriving at the restaurant, the Assistant Server took our Appetizer and Soup "or" Salad order. We also asked for some Iced Tea / Lemonade to drink, because the "Ship Water" sounded like it came from Carnival Waterworks. Realistically the "Ships Water" is cleaner than any municipal water source, and we realize that it's used in the ice and concentrated beverage products on board.
At 8:45pm, thirty minutes after arriving at the restaurant, the Assistant Server delivered the Appetizers. Keep in mind that the menus were still on the table and we had not yet ordered the Entrees, nor had we received the Iced Tea / Lemonade. At 9:15pm, one hour after arriving at the restaurant, the Assistant Server delivered the soup and took the Entree orders, still no Iced Tea / Lemonade though.
At 9:30pm, one hour and fifteen minutes after arriving at the restaurant, the Assistant Server delivered the Iced Tea / Lemonade. At 9:45pm, one hour and thirty minutes after arriving at the restaurant, the Assistant Server delivered the Entrees. After dinner I approached the Maître d' and simply said "we would like a new Dining Service Team or a third table assignment in another area of the venue."
After the Show and some other entertainment we returned to the Stateroom. That evening I checked the balance of my Folio and noticed that there was an unauthorized charge in the amount of $70.00 for Gratuities. I was upset to the point where I was actually trembling.
How dare Carnival assumptively attempt to charge any amount of currency to my American Express Card without my knowledge or expressed consent. This is a gross violation of trust as well as extremely poor etiquette. I declined the prepaid Gratuities option during the reservation process and the "Important Notes" area of my Guest Confirmation Email stated nothing about Gratuities.
It was at this point that I had the realization that the service level at The Scarlet Restaurant was directly related to the onboard gratuities practice. A service team who is working for Gratuities should not receive said funds on the second night of a Cruise, which is five nights prior to the completion of said services. What's the incentive for Service Team Members to provide an excellent service level if they are not actually working for an incentive.
I immediately contacted Guest Services to dispute the issue; once again it was virtually impossible to contact them by phone without sitting on hold for longer than five minutes. I decided to get dressed, walk across the Ship and down five flights of stairs to Guest Services. Which brings be to another subject of concern, there were eighteen public elevators on board and never one available when you needed it.
When I arrived at Guest Services, the Crew Member was on the phone. I patiently waited in the queue for almost five minutes. When she got off the phone it rang again, I stepped up and told her not to touch the phone. It upsets me to know that someone who sitting around in their underwear and calling from the comfort of their cozy Stateroom, has priority over someone that got dressed, walked across the Ship, down five flights of stairs, and waited in line for five minutes.
Fifteen minutes after the initial unanswered phone call, I was able to voice my concern in person. I explained my issue to the Guest Services Crew Member and asked why the charges were assessed to my Folio without my knowledge or authorization. She simply replied, "That's how it's done."
To me, tipping is a very personal thing. I have been on over twenty Cruises with Six different Cruise Lines. Most Cruise Lines provide labeled Gratuity Envelopes, some let you electronically wire discretionary increments from your Folio to the individual Crew Members providing your services, right from the TV in your Stateroom. I have never been charged without knowledge or consent, especially on the second night of a seven night cruise, and after having horrible service in the Scarlet Restaurant two nights in a row.
I politely requested that the charges be removed from my Folio. At first the Guest Services Crew Member was hesitant, she asked for an explanation. I simply took out my iPhone and explained that I would call American Express and dispute the charge, and then file a formal complaint with the Better Business Bureau.
Needless to say, she decided to remove the charges from my Folio. John Heald, Carnival Cruise Director, always said "at Carnival, tipping is a very personal thing." I firmly believe this practice and it actually makes me feel good to give a Service Crew Member an additional fifty or one hundred percent more than the suggested gratuities for providing excellent service.
The third day of our cruise was the first Sea Day, so we took the opportunity relax and enjoy some of the Cruise Ship's Dining Offerings. We quickly discovered that lunch at The Gathering Grand Buffet, Mongolian Wok, Burrito Bar, Pasta Bar, and the Indian Tandoor all close one hour earlier on Sea Days. Why would Carnival close most of the Lunch Venues one hour earlier with a full complement of thirty-six hundred Guests on board and obviously not having lunch in a Port of Call?
The Grand Buffet at The Gathering Lido Restaurant had some great lunch offerings, and while Salami and Bologna are popular Lunch Meats, I was sick and tired of seeing them on the buffet every single day. Perhaps the Salami and Bologna belong at the Deli, thus making room for something more appealing on the Grand Buffet. The Pasta bar was also a nice treat to have on board, even though I marked Farfalle Pasta on my form and received Rigatoni Pasta.
We did like the fact that we could get an Iced Tea or Lemonade at any time; I did want to point out that the beverage station located at The Gathering on the port side midship appears to be configured backwards in comparison to the other three. It's a corner configuration with the cups located in the corner itself, the ice machine is on the far left, and the beverage fountain is on the far right; needless to say it was a constant time consuming traffic jam of ten to twenty thirsty Guests going back and forth all day and night.
We also noticed several other inconsistencies with Dining availability. For example, the twenty four hour Pizzeria would randomly close for an unspecified amount of time in the middle of the day. Breakfast at the Scarlet Restaurant had ended thirty minutes early when we arrived shortly after 9:30am on both Sunday and Wednesday mornings.
We really wanted to experience the flavors at the Indian Tandoor venue, so we saved that for the Sea Days because we had lunch ashore on the days we were in Ports of Call. Unfortunately the Indian Tandoor venue is only open for a very short two and a half hours on Sea Days. In fact the Indian Tandoor venue was only open for approximately twenty hours during the seven days we were on board.
I have to say that I was sick and tired of seeing those Carnival "Dear Guest" signs all over the place. When translated from Carnival Language to English, "Dear Guest" means "Disappointment." That is one memory about my vacation that I can do without.
We eventually made it to the Scarlet Restaurant for lunch on a Sea Day. I felt like I was there for dinner, again with the extremely slow service. We arrived at the Restaurant at 1:30pm and did not receive the menus and "Ship Water" until 1:45pm, fifteen minutes after arriving at the restaurant. Five minutes later the Server returned to take our order and never even made an additional beverage offering.
At 2:00pm, thirty minutes after arriving at the restaurant, I got up from the table, walked across the restaurant to a Server Station, picked up a pitcher of Iced Tea, and returned to my table with it. I received a round of applause from other Guests in the restaurant and all of a sudden had four servers sprinting across the restaurant to the table. They attempted to remove the Iced Tea Pitcher from the table and I declined, finally someone said that it wasn't permitted on the table, so I eventually surrendered it with hesitation.
I have to say that the Offerings available at the venues on The Lido Deck were more appealing than those at the Scarlet Restaurant for lunch. The Clam Chowder was interesting; it consisted of room temperature Cream of Potato Soup with two, one inch, open faced clams, one of which was meatless. We actually left the venue half way through the entrée and headed for the Deli up on the Lido Deck.
It was 2:30 on a Sea Day when we arrived at the Deli; it was one of two venues that were open for lunch on a Cruise Ship with thirty-six hundred passengers. Needless to say we had to wait in line for fifteen minutes at the Deli. We placed our order for two Hot Pastrami on Rye Sandwiches with Spicy Brown Deli Mustard, we received two Hot Pastrami on White Bread Sandwiches with Yellow Mustard, which wasn't even on the menu.
This is the second time and place that we ordered Hot Pastrami on Rye Sandwiches with Spicy Brown Deli Mustard and received something different. First of all, I can tell the difference between Pastrami and Corned Beef, as well as Rye Bread and White Bread. Second, these sandwiches are traditionally served with Spicy Brown Deli Mustard, not Yellow Mustard.
If the Deli was out of Rye Bread or Room Service was out of Pastrami, they should have specified that rather than assumptively preparing something different in an effort to deceive us, especially when said replacement isn't even on the menu. Also, it's a Deli, and every Deli is stocked with Spicy Brown Mustard. I eventually got a delicious Hot Pastrami on Rye Sandwich and added my own Spicy Brown Mustard that I picked up in Saint Thomas.
I'm a big fan of Sushi; I eat it at least once a week. Having a Sushi Bar on board was a big treat. Unfortunately the Sushi Bar on the Carnival Dream was not at all up to par with its Offerings.
The majority of the "Sushi" was actually cooked, and most of the time the Offerings were not served at a safe temperature. In fact, "Sushi" should never smell "fishy" unless it's gone bad. For some reason the Wasabi Sushi Bar was closed on Sunday and had non Sushi Italian style Tapas on Wednesday, both were unsettling encounters when we arrived at the venue.
The suspense was building as we got closer to our third evening at the Scarlet Restaurant; it was becoming a TV Drama. Would we have a new Dining Team or a third table assignment, what type of drama would unfold? Find out tonight at 8:15pm on Carnival.
Once again we were seated at the new table promptly at 8:15pm. At 8:16pm, one minute after arriving at the restaurant, the new Service Team introduced themselves and took a few minutes to get to know us as well. The Dinner Service was absolutely flawless from that point forward.
The new Dining Team knew our names and our taste preferences. They were extremely friendly and genuine. The service was so seamless that we didn't even notice it; they were meticulously catering to our every need before we even had a thought.
The offerings were average in comparison to other Cruise Lines. The quality was good and a Lobster Tail Entrée is not something that you will find on every Cruise Line. My evaluation of The Scarlet Restaurant experience was average.
Towards the end of the cruise I was expecting to see the infamous Chocolate Buffet that I have seen on every Cruise Ship. I was extremely upset to learn that Carnival Cruise Lines has done away with the Chocolate Buffet. Seriously?
Josh Waitzman was an above average Cruise Director, not Excellent though. John Heald on the other hand is an excellent Cruise Director; he sets the standard for all Cruise Directors in the Industry. John's appeal is that he relates to Guests and has the unique ability to visualize and create the ideal Guest Experience.
Josh is a great Cruise Director and he has the potential to be Excellent. My first impression of Josh is that he's insincere as well as inconsistent. He comes across more like a used car salesman rather than a cherished friend.
Despite the drama at The Scarlet Restaurant we were able to make it to the Encore! Main Lounge for Showtime every night. I was very impressed to see a live band for the Production Shows, that's a rear treat on a Cruise Ship. Eddie C. & The Dream Show band gave an excellent performance.
The Carnival Dream Dancers were also excellent, especially in comparison to all the productions I've seen while working for The Walt Disney Company. Desmond Dansby is an excellent singer, perhaps one of the best I have seen on any Cruise Ship. Bert Rodriguez is probably the best singer I've seen; he performs seasonally for another Cruise Line and is the lead Singer in Finding Nemo The Musical at Walt Disney World.
Simone Catalano on the other hand did not give a good performance at any time during the Cruise; in fact some of the karaoke sinkers gave a better performance. She was off pitch and could not hit certain notes. I almost jumped ship when I heard her sing "I Will Always Love You."
I was excited to see the Lido Laser Show on the first night of the Cruise. Wow . . . that pretty much sums it up. What a complete waste of time.
Other Cruise Ships that are half the size are able to have elaborate fireworks presentations. I wasn't quite sure what I was watching, and judging from the facial expressions and body language from Cruise Director Josh, who happened to be standing next to me, he wasn't impressed either. You couldn't really see the lasers because smoke machines in an open air Lido Deck, on a moving Cruise Ship, in a windy ocean, are virtually ineffective.
On formal night we attended the Captain's Celebration, which traditionally has complimentary Cocktail Hour on every Cruise Ship I've ever been on, unfortunately Carnival no longer partakes in this cruise industry tradition either. First the Midnight Buffet, then the Chocolate Buffet, and now Cocktail Hour at the Captain's Celebration. I suppose that Carnival received an overwhelming amount of feedback from Guests that wanted these offerings discontinued, right?
The Uncensored Comedy Shows at the Punchliner Comedy Club in the Burgundy Aft Lounge were a cruise highlight! Michael Macey, Comedian, definitely needs to be promoted to Captain. I have seen Michael on other Cruise Ships and he's one of the best in the industry.
I enjoyed the concept of the Punchliner Comedy Club; however I feel that the Burgundy Aft Lounge was at an uncomfortable capacity. Some guest could not see the comedians and others had to stand during the show. It may have been more comfortable in the Encore! Main Lounge, which is where this type of show would normally take place on other Cruise Ships.
One of the most interesting aspects of The Carnival Dream was the Carnival Waterworks; I've never seen six waterslides on a Cruise Ship. I do however want to point out a safety concern with the two larger slides. The joints where each segment of the tubes are connected are very sharp and scrape the rider's backs as they slide over each segment of the slide. My back was in slight pain and visually red after riding, in fact everyone who got off the slides had red backs.
I was also impressed with the number of Spas, or Hot Tubs; I've never seen eight Spas on a Cruise Ship. It should however be noted that thirty-six hundred Guests sharing two pools was a bit unsettling at times. Also The Hot Tubs on The Lanai Promenade were inconsistent, the two that were Forward exceeded one hundred and five degrees and the two that were Midship were actually cold all week.
The Stateroom Attendant for the week and the Third Dining Team for the last five evenings exceeded our expectations. We ended up giving the Stateroom attendant a fifty percent bonus and we gave the Head Server a one hundred percent bonus above the recommended gratuities. Tipping is a personal thing and no one should ever be forced into a prepaid situation, it's unethical.
I made an honest attempt to submit my personal feedback on five different occasions.
First, I was expecting a comment card in my Stateroom on the last night of the Cruise. Most Cruise Lines leave a comment card in the Stateroom so that guests can sit down and collectively provide constructive feedback. The Comment Card never appeared in the Stateroom.
Two, I went to Guest Services, after calling them and sitting on hold for over five minutes again, and requested a Comment Card. The Guest Services Crew Member stated that the person who booked the cruise would receive a Comment Card via email on the day of their return home. The Electronic Comment Card never appeared in my Email.
Three, I sent an email to Carnival Guest Care on Monday, October 18 and inquired about the Electronic Comment Card. I received an email response three days later with other feedback methods. The Electronic Comment Card was not an option.
Four, I called Carnival Guest Care on Wednesday, October 20 and inquired about the Electronic Comment Card. I was told that we did not receive it as yet because we still had an "open file" by the ship, I can only imagine what the file said after the Dining Service, Gratuities, and Insect Infestation issues. The Carnival Guest Care Representative verified my email address and stated that I would receive the Comment Card since I was listed as the Guest who booked the Cruise.
My Stateroom roommate received the Electronic Comment Card and submitted it without consulting me; he assumed that each individual Guest would receive one, which is not the case. I emailed Carnival Guest Care again and explained the situation. Guest Care explained that the comment cards are only sent to individuals that are listed as head of household and that in my case, the head of household on my Past Guest Profile is my younger brother, and since my Stateroom Roommate is listed as head of household on his profile, the system automatically sent the survey to him, even though I booked the cruise.
This makes absolutely no sense at all from a Guest perspective. I formally request that I am made the Primary Guest in my Guest Profile since I am the one who booked both this cruise and the cruise that I took my younger brother on. So now this letter represents my fifth attempt to provide feedback about my cruise experience and I'm not even sure if it was worth my time and effort.
Based on my personal experience aboard The Carnival Dream in comparison to the twenty other Cruise Ships I have sailed on, this overall experience was below average and did not meet my expectations. Based on my Travel Industry background I cannot in good conscious recommend this cruise to anyone that trusts my judgment. I may not completely write off Carnival; however it may be another six years before I trust the Cruise Line with my precious Vacation Time.
Every Cruse has its pros and cons. I don't have extremely high expectations and I'm not difficult to please. I want a fun and relaxing experience at a fair price.
I hope this review finds you well and that you take it into consideration when planning your Cruise Vacation. Carnival is a good company and the biggest Cruise Line in the World. Now they need to focus on becoming the best.