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Carnival Dream

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Even before its January 2017 makeover -- which welcomed Carnival favourites like Guy's Burger Joint, BlueIguana Cantina, the Alchemy Bar and Bonsai Sushi -- Carnival Dream had a lot to love. The ship is one of the biggest in Carnival's fleet (second to the line's Vista class), which means dining options abound, and you'll never be bored with activities ranging from themed trivia and charades to comedy shows and top-deck dance parties.

To balance this out, Carnival Dream offers something that can be hard to find on other ships of its size: a place to escape all the action. The Lanai Promenade, a wraparound exterior walkway on Deck 5, has ample seating (including a handful of deck chairs) and four cantilevered hot tubs, yet never seems to get crowded, even on sea days.

Carnival Dream is also full of "hidden" decks -- two of which offer some of the best views onboard. You'll find them all the way at the front of the ship, on Decks 6 and 7, through doors at the end of the cabin corridors. Elsewhere throughout the ship, you'll find slivers of deck space and seating nooks to accommodate the larger number of passengers onboard. On the flip side, be warned: The ship does have a few tight spaces that can make it difficult to navigate -- including the internal walkway on Deck 5, next to Ocean Plaza, and Deck 4, near the kids' clubs.

What truly sets Carnival Dream apart from other ships, however, is its service. The crew members seem genuinely happy and interested in making sure passengers have the best vacation possible. In addition, they go above and beyond -- whether that's having your go-to glass of lemonade waiting for you at the main dining room, or guiding you to one of the secret decks so you don't get lost. With this level of attentiveness, it's no surprise Carnival Dream has won the line's internal flagship award for best service, multiple years.

Between the friendly service and everything there is to do (and eat) onboard, Carnival Dream is one big happy ship -- and we have a feeling you'll quickly forget about any minor gripes.

Daytime: Casual is the name of the game on any Carnival ship. On most days, you'll see men in shorts and T-shirts and women in shorts and tees, capris, sundresses or bathing suits with cover-ups.

Evening: Most nights people remain casual for dinner but on Cruise Elegant nights, you'll see women in gowns, sundresses and pants and blouse combos, while men don anything from tuxes to full suits to trousers with button-up shirts (with or without a jacket and/or tie). You'll also see plenty of people who choose not to dress up at all.

Not permitted: On all nights, cutoff jeans, men's sleeveless shirts, basketball shorts, T-shirts, sportswear, baseball hats, flip-flops and bathing suits are not allowed in the main dining rooms, though we saw lots of women in flip-flops and men in T-shirts and baseball caps.

Theatre

Encore, a three-deck-high theatre (Decks 3, 4 and 5, forward), is the ship's main show lounge. It's used for a variety of nightly entertainment, including song-and-dance revues, variety acts and audience-participation "game shows" like the gender showdown, game show mania and the popular love and marriage show.

You'll also find bingo in Encore, both day and night, as well as the final sea day showing of Carnival Legends, which brings together the ship's professional dancers and special effects with audience members who have competed in nightly karaoke sessions for a spot in the final show. Early in the cruise, Encore is also the site of the cruise director's Fun Ashore & Fun Aboard port, shopping and ship talk.

On nights when a song-and-dance or variety act show is offered, two shows will be performed -- an early show for those who like to eat late and a later show for passengers who dine early. All other nights, offerings in the theatre change throughout the night, so you've only got one chance to catch each show.

Daily Fun

Carnival Dream is jam-packed with stuff to do during the day, even on port days. You'll find equal amounts of fun outside on the Lido Deck, near the main swimming pool, as well as inside (usually centred on the Deck 3 atrium or Deck 5 Ocean Plaza).

Outside is where you'll find the line's infamous Hairy Chest contest (leave your dignity at the door, even if you're just watching), pool games, as well as the once per cruise Red versus Blue mixologist competition, and lots of signature Carnival line dances.

A typical sea day starts off with the cruise director's morning show (go for fun and prizes!), bingo (for an extra fee), several trivia sessions and art, and retail and spa seminars (all of which are aimed at selling you something, rather than educating you about anything).

In the afternoon, look for yet more trivia and bingo, cooking or towel animal demos, charades, dance classes, pool and sport deck games and more art, retail and spa seminars. A port day will have a little less action, but you'll still find trivia and spa seminars on your daily Fun Times schedule.

At Night

Evenings and nighttime are as busy on Carnival Dream as the daytime. One of the most popular evening and late-night options is the Punchliner Comedy Club (Burgundy Lounge, Deck 5, aft), where you'll find two comedians alternating routines most nights, including one or two family-friendly shows and three or more 18+ shows. Adult shows are typically standing-room-only; get there at least 10 minutes early if you want a good seat. A one-week sailing will usually play host to four comedians, two in the first half, and a second pair who come on halfway through the cruise. Passengers who are easily offended should not attend the adult shows at Punchliner.

Another popular nightspot is the Jackpot Casino (Deck 5). You'll find a multitude of chirping slot and electronic poker machines, as well as blackjack, craps, roulette, Texas Hold'em and Let It Ride poker tables. Poker tournaments are held most nights. The casino bar features a small stage for nightly live music. Smoking is permitted in the casino. Play at a table long enough, and the pit boss will usually offer you free drinks.

Other popular spots at night are the atrium, Ocean Plaza, (entertainment hub on Deck 5 for live music), Sam's Piano Bar for sessions of sing-along piano tunes, and The Song karaoke lounge.

One day-to-night spot that is popular with families is the Lido Deck, which transforms into Carnival's Seaside Theater around 7:30 p.m. (A more adult movie is sometimes shown at 10 p.m.) Films change nightly and are themed around action and adventure, drama, blockbuster and comedy. Fresh popcorn from a machine is served during movies. The Lido Deck is also the spot for themed late-night dance parties, including the Mega Dance party and '80s Rock-n-Glow.

The Caliente nightclub (Deck 5) doesn't open until 10 or 11 p.m. (varies by night) and usually doesn't get grooving until after midnight, unless there's a theme like the '80s or country.


Carnival Dream Bars and Lounges

With nearly 10 bars and lounges, you'll find plenty of spots to grab a drink on Carnival Dream, though the emphasis throughout is on tequila- and rum-based cocktails. Wine and draft and bottled beer (including an IPA) are also available. Most of the ship's lounges are located on Deck 5, making it easy to move among them.

Alchemy Bar (Deck 5): Tucked away in a corner of Ocean Plaza -- yet still hard to miss -- this fleetwide favourite is the perfect spot for pre-dinner drinks, while enjoying some live music. The fun, apothecary-themed bar only serves up handcrafted cocktails with unique ingredients (the Cucumber Sunrise is a must-try); zero-proof elixirs also are available. Hint: Bartenders allow you to customize drinks by replacing liqueurs or adding new ingredients. The Alchemy Bar is open from 2 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Dream Bar (Deck 3): Carnival Dream's atrium bar, the Dream Bar is the spot to gather before or after dinner, as well as a place to sit and listen to live music during the day and in the evening.

Casino Bar (Deck 5): Located at the aft end of the casino, the casino bar is a place to grab a drink in between slot pulls and hands of poker and blackjack. It's the only bar on the ship where you can smoke. Carnival Dream also dubs this its sports bar (it features multiple TVs), although it's a major inconvenience to nonsmokers who want to watch NFL, MLB or other sports games.

Burgundy Lounge (Deck 5): At first a bit perplexing, Burgundy's eccentric court jester decor makes sense when you remember the lounge is primarily used as the home of Carnival's Punchliner Comedy Club. (You'll find the occasional retail seminar in Burgundy on a sea day.) The drink menu at Burgundy, only available here, also reflects the lounge's use offering drinks with "funny" names like the zany zombie, screw looZe, sex on the stage and the witty margarita. Punchliner is popular, especially the late-night adults-only shows; you must arrive 10 to 15 minutes before show time to get a good seat. Burgundy is also where you'll find the once-per-cruise session of the very adults-only Quest scavenger hunt.

The Song (Deck 5): Tucked into a corner next to the Burgundy Lounge, The Song is the place to be in the evening for karaoke. Younger singers are welcome to join the fun during an earlier evening PG-rated session. It's lively and fun, but surprisingly competitive, especially in the early days of the cruise. That's because singers are competing to be part of the Carnival Legends stage show, in which select passengers get teamed up with Dream's professional dancers to perform in a full-stage production (with lighting and set).

Sam's (Deck 5): Carnival Dream's sing-along piano bar, Sam's is hopping most nights, though we didn't hear as much singing along as we have at other cruise ship piano bars. The performances were so-so; what we love most about this space is the piano key-inspired bar surrounding the pianist, at which listeners can sit and pass over requests. It fills up pretty fast, but there's plenty of seating in the rest of the bar. If you love to belt out the best songs by Elton John, Billy Joel and Neil Diamond, Sam's is the place for you.

BlueIguana Tequila Bar (Deck 10): Part of the Lido Deck landscape on most Carnival cruise ships, BlueIguana specializes in everything tequila, offering 10 varieties, as well as tequila-based cocktails and frozen drinks. You also can get buckets of beer or pitchers of hard lemonade or margaritas there (as well as at RedFrog).

Red Frog Rum Bar (Deck 10): Located across the pool from the BlueIguana Tequila Bar, the RedFrog Rum Bar serves up a selection of rum-based cocktails and frozen drinks (coladas, daiquiris, mojitos).

Sunset Bar (Deck 10): A poolside bar set next to the Sunset Pool; offers a variety of standard cocktails, beer and wine.

Serenity Bar (Deck 12): This tiny bar counter is solely for the use of passengers relaxing in the adults-only Serenity and has a limited selection of drinks.


Carnival Dream Outside Recreation

Pools

Carnival Dream has two pools and 10 hot tubs. Waves, the main pool located on Deck 10, is one of the biggest social hot spots on Dream. On a sunny sea day, the pool is crowded with adults sipping drinks and kids splashing around. Throughout the day, the ship's entertainment crew hosts a variety of poolside games, contests and Carnival's signature line dances.

There's not a lot of open deck space, but that doesn't stop anyone from dancing. Live and DJ-led music fills the air during the day, as do showings of concerts on a large movie screen suspended above the pool. At night, the space transforms into the ship's outdoor Seaside Theater, with two to three movies (usually new releases) shown each afternoon/evening on the big screen.

A second pool, the nominally adults-only Sunset Pool, is located on Deck 10 at the back of the ship. It's a smaller pool, and you won't find live music or games played here, so it's a quieter place to lounge in the sun. On the flip side, it's more intimate feel tends to draw a large crowd, so don't expect to feel worlds away.

Hot tubs are spread around the ship. You'll find two near the Sunset Pool, two in the adults-only Serenity area, four on the outdoor Lanai Deck (Deck 5, two portside, two starboard side) and two on Deck 11, midship.

The Waves pool is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., while the Sunset pool is open from 7 a.m. to midnight. Children must be potty-trained to use any pool. Sunset pool and Serenity hot tubs are open from 8 a.m. to midnight, while the Lanai Deck hot tubs are open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Deck 11 hot tubs are open from 9 a.m. to midnight.

Recreation

For cruisers looking for more active outdoor activities, there are a few options on Carnival Dream, including a half-court basketball and volleyball court on Deck 14 (aft) and a large 18-hole mini-golf course on Deck 12. Runners and walkers will appreciate the jogging track on Deck 12, which is a bit larger than many others you'd find on a ship; seven times around is 1 mile. The Lanai Deck (Deck 5) also has a walkway (jogging is not permitted); 2.5 laps equal 1 mile. Ping-Pong is available on Deck 11, forward, just above RedFrog Rum Bar.

For those who need to cool off, the WaterWorks water park is the place to be. Here, you'll find the 303-foot-long Twister water slide; the 104-foot Drainpipe, which empties into a giant funnel; two smaller racing slides; and a host of splash features for smaller kids. (As with the pool, kids must be toilet-trained to play in WaterWorks.) On hot sea days, the line for the Twister is long, though it moves relatively quickly.

Sun Decks

Sunbathers, rejoice. There are virtually no outdoor areas on Carnival Dream that aren't also used as sun deck space. You'll find blue lounge chairs on Decks 10, 11 and 12, near both pools and along the port (left) and starboard (right) sides of the ship.

There also are a handful of loungers on the Lanai Deck (Deck 5), port side, forward and midship. The loungers on this deck were sparsely used on our sailing, even on sea days. We found this to be a great little spot to escape the pool crowds.

The adults-only Serenity retreat offers lots of sun deck space on Decks 14 and 15, forward. Here you'll find blue loungers, wicker clam shells, armchairs and beds, plus hammocks sized for two. The Serenity space is always open, but you'll only find crew there from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.


Carnival Dream Services

Carnival Dream's seven-deck-tall atrium is where you'll find both the guest services and shore excursion desks (both on Deck 3). A bank of glass elevators gives passengers a thrill as they look down on the action below. Surrounding the atrium, you'll find Pixels photo gallery (Deck 4) and the popular candy store Cherry on Top (Deck 5). Also on Deck 5 are the shops, which sell duty-free liquor, watches, jewellery, perfume, cigarettes, resort wear and Carnival-branded souvenirs. Look for limited-time sales on sea days or port nights, after the ship has departed port.

After passing through Pixels on Deck 4, you'll find the Page Turner library, a tiny space with a small collection of books and board games for use within the library. Still, it's a nice spot to read or play a quiet game of cards. There's one computer, as well. (For your daily crossword or Sudoku puzzles, you'll need to go to Plaza Cafe on Deck 5.)

Carnival Dream has two FunHub internet centres (Decks 4 and 5), where cruisers can find several computers for checking email and surfing the internet (including accessing their social media accounts).

Carnival offers cruisers three internet plans, all of which can be purchased for a single day or for the length of the cruise. The Social plan ($5/day) lets you access Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, WhatsApp and most airlines' websites. The Value plan ($12/day), includes all the social sites and adds access to most email, news, sports, weather and banking sites. The Premium plan ($17.70/day) includes all of the above, plus adds access to Skype and speeds up the connection by up to three times faster than the Social and Value plans. Streaming services, such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, are not supported. You can use your plan on any device (phone, tablet, laptop) but can only use one device at a time, unless you buy more than one plan.

Two meeting rooms, collectively known as the Chambers can be found on Deck 4, and the Future Cruise Sales Desk can be found on Deck 5, aft. The art gallery is also located aft on Deck 5, next to the Caliente nightclub.

A medical centre is located on Deck 0.

DIY launderettes can be found on Deck 2 across from cabin 2375, Deck 7 across from cabin 7347 and Deck 10 across from cabin 10262. Ironing rooms are located on Deck 1 across from cabin 1411, Deck 6 across from cabin 6382, Deck 8 across from cabin 8395 and Deck 9 across from cabin 9403. A load of wash or dry is $3, and detergent can be purchased for $1.50. You'll need quarters.

Smoking, including e-cigarettes, is permitted outside in a designated area on Deck 5 (port side); on Deck 11 (starboard, midship and aft); inside in the Caliente Nightclub; and at the Jackpot Casino bar and floor (port side).

Spa

Carnival Dream's two-deck Cloud 9 Spa (Decks 12 and 14) is 23,750 square feet of space dedicated to pampering, relaxation and fitness. At the spa, you'll find the usual array of treatments from massages (Swedish, bamboo, Thai poultice, hot stone) and facials (tri-enzyme, hydralift, microdermabrasion) to wraps, scrubs and ionithermie detox sessions. Other treatments include acupuncture, teeth whitening and medi-spa wrinkle treatments. At the salon, you'll find haircuts and styling, along with waxing, manicures and pedicures and men's options like shaves and beard trims.

Listed prices can be high, but specials are offered every day, especially on days Dream is in port. For example, a 75-minute hot stone massage costs $195 on a sea day and $176 on a port day. Also, look for mix-and-match specials, and remember: If you purchase three treatments, you get 10 percent off the first, 20 percent off the second and 30 percent off the third.

For an extra fee, a limited number of passes are available for the spa's thermal suite, which includes a thalassotherapy pool, two steam rooms (one with aromatherapy), a dry-heat sauna and a relaxation room with heated loungers. Passes are sold for the length of the cruise only, and are priced per person or per couple. A day pass costs $40 per passenger; cruise-length prices depend on the number of days (a seven-night cruise, for example, costs $139).

Passengers will also find complimentary steam rooms in the men's and women's locker rooms.

Treatment rooms, as well as the salon, are located on the second level of the spa, accessible via a spiral staircase. The fitness centre and thalassotherapy pool encompass the first level. This design helps ensure noise from the fitness centre does not disturb passengers in treatment rooms.

The spa is open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Fitness

The fitness centre (Deck 12) features an array of LifeFitness machines, including treadmills, recumbent bikes, ellipticals and weight machines. A selection of free weights is also available. Most machines offer a great view, as well, thanks to the fitness centre's location at the front of the ship.

Passengers can sign up for several extra-fee classes including body sculpt boot camp, Pilates and yoga. Pilates and yoga are each $12 per class, while the boot camp is $99 and includes three 45-minute sessions, a body composition analysis and postural/footprint analysis. Free fitness classes, including stretching, are also available.

The gym is open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., with morning hours being the busiest.

Food is plentiful on Carnival Dream, and one of the things we love most about the ship (and Carnival, in general) is its variety of high-quality complimentary dining.

Food in the main dining rooms is good, while the buffet can be hit or miss. A few themed buffet stations -- including the Mongolian Wok and Indian Tandoor, which Carnival brands as separate venues -- are especially tasty.

Note: Dietary restrictions can be accommodated in the main dining rooms, and gluten-free pies are available at Pizzeria del Capitano. You'll find much less flexibility in the buffet, where nothing (other than sugar-free desserts) is marked as gluten-free, low-cholesterol or low-sodium.

Free Dining

Scarlett and Crimson Restaurants (Decks 3 and 4, aft and forward): Carnival Dream's two main dining rooms (named for their red decor) are the "default" dinner options -- and passengers can choose between one or the other, depending on when they prefer to eat. Both offer set time, assigned-table seating at 6 or 8:15 p.m., but only Crimson is used for Your Time dining (no assigned tables or dining times). Note: If you don't get to the dining room within a half-hour of opening or more than an hour after opening, expect a half-hour or longer wait.

Dining is divided into two types of nights, American Table and American Feast. Most nights are American Table; tables have no tablecloths for a more relaxed feel, and the menus focus on modern American cuisine.

At least once per cruise, passengers are treated to American Feast nights (which coincide with Cruise Elegant nights), when the white tablecloths and beach-inspired silvery centrepieces come out. On these nights, waiters will pour your water for you; on other nights, you have your own carafe so you can refill your water glass as needed.

Menus on American Table nights feature several appetizers, salads, entrees, side dishes and grilled items that are available every night; steakhouse selections -- lobster, New York strip steak and grilled lamb chops -- cost extra.

Other than the everyday grill items (fish, beef, chicken and pork) and the rotating, but repeating, side dish choices, menu items change every day. Examples of appetizers include prosciutto ruffles, chilled peach soup, shrimp cocktail, seared tuna, vegetable spring rolls and fried calamari.

Main course options might include barbecue pork spareribs, braised short ribs, chicken Milanese, seared tilapia, veal Parmesan and baked ziti with ham. Our favourite entree, by far, was the cinnamon pumpkin cheese pie -- basically a shepherd's pie with pumpkin filling.

At least two vegetarian dishes also are available most nights. One is always an Indian dish like lentils with basmati rice, papadum and raita, while the others might include grilled tofu steak, quinoa-baked tomato, crisp portobello mushrooms and vegetable lasagna.

You'll also notice a "rare find" dish every night, which allows diners to try something they might never have tasted before. Choices might include braised rabbit, escargot and ox tongue, among other exotic dishes.

The last section, labelled as "Port of Call," includes a featured cocktail (for a fee) and an appetizer and main course that represent the day's port of call. On sea days, this section handpicks various dishes from the region, such as the Western Caribbean. In Cozumel, for example, our choices included a margarita, tortilla soup with braised chicken and steak tacos.

Desserts also change every night, except for Carnival's signature (and delicious) chocolate melting cake, which is available every night. Other choices might include s'mores parfait, coconut lime cake and passion fruit flan.

American Feast night menus are much smaller than American Table menus, with seven appetizers, 10 entrees (including the four everyday grill items) and the three extra-fee steakhouse selections. Options might include shrimp cocktail, New England clam chowder, teriyaki salmon fillet, grilled jumbo shrimp, dual of filet mignon and short rib, and an Indian vegetarian dish.

Scarlett also hosts breakfast on port days from 7 to 9 a.m. and Carnival's SeaDay Brunch from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sea days are the only time cruisers can get lunch items in the main dining room.

SeaDay Brunch menu items (all of which have fun, cutesy names) include French toast, pancakes (gluten-free available), eggs Benedict, omelettes, steak and eggs, huevos rancheros, a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon, and cottage cheese with fresh fruit. If it's lunch you're hankering for, your choices include tomato soup, Caesar salad, pork chop, mac 'n cheese, pasta and grilled salmon.

The "Port Day Express Breakfast" allows passengers to fuel up before getting off the ship, with quicker, more protein-filled options like avocado toast, a Spanish omelette, corned beef hash, egg white frittata, yoghurt parfait, and lentil and rice crepe. The avocado toast easily was a favourite -- served on whole-wheat toast with avocado spread (and topped with avocado slices) and poached eggs. The menu, which comes with the tagline "done fast, done right, in and out in 25 minutes," also has pastries and griddle options, a section with lighter fare, fruits and grains, and sides; vegetarian options also are noted.

Another dining experience held in Scarlett, only on sea days, is Tea Time. Open from 4 to 5 p.m., Carnival Dream's tea time is a throwback -- albeit a bit gimmicky -- to the days of genteel Atlantic crossings. Waiters seat diners and offer up a selection of teas, finger sandwiches and small dessert items (think a variety of desert biscuits and tortes).

Guy's Burger Joint (Deck 9): Helmed by Food Network personality Guy Fieri, this poolside grill serves up some of our favourite burgers at sea from noon to 6 p.m. The menu includes six different types of burgers, and each comes with a side of hand-cut fries. Diners choose a burger, then dress it to their liking at the toppings bar, with basics like lettuce and tomato, heavier flavours ranging from sauteed onions to bacon crumbles, and a variety of sauces (we recommend the chipotle mayo). There's almost always a line at Guy's Burger Joint (unless you go toward the end of the day, right before the first main dining room seating), but it's well worth the wait. Veggie burgers are available upon request.

BlueIguana Cantina (Deck 9): Across from Guy's, on the other side of the pool is the BlueIguana Cantina. This popular venue serves made-to-order burritos and tacos for breakfast (7:30 to 10:30 a.m.) and lunch (noon to 2:30 p.m.). When ordering a burrito, start by choosing a wheat or jalapeno wrap and a main filling (steak, chicken or shrimp for lunch and chicken sausage, ham or scrambled eggs for breakfast), then stuff it with as many ingredients as you like. The taco line moves a little quicker, as all diners have to do is choose between chicken, fish or pork, and finish it off at the salsa bar. The salsa bar includes standard toppings like Monterey Jack cheese, onions and cilantro as well as more unique options such as watermelon and jicama sauce and black bean and corn.

Guy's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse (Deck 5): Another venue developed by Guy Fieri, this savoury spot is only open on sea days, for lunch (noon to 2:30 p.m.). Expect to wait in line, regardless of what time you show up (we recommend avoiding after 2 p.m., as the last-minute rush can get crazy). The crowds are a testament to how delicious this newer venue is. Who can resist smoked meats, drenched in savoury sauces? Served buffet-style by attendants behind a small counter, Guy's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse menu items include smoked andouille sausage, pulled pork, mac 'n cheese and potato salad. The hand-washing stations came in especially handy, here.

The Gathering Buffet (Deck 10 and Deck 11): Carnival Dream's Lido Deck buffet is appropriately called The Gathering, as that's where everyone gathers for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Despite the large number of stations, the quality and variety of food in the main buffet section isn't always the best, and the lines at spots with the best food like the Mongolian Wok and Indian Tandoor reflect that.

The Gathering is most popular for breakfast and lunch, when, on a sea day, you'll often be hard-pressed to find a seat, despite the buffet's size.

Breakfast starts early with a continental breakfast of yoghurts, pastries, cereals and fruits at 6:30 a.m. Hot dishes including eggs, omelettes, pancakes, sausage and bacon, are served starting an hour later, with the bulk of the breakfast service ending at 10:30 a.m. Late risers will find a smaller selection of food between 10:30 a.m. and noon.

Self-service breakfast beverage stations with orange and apple juices, as well as an orange punch, water, tea (iced and hot) and coffee are scattered throughout The Gathering.

The Gathering is at its most crowded during lunch, when the buffet is divided into several distinct sections. (Note that on port days, only half the buffet is open.) At the start of most stations, you'll find an array of salad fixings, as well as cheese and cold cuts. Other stations focus on specific types of foods, such as deli sandwiches and carved meats. There's also a dessert station, located at the back of the buffet (Deck 10).

Dinner in the buffet, referred to as Good Eats, is much less crowded and the limited food offerings reflect this. Only two stations are open, and both serve the same dishes. Sample items include New England clam chowder, stuffed mushrooms, pasta, barbecue chicken, roast vegetables and a carvery option.

Free drinks from the self-service beverage stations during lunch and dinner include lemonade, iced tea, water and coffee. Two self-serve, soft serve ice cream stations -- named Swirls -- also are located on either side of the buffet entrance (coming from the Lido Deck).

Among the aforementioned themed stations, which Carnival treats as both part of and separate from the buffet, are:

Mongolian Wok (Deck 10): Probably the most popular buffet station at lunch, Mongolian Wok almost always has a line -- and we promise, it's worth the wait. (Tip: You'll find much shorter lines on a port day.) Choose from two types of noodles, a salad bar's worth of fixings (bamboo, bok choy, spinach, onions, sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, plus more), three sauces (black bean, Thai barbecue and Sichuan) and one of three proteins (chicken, shrimp or beef).

Indian Tandoor (Deck 10): Dream is one of only four ships in the Carnival fleet to have this Indian-inspired lunch spot, located at the back of the ship near the Sunset Pool. It's rarely busy, but you'll find several authentic dishes, including beef bihari tikka, tandoori fish, paneer makhani, shami kebabs, kadai chicken, dal and naan. (Not only are the chefs Indian, but there's also an actual tandoor oven onboard.)

Pizzeria del Capitano (Deck 10): On the opposite side of Tandoor, Pizzeria del Capitano is Carnival Dream's "new and improved" pizza joint. The line touts imported Italian flour and fresh mozzarella as key to its recipe, but we actually found some of the pies to be a bit lacklustre (a rubber-like consistency and bland taste). Despite being hit or miss, it's still a convenient spot to grab a slice any time of day (it operates 24 hours) and others seemed to enjoy it.

Pasta Bar (Deck 11): Located one deck up from the main level of The Gathering buffet, the Pasta Bar allows you to customize your own pasta -- marking down the type of pasta you want (five choices, including gluten-free), as well as what sauce and the toppings (meats and veggies). Side orders include a Caesar salad and bread. You can either eat upstairs or ask for your pasta in a to-go plastic bowl to take downstairs.

Carvery (Deck 10): The carvery can be found in the back of the buffet. One meat choice is offered per day and might include veal, roast turkey, ham and other meat cuts.

Carnival Deli (Deck 10): This lunch spot offers made-to-order wraps, sandwiches and bagels -- with both cold and hot selections. Options include tuna salad on white bread; smoked salmon on a bagel; and arugula, roasted peppers and mozzarella on focaccia.

Room Service: Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the room service menu on Carnival Dream is divided into free options and for-fee choices. For free, you can order sandwiches such as tuna, roast turkey, ham and cheese, BLT, grilled cheese and grilled Reuben; light dishes like garden salad, Caesar salad and a vegetable platter with dip; and desserts. There's also a basic, continental breakfast menu that allows you to select items and place your order by hanging a menu card outside your door the night before.

Fee Dining

Bonsai Sushi (Deck 5); a la carte: Added during Dream's January 2017 refurb, Bonsai Sushi is a Carnival favourite. The open venue -- located along the interior walkway, near Ocean Plaza -- serves up sushi and sashimi, as well as a small variety of appetizers and sides. While all the food was impressive, our favourite dish by far was the salmon tiradito (essentially a fancy way of serving sashimi) with blue cheese cream and dashi-infused citrus tea. The ambience is cosy and casual, yet trendy, and its location adds a fun, social element to it. Single sushi rolls start at $1.50, and larger rolls cost between $5 and $7. Bonsai Sushi is open every night for dinner, from 5 p.m. to midnight, as well as sea days for lunch (the menus are the same). No reservations are required. 

Chef's Art Steakhouse (Deck 12); $38: Carnival's Dream's date night and celebrations restaurant, the Chef's Art Steakhouse, is an intimate spot tucked away at the top of the ship -- blink and you'll miss the entrance. The service is superb, and the food is excellent. Menu items include eight appetizers and four salad choices (choose as many as you like), 10 entrees and five side dishes (order as many as you like). Among the appetizers are escargot, beef carpaccio, ahi tuna tartare, jumbo shrimp cocktail and lobster bisque. Entrees include New York strip, cowboy and ribeye steaks, filet mignon, surf and turf, lamb chops, lobster ravioli and broiled rosemary-infused chicken. There's also a fish of the day special. Vegetarian choices include the baked onion soup (appetizer) and all four salads. Sides include baked or mashed potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, creamed spinach and steamed broccoli. Chocoholics should try the chocolate sampler for dessert, which comes with four mini desserts. When making a reservation, ask about the promotion that includes a free bottle of house wine with your dinner.

Chef's Table (Crimson Annex, Deck 3); $75: Foodies will love the Chef's Table, offered two to three times per weeklong sailing, usually on port evenings. Limited to a dozen passengers at each dinner, participants are first invited to tour the ship's galley with the head chef while sipping wine (included in the cost of the dinner). After the tour, a multicourse meal is unveiled one dish at a time.

Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast (a main dining room); $6: Offered on one sea day per cruise, this somewhat silly, family-centric breakfast is for lovers of everything Dr. Seuss, with Cat in the Hat-inspired decorations including red and white tablecloths and napkins. The menu is the best part of the entire experience with items like green eggs (they really are green!) and ham, waffles filled in with red and blue squares and topped with Fruit Loops, striped yoghurt parfaits and red pancakes stacked high. Kids can pose for photos with the Cat in the Hat, as well as Things 1 and 2.

Plaza Cafe (Deck 5); a la carte: If you're craving a speciality coffee or an ice-cream shake, then Plaza Cafe is the spot for you. Here you'll find an array of coffees (including iced and spiked varieties), teas and chai lattes, plus milkshakes, cookies and slices of delicious-looking cakes. Plaza Cafe is located in one corner of the Ocean Plaza, so you can run over in between trivia sessions to grab a hit of caffeine. Prices range from $1.95 to $5.95.

After breakfast hours, the Plaza Cafe begins to serve a la carte gelato -- with flavours such as rocky road, French vanilla, mint chocolate chip, cookies and cream, and dulce de leche. A small cup costs $2.95, and a large is $3.95.

Room Service: For an extra fee of $2 to $6, you can order hot dishes, including Buffalo wings (with five choices of sauces), spicy fried firecracker shrimp, chicken quesadillas, Philly cheesesteaks, pan pizzas and fries (regular or sweet potato). For dessert, a banana split will set you back $4 through room service.

Cabins on Carnival Dream are roomy and comfortable, which is no surprise coming from a line whose inside cabins (at 185 square feet) are larger than the industry average. The comfort level is due in part to ample and conveniently placed storage space and a small touch that goes a long way -- robes (standard in all cabins, not just suites).

There is enough standard (non-suite) cabin storage space to accommodate three adults. Each room has a desk/vanity with three drawers and a stool, and all but suites have three side-by-side closets, with two hanging sections and one with shelving. In suites, there are two larger-sized closets, as well as a walk-in dressing room with storage space. You'll also find two hooks on the wall for hanging jackets, sweatshirts or baseball caps. Ocean-view and higher-category rooms also have a coffee table and sofa; suites have an extra dresser for more drawer space. Two bedside tables with reading lamps have a small cabinet below.

Most cabins have twin beds, which can be combined to form a European king (slightly smaller than a U.S. king-sized bed). A handful of rooms have a single twin, with a pulldown bunk bed. There are also a handful of connecting cabins in a variety of categories. Bear in mind: The connecting cabins do not have noise insulation, so be prepared to hear everything your neighbours are doing. (Another noise complaint is the flushing toilets, which are noticeably loud and can be heard from cabins next door, above and below you. You do get used to it after a while.)

Amenities include empty mini-fridges, flat-screen TVs and safes. All rooms also have hair dryers, but they're weak and are attached to the top drawer of your desk with an accordion chord. On the TV, you'll find two free daily movies (one family-friendly, one adult), basic network and cable news channels, information about shore excursions and onboard shopping, a live feed of Dreams' Lido Deck and a map of the ship's current location. The on-demand menu also lets you purchase pay-per-view movies, buy shore excursions or look up your onboard balance.

Bathrooms are comfortably sized for one person and have plenty of shelf space by the sink for everyone's toiletries. Not so in the shower, where one small shelf is barely enough space for one person's personal supplies.

Carnival provides wrapped bar soaps, as well as a wall dispenser in the shower with generic shampoo and shower gel. Except in the suites and deluxe ocean-view cabins, which have tubs with glass doors, all showers feature shower curtains, but we didn't find them to be too clingy. Ours was a bit too short, however, and if we didn't carefully position it before our shower, we ended up with a soppy floor mat.

You'll ease right into your home away from home, as long as you don't mind quirks like outdated decor -- some of which has subtle signs of wear -- and a lack of outlet space. Interior, ocean-view and balcony cabins have only two U.S. outlets and two European outlets: a 110V U.S. outlet and European 220V outlet by the desk and a 115-volt U.S. outlet and 230-volt European outlet hidden in the upper corner of the bathroom; there are no outlets next to the bed. Higher-category rooms have an additional pair of outlets next to a second vanity. (Tip: Pack a power strip if you have multiple devices to charge. If you forget, your cabin steward might have one you can borrow.)

In terms of the decor, the general colour scheme is burnt-orange, burgundy and brown with light woods, while Art Deco touches abound throughout. All balconies (even suites) have two plastic chairs and a small cocktail table; suites include one additional plastic lounge chair.

Rooms fall into one of five basic room types (or categories), which are further subdivided by location, view and size (either of room or of balcony). Most sleep three to four, while some deluxe ocean-view cabins sleep up to five. Accessible cabins are available in several cabin categories.

Interior: Carnival Dream's inside rooms are each 185 square feet. While most have two twin beds, some have a single twin and a pulldown bed, or two twins and a pulldown bed for a third occupant.

Ocean-view: Most Ocean View cabins (185 to 230 square feet) feature 4-by-3-foot windows (either with full or obstructed view), though a handful have a porthole instead.

Deluxe outside cabins are slightly larger (230 square feet) and can sleep up to five. They double as the ship's "family" cabins and have the two twins that convert to king, two pulldown beds and a sofa that converts to a twin. (The two regular twins cannot convert into a larger bed if both pulldown beds are down, as this would block ladder access to one of the bunks.) The cabins are also the only ones to have two bathrooms -- one with sink, toilet and shower, and one with a tub/shower combo and sink.

Balcony: The 817 Balcony cabins are 185 square feet and have balconies of 35 to 75 square feet. Balcony rooms come in a variety of configurations, sleeping two to four people. Cove balconies, which are located only on Deck 2, have 45-square-foot balconies located beneath the lifeboats, so other passengers can't look down onto them, creating a more private balcony experience. The balconies are the closest you can get to the water and, as a result, can get wet when the waves are high.

Premium "vista" balcony cabins are located in aft corners and boast larger wraparound balconies, while aft-extended-view balconies are located at the back of the ship and also feature larger balconies, though not wraparound.

Junior Suite: Falling in between balcony cabins and suites are the two junior suites, which feature 275 square feet of inside space and 35-square-foot balconies with two patio chairs and a small table. (Both Junior Suites have balconies with obstructed views.) Junior suites have two twin beds that convert to a king and a sofa bed that converts to a twin. An additional armchair offers more seating. A full bathroom features a shower/tub combo and double sinks. Storage includes two large closets and a walk-in dressing area with vanity table and chair. Passengers in junior suites receive priority check-in during embarkation.

Suite: There are two types of suites available on Carnival Dream -- Ocean Suites (275 square feet with a 65-square-foot balcony) and Grand Suites (345 square feet with an 85-square-foot balcony). All suite passengers receive VIP check-in, priority embarkation and a deluxe bathroom featuring double sinks and a whirlpool tub/shower combo with a glass door. Both have a large dresser, two large closets and a walk-in dressing room with vanity table and chair. Each Ocean Suite has a sofa bed that converts into a twin, while each Grand Suite has a sofa bed that converts into a queen.

The largest cabin on the ship is a wheelchair-accessible Ocean Suite, with more than 400 square feet of inside space and a 110-square-foot balcony.

Cloud 9 Spa Cabin: A handful of spa cabins, available in several room categories, are located on Decks 11 and 12, with easy access to the Cloud 9 Spa. They have the same furnishings as standard ocean-view and balcony rooms, but feature Asian-inspired paintings. Perks included with a Cloud 9 Spa cabin are: priority check-in; upgraded towels; Elemis-branded shampoo, conditioner, lotion and soap; priority access to spa appointments; two free fitness classes per person; and free entry to Dream's thermal suite and thalassotherapy pool.

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