As I slowly recover from a surprisingly strong case of sea legs and a not-so-surprising case of sleep deprivation, it seems as good a time as any to recount my experience on my first cruise. This particular post will focus on my experience and thoughts as a passenger on the Carnival Dream. Keep an eye out in the near future for posts about my time at each port!
Before last week, the closest I’ve ever gotten to spending a week at sea was at a solid tie between an overnight ferry ride from London to Amsterdam in 2015 and my year-long obsession with Titanic as a hormonal tween. I was a cruise ship virgin in every respect, and was anxious to find out what lay ahead on our ship, the Carnival Dream.
Our first three days were spent at sea, giving us more than enough time to get acclimated to the boat and all it had to offer. With fourteen floors in all, the Carnival Dream provided a unique balance of a family friendly atmosphere while also having access to a lot of great nightlife. As the youngest in my group at the age of 23, I had the full-fledged adult experience. From that point of view, the Carnival Dream can easily be described as a mini floating Vegas. There’s a crazy juxtaposition of economical travel and extravagance when you’re on a cruise ship. You have an air-conditioned cabin that is cleaned daily, all-inclusive meals where you can try high-end dishes like escargot and lobster without having to pick up the tab, and access to free shows ranging from musical entertainment to comedians.
Not everything on the boat was free for the taking. The on-boat casino, bars, and specialty restaurants were all additional costs that could be tacked on to your bill. Internet access also fell into the extra-fee category which is why these posts are coming out post-vacation. Charges were added to your account by using your magical room key. This card is seriously your lifeline while you live the cruise life. Not only does it get you into your room, but it gives you access to your personal credit card and is your only way on and off the ship while at ports. They’re also color-coded based on the amount of times you’ve cruised with Carnival. This feature gave my roommate and I a nice way to keep our cards in order and gave other cruise goers a bit of a social queue when talking to each other about their experience with cruise life.
Enough about the multifaceted room key. Here’s a bit of a money saving tip: if you plan on going on a Carnival Cruise, I highly suggest investing in their Cheers program (aka their drink program). The program came out to a $400.00/ person charge when we purchased it before the cruise and gave us 15 drinks each day. With this feature, you could easily grab your morning mocha, favorite poolside drink, or personal nightcap without worrying about a looming bill at the end of the week. It was the most cost-effective choice I think I made the entire trip.
Also keep in mind that while you’re on the ocean, rough seas and sea sickness are a part of the territory. There was only one day when Dramamine and I became close friends, so I was lucky, but understanding your motion sickness needs and remembering that you are on a constantly rocking ship is a must.
As the days progressed, everyone started to fall into their own personal routines, finding their favorite places to spend time on board. There were pool bums, basketball playing fanatics, groups of card players you would see on the lido deck every day, and bar regulars. Our cruise director, Chris (aka the Flying Scotsman) consistently called us, “The Carnival Dream Family.” It was a very apt title as everyone on board slowly morphed into a bit of a sub-family at sea. It was even present in the interactions we had with crew members. Their ability to remember our faces and names was kind of crazy, but really made the ship feel like home even on day one.
People formed crazy eclectic vacation families based around their favorite hang out spots on the ship. My friend and I found ours at the piano bar where we met people from all around the U.S. We were a unique bunch that bonded over our love of Greg, the piano bar’s main act. The piano bar crowd easily became our closest friends on board– including the bartender, Vlad. Crazily enough, one of the couples we befriended only lives 30 minutes away from Saint Charles, proving that the world is most definitely smaller than you can ever imagine.
Outside of our nights in the piano bar, I fell in love with the Ocean Plaza. It was an open area just passed the hustle and bustle of the casino and was perfectly placed in front of the coffee bar (my inner Lorelei Gilmore gave that two thumbs up.) Trivia and other cruise-run games were hosted there during the day while live music was played throughout the late afternoons and evenings. I’m a bit of an outgoing introvert, so it was the perfect place to get away from everything to write or read while not being cooped up in my cabin by myself.
As I spent more time in the Ocean Plaza, the live music quickly became my favorite feature on the boat. Seeing as it was free, I took full advantage of it as much as I could. My two favorite bands on the ship were the horn trio, The Heinous Horns and the cover band, Down to Funk, hands down.
My appreciation for the horn trio was sparked by my love of jazz. It started in college when I randomly picked a Jazz and Blues class to fulfill a credit and it was reignited when we walked the streets of New Orleans before our ship left. It only felt right to continue the trend while on the boat and the three guys performing really knew how to deliver. They often paired up with Down to Funk at the end of each night covering bands like Journey, Janice Joplin, and Earth, Wind, and Fire. Nothing on the boat managed to put a smile on my face quicker than those two bands and for that I think they deserve a shout out.
On the last night of the cruise, Down to Funk’s bass player, Dan, approached me, curious as to what I was up to since I had shown up to almost all of their sets. I had told Ed, the sax player from The Heinous Horns, how great the two bands were very quickly in passing a few nights before, but hadn’t gotten the chance to really talk with the musicians. I took advantage of the moment and told them about this blog. We had an extremely interesting conversation about their lives as cruise ship employees and I found out that they were from an array of continents including Europe, North America, and South America.
Our talk taught me that the passengers on a cruise are only the surface level of life on board. Cruises also bring together a group of international employees who get paid to travel the world one port at a time, which doesn’t sound like too bad of a gig to me. I’m really glad I got the chance to chat with them before the trip was over (even if it was only with hours to spare) and if by some twist of fate you’re lucky enough to go on a Carnival Cruise with either one of these musical groups, say hi to them for me.
With my bright teal notebook tucked under my arm for about 50% of the time we spent at sea, I’m curious as to how many people on board knew me as, “the girl with the notebook” or if people even took notice. Some of my ship friends were pretty convinced I was working on my own version of a Gossip Girl column. Rest assured, I’m not very good at writing those types of juicy details even if I wanted to try.
I’m a memory junkie, plain and simple, and while all of my ship memories aren’t featured here, I hope what I’ve told you opens your eyes to a new, efficient, and fun way to explore the world.