Reality, when you are the world's largest cruise line, can be a Dream.
Carnival Cruise Lines unveiled its largest ship, the Carnival Dream, last month in New York City. Weighing in at 130,000 tons, it carries 3,646 passengers (4,631 if all upper berths are full), about a 20 percent bump in passenger space from the line's next largest ship.
But it pales in comparison to Royal Caribbean's 225,000-ton Oasis of the Seas, which can haul more than 6,000 passengers.
That is fine with Carnival Cruise Lines president and CEO Gerry Cahill, who says the Dream fits the company's philosophy.
"Anybody can spend an unlimited amount of money to come up with all sorts of innovations," Cahill said. That leads to higher costs and prices, which may reduce value to customers.
Instead, Carnival execs say they focused on the experience. The fun. The Dream provides plenty of that, including entertainment that elevates the bar for cruise lines.
Most ships tout Broadway- or Las Vegas-style shows that, sadly, remind passengers they aren't on Broadway or in Las Vegas.
Not so with Dancin' in the Streets, the Dream's main production show. The contemporary mix of singing, dancing, break-dancing, gymnastics and trampoline moves kept the audience on a two-night cruise from New York mesmerized. What other cruise line would risk using Sir Mix-a-Lot's Baby Got Back ("I like big butts and I cannot lie") and the Pussycat Dolls' Don't Cha ("Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me")?
The show faced a test before older crowds on two Mediterranean cruises before the Dream crossed the Atlantic.
"It's not a cruise ship show at all. It's a very hip, modern show," Roger Blum, vice president of productions and technical entertainment, said. "I was curious how the older demographic would do with the show. They loved it."
That high-energy approach is found shipwide, from the piano bar to the atrium lobby. "Lounge act" doesn't apply here.
Outside, at the main pool (one of two), laser shows light up the night, choreographed to rock music videos played on the huge Seaside Theatre LED screen.
Carnival has also given comedy a full-time gig on the Dream, with five shows a night. Three are expletive-free — read kid-safe — which points to another Carnival emphasis: family-friendly fun.
There is 19,000 square feet of space for kids activities, including the line's signature programs: Camp Carnival (for 2- to 11-year-olds); Circle C (ages 12 to 14); and Club O2 (ages 15 to 17).
Outside, Water Works offers three slides — a longest-at-sea 303-footer, a 104-footer that ends with riders spiraling around a bowl, and side-by-side racing lanes — for the young and young at heart.
While kids get the royal treatment, adults don't get shortchanged. A two-level Serenity adults area, with padded chaise lounges, covered chairs and hammocks, provides a quiet, child-free getaway. Carnival tossed in two whirlpools and a full bar for good measure.
Steps away is the 23,750-square-foot, full-service Cloud 9 Spa, Carnival's largest, which includes a full gym, a thalassotherapy pool and thermal suite.
Adults who like risk can hit the casino, with its good array of slot machines and table games. Unfortunately, the odds are you'll encounter plenty of smoke and long waits for slots and some table games.
The Dream designers included three firsts for Carnival.
• The hourglass-shaped Ocean Plaza is a glass-enclosed central area on Deck 5 that has a coffee shop, patisserie, ice cream stand, sushi bar, full drink bar, music and dancing, and computer access. It opens on either side to covered outdoor areas just off the wide, uncovered promenade. Four elevated whirlpools, two on each side, hang over the edge of the ship.
• The plaza's computers are part of the Fun Hub network that has 36 access points throughout the ship. The network, which provides Internet access and a look at the ship's daily activities, also offers a social networking option for each cruise.
• New stateroom categories add two options for passengers. Deluxe oceanview staterooms can sleep up to five people and have two bathrooms. The second bathroom has a shower, sink and a junior bathtub, making it perfect for kids. Cove balconies on Deck 2 are cut through the hull, putting passengers closer to the water. But in rough weather a watertight panel may be closed over the balcony door, leaving Cove occupants with an oceanview room. On the two-day cruise, the Dream encountered waves around 25 feet with 65-mph winds and the Coves remained open.
For dinner, passengers have the choice of traditional seating (same time and table nightly) and anytime dining (from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.) in both main dining rooms. The food on the three-night visit varied from excellent to below average.
The Chef's Art steak house-styled restaurant is an alternative for dinner. The restaurant carries a $30-per-person charge.
The Gathering buffet on Deck 10 features two full lines, a 24-hour pizza stand and stations for made-to-order burritos, pasta, Mongolian stir-fry and tandoori. Free, 24-hour room service is also available.
While the size of the Dream allows for some innovations, it also creates lines. The passenger-to-crew ratio, never a Carnival strong point, ticks up some on the Dream.
But perhaps the biggest topic for Carnival regulars on the Dream was the muted color scheme throughout the ship, including deep reds, blues and golds. While some liked the change, many missed the over-the-top schemes of other Carnival ships.
Sometimes it's the smallest things that shape reality.
Kyle Kreiger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.