The Carnival Dream arrives in Port Canaveral

Carnival Cruise ship "Dream" arrives at Port Canaveral. (TIM SHORTT, FLORIDA TODAY / November 18, 2009)

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.