With its red-and-gold Vegas-goes-regal ambience, Carnival's newest ship, "Dream," debuted last week. While Carnival ships are getting more refined in design, it's clear the Carnival crowd still likes to party. (On the inaugural two-night outing from New York, a group of young guys danced through several bars in their bathrobes, and late-night revelers paraded outside my cabin door at 4 a.m.) When Carnival says “Fun Ship,” they mean it.

The Dream, which carries nearly 4,000 passengers, is the 22nd Carnival ship designed by Joe Farcus, the grandfather of modern cruise ship design. And for the first time he admitted the reason he brought spacious atrium areas into the Carnival design many moons ago is that he himself is claustrophobic, and old-fashioned ships with their tight entranceways freaked him out.

The 11-storey atrium on Dream has several levels of bars and shops and adds a bandstand for live music. But the best new feature is a second big social area, Ocean Plaza, with coffee and drinks bars, café seating indoors and out and four big hot tubs that extend over the ship’s beam—for sipping mai tais or lattes while you take in the ocean views. Nearby, indoors, are computers for onboard social networking (an industry first).

The Dream has the largest spa in the Carnival fleet and the largest kids’ center too. Plus, grownups get a quiet, adults-only two-deck sunning area, while youngsters can splash with delight in the huge waterslide facility. And there’s a particularly cool new entertainment feature—a nighttime laser show with music by Pink Floyd (above). Once again, Carnival achieves something for everyone.

At the official naming ceremony, the ship’s godmother, Tony- and Academy Award-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden (“Death at Carthage”; “Pollock”) swung a Yankees bat signed by Alex Rodriquez.

The ship now does three one-off sailings, two Florida/Bahamas and one Caribbean. The regular schedule starts Dec. 12, with seven-day eastern and western Caribbean cruises from Port Canaveral (near Orlando) alternating week to week. Eastern Caribbean cruises go to Nassau, St. Thomas and St, Maarten. Western is Cozumel, Belize, Costa Maya (Mexico), and Nassau. Cruise fares for the one-week from $499, on up to $1,609 (for a fancy suite).

Guest blogger Fran Golden is a cruise expert and frequent contributor to