I have used this site so much and want to pay it forward. If I go on to much or seem long winded, apologies.....
This was a first time cruise with my husband and children (girls 11 and 7) and for myself as a married mother! Very different experience than being 25 and single on a cruise!!! We travel every spring break for our "warm" vacation and the destinations have always been all-inclusive resorts. I will try and highlight some of the things that A: as a mother, and B: as a relatively novice cruiser, was interested in knowing before hand.
We sailed on Easter Sunday so the majority of spring break was over for most kids. Arrived at the terminal at 115 and we were on board by 2pm. The lines were short, if not non existent and we breezed through with no issues.
As a side note, I did have two "rum runner" containers (wine and scotch)in my carry on luggage and made no attempt to conceal them. There wasn't a single issue. Additionally, had a total of 4 other 32oz rum rummer containers in each of our suitcases which also made it on board. (I know there is alot of discussion on this board regarding the pros and cons and I only bring this up for those that are wanting to do it.) I also had 2-2 liters of Diet cokes in the checked luggage which made it on board. Lastly, I did see folks with 24 packs of bottled water going through check in with no issues either. Final note on this - we did purchase the soda packages and had a VERY large bar tab on board, so a win win for all.
Average age was a little older than expected. About 60 years old. Majority were Texas and Gulf Coast residents, about 10% international and the rest like us (about 30%). Made for a good mix and absolutely NO college kids meant peace.
We were in 1690 - an aft state room. The balcony is very large, beds comfortable, soft sheets, and ample room for a total of 5 suitcases. We immediately tipped the room attendant $20 to keep the ice bucket filled and ended up with towel animals (sometimes 2) each night. Not sure if this was because of the tip but kids loved it. There was no shampoo and conditioner supplied but we had our own. The hair dryer would overheat every 3 minutes so for those of you with thick hair, bring your own! Opposed to other comments, we experienced NO soot on our balcony and were surprised at how few fellow passengers were using their own balconies.
On Board Facilities:
There have been so many other posts that detail this ship that I will limit my comments to my personal observations. I did not notice the "wear and tear" that some other folks shared. The ship seemed in great shape...all of the public spaces were great. I would equate it to a 4 star hotel in the Caribbean.
We didn't see alot of these but what we did see was of a higher caliber than we have experienced in the Mexican all-inclusive. Either way, none were bad and were good for the hour of entertainment that they provided.
We did my time dining and I pre-made reservations for 645 each night which gave us time to enjoy our meal and still make it out to see a show if we wanted. After the first night we requested that we have the same table and our request was met. Service was very good and food was far superior to what we were expecting. We are not huge foodies, but live in downtown Chicago and appreciate a good meal. ALL of them were good. They even accommodated special requests from our kids.
This is where the details flow. Neither of my kids have EVER wanted to go to the kids clubs at other resorts. Instead they want to be with us and enjoy the pools and beach. On the first morning I TOLD them that they had to go for just 2 hours and then if they decided to never do it again, that was fine. Both my girls (2nd and 6th grade) are a little on the shy side and introverted. They would be mortified to go on stage or join in a dance. End result, we barely saw them after that first morning. I will break this down to the two age groups.
There is a meet and greet/sign up on the first day. Many kids did this, we did not. We went the first morning. The staff greeted us warmly and told us that there was a total of approx. 200 kids total on board. Much lighter than previous weeks during the height of spring break. The hours were 9-11, 2-5, 7-10. For a 7.95 fee, the staff will keep your child and take them to lunch and/or dinner in Windjammer. My children wanted to do this but I actually didn't let them as it became the only times I could see them! Additionally, children were able to remain until 1pm for a $6/child per hour fee. I used this service and it doesn't appear by my bill that they break the hours down to anything less than a full hour.
6-8 year Olds:
The room that they are in is very large and clean. The staff greeted us warmly. In my daughter's group, there was about 40 kids total signed up. The most that I ever saw was about 20 and that was at night. Not sure what the staff ratio was in the room but it looked like there were always about 4-5 staff regardless of the amount of kids. The counselor's were mostly female and only a few males. The mix of boys and girls was fairly even. After that first morning, all my daughter wanted to do was go back. She met friends that she loved and was able to see them in and around the ship and pool and always have a buddy to play with. She loved the games and the counselors. She always wanted to stay late at night, past the 10pm pick up. I was able to allow her sister to sign her out, so that is an option for those with older siblings. I was blown away that my normally introverted 7 year old wanted to do all of the kids activities. I can not rave enough about her enthusiasm over this program. My ONLY complaint is that there are no outdoor activities that they do. It seemed like they had an outdoor area but didn't use it. I am not sure if it is a liability issue. Coming from cold winters, I would have liked to have her get more fresh air during her time in the club.
9-11 year olds:
My 11 year old is a young 6th grader. She was very hesitant to go into this age group thinking that she would be the oldest. As we were signing her in the counselor told us that we had several options (I have read others posts so not sure what the actual policy is, just what we encountered). She could bump up to the 12-14 year old group but as parents we needed to know that there would be multiple times that she would be interacting with kids as old as 17. Additionally, the 12 and older groups did not have many planned activities outside of a meet and greet and some sports competitions on the sports deck. Otherwise, the older kids simply used the facilities as "hang out" areas. Lastly, if she choose to "bump up:", she could not "bump back down". Confused, we asked her what her recommendation was. She told us that there were at least 6 other 11 year olds and several 12 year olds that had already chosen to "bump down". This was all my daughter needed to hear, and she signed up (not that we wold have let her bump up anyway!!!). We allowed her to have her own sign in and out privilege and by the 2nd day, she was in and out of the club all the time. She had as much, if not more fun than the younger daughter. She hooked up with new friends and she was off! She had the activity sheets for each day and knew when she wanted to go and when to meet up with friends. We were able to set limits (meet us at this location at this time) or pass along a message to her (would tell the counselor to let her know we were at such and such a show at a certain time)and never ran into any issues. My quiet 11 year old actually entered the talent show! She loved every minute of it and we even started taking them to dinner early so that they could be at the kids club at opening time! Allowing her to sign her little sister in really helped alot!
I don't really have a good baseline for this. Our time for deboarding was 830-9. We began the process at 840 and were outside the terminal at 10am. For those of you with small kids, make sure that they go to the bathroom right before you start the process and grab some water and snacks (just not fruit) to bring with you...the line is standing ONLY. It does take a while, but I have been through way worse on international flights.
The kids don't want to vacation any other way. My 11 year old cried the morning we left the boat. My husband and I are beach lovers and actually prefer the tropics to a cruise. That being said, we will do one again in the next year or two and give it another shot. Hope this helped anyone with kids!
Some General Tips/Advice/Observations
1. Some folks brought magnetic stickers to adhere to the doors (they are metal) of their cabins. This seemed like a great idea for those who have young kids trying to find the room.
2. Bring a ball/Frisbee to the beach. Nothing was being sold on any of the beaches we were at.
3. Bring a small deodorizer spray for the bathroom....small spaces contain big smells for those of you with "regular" husbands.
4. You do not need to bring you own hand sanitizer...they have it in SPADES!!!