EMBARKATION - from Southampton was smooth and stress free, even with 2 young kis. (so much easier than airport check-in, securtiy, hanging around departure lounges, etc). Suitcases were taken from the boot of our car and the next time we saw them was outside our cabin - brilliant! We had driven down from Glasgow but opted to arrive in Southampton the day before and stay overnight in the local Holiday Inn Express. I would reccomend this if travelling from the North as the free bus would be a nightmare with kids! As we didnt want to use the bus we got free parking at the port instead.
THE SHIP - we found the Opera to be immaculate and spotlessly clean - it is a really pleasant ship with comfortable lounges. The swimming pool deck area is again clean and nice with bars/ice-cream bar/pizzeria/grill all on this floor. There was safety glass around this deck so you could see the nice views but the kids were safe. There are 2 swimming pools both of which have kiddy paddling areas which is great HOWEVER, the water was freezing! at least one of these pools really needs to be heated. Everyone had to pile in to the jazuzzis for a heat between dips. It didnt seem to bother the kids though! I liked the fact that there were plenty of shaded areas on the pool deck to take the kids on the really hot days.
FOOD - As first time cruisers we thought the the selection, quality and availability was fantastic. On reading reviews of frequent cruisers though it seems that it is even better on other lines though! We used the buffet for brekkie and lunch and one of the formal restaurants for dinner. Our waitress was fantastic and really lovely with the kids.
DRINK - we opted to go semi-all-inclusive whereby we were all inclusive for beer, cider, wine, soft drinks, hot drinks non-alcoholic cocktails & ice-cream. this worked really well for us and was good value for money. it also meant we werent counting the pennies while on board, we could just relax and have a much or as little as we liked.
KIDS - All the staff were really friendly with the kids. There is a large playroom and kids club for over 3's which our 5 year-old used on the days we were at sea / when the weather wasnt so great, HOWEVER, no play areas for under 3's which I found disspointing. It wouldnt take much to sat up a wee soft-play/toy area in one of the many lounges for kids to potter and play while thier parents supervised over a coffee/drink. This would be appreciated by families with older kids too as the kids entertainment was limited to the kids club, but many families want to do activities together on holiday rather than just put the kids in a club.
FAMILY CABIN - small but nice and perfectly clean and with adequate storage. room mostly taken up with large (super-king??) sized bed. The kids beds pulled down from the wall (high-up, but with guard rail)and overlapped the edges of the main bed. Stickers said that kids should sleep in main bed and not the bunks but I wasnt going on a crusie to sleep in a bunk-bed while my kids slept in a superking so we just wedged a cushion under the matress of each of their beds so that they rolled in to the wall and not down on top of us! Incidnetally - our 2-year old who doesnt sleep through the night at home slept through every night of the cruise - must have been the movement of the ship!. Showerroom/toilet again small but perfectly fine. Ladies - take your own hairdryer as the one provided is one of those hose/hoover type ones which isnt really much cop.