This was our second cruise and we brought the family this time - 2 girls, ages 11 and 12 and 1 boy, age 14. We decided to try the biggest cruise ship in the world because we had heard that the kids would absolutely love it and because we enjoyed cruising on the Explorer of the Seas in 2008. The ship did not disappoint. It was at capacity (at least they had no rooms for upgrades), but it rarely felt crowded. I'll split this review into little sections so it's easier to read.
We arrived at Fort Lauderdale port around 10:30 via a free hotel shuttle (Rodeway Inn Airport/Cruiseport - highly recommend staying their the night before) and were through security and check in by 11:00, if not sooner. They had you wait in sectioned areas based on your cruise level and when you arrived so getting on the ship was fair and orderly. I don't think we waited more than a 1/2 hour before we were on the ship. It was easy and stress free. We went straight to the customer service desk to get some kind of phone/walk talkie/iphone to have for us and our kids. We managed to get the last 3 deck phones that were available. So, if you get on the ship later than 11:30, you're unlikely to get a phone. We went to the Solarium and snagged lunch next. It was good food, and on the healthier side. It wasn't necessarily my kind of food, but we decided to try there rather than the Windjammer since it tends to be busier. We were able to get in our rooms before 1pm. We got changed and went up to the pool deck for the afternoon. it was lovely. I highly recommend arriving at the port early.
We had 2 rooms - 14178, Oceanview, for my husband and I and 14179, Central Park View, for our 3 kids. I think it would have been easier if we had had adjoining rooms, but being across the hall wasn't awful. It was our choice. The rooms were plenty big. My husband and I had plenty of room for everything. The kids were a little packed with the 3 of them in one room, but we figured they would be. They had a ceiling bunk bed and we had them separate the other beds. It was hard to keep them neat, but it was 3 preteen/teenagers. Bathrooms were plenty big and had plenty of room for toiletries. Definitely recommend bringing a power strip since the electric is under the desk. There is an additional outlet under the bed as well, which was great for my husband's cpap. The light in the bathroom when turned off was lightly lit at night so there was no need to bring a nightlight for the room. That was a nice surprise. The closet was big and had plenty of room for all of our stuff.
The food in the dining room was exceptional, as was the service. Our waiters, William and Randi, were awesome and made dinner special every night. The kids adored them. We ate their every night at the 8:30 seating except one because we only wanted to dress up for 1 formal night. We had no issues with the later seating. We would just eat afternoon snacks around 5pm. Breakfast and lunches were eaten in the windjammer or Park Cafe, or if my kids were involved, Sorrentos. The pizza there is actually decent and the kids loved being able to go down pretty much any time to get a slice. My favorite aspect of the dining was the availability of fresh fruit every day. I ate a LOT of fruit. The Windjammer was always busy for breakfast and lunch, but we were always able to get a table, especially with help from the staff. The kids loved being able to get donuts, corn dogs, chicken nuggets, frozen yogurt and pizza pretty much any time. They loved the Wipe Out Cafe.
We ate at Johnny Rockets the one night that we didn't eat in the dining room. The hamburgers, french fries and onion rooms were quite good, as were the milkshakes. The only other place we paid for the food was the Cupcake Cupboard. I was actually rather unimpressed with the flavor. At best, the cupcake I had was average. We did not eat at any of the fancy restaurants, Seafood Shack or ice Cream Parlor.
The rock wall, flow riders and zip line were a ton of fun, and we didn't have to wait very long for any of them. The longest we waited was 1/2 hour for the flow rider. They're all free and definitely worth trying.
We saw Hairspray and it was EXCELLENT. The cast did a great job. My 12 year old saw Come Fly With Me and said it was really cool. Ocean of Dreams, the water show, was absolutely amazing. Beautiful and impressive. The ice show was impressive as well, if not a tad long though. The feats they perform on such a small rink is quite impressive. Get reservations and always be there 15 minutes before hand or they will give your seats away.
My girls were plenty happy with Adventure Ocean and the Teen Hangout. The 11 year old love being able to sign herself in and out of the club and she had a blast doing the activities and playing with her new friends. The 12 year old loved hanging out in the Living Room. She met a lot of nice kids. They loved independence the most. I never felt my kids were unsafe at any point on the ship. My 14 year old boy has High Functioning Autism had no desire to hang out in the teen area. He had fun though hanging out with us or his sisters. He tried the pools, zip line and rock climbing wall. He also spent a lot of time in the room playing his DS, but he was happy with that.
The promenade was just amazing. The sheer size of the ship is just impressive. The staff were all wonderful. Everyone said hello to you. The ship was very clean and well maintained. If things were broken, they were quickly fixed if it was brought to the attention of Maintenance. I used seasickness patches (Scopolamine patches - don't recommend due to the horrific withdrawal effects), but the rest of the family felt very little motion of the boat due to its size. It was a bit hot & humid to enjoy the balcony in our room, so I'd recommend a fall or spring cruise.
We chose to valet our luggage. We paid $20 a person to have our luggage delivered to the airport and sent through. We got all of our luggage safely delivered with our flight at our final destination. It was well worth the money. We were able to walk off the ship any time between 8 and 9:30 and we didn't have to find or drag our luggage through customs. We also chose to not have transportation to the airport scheduled. The five of us just walked right over to the taxis and were able to get to the airport for $21 for all of us, which included tip. If you pay the cruise line, it's $15.80 a person. I highly recommend a taxi if you valet your luggage. We were out of customs by 9:15am and at the airport by 9:30. I was quite impressed.
See below for my excursion reviews.