We took our first cruise last week, from February 4-8 on the Carnival Imagination. It was myself, my fiancee and her 2 children (an 11 yr old girl, and 13 yr old boy). The ship stopped in Cozumel on Wednesday, Key West on Thursday and back in Miami on Friday.
We were both nervous about sea-sickness, but that was a complete non-issue. We splurged a little and got one of their grand suites (we wanted as much space in the room as possible and I insisted on having a balcony....which was a huge bonus in my eyes). The cains were kept incredibly clean by the staff, which must have been a helluva chore with as messy as her kids are! LOL. An impressive thing for all of us was that as soon as the first day, the housekeeping staff was calling us by name as we walked from our room to the different decks and back...they really know how to make you feel important. If traveling with kids, I would HIGHLY recommend a suite like this, as the size is most definitely a positive. The seas were so calm on the entire cruise, we slept each night with our balcony deck open to hear the ocean waves. It was incredible.
With all the things to do on the ship, we didn't hit half the stuff we wanted to. The kids were a handful, and refused to give any of the kid-specific options a try, as well as hunting us down no matter where we went so we didn't get to do a whole lot on our own and of our own complete choosing. This was a family vacation though, so that is not a horrible thing at all...just wish we could have had a little more time to catch one of the many shows, or to spend a little more time together in the casino or the serenity adult retreat. It was definitely nice having the kids along to give me an "excuse" to give the water slides a try.....what a blast those were! I don't know if the 11 year old had anything other than iced cream the entire trip! LOL.
We dined in teh Spirit Main Dining Room both of the first two nights and even got both of the kids to try escargot off the "didja" offering which was funny. The boy loves lobster, so on Elegant night we scarfed his down and was embarrassed to ask for more. I asked for him and they brought out another tail in no time flat and seemed more than happy to do so. The girl was up in the air between two deserts, so I told her to order both. Again, without a hitch, they brought both right out for her. While it took a while of waiting between servings, these were good dining experiences that we would have taken advantage of more if it were just adults, but kids were wanting to spend more time in the pool so we ate in the Horizon buffet the last two nights (which has plenty of good options as well). In the end, if you can't find anything you like to eat....you aren't looking!
In Cozumel we booked a shore excursion through Carnival to swim with the dolphins. There were a few options, I think it was only about $30 more per person to actually get to swim and fully interact with the dolphins. THIS WAS WELL WORTH IT!! You are in the same area as those who chose to only get some of the interaction, and they don't get to swim out into the deeper part of the holding ponds and ride the dolphins, etc. Trust me folks, spend the extra money and do the actual swimming with dolphins part. We then hit the shops and I got to teach the girl how to haggle over price....hope that sticks with her! It was a wonderful day.
The next day was Key West. I'm guessing it would have been much funner without children along. We had booked an excursion here to go on a catamaran and snorkeling tour, but the catamaran had issues that day and it was cancelled, so we were kind of left to our own devices. There are plenty of other options available, but nothing the kids could agree on, so we just kinda wandered around town all day. I think we were all still kind of worn out from the day before as well. Unless you are prepared to pay a ton for transportation, this can catch you off guard, be prpared to do a LOT of walking. We ended up going back to the ship fairly early and spent the later part of the afternoon and early evening swimming in the lido deck pool and munching away. It was still a good day, but with the cancellation of the excursion and no real backup plan, might have been better to just stay on the ship all day...but that is just a personal preference.
All in all, it was an incredible experience. If you are taking kids on their first cruise, I'd say it is worth the time to really spend a lot of time talking with them about spending time in the kids-specific Camp Carnival and Circle C as well as the O2 places specifically, there were so many kids that looked to be having a blast. We just didn't spend enough time ahead of the cruise trying to get them willing to shed their shyness.