For some background and perspective we are family of 4, DW myself and 2 young boys (3 and 5 years old). We are from Toronto, Canada and this was our first experience with a cruise. We are big fans of Florida and of Disney - in fact I am embarrassed to say we have been five times as a family in the past three years (anecdotally i remember begging my folks for a trip to Florida for years until they finally relented and loaded up my sister and i into the Buick and made the trek from Toronto to Orlando for 3 days in the parks....how times have changed). Naturally I started my investigation with DCL (Fantasy and Dream), and while they looked impressive it was $7k+ for a balcony room for a week! I concluded that 'The Mouse' had enough of my hard earned $$$ already so I looked for an alternative. My primary source of information was this comprehensive site (impressive) and the other cruise lines web sites. We landed on the FOS based on the itenary and ship amenities. I booked directly with an RCL agent via telephone.
I will try and break this review into logical categories:
Arrival / embarkation:
-we gambled and flew in to Orlando early on sailing day and arrived into MCO at approximately 9am. We decided to rent a car for the trip to Port Canaveral as it was the most economic option. I travel frequently for work and with a great corporate rate and Gold service from Hertz we were on the road quickly. I'm not sure what the rack rates are but I paid $37 all in for a full size (plus $10 in gas). The trip to the port took about 45 minutes. After a quick stop at Public for a couple of bottles of wine for the cabin and a bite to eat for the boys we dropped the car at the Hertz. We missed the first shuttle so we waited about ten minutes for another to arrive. Upon arrival at the port we faced a long sweaty line for embarkation. Noon is apparently prime boarding time, and dragging two cranky kids, a stroller and a bunch of carry on luggage in the heat was not fun. Definitely encouraged me to sign up for C&A when we got home as I saw all the return cruisers zip past the lines.
When we finally boarded the FOS we were immediately impressed with her size and public spaces. We decided to go straight to our cabins before heading over for a bite to eat.
We had two adjoining balcony staterooms on Deck 6 port side (6604, 6606). A comment on cost vs DCL, I paid $4500 for 2 rooms vs $7k plus for 1 room on Fantasy . The rooms were spotless and after a quick message to the Steward the adjoining door and balcony partition were opened. Those parents concerned about young kids sneaking on to the balcony need not be concerned as the effort to unlock and slide open the balcony door requires strength beyond that of most 5 year olds. Plus it generates enough noise that you would need to be incapacitated not to hear the door opening. If you are really worried you can purchase a contact point alarm (a previous guest left one on the balcony door of one of our staterooms and when activated was very loud).
Beds: best sleep I have had since before the kids were born. I' m not sure if it was the beds alone, or the gentle sway of the ocean and the lack of stress but I slept like a baby and awoke feeling refreshed.
Storage: I think having 2 rooms for the 4 of us made a huge difference. We put the stroller and large bags under the beds which allowed for a reasonable amount of space to move around.
Steward: very polite and service oriented. Ruby kept the rooms spotless and was friendly with the boys and quickly responded to any requests.
Balcony: for us it was definitely a necessity as the boys were tucked in bed by 9:30pm at the latest. It was nice to sit out for a drink before bed, as well as wake up and step out on the balcony to enjoy the fresh air and view.
Public areas: we spent a lot of time on the promenade on deck 5. Loved the pub, cafe, Sorrento's (pizza average at best) and shops. It never felt crowded outside the sales / parade time.
We saw how to train your dragon 2 three times at the theater. The boys are dragon crazy.
Splash zone was great for the kids albeit seating is tough on sea days.
We also did skating (no need to do it again as the ice surface is small and the loaner skates are dull and uncomfortable). Being Canadian ice skating is a way of life and readily available everywhere.
Kids activities: our kids are in day care / camp all summer so we did not put them in the Ocean Club as the point of getting away as a family for us was to spend time with the kids.
We did two character breakfasts which were great. If you have done the Disney World character dining it is pretty much the same but with DreamWorks characters. Our boys loved it. We also did the sail away party as well as the parade with the DreamWorks gang. Each were well done and the mids enjoyed.
We also went to the black light puppet show and some of the dancing activities with kids.
Shows: we managed to see the ice show which was spectacular. Also caught the fairy tale themed show and the final night acts (comedian and acrobats) - full marks for both. I was kind of expecting cheesy acts like you get at some all inclusive resorts, but I was pleasantly surprised. Don't expect Vegas quality shows, but you will be entertained.
Dining: this seems to be a popularly debated subject on CC. I eat out a ton using an expense account and have eaten at many four star and Michelin rated establishments to give perspective. If you are expecting that experience you need to give your a head a shake . I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the service, ambiance and food quality at both the MDR and the Windjammer. They had a good variety of food in the MDR nightly (lobster night, lamb, beef, pork, seafood), and all reasonably well prepared. I would compare it to eating at a nicer chain restaurant vs Applebee's or Kelsey's. The wait staff are better than servers you get in the majority of restaurants and they do a good job of catering to sometimes picky children.
We also decided to try Portofino one night. While I have no complaints I also did not see the value in paying the incremental fee to eat there vs the MDR.
We found the Windjammer was a nice casual option for breakfast and lunch. Plenty of selection and reasonably well prepared food. While it was busy at times it never took us more than 5 minutes to find a table.
Ports of call: we decided to be beach bums as it is the easy option with a 3 and 5 year old. The beaches at Coco Day and St. martin are lovely, but the beach at St.John's in St. Thomas is breath taking.
Disembarkation: we were one of the later groups to be called and again I found the lines for customs inordinately long.
All in all one of our best vacations ever. I had stocked sea sickness medication, but we did not need it as the FOS was pretty stable. I also assume that a mid ship mid deck cabin also helped. The crowds were manageable and you never felt overwhelmed or crowded.
Definitely not our last cruise with RCL.