We just returned from our first cruise. We left from Long Beach, CA on a 7-night Mexican Riviera cruise (Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas) 8/24/08 - 8/31/08.
We were SO excited about this first cruise experience, and had selected this particular cruise specifically for what we had learned about the Kids' Club. We had heard that kids had such a TERRIFIC time, that they never wanted to LEAVE! We wanted to limit costs on the trip and avoid paying airfare, so the Mexican Riviera worked for us - we wanted to RELAX, share some fun with the family, and do some fun shore activities. What made our trip even more exciting was that our friend and her children were joining us. Here are the details:
Husband (38) Wife (36) and 2 sons (just-turned 4 and about-to-turn 7). Our friend left hubby home to work, and shared her own cabin with her 2 children (son aged 3 and daughter aged 6). We all decided that, due to our ACTIVE kids, we would NOT get balcony rooms. I was very tempted, but hubby won out - thank GOODNESS!!
Starting at the beginning - Embarkation was a source of major anxiety for us. We had researched and really debated trying the early-check-in at the Queen Mary, but decided not to risk it. We arrived at the port at 1:15pm and were on-board by 2pm. There was a lot of waiting in line, but the lines moved, were well-organized and (since we jumped passed all of the photo opportunities), we were on board in pretty good time! We had read suggestions to bring a case of bottled water for each room, which sounded prudent. We wish, however, that we had been told that you can NOT CHECK the water - you have to carry it thru as a carry-on! Some experienced cruisers we saw had obviously done this before, and had their water cases on a little luggage carrier. Next time... ;-)
We got onboard, found our rooms (level 1, room 1141 and 1115), then wandered the ship for a while. By the time we stopped to eat something (at the mermaid grill), we were hungry! The pizza line was VERY long and slow - only one person manning the station! At times, another cook was in back, but this line was always VERY long and slow during the entire cruise. Since we ate so late, we skipped dinner in the main dining room that first night.
Although the room was small, as expected, I was pleasantly surprised at the ammt of STORAGE in the room! 2 LARGE drawers beneath the sofa, a closet of shelves and 2 closets for hanging, in addition to several other drawers and shelves. Storage was NOT a problem! I had brought line and clothespins (as suggested by a few readers), but didn't need them. There is the standard pull-clothesline in the shower. It's small (about 28 inches long), but works. The clothespins DID come in handy, but just a few. I had brought the over-the-door shoe rack (as suggested by others) for organizing the shower / bath area. We used it, but it was not necessary, as there was plenty of space elsewhere. Unfortunately, we did bring a PLUG-IN alarm clock and an extension cord. The extension cord didn't WORK! The room attendant (Sanan) said that he would get me one from the ship (free of charge) which he did immediately. He said that the home-use extension cords don't work on the ship...? Ours sure didn't, but it worked out with the one we borrowed from the ship. My husband has one of those breathing machines for sleep apnea, so we needed to have a plug reach across the room. I DEFINITELY suggest a battery-operated alarm clock, though, as you can't tell what time it is in the room unless you turn the TV to a certain channel.
As for the kids....
We specifically chose THIS cruise line (Carnival) over others, as their kids'club had great reviews, they have a water slide, and it seemed great. The kids' club is run, primarily, by a staff of women who (for the most part) don't seem too interested in kids. There were two (Olga and another WONDERFUL woman whose name escapes me now) who were very friendly, affectionate and the kids immediately were drawn to. The others, however, didn't seem all that into kids, if you know what I mean. The program is VERY regimented - games are only allowed during scheduled times and activities are many, though fairly boring. This experience was not unique to us - my friend and I encountered several other families whose children ALSO refused to go to Kids' Club. We think it had to do with how strict the activity choices for the kids were, the lack of sincere enthusiasm and "kid spirit" in the staff, and the fact that they never had a Meet and Greet with the other cruisers. Although our kids went WITH friends, it would have been better for EVERYONE if they had an initial "get to know your fellow campers" activity early that first day. The kids would have known someone else they could play with and go to at camp. The Kids' Club was fairly small, at the front of the ship, and the kids' pool was really just a small wading pool (no kids older than 2 would want to be in it). The water slide was fine, but it got pretty cold / windy up there so it was an activity for 20 - 30 minutes, max.
It seemed that the kids all congregated at the 2 center pools and jacuzzi's (I have NEVER seen 25 - 30 people crammed into ONE jacuzzi!!). The kids loved it, though, and that is what mattered. Didn't really see any adults (without a kid attached) in those pools. The kids LOVED the 24/7 ice cream!! Must have had at least 15/day!
We had a room that slept 4 - 2 twin beds pushed together for a queen, the sofa converted to a twin, and a pull-down "bunk Bed" over the sofa. Worked out GREAT! We had room service every morning (so I could grab a quick coffee and the kids had a quick snack before I raced the little guy out the door so Dad and older brother could sleep in).
The gym was fairly small and packed most of the time. Unfortunately, we didn't make as much use of it as we had planned, since the kids literally CRIED TEARS whenever we suggested they go to kids' club. Ultimately, out of desperation, we started bribing them with candy and toys to go to kids' club so that we could have a nice dinner or relax a little.
We took the kids on a self-booked Dolphin Encounter at the Sea Life Park in Puerto Vallarta. FANTASTIC!! Thru the ship, it cost way more. Thru a travel agent it cost way more. Direct on the site, kids 5 and under were FREE, other prices were $10 cheaper AND we got free transportation BACK to the cruise ship. Because signs were EVERYWHERE that personal cameras were NOT allowed, we left ours out and relied on the photos the staff took of the Dolphin Encounter. I was very disappointed to see others who disregarded the signs and WERE allowed to take their own pictures! We only got one picture of each boy hugging the dolphin, and the photo is really washed out. Bummer. BUT - aside from the infestation of BEES whenever you have a drink or food - it was a terrific day! The water slides were GREAT (we got free use of the innertubes with OUR admission, although others had to pay $3 each). It was a GREAT time!
We stayed on the ship in Mazatlan, just to relax. When we arrived in Cabo, we wanted to get off and do some shopping / go to the beach. Unfortunately, it was far too hot and humid for the kids, who quickly got cranky and wanted to get back on the boat. We were fine with that, as the A/C was GREAT!
Another kid-related issue - the "kid" channel on the TV was Cartoon Network. Neither my friend nor I ever let our kids watch this garbage at home, but it was all that was on TV for the kids. TRASH! Japanese Anime, Violence, Bad language - UGH! Couldn't they have PBS or run family movies on one channel each day? Puh-LEEZ!
Overall, we came back relaxed and had a nice time. Would I do this again? No. The older kids (12 and up) seemed to LOVE the experience, but kids 2-8 weren't wowed (as far as we could tell). The next time we do a cruise, we will plan to spend 3x's as much and do the Disney Caribbean cruise, where they are GUARANTEED a great time.
The food on the cruise was nice, the service was terrific (with exception of the apathy shown by most staff in the kids' club) and the route was nice. But, when travelling with small kids, we don't have fun unless THEY do. The mini golf was "boring", according to my 6-yr-old, and even the kids got tired of hanging out in the pool every day - pretty small. We are happy to be back where they can RUN and play and have fun with their friends.
The ship seemed in good repair, beds were good (except for the attack of BUGS at night! Both my friend's room and ours seemed to have I'm-afraid-to-know-what-kind-of-bugs eating us alive at night! ICK!!! And the sinks didn't drain, unless you remove the stopper....