I have traveled Princess prior to it's sale, Celebrity, RC, and unfortunately my first cruise many years ago was on Carnival. This would have to be my overall best cruise experience for the above three categories of import.
Just some notes I thought some may find helpful. If you drive to the port, don't drop your luggage outside the gates. Drive through as if you are parking, unload your car after passing the gates and then park leaving your family with the bags. I dropped off the family outside the gates at the drop off and this created a bit of inconvenience. You will have to pay $105 cash or MasterCard/visa (not amex) before you park. There is an upcharge of about $60 for over sized vehicles. There are signs that say not to leave food in cars because of possible ant infestations.
We brought a Bugaboo stroller with us. We did not use their strollers. I found having our own stroller to be helpful.
All I could get was an ocean view in the front of the ship on deck two. The room was large by other ships standards and very comfortable. I felt like I was in a suite. The bed was probably the most comfortable ship be we have had. They made up the couch as a bed, but the child wanted the upper bed pulled down. Both appeared comfortable. The split bathroom with tub/shower was great for the baby (other ships only had the shower). There was more room and more storage than the other ships. The soaps and shampoos were also very nice, atypical from our experience; upscale. The flat screen and fridge were also excellent. Plenty of movies and channels. The room was quiet and comfortable. Service was standard.
Eggs Benedict is only served in Lumiere's restaurant, and they came out perfect. Plan accordingly. There was always an excellent meal at each sitting, sometimes two or three. Usually one mediocre or not so good choice on the menu. We spent one night in Palos, and that was enough. We enjoyed the dining rooms much better.
Palos was OK, but I expected much more. There was no problem getting a reservation to leave the child in the nursery. In fact they did a wonderful job with the children. Had the child been trained, there was plenty of structured events to leave him. First, the wine list was outrageously expensive and did not include the relatively inexpensive wines found at the other dining restaurants. They do use wine appropriate glasses here, but unless you spend over $60 in the other restaurants on a bottle, there is an upcharge for a red wine glass. Service for us was not up to par and the food was uninspired and sometimes not cooked properly (undercooked pasta for one). Our dinner was unnecessarily rushed and we were forced to time our own orders (recommended). One thing I will say is that, other than the attempt at a rush, it was more relaxing and much more quiet than the other restaurants. I enjoyed the specialty restaurants on the RC boat much better. I canceled my second reservation here.
Seating at the other restaurants is more private than the typical cruise dining and we had our own table. You stay with the same folks that share your wait staff, but they are at adjacent tables, not several couples at one table. It may be nice for you if the table next to you is friendly and you can talk between tables. I felt the experience a bit too rushed for "dining" and enjoying a bottle of wine. Surprisingly, we did not notice the hundreds of children everywhere. Again, some of the dishes were on par with some of the best meals we have had in fine dining restaurants. The pasta dishes were absolutely wonderful. The rack of lamb was amazing. The escargot was heavenly. The child loved the chocolate milk and in fact ate more than we have ever seen him eat in his life during this cruise. They know how to take care of children, and children at heart. One last thing, the $18 corking fee may be worth it if you are bringing some good wine as most of their wine is basic table wine for $40 and up.
Meals on deck were pretty good quality and always present. No cones for the free soft serve ice cream. Plenty of free soda and iced tea. No problems getting juice for the baby. Breakfast at the buffet was basic and nothing special. I like the free flow of nova salmon on board. One day they had sushi at lunch at the buffet and it was OK. One thing I noticed was that they used quality ingredients in all of the food, at least that is how it seemed. The RC cruise food appeared to use alot of cheap ingredients. I guess you have to judge this for yourself.
We couldn't figure out how to plan to see the shows. You had to go to the early show if you had late seating. I was expecting to see the show "after" my meal. We were always on deck or working out or something in the late afternoon and never saw the early show. I hear they were great. We did see a 3D movie and that was very enjoyable, even for our 2 year old who managed to announce out loud "DOGGY" every time he saw one. Thank god it was a Disney cruise. It was a great safe way to work on some etiquette with him.
They don't allow untrained kids in the regular pools. He was banished to the splash pool. This was the same policy as on RC. However, he enjoyed this pool much more. Also, they did not shut down the pool once for a poop accident, and on RC they were shutting down the pools every day. I asked and they said on the last cruise they had to shut down a pool twice in one day. I guess it depends on the group of parents you are cruising with. We got him in the adult pools after he had a BM and we knew he was safe. The pools while not as extravagant as those on RC (this is a much smaller ship) were really nice with a large slide for the children and two hot tubs as Mickey's ears. For our child he was very happy with the splash pool, but really loved the other pool when we could get him in. Like most children, he played to exhaustion. They also allow the children at his stage into the 3yr old and up areas as long as you accompany them. There is plenty for the toddler in the play room to stretch their imagination and keep them happy. The children all seemed happy, entertained and appropriately exhausted. What a great bunch of children this cruise attracts.
The one thing that was really apparent to me is that I only made one trip to the pursers desk. That trip was to get a tipping form. It seemed small, and lonely there. On RC and most other ships this area was large, busy, and with a line of either irate or screaming people. Not on this ship. I wondered why this area was so small. Probably because one was complaining. Shocking if you have never been on a Disney cruise. Really, I was prepared for my usual rants and raves and things that upset me, but as much as I felt I needed to complain on a cruise (from past experience) I just could not find anything worth getting upset about.
The work out area and spa was really well done. They had so many treadmills, elliptical trainers, and bikes that I never saw the place even 1/4 full. Then again, I was not there in the morning. Classes are free, unlike the other boats we went on. Bring your own ear plugs for the TV's though. As all the crew is, the folks there were real friendly and willing to help (and sell you something too).
The one negative that I really was shocked about was the fantasy explanations of the spa products concerning "toxins". I know this is Disney, but for god sakes, what they were saying was beyond fantasy. Just beware, just about everything they tell you concerning cleansing of toxins is not based on science or reality. I felt badly for those plopping down thousands on products designed to rid your body of "toxins". I listened to a lecture on losing weight by eating more which deteriorated into a sell for the cleanings. I have an MS in physiology and an MD, so I really understood that what they were saying was wrong. Unfortunately many did not. I'm not sure what they are selling will hurt anyone, other than their pocketbooks. However, Disney really should step up and crack down on this. Selling massages and facials is one thing, but selling expensive fantasy with disinformation may be dangerous. Before falling for this, ask them to show you the peer reviewed literature on the products and either review it yourself or discuss it with your doctor first.
Getting on and off the boats at ports and before and after your cruise was the easiest I have ever experienced.
Their private Island was exceptional. I would love a cruise that docked at their private Island for the week. It was that nice. All we did was hang out at the beach and there were plenty of chairs and umbrellas. There was no need for cash at all here (on RC's island you should bring cash to tip the poor Haitians). I heard there was great snorkeling and so many other things to do that we did not experience. The 2 year old loved the choo choo train that brings you from the dock to the beach. Also the food they provided was exceptional for what it was. BBQ, burgers, and dolphin fish burgers. Perfect for the day. Don't be upset that there is no pool. This ship is close by and there are a few on board.
The bottom line is that Disney exceeded my expectations where it counts. They provide a great cruise for your child who is not potty trained. They provide a great cruise for the inquisitive mild mannered and well behaved child of all ages. They seem to cover all the bases. I believe it will take a few cruises with them to learn how to make the most of their vacations, but for a first timer, I was just right and just enough.
I think this review is about at that point too. However I do want to make my obligatory comment about smoking as I do in all of my reviews. This boat has come as close to a "nonsmoking" experience as I have ever had on any boat or vacation. If you stay away from the starboard decks, you would never know there was smoking on board. I don't know how it is if you have a balcony though. They don't allow smoking in the rooms either. With the sensitive smoke detection on board, I'm not sure too many people attempt to break this rule. Also, there is no smoking around the kids pools. People seemed to be polite and follow the rules about smoking on the ship and it was a pleasure and a comfort, especially with a child.