We arrived 3 days before the cruise so we could take our 3 year old to Disney and Sea World. We also took in the Midway. Three jam packed days but all worth it. Stayed at the Omni downtown and it was great for the $105 per night deal we got through expedia. If we had paid the #300+ original price, I would have been upset. Embarkation: Decided to wait until the rush was over on embarkation day, so we visited the Midway Museum until 2 pm then headed to the ship. Embarkation at that time was simply walk right up to an officer who checked you through and you went right to the ship. There was no one around, no congestion etc, so we didn't have to wait in line with our 3 year old. It was perfect. The workers were super nice and very welcoming. As soon as we walked on board, we were greeted by two employees from the Kids Club (Ocean Adventures). They were so happy to see our son, Luke, as they said there was only a total of 14 kids on the ship. That was disappointing to hear. The year before we had cruised with Norwegian and Luke LOVED the kids, the more the merrier, so we were worried he wouldn't be as happy with the club. That proved to be the case some days, but I'll talk about that in a second. We were able to go right to our room which was great. This was our 4th cruise and we have always rushed to get on the ship, waited in 3 or 4 lines for 1-2 hours, then waited on the ship for the room to be ready. But not today...just walked right on, then right to our room. It was MUCH more relaxing this way. I would recommend anyone with young kids do it this way.
Room: Our room was a balcony with the pull-man bed overhead of our bed.. It was a great set up. We had never had a balcony before. It was really nice. We did splurge this time to have the balcony and it was well worth it. Just being able to wake up in the morning and look out at the ocean, see what the weather was like...I loved it. We were port side and so on the way back, heading north, we got afternoon sun. The last 2 days were chilly, but the balcony shaded any wind, so I stayed on the balcony and tanned. It was awesome. The bathroom was tiny, which I remembered from cruising with RCI in the past. The shower curtain really does stick to you, no matter what. But I did remember someone telling me before to bring one of those heavy black paper clips and put it on the bottom of the curtain, so that helps. Again, the Norwegian ships have large bathrooms with shower doors, so it was quite a difference. We had heard a lot about plumbing problems from reviews we read before we left, but the most problem we had was the toilet wouldn't flush one time. It fixed itself and that was the end of our troubles. Unfortunately we heard MANY people who didn't only have problems, but actually had to go up two decks to use the bathroom for 3 days straight!! And that was more than one couple. It sounded horrendous, but it seemed to be rooms on the 9th deck that were mainly affected.
Cabin crawl with cruise critic - We signed up for the meet and mingle with cruise critic but wasn't sure if we would go. We hadn't done anything like this before and didn't know how well Luke would do. In the end, it was great. One of the members on cruise critic had organized a cabin crawl. For those unfamiliar with this, it's like a pub crawl, but you go around looking at the different categories of cabins. It was FANTASTIC!!! We got to see inside cabins right up to the owners suite, which is just a tad bit swanky. Holy! It was nice. Great job Kevin!
Dining was fantastic! My Family Time Dining is definitely the way to go with kids. This was the first time we attempted to eat at a formal dining area with our child, as he is a typical 3 year old in that he is not going to sit for 2 hours while we ate a 4 course meal. But we thought we would try it. Everyday, except for two, we ate supper at the main dining room. We would book our time the day before for always 6 or 6:15. We always say with different people and usually had different waiters. After day two, one or two specific waiters would come to Luke to say hi and would order his PBJ sandwich with grapes immediately. He wanted the same thing every night, so it was easy. His meal would come just while we finished our appetizers and 10 minutes later (6:45) every evening, the kids club would meet us outside the dining room and take him for the rest of the evening. He loved it, we then got to enjoy our meal. It was a win win situation. That worked well for us. The mornings and lunch times, we ate at the windjammer and that was great too, I thought. I heard some people complaining that breakfast was the same thing every day, and it was. But it was the same 25 things everyday. Let's face it, if you were at home, you wouldn't have boiled eggs and waffles and country biscuit and cereal and an omelet and hash browns and....everyday. So if you only picked 2 things today, then two different tomorrow, etc, you wouldn't have the 'same thing everyday'. I'm not a picky eater, so I thought the food was great. Lunches were always different, though always had your staples of pizza, burgers and hot dogs. We did try the main dining room for breakfast one day, but it didn't work well. It was slow, the orders were wrong and the food wasn't very good, so we didn't go back. One other little thing - the photographers were always there taking pictures which I didn't mind, but they ALWAYS interrupted your meal. Not only did they interrupt your meal, but they had you sometimes stand-up and move around while you are right in the middle of your soup. I thought it as very ignorant, and it happened every night! Didn't like that at all.
The kids club (Ocean Adventures). Last year we struggled with guilt in putting Luke in the kids club. But we tried it once and he would BEG and cry to go. So this year we thought it would be the same. As I mentioned, there were only 14 kids on the ship and I think, in total, only 7 or 8 were registered to the kids program. Because of this, instead of separating the kids in the different rooms, they let them all mix. That was great for us, and everyone I think. Luke was 3 1/2 in January, and the room that was allotted for the 2-5 year range was small. If I had to guess, ~30x15 feet(?). They had a net they would put across to divide the room. Had they had to do that, I can tell you Luke would not have wanted to go there. The facilities were not great. I guess, again, I am comparing to Norwegian, specifically the Spirit. The kids room was HUGE with a massive jungle gym. This kids area didn't have any of that. Lots of arts and crafts and face painting etc. They had a little dance floor, music, wii games. It was ok, but not great. They also have a set up there like "build a bear" which would be cool for some kids, but my Luke is 110% boy and just wanted to go go go, so he wasn't going to build a bear! The workers there all have some post-secondary education. Some of the them were better than others, but isn't it like that everywhere? One girl in particular we didn't care for, and Luke sometimes would not go if she was there. But one guy they called "Grandpa", if he was there and even no other kids, he wouldn't even say goodbye, he was just gone. Sometimes we brought Luke up and he would always ask, "Mommy is there going to be lots of kids there today?", and there would be no one else there. That was disappointing, but it didn't happen very often. I guess the rule we learned was that there are usually a lot of kids when the cruise dates incorporate an American holiday. So, the cruise that left the day we got back in San Diego ahd 270 kids because President's Day was in there. Good to know for next time.
The pools/hot tubs. We loved the hot tubs and would take advantage of them whenever we got a chance. Our best time for hot tubbing was always after supper when Luke was at the kids club. Unfortunately, this is when the ship cleans both their outdoor hot tubs (and pool), closed between 8-12pm EVERY night. We asked about this at the info desk, but were told the tubs are not used very often at that time and it takes four hours to clean the tubs and pool EVERYNIGHT, so we were left to use the indoor hot tub. So we tried that a couple of times, but I certainly wouldn't classify any of them as hot tubs. The average temperature was certainly no more than 85 degrees. One night in particular, we had goosebumps in the hot tub! I had to get out and go to my room for a hot shower to get warm. The whole hot tub experience was disappointing.
Entertainment: We only went to one show, not for any reason except that the timing wasn't great for us. I heard most of the shows were ok, with the Tango show being absolutely spectacular. We did listen to the classical guitarist and pianist on several occasions. They were very relaxing. Otherwise, we picked Luke up at 10:00 every night and the dance entertainment was usually after this when he wasn't allowed in, so we didn't do much of this. Never mind the fact that the average age of passengers on the ship was ~65 (no kidding), so we're not even sure how much entertaining went on anyway!
Money: We had brought pesos with us because we had heard it would be useful. IT was more of a pain in the but. EVERYONE accepted US dollar, and some places actually had to give us US money in return change from our pesos (calculate that now to see if you got a good deal). It was very confusing and not worth the trouble. We did not get better deals because we had pesos as most places had the prices written on the signs in both US and peso amounts.
All in all, it was a good cruise. Not great. Let's face it. Anyone with kids, you'll know if your child has fun, that is almost all that matters. For us, Luke had fun most of the time and that is how we feel about our trip...it was ok, most of the time.