Tip - Freeze water bottles for the theme parks. This will save you tons of $$$. We took turns carrying the backpack.
Transportation to Port Canaveral We couldn't justify the shuttle costs to get from the hotel to the Port Canaveral and back so I pre-booked a car from Budget car rental. The only extra effort we put out to pick up a rental is taking the I-Ride Trolley ($1.25 each) to the Embassy Suites Hotel to pick the car up. No big deal. We drove back to Lake Eve to pick up the kids and luggage. The highway is a hop, skip, and a jump away and took us right to the Port. Super easy and saved us a couple hundred bucks. Budget at Port Canaveral offers free shuttles to and from the port. They drop you off/pick you up right in front of your ship. Simple.
Embarkation We arrived at 11:30 and were on the ship before noon. Everything was very organized. We checked out our rooms than headed to the Windjammer (Deck 11) for a bite to eat.
Tip - Sign the waivers for the Flowrider and Rock climbing (deck 13). I would strongly recommend doing this as soon as possible to avoid long line ups later and the kids were free to use the facilities at their convenience.
Rooms My husband and I booked a Deluxe Ocean View Stateroom with a balcony (7296) and the kids stayed in a Promenade Stateroom right across the hall (7297). I found the location of the rooms (middle, right hand side of the ship) perfect; we were always facing the ports of call. The kid's room was handy as we had the option of watching the festivities (parades and such) from the comfort of their couch. The stage was just to the left of their window so we had a wonderful view of the entertainers. The room layouts were very similar and there was ample space to store all clothing etc. The suitcases fit nicely under the bed(s). Our room attendant , Lee, was always right on top of everything. We loved the towel animals left around the room when we came back at night and the fact that every time we left our room, we came back to everything tidied and clean. I wish I could bring Lee home ?
Dining We booked the 6pm dining time which worked really well for our schedule. It was our preference to have dinner early then go see the late show. Our designated table happened to be window seating. What a beautiful view! The food was to die for. My husband and son loved the dining experience so much they always ordered two main courses. We ate in the dining hall every night except one (due to staying in port too long and not enough time to get ready). The formal nights were fun and we attended both. Our waiter and assistant waiter were very attentive and friendly. The kids developed a real liking to Winston. He always made sure their glasses never ran empty.
Entertainment There was never a dull moment. There are always so many things going on that it's hard to pick and choose. We went to the nightly 9pm show. They are all amazing...just like Vegas entertainment! Don't miss the Love & Marriage Show or the Ice Show. You don't need tickets to any show other than the Ice show; check the daily itinerary as the tickets are limited. All the entertainment is awesome. So much to do, so little time.
Tip - Be at the shows ½ early, especially if you have a larger group, to get good seats as the room fills up quickly.
Service 2nd to none. No complaints.
Teen Clubs The kids (teenagers) visited the Living Room briefly on the 1st night. They chose to hang out with us mostly for the duration on the cruise. It wasn't because of anything lacking in the teen program department as they had a great itinerary (delivered to their room every night), we were just having a blast together as a family. It was nice to see so much of them...it's not like that when we're at home ?
Ports of Call
Labadee, Haiti - Haitian Cultural Tour (through ship) We booked this in advance as I understand this one fills up quickly. The reason we chose this excursion is because of all the great reviews. I concur with the reviews. The whole family really enjoyed this one! We headed to a private beach, Paradise Cove, which was absolutely gorgeous! They offer you complimentary punch, with or without rum. The 45 tour was very interesting and educational. Once the tour is complete you are left to enjoy the beach and bar. Lounge chairs and floaters are provided. I could have spent the entire day, maybe even week, here. They boat you back to main beach area after where we enjoyed the buffet lunch right on the beach. I highly recommend this excursion.
Tip - Make sure you bring your water shoes to the main beach as there are many sea urchins and rough coral on the sea bottom.
Ocho Rios, Jamaica - Dunn's River Falls with Phil Lafayette (private) Phil was wonderful and informative. He made the journey to and from the port very entertaining! We originally booked the tubing as well but changed our mind after the falls. The falls were beautiful but very, very busy! There were several groups climbing the falls at one time. A local, we later found out, helped us up the falls and expected a tip at the end. I would recommend sticking with the tour guides (wearing blue shirts) assigned to you as there was a bit of a dilemma at the end of the climb as to who we should tip. We didn't realize the local wasn't supposed to be 'helping out'. Beware. There are several venders on the way out of the falls area who are very pushy and persistent. Don't take anything they offer you for free as they expect you to buy it. When you don't take it they are very insulted. We found it very stressful and uncomfortable. We asked to be taken back to the ship. I understand Jamaica is very beautiful but the locals are aggressive and we just wanted to leave. I'd try staying in a resort (and not leaving) next time. I'm thankful we experienced the falls but I would not do this tour again.
Georgetown, Grand Cayman - Stingray City with Moby Dick (private) Moby Dick Tours was excellent. After meeting at the dock, we loaded onto a bus and headed to the boat. It's about ½ hour boat ride to get to snorkel/stingray city. Complimentary water and juice is provided. First stop is the snorkelling area where you get about ½ hour to explore. They provide the snorkelling equipment. Second stop is stingray city. The stingrays are amazing creatures and the whole experience was awesome! The Moby Dick staff was superb. They get right in the water and show you how to interact/handle the rays. We really enjoyed this tour as it was very laid back, relaxing, and fun. We were lucky enough to have a dolphin swimming beside the boat on the way back. I highly recommend this tour with Moby Dick.
Cozumel, Mexico - Nachi Cocom Beach Break (private) The whole family had a blast here. It's a 15 minute & $15 cab ride (each way) to the private beach. Upon arrival, they dressed us with Mexican hats and took our picture. They later approached us on the beach to buy one, and we did. From there, they direct you to a canopy and pulled up enough chairs for the 4 of us, than took our 1st of many drink orders. The kids spent the entire day frolicking in the water. The hubby and I lounged, drank, ate, and swam. A truly relaxing day with a break from spending large on cocktail drinks. They fed us too! It was very hot so we didn't have much of an appetite but the food selection and portions were very good. Our waiter, Manuel, was excellent. The staff approached us about booking water sports but we declined...but later changed our minds. The Banana Boat was a lot of fun. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time (the drinks may have something to do this). The trick is to bounce hard and others go flying off the boat into the water! This was an amazing day overall and we would highly recommend it.
Disembarkation A breeze. We were in no hurry to leave as our flight wasn't until 4pm. No waits or line ups anywhere. The Budget shuttle was waiting so we left immediately to pick up a car to drive to the airport.
Summary I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who take the time to provide your feedback/comments/tips on this forum as it contributed largely to the success of our amazing and bonding journey!