Sailed out of Galveston--I never knew such great cruise ships were just a 4-hour drive from our home. My wife and I had been on a short NCL cruise (before kids) but on a MUCH smaller ship. It was back in the early 90's. We scheduled this family cruise with our 2 kids (11-year-old twins) after spring break to avoid the crowds. I'm sure we succeeded at some ports, but this ship was full nevertheless.
I want to stress that overall our cruise was terrific! The service and food was absolutely the best. Any negative observations should be viewed in that context, and also in the light that we are novices at cruising.
I learned that getting on and off the ship can affect your mood, so do some research and get good parking/shuttle service if you have more than a bag or two per person. Lighthouse Cruise parking was recommended to us by some savvy neighbors, but unfortunately Lighthouse was full the day before we set sail. We bought covered parking from VOI valet parking online, and it advertised its proximity as walking distance to the docks. Well, it was a long walk fully loaded. More importantly, unlike other parking services, it does not pick you up upon return. Be smart--go with Lighthouse--just book online early.
Fantastic!!! Wow! It's HUGE! Took us several days to remember which end of the ships had which rooms, restaurants, etc... We chose this ship for the kids' features and it did not disappoint. Full basketball court (also doubled as volleyball and soccer and dodgeball arenas), huge rock-climbing wall, inline skating track, miniature golf, and an ICE SKATING RINK!!! I knew it had one based on the research, but until you see it in person,it's hard to believe! The overall design of the ship is gorgeous. The gym was terrific--I biked almost every morning. Main Stage Theater was amazing. I enjoyed finding tons of nooks and crannies on the ship. No access to bridge or engine room--security issues. My wife didn't understand how I could be sad about that!
We are not "main room" dining folks, but we did eat there for 2 meals--captains and lobster dinners. Getting kids dressed for a dinner isn't our idea of vacation. Very nice service and food, however. Out waitress offered everyone seconds on the lobster, because frankly, they were on the small size.
Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Jamaica. First two--GREAT! I had been to both before, but wife and kids had not. They loved them both--wonderful water sports available. I Scuba, but we all just did lots of snorkeling and loved it. We didn't book excursions though the ship. Taxi'd to Chankanaab and hopped on a great 2-hour tour in Georgetown at the port. I must say that GC has fantastic government tour workers at the port. They steered us clear of the riff-raff and steered us to the tour bargains. Also gave lots of tips and where NOT to waste your money, etc... Jamaica was a waste of time. Port was Falmouth, and much has been written about it here already. Although many of the vendors are sweet and kind, the setting is just silly. Looks like a county fair not yet open with lots of half-built barns and pens. We had read (here on CC) that the smart move was to take the ship's free buses to Rose (Mount) Hall, and taxi it from there to Mo Bay. Once on the bus, we were told there WERE NO taxis allowed at Rose Hall, and that it would just be a there and back trip. Oh well, live and learn.
As a novice, I was disappointed in the embarkation process. I thought RC's "online check-in" and an early arrival time meant no waiting to get on board. Ironically, almost everyone does the online check-in (ostensibly to save time), so the line for those that didn't was much shorter than ours was. C'est le vie!
Once on board, however, service on this cruise was outstanding. Tipped our cabin steward above and beyond bc he was so great. VOTS is a great value, but will be gone soon to Europe. RC is sending Navigator, I believe to replace it. Hope it is as good!