We sailed August 25th for three nights and it happened to be right during Hurricane Irene. This was our first cruise ever and first time in Florida. Despite the weather and the cancellation to Castaway Cay, as first-timers, this was definately a DREAM vacation! We sailed with our 20 month old and she loved it!
We highly suggest arriving one night before the cruise and even staying one night after the cruise. We stayed in Florida close the airport and rented a car to drive to Port Canaveral. It worked out VERY well and we loved the convenience of doing things at our pace and time (especially with a toddler!).
EMBARKATION: Our embarkation time was 2:30. We arrived about an hour before and there was a short line up. Lots of helpful staff around and they direct you to where you need to go.
As soon as you start walking into the ship, they stop you to take a family picture (which they print later and you can purchase). We loved the way they welcomed us in the ship by announcing our family name by speaker. They directed us to our stateroom and our bags were delivered to our rooms couple of hours later (make sure to pack a day bag).
FOOD: Too much of it!! There was never a time where you went hungry. From buffet breakfast, buffet lunch and dinner in three different restaurants...you always had food available! Royal Palace was my least favorite...the place looks awesome but im not a fan of french cuisine. Animators Palate was really fun and entertaining and food was good. Enchanted garden was really nice too though we got a crappy table (in a random corner). Food was AMAZING though at the enchanted garden (had the scallop dish).
Late night snacks (pizza, fries, etc) and 24/7 fountain drinks, coffee, tea and unlimited soft ice cream were really nice touches and are to blame for all the extra weight gain!!! :)
ROOM: It's a stateroom...don't expect it to be too spacious. The space however was very well used....you can store things under the table....lots of closet space, the split bathroom was a plus (especially with a kid), the bed was SO comfy, and they brought us a pack'n'play for our toddler. We had a verandah and that was the best thing! Totally worth it! Rooms were exceptionally clean and we always came back to a funny towel creature design on our bed by our room host. We appreciated having a tub and a removable shower head as that made bathing our toddler much easier. One complaint was that we found an old prescription pill on the floor in the room that was left behind and not picked up. That irritated me and concerned me as our child could have easily found it and could have put in her mouth.
ENTERTAINMENT: We only saw one show "believe" and it was amazing! The deck parties were fun too though you could only really see the characters projected on the big screen since it was way too crowded to get a front seat...The pirate show and the fireworks were highlights! They ran pretty late so for young kids it wouldn't be ideal if it conflicts with bedtime. We used the nursery.
NURSERY: Best thing ever! We took advantage of this service for a few hours during our trip. Mostly at night around our toddler's bedtime so we could enjoy the night and she can rest and sleep (everyone is happy!). We also used it during dinner time but only for one hour so we can settle and order and enjoy our appetitzer and then we would get her to join us for the rest of dinner. It worked out very well! (She was less frustrated too since she didnt have to be patient and wait for the food). The staff there are super nice and seemed to be well trained. They put her to sleep, changed her diaper and fed her snacks (provided by us). They reach you on your wave phone incase you need to come pick up your child if he/she is crying. I called a couple of times to check up and they were really nice in providing updates.
Oceaner's Club: That was really fun and entertaining for our child. Though we had to stay with her the whole time as she was under the allowed age limit...it was nice exploring that part of the ship. The themes rooms were really well done!
We didnt get to try the spa, remi or Palo...and frankly we couldnt find the time to....there was so much going on at once!
AQUADUCK: a must!!! the slide is not the thrill...it's the fact that you're in the middle of the ocean, riding a water slide! We did it at night and the line up was less than 15 mins! Totally worth it!
POOLS/Nemo's Reef: We didnt use any of the pools since our daughter is not potty trained yet but she LOVED nemo's reef (and so did we!) It was refreshing and fun. It does get crowded at times and some of the "older" kids aren't as careful, so parents tend to be around (making it even more crowded) to watch over their little ones.
PORT: We only got to go to Nassau and we were pretty dissapointed considering Nassau is so not worth the stop. The locals are indeed creepy and almost harass you to buy things. It smelled and was soo dirty. We walked to the closest beach and it was the most terrifying walk of my life. When we got there it was practically empty and while we still tried to enjoy a dip in the water....it was cut short when we noticed broken beer glass by the sand and water...so unsafe! So we decided to leave. Things are over priced too considering their cheap quality! Everything was fake!
CafeCove: We went over for a speciality coffee and it was soooo not worth it. You can get better coffee from your home coffee machine lol...the place was nice and quiet though so it was nice to "get away" for a bit.
We were surprised at times by how quiet the ship was at night....it almost felt desserted. For a ship that big and so many people, it felt odd but it was probably because so many were sick from the rough seas. Pack some gravol and get out and party!
This was most definately a family ship...not sure why anyone without kids (young ones even) would even consider it...since 80% of the activities and themes are geared towards kids.
Tip: It's almost impossible to do every single activity on board without getting exhausted. COnsider taking quick naps or skipping some things. For us, because it was such a short trip and we were newbies, we wanted to do ALL and not miss out...but we were EXHAUSTED by the end of it that we needed another vacation...from this vacation!
All in all it was a wonderful experience....one that will stick for a really long time and it definately set expectations high for future vacations! Keep an open mind and accept the fact that things dont always go as planned....so dont over plan!