(A more detailed version of this letter went to Royal Caribbean's President, with a template response back that said they were sorry we were "disappointed", and that our issues were now "registered in their database. Not very helpful.)
Our Mediterranean cruise on The Adventure of the Seas was miserable, absolutely and completely, and solely because of Royal Caribbean's service and facility limitations for infants and toddlers.
Taking care of any 2-year old and 6-month old is difficult and time consuming. It's even more complicated outside the home, where the children are not familiar with the environment, and where parents do not have access to the household full of helpful items accumulated over time. We knew this beforehand. Nevertheless we were unprepared for the additional, stressful challenges and complications that Royal Caribbean created.
The specific problems on the Adventure cruise included:
1. Infant food
Royal Caribbean provided no food for our 6-month old. The Adventure kitchen would not make any, and none was sold on board. All other problems might (might) have been tolerable if not for the persistent and relentless concerns we had about keeping our son nourished and healthy.
This was a complete, unexpected, and appalling surprise. The galley on our previous Royal Caribbean cruise (on The Liberty of the Seas) was willing to puree food. That was an exceptionally simple solution, and it worked exceptionally well. We knew baby food was available on the Adventure if pre-ordered through the "Babies 2 Go" program, but that had been completely unnecessary on the Liberty cruise. Only when we arrived did we discover the new and unannounced policy explicitly forbidding the galley from using blenders for infants. Several crew confirmed this was a recent change. One of them said a previous infant passenger had an allergic reaction to food from a blender that had not been cleaned of the nuts it had previously chopped. Of course we understand and sympathize with such a concern, but the lack of accurate information and notification was disastrous.
The Maitre d' on the Adventure said we should find a taxi and go to the nearest supermarket on land to buy baby food. He acknowledged this might not be a helpful suggestion since we were leaving port within the hour. Our next port was a day and a half away, after a day at sea. He thought baby food might be sold from the shops on board, but it was not.
Our original intention had been to enjoy the ports of call as tourists. We ended up wandering around and looking for baby food. I'll note the Maitre d' was also incorrect in that baby food in Europe usually is not sold in supermarkets, but in pharmacies. That took us a few hours in our first port to figure out.
The Maitre d' and our waiters genuinely tried to help. The kitchen boiled vegetables until they were very soft, and our waiter mashed them with a fork. The effort was insufficient since the food bits were still too large. We found and bought baby food only when we reached a port of call, at the end of the cruise's third day.
2. Diaper changing stations
The Adventure of the Seas had absolutely no diaper changing stations. None. The kinds of public changing stations we find everywhere on land were absent on the Adventure. When we asked crew where we could change our baby's diaper, they said we should return to our cabin. This made us feel exceptionally unwelcome in public areas. Furthermore, the Adventure of the Seas is a large vessel, so bringing our baby to/from our cabin (at the extreme end of the vessel) sometimes took a very, very long time.
The cost of laundry was prohibitive. This is a major concern since small children get their clothing dirty frequently, sometimes requiring two, three or more outfits per day.
We knew ahead of time that Royal Caribbean's laundry services were expensive. The unpleasant surprise upon arrival was that Royal Caribbean makes no distinction between infant/toddler and adult clothing. The cost to launder an infant's tee shirt and jeans is the same as an adult's. We looked forward to the mid-cruise offer of a bag of laundry for $25, but when the offer arrived we found out it was limited to socks and underwear only.
We are genuinely happy that Royal Caribbean has competitors in the leisure cruise market. Other cruise lines offer self-service laundry machines and dryers. We frequently pointed this out to other passengers.
4. The infant crib was unusable. Royal Caribbean provided us with the frame of portable crib, but there was no pad or mattress on the hard base. Our cabin attendant folded a comforter in half and put it in the bottom as a replacement. He probably didn't know that infants can suffocate in plush comforters if they roll on to their stomachs. We had our baby sleep in our bed, and at night when he was with us we used only a single sheet on top.
5. Playgrounds and play areas were off limits to children under three. The crew said parents could come in and borrow books and toys, but our children were not welcome. I understand safety issues when mixing children of varying ages, but the crew said access was off-limits even when other children were absent.
6. Pools and fountains were also off limits to children under three. Swimming is one of the main activities of cruises, particularly during days at sea, and children love splashing around. Of course there are hygiene limitations and laws, but the Liberty offered a toddler fountain, making it seem callous that the Adventure had nothing at all.
7. Royal Caribbean's "Royal Tots" program is dismal. On the Adventure it was limited to the "Fischer Price Play Hour", one hour per day in a card room with furniture pushed to the side, plus the possibility to borrow "a toy or two". This came to seem like a minimal and begrudging concession. One positive aspect was that we met the parents of other infants and toddlers, and used the Hour as a forum to compare notes.
8. Babysitters are not available for infants less than one year old.
9. The timing of dinner service was abysmal. The "early" seating began at 6:45pm, fifteen minutes before our children's normal bedtime. Given the variety of food venues on board, it was unreasonable to force us into the Windjammer cafe for nearly every meal. I'll also note that the Windjammer closed at 5:30pm, which left no food service whatsoever during our children's normal dinner time. The crew suggested room service, which was deeply resented since the lack of diaper changing stations meant we already were spending more time in our cabin than desired.
10. The high fare for infants and toddlers is deplorable and unjustified. We paid the same amount for our 2-year old and 6-month old as others paid for teenagers. Remarkably and hypocritically, the web site states that such fares are not discounted because "Royal Caribbean cruise vacations offer so many special activities for children".
Our horrible experience on Royal Caribbean might have been exacerbated by a unique coincidence of unlucky events and unfortunate circumstances. Some of the problems, however, were both endemic and systemic.
In general I will discourage parents with infants and toddlers from your cruises. This contradicts the marketing that says Royal Caribbean is "a vacation the whole family can enjoy", but my experience emphatically demonstrates that the slogan is disingenuous.
Let me end on a positive note, and say that I have only the highest compliments for the Royal Caribbean crew. They were sympathetic to all of our challenges and difficulties, and they provided help and assistance to the extent possible. Our cruise was truly miserable, but that was because of policies and decisions made above their level, not because of them.
If the company provides anything, I'll keep track of it here: