PreCruise Details: Flew Spirit Air which is usually best price from Detroit for us. The flight was bumpy but not something they could help. There were no snacks served which was a new experience for us, though they did serve soft drinks and pay items as well. Larry's Limo picked us up at West Palm airport to our hotel, nice service and always there when we request. We spent precruise one night at Wyndham Resort on Miami Beach which we booked through Priceline for less than $100 with taxes and fees. Excellent hotel! It was really beautiful art deco redecorated and we were upgraded to an oceanview just by asking nicely. Good touch. Dining and breakfast was expensive but not above what we expected for a great hotel. Very elegant and worth the money in my opinion. We crammed the five of us into ONE taxi, lots of luggage and all, and sped away to port the next morning.
Embarkation in Miami: There's nothing better than watching your kids faces the first time they see a huge ship. Spectacular reactions. We arrived at 11:30 and were on by 11:45, "sailed" right through! Lots of people there to point the way and help us through the process, check in was very very easy and were were told we couldn't put our luggage in cabins until 1:00. So off to the Windjammer for a nice hearty lunch. Food was hot when supposed to be hot and cold was cold as it should be. Everything was tasty and so much to choose from. Of course the kids had to pick up two desserts each! (okay so did I)
The kids sped off to find the pool area and basketball court. They were not unhappy to find everything so big and wonderful. The ship was still pretty empty but already a few people were sipping cocktails beside the pool. Caribbean music played in the pool area to stimulate the mood. By 1:00 our friends with kids arrived so off went the six kids ages 9, 11, 11, 12, 14 and 15 on their first adventure without us beside them. Yes, we were a bit nervous about that but gave them some rules to follow like "be back here in 1/2 hour". That "half hour" turned into one hour later in the cruise! Dad yelled as they sped away..."stay TOGETHER ALWAYS!" Okay off for a cocktail.....
The ship really got crowded and festive by 3:00 pm and by 5:00 the sail away party was in full swing. Didn't seem like long before we had left Miami behind and we were close to our first dinner together. They seated us at a window for a table of the ten of us. Nice touch, we were afraid we wouldn't be able to sit together. Our waiters were EXCELLENT and by the end of the meal had most of the names down pat. I'm not sure they ever got our twin boys correct, but they're identical so we gave them a break:) The food was good at dinner, some had steak, others had fish, most meals we found were good and if there was something we didn't like we were able to order something else. Our waiter was GREAT at offering kids menus (something I didn't know they had...REAL food like hot dogs and French fries) or another entree if the kids hadn't ate much when he came for their plates. This cruise was the first a Head Waiter had impressed us. In the Mikado Dining Room we had Wellington and he was not only really nice and friendly, he was HELPFUL. Even showed the kids a couple "card" type tricks. He got a nice tip from us! There were just a few bartenders (wine captains?) that came around and by second night ours always asked us if we'd like another Bud Light since we're not wine drinkers. Very thoughtful. After dinner we coaxed the three youngest (boys) into checking out Adventure Ocean. The counselors were not though a bit animated, sort of like you would be for younger kids. The boys decided to stay with the thought that they were allowed to sign themselves out. Parents have that option of allowing them to do so. We saw A LOT of younger kids from probably 6 down to 3, but no other older kids like ours. They ended up staying until we picked them up at closing time 8:45. They sort of had fun but decided they were "too cool" for those younger kids. It became a joke all week of these boys dodging the little "adventure ocean" kids. Like they would kidnap them back into the program?!! We saw the end of "The Beat Goes On" and the entertainers were really good. A couple singers had awesome voices. We visited the Schooner Lounge (highly recommend for a quieter bar) and the Viking King Lounge which had a gorgeous view of the ship and water. We passed by the Champagne Lounge which seemed VERY quiet but I imagine people sipping wine in there and really having a nice quiet spot to relax. I saw the Library and Computer area as well and they seemed well equipped.
We turned in early that evening due to the day's heavy schedule and adventuring. Our cabin 3015 was very small for four people but the bunks were very comfortable and pillows were fluffy. The bathroom is like a closet but tidy and clean. In our inside cabin there is almost no storage other than a big closet though, so we were constantly pulling luggage from under the beds to rearrange clothes.
Day One: Nassau Bahamas...weather forecast wasn't good but it turned out to be a nice day. Our girls slept in too long so we opted to eat lunch in the Windjammer before heading out to explore. The Windjammer was BUSY but go way forward on the ship to find a great Windjammer view. By 11:45 About 75 degrees and windy when we took the #10 Jitney (bus) from the McDonalds downtown to Cable Beach. They dropped us at the Wyndham Hotel beside Breezes (old) Resort. Wyndham hotel was beautiful and we felt a bit strange walking through their hotel to their nice beach area with nice lounges. Right away we had an offer to braid my daughter's hair so I pulled up a lounge and soaked up some sun while she had that done. Though a waiter didn't come onto the beach to ask us for drinks, my husband was able to walk to the great outdoor bar and order some pricey beers...it was worth it. The kids did end up dipping into their pool and even used the water slide a few times. THAT made their day! A few hours there in the sun, flipping a couple times, and we were fully baked. Back to the Jitney outside the hotel and to the ship to clean up for dinner soon. Amazing how a day goes so fast!
Day Two: Key West. After a slow process of customs due to leaving Bahamas, we were cleared to go into Key West at about 10:30 am. We ate a quick lunch to fill us and were off to explore with no real plans in mind. We had hoped for another beach day and trying out maybe Smathers that we've read about, but it was a bit too cool and sort of rainy looking. We opted to shop a while and site see a bit. The kids did the Key West Aquarium. Now this IS NOT Seaworld by any means, but it's a decent family run business with a lot of interesting fish you can see really close. One of the best things our kids liked was the hands on tank that you could pick up different things like live starfish, sea cucumbers, live moving conchs and other spiney things. They also had a large pool with sharks and thousands of other fish in big wall tanks. We spent about 45 minutes and to be honest I had to pull the kids away. My husband and I ended up staying on Key West on our own another hour or so doing the bar crawl...it was really fun. Seems as though it starts warming up in Key West late afternoon! We sailed at 6:00 though so the sunset was seen from our dinner table with our group. We went to the Karaoke Lounge and had some fun there. Funny thing was that I had a cold and when I started singing Shania it sounded like Barry White! Honestly there were some really talented singers there, especially an old guy about 86 years old singing Sinatra...he was GREAT. Later in the evening we went to the Pool Party "Dancing Under the Stars" which later I found out that we were the ones who got the dancing going. It was supposed to start at 11:45 but we were around at 11:00 or so and great dance music playing on top of several long island iced teas....well let's just say we were in the MOOD to dance! It was a GREAT party and all of our kids also had a blast dancing with everyone in a party mood. There was a buffet served at midnight though I can't remember the food exactly...it was tasty and as always beautiful. It was all very fun and we didn't get in until after 2:00 a.m.
Day Three: Coco Cay...not Well another day at Coco Cay was cancelled and we were disappointed. It would have been our one chance for the kids to snorkel in the ocean. Not too mention that a sea day after dancing and partying all night...it was a bit rough early morning for us:) The captain said it was too rough to try to tender so instead we would sail up the northern Florida then back down throughout the day. I would have preferred to sit still (oh that headache) but no one seemed to have a problem with a sea day.
So instead we had a windy but very sunny nice day at sea with many activities added to the agenda. Our kids found warm spots to sun in and our boys played basketball and rock wall climbed throughout the afternoon. We watched the belly flop contest and it really was kind of entertaining. I enjoyed the pool and people watching and of course countless buckets of beer on special. That means a nap by the end of the afternoon too! :) Another good dinner and it was time to start packing up the bags for the next day in Miami already! The post cruise depression was beginning to take hold!
We spent most of the evening walking through the ship, finding what fun we could, and enjoying everything for the last night. Our girls stayed up for the disco again and also got to the Midnight Chocolate Buffet which they said was outstanding. The younger boys also went to the Comedy Show that early afternoon and they LOVED it. Just a bit of bathroom humor which the boys thought was great.Disembark: We were up and around by 7:00 and trying to nudge our tired kids out of bed for breakfast at the Windjammer before they close at 8:30. Tags were being called by 8:00 but ours would not be first since we didn't have an early flight or excursion. We had a rushed breakfast and a lot of coffee to perk up before the travelling home. We settled a small outstanding bill for our daughter's room and were ready to go when our tags were called about 8:30. We stood in a long line winding out the door of the ship and were on the dock at 8:45. So the disembark was very very smooth and they couldn't have made it any easier.
This is where we began waiting for our Dollar Rental shuttle that was not to be seen for nearly an hour. Several times we saw large Alamo buses, we saw Thrifty and Budget a couple times, and one other rental car van once or twice. There were many "Super Shuttle" vans ready and many private limos and taxis awaiting. We gave up on Dollar and took a private van to the rental car location we had booked. We ended up getting a better discount on the rental because my husband complained so much. I think an hour wait is ridiculous but only because they told us 10-15 minutes a shuttle would be around. I would not recommend Dollar because of this. I've heard other experiences with the rental companies not having a shuttle for long lengths of time and I guess I would recommend a private service OR taking a taxi directly to their rental location to save time and MAJOR frustration. Not a great end to our trip, but it smoothed out at the airport with an easy flight home.
"Funny" things that happened: 1) one of the kids overchewed some steak and discreetly put it in his napkin which fell on the floor and you guessed it...meat ended up on the floor. One of the other kids loudly said something like "what is THAT? CAT FOOD?" everyone snickered including the waiter who was trying his best not to. 2) Another time our 11 year old son finished ordering his four course dinner and the waiter said "Very Good Sir" to which Charlie replied "Right on, Brotha" another roaring laugh from the crowd. There was a quiet couple on their own behind us and they actually came up to us as the end of the last dinner thanking us for the kids entertaining them all week...it seems that they truly enjoyed them and I was thankful they weren't annoyed by our kids' humor! 3) One of the boys got separated from the group one evening and though he knew every inch of the ship by the end of Day One, he was a bit upset when he didn't find us for about 45 minutes. I found him sitting in the cabin waiting for someone to come back for him. Parents...be sure to have a solid plan in place including meeting times and places and what to do if you get separated. Even leaving notes in the cabin of the details is a good idea. It wasn't awful but he sure did stick close to the other kids after that.
Overall the food was good all over, the entertainment seemed just right, and the spaciousness and quality of the ship was really beautiful. The kids had a lot to do all week and really had fun with the few other kids on board. I would definitely recommend this as a value-priced vacation. We loved the ship and had a great time! Check out postings by my user name for other information I've given on the boards. Happy Cruising!