My husband and I have never cruised before, but I'm turning thirty this month and we wanted to take a vacation outside of the United States. We haven't been out of the country since our honeymoon 3 1/2 years ago, and now with a two year old and 6 month old, wondered what we should plan. After throwing around the idea of an all-inclusive resort in the Carribean, we decided to consider a cruise. The only cruises out of Ft. Lauderdale or Miami that had an itinerary that interested me, AND offered babysitting for a six month old were Carnival and Holland America. So, we booked this cruise with Carnival, after asking numerous questions about the kids club (I AM EXTREMELY PICKY about who watches our children, and have only spent the night away from our 2 year old once in her entire life and obviously, never have been away from my six month old for over an hour!).
Hotel Info: We were able to get a direct flight to Ft. Lauderdale, so even though it put us in Florida a day and a half before our cruise, it was well worth it to us not to have a layover having the two kiddos along. We stayed at the Royal Palm Hotel on South Beach (Miami), and it was beautiful. The day of our cruise, we just took a taxi to port and arrived right around noon.
Embarkation: Since we weren't early at all, we were probably there at the busiest time, and it was still quick and what I expected. My two year old didn't get bored, so the whole process probably lasted right around an hour.
Stateroom: We originally had booked a porthole, but then since I'm prone to motion sickness decided to upgrade to a normal oceanview (the balcony idea kind of scared me, seeing as how my two year old can open doors =) ). SUPER GLAD we got an oceanview, my two year old LOVED sitting in the window. The room fit a crib, baby formula, diapers, clothes for four people, etc.. comfortably. It had good storage space!
Dining: I was very pleased with the dining options. We had anytime dining, which worked out great for us. My husband and I ordered room service for my 2 year old every night (they did have an option for her to eat dinner at kids club, but my two year old has lots of allergies, so I monitor her food very closely). She would eat while we got ready and showered, and then we would take her up to kids club so we could enjoy an adult dinner. My 6 month old would come along with us in the stroller/carseat combo, and the dining room was always VERY ACCOMODATING at finding us a table that we could easily fit the stroller at. My 6 month old usually falls asleep for the evening around 7:30, so she would just sleep through dinner while my two year old was having fun at kids club and my husband and I could enjoy each others company! The wait staff was wonderful, and they were ALWAYS so excited when we came in with our six month old.
As for the buffet: Having a child with severe peanut allergies, and allergies to wheat, corn, etc.. I was very happy that there were many options my two year old could eat at the buffet with no problem. We ate there everyday (except port days) for breakfast and lunch.
Carnival Kids club: So the whole reason we were on a cruise is because my husband and I wanted to have a trustworthy babysitting option on our vacation. BUT, when it came right down to it, I honestly wasn't sure if I was going to be putting either of my children in Carnival kids club or not. So I went the first night with my 2 year old and 6 month old to meet the camp counselors and see what I thought. I thought they seemed nice, and decided that for our first "at sea" day, my two year old could try it out for two hours and I would decide after that if we would use their services anymore or not. Well, I picked her up after that first two hours and she LOVED IT! Camp Carnival was all she would talk about. Plus, they give you a cellphone so they can call you if there are any problems at all. Like I said in the dining section, my two year old went to Camp Carnival (even on port days) every night from 7:00 p.m. to usually around 10:00 p.m. and one or two nights we even had her there until midnight. She would come back so excited about the princess party, painting, bunny ears, story time, etc.. she had just participated in. By our last sea day, I even felt comfortable enough to drop my 6 month old off at 8:00 in the morning so I could run on the track while my two year old and husband slept in (There were only specific hours they could take the 6 month old, usually from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. and from 10:00 p.m. to 3 a.m.). Well, twenty minutes later they called the cellphone that she was crying and wouldn't calm down (which I expected, b/c she's never spent any time away from me). That was the only time I had my 6 month old in kids camp, but I would have trusted them to have her more often. Anyways, the Carnival kids camp was a HUGE PLUS for our family and a very positive experience for our 2 year old.
Cozumel - We went to Paradise Beach for $2/ chair and LOVED it there. They had sunny spots, but also good shaded areas (which was great for two young children). My husband bought a wristband for $12 to do all their inflatables in the water. Beautiful pool that my two year old loved.
Costa Maya - We didn't book an excursion here (we had one booked for Belize and were really disappointed about the change in ports), b/c most of the excursions weren't 6 month old friendly. We had thought about taking a cab into the fishing village, but upon seeing guards with machine guns when we got off the ship, my husband said we weren't leaving port. So we shopped, watched the dolphins, swam in the pool, and HELD A BABY TIGER for $25.
Roatan - LOVED this excursion. My two year old was so excited to hold the birds and monkeys in Gumbalimba park (we booked it through Carnival). Great excursion and would recommend it to anyone!
Grand Cayman - We booked the explore Grand Cayman by land and sea excursion through Carnival. We really wanted to try stingray city, but decided we would wait until our kids are older. Anyways, the Turtle farm was fantastic, and while we were there, our 2 year old also go to hold a lizard!
Disembarkation: Was quick and wasy, and we stayed at The Dream hotel on South beach afterwards.