We took our first cruise and my wife and I have five children, ages 2 - 14. We took a plane from Charlotte to Fort Lauderdale, which is an adventure in itself! We had no idea what to expect, so we arrived the day before and spend the night. We used JIFFY JEFF for transport from the airport to the hotel, and from the hotel the next morning to the Port, and from the Port, to the airport on our last day. They were EXCEPTIONAL. We arrived and went through customer and security. We really didn't know what to expect. I should also mention that we brought portable radios to keep in touch with one another as our older kids (10, 12, and 14) wanted to roam and swim and go their clubs and such. I will say it RAINED every day of our trip. Oh well. LOL.
We got on board around 12pm and sat down in the main dining room for a small embarkation lunch of chicken fingers, macaroni and cheese, and salad. It was a very disorganized - people just sit wherever, and I had to ask 5 different staff to find silverware and cups. We checked into our balcony rooms (we have to get two because of our family size). The rooms were great. The housekeepers the whole week were awesome. No complaints. Very nice for what we expected. A little cramped, but trust me, you're not really spending anytime in the rooms. Once we unpacked, I was actually hungry again, so we started exploring the ship together and found Guy's Burger joint, which was AWESOME.
One of the first things we tried to do was get the little ones (2 and 3 year old) into their "club" on the 12th floor. There is only one elevator line that goes up there at the front of the ship, so it's a little hard to find and we hiked the stairs up the by the pool on the Lido deck to get there. The line was over TWO HOURS LONG to register the kids, even though we did pre registration. We had a reservation at the 555 Steakhouse that evening, but it was way too fancy for our little ones - but it was AMAZING - BOOK THE STEAKHOUSE - worth it.
The next morning we ate brunch at the Radiance Dining Room (much better than the mid-dining room called Sunshine IMO). It was so worth it. They had high chairs, and no lines, and you could order a full 4 course meal. Everything on the menu was absolutely fantastic. Very fancy. Seriously, and I love food. We tried to get the little ones in the Club again (daycare), but again, the line was TWO HOURS LONG and they shut down intermittently, randomly, throughout the day. It's weird. By the THIRD day, the lines were gone and we got the kids in to play. They didn't shut down randomly and they took the kids to lunch and dinner. They loved it.
I learned quickly that Radiance was where you wanted to eat for Breakfast (Brunch on port days) and Dinner. Lunch and Late night was the Pizza place, Guys, the taco place, or the hot sandwich place. A special treat was the Sushi place, which was by FAR the best sushi I've ever had (spicy tuna is 5 star). We found the buffets in the Lido marketplace were ALWAYS closed, which was really weird. Always empty.
We went to Princess Cay, but the water was freezing. The kids snorkeled at the far end and had a blast. The lunch was burgers and chicken and all sorts of yum. Great music playing. But you couldn't pay me to get in that water. It was so cold (it was Dec 22 LOL). There was even a place for the toddlers to play on a playground.
We played at the casino a lot, which was tons of fun. Everyone was so nice. We saw shows in the main lobby. We did Atlantis and that was the highlight of the trip. The driver to the resort was so funny and friendly. The water there was warm. The slides and pools (and starbucks) were great. And the aquarium was fantastic. It was MASSIVE. Like Disney. The best thing we could have ever done as a family. (we left the young ones on board).
We did several comedy shows (GET THERE SUPER EARLY), The Marriage show, and we got the Drinks package. All of those were worth it. We did get hit with a $500 "automatic gratuity" charge the day before the last day on our credit card. This is to pay for housekeeping, dining services, waiters, etc for your trip. We just didn't know and it surprised us - and had been tipping everyone the whole time. So be prepared for that too.
The last day, the do WAKE YOU UP at 6AM to get your stuff out of the room by 8am. Be prepared. LOL. We just dragged our suitcases to the buffet in Lido Market (were finally open). Ate some breakfast, and got off the ship very quickly. LOVED OUR FIRST CRUISE!
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