Cruising with Kids to the Mexican Rivera.
Our family of four just went on the Sapphire Princess in February. When I was researching the cruise I found very little information about traveling with kids. So this might be a long review, but I assure you it will help your family have a great time.
We flew into Burbank, CA because the airfare was incredibly cheaper. Then we took a taxi to the cruise ship port. About $120 one way. Still cheaper!
Embarkation It took about an hour. Very straight forward. Get there around 2:00-3:00 and the lines aren't as long.
Hint: They have a new rule. All luggage must be checked at the ship's dock. You can only bring onboard luggage the size of a carry on. So, for us, that meant the suitcase that had all of our summer clothes and swimsuits in it could not be brought onboard the ship. Thankfully, I was surprised it did not take long for our suitcases to be brought to our cabin. Impressive!
Cabin We always choose an inside cabin close to the middle of the ship for several reasons. First, the motion of the ship is not as noticeable. This trip was worse than others. Second, it's not as noisy during docking at the ports. (We were on Aloha deck and we didn't hear much of anything.) The last reason is that it's dark, so you can sleep in or take a nap during the day.
Note: Since our room didn't have a window, it was rather warm at night. The thermostat was set as cool as it would go, but it was still too warm for me and my husband.
Our cabin was small for a family of four. But it was manageable. The cabin was divided into two parts. The dressing area was to the left as you come into the room. It had a large spacious closet, with about 30 wooden hangers, a floor-length mirror (open that up and there were shelves). It also housed the lifejackets and safe. The bathroom is also in this area. Nothing fancy, but adequate. Stand up shower, commode and sink area. There are no plug-ins, but ample storage for two adults' toiletries.
The sleeping area was next. It was small. There were two single beds with two nightstands in between them. On each nightstand was a lamp. On the opposite wall there was a large mirror, TV -- in a cubby, which was hanging from the ceiling -- and a large desk and chair that covered the length of the wall. There was also a small refrigerator and small decorative round table. Each night the steward would come around and pull down the bunk beds from the ceiling. The kids loved sleeping up there!
Soda Cards Our family decided to buy the two kids all you can drink soda, "mock tails" and ice-cream cards. $60 something dollars. Mom and dad utilized the cards more than the kids did. We got free soda and drinks (non-alcoholic) as often as we wanted. We aren't big drinkers anyway, but this allowed us to enjoy something cold and refreshing for free. Carlos was the waiter that made the best mock tails and he never questioned us. I tipped him a little extra at the end of the cruise.
The Fun Zone was an area of the ship designed just for kids. The kids absolutely loved it! They didn't want to leave. Registration is on the first day. They will need your photo I.D. to keep on record, and to utilize when you pick up your kids. We only used the Fun Zone during sea days from 9-12 and 2-5. It is also open from 7 to later at night. They will provide you with a comprehensive list of events that the kids would get to do everyday. They weren't sitting around watching TV. They actually had things for them to do -- from arts and crafts to exercise games.
Dining We had fixed seating at 6:00 p.m. in the International Dinning Room. The kids enjoyed the experience and even tried all the unusual foods, like escargot, and liked them. Okay, I didn't tell them what it was before they ate it!
Hint: When there was entertainment at night that we wanted to go to, we told our waiter "Robert." He then worked harder and faster to get us out of the dining room before the 7:15 show. That way we didn't have to wait around for the 9:30 show. That was too late for the kids. It was extra work for Robert, but he pulled it off every time!
Photo Ops Take advantage of the photo ops around the ship most nights. We had pictures of the whole family taken on the formal nights. It doesn't cost anything but some of your time. At some backgrounds they took 10-20 photos of our family. They took individual photos, couple, siblings, father with kids, mother with kids and entire family shots.
Hint: Gather your photos every night. Look through them and only keep the "possibilities." Then wait until the last day to choose only the best of the best. You can get a better deal when you buy in bulk. They were pricy, but they put them on a CD for you to take home and there was no sitting fee. Christmas cards here we come!
Food We usually ate our meals in the dining room. We chose to eat at the buffet one morning and were very disappointed. But the food in the restaurant was much better. We would eat at the buffet for sweets and snacks during the day. Most of the meals were excellent. There were a few nights when either the steaks were overcooked, but were corrected right away, the lobster was too salty, or the soup was not blended.
Hint: Ask the server. He or she knows what is best that night. Trust their judgment.
Snacks You have to try the homemade ice-cream! It was excellent and my children ate it three times a day.
Hint: They have free cookies and milk at around 3:30 to 4:00. But they also serve free ice cream at the same time at the buffet. YUMMY!
Ship The ship itself was lovely and grand without being over done and gaudy. There was more than enough things to keep us busy -- Shuffle board, walking track, paddle tennis, 5 pools, tours and activities, and shopping.
Hint: I would suggest you wait and make your ship purchases later in your trip. They had 75% sale on the last day at sea.
Entertainment Our family enjoyed the music productions. Very good. But, they were not what I was expecting. I thought it would be more of a Las Vegas style show. It was more hip hop, jazz dancing. Still very entertaining. The singing was average, but the dancing was awesome. They really put all their energy into each show.
Hint: Get to the showroom at least 20 minutes early to get a good seat. It filled up quickly 10 minutes before the show.
As far as the piano player, singers, etc., we didn't really go to any of those shows, and the one we did see, we left soon after it started (below average!). We did see the comedians. One was from the Beach Boys many years ago. Funny! The other one was Dan Bennett. Hilarious! He was a comedian and juggler. Spectacular! He wasn't necessarily kid-friendly, but it mostly went over their heads anyway. What he was talking about, a lot of it went over my head too! A must see!
Weather We traveled in February and it was cool on board the ship with the wind blowing all the time. I packed sweatshirts for everyone and we used them just about everyday, whether in the dining room, on deck and even in port. Better to be safe than sorry.
Attire We always made a point to dress for supper as they suggested -- even with the kids. But I did see many kids wearing flip flops and shorts to supper.
Disembarkation We were amazed at how quickly disembarkation went. They only looked at our passports and the children's birth certificates once. They didn't ask questions or even look through our bags. WOW! Twenty minutes and we were out of there!
A few more helpful hints:
- I brought a shoe organizer, per someone else's tip, and discovered it was a great idea. I was not able to hang it over the bathroom door, but I was able to hang it, with a hanger, in the closet. We stored bathroom items, shoes, sunscreen and everything else to help stay organized. The kids loved having their own little pockets.
- We ordered two Princess robes to wear around the room. I noticed on the first night that the bedrails rattled when they were touched. Every time the kids kicked them, it woke me up. So, I figured out that when it was time for bed I used both belts, from the robes, to tie the kids bedrails together. I'm talking one bed's bedrail to the other bed's bedrail. Yes, the belts were in the middle of the room and in the grownups' way, but it decreased the sound of the bedrails jiggling and clanging while the kids slept.
- Bring an extension cord. There are only two plug-ins at the desk area.
- Sound machine. This really cut down on sounds you would normally hear outside the door, and the kids moving around.
- Motion sickness pills. I really thought since the ship was so large that there would be little motion. I was wrong. Over open water it was quite rocky. Things would even roll around and one night the hangers were banging in the closet!
Extra Useful Hints
- Bring plenty of small bills (ones, fives and tens) on your trip. We ran out!)
- Bring trash bags or Wal-Mart bags to put wet or dirty items in.
- Bring clothes pins to hang wet swimsuit in the shower.
- Bring Lysol spray to clean handles and door knobs or in case someone gets sick.
- The passenger services desk will make one free complimentary phone call for you.
- Ask for the complimentary robes.
- Utilize what the ship has to offer.
- If you're not sure about something, just ask!
- The passenger services desk will make change for you.