Mediterranean Cruise with a 6 and 9 Year old -- Or how we went half way around the world to hand feed the pigeons. The room: We splurged on a mini suite on the Star for our anniversary, and it will be difficult to go back to an inside double. Our cabin was quite far aft -- advantages included proximity to the self serve laundry, a few flights downstairs to dinner, a few flights upstairs to breakfast and the kids club. No excessive vibration or movement noted.
The food: OK--Acceptable for a cruise ship this size but not great. Beware -- Princess has unbundled some of the standard perks of all-inclusive cruising -- there is now an extra charge for espresso etc., and most galling, for ice cream (except at dinner). The breakfast room service menu is very limited. A sticker for unlimited fountain sodas was $30.00 per person.
Food Service: We opted for the traditional fixed seating for dinner-- advantages with our children included that by the second day the kids had extra cushions placed on their chairs for them before we arrived, our son had a standing order for chicken strips and french fries, two shirley temples would appear, and our decaf coffee, with cream, not milk for me, was poured before dessert arrived. Having the same wonderful waitress each night, Anna Maria from Romania, made dinner wonderful. As long as you arrive within 15 - 20 minutes of the stated seating time you can enjoy the most personalized service available to you on this ship. We ate in the "personal choice" restaurant on one night -- service was efficient but nothing like fixed seating.
Horizon Court offers a decent array of foods at all times. Atkins/South Beach and picky eaters should be able to find something.
Kids Club: No matter how nice the facility, and this one is, your child's experience will depend on the counselors on board and the other kids who participate. We were lucky this cruise and our kids loved it. The staff actually played with the kids, rather than watching them play. Please note that the Child Care staff does not share in the automatic tip pool, so please take them some cash on the last day if your kids enjoyed the club.
Excursions: If at all possible book your own. If you go with the Princess trips, you'll waste a very significant amount of time waiting for fellow passengers who can't be bothered to be on time, and you'll spend a lot more money than you have to. If food is included it will be horrible. Don't even think of securing a driver with a car or van through the excursion desk -- you'll pay many times more than if you booked it yourself.
Do not under any circumstances book any Princess excursions within Monte Carlo -- you can WALK or take the city bus to the palace and casino (hint -- the excursion charters a city bus). The casino is not interested in afternoon cruise ship gamblers, by the way, you can play the slots but there were exactly four tables open with people 4 deep around them -- high roller rooms (an extra 20 E) were closed. Overall not worth the 10E to get in the door -- use the money to rent a James Bond movie or buy a postcard to see the inside.
If your kids are not up for an entire day of ruins/art/churches, combine a morning of culture with an afternoon at the beach. We did that in Pisa and Athens.
For two of our tours we knew that we would have a mini van, so we recruited another family to share the tour (and cost) with us once onboard the ship.
Spa -- Steiner runs the spa. Staff is trained to perform the service and hard sell you product (expect ten minutes of your appointment to be a sales pitch). They also offer some miracle treatments with absurd claims, such as that your body stores one pound of "toxins" each year which can only be eliminated with their expensive products and treatment.
At-sea days, particularly those with formal nights were hectic (book sea day massages as soon as you get on board) I enjoyed a peaceful pedicure (after four ports in four days) at 9 pm the night before the formal night.
Gym -- well equipped. There is now an extra charge for some classes. The current pool is great. Kids were allowed in it from 12 noon to 3:00 pm -- plan on a serious swim before or after this time.
Our kids were most impressed by the pigeons in St. Marks Square (Venice), so perhaps we did not need to leave the country. On the other hand our 6 year old earnestly and accurately explained to a friend what went wrong with the leaning Tower of Pisa --