We just returned from our cruise, and it was great! I have three boys ages 9, 13 and 15. My situation is a little unusual because my husband broke his ankle 10 days before the cruise and was in a wheelchair.
The good thing about being in a wheelchair is that we went to the front of the line, so our check-in took about 15-20 minutes vs. 1- 2 hours. Our dinner companions told us they were in line approximately 1 hour 45 minutes before boarding the ship.
After we checked out our rooms we headed to Johnny Rockets (they were open!) instead of the Windjammer Buffet. Johnny Rockets has the best hamburgers on the ship. It doesn't have the complete Johnny Rockets menu, but it is good enough--although there is a charge for the ice cream drinks and sodas. They will honor your "soda card," if you have one; milk shakes are $3.60 and floats are $2.60.
The unlimited soft drink cards for the seven-day cruise are $20 for children and $33 for adults, plus a 15% tip; these can be purchased at any bar.
The ship is incredible, very impressive. (This is my fourth cruise; my last was in September 2000 on Royal Olympic from Athens through the Mediterranean.) Although the ship is big and we did get turned around a couple of times the first day, we knew our way around by the second day, and of course the kids never seemed to get lost.
We had two cabins across from each other on the 8th deck -- an outside with balcony and an inside. I was impressed with the size of both cabins; each had a sofa and coffee table across from the desk and chair, with the beds toward the back of the room. Even with the wheelchair folded up and leaning against the wall, we were not cramped. The balcony was a good size, and I enjoyed being able to walk outside whenever I wanted to.
There is a minibar in the room that is fully stocked, so you can't use it as a refrigerator, which bothered me. The ship has Coke products on board, and my husband is a Pepsi man, so on our first stop (Jamaica), we bought some bottles of Pepsi on the dock. It was $1.00 for a 16-oz. Bottle; on board the ship the liquor shop was selling 16-oz. bottles of Coke and Sprite etc for $2.00 It would have been nice to store our drinks in the fridge--but it was full.
My 13-year-old was off and running to meet kids his age, and he was thrilled with the "teens only" club room. It was right across from Johnny Rockets and the Arcade. He had a great time, was always busy and loved the activities. My 9-year-old also loved the activities. They had something every day for all of the age groups, so even if you didn't go on a shore excursion, there was something for the kids to do.
Evening kids' activities were from 7-10 p.m.; then from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., for my 9-year-old there was a $5.00 per hour group babysitting fee. My child begged to go every night! He loved "late night" activities. They did have Playstations and movies in this age group for late night, and they served a snack. It was a pleasant surprise when they took photo portraits of the kids. I didn't even know--I found it by accident when I was looking at all the other photos the ship's photographer had taken. It looked like the younger kids had their picture taken with the captain. It was a good picture, one of the few I purchased.
My 13-year-old won a medal playing "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." Needless to say, those two were very happy and occupied all the time. My 15-year-old is very shy and preferred to hang out with Mom and Dad, which was fine because he helped wheel Dad around. At our dinner table there was a 16-year-old boy; he said he enjoyed the activities, was having fun and met people his own age.
At the Arcade, you could purchase cards instead of using cash. The average game was 75 cents, and my kids ended up spending $110 in the Arcade in a week. I probably lost that much in the casino, but I think they could have made the Arcade games a little cheaper. The casino was nice, and it was big. I participated in a slot tournament for a $20 entry fee. The Black Jack tournament was canceled because not enough people participated. Both were scheduled for Sunday afternoon, our first day at sea. I don't think enough people knew about them; maybe the last day at sea would have been better. The Bingo games were fun, but expensive. The standard Bingo set was five or six games, six cards a game for $35. My in-laws just got back from a Princess cruise and some of those things were cheaper.
Other miscellaneous info: There was always a line for the rock climbing wall; my 13-year-old finally got to do it on Friday night. There's no fee for inline skating, ice-skating or rock climbing, but if the kids are under 18 an adult needs to sign a waiver. There was no charge for miniature golf, which I did on the last day, Saturday, while we were waiting to get off the ship.
The entertainment was very good. I went to most of the shows. Our celebrity was Susan Anton, which was a pleasant surprise--she was fantastic. There were a couple of comedians and a magician, as well as the standard musical performances, which were very good. The Palace Theater is beautiful--and so big. I have to mention "Barry from Boston," the singer in the Piano Bar: He plays and sings really well; my husband and son were in there every night making requests. We missed the ice show; you have to pick up tickets because of limited seating, and I kept forgetting to get the tickets.
Service was excellent and the food was good. I have high expectations for food on a cruise, and even though the food was prepared well and was flavorful I just don't think it was spectacular. I never did eat at Portofino's, the 64-seat restaurant that costs $20 extra. I guess you just get ambiance there, because the menu is posted outside and it looked the same as the dining room.
We usually ate at the Windjammer for breakfast because it was open later. I just couldn't seem to get to the dining room before 10 a.m. for breakfast. The Promenade Café had little sandwiches, pizza and desserts, also ice water, coffee, tea and hot chocolate, and a bar for drinks and sodas. It was open 24 hours a day. When my kids got back from late night activities, they would tell us they were going for pizza (they were in paradise with unlimited food!) A couple of times they ordered room service, but I think they liked the pizza better from the Promenade Café. Right outside the café was the self-serve frozen yogurt (or ice cream, I'm not sure which) machine, with cones and sprinkles. It seemed no one could walk past without helping themselves.
The Promenade was really something. The shops were okay, and there were some nice bars there. It gave you a real feeling of spaciousness; you definitely did not feel like you were on a ship along the Promenade; it was fun just walking around there.
As for the shore excursions, Labadee was okay, but if I go there again I probably won't get off the ship. My 9-year-old was stung by something in the water. The bar-b-q was not worth the trip to shore. The beach was not as beautiful as those in Mexico or Grand Cayman. My husband didn't even bother coming ashore since he couldn't get wet. It was very hot in July.
Next stop was Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We didn't do a formal excursion because of the wheelchair. The cruise director recommended going to Margaritaville, within walking distance of the dock. Taxis were parked on the sidewalk so we had to struggle with the wheelchair on a bumpy road. It was really HOT there--we didn't know that Margaritaville (Jimmy Buffet owns it) had a pool in the restaurant, and it was right on the beach with beach activities. It was a little shopping village too. Really a neat place.
Grand Cayman was our favorite stop. We did the island tour and the turtle farm. The wheelchair was folded up and placed in the aisle of the bus, no hurrying off of this bus.
On Cozumel, I did a shore excursion with my two older boys. We went to Tulum. It was HOT but interesting and we enjoyed it. I can handle heat, but standing in the hot sun for 45 minutes while our tour guide told us about different ruins, I felt like I might get sun stroke. Our guide told us that the previous day it was 92 degrees but it had rained that night so it wasn't as humid. The tour also include Xel-ha (pronounced shel-ha), a water park of sorts. You could do snorkeling, snuba, swim with the dolphins, or take a dolphin encounter. We had about 1 hour 45 minutes there, and if we had known ahead of time about the activities we would have had time to do something. As it was we just explored and walked around the entire park.
As for disembarking, they told us that it used to take only took a couple of hours but that now it was a lot longer. My flight was at 2:09 p.m., so we took the 10:15-11:00 a.m. departure time. We didn't get off the ship until 11:45 a.m., the bus left at 12:20 p.m. for the Fort Lauderdale airport, and we got there by 1:00, but we were the last stop so it was a close call.
There was at least one other person in a wheelchair. Getting around wasn't too difficult on the ship but the shore excursions were trying. I can't imagine going on a smaller ship now that I have been on this one. We didn't have a single rough day at sea and sometimes you couldn't even tell the ship was moving unless you could see something outside moving.
We had more than 3,500 people on our ship and it didn't feel crowded. The only time you felt a little inconvenienced was when you were waiting for the elevator. I took the stairs as often as I could to compensate for the food I was eating, but when you have a wheelchair you really have no choice.