First off, I feel like I need to say- this post is NOT sponsored. This vacation was paid for by me and all opinions are honest and my own.
Okay there. Now let’s begin. Before having kids, my husband and I loved to go on cruises. It’s such an easy and fun way to explore different places and it really can be very relaxing. At some point a few months ago we played around with the idea of going on a cruise again and decided to go ahead with it. So now let’s fast forward to present day. We are on the last day of our 7-night cruise and I have gathered up all my thoughts. The pros, the cons and everything in between. So let’s get started.
We had never been on one of the majorly massive ships so we went ahead and booked Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas because at present, it’s the largest cruise shop in the world (I believe). It’s an absolutely massive boat. The boat movement is so smooth that you really can’t tell when it’s sailing and when it’s docked. This is true on many cruise ships but this ship in particular feels like we’re always on solid ground. The ship can hold up to 6,800 passengers and 2,200 crew members. Unlike some blogger reviews I read about this boat- you can absolutely tell that there’s a ton of people on the boat. Especially on the days at sea and when it is raining and people cram indoors. The boat just feels packed. I find blogger reviews to be somewhat helpful in giving information on amenities the boat has, but overall their experience is quite different from a real experience with a full boat and kiddos in tow. So just be aware when you are reading a blogger’s review of their experience- it can be a bit skewed and off if they weren’t participating in a full sailing.
First impression was amazing. We were very pleasantly surprised when we got to our room. It was bigger than expected. We got a king bed with a trundle couch. It was perfect for the four of us. I think our bed is actually bigger than a king- it’s fabulous. And Emmy and Elliott loved sleeping on the couch and trundle. Some mornings we would wake up and they were both in the same bed, all squished together. Precious.
Bathroom quarters are pretty tight but that seems to be how it always is on cruise ships.
Overall the food was good. We had a couple of excellent meals at our evening dinners (we had 5:30 reservations in the main dining hall every night) and once we discovered the Mexican buffet- every lunch was great. I am really picky when it comes to food, I am not going to lie. So the main breakfast and lunch buffets really do not appeal to me. There are only so many dried out omelettes and stir-fries that I can handle so finding the Mexican spot was a big treat. There was a nice selection of healthier food choices and there was a TON of fruit onboard, which was heaven for Elliott. We stuck to our 5:30 dining every night and did not go to the specialty restaurants but there are a bunch of choose from if that is your thing. I was told by many of you that the Jaime Oliver Italian restaurant is amazing. I will also say, the staff on this boat was AMAZING. Our waiters for dinner were the same every night- Leonardo and Allan. Incredible people. After the first night, they knew our names and every night thereafter when we walked into the dining room, there were plates of fruit waiting for the kids, extra lemons for my water and Emmy’s favorite bread on her own little plate. It’s the little things that make the biggest impact sometimes.
The kid’s club ended up being a great thing for Emmy, but not for Elliott. For Emmy (age 4), it is a free service. You can essentially drop your kid off in the morning and pick them up late at night. We never did that but you can if you wanted to. We eased into Kid’s Club and let Emmy really tell us what she wanted. Some days she would want to go for an hour or two and other days she wanted to spend most of the day there. They even take the kids to lunch and dinner. Emmy dined with Kid’s Club twice and loved it. She felt like such a big girl and we loved that she was comfortable enough to do that. One thing I will say though, it seems like the kids club instructors rely quite heavily on the TV. They did do many fun activities but I felt like the TV was almost always on which is a bit of a negative in my opinion. Emmy was in the 3-5 age group but when they ate dinner, it was ALL the kids from all the groups.
Now on to Elliott’s group. It is $6 an hour for his kids club, which is a great price for someone to take care of your two-year old. He went twice, about an hour or so each time. He really didn’t like it at all. He was one of the older kids. There were mostly babies in his room so that was a bit of a bummer. They also had the TV going nonstop which again, I was not a big fan of. You have to be 3 years old and potty-trained to be in the next group up- which was Emmy’s group. We are thinking of booking another cruise for the spring on another cruise line and on that one the kids’ club group is 2-5 which would be SO much better. If Emmy and Elliott could be in the same group, I think HE would be much happier and more stimulated with the bigger kids. Security was very good though. I was nervous about it but you have to show your Sailing Card when you drop your kid off and pick them up. They have a system with everyone’s pictures on the iPad that they use to sign your child in and out. It felt very secure to me. One time I had my husband’s Sail Card and they would not let me take Emmy even though clearly I was her mom and she was ready to go with me. They also give you a phone when you leave your child with them in case they need to call you for any reason. The phone only works on the ship though- so you can’t take it off the boat if you are at a port. On two occasions we picked up Emmy in the restaurant after dinner and on both occasions they had her EpiPen at their side, which was reassuring to us.
This cruise stopped in St Maarten, San Juan and Labadee, Haiti. Days in port are a great time to take advantage of the amenities on the ship as it is the quietest time onboard. We’ve been to St. Maarten and San Juan before and so we really used that time to make the most of the water slides and pools on the ship. We did not feel comfortable leaving the kids at Kids’ Club while we went out on excursions, so we did not book any. We always did excursions in the past- without kids- but I was honestly happy to spend the time on the boat when it was nice and quiet.
Labadee, Haiti was definitely our favorite stop. Royal Caribbean has an exclusive beach area just for the passengers and it was amazing. No gift shops, no one trying to sell you anything, just beautiful beaches. The water is nice and warm and there is an area of calm water for kids to play. There is a pretty basic splash pad for the littler ones. The ship also had a big buffet lunch for everyone on the beach. It was great. The ship stayed docked from about 9a-530p so there was plenty of time to do all the beach stuff you wanted to do.
Boarding- Definitely seems daunting to get this many people on the boat quickly and efficiently. It probably took about 20 minutes from the time we parked our car at the port to the time we were at our stateroom on the ship. Pretty slick.
Staff- The staff was EXTREMELY nice and attentive. The lady that made up our room every day was an absolute gem. She was so sweet and was always doting on us to make sure we had everything we needed and that the kids were happy.
Cleanliness- The boat is extremely and impressively well kept. I don’t know how they keep up, but the ship never felt dirty at all. When someone left their table after breakfast or lunch, it was very promptly cleaned up for the next family to sit down.
Also when you go to any of the buffets or dining halls, you are reminded to wash your hands and there are actually sinks as you walk in to make it easier for you.
Entertainment- There are tons of shows to see. Again, before kids, we actually used to go to the shows. This time around we were all in bed by about 9p which is when the boat really comes alive. We did see an ice skating show though which was awesome!
Laundry- This is something you may not think about until your two-year old gets ice cream on every item of clothing he owns. There are no self-serve laundry machines. It costs $24 for one SMALL load of laundry. They give you a bag a little bigger than a grocery bag and whatever you can fit in, they will wash and fold for $24. Definitely not ideal.
They are somewhat strict about random things. You cannot go down any of the water slides with any jewelry. NONE. I wear a bracelet that does not come off unless I have a specific little screw driver that I don’t even carry on me. So I had to wait until we were at a port to buy an ACE bandage wrap to wrap up my wrist. It was a bit annoying and seems excessive, but I guess they’re diligent about protecting their equipment.
Reserving Shows- If you do want to see a show, a lot of them you have to reserve ahead of time otherwise they will be sold out. They will release empty seats ten minutes before the shows start but it takes away an option for some spontaneity on board. When you travel with kids, often times you can’t plan ahead because things change all the time. Naps get taken or dropped, meltdowns happen, etc. So this can be a bit of a challenge to work through.
Pool for Little Kids- There is only one small splash area for kids of Elliott’s age or younger. If you are not fully potty-trained (being in a swim diaper isn’t good enough), you are not allowed in any other pool or splash pad, even with an adult. The play areas for his age group are pretty limited.
Crowds- As I mentioned before, days at sea or when it rains are BUSY. Lunch time at sea is like the Hunger Games trying to find a table. Add having two little kids in tow and juggling plates of food, it can be a challenge.
Coffee- My husband and I can put up with many degrees of sludge in our coffee cups, but the coffee was next-level horrible. The onboard Starbucks was a worthwhile splurge every morning.
Moral of the Story: Sometimes schlepping car seats and doing groceries and finding entertainment for the kids makes a vacation seem like more of a logistics puzzle than a vacation. Cruising with kids DEFINITELY felt more like a vacation for the everyone.