Most parents agree that Disney is made for kids. The cruise ships are optimized for your kids, and I’ll go into detail below on the differences with Royal Caribbean. We sailed RCL before we had kids and enjoyed the suites and concierge service, but it’s a different experience with a 1-year-old and 5-year-old.
For example, Disney staterooms have a nice curtain that separates the bed from the living area, which lets the kids sleep in one area while you do things on the other side. The comparable Royal Caribbean ocean view balcony room has a living area but no curtain, so you have to keep the lights off or make sure your baby is a sound sleeper (maybe with a white noise machine).
For this particular cruise, we had originally booked a couple balcony rooms that faced inward, but at the last minute a two bedroom Aquatheater suite opened up and we grabbed it. This was a huge benefit since we now had a separate room for the grandparents, plus the sleeper sofa in the living room, and a gigantic deck.
This review will be a mix of different thoughts since we just got back and most parents know how crazy it can be traveling with kids, so I’ll try to just write down whatever I can remember that’s hopefully useful for future travelers.
One thing I didn’t expect is that while the deck is awesome, it’s not actually the ideal view for the Aquatheater show itself. Yes, you’re high up so you can see the tightrope walking and diving from a unique angle, but a lot of the effects in the show are performers holding lights, and the best view for that would actually be on the boardwalk itself, sitting in the theater seats (ideally in the front center).
Also, as others have written online, the Aquatheater show gets postponed often depending on weather conditions, so the first showing was mid-cruise and the glass railing was dirty by then. The reason this matters is that the kids can’t see through the glass easily, so they end up standing on the tall chairs. They did clean the balcony somewhere around the 5th day or so, and that was great, but just a note for parents who think they can watch the Aquatheater show from their room.
We did take advantage of the dining table on the deck to have a mini cocktail party. That was well done by the crew and our Royal Genie.
Speaking of the genie, that was the part I was most looking forward to, and the aspect that I valued the most. He was great overall, but I do want to explain some details that might be helpful to others.
The customer service on the phone before the cruise didn’t always know every detail of how the genie works. There was some confusing information about getting contacted 6 weeks before your cruise. We ended up getting a survey with a pre-cruise questionnaire about 6 weeks before, but then no additional contact until about 1 week before the cruise. Then we got notice about the Loop mobile texting app, but I tried to use that and the genie said it wasn’t that reliable. I ended up emailing him a few times.
We got an email 2 days before boarding that explained the plum colored Star Class Flag. We flew in the day before and stayed at the Embassy Suites Hotel Ft. Lauderdale. That was a good stopping place, it’s cheaper than the fancy hotels on the beach and close to the port. If you get one of the nicer rooms, you get this code for the vending machine that literally gives you unlimited drinks and snacks from the machine. That’s a nice perk actually since it’s ultra convenient. Breakfast is also free in the morning, and they have transportation to the port that you can arrange through the concierge.
Oh, there’s supposed to be some new law in Florida that requires you to have a car seat for your kid even if you’re in a taxi (unlike many other states). We were worried about this, so we brought a car seat (the Sit ‘n Stroll that doubles as an FAA airplane seat). We also brought our BubbleBum booster for the 5-year-old. We took a taxi from the airport and used the seats, but it didn’t seem like they would have a big problem if you didn’t have a seat. I’m not sure though, since we had one, so just something to keep in mind. There are private car services that can provide a seat. I asked the GoAirport Shuttle and they said you have to provide your own car seat, you can’t pay them to provide one.
Oh, here are some other hotels we looked at, but in most cases they either didn’t have a suite, which is really useful with kids. We would put the baby in a crib in our bedroom, and the 5-year-old could sleep on the sofa bed in the living room. It’s nice to have an actual door you can close to the bedroom to block out sound between rooms.
Let’s see, what else. I know there’s a lot here, but hopefully all this detail is helpful to others. I tried to use the Air2Sea website from Royal Caribbean, but it never worked for me on any web browser so eventually I just booked on the airline websites.
Oh, since we had 6 people, they had to split it into two reservation booking numbers, even though we were all staying in the same room.
Also, our friends were the ones who originally booked this trip and invited us to join. They had an ocean view balcony stateroom (but not a suite). Since we got the two-bedroom Aquatheater, we had the Royal Genie, and he was nice enough to book our friends into the specialty restaurants with us most nights for dinner. This isn’t guaranteed, but the genie will often be able to make it happen. The non-suite guests may have to pay a cover charge. They booked a bunch of stuff on the RCL website ahead of the cruise. I was confused about whether I had to do that, and finally figured out that I didn’t have to book anything until actually boarding the cruise. Then on day 1, the genie helps you book a bunch of things. In our case, he pre-booked the entire week of restaurants and shows, then we looked at the spreadsheet and made adjustments. That’s generally good, since you probably want to take advantage of the specialty restaurants and see the shows. The genie reserves seats at the shows, so you always get to sit front row or second row even if you arrive just before the show, which is nice.
One thing is the specialty restaurants can be pretty slow sometimes to serve food, which is tough with kids. So we relied on the iPad for the older kid, and ended up having to carry or walk around the younger one sometimes. Also in some cases the older kid might go to dinner late (especially if he was having a fit or meltdown).
The genie takes care of other things like excursions, spa reservations, or whatever you might need from guest services. We didn’t necessarily get priority on everything, there are certain slots held for genies, so for instance we decided to do the puzzle room (Escape the Rubicon) and found it was easier to book an afternoon slot. Massages at the spa also were sometimes busy until later in the day (especially on the days you’re at sea).
An important note, our younger child has a peanut allergy and has had an anaphylactic reaction, so we were worried about traveling. The crew was great with this, we would tell the waiter at each restaurant and they would tell the chef. We never felt like they were being sloppy or careless with this, so that was really nice. We avoided the Windjammer buffet for the youngest one. The Coastal Kitchen is suite-only and really nice, but it’s a sit-down restaurant so that still takes time.
Oh, so remember if you book a Star Class suite, the My Time dining really doesn’t matter since the genie will take care of everything and be able to choose an earlier time for dining. I think the earliest is usually 6pm, though occasionally you might be able to do 5:30pm for dinner.
Star Class includes the prepaid gratuities, so on the phone they have to know to remove that. On the ship, you can view your running account on the TV or on the Royal IQ iPads in the promenade. I definitely recommend using the Luggage Valet service on departure. It’s normally $25 per person but it gets comp’ed by the genie. You get airline tags and you put your checked bags outside your door the night before departure, then they get taken all the way onto the plane and the next time you see them is at your arrival airport. So it saves you all the trouble of getting big luggage from the port to the local airport and checking them in there.
If you use the Luggage Valet, do not take the shuttle bus from the cruise port to the airport. When you first exit, there will be someone trying to sell you a ride, but a cab would have been much better for us. They tricked us by saying that the taxi would be more expensive, but then when we were boarding the bus they said kids had to sit on the laps of adults because we only paid for the tickets for adults (the person selling us said kids were free but that was deceptive). Also, you end up waiting a lot longer for the bus to fill up and leave. Plus the driver is loading all the luggage from everyone else, and then when you get to the airport, he won’t let you get off the bus until he unloads everyone else’s bags first. So definitely take a taxi from the port terminal to the airport instead of the bus shuttle.
One note about the porters. They are aggressive about asking for tips, but they don’t know about the Star Class expedited luggage service. So our taxi didn’t see the plum colored Star Class flag, and dropped us off at a regular point. The porters tried to take our bags right away, but luckily we saw the Star Class flag and I asked them, then they sent someone specific over to help us (which expedites the luggage to your room).
Boarding was fairly smooth, since a genie or someone with them helps you through all the steps.
We didn’t think of this until the last day, but in-suite movies are all free for Star Class guests, so remember that. There’s a mini refrigerator in the living room, and they’ll stock you with water, Coke, etc. Internet on their VOOM service is included, which we used a lot to send text messages to each other. There are also 2 souvenir cups that you can use with the freestyle Coke machines.
One thing Disney had for suite guests was phones that you could carry. I wish Royal Caribbean had something like that. It was difficult to communicate with the genie because you had to find a house phone to call him. It would be much easier if we could text him through our phones, or carry some phone with us. The nursery gives you a phone, so it seems like they could do it.
Speaking of the kids club, this is where Disney does much better. The Aquanauts on the Royal Caribbean ship were okay, but the room was never very full and I peeked in often and saw the kids just sitting on the floor watching TV. There were activities, but in my opinion there weren’t enough activities to keep the kids engaged. My older kid didn’t want to go to the kids club anymore after the first time, and he loves school, so I feel like they didn’t have enough to keep him interested.
They did do a talent show with the kids, and that was fun. Also, there was a black light puppet show that was perfect for both kids. It’s about 20 minutes, with music and fast pace.
Our kids watched the shows, but some of them are going to be long for kids (like Grease). It depends on your kid, but it’s a good option to have. Generally after dinner and a show starting at 8pm, it gets to be late for most kids too.
Let’s see, the Harmony of the Seas itself is impressive. But there were some interesting things. The open air Boardwalk and Central Park are great. It was interesting that Central Park never felt overly crowded, even on sea days. People would line up in specific places like Windjammer, or for a main dining room, but the specialty restaurants were never packed (and the kids club was fairly empty most of the time). This could also be when we were traveling (late November). The ship is big, but we explored the entire thing over the week.
Most of my time was spent chasing the older kid around the ship. It was tough to get time alone to relax, but the best part was getting a chance to catch up with our friends (who had two kids of similar age to ours).
There are a few things that didn’t go well, so I want to make sure to list those (but it was nothing like my rant about customs in Vancouver on the Disney cruise). The biggest thing was the main shade that cover the biggest window was broken. I looked at it carefully and took some pictures, and it’s basically a bad manufacturing design. The gears at the top aren’t very well designed, and the thin strings slip out and lose pieces. You could see that the crew tried to use zip ties to hold things together but it didn’t work. So the huge curtain had to stay closed for most of the trip, which was kind of a bummer since that was the dramatic ocean view and the view over our huge deck. We rigged it on the last day to stay open, so that gave us one nice day. They tried to escalate the issue three times through maintenance, but I’m pretty sure they couldn’t really fix it without ordering new parts. Hopefully they get it fixed for the next week’s cruisers.
We heard from friends who were in the 4-bedroom Presidential suite that they had issues as well. They had curtains that weren’t working, and A/C that was on full blast and couldn’t be turned off. So these are probably typical things with a new ship that will eventually get worked out, but it’s a little disappointing for an expensive suite to run into issues.
There are other little details. When departing, we heard about the mobile passport for customs and did all the work to scan passports and then when we got to the customs agent he asked if he had done the paper forms and said it’s much faster to do it the old way than to use the mobile app. So that’s probably some failed technology implementation by the government that would be a nice idea in theory but doesn’t get executed well in practice.
Also, it would be nice to know the breakdown of prepaid gratuities when trying to figure out additional gratuities. We gave a lot of additional gratuities at restaurants, but it was hard to know the right baseline. I did some research on the genie tips since those aren’t included, and we gave our stateroom attendant extra.
Pre-cruise communication with the genie was a bit unorganized. After our emails, he tried to call us but for some reason the only number he had was the emergency contact number of my mother-in-law, so he called her.
Onboard, the room service made a lot of mistakes. First, we asked for milk from the beginning of the cruise (even pre-cruise) and we had to request it many times over and over. On the first night, it still wasn’t there, and I called the genie three times to keep asking. I was getting frustrated at this point, and when it finally arrived the crew member said they were busy in the kitchen. Then on another day, they delivered alcoholic drinks to our room. We had specifically stated that there shouldn’t be any alcohol (since we don’t drink anymore and we didn’t want the kids around it). That turned out to be another mistake by room service delivering to the wrong room. One thing we did get after multiple requests was a high chair in the room. The high chairs in the restaurants are gray plastic with a removable tray that attaches to the top. This was very useful to have in the suite to feed the baby, so it’s something to try if you can get it. The crib is a pack ‘n play which worked fine for us, we brought our own cover.
There are always more details to remember, but this is getting really long so feel free to ask anything in the comments below and I’ll try to answer. Overall, it was a good trip, as good as it can be when you’re chasing kids around the ship. Hopefully you can benefit from this information if you’re planning your own trip!