My husband and I took six cruises before having kids, and we looked forward to the day when our kids were old enough to go along.
That moment arrived over spring break this month, and because our experience helped us avoid some cruise pitfalls, our 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter keep talking about how much fun they had.
We sailed out of Port Canaveral, an easy drive across the state, on Royal Caribbean because we prefer the eastern Caribbean, especially St. Maarten. We have taken cruises on Royal Caribbean, Princess and Disney and believe Royal Caribbean provides the best value.
With the savings and the fact we booked almost a year in advance, we were able to reserve adjoining staterooms, a huge key to cruising with your kids.
The two rooms give everyone more space, privacy and two bathrooms. The one downside of Royal Caribbean staterooms is that they don't have bathtubs, only showers. This can be tricky if you have small children who aren't used to taking showers yet.
Royal Caribbean does a great job of providing lots of activities and entertainment for kids. Though you won't see Mickey or Minnie, you can expect to see DreamWorks characters from Shrek, Puss in Boots and Kung Fu Panda on board and at the character breakfasts.
Also, when you're hanging poolside, kids movies play on the big, outdoor screen.
If you're looking for some adults-only time while onboard, Royal Caribbean offers complimentary supervised youth and teen activity programs.
Kids are divided into appropriate-age groups for games and structured activities. My son enjoyed it immensely and asked to go every day.
My daughter did not enjoy it as much, but that could be because at 4, she's not as comfortable. It's difficult to leave younger kids in such a program.
However, we simply took her with us and she sat quietly while we played trivia.
At night, we enjoyed eating in one of the three formal dining rooms onboard — especially seven consecutive nights as a family, something that rarely happens at home.
The kids enjoyed dressing up for dinner. Khakis and a dress shirt for my son, and Sunday-best dresses for my daughter fulfilled the "formal" requirements.
When we weren't eating, we explored the ship and ports of call. Ships offer pre-arranged excursions during days in port, but before booking anything, consider how much walking or travel time is involved.
Some tours are strictly sightseeing and informational, which may bore kids, especially if they require long bus rides.
Since my kids love the beach, we took an excursion to Orient Beach in St. Maarten, and enjoyed the white sands and turquoise water.
This vacation was such a big hit with our family that we've already booked another cruise for spring break next year.
Danielle Hauser is a married mother of two who lives in the Westchase area.