We are leaving in Jan on the 7 day W.Caribbean Freedom cruise. We'll be traveling with three children ages 7 (boy), 5 (girl), and 2 (girl); the 7 and 5 year olds will be turning 8 and 6 while on the cruise. We'll be staying in a family oceanview stateroom. Other family will be traveling with us (grandparents, aunts/uncles) so our total party will total 10. This is our first cruise but the rest of the group have cruised before.
Before the cruise we'll be going to WDW for 2 days. On the ship we plan on going to Chops, the magic show, the ice show, dreamworks breakfast, and taking the kids to the cupcake decorating workshop.
We didn't want to be totally scheduled but rest of the group wants to plan. So, that being said, we'd like to snorkel, would like to have the kids do a dolphin/turtle/sea life encounter at one of the stops, and love mexican food. Don't like hokey...thinking no pirate stuff...but kids would like the animals, hair braiding, shopping.
1) What is the best way to get from either WDW or Orlando airport to the ship? Should we go through RC or some other shuttle like Mears?
2) Labadee - We thought this would be a beach day. However, we've also considered these excursions: Haitian cultural tour at paradise cove and beach break, Sandbar Island Cruise, Malfini Castaway. I know the zip line is the thing to do, but kiddos aren't old enough.
2) Falmouth - How difficult is Dunn's River Falls?? Concerned about children on the rocks...don't need to end up on that when vacations attack tv show. If skipping falls, thinking of doing beach break in Negril or Montego (heard Negril has better beaches but resort that they go to in montego looks nicer). Also considered the dreamer catamaran sail and lagoon snorkel. Open to other suggestions.
3) Grand Cayman - done the least amount of research here. More concerned about Jamaica and not going off solo there. What would be the thing to "not miss" at Grand Cayman given the ages?
4) Cozumel - was really looking forward to mexico until reading some posts. Thinking of chankanaab or just doing the beach. Would really love a great recc for mexican restaurant (margaritas, guac, and salsa please!). Should we use pessos in Mexico or just dollars.
Not opposed to doing non-RC excursions as long as reputable, except one in our group is concerned about what if delayed/ship leaving.
5) On the ship, anyone have experience with the babysitting? We aren't as worried about the older two, but there doesn't seem to be much for our 2 year old unless she is with us. It looks like there is group and in-room sitting available and a kid's club (keep them entertained while we eat dinner program). Anyone use any of these services and have feedback.
I'd arrange something with Mears for the shuttle to the port.
Labadee is a nice resort. The Malfini beach does not include food and it is a boat ride away from the main area, and it is really more of an adult thing with a limited number of guests allowed. I'd just stay at one of the many beaches at Labadee.
Dunn's River Falls is not a good idea for kids of their ages. There are many places where you have to step up high to get the next foothold, and the water is quite rapid in some places of the climb. It is a bit of a physically demanding climb for some adults, even with one of the local guides who will escort groups up the falls.
Grand Cayman and kids? Go to the turtle farm, which now is expanded with a water park.
Cozumel is quite safe. Dollars are accepted. There was some hubbub a while back about a new law requiring pesos, but it is really about banking transactions and we bought whatever we wanted this past summer with dollars. Chankanaab is nice, but so is Paradise Beach or Playa Mia. Go to Pancho's Backyard at the downtown location of Los Cinco Soles for lunch. Pancho's is in the back of this large souvenir store. Great margaritas and food. They have another Pancho's at the pier you will likely use, but it doesn't have the atmosphere of the original location.
I'd do ship's tours in Falmouth, but for Grand Cayman and Cozumel you will be fine just arranging something with a private tour - either ahead of time or at the pier. You tender ashore in Cayman, so that cuts into your time ashore. Just make sure you keep track of ship's time and not local time and you won't miss the ship's departure. Look at Shoretrips.com which is a site we recommend.
I haven't been to Chankanaab (?) in Cozumel, but I have been to both Paradise Beach and Mr. Sanchos' Beach Club. For Paradise Beach, there is no entry fee, as the impression is you'll spend money while you're there. Lounge chair use is $2 US. And for $12, you can use their snorkel equipment, beach mats, and aqua park. This is just a bunch of water inflatables that they put in the water. There's other activities to do there as well. I did parasailing, which was great. If you do that (regardless of where you go), you should be able to see the ships docked a few miles down, if they take you up high enough.
I did this similar itinerary back in October of 2010, only we docked in Ocho Rios, as opposed to Falmouth. Here are my opinions.
Labadee - as you stated, this is a good port for a beach day. I did the zip line, parasailing, and the roller coaster, which is a bit of a walk from where the ship docks, but again, with the age of your kids, I'm not sure if they'd be old enough. Lunch this day will be on the island, as this is Royal Caribbean's private island. It's a barbecue style lunch, with hamburgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob, etc.
Falmouth - Definitely consider a ship's tour at this stop, as they have contracts with reputable tour operators. If those tours look expensive, then you may want to try shore trips.com, as they are another operator who has looked at the tour operators and went with ones that are reputable and safe.
Grand Cayman - My only trip here, I did a Stingray City excursion. This is a trip out to an area where there are lots of Stingrays, and you can touch them, feed them, etc. If you don't want to do a ship's excursion there, then just walk off the tender and see what options there are once you get off the boat. Grand Cayman is a tender port, where you have to go down to deck 1 on the ship, and take small boats, or tenders, to shore, as the water is too shallow close to shore for the big cruise ships. There is a chance, however, that you may not be able to get into Grand Cayman if the weather is really rough. This happened to me on the last trip. It was raining, windy, and choppy seas, and the port of Grand Cayman deemed it too dangerous for the tenders to run. If this happens, check with the companies you booked excursions with to see what their refund policy is. I booked an excursion through the ship, which was refunded by means of an onboard credit.
Cozumel - Another good port for a Beach Day, and like I said, Paradise Beach would probably be my preference, but do your research, and see what appeals to you. Cabs are plentiful in Cozumel, to get from the pier to the beaches.
The ship - Freedom is a great ship, and is one of the larger of Royal Caribbean's ships. You can read my review of the ship here.
2007 - Majesty of the Seas (Bahamas)
2009 - Enchantment of the Seas (Western Caribbean)
2010 - Freedom of the Seas (Western Caribbean)
2013 - Golden Princess (Alaska, roundtrip from Seattle)
Another thing to think about if arranging your own excursion in Grand Cayman - check to see if the price quoted is US $$ or CI $$ ~ if quoted price is in CI $$, the cost in US $$ will be higher (says she who paid US$46 for lunch at Breezes )....
Plan on spending the day relaxing at Labadee. There is an area of floating toys which is an extra cost, but the younger children may like it. Other wise, there will be a free lunch/BBQ at the port, and a relaxing day for all. We do not like Jamica, and I'm too old to climb a water fall, so to me, since I consider the ship to be the cruise, it's another "sea day". My wife and I LOVED Sting Ray City in Georgetown, Grand Cayman. There are nice shops close by the tendering location, and others here will have other suggestions for the port. We also went to Cacnaabke( I can't spell this word EVER), where they had a small beach area, a swimming pool, and several different pricess of Dolphin Swim/Meets, Etc. It's about a 20 minute cab ride if you book yourself, and a $20 entrance fee each. SO, I'd book through the ship. We've cruised several times, and, being the sissy that I am about liking being a US citizen, will not take the chance of being late to return to the ship only to watch it leave without me. We are doing our fourth Western cruise next March, so you should have a great time, in my opinion.
We just returned from the Freedom a few weeks ago. It was in excellent shape and we had a great time. I’m sure that you will as well!
We stayed the night before at the Residence Inn near the port so we opted to do a one way rental with Hertz. It was around $45 ($85 return) and the return center was in the same parking lot as the hotel. There are several options and many use a shuttle instead.
Labadee is one of our favorite stops. You can explore the entire Island (peninsula) on your own or ride on one of their open air trams. You can also take a five minute boat ride from the pier to Columbus Cove which is within RCCL’s property. I think that they are providing this to make it easier for people to get to the other end of the property. The Adrenaline Beach side overlooking the zip line can be rocky and the water can get rough. However, the other side is calm with smooth sand everywhere.
I would stay within the gates in Falmouth unless you book an excursion through the ship.
I agree with Dave on the turtle farm for Grand Cayman. If you want something more relaxing you can grab a taxi to Royal Palms on Seven Mile Beach for a beach day. They have a restaurant, chairs, facilities, etc.
We’ve gone to Playa Mia and Mr. Sanchos in the past and I think that we are going to give Paradise Beach a try in January. There is plenty of shopping near the pier and dollars/credit cards are accepted everywhere.
I recommend that you book your show times before your cruise. They started scanning sea pass cards at the entrances so it will save you some waiting in lines. I’ve been booking shows that align with our meals and then if we change something up we just show up closer to the show start time when they allow additional people in.
Enjoy your cruise!
2002 Adventure, Explorer
2003 Navigator, Serenade
2004 Voyager, Adventure
2009 Liberty, Enchantment
2010 Independence, Liberty
2011 Liberty, Freedom
2012 Freedom, Freedom, Independence
Feb 2013 Liberty
Mar 2013 Liberty
Nov 2013 Independence