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Advice and opinions on cruise with 4&1/2 year old, please

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Our DD and 4&1/2 year old granddaughter need a vacation and want to go with DH and me. The only ships DH and I have been on were 5* Princess and Celebrity.
We are looking at Princess cruises from Texas that would be much more expensive for us with airfare, and Carnival cruises departing Florida that would save about $800.00 for the 4 of us, and have easier flights with a little one. I am leaning towards Carnival (because of the costs and flights), but am very nervous about it, and with no experience on Carnival, I feel I am flying blind.

Stops we are looking at are Belize, Roatan, Cozumel and Caymans. Different ships have some variations but most similar.

This will be DD's first cruise and I really want her to love cruising. I've read lots of criticisms of Carnival, and know we love Princess, especially Caribbean Princess, OTOH, want fun things for GD.

Would Carnival be better for a child? Princess does fewer ports, fine for Adults, but will GD be bored on more than one or two sea days?

So, with a novice cruiser and a nearly 5 year old, would you do the cheaper, easier flights on a cruise to great ports, but on only a 4* Carnival ship, or the cruise with fewer ports and longer, more costly flights, but on the beautiful 5* Caribbean Princess?

If you say Carnival, which ships would you consider and which not?
One less important question, but how are the bands for dancing on Carnival?

A huge thank you to anybody with any advice. I want to book in the next couple of days and the rest of the family is depending on me to make a good choice.

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    Princess is actually very family-friendly, so if you prefer that line, I wouldn't be concerned, and if you wanted to go on Celebrity that would be fine as well ... it also has good kids programs and facilities. Carnival has excellent kids programs, as does NCL, but both are less upscale than what you may be used to, and there are many more extra charges. Perhaps a nice median might be Royal Caribbean, which is a bit more upscale than Carnival but still has a lot of extra charges.

    You might also look at New Orleans as your cruise port. But I'm not sure if flights will be cheaper to there or not.

    My one piece of advice about Carnival is if you choose that line, look for a cruise on one of the newest ships, which are less gaudy and have more amenities. That means one of the Dream-class ships: Dream, Breeze, or Magic. Dream is based in Port Canaveral and New Orleans, Breeze in Miami, and Magic in Galveston. Or you could choose Carnival Sunshine (a newly rebuilt ship), which is based in New Orleans or Port Canaveral.

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    What CCL ship is it?

    I do agree about avoiding older CCL ships.

    We do those ports on CClL in April on the Legend BTW. Our two CCL cruises have been just fine though I find their level of service a notch below Princess and Celebrity. That's does not mean its bad, just that the other two are a little better and it's not a deal buster.

    Then look at kids activities offered on the ship. If it's a newer ship I think you will be fine. Some of the as I am sure Doug would know specifically have Guy Fieri burger restaurants so if it's one of these I would do it!

    So it's -17F here now and a cruise on a freighter sounds good! :D

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    Almost all Carnival ships now have the Guy Fieri burger restaurants, or will by the end of this year. But the newest ships have even more amenities. Carnival has been on a program to introduce a lot more drinking and dining experiences to all of its ships. Don't underestimate Carnival. The line offers a great experience and cruise, its recent propulsion issues notwithstanding.

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    recent propulsion notwithstanding .... LOL ... :D

    Sassafrass, Carnival is fine. The food is actually getting better (quality wise), dare I say better than Celebrity and Princess at times (or maybe it is the other 2 has come down in quality ...:( ).

    What we didn't like about Carnival (and RCL and NCL for that matter) is the constant "sell sell sell" bombardments, especially on the Caribbean cruises where they push alcohol hard. And as Doug has put it mildly, the "extra charge". They (CCL, RCL, NCL) get you on board cheaper, but the extra charges do add up, and they can add up awfully fast.

    If you have only cruised on Celebrity and Princess only, you may find your fellow ship mates slightly different from what you are accustomed to. They are younger demographically for sure, their behaviors are also different. I am not quite sure how I can describe it without offending one group or another but people behaved differently, at the buffet, at the shows, in the dining room, at shore excursions etc. It is not bad, it is just different.

    I think your GD would enjoy Carnival's fun style atmosphere if you can keep here away from the drinking crowd. As an example, on my young son's first cruise on Carnival (he was 12 at the time) he was soaked after someone accidentally bummed into him and showered him with a few cocktails. Needless to say, he wasn't too impressed with them.

    Carnival has a very good kids program plus your GD may even enjoy the less formal atmosphere (more costuming by the service staff) of the main dining room. Your DD would certainly enjoy the entertainment on Carnival better than Princess or Celebrity.

    It all depends on why you choose to cruise at that particular time, for that particular trip. Most of the time, we cruise because of the ports so the ship is not important as long as it floats and provides food and shelter. Okay maybe a little bit of pampering ... :)

    Sometimes, we cruise because we want to get away, like the coming up trip in less than 2 weeks ... Caribbean Princess (Houston round trip), the one that you are looking at ... and for this trip, the ports were not important, it was some place warm, far away from the snow, and since we live on the west coast, Houston is easier to get to, plus it was on sale. It could have been RCL, CCL or NCL. Since the prices are about the same between all of them, we pick Princess over the others (better value?), plus we are getting close to "level up" on their loyalty program.

    The only mass market line that we have not been on for a very long time is HAL. We just don't want to be reminded that we enjoyed the music form the 50's ... In all seriousness, it was great memory, great service, great value, it's just the pace was a bit slow and we didn't feel that we "Fit" in all that well with the fellow passengers.

    From I could gather form your posts, I will venture to guess that you will enjoy the Carnival experience, and so would your DD and GD. Just listen to Doug and pick one of the newer ships.

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    You guys are great! I knew I could count on you for both advice and kindness.

    The last year has been beyond difficult for our family and, especially, DD. She works like crazy with endless worries. We thought a cruise where everything is done for you and you are forced to get away from work and de-stress would be a perfect gift to her. We are only going with her so she can have some play time, stay up and dance, take in a show, etc. while we play with little GD or get her to bed.

    So, that is the reason for the cruise, and you have reassured me that most would be fine. Thanks for the advice about which ships. Will definitely follow it. DD is so grateful for the opportunity, she doesn't care which ship or which itinerary. She loves all beaches, I was attracted to cave tubing in Belize and Roatan sounded like fun. I am so excited to be able to do this.

    Smiling now, I am hopping onto VTG to make a pick.

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    This is a great post, thank you all for asking and sharing the information. I have a 5 year old daughter, and this is a question my wife and I have been asking. We are looking to go on a cruise this year, but we worry about taking our 5 year old on a boat for an entire week. We have considered doing a Disney cruise, which I am certain is probably worth every penny, but we would like to see other parts of the world, as well. You guys have really saved me a ton of stress trying to decide which direction to head. I think I will look into Carnival first, but I want to compare prices to lines such as Princess also.

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    Doug,
    A big thank you for the recs on which Carnival ships to choose from.
    Carnival Dream looks very impressive, has the itinerary I want and departs from Florida. I narrowed the choices to departures from Florida for shorter flights - easier on the little one (old ones too). It is actually about the same price as Princess, and is getting better reviews in the last few months.

    Paul, if you have not been there, a cruise in the Caribbean is beautiful with lots to see and do at many ports. They are wonderful in winter, easier to get to the departure ports from the US, and shorter, so you can easily do one in a week. Also, many families do the Caribbean so there are more children than on the longer cruises. For a first cruise with a young child, I would strongly suggest that and, if you can get a week off, you could still do one this Feb or Mar. Of course, I am saying that because our first cruise was to the Caribbean and we fell in love with cruising and the Caribbean. We did seven nights, departing from PR with stops on five other islands. It was fabulous from the moment we stepped onto the ship. That is why I want to do that for DD and GD's first cruise.

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