Winter weather getting you down? Use our last Caribbean cruise vacation as a guide for planning your next family vacation! We will give you the highs and lows of the journey. Certain hotels were a hit, where others weren’t so kid-friendly. Find out how we like the Princess Cruise ship Regal Princess (or not). Make your vacation a total success for the entire family and relax a little yourself!
After much deliberation and lots of planning, we decided on flying into Fort Lauderdale Florida and driving up the coast to Universal Studios in Orlando where we stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel. After spending two days at Harry Potter World we drove back down to Fort Lauderdale and spent two nights and two days at the Atlantic Hotel and Spa. We had an amazing experience leading up to our Caribbean Cruise vacation. We then got on our ship, the Regal Princess; through the Princess Cruise Lines for a 7-Day Western Caribbean cruise that traveled from Fort Lauderdale Florida, to the Princess Cays Resort in the Bahamas, to Falmouth Jamaica, and Grand Cayman of the Cayman Islands, we stopped in Cozumel Mexico and then proceeded back to Fort Lauderdale Florida. From here we decided to spend one more night in Fort Lauderdale at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino to avoid the cruise crowd at the airport before flying back to Salt Lake City.
As always Delta Airlines came through for us. We were able to use our SkyMiles to pay for all of our flights which ended up being about $200 for each passenger to fly round trip from Salt Lake City International Airport to Fort Lauderdale. Delta Airlines were very polite and appear to always have good customer service. Our flights were on time as usual. Our bags were loaded and unloaded without any lost or damaged items and without delay. I always seem to have positive experience with Delta and will choose to fly them every opportunity that I get.
Enterprise Rent-a-car (Orlando Airport)
Upon our arrival at Fort Lauderdale Florida they proceeded downstairs to the Enterprise Car Rental desk where are reservation was waiting and the customer service representative was very pleasant to work with. We received our rental car and proceeded with our Caribbean cruise vacation without delay. The staff here at Enterprise Rent-A-Car We’re very professional and expeditious in getting us on our way. We were happy to receive a vehicle that looked nice and was in good working order.
Orlando Hard Rock Hotel
To start our Caribbean cruise vacation right, we drove up the coast. The drive up the Florida coast from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando was not nearly as scenic as we had hoped, but upon our arrival to the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Studios in Orlando we were very excited! They allowed us to check in early and we were able to get our park passes without any difficulty. The valet service met us at the front door and my family stayed in the car while I checked in. After only about 10 minutes, I was done checking in with park passes and express passes in hand. Valet helped us unload our car and placed all our bags onto a cart. We were told that the Bellman would meet us at our room with our luggage very soon.
The bellman was very knowledgeable of the hotel and its policies and he was very polite. When we reached my room, he had already unloaded our bags. The bellman immediately returned with a Happy Birthday pin that he presented to my daughter. In addition, she received a complimentary appetizer at The Kitchen (the hotel restaurant) downstairs.
Hard Rock Amenities
The room was very nice and clean and the beds were very comfortable. We had a view of the hotel pool and a large screen TV. The pool had a couple of hot-tubs and even featured a water slide (as well as a movie by the pool) for the kids at night. It was very nice to relax here after a long day of adventure and exploration at the park.
Benefits of Staying at the Hard Rock
That afternoon we left the hotel and headed for the complimentary Water Taxi which took us from the hotel straight to the entrance of Universal Studios. Because we stayed on the property at this hotel we received passes that allowed us to get into the park one hour earlier than everybody else. We also received Express passes which allowed us to proceed to the front of the line at many of the attractions in the park as part of our vacation package. Adding a Universal Studios vacation package to a Caribbean cruise is a great way to entertain the whole family.
Interactive Experience at Harry Potter World
As we entered the Harry Potter World’s “Diagon Alley” we felt instantly teleported to Diagon Alley from the movie. Laying straight ahead of us were cobblestone streets lined with Gothic shops and themed rides. The employees of Harry Potter World we’re dressed the part and did a great job of staying in character which greatly added to the authenticity of the experience. We immediately proceeded to a wand selection show where a guest was randomly selected to have their wand choose them. We were directed through a shop, where we purchased our own interactive wands for use throughout the park. These wands would interact with fountains, that would spew water, lights in in some shops, and even a train set in a Shop window. They would only move when you properly swished and flicked your wand as indicated on a metal plate located on the ground in front of the interactive object.
Universal Studios Orlando
As we exited the shop, we came upon a large dragon statue that was perched on top of one of the buildings which periodically roared loudly and shot fireballs from its mouth. My eight-year-old loved riding the rides and interacting with different items throughout the park. We all enjoyed some traditional British food at the Harry Potter-themed restaurant the “Three Broomsticks.” From here we proceeded on to the Hogwarts Express and on to the second area of Universal Studios’ Harry Potter World “The Islands of Adventure”. The second area of the park was themed more toward the later movies in the series and had several rides and interactive items as well.
Vacation Package: Worth it!
We could have spent three to four full days at Universal Studios visiting the various parks and attractions that this park has to offer. Doing the vacation package through the hotel was definitely the way to go. I would recommend this to anyone who was looking for some fun and adventure in the Orlando area. Schedule enough time before your Caribbean cruise to take advantage of this fun theme park.
The Atlantic Hotel & Spa
If you have a day or two before or after your Caribbean cruise, we highly recommend taking advantage of the beach. The Atlantic Hotel & Spa features a swimming pool and a full-service spa as well as a bar and a restaurant. This hotel has large balconies and very large bathrooms with Whirlpool bathtubs and a shower fit for a king. The hotel is located right across the street from the beach where we spent hours’ body surfing and playing in the sand. The hotel is very clean and the staff was very friendly, polite, and helpful. When we ordered room service the hotel staff was very accommodating to our order and delivered high quality food that was delicious.
Spa + Dining
My wife enjoyed a massage here at the Spa Atlantic. We could have happily spent much more time and money here enjoying this luxury hotel. The restaurant on the property served fresh ground coffee and the food was top notch as well. My family and I had a wonderful experience at this hotel and we would highly recommend it to anyone who was planning on staying in Fort Lauderdale. We thoroughly enjoyed sliding open the balcony doors and walking out to the sound of the crashing waves and the smell of the salty ocean air.
7 Day Caribbean Cruise
The Regal Princess cruise ship is a royal class cruise ship that is 1083 by 217 feet with 15 passenger decks. This ship boasts a capacity of 3560 passengers and was first launched in 2013. The Regal Princess is a very modern ship that contains many amenities as well as several restaurants, bars, a casino, theaters, and lounges. While going on a cruise can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience this was not our first and unfortunately it was not our favorite. We constantly felt herded and corralled while we were on this cruise. This was not something we were used to experiencing on other cruise lines that we have traveled with in the past. I have since learned that if you’ve been on one cruise you’ve probably been on them all and the difference is in the details.
Getting Ready for Our Cruise
Prior to the cruise, I had pre-ordered some chocolate dipped strawberries and some other hors d’oeuvres for us to snack on when we boarded the ship. The Princess Cruise Lines offers on their website to recognize various anniversaries birthdays and events. Accordingly, we notified them that it was going to be our daughter’s birthday. I had written notes along with my orders to go along with the theme of The Princess Cruise Lines for each member of my family. I started the note with her royal Majesty or her Royal Highness to play on the spirit of the cruise. Hopefully, the little gestures would help provide a warm welcome for my family upon our arrival.
Regal Princess Drops the Ball
Caribbean cruise day was finally here and we were so excited to be on the ship. As we walked down the passage way to our cabin we passed several cabins on the way that had happy birthday signs and balloons placed on the doors. They were recognizing various passenger’s birthdays or anniversaries, but when we got to our door there was nothing on our door. I could see the disappointment on my daughter’s face. As we entered the cabin door my thought was that this was maybe an oversight that would be easily overlooked by the delicious treats that had been pre-ordered to welcome my family to the ship and that the balloons and sign could be remedied a little later. To my disappointment when we entered the cabin none of the chocolate dipped strawberries or hors d’oeuvres were waiting in our cabin either.
Series of Disappointments
We had to secretly notify the ship’s crew 3 times to get a happy birthday sign in balloons put on the door for my 8-year-old daughter birthday. We also had to ask about 6 times to get a child-sized life jacket placed in our cabin. The initial disappointments we experienced on our Caribbean cruise was unfortunately a sign of things to come and not an anomaly. The ship’s crew on multiple occasions indicated that they were dissatisfied or disgruntled with their present employment. Ultimately, I felt that the management of this ship’s crew generally left something to be desired.
Movie Under the Stars
However, to say that our entire cruise experience was horrible would be unfair. There were several crew members that really went out of their way to make a difference for us. It was unfortunate that their outstanding efforts were constantly being drowned out by our constant stream of negative experiences. One positive experience that we had on this Caribbean cruise was experienced one night out on the open deck while watching a movie under the stars with my daughter. As the deck crew was setting up the deck chairs for the movie on of the deckhands noticed that my daughter looked cold. Without any prompting this guy proceeded to get a couple of warm blankets and wrap my daughter up with them while I was cuddling her in my arms. With a smile on his face, he stated that he could see that my daughter was cold.
One Gold Star
Just a quickly as he had appeared he was gone again, but this experience meant the world to me. This crew member’s gesture almost overshadowed any negative experience that I had had up to this point. If I had happened to have had any cash in my pocket at this moment, than I would have given it all to him. Employees like this tend to be few and far between in any industry, but this particular man should have been treated like gold, just as he had treated us.
A-1 Hospital Staff
Another positive experience that we had on the Caribbean curise was with the ship’s Hospital staff. In our time of need they were extremely kind, caring, and professional. The Nurses and Doctors knew what they were doing and were instrumental in getting my wife home safely and in one piece.
The first stop on our Caribbean cruise was Falmouth, Jamaica. Jamaica was beautiful and we chose to spend our afternoon exploring and climbing the Dunn’s River Falls. The water was comfortable and cool and we love the light challenge of climbing the falls. Once we finished climbing the falls we swam at the beach and really worked up an appetite for dining on Jamaican Jerk Chicken at Scotchie’s Restaurant. Which featured an outdoor dining experience where we could walk over and watch them cook our food.
The next stop on our Caribbean cruise was at Grand Cayman. We went to seven-mile beach which was a beautiful white sandy beach. If this was all that we came for than this would have been perfect, however we love to snorkel and unfortunately this was not the place for this. Most of the reef was dead and there was not a whole lot of sea life to see here. My daughter enjoyed the clear water and the warm sand here. She had a blast running into and out of the water all afternoon.
The final stop on our Caribbean cruise was Cozumel, Mexico. This was by far the most beautiful water and reef that we got to snorkel at. The sea life was abundant, the water was extremely clear, and warm. We opted for going to a resort instead of doing any excursions here and we were happy that we did. The food was delicious, the staff was accommodating and the massage that I got here was very professional and well worth the money.
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
When our Caribbean cruise was finished, we stayed at another Hard Rock Hotel. The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino was not a very kid friendly hotel, However, it did feature a large swimming pool, water slide, and several hot tubs as well as a bar/restaurant area. The pool was a little cold and it did not have any features available for kids, so my daughter didn’t spend much time here. Our room was clean, and featured a deep bathtub with a shower and a balcony, and the beds were very comfortable. This hotel features a movie night which allows you to purchase a bucket of popcorn some candy and some drinks to have delivered to your room. This was probably our most favorite feature about this hotel and we thoroughly enjoyed this experience.
This hotel catered more to adults and was probably not our favorite place to stay on our trip. The hotel featured a large casino and had a restaurant on site along with a couple of shops and Convention centers. We found out from our Uber driver that this is a pretty hot party spot for singles in the area. (This was evident by the couple of groups of loud party goers that went past our room in the middle of the night.) Unfortunately, the hotel also allows smoking inside the casino areas as well as in the Hard Rock Cafe. Smoking wasn’t allowed everywhere, but smoke lingers and is most something to consider before staying here. The hotel took security very seriously. They checked everyone’s room card prior to allowing them to get on the elevators to go up to the rooms.
Was it Worth it?
If you’re looking to escape the winter blues, I definitely recommend booking a Caribbean cruise vacation. As much as the Regal Princess ship was a bummer, we enjoyed the experience as a whole. Harry Potter World was totally a hit, as well as the hotels we stayed at. Hopefully this guide will help you make some better choices on your next vacation! Leave a comment if you have any additional advice or similar experiences. Thanks!