OK, here is our report. I won't take the daily journal approach since Mom24Princesses did such a great job - but I'll try to hit on some highlights and details that those planning might appreciate. Our approach will be a random collection of themes. First us - Family of 5 from EP Minn, kids 13, 8 3. MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE: I'll put this up top. If you are a first time cruiser with DCL and decide that you will do this again, book your next trip BEFORE you get off the ship. This way you get the best discount possible and also an onboard credit. Don't wait until the last day either because you'll be busy. This happened to us - and we learned the hard way. Once you are off the ship, the deal is off. I have subsequently learned from our TA that you can book anything - and then change specifics such as dates and cabins later. We have booked next year's spring break trip - but we are now paying an arm and a leg for it. Embarkation: Since we flew in the night before (stayed at AKL), we had a rental car deal with National (kids like to pick the Emerald car). We'd rent again - except that I would NOT use National. The office is too far from the pier - also no shuttle. I dropped the family off at the pier and went to return the car - by the way, they were able to check in without me so this did save some time. For those of you that go this route, the person that stays with the kids should definately check in. Problem with National is that between traffic, distance, and waiting 45 minutes for a cab, it took me over an hour and a half to get back to the ship. For those renting - go with Budget. You are spending thousands for your cruise and time is money. Also, the National office is a franchise as opposed to Budget. It's just not as well staffed and everything there is slower. Cabin: We had connecting rooms for our family of 5 on deck 2. This setup worked well for us. Connecting rooms is a lot cheaper than a family suite by the way. Late Dining: Worked for us perfectly. We like late afternoons on the top deck - having a cocktail as the ship sails off while kids are playing in the pool, basketball, shuffleboard whatever. Our kids also are constantly getting pizza, ice-scream, burgers, chicken etc - they do this around 5:00, so it holds them over until 8:00. We also don't like to rush back to the ship on port days. Between 6 and 8:00 (our seating time), the kids were typically - off in the theater, at a club activity, at "free time" in the kid clubs, or playing video games/relaxing in our room. If we are all ready by 7:00 or 7:30, we stroll around and take pictures. People usually start to line up in the main dining areas around 7:50. Dining Rotations: We were APL. I thought that Animators show was pretty cool, but just OK as far as the show goes - nothing to go far out of your way to plan. I think the bigger thing is to try to get Lumieres on the formal nights. Personally, I like the higher ceilings of Parrot Cay and Lumieres better. Food: Food in the main dining rooms was sometimes good, usually just OK. Lumieres was best. At times, the quality depended on what you ordered. I know it is hard to cook for so many people, but I thought that the 3 seperate dining rooms would address that. The disapointing thing about this is that everything else about the cruise is so "great" that you wish Disney would do a better job here. I don't think they will (why should they? they seem to be able to charge people a premium and still fill their cabins). Not a deal-breaker by any means but disappointing. Also, our waiters' serving "guidelines" appeared to be to get everyone the same thing at the same time - this means that if someone's food was ready, they'd let it sit there and cool off until everyone was done with their current course, or everyone's entree was ready. We like our food hot - next time, I think we'll just tell them to bring things out when they are ready. Palo Food: Very good to excellent. Typically, we went late (our kids were in the room - the oldest babysitting the younger). We were able to go to dinner twice based on waitlisting - I think that after 8:00 you get better luck. We also were able to book brunch the first day onboard. That was good as well. For all the availability issues of getting Palo, we saw some empty tables late at night. My impressions (could be wrong) are that they won't go far out their way to run at 100% occupancy here. Sea days: We liked those as well. Breakfast at topsiders in the outside shady area - it's pretty scenic back there. Food was good in our opinion. We liked the omlette bar for breakfast. Our kids did not go to the clubs at all - for the most part, they hung out with us on the top deck. We watched movies, swam, did the slide; We either had lunch at Topsiders, or brought it back to our deck chairs. A couple of times, our kids went to the arcade for an hour and a half - this allowed us to go the adult pool - that was very nice. Our three year old typically skipped his "in-room" nap, but every day, whether we were at sea or in port, he would take a nap on the beach chair in the shade. For lunch at sea - we typically went to Topsiders - they'd have themed lunchs: seafood, oriental, etc. They always had "fresh cooked" station - for oriental it was wok fried noodles, for seafood it was sushi. Jumbotron: On our cruise, they showed the NCAA final four games. Also opening day baseball. They typically showed a movies in the afternoons and evenings. St. Maarten: We took a cab to Orient Beach. The cab ride is about 15-20 minutes. The drive offerred to pick us up, but we declined - we liked the fexibility to arrive and leave at our own pace - the middle area of the beach near Bikinis always has cab drivers waiting to take you somewhere. This was one of our best days on the cruise. We rented chairs and umbrellas at Bikinis. Nice thing about Orient is that it has the combination of nice sand, scenic light blue waters, activity, food, drink, wave action. We rented boogie boards for the kids and they just loved riding the waves in over, and over, and over. They also did the sand castle thing. We also rented a waverunner for half an hour. Julie ordered rum drinks and I had Coronas. The food was good (there is some Thai food on the menu) - and we basically hung out all day - ate, drank, relaxed, and our boys played. We considered having the outfit there take us to Pinel island for snorkelling - we also considered cabbing to Maho - but we were fine staying put. Oh yeah, the nudity. I'd say about 10-20% of the women were topless. An hour and a half into our stay, one of our boys commented on it. We told them that that was the European way - no big deal, I don't think they paid any extra attention the rest of the day - DO NOT let this detract you to going to this wonderful beach. St. Thomas: We arranged a daysail with New Horizons. 30 or so minute cab ride to Sapphire Bay Marina. This was about a 25-30 person sailboat. This was also a great day. Continental breakfast. Rum drinks all day, beer if you want it. We sailed to Honeymoon beach for snorkel and lunch (they served a phenomenal Italian pasta lunch - one of the best meals on our trip). We then sailed to Christmas Island/Bay? for more snorkelling. We then were back to the Sapphire Marina by 3:45 where our Taxi was waiting (for this one, you do want to make that return trip appointment - we got back to the pier around 4:20). We highly reccommend this or any daysail. It is a little cheaper than a private daysail - I thought that the company was good, but next time we might try the private thing for more customization - after Honeymoon bay, I would have preferred to go around to Trunk, Cinnamon, or somewhere else - the ride to Christmas was too long, and the snorkelling wasn't that great. If you did nothing else at Honeymoon bay than sit on the beach - you'd almost get your money's worth - beautiful sand, crystal clear waters, palm trees, isolated (not accessible by car). I snorkelled with the two older boys there while Julie spent time onthe beach with the younger one. For our St. Thomas and St Martin excursions, it was nice to go at our own pace without having to conform to the cruise ship schedules. Late dining also helped. Castaway Cay: I can see why this gets its reputation as the best cruise ship "private island stop". We were late getting off the ship - and yes, there was a crowd/line to get off. We had no problems finding an umbrella. It is a nice walk to the beach - and if the tram is not there waiting for you, it is probably faster to walk. The farther down you go, the better chance you have of finding an umbrella - as a matter of fact, if you want seclusion but are still confined to the family beach due to little ones, just keep going. The area closest to where the sting rays are is pretty uncrowded. Just be sure to rent your toys (snorkle, tubes, matts, etc) on the way so you don't have to walk all the way back. You'll have to trade off distance from actvities, Cookies, rentals, snorkle lagoon etc, for your desire for seclusion (the area close in does get pretty crowded). Cookies is as described - just OK. I've had better island barbeques - but those weren't for 2000 people. Snorkelling was surprisingly very nice there. You do need to swim out far into the lagoon to see anything (it is too cloudy close in). It can be a workout getting back in because you are going against a side-current - nothing dangerous, just more work to go less distance. Maybe it is timing, but at times, snorkelling here was better than at St. John (this is contrary to reports I had heard) - the snorkelling was worth it. Formal nights/Shows: We went to two shows - Disney Dreams and Golden Mickeys on formal nights. These were the only two days where we needed to get started getting dressed for the evenings early. We took in the shows at 6:15. They were good shows. They typically ended a little after 7:00. We spent time in-between strolling around and getting our pics taken. On formal night they were handing out free cocktails at the captain's party. Rockin Bar D: With the kids either in bed, watching movies, or playing video games in the cabin, we went there for both 70s and 80s night. Both nights were lots of fun. The staff really does a good job putting on a show as well as getting everyone up and dancing. Both nights had a combination of DJ music and a live band that did a good job of keeping things lively. The numbers of people in the bar dancing and watching the shows was pretty high (none of this 4 people in the clubs on the dance floor after 10:30 that we had heard about). Final night: We got back to the ship from Castaway at 4:30. Although our kids were age 3, 8, 13, our eldest took them to the Oceaneer Lab (one on deck 2) and they played with the games until 6:00. We did all our packing then. By 7:00, we were all showered for the evening and packed. Our youngest did come down sick with some flu late that night - that put a damper on things (cut Julie's dinner short). We were going to go out, but with the sick child, she stayed in the cabin. After dinner (boys and I had dinner), I went to shutters - got some brought some cocktails back from the Promenade lounge. I also went to the store to purchase a suitcase - and a good thing I did when we did - those were selling fast and was all gone by the time I was done. I reccomend maybe bringing an extra duffle to pack things that you buy along the way - also dirty clothes take up more space than clean folded ones. Also, after Castaway Cay, there is typically a long line of people at guest services - all getting cash or doing the credit-card tip thing. Do yourself a favor and take care of this earlier. Debarkation: Around 5:30-6:30 AM time frame, I could hear the ships thrusters firing. Our cabin on deck was near the freight door so I was up to the sound of loading and unloading. Our family slept in - with late dining, we made our way to Animators around 7:50 AM. Debarkation was smooth and relaxing. Advice to those going to Shutters - it does get hectic, especially this time, do do yourself a favor and do not wait until the end of the cruise to go to shutters. Right around dinner time on the last night, Shutters is very crowded. This eases up later at night. On our return trip, we had Budget - their shuttles come often - I went to pick up the car. We had a smooth-uneventful ride back to MCO - time to spare and shop a little for a 1:15 flight back to MSP. Next time, we might purchase Disney Transfers, just because there is so much darn luggage for the way back - it might be nice to not haul luggage, but we'll see. OK - that's it. In summary, we had a great time. We'll do it again. Let us know if you have any questions on anything.