Ourselves and another family are planning a cruise in March 09 and are wondering if anyone has any suggestions for us about the best one to book. Each family is 2 adults and 1 pre-schooler (4 years) so we'd prefer a cruise that has flexible dining, a kids club and babysitting options. Also, since we're probably going to have a few afternoons or evenings where we're in our cabin whilst our son sleeps we're thinking that booking a room with a balcony may be best. But if we did have to sit in the room are there any cruise-liners that have rooms with dividers or are designed so the main bed and the sofa-bed are in separate areas?
On our last NCL cruise in December, on the Dawn, I noticed that they had a separate buffet area for small kids. Looked like they had shrunk a buffet. Served things liike mac+cheese, jello, etc. Saw a lot of parents with toddlers in there. SO cute.
Oh, and adult dining is true flex dining. You go to whatever restaraunt you want when you want....within certain hours. Side thought...if you do get a balcony, make sure that door stays shut, so little ones don't wander out there. Sorry...you probably already thought of that.
As far as catering to families with small children, Disney and Royal Caribbean have outstanding programs. Carnival is family friendly as well, but the atmosphere may be not be right for you. I would suggest though that you compare the three lines and see which you feel is best suited for you. Kids have a seperate area where the parents can leave them with well qualified staff in their own fun area. Do keep in mind that final payment is due about 60-90 days(depending on cruiseline and stateroom choice) before departure, though it is best to pay in full if you can so that you can book activities and excurisions earlier. Check each site for more information on each individual lines policies. On a note, if you go with Royal Carribean, look for the Freedom class or Voyager class ships. These ship classes have the most activities in their fleet, with Freedom class ships having the most, so everyone will have something they enjoy. With the exceptions of the private islands for the lines that have them, shore excursion options are for the most part identical from line to line.
NCL, Carnival or RCCL would all be good choices, my kids are 5 and 8 and will be going on their 10th cruise in November, they have been on all three lines and loved every one of them and these three lines certainly meet the needs of parents with kids. NCL will probably have the most flexible dining arrangements, but there is another strategy we have used with success. Generally speaking the kid's club opens for the evening at around 7:00, so if you have set dining times, you could choose late seating and take the kids to the buffet around 6:30 p.m. to enjoy a nice dinner of stuff kids love then allow them to attend the kid's club while the grown-ups enjoy a nice quiet romantic dinner an hour or two later. Some four year olds have difficulty sitting through long meals...especially when the only thing they have on their mind is going to play at the kids club lol.
If your little one is still napping, I would probable spring for a balcony or minisuite to give the grown ups a place to hang out while the little ones are asleep. On the NCL Pearl we booked a mini-suite and I recall a privacy curtain that divided the bed from the sitting area.
The other thing you could look into is a Family suite on RCCL's ships that would accomodate all 6 of you and provide 2 separate bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. RCCL also offers in cabin sitting which I have used and was very pleased with our experience. Hope that helps.