We are a recently married boomer couple who decided to sail on the Emerald Princess based upon the many positive reviews I read on the Cruise Critic website. We decided on the Eastern Caribbean itinerary because the islands, other than St. Thomas, would be new to us. This was my fourth Princess Cruise and my wife's second.
We flew from Portland, Oregon, to Houston, then on to Ft. Lauterdale via UA. We always fly in a day early to avoid weather-related delay issues. Arrived at 4:30p.m. Would have stayed at the Emerald Suites near the cruise dock, however due to a reservation mix-up(my fault), we ended up at the Hilton Beach Resort. Nice hotel with COMFORTABLE beds. Walked down the street to a restaurant and had appetizers and people watched. Right off the beach. Long walk along the beach walk-way the next morning. Left for the port via hotel shuttle and arrived at the terminal about 11:15a.m. Waited in line until noon, when they started to process us onto the ship. An efficient and quick process, once the line got going.
The ship is obviously well-maintained and well run. Constant maintenance and cleaning during the entire trip. The ship was maxed out and I think it holds 3k passengers. You are given a handy fold out map that easily fits in your pocket to find your way around the ship. Very handy.
There is a lot to do on the ship. We attended some of the movies, all recently or currently in the theaters. Did MUTS twice and enjoyed it, although watching the one movie during the daylight hours was harder to hear, since we had a noisy table nearby. Evening is best, but bring a sweater. They provided comfortable chair pads and blankets. My wife attended the rum tasting and enjoyed it. I attended the digital photography class, although it was pretty basic, even though described as "advanced digital photography. Read and relaxed a lot during the two sea days.
We were in cabin B239, which is forward on the Baja deck and on the starboard side of the ship. The seas were pretty calm during our voyage. Our cabin steward, Angelito, was very efficient and attentive. We were so pleased with his service we gave him two extra tips during the voyage (in addition to the gratuity automatically placed on our bill). He located a firm pillow, since the pillows provided were so well-used, they were compressed to practically nothing.
We felt the overall service on the ship was excellent. Staff were friendly and attentive.
Excursions-The first port of call was Antigua. We just did a beach excursion that day. The resort was nothing to rave about-kind of run down. The beach was nice. Free rum punch and lunch on a covered pier just out from the resort. Watch those rum punches....one lady in our group had WAAAAY too much punch and had to assisted back to the ship. They charged for the beach umbrellas, which we thought was a bit much.
Second port of call was St. Lucia. We took the Catamaran sail to the Pitons and bus ride back. Enroute to the pitons, the captain stopped in a small cove and people swam and snorkeled for about 45 minutes. Vendors harassed us by parking their skiffs next to our boat. One guy was cajoling passengers to buy something incessantly. The boat captain tolerated it and even gave the pesky vendors some rum punch! Probably got a cut of the action (opinion). Finally got to the beach near the pitons and landed the boat. Vans picked us up and we went to the drive in volcano and did a short walk to a better viewing area. Some passengers complained that the sulfuric smell gave them a headache. The guide said the smell was a good way to clear your sinuses. Then drove to a plantation and started a tour there. We were to have lunch after the walking tour. Many of us were so hungry (last ate on the ship at 6:30a.m.), we skipped some of the tour and went directly to the covered dining room, where we ate a Caribbean-styled lunch. Very tasty. Loaded on to larger buses and then started a 1.5 hour bus trip back to the ship. VERY hilly and twisty roads. Would not recommend for those who are prone to car sickness. Stopped briefly at a small fishing village to shop and then back to the ship.
Third excursion was on Barbados. We took the photo tour, operated by a professional photographer who studied photography in NY and has a successful business in Barbados. A great guide. This was called the Barbados Photo-Adventure, operated by Ronnie Carrington. If you are an amateur photographer, this is the tour for you. Sign up on-line, as this one fills up fast. I was on the wait list and he added an afternoon tour, so we were able to go. He takes you to the scenic Scotland District on the East Coast. BEAUTIFUL landscape and he has some wonderful stories about the island. We stopped at a rum shop on the East Coast.
Fourth and final excursion was on St. Lucia. We took the four wheel drive excursion to Cockleshell bay on the S. side of the island. Drove there in an old British lorry (truck). The guide had been raised on the island. Kind of a rough-hewn kind of guy. Told us stories about how he used to hunt the wild pigs, cattle and monkeys when he was a young man. Kind of grossed some of out when he described how he used to cook and eat the monkeys. Sorry, too much information for us! The beach was nice, but no beach chairs were provided and the snack was pretty lame. Would not do this again.
We shopped in St. Thomas and I purchased some camera lenses and a flash unit. Good place to shop, but the camera gear deals not as good as the prior times I have been in St. Thomas.
This trip included Grand Turk, which is an island 1.5 miles wide by 7 miles long. A world-wide destination for snorkelers and scuba folks. The water all around the island is shallow to about 150 yards out and then drops off to very deep ocean water. The beach is right next to the ship and there a plenty of beach chairs. If you get off early, you can find a chair under the palms. You can rent chair covers and other gear. Lots of shops in a complex at the end of the pier and a JIMMY BUFFET restaurant/cafe/swimming pool. They also have a wave machine next to the swimming pool. The water is beautiful! We were there from 1p.m. to 6:30p.m.
Dining was great. We did anytime dining and never had to wait for a table. Arrived at about 6:30p.m. every night and were seated immediately. We asked to be seated at a large table and enjoyed meeting new people every night. The food was excellent, but not outstanding, in our opinion. We had a continental breakfast several times in our balcony cabin and loved it.
We signed up for the Chef's Table experience. You must do this the second you arrive in your cabin by calling the dining line. There are only two groups of 12 people that do this for the entire cruise. 24 folks out of 3,000 passengers. $95 per person, but I promise you it is an experience you will always remember. Tour of the galley by the head Chef. Three or four appetizers and champagne in the galley. You are then escorted to the dining room where an elaborate table has been set. Numerous courses serve to you accompanied by different wines. The chef does a flaming dish next to the table. The meal ends by the presentation of a coffee table book of Princess Chef menus and a group picture. Another night we did dinner at the Crown grill that specializes in steaks and seafood. $25 per person and well worth it. Great service.
We thought the entertainment was kind of ho-hum. Nothing that stood out, except for the tribute group, The Beatlemaniacs. Princess could do a better job with their entertainment, compared with other cruise lines. They have also shortened their shows recently. They apparently did this to provide my venues and more opportunities for people to see the shows in the evenings. Not everyone likes the change.
Disembarkation was simple and we were off the ship by 8:30a.m. Took a taxi to Ft. Lauterdale airport (about $12.50). Did not book the Princess shuttle service, which we thought was way too expensive. I highly recommend the service that Princess provides for $20 per bag, that sends your bag from the ship directly to your final airport destination. It was nice to get off the ship with only carry on luggage. They even print your boarding passes and deliver them to your cabin with our luggage tags.
One final note. For some odd reason, numerous passengers developed a cough 3-4 days into the cruise. Raw throat. Not a cold, but you just did not feel 100%. My wife and I experienced this. This was brought up spontaneously as a topic of conversation at several dinners and venues we attended with other passengers. Once people cracked their balcony doors, the problem went away. Most thought it was a problem in the ventilation system. It was a mystery. I did mention it in my cruise review with Princess.
Overall we really enjoyed this cruise. This is a well run ship and we heard very few complaints from other passengers. I would recommend this ship in a heartbeat. The 10 day Eastern itinerary is wonderful. Nice ports of call and three days at sea to enjoy the ship and relax.