Review of Emerald Princess Transatlantic and Baltic Cruise, April 26 -- May 23, 2012
This was our second transatlantic cruise on Princess. We were on Ruby Princess in 2010 from Ft Lauderdale to Barcelona. On this voyage, we again departed from Ft Lauderdale but ended in Copenhagen. We stayed on board and continued with an 11 night Baltic cruise. Overall, it was a wonderful cruise. The service from the Princess staff was excellent. Food selection and quality was fine for our tastes but the entertainment was mediocre. More about that later. The first half of the cruise was very relaxing but then became very port intensive and exhausting.
Having been on Ruby Princess, the layout of Emerald Princess was very familiar and almost identical to Ruby Princess. For the transatlantic cruise, we had a balcony cabin on Baja deck. Baja deck is the first level of balcony cabins to be completely covered by the balcony cabins above you. We could easily look down and view the balconies on the lower decks. For the Baltic cruise, we gave up our balcony cabin in favor of an inside cabin on Plaza deck. When we arrived in Copenhagen at the end of the transatlantic cruise, all we had to do was pack the loose items and the cabin steward moved everything to our new cabin. The Plaza deck is an interesting location since it was only steps away from the Piazza and the International Cafe open 24 hours.
The ship was full for both segments. At the end of the transatlantic cruise, approximately 1000 passengers remained on board for the Baltic cruise. The passenger mix seemed to change for the Baltic cruise with fewer Americans remaining on board. Not surprisingly, there were very few children on either the transatlantic or Baltic cruise.
The weather was mostly good on the transatlantic portion but took a turn toward cloudy, cool weather once we got to the European ports. Except for the first several days out of Ft Lauderdale, the outdoor areas on the ship were not used that much. There is no heated pool so there were only a few dedicated swimmers using the pools. Movies Under the Stars were running but like the pools, only had a few people using this feature. We like to find chairs on the covered Promenade deck and enjoy reading while watching the sea go by. Unfortunately, it was too cool for us to do this except for day 1 and 2.
We selected Anytime dining and that worked out well for us. We always asked to share a table and only had to be given buzzers on a couple of occasions. If you arrive for dinner before 6:30PM, there was usually not a wait. The food was fine for us and did not seem over salty as some recent reviews on Cruise Critic have mentioned.
This was the first Princess cruise that we failed to eat in the Main Dining room for breakfast or lunch at least once. The Horizon Court buffet offered good choices for our tastes and was usually not too crowded. The servers in the Horizon Court were good at coming to your table to take care of drink requests. At breakfast, they have fried eggs already prepared and ready for self-service. The slowest step in gathering our breakfast was making toast but we developed a little "dance" each morning in which we would place the bread in the toaster and then go to the various stations collecting all of the other items and come back to the toaster just as the cycle had completed.
Another Princess first for us was trying out the Chefs Table. If you want to do this extra charge event, you need to contact the activities desk immediately upon boarding since the number of available spots is quite limited. We did this event on the second night of the cruise. It consists of a tour of the galley and while there being served special appetizers and champagne. Your small group is then escorted to a main dining room where an elaborately decorated table was set up. A special menu was presented, including items cooked tableside by the Chef. The meal included several wine selections. The captain of the ship came by to greet our group. The evening concluded with a group photo and a copy of the Princess cook book. Is it worth the $95 per person charge? I will just say I'm glad we had the experience.
The only specialty restaurant we tried was the Italian restaurant, Sabbatini's. I thought it was just ok and I would prefer the steakhouse which we have done on previous voyages.
Our most recent cruises before this one were on Allure of the Seas and Norwegian Epic. The entertainment on those ships blows away what is available on Emerald Princess. That may not be a fair comparison but those two ships raise the bar and makes the Princess entertainment seem worn out. To be fair, we don't do the night scene all that much, but the times we did visit various lounges, I was not that impressed by the talent. There was a string quarter playing frequently in the Piazza that was enjoyed by many.
One of the best features on this voyage was the destination lectures given by John Lawrence. He came on board once we arrived in Europe and gave a live talk about each of the upcoming ports of call. This talk was then repeated on the cabin TV. His talks are also available on CD at www.JohnLawrenceDVD.com. The DVD would be an excellent gift for anyone planning a Baltic cruise. He is very knowledgeable and has a great British wit.
Ports of Call
The transatlantic cruise featured stops in Ireland, England (twice), France, Netherlands, Norway and Denmark. The Baltic cruise visited Norway, Germany, Estonia, Russia, Finland and Sweden. By doing both cruises back to back, it can be an exhausting and expensive series of shore excursions. It doesn't have to be I suppose since some people just get off and wander around the local port area. However, many of the ports offer long and expensive excursions. From these ports, there were long trips available into London, Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin. We had previously been to London, Paris and Amsterdam, so we did other things.
From the port of La Havre, a small group that met via Cruise Critic, arranged for a limo to take us to visit Mount St Michel off the coast of France. Princess did not offer such a tour. To visit Berlin from the port of Warnemunde, I think the Princess tour is the way to go since they have a private train to make the journey to and from Berlin.
The visit to St Petersburg is the highlight for many that take a Baltic cruise. The ship remains in port overnight, allowing for a 2 day visit. I didn't want to be part of a large bus load making the rounds to the many points of interest, so I arranged a private tour though Anastasia Tours. Using Cruise Critic, I located 5 other passengers to join with us. We not only had a personalized tour but it cost less than the Princess excursion. I would definitely recommend Anastasia Tours. The tour guide spoke excellent English and had an astounding command of facts and figures about all the places we visited. The tour company takes care of the visa needed to visit Russia. Payment was not needed upfront and could by paid with any currency or credit card.