The Emerald Princess caters for just over 3000 passengers, and on our cruise though the majority of passengers were American as expected, there was a rich variety of nationalities present.
The ship is spacious, kept immaculately clean, and we found the staff to be friendly, attentive and polite at all times. Our cabin steward, (David from Mexico), was excellent.
Both embarkation and disembarkation were smoothly handled by the Princess staff, again as expected.
The ship is very stable and in fact there is little feeling of sailing, apart from seeing the sea. This may be an advantage to anyone who fancies the idea of cruising but may be hesitant about sea motion - there just wasn't any on this Baltic trip. (This may be be different on, say, a transatlantic crossing.)
There is a wide variety of entertainment on board which should offer something for most tastes. Despite the fact that the cast of singers and dancers were both talented and energetic, I found the stage shows to be rather 'tired' and lacking in any innovation. By contrast, the singing duo of Allan and LaDonna were superb.
In terms of dining, there is considerable scope for improvement. The food was always well presented, but the quality ranged from 'excellent' through to 'uninspiring'. Generally, however, the quality was very good, but definitely not luxury cruise standard. Despite the restaurant staff apparently working hard, the eating experience in the main dining rooms was disappointingly slow. The system is that the waiters visit the kitchen to collect meals for several tables at a time. This means that you can be sitting around waiting for others to 'catch up' while you wait for your next course. On more than one occasion we waited for 30 minutes before our order was even taken. If your preference is for long, slow, chatty meals, then you'll have no problem. I was, however, pleased that we could easily obtain a table for two, with no pressure to share.
The buffets provided a good choice of foods, generally of a high standard. They can, however, become very crowded at normal meal times.
Much has been written about the different tipping philosophies between Americans and Europeans or Australians. In addition to the $11 per person per day standard gratuity, there is also an additional 15% added to every bar bill, including a bottle of wine bought at dinner. As a Scot, this was hard to bear!
Shore excursions are not cheap, but are exceptionally well organised by Princess staff and their representatives. We enjoyed three, two in St Petersburg and one in Stockholm. At other ports we chose the option of exploring on foot or by local 'hop-on, hop-off' coach. Unfortunately our 'River & Canal Cruise' in St Petersburg was curtailed by a third, was limited to the canals, and so we only saw the magnificent riverside palaces from the bus. Quite a disappointment.
Other niggles included piped music virtually everywhere - it's actually quite difficult to find a quiet place on board, even although the ship is as big as it is. And finally, in line with Princess's apparent aim of getting you to part with as much money as possible, there are the ships' photographers who are constantly photographing passengers. Like the alcohol and internet access, prices for the photographs are extortionate, and it would be interesting to know how many printed photographs are shredded on each cruise.
I full appreciate that each traveller will have their own expectations and experiences. My expectations were based on two previous cruises with Princess, one with Star Clippers, and one with NCL. Although the Emerald Princess has much to commend it, I feel that it falls short of the mark.
Did we have a great cruise? Yes, most certainly. Would I sail on the Emerald Princess again? No.