We have just returned from our 10-day Southern Caribbean itinerary aboard Emerald Princess and had a wonderful cruise. We are in our early 50's, reasonably fit and active and it was our third Princess cruise (7 day Western Carib on Crown P in 2010 and 10 day Eastern Carib on Emerald P in 2011). We had a wonderful time and have nothing but praise for Princess and for the crew of the Emerald.
We booked with an agency that had good consumer feedback and provided very close to the best price/OBC quote for the cabin category (Inside Double) that we wanted. Unfortunately there was confusion in the telephone conversations between me and the Agent and the OBC amount was $100 less than I was expecting ($250 vs $350). Over several weeks I tried to work through the problem, first with the Agent and then with the President of the firm. In the end we agreed to disagree on who was right/wrong, but I commend the company for their willingness to interact with me (multiple email and phone calls including audio files of all our telephone calls!). A bit of a rocky start to the cruise but from then on everything went exceptionally well.
Due to the vagaries of weather in our part of the world (New Brunswick is in eastern Canada), we booked our flight south on Friday for a Sunday cruise departure. Flight to FLL via Montreal was uneventful and luggage arrived without incident. I booked a car through priceline for pickup from Avis at the FLL airport (with drop off near Port Everglades) and the pickup process went very smoothly. We were en route to our hotel quickly. Price was very reasonable - $20.99 per day plus taxes and fees for a 2 day rental grand total of $65. Two night pre cruise accommodations for the 15 and 16 of March was difficult to book at a reasonable price but ended up with a diamond in the rough. The Ocean Holiday Motel was $100 per night, included free parking and was right on the beach in Fort Lauderdale. It's not the Ritz - basic accommodation but clean, comfortable, well situated and very nice owners. Wrote a review on Trip Advisor if you are interested. While in Fort Lauderdale we ate at Joe's Cafe (it may be Joe's Diner?) and the Gilbert 17th Street Grill and both were great. Wrote reviews about them on Trip Advisor too. Return of the rental car was to the Avis outlet in the Hyatt Pier 66 hotel on Sunday morning and then we took their free shuttle to the cruise port. The port was a bit of a gong show with 7 or 8 ships doing turnarounds but we eventually snaked our way through all the traffic and the various pickups and drop-offs until we got to pier 21 where the Emerald was berthed.
Estimate that we got to the terminal just after 11 o'clock and by then there was a queue already well formed. We gave our bags to the porter, watched them load into one of the hoist cages and joined the conga line. It moved quickly and we were into the building, up the escalator ("Hold onto the hand rail" we were politely told by an elderly Princess rep ? ) and into another queue for check in. Stood in this line for quite a while but we were shuffling forward and chatting with folks around us. There sure were a lot of dour faces in the line up. Come on people, you're going on vacation. Look a bit more cheerful!! Once the early arrivers were able to move from the seating area onto the ship, our queue moved very quickly and sometime between 12:30 and 1:00 we were on board. Everything was just as we remembered it from two years previous. Piazza is beautiful, International Cafe is beckoning, staff are welcoming, their uniforms are spotless, B2B-ers are lazing about, newbies are wandering around with their jaws agape, etc., etc. We went straight to our cabin (D104 at the VERY VERY VERY front inside of Deck 9 -- more about this later), dropped our carry-ons, changed into swim suits and headed for the Outrigger area to enjoy sail away from the back deck and the hot tubs that overlook the stern of the ship. When we returned to our cabin a couple of hours later (with a brief stop at the grill for a hot dog and at the ice cream counter for a swirl cone ? ) , our luggage had arrived so we unpacked and settled into our cabin.
We booked an Inside Gty and were assigned a Category K, D104 which is located at the very front of Deck 9. It is identical to other Insides that we have had so it was like coming home when we moved in. We did notice more of the ship's motion being in this location and more noise than usual. Not sure if it was from water against the hull or from something clanging on the forward deck but at times it sounded like there was something about to come through the roof! While I would not choose this location again, it was not a huge problem for us. By the end of most days my wife and I were so exhausted that the noise didn't bother us. I would prefer an Inside on Plaza deck to this location. As almost always seems to be the case, our room steward, Robertino, was fantastic.
We enjoyed the food that we had in all venues. We did not eat in either the Crown Grill or Sabbatini's on this trip. We had Anytime Dining and never waited more than a minute or two to get into the dining room. We always asked to share a table and our table mates ranged from good to great. Met physicians, farmers, police officers, teachers, business owners, etc ., from all parts of America, Canada, Oz and the UK. Service in the dining room was first rate although there were a couple of nights where it seemed the pace was slow. Just gave us more time to talk!! Had one breakfast in the MDR (very civilized!) and one evening meal in the Cafe Caribe (excellent) and most lunches at the International Cafe or the Trident Grill. The IC is, without doubt, our favourite venue on the ship. Chocolate dipped donuts every morning with a cappacino is THE way to live!! The servers in the IC -- Gina from Indonesia & Anastasia from Ukraine were wonderful.
On board activities
Took part in many more on-board activities this trip than on previous cruises. Joined the Pop Choir which was great fun. My wife and I took three ballroom dance lessons -- merengue, jive and foxtrot -- and it turns out I don't have 2 left feet!! We took every chance to dance so by the end of the cruise I was tickled pink when someone referred to us as the dance couple! Also went to Zumba which was fun. The gym on board is great so was able to keep up my commitment to active living.
Both my wife and I really like to get dressed up so formal nights are something we really enjoy. While there is a range of attire to be seen, a reasonably large proportion of folks were in semi-formal or formal wear. Ladies -- it is always a pleasure to see you looking so FINE and Gents -- you looked great as well!! Loved seeing a number of 20-somethings in tuxes with their dates in long gowns! Of course, none looked as lovely as my wife did in the gowns that she wore ;). Also really enjoyed seeing youngsters and teenagers all dressed up and looking sharp.
The great -- comedian Sarge, singer Mark Preston (of the Lettermen), band Sol Provider, pianist Cory Simon, the Princess orchestra (jazz and big band sets)
The good -- steel drum player, Princess production shows, International Crew Show, piazza pianist, hypnotist Michelle
The bad (actually BRUTAL) -- comedian John Ferrentino
From the captain (Nick Nash) on down, they were uniformly excellent. Met the Captain and the Maitre'D at our CC M&G and they were very pleasant and stayed around to answer questions for a good length of time. The cruise director staff -- CD was Lee, others included Frenchie, Cory, Lexi, Leesh, Stephanie , Sarah -- were omnipresent, cheerful, engaged and friendly. Attended a portion of the chef/maitre d show in the Princess Theatre and they were very entertaining. The servers were referred to by one comedian as "Ninja's" because they are so fast to clear things away that you don't see them only feel a swoosh of air. That was indeed my experience! Always seemed to be crew cleaning, polishing, painting, refinishing, etc. Only complaint -- the public washrooms were sometimes less than perfect. Mostly though they were in good shape.
Through a lot of research on CC and TripAdvisor, I found and booked all of our excursions:
1. Aruba -- Trikes Aruba -- approx $200 for a 3 Â½ hour tour of the island on chopper-style motorized trikes. It was a total blast and worth every penny. Took a cab from the port to their location near the Westin hotel, short instruction on how to operate the machine and off we went. Visited the California Lighthouse, the first church, a waterside restaurant/bar, etc. Afterwards we walked to a nearby beach, hung out for a while and then walked back to the ship. In retrospect we should have taken a cab as it was a LONG walk but we managed OK.
2. Bonaire -- Woodwind Snorkeling -- this was a fantastic excursion. Great instructions by email in advance. Met co-owner Ulf at the pierside and he directed us to their location near the Casino, about a 5 minute walk. Trip left exactly on time. Co-owner Dee led the trip with 3 or 4 other guides and a professional photographer plus catamaran skipper. Great equipment, good safety briefing. Reef in Klein Bonaire is spectacular. Saw too many types of fish to name but the highlite was seeing multiple sea turtles. Free beverages -- beer, punch, soft drinks, water and some great nibblies as we sailed back. Trip arrived back exactly on time per the guarantee that we had been given so no worry about missing the all-aboard time.
3. Grenada -- took the water taxi to Grand Anse beach. $8 round trip pp which you pay upfront and receive a ticket for the return trip good on any watertaxi. At the beach we headed to the far left and obtained an umbrella and 2 loungers for $20. There were servers walking back and forth. Beer was $3 and frozen dacquiri's were $5. No pushy vendors. There was a fellow strolling with a guitar who would stop and play/sing hoping for a donation. After the beach we went to the market and looked around. Stopped to speak with a charming older lady who told us all about the various products. We bought a small sampler of spices plus the cocoa balls and some cinnamon sticks. On the walk back to the ship I bought some spice necklaces (3 for $10).
4. Dominica -- took a tour with Bumpiing. Met us just outside the gate and we left promptly. First stop was Champagne Reef where, as the name suggests, bubbles ascend from the ocean floor. Lots of coral and fish to see as well. Then it was off to a scenic overlook of the city. We could see the ship, the cricket stadium and much of the residential area. Third stop was Titou Gorge. A short walk led us to a stream flowing through the rocks. Water was cccccold but once we were in we were able to wade upstream into the canyon. Climbed up two small waterfalls and then floated back out to the starting point. We were told that a couple of scenes from Pirates of The Caribbean were shot in the Titou Gorge. Final stop was Trafalgar Falls, a national park. Slighly longer hike in to see the Falls and for those interested and capable, we climbed down into a hot spring. Absolutely lovely to relax in the very warm water and to find the various places where it cascaded over rocks and would give you a nice shoulder massage! Tour was $52/pp and lasted 6 Â½ hours so very good value. Free beer, pop, water along the way too!
5. St Thomas -- it was a Sunday and we were moored at Crown Bay so we decided to simply enjoy staying on the ship rather than rush off to a beach. We did spend a few minutes browsing the shops in the port area. My wife bought a pendant of a sea turtle to remember our time at Klein Bonaire.
6. Princess Cays -- I know that some love this stop but I have never been a big fan. So, once again we stayed on board, watched a movie on the MUTS screen, lazed about the pool and hot tub and snoozed/read.
Since our flight was not until 2 pm, we were amongst the last groups off (1010). I now know why they ask people to arrive in the afternoon to board. The B2B folks weren't scheduled to get off the ship until 11:30 or so. Everything went smoothly for us -- found our bags quickly, the customs line moved steadily and within 30-40 minutes we were in our cab en route to the airport.
By now I'm sure you've figured out that we really enjoyed our trip. Until 3 years ago I never imagined that I would enjoy cruising but after three cruises, there is no doubt that I'm a convert. Not sure when we'll be able to go again but hopefully it'll be within the next couple of years. Two itineraries that I would really like to do - #1 is the Baltics and #2 is the Panama Canal.