This was our second cruise, but the first with Princess. Our first cruise was in 2009 on the new Celebrity Solstice. We wanted to try out Princess, plus we were interested in the specific ports visited on this cruise.
EMBARKATION: There were many ships in port on March 17th. Our journey from the airport La Quinta to the port via All Stars Transportation was a long, tedious process as the driver dropped a crowded van of passengers at various ships. Given the crowded port, we might have done better with a cab. When we arrived at the Emerald Princess, there was an endless wait in line. Eventually it seemed that princess added more staff to process passengers, but it still took an inordinately long time. I had hoped to make it on board in time for lunch in one of the dining rooms at (1:30 p.m.), but we were cutting it close, so we went to the Horizon Court buffet.
CABIN: Our cabin was E730, a mini-suite with an extra-large covered balcony. We liked this room and spent quite a bit of time enjoying the space and the balcony, though it was windy at times. The bathroom tub area and the balcony showed a slight bit of wear. We thought the flat-screen TV's were too small for the space, and of course the lack of high definition limited the viewing experience. Still, it was fun to have two televisions, and we did enjoy the first-run movies. Our toilet quit working one afternoon. After about an hour, a maintenance person appeared and fixed the problem - the result of an air lock. Our room steward Jose did a most thorough and professional job each day. The evening noise from Club Fusion below has been mentioned in other reviews, and we did sometimes hear this at a low level, but it was not a problem for us. The location of the cabin (aft) placed us at quite a walking distance to elevators.
DINING ROOMS: We chose anytime dining. We were eager to experience this option after the limitations of traditional dining on our previous cruise. It took a day or so to learn how the system worked. On most nights, we were seated within a reasonable time, although we did have to carry a pager sometimes. We learned that it is possible within the anytime dining choice to reserve the same table at a definite time for more than one night. The dining room food was very, very good. Although there were a couple of entrees we enjoyed less than others, overall the food was very tasty and beautifully presented. Service was always excellent. The portions were just the right size. My spouse enjoyed different ice creams every night, and I sampled all the dessert offerings. We also had breakfast one morning in the dining room, and afternoon tea was offered each day - a very nice experience! The baked alaska parade on the last night was festive and impressive.
HORIZON COURT/CARIBE CAFE: The buffets were more than adequate, although by the end of the cruise we were a little tired of some items. We agree with others that the juice is very watered down and the coffee could be improved. Among the good things at the buffet were fried shrimp, the breakfast offerings, including made-to-order omelets, and fresh fruit and salads.
OTHER FOOD & FOOD IN GENERAL: We thought the pizza was quite good, and we also had burgers/french fries when we wanted a change. The International Cafe was really delightful and just suited us on several occasions. The overall quality and availability of the food on Princess was one of my favorite things about the cruise.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: All three of our shore excursions - Bonaire, Grenada, and Dominica - were good and were reserved through Princess. Bonaire and Dominica were our favorite stops of the cruise
PROS: Overall friendliness of staff who all seemed to be working very hard. All of our contacts with customer service were positive. At 6 years old, it is a beautiful ship. We enjoyed the warm wood tones and the attention to detail. We did see the occasional scrape or bump, but nothing to detract overall from our appreciation of the Emerald.
CONS: High pressure sales of alcohol, spa packages, and other offerings especially during the first few days. We understand that the cruise line makes money this way, but alcohol is completely exorbitant after the tip is added, and we did not plan to spend money on much else besides an occasional drink, a photograph or two, and our excursions. We did not use spa facilities, fee restaurants, or the casino.
ACTIVITIES: I attended an orientation to the ship's public areas (good); a name that tune contest (too bad one had to be part of a group of 6 to participate); a cooking demo that ended with a visit to one of the galleys (fun and I loved seeing the galley). My spouse went to an astronomer's talk and a seminar on speaking basic French.
ENTERTAINMENT: We attended a couple of musical shows in the theater, which was nearly full on every occasion. These were just okay. We thought Mark Preston was very talented and we enjoyed his show. We also attended a female hypnotist's demonstration one evening. This show was fascinating and slightly disturbing.
ADDITIONAL NOTES: It was crowded around the pools, but we managed with only one unpleasant encounter when my spouse was caught between two women in a disagreement over a chair. We enjoyed the promenade deck, which had a nice old-fashioned feel, although it was very windy. We learned that passengers could bring one bottle of wine per person back to the room, not just at embarkation, but at each port!
FELLOW PASSENGERS: Very few children, and generally an older crowd, although there were a few passengers from all age groups from the U.S. and several other countries, including Britain and Canada.
DISEMBARKATION: We were assigned a time we thought was too late, but the passenger service desk changed it readily for us. There was a short wait in the Casino before we left the ship and found our transportation to the airport.