We drove from the west coast of Florida where we live the day before we were to leave and spent the night at a great Extended Stay America hotel in Plantation. It was close to the freeway, shopping, restaurants, about 10 miles from the cruise port terminal and was reasonably priced. We also used Park'NGo to park our car. They were convenient, reasonably priced and very efficient and quick to pick us up and drop us off.
This was the second year in a row we took a New Years cruise. We were also celebrating a birthday and an upcoming retirement. This was not the best cruise we have ever done, but it came close. We had a wonderful time, had fantastic food, met some wonderful people, saw exotic places we had never been before, and enjoyed all of the amenities and entertainment. Embarkation was slow and tedious and they kept hundreds of us waiting outside the terminal on the sidewalk next to the loud buses for several hours. Once inside, there were only two agents to handle hundreds of people that wanted to be checked in. It was not a good experience.
No cruise is ever perfect, but this came very close. It was also only our second cruise on Princess. The last time we did this line was to Alaska was in 2005. We chose them this time because of this ship's itinerary and the features onboard the Emerald Princess. Also, the fact that they give a Military onboard credit to Veterans was a nice gift to receive. Almost daily, they had listed in the activities calendar a Veterans get together for one of the lounges. My husband really enjoyed this, and by the end of the cruise, he had met quite a few other veterans. It would have been nice if they had provided a wait person or bartender for them when the meetings were going on. They missed a huge opportunity to sell some drinks!
One of the best things about Princess is their smoking policy and the fact that they enforce it. There was very limited smoking allowed on this ship, and they even had non-smoking nights in the casino. Both were very much appreciated. I always stay out of a ship's casino if they allow smoking in it. This time I was able to use it and do a little gambling in comfort.
The other feature about Princess is their Special Requests that you can enter online before you leave. I logged into my Captains Circle account, and requested Gluten Free. I have a sensitivity to wheat as it makes me sneeze. Once on board they accommodated my requests for gluten free bread very easily at breakfast and lunch. We had a traditional dining time in the DaVinci dining room. Our head waiter was outstanding, and met with me every night to go over my next day's dinner choices to make sure that my dinner choices would be prepared gluten free. We did not try either of the specialty restaurants, but the view from the deck 17 patio outside of the Italian specialty restaurant was spectacular.
The International Café, Vines tapas and wine bar, and Crooners martini bar were all located in the piazza in the center of the ship. The first afternoon on the ship, I bought a Coffee Club card. It was the best deal for specialty coffees, and unlimited brewed coffee and teas made individually to order. It even worked in the dining room at dinner. We loved grabbing a lite bite, lunch or a small dessert at the International Café. Any where on the three decks of the piazza were great places to people watch and listen to live music. The spectacular balloon drop and champagne waterfall on New Years Eve were held there also.
The adults only Sanctuary and Thermal Suite are gorgeous, but they charge way too much money to use them. We have been on cruise lines where these areas are free or with only a minimal charge. We highly recommend the Couples Cabana massage that is done in an outdoor cabana located in the Sanctuary. This was the first time we had ever tried this. The two young ladies that we had provided a superb couples massage experience for us. I did use the spa for two other services, and hated them because at the end of the spa service, I had to sit through a sales pitch on buying the spa products that they had used for my service. I realize that it's part of their job, but it completely turned me off.
The staff throughout the ship is well trained and attentive to your every request. Everyone was always pleasant. We rarely saw the Captain, and the Captain's party we were invited wasn't very good. We missed the free appetizers and free drinks.
We did use the gym facilities almost every day. It is huge with a lot to choose from, but I could tell that the exercise machines were starting to show their age as some of them appeared to be quite worn.
We were gone from December 29 to January 8 and had rain on 5 of the 10 days of the cruise. The Princess cruise director and staff were very quick to redo the ship's daily entertainment schedule on the rainy day that we could not stop at Princess Cay. Every day, even in port, there was always entertainment scheduled, or activities scheduled somewhere on the ship.
We cruised to Aruba, Bonaire, Grenada, Dominica, St Thomas, and were supposed to stop at Princess Cay. We could not because of the weather. We had already been to Aruba and St Thomas so we did not do any tours there. We did tours in Bonaire, Grenada, and Dominica. There is not much to see on Bonaire. I felt like we wasted our money on the city tour. It was pouring near the end of our ride on the Tuk Tuk tour. We had our raincoats and we needed them. he Tuk Tuk quit running in the middle of a rain filled street. Only 4 passengers and a driver, but my husband and another man with us had to get out and push it out of the middle of the street during this heavy downpour. We then had to get out, walk along a narrow curb hanging onto a fence so we could get away from the water and get to the sidewalk. Thank goodness it happened close to the ship. At Grenada, one of our stops was a cocoa bean processing facility where we learned how cocoa is grown, harvested and dried. It was the best part of our day there, but we were late getting back to the ship and we did not appreciate that. Dominica was very nice, but I would skip the city tour, and just go to the Hot Springs natural spa. Be prepared to walk down 50 rock steps to the grotto. It was a long bus ride to get there up the mountain in the rain, but it was well worth the trip. Again we were a little late getting back as there was a handicapped man on the trip who could not make it up the stairs and held us all up while our tour guide and his wife helped him. This tour included walking down and up those difficult steps and there was no easy handicapped access.
Our disembarkation was as bad as the embarkation. We were taken off the ship early and were told to sit and wait because our bags were ready. Once we got our bags, we stood in the customs line for over an hour. It took about 2 hours of waiting to finally get through all of this. Thank goodness we had an accommodating porter to help us with our bags.
The cruise director told us that there were only 200 children on this cruise, but in the late afternoons and at night it was obvious that they were allowed the run of the ship. They seemed to travel in packs, and some nights were running in the hallways or through the stairwells.
Overall, we would recommend a cruise on the Emerald Princess, but make sure you don't chose a cabin in the aft of the ship. The walls loudly vibrated whenever the captain has to use the side thrusters to move the ship sideways. Early morning dockings ALWAYS woke us up.