Emerald Princess is a large ship (113,000 tons) carrying around 3,100 passengers but we all felt the waves cruising in and out of Southampton in May 2014. Having booked back to back cruises, we can report that it was not a "one off" either, so we were glad not to be on the car ferry to Bilbao this time.
A delayed get away and rough seas meant we arrived 3 hours late in Barcelona because the Captain needed to reduce speed to lesson the rock and roll. At one stage the use of tenders at St Peter Port seemed in doubt but it all worked out fine and we were able to join the island’s Liberation Day celebrations on 9th May.
We liked the atmosphere on the Emerald Princess but must admit that we prefer the Diamond Princess and the smaller Ocean Princess that we experienced last year.
Layout is not as good as the smaller ships, like Sea Princess, as there is only one theatre area and the Explorer's Bar was too small to cope with secondary shows. The Fusion Bar at the stern seemed under used and we believe that it would also have been a better place for the rather intrusive art sales.
With the theatre at the front of the ship and our preferred Botticelli dining room at the stern, we had plenty of exercise walking between these and other venues. In poor weather the open upper decks could not be used and lower decks became very crowded.
We opted for fixed dining at 8.15 pm because 6.15 is too early and anytime dining is a bit of a lottery in terms of dining companions. Most bars were over-crowded by the time we had finished eating and the late show did not start until 10.45, resulting in time to kill and late nights.
FOOD AND DRINK
Food quality was consistently good but wines are over priced. Food presentation standards were good but meals can be quite leisurely, especially at breakfast. Meals on the formal nights were particularly good.
My wife and I enjoyed a meal in the Crab Shack one evening. There was a USD 20 each surcharge and the surroundings were nothing special but the crab was really tasty, albeit enough for four hungry people.
The pub lunch in the Wheelhouse seemed popular but we did not try it as we prefer to find something lighter in the restaurant, on sea days, even if it takes a little longer. We only used the busy Horizon buffet a couple of times.
The International Cafe is a great addition but is poorly located in the piazza area, where there was inadequate seating. We would have liked to use the facility on several occasions but found it impossible to find anywhere to sit.
With so many Brits on board, afternoon tea proved to be very popular, especially on sea days. It should really be a leisurely experience but the waiters tended to rush in with little sandwiches, cakes and scones all at the same time with no real guidance from their managers.
SERVICE AND STAFF
Service was always friendly and efficient with many of the hard working staff from the Philippines. Staff managers were, however, universally miserable and inefficient.
TOURS AND SHUTTLES
We normally avoid the overpriced tours and prefer the DIY approach, having done some prior research on the Internet. We did, however, opt for the travel and On Your Own trips to Bordeaux and Florence, which were OK.
Ships of this size often have to dock in container ports, which tend to be remote and unattractive. In Marseilles, Princess charged USD 16 for a short shuttle ride and left many passengers waiting for more than an hour in the rain.
The entertainment quality was variable, ranging from poor to very good. Princess show productions had been cut back to 35 minutes but were well produced.
Kelvin Joy, the Cruise Director, is still telling the same old jokes from his days on Sea Princess. Activities on sea days were very limited and often poorly timed. The locations for many activities were around the pool areas, which became difficult during the bad weather we experienced.
Lectures were very limited and the port lectures lacked practical information, being mainly slides of buildings etc.
We enjoyed several Spanish lessons, with a charming Mexican Lass. Trivia quizzes seem ever popular, as was line dancing.
The only sail away party, from Gibraltar, was fun but Princess had skimped on the flags and not provided any streamers. Even the drinks at the Captain's Circle lacked alcohol.
Princess remains our favourite cruise line but we will try to avoid heading south from Southampton in future. With most of the passengers being Brits, it resembled P & O rather than our preferred mix of English speaking nationalities.