This was my 5th cruise and first with Princess (been Royal Caribbean, MSC and Costa previously). Booked to celebrate our Silver wedding anniversary we chose the Baltic capitals as a celebratory trip leaving our teenage daughter at home this time. We chose Princess after comparing prices, itinerary, available cabins etc.
We really enjoyed our trip, visited some great cities and were blessed by some lovely sunny weather, calm seas and spectacular sunsets. Overall Princess did a good job but my wife an I were left thinking was it really worth the premium price Princess charge compared with MSC or Costa (whom we have travelled with previously). I don't want to be too negative as this would be unfair but we probably wouldn't choose to cruise with Princess again unless there was a really good deal available or the itinerary wasn't available from others.
Emerald Princess is larger ship but we found it wasn't too busy. It was possible to find a quiet spot for a drink or even a spa which provide private use simply as no one else had found the same spot. We even met some fellow passengers in the check-in queue that we never saw again until disembarking. This ship is well cared for although some of the cabin fixtures would benefit from an update.
Embarkation was a disaster. Progressive embarkation emails and others delaying boarding due to extra sanitation (norovisrus on the previous cruise) were clearly ignored by most passengers and check-in took nearly 3 hours. In all that time we saw no one from Princess and we were left standing without even a bottle of water or any information. The Mayflower Terminal clearly can't cope with these larger ships and so Princess need to rethink this whole process.
I mentioned norovirus. The ship had had an outbreak on the previous cruise and they had decided to do a deep clean before we boarded. We were also reminded of our own responsibilities to help avoid on going problems. Although all boarding were clearly concerned I can only say that Princess appeared to do an excellent job. We certainly heard of no one suffering illness while we were on board and both the crew and passengers did a great job of following the simple rules needed to ensure everyone stayed healthy.
Service on board was very good. Waiters were attentive and bar drinks were served quickly and with a smile. On the whole food was good with some meals being very good. The ingredients were higher quality than other cruises we have been on and Princess did a particularly good job sourcing high quality beef and seafood. I particularly enjoyed their sorbets which were different every day and very tasty. We also ate in both the Crown Grill and Sabatini's and both were well worth the cover charge. Sabatini's in particular is recommended.
Drinks were reasonably priced with wine starting from $26 a bottle, cocktails around $8 and soft-drinks from $2. If you like coffee buy a coffee card ($31 plus 15%). This gives you 15 espresso based coffees and as much tea/filter coffee and hot chocolate as you can drink. Coffee on board was very drinkable and always available.
Our cabin (a mini-suite) was very comfortable with an extremely comfortable bed and high quality bedding. We liked the extended open balcony looked down upon by the decks above but I can understand why this isn't to everyone's taste. The only negative is that the a/c cant be switched off so you have a draft blowing on you all night. I heard many complaining of stiff necks including my wife! Overall very comfortable.
Entertainment wasn't to our taste (at age 46 we were probably 25 years younger than the average age of our fellow passengers who were happy with aged Comedians, trivia quizzes and Sudoku) although the Jazz band in Adagio's bar were really very very good.
I have already hinted that fellow passengers were older. Over 50% of passengers were also British so if you prefer a more youthful and more global mix of passengers don't travel with Princess from Southampton(or to the Baltic perhaps). Again not to our taste.
The ports we visited were all good and some a really nice surprise (Gdansk, Tallinn). Excursions were generally very good but watch out for Russia as the tours are long and the guides move a very fast pace. If you actually want to see the Hermitage don't take a ship's tour - apply for a visa, hire a taxi and visit it yourself. Helsinki was our favourite port of call but they were all good.
Disembarkation was the complete opposite of embarkation. Efficient, quick and very easy. Although we only spent a few minutes in Southampton's Ocean Terminal on the way out it seemed a marked improvement over Mayflower!
To sum up a very enjoyable two weeks and a perfect celebratory holiday. We're already considering where to next but I think we'll return to cruising MSC as they are far better value for money and the crowd are both younger and more European.