Our family of 5 including my husband, me, and 3 daughters enjoyed this sailing. We chose this itinerary for its Rome, Florence/Pisa, Gibraltar, & London ports of call. We flew into London City airport and went straight to Southampton, using Smithsforairports for all transportation. We were very happy with their service. Our boarding time was 2:30 but we were able to get on about an hour earlier. I had read in previous posts that embarkation was very disorganized but that was not our experience. It would be nice though, to be able to board when you arrive at the ship. Had hoped to be able to enjoy lunch in the open sit down dining room but it had already closed. Our alternative was to join the masses at the buffet. We were aware that the Emerald was hit hard with norovirus in the few weeks before our sailing. The buffet was always manned with staff encouraging the use of hand sanitizer. I noticed most people taking advantage of it. I think though, it should also be encouraged AFTER filling plates and touching all of the spoon handles and drink dispensers. I did not hear of any illness on our sailing.
We had three staterooms: two ocean view next to each other in the aft section and one inside in the forward section. Although we requested the inside guarantee be put near the two oceanviews; Princess did not accommodate. The inside room was to be for adult daughter, the two ocean views for husband and myself; and the other oceanview for two daughters, adult and 16 year old. A quick change was made and my husband and I went with the inside so our 3 daughters would be next door to one another. The inside room was adequate, bed comfortable with plenty of storage. No windows makes it easy to sleep late! The two ocean views were sold as completely obstructed but we were delighted to see they had full view of see with obstructions to the sides. They were also blocked off so only crew was able to enter the areas below which meant no passerby's peaking in.
Our first three days were sea days and welcome ones they were! We needed this down time to recoup from pre-cruise travel. We enjoyed many of the on board activities. Our 16 year old met with the teen group and immediately found a good friend with whom she spent a good amount of time. The teen club was an overall positive experience however she was discouraged to see some of the teens acting immature and bragging about smuggling in alcohol. These teens seemed to have very little parental supervision. Our other daughters enjoyed line dancing, zumba, fitness center activities, trivia, and karaoke. We do not utilize spa or any other on board activities that require extra payment nor did we pay extra to eat in the specialty restaurants. We enjoyed the food on board but I found myself sometimes just wanting something not so fancy. I never complain though about not having to cook so I enjoyed every meal! Our waiter Randolf and his assistant, Ali were great. Our room stewards were excellent and helpful as well. We enjoyed nightly entertainment in the theater. Some were better than others but overall we always manage to enjoy them. The last nights' crew theater production was wonderful and it was great to see everyone having such a good time. It was standing room only with many doing just that in order to view it. I do have a few complaints with Princess one being the internet access-not only pricing, but speed. I don't mind paying but when it takes 15 minutes just to log on and check a few emails; well, that's ridiculous. It's obvious that they manage to slow it down to make more money. Also, I'm not pleased with the day bedding that is stuffed on the floor at night under our bed and then put on top of our bedding during the day, including throw pillows on top of the pillows we sleep on. This just seems dirty to me. Also, at night, during popular events such as trivia or karaoke, the seating in the lounges was not adequate. Many times, we would have to miss an event we would have attended because there was no seating.
All staff on board were friendly and helpful. I utilized the laundry room often and only had to wait a couple of times for a washer or dryer. It is $2 for a wash; $2 for a dry. The iron/ironing board came in handy as well.
To make this as brief as possible, I will quickly post ports of call and tours used. With five of us, ship excursions are not an option. I booked everything independently after doing extensive online research and everything was great.
Barcelona: Nancy Baum Dailey of enchantingbarcelona tours dot com. We enjoyed her tour and highly recommend. The highlight for us was la Sagrada Família. What an amazing building!
Corsica,(Ajaccio), France: We toured on our own and went to Napoleon's home. We also walked to the beach to put our toes in the sea. Be aware that many sunbathers are topless. My American teen daughter was not quite prepared for this. We took a bus ride out to view the Isle de Sanguinaire. Overall, this port was a nice, one-time visit but we would not care to go back.
The next 2 days we docked at Civitavecchia for Rome and Livorno for Pisa/Florence. I booked both days with Rudy's Rome Car Tours @ www.rome-car-tours dot com. If Rudy is not available he sends another guide which I knew was a possibility but unless you ask in advance, you are not told this. We were happy with both guides, especially Claudio in Rome who really went the extra mile to fit everything in. He hoped we wouldn't blame him that Trevi Fountain was under refurbishing, empty of water and behind scaffolding. Of course we didn't but were disappointed that we couldn't view it in all its glory. The highlights for us were the Colosseum, and Vatican area. We are not Catholic but enjoyed the history, art, and architecture immensely. The next day we spent the morning at the Tower of Pisa. We all loved this visit. The afternoon was spent touring Florence which was nice and a visit to the Academia to see statue of David and other art which was great as well.
Genoa, Italy was our next port and frankly we were tired from the hard-going previous days. We got off the ship and stayed in the port area. Fortunately, the aquarium is there so we enjoyed it. It is an ugly building and this disappointed me but the displays are nice. We loved the dolphins and manatees. There was an overcrowding problem and it seemed very disorganized but overall it was a good visit. We visited some of the cheap souvenir vendors nearby before going back on board for the afternoon.
Monte Carlo, Monaco is our next destination. My husband thought this was the prettiest port area. The expensive yachts probably had something to do with this! I found tomsportguides dot com very helpful in planning our walking tour of this port. He lists step-by-step instructions on how to get up to the palace area without having to take too many stairs. He has other port guides as well with the same helpful info. We enjoyed touring the palace, church and the changing of the guard at the palace. Also, the Oceanographic Museum and aquarium is wonderful and very tasteful building unlike the aquarium in Genoa. They do not however, have dolphins or manatees like Genoa does. They do have a shark pool with small sharks you can touch. The girls really like this. We returned to ship for late lunch and then hubby and I too the water taxi across to the casino for a quick peek.
We are exhausted at this point and a sea day was welcome and enjoyed before our last port of call-Gibraltar. We loved our tour with John Lopez's Gibraltar Rock Tours; www.gibraltar-rock-tours dot com. Again, we did not know who our driver/guide would be but he was very good. We loved our visit here for the wonderful views-they were perfect that day. We also greatly enjoyed touring the Great Siege Tunnels.
Our last two days on ship were sea days and we needed them for our upcoming few days in London post cruise. Disembarkation went as smoothly as it could. We were again, transported by smithsforairports. I had previously arranged tickets for entry to Stonehenge on our way to London. We were glad to get to see this. We then went on in to London, dropped our luggage off at our hotel and went to an afternoon performance of The Lion King. It is an amazing production. We then had fish and chips nearby at Wellington Pub which were delicious. (Reservations were made online ahead of time which is recommended as the pub is small.) We then took a cab back to our hotel.
I chose The Rookery Hotel in London after researching online. Since we needed two rooms, budget was a big factor. I was drawn to this hotel though, because of its history, architectural features, Old English decor and good reviews. It only has 33 rooms and I was not disappointed. It did take a while to get everything organized since we needed a rollaway bed and accessible shower. The staff were very helpful and prompt answering my numerous emails. The breakfasts, while not free, were delicious, fresh and beautifully presented; either served in our rooms or in one of the public rooms or patio area. My girls felt like princesses in the lavishly decorated rooms. Their room on the front did allow for some of the outside noise at night to be heard (trash trucks and people talking) but ours in the back was very quiet. We loved our stay here and would recommend it if you like a more homelike environment. It was a quick few minutes walk to Farringdon station to catch the tube for transport around London.
The following day we enjoyed worship service at Hillsong London. That afternoon we had a tour with Steve Norris in his Cow Cab. (londoncabbietours dot com ) We learned a lot from Steve and saw parts of London we would not have been able to see on our own due to time constraints. He tucked in a few Harry Potter filming spots here and there which my 16 year old loved. He also took a photo of us Beatles-style at the Abbey Rd. crossing.
The next day would be our last in London. We set out for Buckinham Palace changing of the guard ceremony. We stopped on the way at Platform 9 3/4 in Kings Cross Station for our Harry Potter fan daughters to take photo. Queue was long and it took about 2 hours. After changing of the guard ceremony, Hubby took two youngest daughters to Warner Brothers Harry Potter tour. They loved it! Other daughter and I bought tickets to tour Buckingham Palace. We enjoyed lunch afterwards on the grounds. The sandwiches were delicious and about $16.00 usd each. I like to say, we had lunch with the queen! A stop at the souvenir shop for some last minute gifts then on our way to the tube to Westminster Abbey. After finding it closed at 3:30 and Evensong another hour away, we decided just to head back to the hotel. We enjoyed nachos from next door, Burburrito and found the ingredients to be fresh and very tasty. We all packed up, turned in early to rest for our 6 am pick up, again by smithsforairports for transfer to Heathrow and flight home.
Our trip was wonderful and everything went very smoothly which we are very thankful for! We loved the Emerald Princess and hope to sail with her again!