My previous sailing on the Grand Princess was so thoroughly enjoyable that I was taken aback by the differences I encountered on the Emerald Princess. Many of the frustrations I encountered seem to be indirectly related to obvious staff reductions and a change in priorities from passenger satisfaction to passenger sales. While my experiences in port were very positive, they were almost overshadowed by the shipboard frustrations.
I had booked all our other excursions through Princess and, discovering that some cities were easily explored by a simple Hop On - Hop Off tour, attempted to make some changes. Because the Tour Desk does not offer passengers a telephone number for simple questions nor the option to book/change tours via the TV or computer (as does Celebrity), the lines get very long. This is compounded by the fact that the Tour Desk is only open for two hours each afternoon (4:30 to 6:30) and only staffed by a crew of three. I was forced to stand in line for one hour and ten minutes to simply confirm some changes I had made! My fellow passengers were very angry and frustrated and, when someone attempted to cut in line, there was shouting and obsenities were tossed about. The anger and tension could have been avoided by adding staffing, increasing hours and/or accessibility. A fourth crew member manned the end of the desk with the sole responsibility of selling CDs of the tours to passengers. He was unable and unwilling to assist in any other way.
Currency exchange was handled by two machines that charged $3.50 for each transaction and usually one of the machines was not working. Gone are the days of the on-board "bank" for personalized currency transactions.
I was particularly disturbed by the significant increase in "marketing" that took place on the ship. I was regularly subjected to ship's crew trying to sell me something and there was no escape from it. At every meal, drinks and bottled water were "pushed." After dinner we were asked to purchase liquors and special souvenier glasses. There were three times more people selling bottled water in the buffet area than there were people to pour coffee, tea and free water. At 7 AM one morning, my fellow passengers and I were assembled in the Princess Theater to leave on an excursion and we were subjected to a ten-minute sales pitch by the person responsible for making the CDs for each port, on sale for $35.00. Only after he was finished was he replaced by the Tour Director calling our departure groups. In voicing my concerns to other passengers, many agreed that marketing had become far too high a priority.
Staff has clearly been reduced as also evidenced by the fact that our Room Steward was still servicing rooms late into the afternoon each day - around 2 PM. The towel and trash carts sat in the hallways each day until this was complete. On my previous cruises all servicing was completed in the mornings.
We chose "Anytime" dining for this cruise and I appreciate the flexibility that it allows. In addition, we were introduced to many more passengers with whom we could swap stories. While dining almost exclusively in the dining room (as opposed to the available buffets) I was very disappointed in the quality, presentation and selection of menu items compared to previous sailings. Portions have been reduced significantly (which certainly reduces waste) but the quality has also suffered. It was not uncommon for me to resort to the standard "Optional" items on the left-side of the menu because I was unable to find a regular selection that suited me. Those "Optional" items have also been reduced significantly - noticably, the steak is no longer an option. Some meals were served lukewarm. One evening I received red potatoes that were cold.The "Optional" Ceasar salad was not an even an option because the dressing was terrible.
Salad dressings were a frequent topic of discussion at many sittings. We all noticed that the Ranch, Blue Cheese and Italian dressings were so far from the standard taste they were almost unrecognizable. It tasted like the dressings were all were made from a common base of mayonaise and vinegar. This was the case in the buffet area as well.
The anticipation of high-quality shipboard entertainment like I had experienced on the Grand Princess lured me to the theater twice, before I accepted the fact that the singers and dancers were not of the caliber I previously encountered. The productions were poorly produced and the selections questionable. The production of "Shoes" delivered loud, discordant, unfamiliar music and lyrics and chased several passengers out during the course of the show. The only safe option was Sammy in the Crooners Lounge who played the piano and sang and enchanted the passengers with his stories and familiar music. One evening he brought sheet music for a sing along. Great fun. Just be ready for the sales pitch for his CD which is sold in the shipboard store.
Finally, if you use the Internet Cafe, don't expect too much support from the Manager on-site. He was generally surly and not helpful. He made you feel like you were wasting his time when, I believe, his primary function should have been to provide support for the passengers. There were many complaints from people who felt they were overcharged for their minutes - the available plans starting at $55 and went up from there. The only other alternative was $.75 per minute which seems high for a computer that is frustratingly slow!
In summary, I found many passengers in agreement that quality has suffered in the areas of dining, shipboard entertainment and the staff reductions have inconvenienced passengers. Until this cruise, Princess was always my first choice but, I am afraid the negative influence of Carnival as has become the order of the day, and I will look elsewhere for high-quality cruising satisfaction and comfort.