Emerald Princess Cruise Review by LadyCruiser22: Exciting Baltic Ports - Princess Disappointment
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Exciting Baltic Ports - Princess Disappointment
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 More 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. Less
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Cabin review: AED109
We had been upgraded to a mini-suite from a balcony at no additional charge since we had booked many months prior to the sailing. Our original cabin was in the middle of the ship, but out upgrade was way up on the bow of the ship -D109. There were only two cabins closer to the front than ours. There is a definite drawback here. When the seas are rough, the front of the ship rises up and slaps down on the water, creating a sound like a small explosion! This made sleeping next to impossible without taking a sleeping aid.The closet was huge - over 40 hangars - with lots of space above and below for storage. Lots of storage space. Bathroom had a big tub and, again, lots of storage below the sink area.The benefits of the mini-suite certainly justify the additional cost in my estimation. Quarters get very close after 10 days at sea and the sitting room and separate TV come in very handy.
Port and Shore Excursions
To reduce costs I had booked my own travel, lodging and tour excursions in Copenhagen. I selected the Radisson SAS Falconer hotel in Copenhagen for the night of our arrival and changed to the Princess selection of Radisson SAS Royal for our stay at the end of the cruise. This hotel, although more expensive because it is a "five star" versus a "four star" hotel was centrally located in the heart of the city. It is close to the town square and walking distance to all the tour buses. It is more than a cut above the Falconer and well worth the extra dollars. Also worth considering is the beautiful Marriott located centrally on one of the canals. Passengers staying there were generous in their praise.
We selected the local "City and Canal Tour" and found the "City" part very disappointing. The only photo stop was for the Mermaid and the city commentary was very sparse. The "Canal" part, on the other hand, was stupendous. Don't miss a good canal tour. It was recommended, once we got on board (and it was too late) to get your tour down by the canal and choose the "lesser" boats towards the end of the line. They are half the cost of the fancier ones in the front and travel to the same places. This was confirmed by a fellow passenger who followed that advice and was very pleased.
Upon our return after the cruise we discovered the Hop On-Hop Off tours to be excellent. You can board and purchase your tickets just down the street from the Royal. I recommend purchasing the pass that covers all three tours since it was only a few Kroners more, was not limited to one line and was valid for two days.
By far the best tour is the Mermaid Tour. It delivers you to almost all the destinations you would want to see with frequent photo opportunities. The least impressive tour for me was the Christianita Tour.
Our tour guide had a masters degree in Economics and was clearly enamored of Poland and very knowledgeable. Unfortunately our tour did not provide for any photo stops on the way into the town of Gdansk so photos were hard to obtain. Lec Walensa's home was a blur, as was the sculpture celebrating the Solidarity movement within Poland.
Because this is a walking tour you need to be prepared with good shoes although the terrain is level and easy to traverse. The primary target is the old town area which is identified by arches at the beginning and end of each street. St. Mary's church within is the largest brick church in the world although you would never know it to look at it. Good photo opportunities here. Watch and listen for the knolling of the bells of the Town Hall on the hour. It is in the center of the town square and is surrounded by cafes which offer rest and refreshment during your hour on your own.
Our final port - was OSLO, Norway. Port Rating 4 Here I would suggest using the sightseeing buses which cue up outside the ship in the morning. Because the Sculpture Garden is open 24 hours you can get there early before the rest of the town opens. It is definitely worth seeing and photographing and a highlight of Oslo. Remarkable. The National Gallery on Universatietate displays Munch's paintings which include "The Scream." I found his work not especially impressive and a bit depressing, but it may be worth a few minutes to see the famous painting on the second floor. The Gallery is close-in and free.
I highly recommend stopping by the Grand Cafe which is a part of the Grand Hotel and frequented by Isben in his heyday. I did not care to visit the Fram or Kon Tiki Museums although it is easy to do so as the bus takes you there directly. If you want to take the ferry back to your point of origin from the museums, you must buy your ticket before starting the tour. They don't sell them at the end and you need to take the bus back.
We took the "Easy" tour which was 3 hours long and wished we had done something more substantial. Our guide in Helsinki had little to say and her oratory during the tour was stilted and limited. We entered the Rock Church for a few minutes and went to a park to take in a sculpture. From there we were dropped off in the middle of town for thirty minutes to simply wander on our own. No suggestions were offered on what to see.
I would suggest doing a little reading on Helsinki prior to the cruise and then explore the sites on your own
By all accounts, all of the tour guides were excellent - sharing stories of life in Russia as well as the rich history of St. Petersburg.
In the middle of each day we were treated to an authentic Russian meal, which is their large meal of the day, which included caviar, a shot of Vodka and wine as well. The first day we were also entertained by Russian singers and folk dancers, enhancing the Russian atmosphere.
The highlight of the trip for me was the Peterhof Palace. Do schedule your tour early so you can be at the Palace by 11 AM when the fountains come on. This happens only once each day and is well worth planning for. The tour included the fountains and gardens as well as the incredible palace itself which may even outshine Versailles itself.
Another palace you will see is the Yusupov Palace where Rasputin was assassinated. Read up on the Romanov's before you come and you will enjoy the stories even more.
Day two found us at the Hermitage Museum early in the morning. It was closed on the Monday we were there, but it was kept open for Royal Caribbean and Princess passengers. Even so, the crowds were oppressive. I can't imagine what the crowds would be like on a day in which the museum is officially open. Unfortunately this tour does not permit much time for musing over the art work. There are five buildings and we entered four of them. Time constraints necessitated walking quickly through some exhibits in which I would have preferred to spend more time. If one of your primary interests is the Hermitage, be sure to schedule a different tour that spends more time there. The biggest complaint was that we only spent a couple of minutes with the Impressionists and other masters.
In designing the tour for myself, I would have eliminated the Peter and Paul fortress or the church where Tsar Alexander 11 was killed and substituted that time for the Hermitage. Wear comfortable walking shoes because both days are spent on the run with little time for rest.
The Vasa Museum is worth a visit if you go early in the day. It gets very crowded later on and I wouldn't want to stand in line for long to get a look at a ship that sank (funny story) and was restored 300 years ago. As far as museums go I would give the Vasa a 2+. The Royal Armory was more impressive in my opinion. There were many displays of clothing worn by the royalty and carrages used by them. I got some good photos.
The next stop was the Gothic Church where the Monarchs are crowned and also marry. Another good photo op and rich history to be had here. By far, the best part of the tour is the walking tour of the Gamla Stan where Stockholm began over eight centuries ago.
I think a hop-on, hop-off tour would have been preferrable to what we received from our Princess tour and I would consider a land excursion to Stockholm in the future.
The Russian Orthodox church is well worth visiting and photographing as well as the little Lutheran church from the 13th century.
Time here was very limited - we had to be back on the ship by 12:30 so we left for town as soon as the ship docked. I would have enjoyed the town even more had we more time to spend.