Embarkation was easy. Our room was ready and it was nice to be able to go directly to our mini-suite on Dolphin deck. Our luggage arrived promptly and our steward, Jayson, was delightful. Our room was fine. The tub had numerous deep gouges, eliminating any desire to use it for a bath. Other than that, the room was comfortable.
The ship is in relatively good condition. There was a problem with one of the elevator but it was eventually fixed. The people at the service desk were always nice and helpful. We were able to print an up-to-date report of our onboard account activities by swiping our key card in a machine. What a great idea! Slots in the casino worked on a key card. Initially I missed the clatter of coins and carrying around a bucket of change. Over time I came to value this as a cleaner and more convenient operation.
The food on this ship was generally poor. Many dishes were ruined by overly salty sauces and overcooked vegetables. I was served a lobster tail in Adagio that was too salty to eat. Menus were uninspiring. Plates often seemed to have been sitting under lights for extended periods before service.
We gave up on Anytime Dining. Passengers were predominately Americans who seemed to enjoy an early seating. This required either calling for a reservation or lining up early. Emerald did not manage this dining option well. Lines were huge. The Crown Princess had two Anytime Dining venues which allowed people to truly enjoy flexible dining. The menus on the Crown were interesting and the food was well prepared and well presented - a far cry from our experience on Emerald.
Kudos to the pizza people! The pizza was good and there was a nice variety whenever we visited. I'm not sure what meat was being served on hamburger buns but my one, and only, was inedible.
We often ended up at the buffet - where, I believe, Emerald wanted us. We traded service oriented meals for cafeteria food. Often the menus were similar - which reflected badly on the dining room. Occasionally there were themes at the buffet - such as German or Mexican night - leading us to expect schnitzel with red cabbage/tacos and burritos. Instead, the food looked the same as every other night, with a token offering from the aforementioned country.
Only one buffet was open at a time and only one side of the Horizon Cafe at a time. Navigation of the area was challenging. It is a small space. On a ship with 3,000+ people, it is inconceivable that the buffet manager considered this appropriate. The space is elliptical with openings at both ends - one designated as an entrance and the other an exit. In the center are two additional service areas. In order to access all options, one had to make a complete loop, ending at the entrance. Needless to say, this had people bumping into each other, circling, backtracking and trying to maneuver this poorly designed facility. There was another exit option - one that would have allowed people to access ¾ of the food with everyone moving in the same direction. This exit was locked. Management stood around surveying the operation. Since nothing changed, they must have been satisfied with what he saw.
On the Crown, both sides of Horizon were opened at meal times - each presenting different foods! When Cafe Carib opened, one side of Horizon shut down. Carib usually included specialty foods like sushi and any themed meals - with extensive offerings. With two buffets open, seating was simpler. Interestingly enough, Emerald's wake-up show aired a video showcasing the redesign of a sister ship - including enlarging and reconfiguring the buffet area. Despite the inherent design flaws with Horizon, the Crown Princess managed to make dining, both buffet and Anytime Dining, an enjoyable experience. The Emerald did neither option well.
The International Cafe was a bit of a disappointment. The desserts, while visually appealing, lacked flavor. The food options were redundant. The same salads and sandwiches appeared 16 days in a row. Only the quiche changed. It was still a nice place to sit and sip a cup of tea or coffee. Service was generally good and after a couple of days, the flavorless desserts were no longer a temptation.
The Princess Theater is small. We found that arriving an hour early for shows insured a convenient seat. The venue filled quickly. The shows were predictable. More often than not, the performances seemed not worth the wait - not necessarily reflecting on the show as much as the amount of time invested in seeing it. The seats in the theater are neither generous nor particularly comfortable. The Crew's Talent Show was enjoyable until it spiraled into a water spitting production -- more gross than humorous - put on by staff members. We appreciated the string quartet that entertained us regularly and a wonderful young violinist who came onboard in Cobh. There were comedians and other performers appearing around the ship. Shuffleboard, mini-golf, and a sports court helped pass the time.
I found the morning show boring. The duo lacked chemistry. Colin might be a great talent but all he seemed to do was sit, smile, and bob his head. Billy was quite the camera/microphone hog. In all fairness, they probably fulfilled the company's requirements for the program, showcasing options to spend money on the ship. I wished they gave updated weather reports. The Princess TV channel streamed old, and often incorrect, weather information. Is it possible to have a constant reading of 84% humidity for 16 days - rain or shine? We were thankful we had a balcony to assess appropriate dress for shore excursions.
No blankets at nighttime at MUTS turned that into a non-option. I ended up traipsing down to our stateroom to get jackets, missing a portion of the movie. My jacket didn't keep my legs warm. The promised blankets never arrived. It would have been nice if they had made an announcement so that passengers could make other plans, or dress appropriately before heading out to MUTS.
Smoking in the casino is unacceptable. The casino was always crowded on no-smoking nights. There might be a message there.
We had lunch at the Wheelhouse Bar. The waiter took our order, retuned with our food, and disappeared. He did his job. If we had wanted anything else, we weren't getting it. At times Horizon had an attentive staff and other times it was strictly a self help operation. The staff in the dining room was good but they could not compensate for the dismal meals they had to present.
My dessert choices in the dining room were always good, as were the rolls.
We had one tendering at Falmouth, England. It was a challenge. Long after the fog lifted, Princess was still stacking transports alongside the ship, waiting to form a caravan into port. The water was rough and we ended up bobbing like a cork for far too long. It was an awful experience. There never seemed to be anyone in charge of anything. There never seemed to be anyone feeling empowered to make a decision that would improve the comfort/convenient of the passengers. Surely the tenders could have proceeded to port once filled. They had been doing this run for hours before we boarded; and later in the day they were operating individually when returning people to the ship.
We booked two shore excursions - one to the Normandy beaches and one to Keukenhof, gardens outside Rotterdam. The trip to Normandy was long (3 hours out and 2 hours back) with barely enough time on site to scratched the surface of things to see and explore. The Keukenhof was a delight. We could easily have stayed another hour or two. These gardens showcase tulips for several weeks -- beginning in late April and running through the 3rd week in May. Our cruise arrived at what should have been peak time. An unusually warm April caused plants to bloom early. It was beautiful when we were there. One can only imagine how spectacular it was at its peak. Aside from the tulips, the gardens are huge, beautifully laid out, interesting, and if there were not a tulip in sight, it still would have been a day well spent.
At other ports we did our own walking tours. We have been to Ireland, England, Oslo, and Copenhagen before. It was a nice respite to leave the ship and leave its problems behind. Exploring on our own was most enjoyable.
To say we were disappointed by this cruise would be an understatement. I was particularly unimpressed with our captain. His handling of a norovirus outbreak was awful. We ended up on "red alert" on day 11. That was the first we heard of the virus. I believe that we were entitled to know about this problem long before the ship was shut down. I am more interested in my health than PCL could ever be, and I think most passengers, once apprised of the problem, would have done whatever was necessary to minimize the outbreak. Instead, we sailed on, oblivious to the danger, with more people getting sick daily and infecting others along the way. Did PCL have the right to put us at risk? I don't think so. I didn't pay to live that dangerously. I didn't sign on to end up incarcerated in my room. Instead of acknowledging the problem after a few cases, the captain allowed the virus to spread among the passengers and crew. We were crossing the Atlantic. We didn't get off that ship. We moved from venue to venue, risking infection, some spreading infection, unaware that sick bay was full and people were quarantined in cabins all over the ship. I heard that 1200 people were impacted. Judging from the diminished lines in the dining room and fact that so many familiar faces disappear, that might not have been an exaggeration.
Once we learned of the contamination, we opted to use the dining room again. The food was still bad - salty, dry, and overcooked. The menu contained lots of odd items, like the ever appetizing pork bellies. After ordering off the left side for several nights, we returned to the buffet. It had gone from bad to terrible. PCL maintained its policy of having only one buffet opened at a time. Navigating it was more challenging than ever with servers clogging the passageways. We were so closely packed in that it seemed a most inappropriate environment for a contaminated ship. I thought that passengers, for the most part, were cheerful and courteous during the process. There were long lines to get into the buffet. Again nothing was done to alleviate a bad, dare I say unhealthy, situation. A simple solution would have been to move desserts to a different buffet. What a crazy notion, opening a second buffet in the name of public health!!
We were glad to be leaving the Emerald and opted for a Princess transfer to the airport - which made it easy to get from point A to point B. Our gathering time was 9:30 in the casino. I noticed a beverage service area and asked the attendant for a cup of tea. He grunted, waving his arm to let me know that I could serve myself. WHAT! I hadn't been able to touch a salt shaker or a communal spoon for nearly a week and now I was able to handle everything. I fixed a cup of tea and returned to my seat at a slot machine where others also commented on this dramatic change of policy. At breakfast 90 minutes earlier, I was eating under a different set of rules.
We exited the ship and made our way to buses which had been pre-boarded by folks with special needs. While we were waiting to depart, a member of the staff came onto our bus looking for Mr. and Mrs._____. She advised them that Princess had a cab ready to take them to the airport. Mrs._____ said, "I guess that's because we were in quarantine." They were sitting in front of us! We had made it this far without getting sick but it appeared that PCL's laissez faire attitude towards our health at disembarkation was putting us as risk. No one cleaned the area before two other people sat down. Yuck!
I have referenced our cruise on the Crown Princess several times. We recognized that it was an exceptional experience as we lived it. A fellow cruiser advised us that we had a much admired and respected captain at the helm and that he had just joined the ship in Ireland. Could his presence have been the catalyst for the cheerful attitude of the staff and crew, the good food, and excellent service? The cruise was so enjoyable that we wished we had a more "at sea" days. There were a few hiccups along the way, perfection belongs to God, but it was an outstanding cruise.
BECAUSE of the wonderful time that we had onboard the Crown we opted to try a repositioning cruise. We booked a cabin on with a balcony, loaded our e-readers, and made a concerted effort to keep our expectations low. They weren't low enough. There was a malaise, an apathy if you will, permeating the ship. I don't know when I first noticed it but it was there early in the cruise. The crew seemed tired, maybe even bored with their jobs. We purchased three coffee cards which I think qualifies us as regulars. These folks need to visit a Starbucks during the morning rush to appreciate working under pressure it. Occasionally they were affable but I did not find that they handled crowds well at all. Once we were on lockdown, it became a challenge to get a stirrer, or cream, or sugar.
The staff and crew on the Emerald were remarkably different from those on the Crown. What "causes and effects" were in play to account for the differences? Did it all trickle down from the Captains? I don't know. I don't know when the first case of norovirus surfaced. I don't know how many crew members were affected or how this illness impacted work schedules and downtime. Once we were on red alert, exhausted staff could be seen spraying handrails, and elevator button. There was a group working the casino, attempting to keep up with the turnover of machines, while others guarded the beverage service areas on the Lido deck. These were mainly young people straddled with the overwhelming task of stemming the contagion, and paying a huge price for the Captain's poor judgment and bad decisions. Perhaps the coffee staff simply felt victimized also.
I received an automatically generated e-mail from PCL with a contact number for a representative BECAUSE I said that I would not recommend Princess to a friend. The other comments that I made on this survey did not generate any interest. Ouch Princess - not the way to illicit confidence that you want to improve your operation. This may well have been my last Princess cruise.