A friend and I were on the Emerald Princess for its Southern Caribbean Cruise from September 29 to
8 October 2010 out of Ft. Lauderdale with Ports of Call at Princess Caye, Bahamas; St. Thomas, USVI; Dominica; Grenada; Bonaire and Aruba. I am a 55 year old male and my friend is a 48 year old female from Mexico that speaks little English. We are new to cruising with only one other seven day cruise on Carnival Conquest out of Galveston in May of this year.
We flew from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Ft. Lauderdale, arriving at 3:30 p.m. on the 28, a day before the scheduled cruise departure because I no longer trust the airlines. Flight was uneventful. I had done quite a bit of research on Ft. Lauderdale, the location of the cruise terminal and hotels and other amenities in the area of the cruise terminal. The cruise terminal is very close to Ft. Lauderdale International Airport and about a 15 minute taxi cab ride from the airport which costs $12.
Departure Port Hotel
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express at 1500 SE 17th Street Causeway, 954.728.2577. I had booked the hotel about a month before our stay and had no trouble with getting a room. The hotel was fairly new, comfortable and moderately priced at 109.89 with taxes. It is two blocks west of a Walgreens if you need any last minute items for the cruise and there are a number of shops and restaurants in the area, as well as a number of hotel choices. Best of all it was only an $8 taxi ride to the cruise terminal from the hotel. We had dinner at Kellys Landing, 1305 Southeast 17th Street, without reservations and the food was outstanding and the service excellent. It is an Irish Pub with an excellent seafood menu. Coming from Texas, the seafood was a great change of pace from BBQ and Mexican food!
The next day we slept in and headed to the cruise terminal at 11:30 a.m. which took only ten minutes from the hotel. There were many people already there and I wished I had gotten there two hours earlier to beat the rush. Princess says to be there at noon on the day of embarkation. The process went very smoothly. I had filled out all forms immigration and boarding pass - before the cruise on-line. After going through security, we were given a colored piece of plastic and you could only go to a service desk when your color was called. We waited for about ten minutes before our color was called and preceded to the service desk and waited in line for about 15 minutes to get our Cruise Cards, and then preceded to another line to board this ship. From the time we arrived at the cruise terminal to the time we had our pictures taken on the cruise ship and were free to explore took about an hour and fifteen minutes, but keep in mind we did arrive early. We were very impressed after experiencing the Carnival boarding process.
As soon as we boarded the ship we went to our stateroom. Before entering, I saw our stateroom steward, Fernando, in the hall and introduced myself and asked for a couple of ashtrays as my friend and I are both smokers. He proceeded to tell us that smoking was not allowed in the stateroom or on the balconies, but that he would look the other way if we smoked in the bathroom. I had checked out Princesses smoking policy on-line before booking the trip and again verified the policy with the Princess travel agent that took my reservation and booking. Needless to say, I went ballistic with Fernando. Fortunately, there was another steward in the hall that overheard our conversation and corrected Fernando by telling him the new policy of no smoking in staterooms and balconies did not take effect until 15 January 2012. This was not the way I had hoped to start off my cruise and left me very angry.
Princesss smoking policy states, Clearly marked Designated Smoking Areas are available onboard and include a sufficient number of ashtrays that are emptied regularly. Smoking areas were NOT clearly marked. Ashtrays were the only indicator as to where a smoking area was located. After my confrontation with Fernando, I asked three people at the service desk over a two day period to explain their smoking policy and provide me with a map of the designated smoking areas. I also asked three uniformed crew members and no two answers were the same. The only consistent answer I received was smoking was allowed on the Port side of the ship, but when I lit up there, other passengers complained and of course there were no signs or ashtrays to be found anywhere on the port side of the ship. When I tried to smoke in Skywalker Lounge, one of the areas of the ship where crew said I could smoke, smoking was only allowed on the starboard side and I know I offended some people who were on the Port side of the ship. I am a considerate smoker, but was extremely frustrated as I could never understand where smoking was allowed. I counted only 80 seats in public smoking areas (36 by Neptunes Reef Pool; 16 Speakeasy Cigar Lounge; 28 Horizon Terrace). I never did figure out whether Skywalker Lounge was smoking or not. In the day there were no ashtrays. At night, there were ashtrays on tables. And no one could tell me the policy. Its hard to be a respectful smoker when none of the crew could answer policy questions!
The ship was big, laid out well, and never seemed crowded, even in the dining areas. My only complaint was on the Lido Deck by Neptunes Reef Pool there were structural steel members and tables and chairs making a very narrow corridor for those walking. It seemed like one in seven people on board were in wheel chairs or other mobility devices and if you got behind one of these, traffic jams occurred. The tables and chairs along the port and starboard side around Neptunes Pool should be removed to aid in wider and better pedestrian walk ways. I consider this a serious safety hazard in an emergency.
Although I had requested on my Special Requests form on-line I wanted two twin beds and not a queen, the queen bed had not been prepared as requested. When our steward broke the bed apart, he removed all linens and mattress pads and stuck them under each of the now separated twin beds allowing little room for our suite cases. After three days of tripping on my luggage protruding from under the bed, I tossed all of the bedding out in the hall and it magically disappeared. My twin bed had no mattress cover and was very uncomfortable. We were in Dolphin 115 (9115), a mini suite, and were three staterooms from the bow of the ship on the starboard side. We encountered small waves during the voyage and at night you could hear the waves slam into the ship and feel a shudder. I cant imagine what moderate to large waves would sound/feel like. I will never book a room that close to the bow for this reason. The balcony was good size with four chairs, but there was no ceiling and it was uncomfortable sitting outside when the sun was on that side of the ship. We also had like an island separating the beds from the small sitting area that I felt was wasted space. There were two TVs, one on each side of this island and the one remote controlled both TVs, so when youd try to turn the TV on or off, the other would come on or go off, too. Princess needs to automate their TV system so you can access your charges like almost all hotels do now.
Our seating for formal dining was for 8:15 p.m. in Botticellis. The food was good and the service was good, but it was very obvious the servers were overworked and it affected their attitudes. They were so busy and always in a rush that they never had time to be friendly and make you feel welcome. I blame this more on Princess and not the hard working staff. We dined in Botticellis for only three nights and then dined at Michelangelo for three nights and then in the Caf Caribe and Horizon Court the other nights. I thought the food was very good, but the service in the Caf Caribe and Horizon Court left much to be desired. One would load up with food and by the time the wait staff got to your table, took your drink order, and returned from the bar with a soda or other drink, you were almost finished with your meal. I just opted for the iced teas at the self-service bars. Orange juice in the morning was another ordeal. The wait staff would bring you this small 8 oz glass, filled to only five or six ounces, never to be seen again. When I asked for two glasses of OJ, the waiter said it was policy to bring only one juice at a time! And the coffee in Caf Caribe and Horizon Court just sucked. It was horrible! It had to be instant. Even though it bordered on putrid, I drank my fair share before I discovered the Calypso Coffee Bar on Deck 5. But at $2 to $6 a pop for a coffee or cappuccino, the costs added up. I do not understand why Princess would skimp on good coffee what a disappointment! Room service coffee and coffee in the dining rooms were very good. And I dont understand why they didnt have milk dispensers or cartoned milk or soda/juice fountains in the drink stations. I was not pleased with the drink accommodations on board. Of course, Princess does this for revenue. I am amazed at how Princess reaches into your pocket at every turn to make a quick buck. Talk about corporate greed on Wallstreet Princess is the epitome of profit maximization. If hotels can create all inclusive packages, why cant the cruise lines? Id easily pay more on the front end, rather than being nickeled and dimed every time I turned around.
We really enjoyed the Pizza and Ice Cream Bar. The staff here were the friendliest on the entire ship. Kudos for the staff! The ice cream was good, but very rich. Carnival has a number of self-serve ice cream machines on the Conquest and their ice cream is yogurt which I enjoyed much more.
Room service was OK but had a very limited selection of items. Two mornings we waited for room service way past the time we had designated on the cards we hung outside on the door the night before, and finally gave up and went to Caf Caribe or Horizon Court. I was very disappointed in room service compared to Carnivals room service.
Kudos for Princess for having menus in other languages. My Mexican friend was very happy about that! Carnival only had menus in English.
I had purchased two soda packages at $11.75 each and was very dismayed when I found out the only diet soda you could get with the cards is Diet Coke! If you wanted Sprite Zero, you had to pay $2.00 a can! I spent several hours in ports trying to find any clear, diet soda and finally was able to buy some diet Mountain Dew in Bonaire, but this was another strike against Princess. I did, however, receive a full credit for each soda card at the end of the cruise, but never requested one. Not sure how that happened as I never complained or mentioned it to anyone.
Because my friend didt speak English, we didnt do too many of the Entertainment venues, however I did step in to the Beetles show for about ten minutes and it looked and sounded excellent. I very much enjoyed the String Quartet in the Piazza. We did attend a Big Band Concert, at least that was how it was billed in Princess Patter and the only Big Band Tune played was Moonlight Serenade, the very first song. Everything else was from the late 50s or 60s. Apparently, the band was not familiar with the era in which Big Band music was popular. I looked forward to this event all day and was very disappointed.
Because my friend doesnt speak English, we did not do many on-board activities. We did enjoy the swimming pools and hot tubs, but wished the ship had a water slide. I watched part of a movie at Movies under the Stars and wished I had seen more. It was really cool, but very loud. We didnt find too many good deals on board from a shopping perspective. They did hawk some neat T-Shirts but they all had Princess Cruises written on them and I wont be a walking billboard for any company. The perfume was priced the same as back home at Dillards. The jewelry was overpriced, but they did sell a lot of imitation stuff for cheap and my friend bought a lot of that.
1. Princess Cayes One of the biggest tourist traps I have ever seen designed to get passengers to part with their dollars. All excursions were at least double the price of those in other ports. Princess hopes to cash in on your dollars by making this the first port of call on the cruise. Talk about corporate greed! I tried to take a picture of my friend in front of a plastic shark and was told I couldnt because the shark was private property. A Princess photographer would take your pic and try to sell it back to you for $25 bucks. Absolutely amazing. When I went to snap a pic of my friend in front of the shark, the lady photographer pushed (yes, pushed) my friend out of the way and stood in front of the shark to block the shot. Incredible! Absolutely incredible!
2. St. Thomas Castaway Girl Shipwreck Cove Sail and Snorkel. This was a great and inexpensive shore excursion. The crew and staff were more than friendly and helpful, plus they were happy. Not many of the crew and staff on Emerald Princess seemed genuinely happy. I would highly recommend this excursion. After the snorkel we taxied into Charlotte Amalie and went straight to AH Rise where I bought a Rolex watch. I dont think I got any kind of a deal, though, compared to anywhere else. Buyers beware. If you buy more than $1,600 in the Virgin Islands, it is subject to duty when you get back to the States. I had to pay $250 in duty for the Rolex. Had I bought it where I lived, the tax would have been $675, so I did save a little. For you smokers, AH Rise sells dirt cheap cigarettes. I paid $125 for five cartons, or a little under half the price per carton I pay in Texas.
3. Dominica Titou Gorge Swim and Hot Springs and Scenic Drive. This was another excursion I thought was well worth the money. At the Titou Gorge, you swim to a waterfall through steep canyon walls. I had my wallet and two cameras with me and did not want to leave them unattended, so we did not see the falls. The hot springs were awesome and I could have spent a couple of hours there very relaxing. (Left all valuables in the van this time.) We then shopped downtown and wasted about an hour trying to find clear, diet soda.
4. Grenada - Grand Etang Park, Ft. Frederick & Annadale Falls. Well worth the money. Ft. Frederick was like any other old fort but had excellent views of the island. Then we drove around the island and saw coco pods, passion fruit and breadfruit. We stopped in St. Andrew and I was able to buy 8 oz. of saffron for $4. Then we went up on a mountain and saw an extinct volcano crater good photo op. After the excursion we shopped downtown for a bit.
5. Bonaire I had not booked this in advance like all the other excursions and we were disappointed. We did a snorkeling cruise to Klien Bonaire dont have the exact name in front of me. We began at 3:30 p.m., sailed to Klien Bonaire and snorkeled. The lady in charge of the boat was a witch very bossy and not friendly at all. She treated my Mexican friend terribly to the point I had to tell her if she said another word to my friend, Id throw her overboard. She seemed to get the point. Skip this excursion. For years I have heard about how great Bonaire is for scuba and snorkeling, but we didnt see much of interest. Got back to the ship with just five minutes to spare.
6. Aruba I did the Certified Scuba Dive and it was excellent. Saw the Antilla ship wreck and a lot of wildlife and coral. My friend did the Snorkeling Cruise and Antilla Ship Wreck. She said it was a great experience. After the cruise were shopped in Aruba. We bought an underwater camera from the photo gallery for $23, and it seemed to work under water, but none of the pics came out. Im sure Princess bought these for $5 each and made a ton of money on faulty equipment.
We had to be out of our staterooms at 8 am and were assigned to wait in the Windjammer Lounge until our group was called at 9:30 a.m. At 9:40 am our group was called and by 10:20 am we were off the ship, had our luggage and on our way to the airport by taxi. Princess really tries to get you to take their transfer to the airport for $18 per person. We took a cab for a total price to $12. Just one last attempt by Princess to separate you from your money. Dont fall for it.
Overall, the cruise was very pleasant and we did enjoy ourselves. But several factors really detracted from the experience like the lack of a smoking policy, only one diet soda option on the soda card, the deplorable coffee, and not being able to get much to drink in Caf Caribe and Horizon Court. The ship was beautiful, the ports and islands were awesome, and most of the shore excursions were well worth the money. Overall, the staff were hard working folks, but seemed overworked and not happy.