My wife and I just returned from a ten day Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Emerald Princess. The Emerald makes two different loops through the Caribbean, and this particular loop stopped in Princess Cay, St John, Dominica, Grenada, Bonaire, and Aruba. Overall, we had pretty good weather (considering that October is still the rainy season in the Caribbean) and the cruise was enjoyable. We cruised on Disney the previous month, so some of our review below is a comparison of Disney and (recent) Princess experiences.
We parked using the Park'n Go lot near Fort Lauderdale Airport, which is only a ten minute drive from the cruise terminal. Park'n Go parking costs only six dollars a day through the internet special, and the Park'n Go shuttle got us to the cruise terminal quickly (and were there to pick us up right away when we disembarked). I highly recommend Park'n Go.
Embarkation was a breeze. We arrived at the Princess terminal to go through embarkation about 1:30 PM, and we were checked in and on the ship and in our room in less than 20 minutes. The older gentleman who checked us in said that the crowds all try to check in before 1 PM, so our timing was perfect by waiting until 1:30.
On the Emerald we were in cabin E502 on deck 8. The room was an "obstructed" ocean view, meaning we got plenty of light but couldn't see much past the big lifeboat right outside our window. The room and bathroom were nothing exceptional, but they were functional and met our needs. The room location was great -- right in the middle of the ship, just steps from the mid-ship elevators and only one or two decks above many of the lounge and entertainment venues, and two/three decks above the dinner dining venues. Our cabin steward, Andres, did a nice job cleaning up all the sand we tracked in from our various ports of call. The room was well soundproofed, and we never had a problem with noise from our neighbors or the hallway.
The entertainment was a mixed bag on the Emerald. We enjoyed the Emerald Princess Orchestra, a seven piece combo fronted by a trumpet, trombone, and tenor sax. Every one of these musicians was an outstanding jazz soloist, and they played together very nicely as an ensemble. We also enjoyed two comedians (Troy Threadgill and Jay Moore). But the Orchestra did not play enough, and the professional entertainers did not perform enough, to fill up the day. Otherwise, there was too much staff (talent show) and passenger (talent show and karaoke) type stuff. The production shows we saw were colorful, and the dancers talented and energetic, but we just weren't taken with the material. Perhaps we were the wrong demographic (we are around fifty years of age and so a musical review based on Cole Porter songs does not do it for us). In comparison, we thought the Disney Magic production shows were better than the Princess production shows, and the Disney guest entertainers were marginally better.
We went to some movies on the Emerald, and liked the concept of the Movies Under the Stars on the top deck, but on two separate occasions there were technical difficulties. For example, we went to the "Green Lantern" scheduled for 10 PM up under the stars. The movie started on time, but at about 10:12 PM it stopped, and then when it came back on they put some trivia up on the screen and the announcer said that the "entertainment" would start in 15 minutes. Well, we didn't feel like waiting around, and then having to see the beginning of the movie again, so we left. We saw another movie, the "Lincoln Lawyer," in the Princess Theatre, and the top 10% of the projection was cut off. We stayed for the entire movie, but they never fixed that, so I guess we saw 90% of the movie . . . ..
We were also disappointed because the Emerald had no lectures on the history, culture, or politics of the Caribbean and our various island destinations. Maybe Princess doesn't put such lectures on because they don't appeal to the target demographic, or maybe because the average Princess passenger has cruised so many times to the Caribbean they just aren't interested in that stuff anymore. But we missed having those sorts of educational lectures. The Emerald casino was nice. The blackjack was good (five dollar minimum, with 3 to 2 payout for blackjack). I also enjoyed the poker a bit, but the Emerald Princess uses the Pokerpro electronic dealer rather than the live dealer, and I know a lot of folks don't like that. Also, the house poker rake was really too high (15 percent), and the combination of no live dealer and a high rake seemed to kill interest and participation in the cash poker games. In comparison, Disney did have a lecturer who spoke about our destinations -- but no casino at all.
We were signed up for "anytime" dining on the Emerald. The food was OK, but really nothing spectacular. Generally, we thought the meat dishes were better than the fish dishes. The only memorable dish I had was the escargot on the second night, and I ordered two of those. We got a couple of inedible dishes, including one labeled "grilled calamari" that was nothing like any calamari I ever had, mushy and tasteless. We thought the food on Disney was overall marginally better than Princess.
The anytime dining has pros and cons over the Traditional (assigned time) dining. With anytime dining, you can't be assured of eating when you want (unless you always want to eat after 8 PM). You can try to make reservations for sometime earlier than 8 PM, but often when you called you couldn't get the time you wanted. You could also just go downstairs to the dining venue at the time you wanted, but then sometimes you have to wait in line. We did that once and waited about 15 minutes for seating. I guess that is OK for some, but who wants to wait in line on a cruise? Another disadvantage of anytime dining is that you don't get a chance to know your tablemates very well in the way that you do for traditional dining. Of course, if you have traditional seating and you get tablemates you don't like, maybe having new table mates every night can be a positive. And with anytime dining you do meet a lot more people than with traditional dining. Another disadvantage of anytime dining is that you rotate wait staff and do not get to know and interact with your wait staff in the way you do for Traditional dining. I also would not be surprised if the wait staff does not like anytime dining. It seemed that they were using fewer waiters to cover more tables than with the traditional dining. Also, I think anytime dining may result in fewer tips for the wait staff. I know that when we had traditional dining on the Disney Magic we really appreciated our assigned wait staff, and we gave them some extra cash on top of the automated tip amount. But we didn't know our waiters when we did anytime dining, and so we just gave the recommended (automated) tip amount. We ate a few times in the Princess' Horizon court buffet, and it was just OK. After awhile we stopped eating there, and instead went to the sit down restaurants for breakfast and lunch.
The Emerald had a lot of nice bars. A lot of passengers we overheard on the ship were excited about the happy hour drink specials, or, rather, the perception that the bar staff tried to hide the existence of such specials from the passengers because the tip (15% added automatically to your bill) would be less with the specials. Don't know about the accuracy of that perception, but I can inform you here that between 4 and 7 PM you can get a variety of cocktails and mixed drinks for $3.99 each in most of the bars on the Emerald. Just ask!
The Emerald shore excursions were a mixed bag. Although I discuss the various ports below separately, I should say that the best excursions were not the ones organized by Princess, but, rather, the private excursions we booked separately after some research on the internet. The private excursions are smaller and generally cheaper, and you get to where you are going without being part of a mob. Also, we did not see even one other cruise ship during the ten day cruise -- probably because we were so early in the Caribbean cruising season. But that meant that each of our ports were relatively uncrowded.