Pre-cruise: We flew into FLL two days early and instead of staying at the usual pre cruise hotels, we rented a car and drove 45 minutes (in traffic) down to Miami's South Beach and stayed at The Miami Loews Hotel. Our stay was fabulous! Great location, awesome service, great pool and beach area. My only tip...get a room with a balcony, otherwise the rooms are a bit small.
Embarkation: Husband dropped the 3 of us off at the cruise terminal at 10:45, then he returned the rental car (rental car place gave him a complimentary ride to the cruise ship terminal). I handed off luggage (1 large suitcase per person and one bag of snorkel gear) to the porter and filled out the "health" forms. We waited in the platinum, elite & suites lounge...husband arrived 15 minutes later. We checked in at noon and then boarded immediately.
The ship: We had been on the Emerald 2 1/2 years ago...we thought the ship was still in fabulous condition. We had a balcony cabin forward on deck 15 and our boys had an inside cabin forward on deck 14. We requested egg crate for the bed and bathrobes. We did anytime dining in Michelangelo dining room. Our waiter was Romeo Gonzalez from the Phillipines...he was awesome. We loved the pizza and did get 1 pop card and the boys the UKP cards. A tip for the UKP cards: you can get rootbeer from the bar and then go to the ice cream counter and get a scoop of hard vanilla and make a float. We thought the food varied from awesome (lobster and prime rib) to bizarre - we don't eat frog legs and sweet bread (aka brains and glands). The Horizon court and Cafe Caribe were good, and afternoon tea is fun. We ate in the Crown Grille once and it was good, but c'mon, food is definately plentiful and probably would not do it again. We saw a few shows, our favorite were the two Beatles music shows - they were awesome and not to be missed. Comedians were good and the production shows were...so-so. We were pleased that the crew did not push drinks as much as we have seen on other ships. We thought the ship was decorated nicely for Christmas and it was neat that Santa was around and thought the snow in the atrium was cool. We thought the crew did a great job keeping plates out of the hallways and the elevators were quick. There were 416 kids on board and most behaved well. It was interesting that the Emerald uses hand held devices to scan your cruise card when entering your designated muster drill area - no escaping muster anymore.
Princess Cays: we booked a bungalo...accommodates 4 people. We enjoyed it and thought it was worth it. It was nice to get out of the sun, wind, crowds etc. The snorkeling was very good.
St Thomas: We have been here before and so we decided to go to St John on our own....We took a taxi to Redhook Ferry ($44 for 4 of us), the ferry to St. John ($24 for the 4 of us), a taxi to Trunk Bay ($42 for the 4 of us), paid to get into the park ($8 for 2 adults), then found out it was too rough and windy to snorkel and swim. Paid for a taxi back to the ferry, ferry back to St Thomas, and taxi to the shopping area. We wandered the shopping area and walked back to the ship...I think I would have just done a ships excursion.
Dominica: We used AL Dive. 2 of us did a 2 tank, 2 locations dive...and 2 of us did 2 location snorkeling. It was incredible and would definately use them again.
Grenada: We used Eco dive Grenada and 2 of us did a 2 tank, 2 locations dive and 2 of us (my 12 year old's first dive!) did intro to diving and a 1 tank dive. It too was incredible. We also wandered the market and picked up some spices. We loved Grenada.
Bonaire: we had made arrangements to rent a car thru Hertz...well Hertz did NOT show up. Instead we made plans to dive with VIP diving. They were drumming up business outside the pier. And it worked out well, but I would avoid Hertz car rental in Bonaire.
Aruba: I tried to rent a car before hand and had a tough time since it was Christmas that day, so we were just going to wing it. Well when we arrived, from our balcony we could see a car rental place at the pier so my husband hurried off the ship and rented a jeep for $100 cash and we spent the day touring the island, stopping at beaches, snorkeling, eating at Senior Frogs, getting a Starbucks mug, etc. We had a great day and loved Aruba, however because it was Christmas 99% of the stores were closed. It was ok for us cuz we are not shoppers, but something to keep in mind.
Complaints: We were disappointed that Princess no longer gave platinum members a complimentary glass of champagne. And our pet peave is...babies (in diapers) in the pools...Princess' rules prohibit diapered kids in pools, but parents don't listen and crew does not enforce, same thing with under aged kids in the hot tubs with out a parent there. It's really not the kids fault, more like the parent's fault. Also saving seats/chairs in the Princess Theater, Club Fusion, Explorer's Lounge and by the pools. To those adults who put towels, shoes, magazines, sunscreen and oh yeah the potato bag chip clips to "reserve" chairs....you all suck! There is a couple of different ways to approach this issue. 1. Don't do anything about it and just silently complain. 2. Tell security and watch them do nothing about it. 3. When in Rome do as the Romans (and just join 'em). Or 4. Stand up for your right to sit in an empty seat and pack your boxing gloves. (security actually had to break up a fight poolside over this matter).
Disembarkation: This was the first time we "walked" off the ship with our luggage...it went great.
Post Cruise: For post cruise we took a taxi to the airport and rented a car and drove down to Key West for 3 nights. We stayed at Casa Marina. It was a very nice resort, just a few quirky issues (like a yapping dog in the room next to us). We absolutely loved Key West and the 4 hour drive was doable.
After 3 nights in Key West we drove back to Fort Lauderdale and stayed at the B Ocean Hotel for 1 night and then flew home the next morning.