My wife, son ( 8yrs) and I just returned from a 10 day Eastern Caribbean Cruise on board the Emerald Princess. This was our 7th cruise with Princess so we are pretty familiar with their product and service.
We booked our flights independently and left the Edmonton International Airport on Boxing Day. The cruise was set to depart on December 28th so we always like to leave a couple days early to allow for any unexpected delays and have a chance to unwind a bit before embarking the ship.
We have stayed in Ft Lauderdale before and this time we decided to stay at the Sheraton Beach Hotel. The hotel is in a great location right on the beach and is close to several restaurants and shops too. The room was unremarkable but good enough for two nights. The staff were very friendly mind you and made the experience that much better.
We had booked Princess Transfers from the hotel....but in hindsight it is such a short distance to the port it really is not required. We also like to board after the rush and with using the Princess Transfer we were right in the middle of the big rush to get on board... It is really painless to board if you show up past the first hour or so of boarding. Mind you...I never get too bothered by the wait as after all we are on vacation ..
Our stateroom was exactly what we expected when we booked. Small room with a large balcony. Storage is not an issue mind you as they do use what limited space they have very well...with the exception of the bathroom. Seems of all the ships we have been on Princess has the least amount of space in this department ! Obviously not a big deal for us as we have continue to book with Princess. As we were cruising as a family this time our son had a great bunk above our bed which he always thinks is pretty neat. Our room steward Tavorn was quite simply...awesome ! He kept our room spotless and treated us and our son 1st class all the way. He really was a one of the best we have ever had on any ship.
The ship is quite nice and very welled laid out. It doesn't have a huge wow factor to it like a large atrium on some other lines. For some reason the ship felt crowded on this cruise...we have sailed with Princess numerous times and never had that feeling. I do know they had a complete sell out and had lots of kids on board, which is great but it did feel crowded. The activities on board were ok. Usually they is one or two enrichment lectures I like to take in during the day,,,but quite frankly the schedule had really nothing that peaked my interest at all. We still had a great time on board as a family and managed to get our fill of laughs and good times !
Our son did check out the kids club a few times. The staff are really good but as it was a holiday cruise it had almost 600 kids on board and it was crowded there as well. He is still a bit of a shy lad and I think the large numbers turned him off a bit.
The entertainment on-board was ok to good to really good. The Beatles's tribute band was by far the best, but it went downhill from there. Actually I thought the cruise director Tim Donovan was pretty funny and good at what he does. I know he has been slagged a bit on here, but I thought he was pretty funny. As we were with our son are entertainment schedule was pretty much set by him and there were not many late nights. I never made it to the casino or was able to check out the night life after 11:00 p.m. ! Lots of stuffed planned and looked like fun but with the sun and early mornings our son never made it too late into the night.
We had the early sitting in the Botticelli Dining room. Our wait staff Gary and Galdino were fantastic ! The head waiter Daniele was also very engaging and made the effort to come by and say hello each night. He also made some special pastas on a couple of nights that were fantastic ! The food served in the dining room was good but not what we normally expect with Princess. There were few wow moments with the food which is how I base the quality...don't get me wrong it was good but it has been better in the past with Princess. I still managed to clear my plate each night.
We had been to most of the ports before but were looking forward to going back. Princess Cays has changed quite a bit since our last visit. We rented a private bungalow and had a private lunch served to us which was nice. On a hot day it would be nice to have the air-conditioned retreat but we actually had to turn it off ! Weather was just ok. We still had a lot of fun here and were one of the last people to get back on board.
We booked all all excursions through Princess. In St Thomas we booked the Sea Lion Swim at Coral World...it was one of the best excursions we have ever done ! It was an awesome family activity and left us with memories for a lifetime ! Great staff and really neat to get that much interaction both in and out of the water with the Sea Lions. Expensive ...? Yes but worth it.
In St Kitts we took a 4wd tour and beach tour. Great way to see the Island in an old British Army Truck. Note it was rough and some folks were bothered by the smell of diesel.... Our family had no problems and enjoyed it.
Barbados was a bust...no fault of the ships. We booked the submarine tour which was canceled... it did tick me off a bit that the tour operator told that they informed the ship two hours earlier and no attempt was made to contact us... We took a cab downtown but all shops were closed for a National Holiday...so not much happening. We went back to the ship early and hit the pools etc.
St Lucia we booked the Whale watching tour.... If you have been to Alaska and have done whale watching the service and boats up there blow this tour out of the water...that being said we did see some Pilot Whales and Dolphins but there was absolutely nothing said on-board the tour that would enlighten us about the island or the wildlife...basically it was a four hour float with 15 minutes worth of sightings. We never got to see much of the island after the tour.
Antigua is the one spot we have not been. It is a beautiful spot. We did another Island 4wd tour which was much better than St Kitts. Nice Land Rover vehicles and some great stops for sightseeing and photos and an incredible beach at the end. They say Antigua has 365 beaches..one for every day of the year and after seeing some of the island I believe them. Very nice place. I did notice that there is a clear divide between rich and poor on the island after having traveled through a ghetto style area on the island. Lots of young kids near the ships asking for change etc...a bit sad indeed. BTW...the ships literally dock right in town.... can walk off very easy here.
I do wish Princess would have made Princess Cays the last stop on the iternary...2.5 sea days at the end of the cruise were ok but it seems as the moment we left Antigua they started telling everyone what to do for disembarkation....kind of set a bummer tone to the last two days...having the stop at Princess Cays would have broken this up.
The Gym was great. Both my wife and I used it regularly and had no problems. I see some people say it was crowded and too small....I did not think that at all and in fact thought it had lots of machines etc.
Disembarkation was a breeze...even though there were 9 ships in port. They do have this down to a science and it works well.
Overall this was a good cruise...not the best Princess Cruise we have done but the level of service and product was exactly what we expected. We had a great time as a family. One of my pet peeves would be with some of the parents. We know if we are traveling with our son we are responsible for his behaviour and we make every effort to do family activities...there were a lot of kids running around unsupervised which does tick some people off who are traveling without kids.... a small thing yes but it could make a big difference for everyone if you actually kept tabs on your kids once and a while.
We will continue to cruise with Princess but have also started to like what Celebrity has to offer after having cruised with them in the summer so will be looking into sailing with them some more..