Review of Emerald Princess 01/27/12 10 Nights Southern Caribbean
Itinerary: Ft. Lauderdale, Princess Cays, Sea Day, St. Thomas, Antigua, St. Lucia, Barbados, St. Kitts, 2 Sea Days, Ft. Lauderdale
About me: I'm 40 years old, from Atlanta GA, and this was my 30th cruise - 4th with Princess. I have previously sailed on the Grand, Golden and Caribbean Princess. Other cruise lines I frequent are Celebrity, HAL and RCCL. I have also sailed Regent, Crystal, Carnival and NCL.
Traveling companions: My partner, who is 44 and from Ireland, and 2 co-workers/friends who are 42 and 49 both living in Atlanta GA. For all 3 of them this was their fist cruise.
First thoughts: We were looking for a relaxed, easy paced holiday - something with little structure and not to dressy, but still in a sophisticated environment with quality food and entertainment. I specifically chose Princess for these reasons. While I typically gravitate to Celebrity and HAL I knew Princess was right for my travelling companions and their preference for a more relaxed, casual environment. I chose correctly.
General Ship impressions: Upon first entering I felt the ship to be much more sophisticated and elegant than its older siblings. Gone are the mint/peach/mauve/turquoise colors and tropical patterned carpets/decor. Instead I found much more rust/browns/jewel tones and Italianate design throughout. As I wandered the ship I felt the overall flow of spaces works much better with the relocation of Wheelhouse between the atrium and theater, moving Crooners to the port side of the vessel and the addition of the International Cafe/Vines on deck 5. The Crown Grill is lovely once inside but the walkway leading to it feels a bit like a discount photo-mat. One other odd item -- Explorers lounge. The murals depict India and Southeast Asia, but the architecture and tables still sport an Egyptian theme which seems rather at odds with each other. This is a small detail that few would notice and one that did not hamper my enjoyment of the space, but rather elicited a small chuckle on my part. As they say "the devil is in the details" (more on that later!). I like the new location of Sabatini's and the addition of Adagio; however they are easily overlooked due to their general remoteness. The new placement of Skywalkers is also a plus. I liked the decor of the casino, but felt the placement of slots and tables left too much empty floor space. Also the selection of slots was rather dated. From a design and decor standpoint I think all of the changes made since the launch of the Grand are well chosen and executed.
Cabin: We were in E504, partially obstructed Oceanview on Deck 8. I really liked our cabin. All of the Oceanview cabins on deck 8 are laid out with the beds against the sidewalls just like in balcony cabins. The exceptions to this are any cabins for triples/quads, which have the beds against the window wall. The view from our cabin was pretty decent -- a nice view of both sea and sky, albeit with the top of a lifeboat thrown in for that "nautical touch". Bathrooms are typical Princess -- small and efficient. I am 6'1", and my partner is 6'3" and we both found the shower serviceable if not exactly spacious. The biggest issue was the tiny single shelf for toiletries in the shower. Next Princess cruise I will definitely bring some sort of shower caddy. There was more than ample closet and shelf space for the 2 of us for a 10 night voyage, even though we both packed on the heavy side. I like the small shelf on the bedside tables -- a great way to keep clutter at bay. The midship location on deck 8 was ideal as it was always and easy hop down/up the stairs from all the public spaces on decks 5-7. We only used the elevator when going up to deck 15. Our friends were in A229 on Deck 12 forward and were less pleased with their general location. They used the elevators a lot more than we did, and felt that most things were a good bit of a "hike" to find being so far forward. On a ship this large cabin location is key!
Smoking Policy: The new smoking policy had gone into effect on the cruise prior to ours. There was no odor of smoke in our cabin or in any of the public areas except the Casino (where it is still allowed) and Skywalkers. The other smoking areas were the entire Port side of the Promenade Deck, the forward 1/3 of the Port side of the Neptunes reef pool area by the windows, and the Port side of Deck 15 just outside of Cafe Caribe above the Terrace pool. I heard no complaints from non-smokers about excess smoke being an issue. The casino held several non-smoking nights throughout the cruise, which was not a huge issue for smokers as they had the Cigar lounge immediately adjacent. For the record, I am a non-smoker, and my partner smokes.
Dining: We ate in the DaVinci Dining room 5 times for dinner, Crown Grill Twice, Sabatini's once and Cafe Caribe twice. For Breakfast we ate in either the DaVinci dining room (5 times), International Cafe (4 light port day breakfasts) and Horizon Court once (which was once too many for me). Embarkation lunch was taken in DaVinci, and on our 3 sea days we ate from Cafe Caribe twice, both later when the crowds had died off, and once from the Burger grill. We found all of the food to be fresh, hot and generally of a high standard and well prepared/presented. By nature I tend to avoid buffets for many reasons -- crowding, sanitation, poor presentation, old/cold food, etc. I was generally pleased with the food offerings in Cafe Caribe and it was all fairly fresh and tasty. I like that they use "real" plates there at night and set the tables with linens and glassware. The melamine plastic they use during the daytime is just plain tacky! Horizon Court breakfast was hot, but rather uninspired and the crowds are maddening. All of the meals taken in DaVinci were excellent! Food arrived hot, well prepared, not too salty and in appropriate portions for a 4-5 course meal. We were on Anytime Dining and had several different wait teams, all of whom provided excellent service. The food in the Crown Grill was good quality mid-upper end American Chain Steakhouse -- similar to Morton's. Service was okay, but not spectacular. The waiters seemed overworked, even though they had relatively small sections (3-4 tables). I found the service flow in the main Dining Room to be more calm and organized, which is usually just the opposite. I had similar thoughts on Sabatini's. I will say I like the new Sabatini's menu, but if you are not a seafood lover you may find it a bit disappointing.
Now for my "Devil is in the details" gripe -- Princess does a LOT of things right in their dining venues -- good quality table linens, decent plate ware and flatware, nice standard glassware, silver plated butter dishes, creamers, use of pepper mills and crumbers, etc ............ but then .......... Plastic water pitchers in ALL the dining venues (not to mention the tacky blue jugs in the buffet), Plastic tongs for serving pastries in the MDR for breakfast (which are on silver trays), waiters setting the large plastic service trays on tables in the Specialty dining venues and the list goes on. It cheapened the overall elegance of the dining experience and is something that could easily be corrected. This is the one area I feel they could easily improve upon.
Bars: I liked the Martini Menu at Crooners -- it offered some really nice cocktail options that I had never seen. Wheelhouse is a lovely space, but, the chairs SHOULD be upholstered in real leather, and NOT in the leather-look vinyl that they are covered in. This is another one of those "Devil is in the Details" kinds of gripes from my end and is something very few passengers would even register as they used the space. Adagio was lovely, but woefully underused and has its own unique cocktail menu. Bar staff were friendly and efficient, though during the first 24hrs there was a BIG push to sign folks up for Wine Tasting events. I think we had 6-7 offers the first night alone between 7pm to 1030pm! After that initial push no one tried to "sell" us on anything. We never used Vines and it rarely was busy. The coffee bar at the international Cafe was well used at all hours of day and night and the food selections offered a nice range of light bites (all complimentary) appropriate for the time of day.
Entertainment: This was the 2nd cruise with the new entertainment format. I actually rather liked it. Offering one "Big Show" per night in the Princess at 3 different times and limiting it 30-40 minutes worked well for us. We generally arrived about 5-10 minutes before show time and were able to get decent seating. The only shows that seemed to require and earlier arrival were the Beatle Maniacs Show (all 3 showings were standing room only) and the Crew Show on the final night. For both of these we arrived 20 minutes early and got very good seats. We attended a variety of showtimes and found no crowding or traffic flow issues. Explorers Lounge was almost exclusively Game Shows, Trivia, Karakoe, etc and club Fusion was used for live Party-Band dancing while Wheelhouse had a variety of Piano Music, Social Dance Music and Party Band. Crooners was not used well -- the only entertainment there was a Piano Bar entertainer from around 9-1130 every night. He had a following but I could never warm up to his style. Some nice pre-dinner jazz/standards piano would have been nice in this venue. Adagio had a mix of piano music and Jazz nights. The Jazz nights were excellent -- I wish they would do them every night! My only gripe is that there was virtually no live music from 7-8pm, which should be prime time for cocktails. I won't go into specific performers / cruise staff as they can vary so much from one sailing to another. Overall I felt the range of entertainment was well suited to the overall passenger mix and passengers seemed to by and large be enjoying themselves.
MUTS: Good selection of films; pizza, milk, cookies a nice touch; but the sound is awful -- very hard to hear!
Pools: With 5 Freshwater Pools and 7 hot tubs how can you go wrong?! There were plenty of loungers and even though chair-hogs were out and about we were able to snag a chair or two at any time we wanted. Preferring a quieter ambiance we used mainly the Terrace pool or the Lotus pool.
Final thoughts: We had a very relaxing and enjoyable cruise. Princess offers a nice upper-mid range cruise experience that suited our needs well. Food was of an overall high quality, Service uniformly excellent, and entertainment varied enough to allow us a variety of activities. The Anytime Dining and new Entertainment format worked very well for us. There was nothing in the experience that would prevent me from cruising with Princess again and I look forward to doing so sooner rather than later. I was glad to have chosen Princess and my travelling companions all had a wonderful first cruise experience thanks to their wonderful staff!