We started cruising with Princess in 2010 on the Crown, then we progressed to the Ruby in 2011 and for 2012 we settled on the Emerald.
We arrived in Fort Lauderdale 2 days early to rest and relax at the Embassy Suites on Southeast 17th, which we booked through Princess. We booked the hotel about 6 months in advance so we received a very reasonable rate considering the quality of the hotel. We had stayed there prior to our previous cruise on the Ruby and were very impressed. Upon our arrival, we met the Princess Rep at the airport and she quickly got us onto a bus and on our way to the hotel. We arrived before noon, so the hotel staff couldn't check us in immediately, but they took down my husband's cell phone number and called us about 10 minutes later so we were able to drop our bags in our room and head out to grab a bite of lunch.
The transfer to the ship was fairly well organized, considering the number of cruisers at the hotel for this specific cruise. They filled three buses without any problem. There was some waiting around, but we didn't mind.
We arrived at the port just before noon and while there was quite a lineup it moved very smoothly and we were on board within 45 minutes. As we had been on the Crown and Ruby before it, we were familiar with the layout but we did the scavenger hunt regardless. Its a great way to see the ship.
Our first night on board, we went to dine in Sabatini's which was fantastic. We were a little concerned about the change in menu, but we had a great time. The only snag we hit was that I couldn't have the pasta of the night due to an allergy, but we mentioned it to our waiter and the chef made me a version I could eat. The only thing we missed from the original menu was the ravioli, which we did mention to the staff. The tuna and veal appetizer cannot be missed, in my humble opinion and I really wished they had brought more of the prosciutto and focaccia appetizers too. It was such great simple food and the service was very good.
On the second night we finally met our table mates in Botticelli. There was an issue with the waiter and his assistant. They were both very new and not really ready for the complexity of the tasks set before them. One of our table mates went to the head waiter and the third night we had a new waiter, Alex who was fantastic.
The food in the dining room was very good, if something wasn't right Alex would whisk it away and bring something else. Our table mates were also fantastic, we have been very fortunate in all of our cruises to meet such great people to share dinner with.
We also tried the Crown Grill for the first time and it was quite impressive, though if I had to choose, I'd go to Sabatini's first. The steak was very nicely cooked and the sides were huge. The garlic fries should require a permit, they are not for the weak of heart. My husband asked me to look for the recipe or find out how they did it. The corn side dish was very strange.
The room was very nice, it was a small balcony room (C752) though there was ample room for us (until we tried to pass each other by the foot of the bed, but that was hardly a surprise). The balcony was small and really only needed two chairs, not the four they stuffed out there. We love aft balconies, they feel so private and isolated. Its hard to imagine there are so many people on the ship when you're sitting out there. This is an "obstructed" balcony, but the beam is off to the side and only juts out about eight inches or so (didn't think to measure it). It might be an issue if you have four people seated out there, but for one or two, its not a bother.
Our room steward was excellent. One night I skipped dinner since I had developed a migraine and the steward helped my husband when he came to the room to bring me something to drink and bite to eat before I curled up. We actually developed a habit of bringing our lunch back to the room and if we had our hands full, he would magically appear out of nowhere to open the door for us. The room was always nice and clean. We had absolutely no complaints.
I did spend a fair amount of time (& money) in the spa and the service was very good. One of the massage therapists I had actually remembered me from the Crown, 2 years earlier! My husband and I did the couples massage in the Sanctuary which was a very nice treat. I wouldn't bother with the facial again, though.
At Princess Cays, the tenders were a little slow going out, but the weather was nice and the lunch was good. We were delayed in departing as there was a mechanical issue with getting the last tender back into position. It did not affect our arrival at the next port, St. Thomas.
We booked a snorkeling excursion through Princess and the crew of the catamaran were very professional and knowledgeable. We had a good time at Shipwreck Cove. The only issue was they snorkeling company had two boats at the cove at the same time, one with us from the Emerald and the other was from the Crystal Symphony. I wasn't the only snorkeler to get turned around and ended up on the wrong boat. Everyone did make it back to the right cruise ship, though - so all's well that ends well.
Dominica was fantastic - for the first time we booked two excursions for the same port. Snorkeling at Champagne Reef in the morning and the Gorge and Hot Springs tour in the afternoon. The tour guides for both were great, especially the young lady with the Gorge and Hot Springs tour. The locals were very friendly and it was a pleasure to shop there. No one was pushy or demanding.
Grenada - if we ever go back to this port, we will either stay on the ship or take a ship sponsored tour. Enough said.
Bonaire - another fantastic stop, we did the Yacht snorkel tour - again booked through the ship. It was fairly expensive, but worth it. It wasn't the best reef we've seen, but the experience sailing around on the yacht with such a small group was great.
Aruba - locals very friendly and helpful - definitely not pushy. We walked into the downtown shopping area, you can tell that it has been a tourist destination for a long time.
On the second last sea day, we did the ship tour, which was worth the $150 per person. It was very informative, there's so much to see and do. We did have to point out that they sent us the wrong robes after the tour, but they replaced them without fuss. I then had to go and buy some more space bags so we could get them to fit into our luggage. In case you're wondering, one of those robes weighs about 2 kilos, if I recall what my husband said after he weighed one.
Overall, we had a very good experience and look forward to the next cruise.