2/16 ten day Southern Caribbean cruise.
We had such a good time on our first Princess cruise last year we decided to do another one this February. We picked a ten day, Southern Caribbean cruise on Emerald Princess originating and ending in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Getting there: I had issues before with Princess handling air travel and pre and post cruise hotels so we handle these items on our own.
Fort Lauderdale: A great area to get the vacation started. Do yourself a favor and go down a couple of nights early. We flew down from Indiana where there was snow on the ground so just being in Florida with the sun was a treat. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express on 17th street, a good hotel in a great location. Shopping for last minute items and all kinds of restaurants are close by. We highly recommend "Total Wine" the wine store in the shopping center down the block. We did the water taxi ride and enjoyed it thoroughly, had no idea we would see such incredible luxury yachts and water front homes. We walked on the beach and had lunch at a fun harbor restaurant. I can't think of a better way to start a vacation.
Then it was time to start the cruise.
Embarkation: One of the things we like about princess is getting on the ship is easy. We were there a little early but once the line starts moving it goes pretty quick. Our bags got to our room before we left port. And at the end of the cruise the disembarkation is just as well organized. Show up at the assigned time and walk off the ship to an area where your bags are waiting. Then go through customs.
Our room: We love having a balcony room and probably will never go without one. We were in room R605, a standard balcony room on deck 14. The room design is identical to many other Princess ships. There is talk about how small the rooms are, especially the bathroom, but we like the design and find it perfectly adequate. There is plenty of room for hanging cloths. There is a small refrigerator. The bed was fine for us. This room is below the lido deck which extends out overhead another four feet or so providing a canopy. This may interfere with lounging in the sun at times but we liked it. We did not have any noise issues and slept very well each night.
Dining: The food was good. A lot of effort goes into making dinners in the main dining room each night a fine dining experience or at least one of the highlights of your trip. Given the limitations of trying to do that for thousands of passengers on a ship at sea we say they do a pretty good job. We have never felt the need to try the two specialty restaurants. For seating we like the traditional option. We have talked to many that do anytime and they say that works fine also. We hate the idea of gaining a lot of weight on the cruise so we try to eat light for breakfast and lunch. We had lunch in the international cafe a couple of times and loved it. We also really liked the pizza on deck and the grill. We have never purchased a soda or coffee card.
Service: Excellent. Our room steward was great. Our waiters at dinner were great. Most of the staff members we met in the other restaurants, lounges, pool, etc, greeted us with a smile and said hello. We had to call for service when our room safe did not work properly and they were quick to respond.
Entertainment: We like live entertainment so for the most part we went to the shows each night in the princess theater. We were expecting a little better from the singers and dance troupe but they were entertaining. The Beatles show was better that expected. The comedians and magician were very good. Overall I would rate the entertainment an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. We had expected with this size ship the entertainment would be a little better.
Cruise director and staff: Not the best we have seen but they were hard working and they seemed to cover all the bases keeping the activities going. They put on a "yes/no contest" in one of the lounges one night that was really funny.
The Ship: Emerald is larger than any other ship we have been on by a thousand passengers. For the most part it was not a factor. Getting an elevator at rush time, getting a lounge chair at the pool on sea days, finding a table in the Horizon court at peak breakfast or lunch time; these all take a little patience. There is no way around the fact you are on a ship with a lot of people but the ship layout seems to handle it pretty well. The decor of the ship is pleasing and well done, especially the central atrium. There are three pools. The promenade deck is great for a power walk or just a stroll. We liked the ship very much.
Dancing: For all you dancers out there. We like ballroom dancing. We were able to take two dance lessons on the sea days at the beginning of the cruise and enjoyed it. There was at least one night the ship's orchestra played ballroom music in one of the lounges but we missed it. The other bands in the lounges played some music to dance to but we really never got a chance to do it. The opportunity is there if you make it a priority.
Passengers: Since it was the middle of the winter and the duration was over a week there were very few children on board. For the most part you will find an older crowd this time of year. Many are retired and we were told over 200 passengers were booked to stay on board for back to back cruises. For us, one of the highlights of the cruise was the really nice people we met.
Itinerary: Perfect. We love sea days especially at the start of the voyage. We also really enjoyed the islands we went to. Aruba- we went horseback riding. Bonaire- we went snorkeling. Grenada- walked around. Dominica-we went on an all day snorkel, swim, sightsee, and hike tour. St Thomas-we went shopping of course. Bahamas-we joined everyone on the beach. The three tours we did were independent and each one exceeded our expectations. If anyone wants more information on them let me know. With the exception of St Thomas, we were the only ship in each port, which was nice.
Weather: Temperatures in the 80's and lots of sun each day. It's the Caribbean so odds are the weather will be great this time of year but you never know when a couple of rainy days may turn up. We were lucky.
Overall: This was our second cruise with Princess, fifth overall. We think Princess does a good job overall and plan to use them again next year to go to Alaska. It's hard to compare cruise lines because each year across the industry the passenger to staff ratio gets a little bigger and some cost cutting is done to keep rates competitive. We like the price we paid for this cruise and would not complain if everything was not absolutely perfect. People tend to forget you can't have your cake and eat it too. But the basics are all there in place to provide a really great vacation. Emerald is a great ship and well run. We would recommend it to anyone wanting some fun times in the warm sun during the long winter. It's been a month ago and we are still reliving fond memories.