Emerald Princess Entertainment
The Piazza is the hub of the ship and a marvelous destination. Located on Deck 5, the first deck of the three-story atrium, it serves as an impromptu performance venue and demo area. On one sea day, for instance, there was a chocolate demo from the pastry chef, followed by a mime, followed by magic tricks and then a "physical comedy" act. On another day, the young members of Princess' Fun Zone program had a "street fair" there. On the second formal evening, people thronged all three levels to watch the fabled "Champagne pour," a Princess tradition.
Beyond the Piazza, the ship has an overwhelming number of entertainment options, plus a variety of lounges, each with a different personality. Crooners, on Deck 7, is right in the heart of the action, overlooking the Piazza. It also features a vocalist. (On particularly boisterous evenings, the joint may erupt into a passenger singalong.) Crooners specializes in martinis, serving 52 different types. Explorer's Lounge is primarily an event venue for everything from art auctions to guest lectures. At night, it often serves as a secondary movie theater.
Club Fusion, also on Deck 7 (and not the nightclub, despite the name), is busy during the day -- with Ballroom Blitz, line dancing, bingo and Jeopardy -- and into the evening with activities from trivia and "Princess Pop Star," a take on American Idol, to Bee At Sea, a spelling-themed competition. This venue also hosts Captain's Circle meetings for frequent Princess cruisers.
The Speakeasy Cigar Lounge is the only place to smoke a stogie. It's tucked into Gatsby's Casino, which has an assortment of slots and game tables. On our cruise, the almost nightly Texas Hold'em Tournament was very popular. On sea days, cashiers open at 10 a.m. During port days, the full casino opens 30 minutes after sailing.
The Wheelhouse Bar, a Princess tradition, has nautical character but lacks the intimacy we've associated with smaller versions on other ships. And Adagio, located next to Sabatini's in a light-filled corner on Deck 16, is an elegant, Ritz Carlton-esque venue with a cabaret singer and pianist. Late-night action -- think DJs and dancing -- is to be found in Princess' trademark Skywalkers Nightclub.
The Princess Theater is the ship's main show venue, and it also hosts movies from time to time when not featuring production shows and comedy acts. The ship-produced shows -- tributes to everything from disco to the Beatles -- were okay, not great.
Facets of the overall "edutainment" program include culinary arts demonstrations (wine tastings, ice carving and the like) and a destination lecture series that, on our Baltic cruise, featured not only useful port information but also thought-provoking lectures on topics like "The Last Days of the Romanovs."
Movies Under the Stars, in the Calypso Pool area, is a major attraction and is on all day (with family fare), as well as into the night (with action flicks and such). Occasionally the line will program special events (like the Super Bowl).
We ordered all of our shore excursions online in advance of the cruise, something we had never done before. The selection was robust, but Princess' online brochure was descriptive and concise, making it easy to hone in on the tours that were just right for us. We also liked how Princess tagged its "best of" and "most popular" shore excursions. The process was very user-friendly, and the tours, with only one exception, lived up to their hype.
We have to give a special shoutout to the shorx desk on Deck 7. Our stayover in St. Petersburg coincided with the G-20 Summit. Our stop in Stockholm coincided with an official visit by President Obama. And our port call in Tallinn, Estonia, coincided with a marathon that attracted thousands of runners. In each case, Princess and our local guides on the ground managed the situation so deftly that there was very little disruption to the ship's tours on those days.
Emerald Princess Public Rooms
Even with 3,100 passengers, it's still possible to find intimate and quiet nooks and crannies, such as the sparsely stocked library on Deck 7, the seating outside of the Explorers Lounge and in the Adagio Bar.
In the Atrium, on Deck 6 and 7, are the ship's four boutiques. Calypso Cove sells guidebooks, snacks, liquor, local souvenirs, toiletries and Princess logowear, while the upscale Meridian Bay features designer handbags, sunglasses and jewelry. Essence focuses on perfumes and luxury watches, and Facets is all about jewelry.
The Passenger Services desk is on Deck 6. Lines can get a little long at times. If all you're interested in is getting a copy of your folio, there's a machine by the desk that will print out your account statement when you insert your key card. The shore excursions desk is on Deck 7.
A 24-hour Internet center can be found on Deck 5. Rates are 79 cents per minute, and packages are available for heavy users (100 minutes for $69, 200 minutes for $99, 400 minutes for $159 and 600 minutes for $199). As well, Wi-Fi is available throughout the ship. Emerald Princess also charges a one-time activation fee of $3.95 for use of both Wi-Fi and the ship's computers. You can use the printer, which is handy for printing out boarding passes, at a cost of 50 cents per page.
One nifty Princess feature is its wedding chapel, which hosts marriage ceremonies and vow renewals. The chapel can also be used for conferences and other events.
There are several self-service laundry facilities onboard. Washers and dryers require eight quarters each, while soap and fabric softeners require five quarters. There's a change dispenser in each laundry room, but ours was out of order for most of the trip. It's best to bring your own quarters, but you can get change at the reception desk in a pinch.
Emerald Princess Spa & Fitness
Emerald Princess has plenty to offer fans of pampering with its Asian-style Lotus Spa, which spans two decks (16 and 17) and offers a mouthwatering array of treatments. They range from a Thai Herbal Poultice Massage (costing $195) and Hot Stone Massage ($195) to revitalizing hair and scalp treatments and facials. The massages last 75 minutes. Also on offer are teeth-whitening, facials, salon services and a "Gentlemen's Pamper Package" that includes a facial, scalp massage and double close shave.
The Thermal Suite, with its heated ceramic loungers, tropical rainforest shower, aromatic and steam rooms, is another indulgence. On our 11-night cruise, an unlimited pass cost $108 per person.
One of the ship's special attractions is The Sanctuary on Deck 17 -- a cordoned-off adult-only retreat with cream awnings for shade. It's open from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. For $20 for a full day, passengers can relax on sumptuous sofas or padded chaise lounges and enjoy massages (for an extra fee) in special outdoor cabanas while "serenity stewards" bob about dispensing chilled face towels, Evian water atomizers and -- for an extra charge -- "healthy" drinks and light meals. You can rent MP3 players for $10; they come loaded with "relaxing" music. Be sure to book ahead for this facility on sea days, which is when it tends to be most popular and books up quickly.
There are two Lido Deck pools, Calypso and Neptune, midship on Deck 15, with adjoining hot tubs. The lounge area around Calypso can get loud, due to the location just above it of Movies Under the Stars. There is a smaller, more private pool on Deck 14 at the stern of the ship.
Like most sizable ships, Emerald Princess has a fully equipped gym. This one has more than 40 cardio machines with TV hookups, medicine balls, free weights and weight machines. Annoyingly, the treadmills aren't accessible until 8 a.m. because cabins are situated beneath them. There are complimentary stretching, core strength and ab strengthening workouts, and, for a fee, passengers can sign up for body sculpting boot camp, yoga, Pilates, TRX and cycling classes.
The sports court on Deck 19 has a basketball and Ping-Pong court, as well as a putting green, golf simulator and greens where you can play croquet and bocce. There's a so-called jogging track, too, but it takes 16 times around to make reach mile.