In July we embarked on a much-anticipated cruise of the Baltic on the Emerald Princess. We had done considerable research on the ship, the specific cabin, the ports of call and Princess cruises itself and were confident we had chosen ... Read More
In July we embarked on a much-anticipated cruise of the Baltic on the Emerald Princess. We had done considerable research on the ship, the specific cabin, the ports of call and Princess cruises itself and were confident we had chosen the best 'product' for our needs. We were wrong. In the late sixties I was an employee of Princess cruises which was then known as an innovator with excellent service. Things have changed. What follows are our impressions of the ship and of Princess cruises, and we'll start with the 'positives'.
Embarkation in Copenhagen was extremely well organised and we were on the ship in no time. Once on the ship our cabin was immediately ready ... which is not the norm on most cruise ships. Our cabin was FABULOUS. It was at the stern of the ship and on the side. It had a simply enormous wrap-around balcony giving us a 270degree view. The sound of the wake was like a soothing waterfall, but if you wanted to shut this out all you had to do was go inside and shut the sliding door, at which point the cabin was silent. Vibration was virtually non-existent. The cabin was spacious and the amenities well thought out. We had to ask for the 'egg crate' for the bed as the bed was VERY hard with no 'give', but once that was arranged it was perfect. Our cabin steward was a joy ... always friendly, always willing to assist and always available. As a matter of fact, we encountered many instances of brilliant service from individual employees. As to dining (more on that later) Sabatini's was excellent ... great service and wonderful food. Disembarkation in Copenhagen could also not have been easier - extremely well organised.
After embarkation and dropping our hand luggage in the cabin, we proceeded to the MDR where we had learned from CC you could enjoy a leisurely lunch. We were shown to our table (the dining room was empty) and immediately approached by a waiter who showed us sparkling and still water and asked which we preferred. We are savvy travellers and asked if they were chargeable, which of course they were. We asked for and received tap water. He then returned with a bottle of red and white wine and said these were his recommended wines for lunch today. We asked for a wine list and discovered his recommendations were $50 bottles of wine. We now asked for a menu which we still had not received. Before the menu was brought we were shown and offered 'coffee cards'; finally, the menu was brought. So, all in all, three 'revenue opportunities' were realised before any service was offered. Our choices were made and the food was delivered. It was inedible and also looked dreadful (I know that sounds harsh, but it truly was). We ate it anyway, not knowing this was going to be the norm for our cruise.
Next we explored the ship. Confusing is probably a good word. Staircases on the outside upper decks lead nowhere and to go from one dining room to another you have to go up one deck and then back down. There is only one deck of public rooms and they are all bars (except the Crown Grill and its 'causeway' outside, and the Princess Theatre) and all DARK. As a matter of fact, the curtains are drawn throughout the ship including in the MDR. Why? There is a tiny library and no 'quiet place' to read or play cards. The solution to this offered in Princess Patters is to use the dining room. We tried, 5 times, it was always locked closed. In any case, with 43 cases of crew swine flu onboard (confirmed privately by the ship's doctor), is it really wise to be using the dining room as a 'lounge'? The top decks have 5 swimming pools ... but this was a Baltic cruise and they were certainly 'underused' except by children. On that top deck day in day out the MUTS screen proclaimed how much we should be tipping and where we could spend our money onboard ... followed by an occasional movie with no-one watching during the day (much better attended at night, even though it was cold at night). The 'customer service desk' was overwhelmed at certain times during the cruise. Towards the end they simply gave up being 'nice' and were less than perfunctory in their attitude towards 'guests'. Many errors occurred on bills and people were trying to correct them, they were being met by an 'I don't care' attitude which we observed more than once.
Now to the food. Let's be honest, most of us cruise (at least partially) because it's like going out to eat for three meals a day at a great restaurant. We have certain expectations as to quality. I realise they cannot be met on every occasion, but to have a 'batting average' of 30% is not what I expected. I know one reads on CC constantly that 'everyone else thought the same' ... I cannot speak for others. I can cook, I eat out occasionally at home and I know what I like, but the food on the Emerald was consistently 'below par'. An example: one morning Eggs Benedict were 'touted' as the specialty. When they appeared, it was obvious they had been prepared many hours before. The hollandaise sauce was crisp from having been under the warmers. EVERY person at the tables around us either returned them or didn't eat them. So it was with almost every main course. The starters were better, but still not acceptable. Everything was obviously done to a budget and to 'mass catering' standards. We did not pay 'mass catering' fares and expected better (like on every other cruise ship we have been on .... bar none!). We tried Crown Grill, great ambience, but, the food was served cold and had to be returned and when it re-appeared our steaks were well done! We also were selected for Chef's Table (at $75 per person extra).. We were excited. The 'briefing' was excellent, we donned our white coats, went to the kitchen and washed our hands and were shown the 'working kitchen'. There was absolutely no activity. Everything had been pre-cooked and was simply being dished up 'as and when', having been kept warm under warming lights. We were shown to our table and it had candles and a great atmosphere. The 'starting course' arrived and it was a sea of risotto (honestly, it could have fed a family of 4). When the main course arrived (lamb, veal and beef piled 2 inches high on the plate) we were simply disgusted by the quantity and couldn't eat. Everyone at the table felt the same. That is not to say the food wasn't delicious, just that 'more is not always better'! As to the buffet, what a disaster. We attempted to eat there on two occasions (and went to look on 4 others). Even when it opened the food was already congealed and beyond its 'sell by date'. The taste was like nothing I can describe (and that was each item). We tried sandwiches and they were hard, we tried meat dishes and they were old and overcooked. Not acceptable.
I have to say, the staff in all restaurants were very good, and were 'dab hands' at apologising for the food and the presentation. There were, however, more people selling water than there were to clear the tables and assist you in the restaurant.
Now to the worst part of the cruise. Two days before St. Petersburg we were informed via Princess Patters and via a special letter in our mailboxes that the Russian authorities had informed the ship that Princess Cruises tour passengers MUST be allowed to disembark first. All other tours were to meet in the lounge and receive a 'disembarkation number'. Princess Tours passengers could disembark at 7:30 ... all others at 8:30 at the earliest. We had read on CC that this was a 'ruse' and designed only to promote 'revenue', so we proceeded to line up at one of the two gangways. The lower one turned out to be for Princess Cruises tours and the upper one for 'others'. There was a line of roughly 130 people at the upper one. When the security guards realised we were not Princess Tours passengers (we had no sticker on our shirts), we were first threatened, then shown a fax from the 'Russian Authorities' (it had, in fact come from their own tour company in St. Petersburg, which was established the next day), then the guards physically blocked us with their bodies to keep us back. Utterly unacceptable in civilized society. We deserted this line and went downstairs and disembarked with the Princess Tours passengers unchallenged. However, this incident was so violent and left such a sour taste in our mouths that I venture to guess that there are 130 passengers who will never set foot on a Princess cruises vessel again. So, how has this served their purposes?
There was constantly a wait for elevators (lifts), in fact, many passengers went up just to go down (eventually). The Princess Theater holds only 1/3rd of all the passengers onboard. There were always people sitting on the stairs and there were always people turned away. The restaurants constantly had lines of people and on 5 occasions we were given a 'beeper' because the restaurant was full. Are there enough tables for all the guests? In our opinion there were simply too many passengers for the facilities available. This might have worked in the Caribbean where everyone can be out of doors, but in the Baltic, this was quite simply the wrong ship.
As to the ports of call, they were wonderful, with the exception of Gdynia, where we docked on a Sunday. This is not the first cruise we have taken where the port is some distance from the city of interest (in this case Gdansk), however, on all other occasions transport was provided at a minimal (or no) cost. Here, Princess Cruises decided we were on our own. If we wanted transport to Gdansk, we could either take a tour, or pay a taxi driver $100 round trip. This was an industrial port. Again unacceptable. This is not 'par for the course' . other 'quality cruise lines' simply don't do this.
Bottom line, on other cruise lines we have always felt like a 'valued guest' .... on Princess Cruises (well, at least on the Emerald Princess), we felt like nothing more than 'revenue opportunities'. On top of that we were being served substandard food. If this cruise had been cheap, this might have been acceptable. It was not.
Enough said. Read Less