Pre-Cruise: This was our 5th cruise, 3rd on Princess. Our family of four (Dad, Mom, and two adult daughters) arrived in Ft. Lauderdale on Southwest from Providence on Saturday afternoon and spent the pre-cruise day at the Best Western Oceanside. We utilized the Sun Trolley (free on Saturday) to shop for wine, soda and a stop for lunch. The hotel itself is old, and the rooms are small but clean. The dEcor is probably the same as the day it opened under its previous owner back in the 60's or 70's, or whenever it was. The rooms could use a serious makeover. The pool and breakfast room areas, however, are clean and modern, and the staff was very pleasant. The big reason for booking this hotel were location (just a short walk to the beach) and price (Hotwire). Would I book it again? Sure, but only at a Hotwire or Priceline rate, and never with four people to a room.
Embarkation: After waking in the wee early hours to watch the arrival of the Emerald from Ft. Lauderdale beach, we went to breakfast and met up with Olga & Pavel, our new Cruise Critic friends from Russia, who were to be married on the first Emerald sea day. How romantic is that! We then packed up and used the shuttle that was outside waiting for passengers who were willing to pay the $7/pp for transportation to the pier. A taxi would have been cheaper, but we had a lot of luggage, so this was easier than trying to cram all our stuff into a cab. We arrived at the port at about 11:30 a.m. and were in our room by 12:15, a very quick and efficient process on the part of Princess.
Stateroom: After reading about those much-talked-about Aft cabins, we decided to go for one and booked C752. The good: the ever-so-slight rocking of the ship and the sound of the wake was very calming, the view is awesome, and the privacy from cabins above was a definite plus. The not-so-great: (1) the hike. While we appreciated the benefit of exercise, the long walk to the cabin was a pain after a long day in port. (2) lack of a real breeze on the balcony; we missed the ocean breeze felt on the port & starboard side cabins. Also, due to the lack of moving air, the tobacco smoke coming from our neighbors was a little annoying at times. For those wondering about balcony odors some have mentioned, there were some food odors, usually late in the day around meal times, but nothing foul or bothersome. Having said that, there was one day early in the cruise, where several cabins in our area were having some plumbing issues (toilets wouldn't flush), and as a result there was a pretty awful sewage smell in the hallway. However, to the credit of the crew, this was taken care of right away, and by that evening, all the odors were gone and all plumbing once again in good order.
Our cabin steward, Saul, from Mexico, attended to our every need with a friendly smile and willingness to please. We had his services until Friday, when he disembarked in Cozumel to head home, as his contract was up. Speaking of crew, we did not encounter any rude or unfriendly crew members in our 7 days on board. Everyone was always ready with a smile and a friendly "hello".
Beds: We found the beds to be perfectly fine and comfortable for us. We did not ask for or need an egg crate, and we were provided with four comfy pillows. However, we do like a very firm mattress (and I could sleep anywhere when tired enough!)
A/C: I was anticipating inefficient A/C, so I packed a fan, but never had to use it because the A/C was fine, and we even had to lower it a few times. The A/C around the ship was comfortable for the most part, and I only found myself needing a sweater once at dinner in the dining room.
The Emerald: She is a gorgeous ship, very clean and elegant. We found the staff regularly walking around tidying up, polishing, sweeping and otherwise keeping her ship-shape. Navigation around the ship decks is fairly easy, once you figure out the "can't get there from here" hot spots. The mid-ship Piazza is particularly spectacular, with featured entertainment, the International Cafe, Vines wine bar, and retail shops, making for a great gathering place. By the way, good deals can be found in the ship's stores. I got a great price on a Citizens watch as a birthday gift for DH.
Meet & Greet: We did not plan any formal meeting through the ship, but met at the Outrigger Bar at 5:00 on embarkation day. It was great to meet you, Olga & Pavel, Band Mom & family, Mr. & Mrs. Elisabetta, Mr. & Mrs. Mett (sorry, names are escaping me), and anyone else I'm forgetting. To our roll call members who couldn't make it, I hope you all had a fun and relaxing cruise, and wish you more great future sailings!
Before I comment further on the different aspects of the cruise, I'd like to say that my favorite experience on the ship the entire week was the wedding of our friends from Russia, Olga & Pavel. It was such an honor to be invited and so exciting to experience a wedding at sea. The wedding was enchanting, the couple looked beautiful, and the wedding cake and champagne were delicious! Dining: We had Anytime Dining, and never had to wait for a table. One evening, we just showed up around 7 pm, offered to sit with others, and were seated immediately. For the other nights, we made a reservation in the morning, arrived at the dining room at the appointed time and, again, were seated immediately. Food and service were both great, and even our picky daughters were able to find something they liked on the menu. Some of the delicious apps and dishes were escargot, fettucini alfredo, shrimp newburg, prime rib, Hawaian Luau Pork, and lobster tail, of course.
Crown Grill: This is where we celebrated our 33rd anniversary. The steak and filet were both great, and the service as well. DH showered me with gifts and the waiters brought a cake and sang "Happy Anniversary". Awwww! Interestingly, the restaurant was not crowded at all, perhaps because it was a port day and the passengers were exhausted from the long day in port (the ship was only scheduled to leave Cozumel at 7 p.m.).
Horizon Court: Standard buffet fare. The staff members were helpful in finding seating and serving drinks. The buffet gets crazy at prime times, so we avoided it on a couple of occasions by having breakfast in the dining room, light lunch at the International Cafe, or even room service.
Caribe Cafe: We dined here one evening because we didn't like the Caribbean menu in the dining room. This was a nice alternative to the dining room - informal, but with more class than Horizon Court. The atmosphere was nice, with real napkins and tablecloths. The food was good, but the desserts were great!
International Cafe: I have to say, of all the food on the ship, this was our favorite. They serve light lunch fare, perfect for a light snack after a morning excursion, or even a continental breakfast. Great sandwiches, quiche, salads, pastries, and even cookies & milk in the afternoon. I never got around to the gelato - I'll save that for next time around. The addition of entertainment - whether pianist or string quartet - makes for a relaxing mid-day break.
Coffee: One of several hot topics, I thought I'd mention that although we purchased a few specialty coffees with the coffee card, the regular stuff in the dining room and buffet was just fine for us. Then again, we're more Dunkin Donuts people, rather than Starbucks, so that may have something to do with it.
Wheelhouse Bar: You'll find a pub lunch served on Tuesday and Thursday. Some of the best fish & chips you'll find anywhere. Also tried the cottage pie, which was good, but seemed to have more potato than meat & veggie.
Note: If you are celebrating a special occasion, call for your dining reservation, tell them you are celebrating, and a card will appear in your mailbox. Give this card to the maitre d, and a cake and singing waiters will appear at the end of the meal.
I was surprised to see the Baked Alaska parade done in the anytime dining rooms. This was a special treat on the last night, which also happened to be DH's birthday. So not only was there Baked Alaska, there was also cake and singing waiters for the birthday boy.
Pizza: Delicious and always a favorite for us, though it's still a mystery to me why they charge $3.00 to deliver it to your room.
Trident Grill: Hotdogs were memorable, burgers were just okay (comments from the family - I never made it to the grill).
Entertainment: Time got away from us, and we missed some events. Here's what we did see:
"Grand Adventure Showtime": We could have skipped this. It was just really a run-down of the week's happenings by cruise director, Tim Donovan, with a little music, dancing, and comedy.
"Princess Pop Star": A favorite of ours, as our younger daughter was a contestant and proud to say, a Finalist (with her rendition of "Natural Woman")! She didn't win on the final night of the contest, but we were still proud as peacocks!
Noteworthy musicians we heard included the band "Evolution" (daughter did the "live" karaoke with them), the Polonia String Quartet, the pianist in the Piazza, and for you loyal Bert Stratton fans, he was in residence, as well.
We did not catch the big production shows, but found comedian, Troy Thirdgill, to be hysterically funny!
Casino: Sucked up our money like a vacuum. Need I say more. There were a couple of smoke-free nights in the casino. Nice, though all it did was make us want to stay longer and lose more.
MUTS: Get out there early for a good seat. I like MUTS, but always fall asleep during the movie - it's that relaxing. Some movies shown were Shrek 4, Ironman 2, How to Train Your Dragon, Letters to Juliet, When in Rome, Invictus, Sherlock Homes.
Pools: Yes, on sea days, the chair hogs are everywhere. For instance, when we arrived at the MUTS pool at 9 am of the second sea day, we saw 6 chairs in a row saved with the owner's own assortment of brightly colored towels. These folks didn't show up to actually use these chairs until after 12:00 pm. Maybe they figured their own pretty towels would be off limits to anyone who would be thinking of removing them? I don't know. Personally, we plan our pool & sun time for early morning, before 9:00, stay until lunch and leave when it gets really hot and crowded. We love the fresh water pools, and on a hot day, they are very refreshing.
Aft Pool: On the Caribbean Princess back in 2005, this was my favorite area of the ship - it was quiet, with some sun, some shade. The Emerald - not so much. With the design of the Emerald, Skywalker's was moved, Sabatini's placed in the back upper decks, thus eliminating the shaded area over the pool, as well as deck space for chairs. We miss the shade back there. Princess Cays: Again, we're morning people, so we tendered over early, got a chair in the shade, snorkled and swam for a while, and went back to the ship. We skipped the barbecue this time around, so no comments there. The water was warm and beautiful, and we saw a ton of fish. For snorkeling enthusiasts, go to the left of the pier, down to the second outcropping of rocks, for the best fish.
Jamaica: Jamaica has gotten some bad press lately, and I didn't know what to expect. I decided to book a tour with a reputable guide, so went with Mark Morris, who took us on his Dunn's River Falls/Highlights tour. Mark was friendly and his love of Jamaica was very obvious. He took the time to call everyone by name, and especially remembered that I wanted to go to his dad's pottery studio and try some authentic jerk chicken at Scotchies. Mark took us around in his clean, modern van, giving a little history along the way, providing an attractive picture of Jamaica that those who don't leave the port could never experience. The chicken at Scotchies was delicious, and his dad sold us some beautiful pottery. Dunn's River Falls was a thrill, but not an easy climb. I am happy to say that we made it out with only a few scrapes. The girls finished the trek to the top. However, when I saw the final steep slope of rocky ledge ahead of me, I decided I had enough and got off at the second "escape" route. Not a bad feat, since I only decided to make the attempt at the last minute. The only real casualty to come out of Jamaica was DH's expensive new camera. He was photographing us climbing the falls, and his expensive new camera got drenched - not from the falls (he didn't climb), but because of a heavy downpour.
Grand Cayman: We did the ship's Catamaran Stingray City tour. This was a great experience. There were maybe 60 people or so on the boat, with a friendly, experienced crew of 2. However, due to the number of ships in port (4), the sandbar was packed. While we had a good number of rays to play with when we arrived, the appearance of more fully-packed boats, made the rays scatter off to find new food sources. The catamaran's sails were then raised, and we had a pleasant, relaxing ride back to port.
Cozumel: We went to Tulum with the ship's excursion. I have been before - once, back in 2002. The girls' main reason for coming on this cruise was to see ruins, so this was one we couldn't miss. A lot has changed in 8 years. The little roadside pit stop has turned into a large brick & mortar building with restrooms, snacks, drinks, and every sort of tourist trinket you can imagine. The stop has gone from 15 minutes to about 35. No more box lunch on the bus, either, because Tulum has now become a bit of a tourist trap, with restaurants, a Subway (are you kidding?!!!), and a whole bunch of vendors. The ruins at Tulum are still spectacular, but this time around I have to say it was really overrun with cruise passengers. That fact, combined with the oppressive heat and humidity, meant that once the narrated tour was done, we took a few photos and headed back to one of the restaurants for lunch, drinks, and then the bus. Fair warning: the margaritas in Mexico are lethal! Maybe it was the combination of the heat, dehydration, and an empty stomach, but after a few sips, that potent potion went right to my head. My girls found me to be very amusing.
I find the history of the Mayans fascinating, and the next time we do ruins, it probably won't be on a cruise.
Disembarkation: Princess has an amazing procedure for this - very efficient. We were given colored tags for the luggage, which we left out the night before and given a time and place to wait to disembark. We left the cabin, as instructed at 8 am, went for a leisurely breakfast in the dining room, arrived at 9:30 to wait for our tags to be called, which was about 10 minutes. We proceeded off, collected out luggage (which was easy to find due to our own easy-to-find IDs on each piece), and headed out for a taxi to our post-cruise hotel. Note: Be sure to follow the signs for taxi, and don't do what we did, which was to follow the guy who said he had transportation for us. Once we realized he wanted $11/pp (!!), we said no thanks and headed back to the taxis. It was a quick ride to the hotel - from ship to hotel, less than 20 minutes.
Post-Cruise Hotel: I am writing this from the Hyatt Summerfield Suites in Dania Beach. We originally had a late flight, so decided to spend the day and fly out tomorrow morning. This is a nice, new, modern hotel, which I got through Hotwire for $68. We have a suite with separate king bedroom, pull out sofa, full kitchen and 2 flat screen TVs. There is a free shuttle to the airport and anywhere within a 3-mile radius, which was great because we took it across the street to TGIF to have lunch with my niece who lives in the Hollywood area. The only negative I see to this room is the bathroom. It's in the bedroom portion of the room, so anyone sleeping on the sofa needs to come into the bedroom to use it. There is no normal locking door to the bathroom, only a sliding door which doesn't latch shut - very odd. The bathroom shower has a clear glass door as well as clear glass wall half way down the side of the shower stall - also very strange. This is not doable for the family member who might want to use the sink while another is in the shower. There is no privacy. Other than that, it's a very comfortable room to hang out in if you want to just chill. There is a pool, although it's been raining all day, so we didn't use it. Finally, breakfast is provided from 6:00 am until 10:00. Great hotel deal at $68!
In summary, this was an awesome cruise. We purchased future cruise credits, and will be planning our next cruise in two years for the big 35th anniversary. We just have to decide where we will go next. Read Less