My husband and I were on the 4/25/2010 sailing of the Emerald Princess, attending the wedding of my niece (she got married on-board by the Captain). This was our first Princess cruise - we've sailed with Disney, RCL, and Carnival in ... Read More
My husband and I were on the 4/25/2010 sailing of the Emerald Princess, attending the wedding of my niece (she got married on-board by the Captain). This was our first Princess cruise - we've sailed with Disney, RCL, and Carnival in the past. Our last cruise was with Carnival in October. Since the cruises were so close together, it was hard not to compare, and overall, Princess came up short.
The Good: Dining - we found both the food and the service was very good. I especially liked the way the Horizon cafe (Deck 15) was set up, and how they managed the seating (especially compared to the disorganization on our last Carnival cruise). There are three buffet areas - all serving the same food - so the lines aren't long. On the St. Thomas morning, we ate breakfast in Horizons, and they had waiters seating people, so you didn't need to wander around hoping to find a seat. And they were very quick to bring coffee/juice. We had anytime dining, and found that making a reservation was the best way to go. On the few nights we didn't reserve, we were given a buzzer, and I don't think we waited more than 15 minutes to be seated. My husband believes the food was better aboard RCL and Carnival, but I thought they were all comparable.
Balconies & Balcony Breakfast - The balconies on Princess were much larger than other cruise lines. Our second cabin was on the Caribe deck, and while it held 4 chairs and one table, it could have easily accommodated more. I believe the balconies on this deck were the largest, and what I liked was that half the balcony was covered so you could get shade if you wanted, and the other half exposed. One thing I wasn't thrilled about was having people look down on our balcony, and looking down from ours onto other balconies. We treated ourselves to a champagne balcony breakfast one morning. For $32, we received a half-sized bottle of champagne, and more food than we could have possibly eaten (quiche, bacon, danish, croissants, smoked salmon, juice, coffee, fruit), delivered to our balcony. It was a great experience!
Debarkation - Princess assigns you to a location on the ship to wait for your debarkation time, then brought out those groups one at a time. It made for a very orderly process, no confusion in finding your luggage, very short lines through Customs, and no taxi lines.
The Bad: Tendering to Princess Cay - could they have made it anymore painful? We purposely waited until late in the morning to go to the tender area, thinking we'd avoid the crowds. Boy, were we wrong! They were only tendering from one location at a time. After we waited about 45 minutes, they finally opened up another exit and started loading two tenders at a time. Not sure why they didn't do that earlier, especially since we could see the empty tenders waiting to receive people (there were always at least two lined up and waiting).
Entertainment - was pretty lame. We went to one show - it was ok, but not good enough to entice us to go to any others. We saw a comedian/magician one night who was great, but the other comedian wasn't so good (the hecklers were better). It didn't seem like there was a lot for us to do at night.
Port Time - The time in each of the ports seemed very short, especially in Grand Turk where we only had 6 hours (5 hours really, since you don't get off right at 1:00, and must return at least ï¿½ hour prior to departure. If you go on a shore excursion, there's really no time left to do anything else. And we weren't in any port at night, so forget about enjoying the local nightlife. On other cruises, we've had time to do a shore excursion, shop, stop for a drink, and still have plenty of time to get back to the ship. On this cruise, we always felt like we were rushing to get back on time.
The Smelly: Our first stateroom was B754 - an aft balcony cabin on Deck 11. I was quite excited about having an aft cabin, thinking how enjoyable it would be to sit out there and look at the wake of the ship. And we did enjoy it - for about 15 minutes. Then we noticed the smell - it was like greasy, dead fish. We had hoped it would get better once we went to sea, but it just got worse. Dealing with Passenger Services regarding this issue wasn't easy - they didn't answer the phone the first time we called (Sunday night), the second time we called (Monday) they suggested we contact our room steward to have the balcony cleaned. We then visited the Desk in person on Tuesday morning before breakfast. Then, the person we dealt with told us to contact him when we returned to our room after breakfast, but when we tried, we found out he was off duty. We finally talked to someone named Karen, who was our contact the rest of that day. She said there was some mechanical problem with the kitchen filters and they were working on it. At this point, she also mentioned that she'd try to get us some type of compensation for the fact that we hadn't been able to use our balcony for the first two days of the cruise. Our niece got married on board that morning, and after the wedding and reception, we returned to the cabin to find that the room itself was now starting to smell, but there was no message or information from Passenger Services. Btw, we had another couple with us, and they also noted the smell, so it wasn't just us. My husband called and left a message for Karen, who contacted us late that afternoon and said they had another cabin for us. It was the same category, but near the front of the ship (C255). So we packed up and moved. While unpacking, Karen called to make sure the cabin was suitable, and that was the last we heard from them. We thought they might send some token gift with a note - a bottle of wine, or small shipboard credit, especially since it had been mentioned, but we didn't receive anything.
Don't get me wrong - we were very happy that they were able to move us, and honestly, I would have taken a downgrade to get away from the smell. But we really don't think that it was handled that well. And after returning from the cruise, I did some research on the boards, and found many other postings about the smell on the aft balcony cabins for this ship. It appears to be more of a design flaw with the ship. The kitchen exhausts are arranged atop one another from Deck 15 down to about Deck 11, dividing the aft balcony cabins along the vertical centerline of the ship. The exhaust does not trail behind the boat but roils in the air around the aft balconies. I guess some people can handle the greasy, fried "dead fish" smell, but it made me quite nauseous, and there's no way I could have stayed in the cabin once the smell started getting into the room.
Miscellaneous: Our activities in each port: We brought snorkel equipment and snorkeled in Princess Cays. The snorkeling was ok. The area was very rocky, so I highly recommend anyone doing this to bring water shoes. In St. Maarten, we went shopping and walked around. We took a cab to the downtown area, but it's really an easy 10 - 15 minute stroll so the cab wasn't necessary, and we walked back to the ship. We dived in both St. Thomas (Coki Beach) and Grand Turk (Bohio). Both dive experiences were great, and I'd highly recommend both shops. We made our arrangements independently of the cruise line. My husband especially loved the 7000-foot wall that was 300 yards off Grand Turk's beach.
On the ship, I never had trouble getting a pool chair. I mostly hung around near the adult pool by the Sanctuary. There are only about 10 deck chairs around the pool itself, but there are plenty of chairs up one deck that are very close to the pool. And it was definitely quiet here. On the second day at sea I considered springing for a half day in the Sanctuary, but couldn't quite bring myself to do it. It didn't seem to be very busy.
I didn't use any spa services, but did visit the gym. Like every other cruise ship I've been on, it was small, crowded, and hot. Most of the equipment is treadmills, with some ellipticals, two recumbent bikes, some weight machines, and a very small area for free weights. The treadmills are preset to 20 minutes, while the ellipticals are preset to an hour. There were quite a few spin bikes, but only for those taking the classes. And my pet peeve - there was no place at all to stretch or do yoga. Grrr!
We ate one night at the Crown Gill ($25 per person), and it was excellent. I'd highly recommend this.
Overall, we enjoyed the cruise, but the balcony smell started us off on the wrong foot and we never quite got over that. We really felt a bit disappointed by the experience, and I doubt we'll ever cruise with Princess again.