My wife had always wanted to visit Helsinki, Stockholm, Tallinn and St. Petersburg and I had always wanted to visit St. Petersburg, Tallinn and Stockholm. With this in mind, when we received information on the Baltic cruise with Princess, ... Read More
My wife had always wanted to visit Helsinki, Stockholm, Tallinn and St. Petersburg and I had always wanted to visit St. Petersburg, Tallinn and Stockholm. With this in mind, when we received information on the Baltic cruise with Princess, we had to book our places. Other advantages of the cruise would be a visit to Gdansk, which we both wanted to visit as we had enjoyed a city break in Krakow, plus being able to revisit Bruges and Copenhagen which, again, we had enjoyed on city breaks in the past. For those of you reading this- in our opinion, all the ports lived up to our expectations and did not disappoint. More detail is offered later, if you wish to read on.
We had not sailed with Princess before, so, as we all do, we checked on numerous sites with respect to the Emerald Princess. Although reviews were a little mixed, we remained focused on the ports and went ahead with our booking. Again, in our opinion, we would sail with Princess in the future, but they are unlikely to be our first choice if the ports are on offer with another line as we feel there are some areas that could be improved.
Having addressed the two main points ie. the itinerary and would we sail with them again, I will now start on the detail both good and bad-feel free to stop reading at any point- however, I hope some of the information is useful.
Prior to sailing.
As is our normal case, we decided to pre-book port excursions. This proved to be a mistake as, approximately 2 weeks prior to sailing, we received an email offering a discount on all excursions. Luckily, we had only booked one excursion through Princess, so only lost 10% on one tour only as we used another company (who we have used in the past) for the majority of the ports. However, I should add that Princess offered an extensive choice of excursions for each port.
Embarkation at Southampton (Mayflower Terminal)
We arrived at the terminal at 12.30pm and, on the outside of the building, we noticed signs to indicate where to leave our main cases. The deck letters were adjacent to hatches where a member of staff accepted your case and fed it into a collection area inside the building. We then proceeded into the building to check in, keeping some carry- on items with us. We were handed a health form to complete while we zig-zagged through to the check in desk. As we had completed pre- check in online, the assistant at the desk had us checked in very quickly, presenting us with our cabin /boarding pass marked with our pre paid soda package sticker. We were then on our way to security scanning. We then proceeded to board the ship where, on initial presentation of our card, our face image is recorded on their hand scanning units. We then made our own way to the cabin in order to drop our carry on items before proceeding to the Horizons self service on deck 16 for some lunch. This whole process had taken less than 40 minutes and could well be our fastest check in to date. After a quick lunch, we returned to our cabin and, finding our main cases, we were able to unpack and proceed to a bar for some drinks prior to sailing.
I am sorry to say I did not hear the Captain fully when he announced the numbers on board and it was either 2,650 something or 2,850 something passengers (this has implications later!). The muster/lifeboat drill is carried out in various indoor locations around the ship, ours being in the main theatre, resulting in comfortable seating while the safety is covered.
Welcome to new Cruises with Princess.
They did not seem to arrange a session for this until towards the end of the 14 days when a session was arranged in order to inform people about the Captain's Circle. However, we did note that some in the Captain's Circle were invited to an event with the Captain early on in the cruise.
We pre- paid for the Soda, Mocktail and Hot Chocolate card as there was no offer for wine other than in the full Drinks package, which did not seem to be good value to us as we would not consume sufficient to warrant the cost. The package cost around £73 each for the 14 day cruise. However, once on board, we did notice that they had a beaker that could be refilled each day on offer but as we had our package, we did not use it or check the cost. All drinks on board are subject to an automatic gratuity of 15% and therefore needs to be added to the following costs:- Soda $2, Beer from $6, Spirits from $8, Mocktails from $6, Wine from $7. Wine in the Bars and Restaurants was from $30 a bottle including the 15% gratuity. In my opinion, the wine is overpriced and this was supported by the fact that, towards the end of the cruise, the less expensive wines had run out and we ended up paying around $40 a bottle.
Ship Account and Gratuities.
Princess offer the use of an app (for your phone, tablet or laptop) while on board in order to keep you informed of your account, the app also provides times and details of all that is on that day. By attending the front desk, at any time during your cruise, you can amend your Gratuities.
Princess provide this service at no extra cost and normally we would not use it. However, due to a number of early trips,it was our only option. Our breakfasts were delivered on time by friendly staff and proved to be ample to keep us going until the programmed lunch stops.
We used the following areas:- Wheelhouse, Explorers, Club Fusion, Piano/Crooners Bar, Tradewinds, Calypso, Mermaid's Tail, Adagio and Skywalkers. At certain times during the day, they all have various types of entertainment (Bingo, Trivia, Lectures and Artist and Entertainers) plus Happy Hours (second drink for $1). We always managed to find a table as we avoided the Happy Hours and arrived early for the Acts we wanted to see. All the staff were very friendly and attentive and we never experienced the problem some others have commented on with reference to being on a pre- paid card so staff were not attentive.
This section is always down to personal taste, the Cruise Director (Kelvin) proved to be the best we have experienced on any of the cruises we have been on. The Princess band were also excellent, as were all the visiting Artists we viewed in the Main Theatre and in the Explorers Lounge. However, the show on the first night was not up to the standard as the remaining 13 nights. Another problem was the main show- Magic was only shown twice during the 14 days, this equates to just under a total of 1,700 seats available-as expected, people turned away-Princess need to do the Maths!(We did not see it!). I could name all the acts, but this review is getting on a bit and they may not be on your cruise-best to check for yourselves, but be early for seats.
We had pre- booked a fixed table for two at the second sitting for dinner and this worked very well for us, being allocated a table in Botticelli. The staff who looked after us (Robert and Darwin) both being attentive, friendly and helpful- again some of the nicest we have encountered and they deserve a big thank you! When possible, we also used this Restaurant for Breakfast, Lunch and some Afternoon Teas. In order to experience other areas on the ship and as a result of some late return times from day trips, we did not occupy our table every evening and this is where our experience of fellow passengers becomes a little tainted! However a very nice feature of the Botticelli Restaurant was the evening menu as one page offered the same dishes every day as well as a number of daily alternatives, which in my opinion were not repeated over the 14 days, so plenty of choice!
We assumed that the Horizons Grill would be busy when we first boarded, but we also know that we had to have some lunch-so we set off. As expected, all tables were occupied- therefore, with the assistance of a Steward and us asking the current occupiers could we share a table ,the first problem was solved. (Never assume others are the same!) On one of our evenings we returned late to the ship (as did many others), so off to Horizons again, found a table and placed a camera and some other items on the table and chairs, plus altered the napkins. Off we went to face the Pincer Movements and Elbows (obviously we were all going to starve!(with food available 24 hrs)). Returned to find our table occupied, what happened to manners? However, on this cruise, I can top the Pincer Movement and the Elbows. How I hear you ask?-Read on! On our return from another day trip, we decided to order burgers from the Trident Grill, which we did. As they are cooked to order, while you wait (well we did!). Whilst waiting, I went off to get the drinks and place them on a table. On my return, my wife had her burger, but mine had been taken by the couple behind (who had been bumping into my wife as the queue/line progressed and been complaining about the wait). Obviously, we are all going to starve!! For my final moan-do not bother to queue, just use the “Pincer Movement” when going for your Ice Cream!
Food Area timings (that we used other than the main Restaurant)
We used the International Cafe in the Piazza area on deck 5 open 24 hours. Trident Grill Deck 15 Forward for Burgers, Fries open 11.00 to 23.00 hrs. Prego Pizzeria Deck 15 Midship open 11.00to 23.00 hrs. Scoopes Ice Cream Deck 15 Midship 11.00 to 23.00hrs. Cafe Caribe Deck 15 Aft open from 05.00hrs for light breakfasts. As can be seen, you need to practise your Pincer Movements, Elbows, Queuemanship etc in order to ensure you do not starve!!!!
This event was held on the first Formal night of our cruise in the Piazza area which covers Deck 5, 6 & 7. We did not know the best place to be was Deck 5 and we also did not know that you had to be there VERY early. We witnessed many people having 2, 3 and even more glasses of Champagne or top ups. Unfortunately ,we did not get one as was the case with some other passengers. Upon asking a member of staff where we needed to go in order to get a glass and informing him that we had walked around Deck 6 & 7 Piazza area for 20 minutes, he said we had not done so and that there is none left- the only rude attitude from a crew member that we experienced during the whole fortnight on board.
Photographs and Videos
The Photographers where friendly, polite and more than capable of capturing good photographs of people. We did resort to purchasing a couple of the shots they took of us. It should be noted that we did not experience any hard sell or pushing on their part to sell them and they spent a fair amount of time on us for one of the shoots. (I do not take a good photograph, which is born out by our wedding photographs!)
Although we had decided to purchase the full Video package, it was worth waiting until the preview presentation of St Petersburg Experience to place our order, as they offered a discount at the end of the presentation($10).
Daytime Activities and Lectures.
I am sorry to say that, for us, this area is weak (again personal choice). We enjoyed the Lectures given by the Navigation Officer, the Engineering Officer (let down by the venue being unsuitable to show the detailed slides, it required a large screen, not just monitors). The Captain's session with Kelvin was also very good. We also experienced the best Port lectures provided by Ken that left other lines in their wake! He did not try to push Princess Trips on to you, however he did point out the alternatives and all the best places to visit. His sessions could have been increased to include the two ports he did not cover and also he could maybe offer an insight into other ports on other cruises. He also made himself available as an independent advisor at times of the day if you needed further help (another real positive). Movies were shown at various times in both the Main Theatre and on Deck 15 ,plus over the in cabin t.v. For us, the other activities of Bingo, Trivia, Horse Racing, Paper Plane Making and lectures from Matt Monro's Daughter, did not interest us. We did not make use of the dancing lessons as we are both up to speed with Ballroom and Latin. However, it should be noted that, if you have an interest ,those we witnessed were of a good standard. I would have liked to have seen some computer sessions, with help and tricks using Photography, Music and other software packages. (I know another line has an agreement with Windows/Microsoft, however there are other packages out there!) Other very informative and enjoyable talks we attended were on Opals, Russian Dolls and Lacquered Boxes. Once again, my fellow passengers never fail to amaze me, as one woman continued to push into me for the whole of the talk, having completed her details on a draw ticket, on her entry. However, when we were all reminded to complete the tickets towards the end of the talk, she completed a second and passed one to her husband, making three in the draw when the person giving the talk had clearly asked for one ticket per Stateroom! This talk could have been improved by using a seated venue rather than the Jewellery Outlet.
Princess Shore Excursions.
As stated earlier, we only booked one excursion through Princess, this being Gdansk and Malbork Castle with a Lunch included. We enjoyed all the aspects of the day, the guide being very informative and,as cruise day excursion costs go, it was less expensive than others. We could have spent more time in both locations as there was plenty to keep us occupied. However, even with the early start, there is only so much you can cover in a day.
Disembarkation (Queen Elizabeth Terminal)
This was again a very positive part of the cruise, being very well organised. Princess requested our preferences some days prior to our final day and tickets/case labels and information were provided a few days before we left the ship. Due to the request for cases being outside your cabin before you went for your evening dinner, a good night's sleep was had by all. Another positive was being able to still obtain a table for two in Botticelli at breakfast on our final morning.
We did enjoy our cruise and would sail with Princess again. However the following points would have to be improved in order for them to become our first choice. 1) Daytime Activities/Lectures. 2) Ensure cabins for two do not have bunk beds. 3)Main show given more slots in order for all to see it. 4) Possible ticket system for the Champagne Fountain.
For those who stayed with me and have read all I have written- I hope you enjoy your cruise and you probably now need a drink! To all that have given up-you do not know what you are missing and I hope you will also enjoy your cruise! Read Less