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2 Princess Emerald Princess Cruise Reviews for Family Cruises to Norwegian Fjords from Southampton

This was our 3rd cruise as a couple, and our second cruise as a family with 2 children (aged 7 and 5). Our two previous cruises were with Royal Caribbean to Alaska and the Baltics respectively. We chose Norway and the Fjords for 3 main ... Read More
This was our 3rd cruise as a couple, and our second cruise as a family with 2 children (aged 7 and 5). Our two previous cruises were with Royal Caribbean to Alaska and the Baltics respectively. We chose Norway and the Fjords for 3 main reasons. The embarkation port was Southampton so we could avoid the scrum, exhaustion and baggage weight anxiety of airports. The cruise was to a temperate part of the world- whilst warm, sunny weather is always pleasant we have no real interest in baking ourselves in the sun whilst drinking cocktails alongside others doing the same thing in limited open space. The wilds of nature also hold real fascination for both of us. Princess delivered on the vast majority of our expectations- whilst we didn't quite return home 'new' as the brochure suggested we would (thanks to the traffic hampering our 200 mile journey from the port), it is safe to say that we all enjoyed both the inside and outside aspects of out cruise. It was initially quite strange being aboard a different ship with staff trained differently and employed with a focus on different competencies. The RCI staff are very much 'in your face' from the moment you arrive, whereas Princess staff as much more stand-off-ish and discrete in their behaviour. In the end, this approach definitely 'sold' Princess to us. It was nice to be able to walk around the ship with a 'just got out of bed, don't talk to me until I've had coffee' look on your face without having to high-5 anyone, or grimace for a photo next to a staff member wearing a sub-standard costume vaguely resembling a Viking. Basically, if you sit down anywhere, even for 5 minutes, a member of staff will offer you some service of some description. They do this in a way that is unobtrusive and sincere (i.e. without 'please tip me' puppy dog eyes). The ship itself is also a major plus on this sort of cruise for some really key reasons. Unlike other ships we have sailed on, the deck areas / promenade deck enable you to walk around the entire ship and get vantage points from a range of angles. When navigating tight, towering Fjords, this adds to the experience considerably. The balconies are also a good size- deep enough to recline and catch some sun, and also high enough to not feel like you are in some kind of Perspex box. There are 2 main pool areas, both spacious enough to accommodate a number of people, and tiered to enable some escape from dive bombing children, or get shade when the sun is high in the sky. There are also 2 'adults' only pools at the forward and aft of the ship. The aft pool particularly offers stunning views over the back of the boat, and was quiet on the occasions I used it. High on the aft of the ship is a small but secluded family area with a large hot-tub and small pool too. This was a safe and pleasant area for our small children to play, although the small pool was the only pool not heated so it was pretty cold when the weather turned. The main pools were warm which, given the terrible weather we had at times meant that we could enjoy a swim without hypothermia (it was 8 degrees C at one point!). The dining areas are pleasant enough- the Michelangelo dining room where we ate most evenings was smart and felt fairly special, although the style is looking a little dated (dark wood panels, 1970s pub carpet etc.). I personally didn't like the buffet areas particularly, but that had nothing to do with either the décor or cleanliness, more the overall management of the operation. People routinely remained at tables long after they had finished eating. A polite 'oi, hop it please' would have been welcome for guests circling trying to find a seat with laden plates. Other areas of the ship were pleasant without 'wowing'. The atrium area was smart but quickly became crowded, and the other public bar areas were comfortable but seriously lacked natural light. The furnishings seemed to be modelled on a London 1920s Gentleman's Club crossed with country-house and sadly soaked up a lot of the natural light, low ceilings and soft-furnishings didn't help the effect of this. Some brighter colours, chrome and mirrors would be welcome (but equally that may create the effect of a different type of Gentleman's Club, so caution should be exercised if they do re-fit the ship!). In other words, the outside deck areas were excellent, but on a cruise beset by poor weather (cold and wet at times) we spent a lot more time inside that we would normally like. The stateroom (twin, balcony cabin, Aloha Deck, A703) was very comfortable. It's layout wasn't brilliant at night with a fold-away bed, but otherwise it was great. Warm, very good shower (although if you are over 6ft tall as I am, the ceiling is a little low) with comfortable beds. I liked the partitioned off area for storing clothes and the mounting piles of washing). A major plus was the TV- on previous cruises the picture has been poor with a woeful choice of entertainment unless you pay for it. On Emerald Princess there were 3 dedicated movie channels, one specifically for family viewing which we used daily. It was a great way to end an evening and settling the children. The stateroom attendant Jovito was fairy quiet an discrete but was responsive on the few times we needed him. Embarkation and disembarkation was seamless and fast. Genuinely the best we have ever experienced. It was very well organised at the start and end of the cruise. Dining was generally good. Breakfast and lunch in the buffet offered good selections, though after 14 days it was hard to get too excited about it. The dining room menu needs some work. It was well cooked and well presented at all times, and whilst one meal was too cold, it was the only time this happened. Options for kids were fairly good and the waiters attentive. Our main concern was the lack of variety and particularly spice. Of the 3000 passengers, the significant majority were 'mature' British people and I suspect that this played some part in the food choices as the menus were usually a take on 'pub classics' (fish and chips, beef wellington, pork belly etc.). The only curry we saw on the menu was straight off the Wetherspoon's 2 meals for £5 board - chicken tikka masala. It was pretty good, but they could easily have build more into the menu for more cosmopolitan tastes. The starters were OK, but needed some variety- for some reason, in contrast to the main meals, they were often too exotic for more conservative palates / children. Overall though, the food was good and we ate well. The majority of frustrations we experienced on this cruise stem from the other customers rather than Princess, although they should probably have a look at what they could do to improve the experience for families / younger guests. To get the best out of this cruise required military-level standards of organisation and time-keeping to keep up with the older guests / seasoned cruisers. Every activity seemed to have been designed for the older generation (bingo, comedy acts, health seminars to reduce varicose veins, bunions, hair loss, swollen ankles etc.) and although we took part in the quizzes on a daily basis, it became very trying to pre-empt the hoards by arriving increasingly early at the event. It is no exaggeration to say we arrived at the theatre a full 35 minutes before the showing to find the room 80% full of more mature couples doing soduku puzzles, reading 'Mills and Boon' or sitting, highlighter in hand, scanning Princess Patter (the daily cruise planner) to get the march on events for next 24 hours. On one occasion we noticed a man fast asleep waiting for the show- he slept right through it to the end whilst families arrived with kids in tow, unable to find a seat. The 10pm show was just too late for our 5 and 7 year olds meaning we had a frustrating choice of arriving excessively early and enduring the bored whinging, or miss the show. Princess need to address this via a reservation system or giving priority to the earlier showing to families somehow. The same pattern played out across the boat- all of the best seats with good views were occupied by the same people at the same times, day in, day out. I swear that one lady was spending the night in her favourite chair, and by the ever increasing size of her knitting, suspect that she must have been commissioned by Princess to knit a winter coat for the ship or something. This basically meant that we partook in a limited number of events, but the ones we enjoyed were good fun- the entertainment staff were excellent throughout. The shows were a mixed bag but when they were good, they were excellent- well polished and energetic. It would be easy to criticise the performers but they performed with gusto (sometimes a little too much) and gave everything for their 35 minute slots, twice per night. The Queen tribute performer was very good, well worth seeing (but get there early!). We did not do any of the Princess excursions, preferring to book the local options instead. This proved to be wise- we did very similar excursions for up to 50% of the cost. Do not pay attention to Princess worrying passengers with missing the ship leaving port etc. All of the independent operators work to the same schedule. We found leaving the boat and returning straightforward, even when it involved a tender in the Lofoten Islands. The overall itinerary was disrupted by poor weather which was a shame. Stavanger was very cold and wet, as was Olden and Trondheim so it's unfair to be overly critical. We had to miss Flaam due to dangerous sea conditions which frustrated passengers, but given we had a very bouncy trip to Olden in 5m swells and that was 50% better than it would have been, I'm grateful the captain took the decision to remain in port. The itinerary lacked balance in my view. Norwegian towns are limited in their appeal when the weather is poor. They are staggeringly expensive (at one café a pint of local beer was advertised at nearly £17) and not that tourist friendly- it is the natural beauty which is the most impressive element in most places we visited. That said, it was an odd decision to dock in Tromso on a Sunday making it hard to get around with a limited public transport service and very few open shops, and Bergen had a lot to offer with only a morning in the city. Aalesund was stunning and has good access to the Fjords yet we left there fairly early too. It would have been better, if tides etc. allow to spend less time in places like Gravdal and Honnigsvag. The sail-aways were breath-taking at times. The trip out of Aalesund will live long in the memory, but don't expect much from the port stops themselves. The excursions were fairly varied and definitely championed the natural world. A hidden gem was the ship museum in Tromso next to the Aquarium. It is great for kids, giving them the change to explore a real arctic fishing boat. Don't miss the trip to the glacier in Olden and some good excursions are bookable on the pier at Lofoten; one of the highlights of the trip for us. Our kids attended the Princess Penguins kids club twice and the feedback was mixed. My daughter enjoyed it but my son found it a fairly negative experience. He is shy, but I think the majority of the children were a lot younger so he didn't really make any friends. It seemed well organised and the room was pleasant with a dedicated outdoor area. I imagine that all of the kids clubs can get quite busy on the Mediterranean / Caribbean routes. In summary, this was a good cruise offering a bit of everything. The usual gripes are present with over-priced excursions and drinks etc, but the over experience felt 'premium'. Princess could do well to look at their dining room management and listen to younger guests views. Nearly all of the complaints overheard or discussed with other passengers related to the behaviour of guests. There were a couple of small touches that we found really effective. My wife had her birthday on board and received a card, some balloons and a cake which was a nice touch, and we all received a good quality certificate confirming we had been to the Arctic Circle which the kids loved. I particularly enjoyed the cruise summary sheet from the captain and found it interesting to read. The ship's staff are low-key and industrious. They could smile a bit more at times, but then so could I. I'd take efficient and fast service any day over excess selling and forced jollity. This was a pleasant and memorable experience and we will definitely consider booking with Princess again. Read Less
Sail Date August 2016
We had a great holiday. I was grateful for all the help I found out on forums like this one beforehand so I wanted to leave behind some tips that would have helped me plan my holiday in the hope it will be useful for others. 1) ... Read More
We had a great holiday. I was grateful for all the help I found out on forums like this one beforehand so I wanted to leave behind some tips that would have helped me plan my holiday in the hope it will be useful for others. 1) Excursions. The places we visited were the highlight of the holiday, particularly Lofoten Islands and North Cape. Be warned that the ship excursion prices were ridiculous and you could do anything you wanted at a fraction of the cost. I watched some of the excursion tour talks which actively said that you wouldn't be able to do private tours in locations like North Cape and Lofoten Islands - Absolute nonsense. We had various options everywhere to choose from at every stop ranging from organised tours (which tied into the ship's timetable which at at a stroke put pay to the Princess fear mongering that doing things privately meant you might get left behind) to getting on a local bus or hopping into a taxi - this might sound scary to some but it was simple and easy to do - everyone in Norway appeared to speak fluent English and all the services we used were well used to catering for cruise passengers. We had not pre-booked anything and bought all our tickets etc on the day with no issues whatsoever, Some of the ship's tours cost around USD250 per person! I still don't know whether I am jealous of the people who can spend that in every port on top of paying for a holiday or whether I am astounded by why anyone would go on this when you can recreate it simply and easily yourself at a fraction of a cost with no risk. I repeat - NO RISK. For example I think the Princess trip to the the Viking Museum in the Lofoten Islands was 150 USD per person. Our family of 3 did the entire thing for under USD 80 (that is all in, not per person) with the freedom to do what we wanted when we wanted and not stuck with everyone on a coach. As I have said, if I had paid attention to the tour excursion talk I would have believed it would have been impossible to do this independently. The museum was amazing: Longboat trip, axe throwing, archery, lunch in a viking chieftain's house of lamb stew cooked in a pot over a fire, washed down with mead! We had a great time. On a similar theme, I wouldn't have been able to look people in the eye if I tried to charge the USD 100 for trips to places literally metres away from where the ship docked that had an entry price of a fraction of the cost. North Cape was another one where the scare stories were peddled about doing anything other than a ship's tour. This was beyond easy. There was a tourist information point yards away from where the ship docked and we were able to book a guided tour to the North Cape with numerous stops on the way and a fantastic local tour guide (Monica - very knowledgeable with some great comic lines). The Ice Bar in Honningsvag may seem tacky to some but we found it to be great fun! The North Cape was brilliant, we had great weather and lots of fun. Again Olden was easy to do independently. We took a return coach trip that took us to the start of the main glacier trail and picked us up a couple of hours later. I read numerous things about using troll cars (golf buggies) and how difficult this walk to the glacier would be. Given we had a 4 year old I had been concerned we wouldn't be able to make it and whether we would need to get one of these troll cars. However there was no issue whatsoever with the walk up the hill. Yes it is a bit of a trek and much of it is clearly up a hill but for those of you wondering if you can make it and want something to gauge this by note that our 4 year old managed it with no complaint or any help whatsoever and we were up and down well in time to get the coach back. Stravanger, Tromso, Trondheim, Bergen etc were all easy to walk and navigate around and we had no problem independently getting to all the museums and sites of interest we wanted to see. It was a bit rainy in Trondheim and Stravanger but we still had a great time. 2) The ship itself - I've seen various reviews saying the decor was dated, things were rusty etc. We honestly didn't notice - too busy having fun. I loved the amount of viewing points available on board. It was great fun navigating around the ship and my 4 year old loved guessing which lift would arrive first. We had an interior cabin so no window or balcony so it was great that there was always somewhere I could go to watch the world go by and I honestly think for this specific cruise that was the right call to make. Interior cabin also meant that we could make it pitch black to get the little one off to sleep. The cabin steward was good fun, always friendly, always willing to help and always eager to entertain our child. He also would fix up the bunk bed in such a way that our child could sleep whilst we could watch TV or read in the evening without disturbing them which really added to the quality of our holiday. 3) Food - We mainly ate int he evenings in fixed time dining. Our waitress and assistant waitress were brilliant and both were great at interacting with our 4 year old and going out of their way to get her the drinks and desserts she wanted. The Horizon buffet was a little bit busy and there was always a bit of a trek to find an empty table. The selection was always great, loved the variety of fresh fruit and desserts. The quality of some of the food didn't match the dining rooms but it was a buffet so I didn't expect it to. It was good for what it was and the pizzas were very good. The International Cafe was great and we ate far too many pastries and pies!!! 4) Other passengers - There were a couple of times (on sea days) were I felt suffocated by the number of people around. This had been my main fear of going on a cruise. However this was only a couple of times and I just needed to go back to the cabin or get some outside space. After having read a fair few comments on this site making snide remarks about "little darlings" I was a little apprehensive about how other passengers would react to our young family. However i felt the vast majority of passengers went out their way to talk and interact with our child so my worries were misplaced. I did however witness some extremely rude behaviour from passengers to other passengers and cruise ship staff. At times it was breathtaking. I agree with other reviews i have read about people pretty much camping out to reserve seats in the princess theatre or in the various seating areas onboard. If you are going to spend most of your holiday sitting in a seat solely to reserve it all day, you may as well be sitting in a cafe in ASDA. 5) Entertainment - I thought the quizzes were quite fun but there was a little bit of a rush to try and get a seat (see above). The quality of the performance entertainment was very average. I thought the magician was in his element during the kid's show but Magic to Do and the evening adult magic show was pretty terrible. From where I was sitting it was like watching one of those magician tricks revealed shows. Watching him struggle to find the on switch or get the right grip beneath the table cloth to make the table float was a particular highlight. There was an "empty" box were people kept on appearing out of but from where I was sat I could see all the people in the "empty" box waiting to come out. Watching him fiddle about trying to get things out of his fake thumb etc made me feel bad for him. At one point he even had a pair of those light up thumbs that kids buy off the internet for a couple of quid - and he kept telling us he has performed at the White House - I can only assume it was for Bush junior! The singing made me tense akin to watching X Factor auditions. All in all entertaining but not in the way the intended. It was never a big driver for us as we knew we wouldn't see much due to the little one's early bed times but if the ships's shows/performances were one of our driving factors in booking with Princess this would have been an area of disappointment. 6) Staff - I thought the staff were excellent and can only assume this is a major source of pride for Princess. Polite, Cheery, helpful and not overbearing. Alston our steward was fantastic and our table waiting team of Cherrie and Angge were both brilliant. They all definitely added to our holiday. I've noted some people seem to get very caught up in who the Captain is etc. I couldn't honestly tell you and I can't understand why anybody would care. Whoever he was, he didn't crash so top marks from me. 7) Drinks packages, Ice Cream etc - We couldn't make our mind up on whether to do a drinks package or not. We aren't big drinkers so the alcohol one was never on the cards but we were undecided about the soft drinks/coffee package. In the end we decided not to do this which was absolutely the right choice. In fact on the last night we were scrambling to use up all our free on board credit. I can see if you were going somewhere hot that this might be different but going to the Arctic meant the drinks package would be a huge mistake. I'd seen someone else see that the soft scoop ice cream was pretty inedible. I'd dismissed this when I read it thinking if it is ice cream and free then we would be frequent visitors rather than paying for gelato downstairs. However I was wrong. The soft scoop was digusting, truly disgusting. I took to mouthfuls and binned it. The gelato in the International Cafe was absolutely delicious and cost USD 1.50 for 3 massive scoops. This my friends was an absolute bargain and well worth the cost. 8) Extras. I've seen people comment about Princess trying to get you to spend money onboard. Looking back I guess there was a fair bit of this but I never really thought about it at the time and t didn't bother me in the slightest. I was on board to get to the destinations not to buy art, jewellery or spa treatments. Every now and then they would take your photo and it was available to buy for a ridiculous price but in the days of digital photography I'm not sure why people go in for this. For the next few years we are converted to cruising. Having backpacked many places across the world, when we started our family we thought our holidays would be limited to Cornwall and Brittany. However we love the fact that we can travel in relative comfort, waking up in a new destination having the freedom to explore independently and then at the end of the day get back onto our floating hotel with all our stuff and relax. Whilst our family is still young this won't be the last cruise. I'd have no hesitation in choosing Princess again. Poor shows, a bit too much bingo, a bit crowded at times and older people hogging tables and seats but this is offset by generally good quality food and excellent standard of service from staff and that is all the foundation you need to make your own fun and have a great holiday. Read Less
Sail Date August 2016
Emerald Princess Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.2
Dining 4.5 3.8
Entertainment 4.0 3.5
Public Rooms 4.0 4.2
Fitness Recreation 4.0 3.9
Family 4.0 3.9
Shore Excursion 5.0 3.7
Enrichment 4.0 3.4
Service 4.0 4.2
Value For Money 4.5 3.8
Rates 4.0 4.0

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