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Sail Date: January 2018
We chose this cruise to travel with friends and see some new sights and escape grey January in UK and see some sun as well as nature. Princess was a very good price and coupled with fantastic weather we had a wonderful 2 weeks travelling ... Read More
We chose this cruise to travel with friends and see some new sights and escape grey January in UK and see some sun as well as nature. Princess was a very good price and coupled with fantastic weather we had a wonderful 2 weeks travelling around S America. Embarkation in Buenos Aires was easy. We had 4 nights pre cruise in a hotel and saw most of the sights, doing 2 cycling tours ... highly recommended. We got tot he port at our 4 pm slot and just walked up to the desk and within a few minutes were walking on board. Straight to the cabin and all fine ... although our luggage was another matter. We had 7.45 dining and needed to get changed ... so in the end we peeked though crew only door spotted the cases and begged a steward to pull ours out at 7.15. Our cabin neighbours gave up and ordered room service. This cruise ship lacked the wow factor of some we have travelled on, like Celebrity Reflection but the cabin had everything we needed and had a huge balcony. The main dining room fixed seating service was impeccable. Getting to know our servers really made the evening meals fun and also meant they knew how we liked our food and did everything they could to make things good for us. The vegetarian food was a little hit and miss but the italian offerings were superb and every evening the head waiter checked with us to see what they could do to make a favourite meal. We did 1 ships tour - tigre delta - exactly as described and a gentle trip out on the morning before the ship sailed. All other tours we did privately. Getting most info from tripadvisor. Very pleased with them all. Of the ports .. Punta Del Este - we just walked around town. Lots to see loads of birds and seals, beaches to swim from and shops and restaurants etc. A great stop. Falkland Islands - very windy tender trip on the way back ..we were lucky captain got us in early and out early .. we still saw the penguins and our guide said if we had arrived at usual docking time he thought we would not have made it. V windy so cold .. and this is their summer! This was our coldest stop. Punta Arenas we again we just wandered around .. not so much to see here and if we hadn't done trips in all other ports then I would say do a trip here and do your own thing in a different port... but you need a balance of busy /active and just wandering. Ushuaia we did a 4x4 trip - saw the glaciers and beautiful lakes and had a short walk and then lunch in a log cabin. Great wildlife. Ushuaia looked like a great little town so maybe I'd swap that for the wander around day and so a trip in Punta Arenas if I was returning. One of the best things about this cruise is that you are very frequently in sight of land .. and for 2 days you are in the Chilean fjords ..you also see glaciers really close up as we sail glacier alley. Unforgettable. As we are close to land you also see lots of birds and mammals .. so this is a great trip for a nature lover. I can't say too much about the evening entertainment .. by the time we had eaten it was time for bed .. another early trip to get up for. But the day time activities were great: line dancing and dance lessons .. tango lessons from the professional tango duo who put on shows most days too. Really high quality entertainment and teaching. There was also a tango orchestra and lectures about the area we were travelling in and Shackleton. This was brilliant and a first for us: the relevant lectures really added to the trip. So - the ship is a little worn down at the edges but overall a fantastic trip. I would love it if Princess buffet was redesigned ..it was poorly laid out and really canteeish experiencer. Too crowded and not a pleasure. We went for breakfast and missed lunch and had afternoon tea or something from the 24 hour cafe ..a far nicer experience. Another interesting point ..it was of course S America summer holidays so there were a lot of Argentinian and Chilean families on board, lots of spanish spoken. We loved the mix and learnt that on this cruise there were people from 44 countries on board. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2018
Usual, Excellent Princess Cruise. Princess ships are usually immaculate, with excellently trained staff. Have had plenty of good Captains in our 23 cruises with princess ,but the the presentation and manner of this Captain was the ... Read More
Usual, Excellent Princess Cruise. Princess ships are usually immaculate, with excellently trained staff. Have had plenty of good Captains in our 23 cruises with princess ,but the the presentation and manner of this Captain was the best. His humourous interesting antedotes were daily welcomed. Our favourite places were Ushauai and the Fiords, Cape Horn, Stanley,& Buenos Aires. Weather very changeable from Santiago to Cape Horn and then up to Buenos Aires, So had a few changes of clothing. Most on board were non English speaking but that didnt matter as most of crew speak perfect English. Most Customers were from North/South America. We tend now not to use Princess booked tours, as we just enjoy spending the day in the particular port,and as there are plenting of tours offered shoreside we often take one of those if we feel inclined at the time. Overall an excellent cruise and up to the Wonderful Princess Standard. Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2018
Having experience to cruise using several cruise companies I feel we can do fair comparison in various areas. I did sail on Emerald Princess two times. Boarding was very well organized right from the airport up to our cabin. Food was ... Read More
Having experience to cruise using several cruise companies I feel we can do fair comparison in various areas. I did sail on Emerald Princess two times. Boarding was very well organized right from the airport up to our cabin. Food was excellent the same as to variety and selection. No around 60 t0 70 % East Indian spiced food and 12 times poor copy of french onion soup and garbage wiener schnitzels as experienced on Norvegian Cruise ship. Special dining where I ordered ribeys steak medium to rare. I was served EXACTLY medium to rare steak which is remarkable. However by living in the Province of Alberta for 50 years I am use to eat "ALBERTA BEEF" which is well known in the world as of high quality grain fed and comparable to "kobe beef" so in my opinion beef quality was below the Alberta beef. Very well equipped exercise room. Excursions were very well organized and synchronized. Ship was clean and staff very friendly trying to make our stay pleasurable. Entertainment, activities and shows were as what can be expected. Nice variety - top notch. Disembarkation was also very well organized up to our "delivery: to the airport in Santiago. To summarize we did have very nice trip and we will use Princess for our future cruises Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2017
We chose this cruise because we wanted to experience South America and Cape Horn. There were wonderful excusions on offer. Glaciers, lakes, penquins, guanacos, cormorants, dolphins, extinct volcanos, Ushuia, the southernmost city in the ... Read More
We chose this cruise because we wanted to experience South America and Cape Horn. There were wonderful excusions on offer. Glaciers, lakes, penquins, guanacos, cormorants, dolphins, extinct volcanos, Ushuia, the southernmost city in the world, Cape Horn, Faukland Islands, etc etc The food was excellent. Our outside obstructed view cabin was spacious and bright. The obstruction was a life boat that hardly obstructed our window. The special dining was great. The crew was perfect! Everyone bent over backwards to make us feels well cared for. We celebrated Christmas and New Year on board. There were Christmas decorations everywhere. We loved Agagio where we could sit quietly contemplating the sea while having a drink. Perfect Mojito there! We loved the music on deck 5 as well as the Tango Show. Share served great food. We had wonderful steak at Curtis Stone. We were sad to leave. The debarkation was surprisingly easy and well organized. We can’t wait to go back! Read Less
12 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2017
My wife and I joined three other couples on Emerald Princess from Southern California to the Mexican Riviera the week after US Thanksgiving in 2017. For my wife and I this was our first time sailing with Princess. I would like to share ... Read More
My wife and I joined three other couples on Emerald Princess from Southern California to the Mexican Riviera the week after US Thanksgiving in 2017. For my wife and I this was our first time sailing with Princess. I would like to share some of our thoughts. Pre Cruise We drove to LA and spent the night at the Crowne Plaza before the cruise. Hotel was lovely as the room was spacious, furniture was comfortable, staff was friendly, and we could see the port from our room. Room was priced fairly (around $230 and that included covered parking for the week in their garage as well as complimentary shuttle to and from the port) We took a very short walk to Grinders restaurant and their food was outstanding (and surprisingly low cost). Tab for the four of us was less than $50. Food was kind of “elevated” diner food (wife and I both had a Chicken, mushroom, and veg angel hair pasta dish. On embarkation day, we had a buffet breakfast at the hotel (included in our room rate). Buffet was not as good as the nicer ones in Las Vegas; but, for a hotel in LA, it was fine. While choices were limited, food was flavorful and well prepared. After breakfast it was time for the shuttle to the port. We were a little excited (you think?) and showed up a little too early Check In Process Wife and I had not been on a cruise since 2013 (doesn’t seem long but in this technological age it is a lifetime) and that was on Oasis of the Seas. Things have really changed since then and I do not know if that is industry wide (that is my instinct) or if Princess is just that different. I can say their process is very streamlined and organized. They are detail oriented down to the places where they have you sit and wait. People in the terminal were friendly and helpful. One of the things that really resonated with me, not just on check in day, but throughout the cruise, is that Princess really understands how excited people going on a cruise can be and they do not do anything to curb or limit that excitement. Overall, I was so happy with how I was treated by the various members of Princess’s staff. Embarkation & Staterooms Again, a real smooth and efficient process. We were on the ship at about 12:45 for a 4:00 PM departure. Our staterooms were ready and we immediately went to check them out and drop off our carry-on items. The Princess Mini Suite is VERY Impressive. As far as staterooms go, this is quite large. The bathroom had a tub/shower, we had a walk in closet, a queen size bed and a sitting area with a couch. The balcony was good sized as four of us could comfortably congregate on it. There were two flat screen TVs (one pointed at the sitting area and one pointed at the bed); although, honestly, we hardly ever used the TVs. Food This is an interesting discussion. We tried numerous dining venues and enjoyed most of our meals. On embarkation day, we had lunch on the buffet. This was probably the worst meal we had during the cruise. There was nothing wrong with the food, the serious lack of tables, combined with a state of “Hangryness” did not help things. We hit the buffet three times during this voyage and were pleasantly surprised each time by how good the food was. I thought it was much better than the food on buffets on both Carnival and Royal. That said, we do not usually hit the buffet too often when we cruise. We had a lot of meals in the Botticelli dining room. I think breakfast and lunches in the dining room are kind of a hidden jewel. It usually isn’t too crowded and it is nice to be served. Food in this dining room was good, well prepared and flavorful. Service was good for all of the meals with the exception of 1. Our last breakfast (and it was the only time all 8 of us had breakfast together) was kind of a cluster. Wrong items were delivered, service was very slow, etc. That said, the food was good, people were very nice, and the dining experience was fine. Speaking of hidden jewels, afternoon tea is “off the charts”. We did this three times and it was fabulous. The little sandwiches were good and oh my, how about those scones and the freshly made whipped cream. The only downside to tea is the room is a little loud; but, wife and I loved, loved, loved the experience. We really look forward to that on our next cruise. One day, Princess converted the “Wheelhouse Bar” into a British Pub for lunch. I LOVE British Pub food (on my last visit to the UK, I was there for a week, and I had Bangers and Mash every night). Food was free and beers (I had draft Newcastle) were not. This was one of my favorite dining experiences on the cruise. Bangers and Mash were authentic with the onion gravy (but, no peas) and really well spiced. It really took me back to the UK (so to speak). “Wheelhouse Bar” also hosted the “Salty Dog Gastro Pub” and all eight of us tried that one night. We divided into Boys and Girls. For the boys, surprise, surprise, we all had the burger. I didn’t like the burger as it was overcooked to my liking so it was dry and there was nothing on it to moisten it. It had a really good spice (and the flavors with the Kimchi and the Jalapeno Pepper) were nice; but, again, the burger was just too dry for my liking. My second entré was a white tomato soup with a small gruyere sandwich. Tomato soup is my favorite; however, I did not like this soup as the tomato was barely noticeable. One of my friends tried the lobster mac and it looked pretty tasty. As for the girls, they had one of everything on the menu and shared. They were having such a good time. Gastropub was reasonably priced at $12 per head. Burgers I did like were at the Trident Grill. During the week, I had at different times, Hot Dogs, Burgers, and some really good Brats. It is so easy to overcook a brat and lose the flavor; but, grill did a nice job with these and they ranked among my favorite brats of all time. Their fries were also really good. Crispy and sort of like a steak fry. I didn’t care for the Pizza as I liked the crust, but the sauce had a funny flavor to it that overwhelmed me. Wish they had more than three choices but I do understand why they need to have limitations. Never tried the ice cream as I avoid sugared desserts; although, that soft serve looked really good. “Crown Grill” was disappointing to me. Understand, that my favorite steakhouse at sea was on Liberty (Carnival) as the food was really good, generous, and felt elevated from what we got in the dining room. I compared it to one of the fancier steakhouses from land (where the steaks run about $40 per and you buy all the siders separately). At “Crown Grill”, the experience did not feel elevated and it just felt like they took dishes that used to be on the menu in the main dining room and moved them to the steakhouse. Don’t get me wrong, the food was good; but, it paled in comparison to Liberty. Originally, we had planned at least two dinners at Crown and never returned after the first one. By far the best meals (we went twice) on this cruise (and I ever had at Sea) were at “Share” by Curtis Stone. This was an actual dining experience. It was a 6 course meal, and the best way to do it is to each order something different per course and then “share”. This was fine dining as the food was not typical fare. So many things were just amazing. The Lemon Prawns, The Scallops, the Lobster over Hash, the Strip, the Pork Ravioli in Thai Sauce, and the Lamb, one of the best two lambs I have ever had. Flavors were so bold. This experience had it all, from excellent service, to flavorful and somewhat unexpected food, two a pair of customer made sugar free desserts for my wife and I. While I love Italian food and look forward to trying it on Grand Princess next year, I am saddened that I will not have the opportunity to experience “Share” on my next voyage. Excursions In Puerta Vallarta we visited Las Caletas and that is one of my favorite all around excursions. It is a pleasant boat ride Las Caletas, the food is great, and I spent a lot of time in the ocean. Had high expectations due to our last visit and was not disappointed. In Mazatlan went to a resort in the Golden Zone, Playa Mazatlan, and shopped. When we shop, my heart tells me I will be hitting these little artisan shops and will be seeing different things in each one. As soon as we start to shop, my brain quickly remembers that for the most part, these shops are all selling the same things. That said, it was a pleasant way to spend a day. Cabo is one of my favorite ports and it was the short stay this time. We did the High Sierra Zip line adventure and it was phenomenal (I zip lined upside down). I am terrified of heights but I faced my fear. The staff was outstanding and the day was both physically demanding and a lot of fun. On Board Entertainment/Activities Princess is definitely more sedate than Carnival or Royal. This is a positive thing to me as while I like to party as much as the next guy, it is nice to know there are also quiet places to go. Also, I never felt like I was being “sold” things. On both Carnival and Royal, it seemed like every time I turned around, someone was trying to sell me a drink, or anything. The approach was much more subtle on Princess. Our Cruise Director, Dave, was Hilarious. He sounded like “Mozz” from “The IT Crowd” and he had just a fantastic demeanor. We liked him a lot, and his staff was excellent as well. Wished there was a little more trivia as it seemed like there was a morning trivia and an afternoon trivia. Kaitlyn did my favorite trivias as she would inject some astronomy, comic books, and animal info into hers. We did an escape room one night and that was so much fun. We succeeded and missed the record by about 2 minutes. No spoilers ahead, but, I suggest if anyone goes on a Princess cruise and the escape room is offered, do it. Disembark Saddest day of the cruise. Again, Princess is organized and smooth. This process has not really changed much over the years; but, Princess does it very well. Lastly, here are some tips The All Inclusive Photo Package We bought this and we maximized our value. That said, Princess does not seem very knowledgeable about what you get so I thought I would make that clear to everyone. When I called and enquired, here is what I was told and then the reality. You get one print, any size, of every picture taken of you on the ship with the exception of Black and White ones. Any extra prints are $10.00 per. At end of trip you get a thumb drive with ALL the digital photos. The reality is close to that. You do not get a print of anything taken in front of a “White Screen” or any Black and White ones. Included are the embarkation photos as well as the ones taken in port when you first leave the ship. Also, you do not get “any size”. For the posed pictures, you get the 8x10. If you want a smaller size, $10.00. The Thumb drive is really cute. Looks like a ship. Extra Power in the Staterooms We had a mini suite with 2 TVs. Behind each TV was a wooden panel. Move the panel and there is an extra plug. Room Service “Pre Breakfast” Most mornings we would get up around 6:30 and have a very light breakfast delivered (usually a croissant, some fruit, and coffee/tea) and enjoy that on the balcony as the sun rose. Very nice way to start the day Princess At Sea Have to remember this is a web page not an app so your phone will not give you an indicator when things have been updated. The site has a lot of good info, including a digital copy of the patter, and allows you to calendar events, create your own, etc. Patter is uploaded nightly around midnight and it was fun to review that on our phones before sleep and kind of plan the next day. Remember to refresh the web page so you can see your messages. This is a great way to communicate when you get separated and is completely free. Leave your phone on “Airplane Mode” and log into the ship’s wifi. You DO NOT need an internet package to utilize this site. Beach Towels You can get them at any of the pool areas and can take them ashore. This was different for us as Carnival and Royal had simply left 2 in our rooms, with the caveat of if it is not in the room when you leave, you bought it. Time Change This was weird as they took an hour from us the first night, but didn’t give it back until the last night. Really thought they would give it back to us the night before our last sea day (the night we left Cabo). Not a complaint, just odd to me. Red and Blue Carpet When going to your room the first time, look at the carpet when you get in the hall. There is striping that runs the length of the hall. Red on one side and blue on the other. It is very easy to get disoriented on these ships and the carpet color helps you walk down the correct side Go to 7 You cannot walk the length of deck 6. If you want to go from one end to the other, suggest you go to 7, walk on either the inside or outside to the other end, and then go down one floor to 6. This is really handy when you want to go to Botticelli’s for tea. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2017
I came home renewed & refreshed; a year older, but feeling years younger! Thanks to you, I had an unforgettable 75th birthday! The food was par exellence! Second to none....a MOST delightful dinner with a MOST delightful and ... Read More
I came home renewed & refreshed; a year older, but feeling years younger! Thanks to you, I had an unforgettable 75th birthday! The food was par exellence! Second to none....a MOST delightful dinner with a MOST delightful and efficient server, Sawi. Edgar in the lounge made sure we we treated with dignity and he is a great asset to your cruise line. Disembarkation went SO smoothly, that even though process was running 15 minutes late, we still managed to get through swiftly and made it to the airport with 30 minutes to spare. Can't wait to do it again next year. Your is the very best staff on the seas! The service is by far the best ever - everyone is so pleasant and smiling....they made my day, EVERY day of the cruise! I just must add that although this is my first Princess cruise, I'm sure it'll not be my last. :) :) Read Less
Sail Date: September 2017
Booked this cruise because we had Princess $$ that were about to expire. We flew to Seattle and took the Holland Oosterdam 1 night cruise to Vancouver. This work out great as there were only 379 cruisers on the Oosterdam! ... Read More
Booked this cruise because we had Princess $$ that were about to expire. We flew to Seattle and took the Holland Oosterdam 1 night cruise to Vancouver. This work out great as there were only 379 cruisers on the Oosterdam! Embarkation: Vancouver's Canada Place was it's usual disaster, being moved from one holding area to another, while being mixed in with NCL's guests! Luckily we were able to drop off our luggage for Princess right after we got off HAL. (must go to 2nd lower floor in parking area). We were on board Emerald about 12:30. Cabin E314 (obstructed OV) was ready and found it to be a good location midpoint between the front and mid-ship elevators. Dining: We chose anytime dining and usually didn't have to wait (except the first day). Food was the standard cruise fare, good selections. Service was also very good. Entertainment: Since this was only a 6 day cruise, the only entertainment other than the ships singers and dancers was a comedian and mentalist. They were OK. Ports: In Astoria we took the local Trolley ($1 ea) downtown and visited the local shops, and brewery's. There are quit a few good eating places. Also was able to see the Sea Lion's under the boardwalk. In San Francisco we booked a 6 hour tour with Dylan's famous tour and had a great time seeing the sites of SF, Sausilito, and Muir woods. In Santa Barber we took the .25 cent Trolley down to main street for shopping and lunch. In the afternoon we did the Hotrod Limo tour of the city to see all the sites. Service was as expected, no issues. Disembarkation was a breeze as we did the self luggage option and were off the ship by 7:30. Used UBER to LAX for our flight home. Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2017
I chose Princess for our group because I knew they had great choices for a cruise to Alaska. We were a group of 14 total, all senior citizens with several having some problems getting around without help. I will start by saying the ... Read More
I chose Princess for our group because I knew they had great choices for a cruise to Alaska. We were a group of 14 total, all senior citizens with several having some problems getting around without help. I will start by saying the crew was more than accommodating, they were there to help you "even if they just thought you may need a hand". No one was wheel chair bound but they did use them to go on and off ship when visiting ports. It was never a problem. Food...Oh my gosh!! Used room service every morning for coffee and juice. The first two mornings out, our coffee was not as hot as we are used to but it was taken care of when I asked for hotter coffee and got it from then on. We ate at Horizon Court often, had the best onion rings, clam chowder, bratwurst, fries and potato wedges at the other walk up eateries. Late night visits to the ice cream shop was a must before bed. Our group of 14 had a table ready each evening in Michelangelo, never waited a minute, and we were treated like royalty. I only had one issue with prime rib being a bit on the tuff side but all other dishes were out of this world. I tried to have one menu item every night that was new to me and was never let down in taste or quality of food. Our room E414 was "obstructed view" price but it was not obstructed in any way, William was our steward and every time we left the room, he would slip in to tidy up, fresh towels and garbage emptied. Wish I could have taken him home with me! The beds were awesome. The whole ship was sparkling clean, impressed by so many crew members keeping it that way. Loved the hot tubs and the big cozy bathrobes. Loved being able to vote on "The Voice" as well. The train ride up the White Pass/Yukon had some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. It was enjoyed by our whole group and a highlight of the trip. We could do as much as we wanted every day but for me just being lazy and enjoying the scenery was almost enough. Loved meeting people from all over the world. The Casino was fun even tho I did not hit any big jackpots. I actually left them more than I care to think about but that was my own fault! All in all, we could not have imagined this cruise to be any better and I look forward to another cruise at some point. Think we will stick with Princess as they are A#1! Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: September 2017
Honestly one of the coolest experience me and my GF have had. You have to be a real stick in the mud to NOT have fun. Seriously. I saw one person complaining about rust on the side of the ship. ITS A SHIP.....ON SALTWATER LOL. Lol now ... Read More
Honestly one of the coolest experience me and my GF have had. You have to be a real stick in the mud to NOT have fun. Seriously. I saw one person complaining about rust on the side of the ship. ITS A SHIP.....ON SALTWATER LOL. Lol now that THATS out of the way let me tell you.... Ship was IMMACULATE. Super clean. Staff were very attentive, friendly, and FUN! Our room steward was super sweet and did a GREAT job! Wish i could remember her name but its been since sept 17. Food buffet was pretty good. Nothing TO fancy but tasty enough to eat lol. (If you're not a super picky eater) They did a great job keeping all age groups entertained. They showed recent movies (Guardians of the Galaxy) out on the deck WHILE they had one the "formal" nights going on. Casino was a tad bit dissapointing but still was fun (who doesn't like any form of gambling lol) Drinks were overpriced but was kind of expecting that. Getting on and off the ship was a BREEZE. Super quick and efficient. Security was also very good (for those who notice that stuff) Room was clean, and just enough space for what its meant for. Bathroom was decently sized. Tub kind of overflowed a bit but wasn't a big problem. All and all we had a great time. Remember, if you treat staff with respect and kindness, they will do the same to you. These people work almost 24/7 during their "contract." They do their best to be friendly to everyone but i can imagine it being super hard to keep calm at some people. (I've worked in the service industry long enough to know this.) Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2017
We carefully chose the Emerald after much research, as this was our first cruise. There is no doubt that the people making this ship go are sincere and dedicated to making customer service the #1 thing they do from day to day. Service in ... Read More
We carefully chose the Emerald after much research, as this was our first cruise. There is no doubt that the people making this ship go are sincere and dedicated to making customer service the #1 thing they do from day to day. Service in the restaurants are consistant. Share is basically a $150 a plate dine for $29 dollars. Having a Masters Degree in Music, I'm rather confused with the critic that discounted 'Magic to Do'. This production alone was worth the cruise and most likely would cost upwards of $150 a chair to view on Broadway. All of the productions are incredible creations and as varied as the people that occupy the ship. The spa is worth every penny from hair to massage, and don't even miss out on the 'Sanctuary'....the service and relaxation is unbeatable. 'Corey', the cruise director is a keeper. Full of sincere enthusiasm for his ship and fellow travelers. BELLO Emerald Princess....we'll be back! Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2017
My brother and his family sailed to Alaska on Holland America and I wanted to go to a different cruise line so we can compare. The dates of travel makes a difference. We sailed on September 3, 2017 and kids are already in school so we ... Read More
My brother and his family sailed to Alaska on Holland America and I wanted to go to a different cruise line so we can compare. The dates of travel makes a difference. We sailed on September 3, 2017 and kids are already in school so we didn't have very many kids on board. We have sailed before so we are not new to cruising. Yet, one afternoon, just before dinner, everyone was just rolling side to side as it was very, very wavy. I didn't think I would need any motion sickness pills or patches, however, I packed both anyway. It turned out we were going to use them. My teenage daughter used the Dramamine pills for 2 days and she was fine. I used the patch. Everything was fine afterwards. I'm not a big fan of the Horizon Buffet; it's very limiting, creates long lines, long waits, not enough seating, not very much food choices. Food here is average. I love their traditional seating for meals, Boticelli, Da Vinci, Michelangelo restaurants. Food here is excellent. Don't expect a lot of shows as they have minimal. They do have the Voice of the Ocean, with the iconic chairs that turn. I love that they have an app on board which lists all the daily events, and you can message your family and friends or create a group for messaging new friends. Although it didn't match the other cruise lines we've taken in the past, the cruise was very laid-back and relaxing. Crew and staff are very nice and friendly. Read Less
9 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2017
The Alaskan Inside Passage cruise aboard the Emerald Princess was chosen as the cruise du jour for the month of August 2017. The weather forecast for August 20 - 27 was for temperatures ranging from 52o to 64o F. for our 20 August ... Read More
The Alaskan Inside Passage cruise aboard the Emerald Princess was chosen as the cruise du jour for the month of August 2017. The weather forecast for August 20 - 27 was for temperatures ranging from 52o to 64o F. for our 20 August departure from the Port of Seattle. On board the Emerald Princess, the atmosphere was bright, cheery and festive in an environment of luxury and cruise ship pampering to die for. It was a good day for cruising. We were welcomed aboard the Emerald Princess promptly upon our arrival and proceeded to our elegant stateroom on the Aloha, deck 12, that was ready in anticipation of our welcome-back arrival. As is the Princess ‘Captain’s Circle Elite’ travelers perk and tradition, there was a full complimentary bar setup, an upgraded balcony stateroom with an incredible view for those romantic, moonlit evenings when a nice cocktail and a quiet serenity make for special moments. We are always greeted soon after our arrival in our stateroom by our stateroom steward and this cruise was no exception. ‘Edward’ (from the Philippines) greeted us with a cheery “welcome back” in recognition of our Elite status and our 27th cruise with Princess. Edward assured us that he would serve our every need and then some, during our week-long cruise and we assured him we would graciously accept and enjoy his services. Having enjoyed the spectacular Emerald Princess on previous cruises (Southern Caribbean (2011) and Western Caribbean (2014)), we were excited to be re-joining the beautiful Emerald Princess for an Alaskan Inside Passage cruise, our 7th cruise to Alaska. It was clear to us that we had a perfect recipe for a fun cruise to ‘sea’ remote Alaskan port stop-overs as we plied the inside passage. Our cruise included stops in Ketchikan, cruising the scenic Tracey Arms Fjord and glacier, Juneau, Skagway and Victoria British Columbia, Canada then back to Seattle, Washington 7 days later. It was no secret to us that Captain Vicenzo Lubrano and the Emerald Princess staff would provide an incredible variety of entertainment and activities from line dancing and ballroom dancing, the quiet serenity and relaxation of the adults only ‘Sanctuary’ and the old world environment and charm of the breathtakingly elegant piazza with all of the splendor we’ve come to expect from a Princess cruise. Evenings on a luxury Princess Cruise are always spectacular, and this cruise was no exception. There is an ample population of youthful ‘eye candy’ for the young. The ‘Welcome aboard’ show hosted by the cruise director was punctuated by a ‘Princess Singers and Dancers’ superb production show and summary of all of the activities and adventures we had to look forward to in the next 7-days. In addition to solo entertainers, Las Vegas style productions are common on Princess Cruises and the Emerald Princess was no exception. Not only have we noticed continued high-quality stage productions, but there is always a refreshing rotation of a variety of entertainers to make every evening, an evening to remember. The Emerald Princess hosted many exciting entertainment venues on this Alaskan Inside Passage cruise. Aside from the always spectacular Princess Singers and Dancers there were cabaret musical duos, magic shows and game shows like ‘Voice of the Sea’ based loosely on the popular TV show ‘The Voice’, to please any entertainment palate. The entertainment was only beginning! A.J Jamal, comedian, amused us with his special brand of comedy that kept the entire audience in stitches for more than an hour. Then came an array of production shows to rock our ship-world: ‘Magic to Do’, a Disco Tribute – ‘Blame it on the Boogie’ and ‘Motor City’ – a Motown tribute that made you want to stand up and ‘shake that groove thing’. We found it impossible, after a production show, to leave the Princess Theater without a bounce in our step and a heart full of memories from bygone eras of great music. After the myriad of cruises that we’ve taken, we’ve learned a few tricks of the trade for cruising like this one: 1. Identify a good travel agent and use him or her religiously; loyalty gleans generous rewards and terrific tips for great vacations. 2. Whether resort vacationing or cruising is your forte, a repeat performance at the same resort or with the same cruise line is generously rewarded with perks - loyalty counts. 3. Luxury resort vacations compete well with luxury cruise ships and may offer all-inclusive pricing that could include round-trip air fare. Our experience is with Barceló Hotels & Resorts and the Grand Mayan, luxury 5-star resorts in prestigious locations. They are all sure to please! 4. You can’t eat all the food made available on a cruise ship; don’t even try. 5. Remaining loyal to Princess Cruises will start paying dividends early but have significant impact beginning at the platinum level – the 5th Princess cruise. It’s well worth it. 6. Make your vacation and air travel commitment early e.g. 6-months before the vacation is to begin, longer if possible. It helps keep budget planning under control and facilitates uncompressed, last minute payment. 7. Check back with the airlines and cruise lines or travel agent frequently in advance of travel; prices change and you could benefit from a substantial refund if they do. Southwest Airlines is good at crediting refunds toward future flights. 8. Many cruise ships accommodate casinos. When possible, consent to player-club tracking. There are many rewards driven by the player-club tracking mechanisms in the form of cash rewards, free canapes, fruit, wine, iced bottles of champagne delivered to your room, stateroom upgrades and complimentary dinners at shipboard upscale specialty restaurants. 9. Don’t over pack. I never think I do but Peggy says that I always do. (I did this cruise, as usual!) 10. Take advantage of the activities and the shore adventures provided. If you leverage the purchase power of Princess Cruises for your reservation, if something goes wrong Princess Cruises will know about it and could delay a departure to accommodate an unexpected Princess Cruises sponsored adventure delay. 11. We always purchase the cruise travel insurance. It’s inexpensive peace of mind for unexpected events. 12. Finally, throughout your travel, the travel services people providing travel comfort along the way and that help make an ordinary vacation an exceptional vacation deserve your tipping generosity commensurate with the service provided. Tip them generously, because they made a difference, from the cab or shuttle driver to the airport, the baggage handler, stateroom steward, the casino ‘umgestalten’ – pit bosses and dealers. It’s important to mention here that in most cases, casino service providers make only $10.00/day. They make their monies on the tips given by the players so tip generously. A special thanks to Princess Cruises, Explore Cruise & Travel & to my wife, Peggy for another spectacular Princess Cruise – what an outstanding vacation cruise team - you’re the best. Epilogue: There are few things that I do that give me more enjoyment than reflecting on the life and times of Peggy & I. We do it every day when Peggy calls a ‘Happy Hour’ at 4:30 PM to get me away from whatever I’ve involved myself with throughout the day. At some point in our 37-years+ together, Peggy had an epiphany – if she could identify some event that we could both enjoy together, she would be able to pull me away from whatever I had been focused on and make me focus on just her - the epiphany came when she decided to have a daily cocktail hour and serve one of the 63+ martinis we have collected throughout our many cruises on Princess cruise ships. With 63+ libations at her disposal and at a burn rate of one martini selection per day, by the time day 63 rolls around we wouldn’t be able to remember what martini we enjoyed together on the first day and she could start all over again. It worked! Happy hour is our time together, focused on just us, reminiscing about our 37+ years, 4 children, 10 grandchildren and 27 Princess cruises together. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry and sometimes we just stare into each other’s eyes and remember our special life’s ride together, that we hope will never end. Just like we do for every Princess cruise. Read Less
11 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2017
We live in Seattle so we did not have to travel far to catch the ship,. Boarding was very smooth at first it seemed hectic with so many passengers arriving at the same time but as soon as a porter gathered all f are luggage and we preceded ... Read More
We live in Seattle so we did not have to travel far to catch the ship,. Boarding was very smooth at first it seemed hectic with so many passengers arriving at the same time but as soon as a porter gathered all f are luggage and we preceded to the entrance all went smooth and we were on the ship in less than 30 minutes of being dropped off. First off there were 47 Of us 41 family 6 friends traveling . We had a range of cabins with and without balconies. We had a balcony c410. That's is midship 10th floor next to our friends we had the open the balcony door so the balconies we open to both of our rooms. The room had a lot of room for a cruise ship. Small bathroom but it worked well. One tip bring a power strip as you have two plug ins if you do not. Since we were traveling to Alaska you need to bring more clothes then a tropical cruise. We had 4suitcases all were stored in the closet , we had a hotel sized refrigerator no freezer section. Enough drawers for all of our clothes. One suitcase I filled with bottled ice tea. That suitcase we later used to carry all of or purchased souvenirs and clothes we purchased on the cruise. Suitcaseses arrived soon after we ate lunch. Our room attendant Alan was fantastic room was cleaned two to three times a day. Ok the food part most of the food was great to excellent some not so good. We ate mostly in the Botticelli dinning room. Since we had such a huge part we had many tables all in the same area and we could move around and sit with different tables on different nights we had the early seating at 5:30 and we never were finished before 7 or 7:30 so if your in a hurry go to the buffet. I have lots of pictures of food and menus. Ok the veal scalloping was thin dry and not good.pine rib was great New York steak was good the salmon was ok the crab legs were great the lobster was great. Most of the salads very good, and you can order one or two of anything you want . Great deserts. I am diabetic and they had a sugar free desert every night, some of some very good, breakfast was good also and they had lox and bagels my breakfast of choice everyday, I purchase a coffee card for the lattes, and other coffee drinks. If you like soft boiled egged they we closer to hard than soft . We ate breakfast at the buffet when we were getting off the ship early and the food is ok they did have egg dishes made to order, large selection of foods , fruits, and would say the food was good , and a large variety, the service was good , you always had to order your pop or specialty coffees separately and sometimes took a few minutes to get them. the service in the main dining room was excellent and most of the servers were fun and after the first meals remembered your drinks you like ne they paid attention to your likes and dislikes. If you drink alcohol and pop and want specialty coffees it may be worth the all inclusive drink card about $56.00 per day, average glass wine from $7.20 to $9.50 , coffee drinks $2.25 to$2.75. I drink alcohol so not sure about hard liquor drinks . Most of the ship employees we asked questions could always help you find or give you directions. We were very lucky we had fantastic weather upper 70s every day up to the last day Saturday night in Victoria BC if started to rain. The ship was always clean. Excursions we did a van tour at Ketchikan we purchased at the dock as all tours and excursions can be purchased off ship on the dock. best part of of the tour in Ketchikan was the log carving totem tour. Then we met up with family shopped the the town and ate . We took the Tracy fjord catamaran tour , best thing we did this cruise well worth it, then the white pass train tour at Skagway, a don't miss to me. There we all types of ship activities going on most were set up to get more of your money, photos, wine tasting, art auctions, jewelry store over priced, there is no deal on a cruise ship in any shop. The shows were ok to bad they had a magic show my thoughts in that at the magic was getting the audience to fill up the theater to watch it. The disco show was much better. They also had had the voice of the ocean, this was very good mostly due to the fact two of the contestants were my nieces and one of them won the contest. , the casino is not the same as Vegas or Reno, poor odds and most people do not win . Not really my thing to do on a cruise. The pool was on mostly kids. Great pizza . Ok last day embarkation was easy very smooth except off the ship you may have to wait for your ride. This was our fourth cruise and scenery wise Alaska was the most beautiful ever. My biggest complaint is always The upswell or just constantly being asked to purchase something. I'm not a huge cruise fan but this was a family event and the ship accommodates for that. Overall the food was good service was excellent rooms were clean. And to me having a balcony is worth the money. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2017
My son and I needed to go and have a relaxing adventurous vacation. We both loved our time on board. What I noticed the first day was that a cruise could be as slow and relaxing or as fast paced as you wanted. So much to see outside the ... Read More
My son and I needed to go and have a relaxing adventurous vacation. We both loved our time on board. What I noticed the first day was that a cruise could be as slow and relaxing or as fast paced as you wanted. So much to see outside the boat as well as so much entertainment inside! I also loved the fact that we could not use our phones so the world pretty much stopped. My son and I had opportunities that we may never have again. So glad we went and can't wait to go again! I especially liked the morning coffee looking out at the ocean and mountains. Nothing comes close! We even saw whales, pacific sunfish and sharks from the boat. The weather was also so beautiful. Not a day of rain. The excursions were incredible; The Deadliest Catch Boat, Shoreside Salmon Fishing, and the SkagwayTrain ride. Only regret was not bringing a gopro to video the fishing trip! Read Less
13 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2017
This is our 14th cruise with Princess and was terriffic!!! We were in Seattle a day ahead of time and went to the Space Needle and Pike's Market. Weather was great. This is actually our 2nd cruise to Alaska and the weather was good ... Read More
This is our 14th cruise with Princess and was terriffic!!! We were in Seattle a day ahead of time and went to the Space Needle and Pike's Market. Weather was great. This is actually our 2nd cruise to Alaska and the weather was good also at the end of September, We were in a mini suite and had an almost perfect room steward, Rafael, who anticipated all of our needs. He was unobtrusive also. The room was cleaned twice daily and always had ice and clean glasses etc, etc, etc. Embarkation and Disembarkation were very good, no problems. Princess met us at the airport and took us to the ship in the morning and all went smoothly. The main dining room was very good and specialty dining at Crown Grill and Curtis Stone was wonderful. Crab Shack is nice and Salty Dog Gastro pub was ok. Good service everywhere and friendly efficient staff. We boarded at 11;30 and room was not quite ready so we went to Crooner's Bar for a milky way martini. They wrote in chocolate inside the glass "Welcome Back Dean" & "Welcome Back Sharon" - Wow what a special touch. We had the free alcohol and I have read complaints about other ships or personel not being timely but ours was just fine. Both waiters and bartender were friendly without being overly so and efficient. We went on a Duck boat in Ketchican in the water and land and that was fun. Skagway was the Good Time Girls and Ghost Walk Tour which was really good. We loved Butchart Gardens in Victoria. Five beautiful gardens!! There were enrichment activities on board about Alaska also. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2017
We had another great cruise with Princess Cruises this month. This time, we did the round trip inside passage to Alaska via Seattle. Cruised on Princess (Island Princess) several years ago from Whittier to Vancouver. The problem there ... Read More
We had another great cruise with Princess Cruises this month. This time, we did the round trip inside passage to Alaska via Seattle. Cruised on Princess (Island Princess) several years ago from Whittier to Vancouver. The problem there was the flight arrangements getting there and getting back were grueling. We were exhausted when we got there, and exhausted when we returned. The Emerald Princess is really a nice ship. Having been accustomed most recently to the Royal and Regal Princess ships, it was not that nice. Regardless, the culture of excellent service throughout was evident throughout this cruise. Princess does such a good job at really taking care of it's passengers while maintaining a smiling crew with a great attitude throughout. It is for this reason that Princess remains our preferred cruise line. Each line has its own personality and culture along with its unique offerings, but we always come back to the luxury and "feel good" experiences aboard Princess. We love the big Royal Caribbean ships for their vast array of offerings, but when just my wife and I, we love the relative peace and superior service of Princess. The food throughout the cruise was outstanding. We visited the steak house one night as it was a free incentive offered by our travel agent. I don't know if it is worth the $29 per person up charge, but given the opportunity to go there as a promo, do not miss it. It is wonderful. I love the salts that they bring out to use. Our cabin was great. We saved some money and bought the "obstructed balcony". Well, I never figured out what the obstruction was since we had a fabulous view. If you are going to Alaska, let me advise you to spring for a Balcony. The scenery is incredible. We left the curtains open essentially all the time so we went to sleep with great views and woke up to the same. The cabin was a good size with a very generous balcony. Had room service several times in the cabin. I was amazed each time at how quickly our orders came (much faster than the time they quoted). Our cabin attendant was wonderful and always smiling. The poor guy worked his "fanny" off, but always had a great attitude and helped whenever we needed something. One key observation that distinguishes Princess from some of the others: the staff members always smile and greet you when you pass one. Other lines have staff members that look like they haven't slept in weeks in many cases and it is all they can do to stand up and walk -- much less greet you! Oh, and the destinations in Alaska -- great. Loved Ketchican and Skagway, stayed in town this time in Juno, which was not so great. Ended up witnessing a man severely beating on his wife on the main street of town (locals) -- so bad that II called 911 to report it. Police came and broke it up. I s'pose that was my excitement for that port. If in Juno, highly recommend a tour that takes you a bit out of town to some of the wonderful sights (we did on previous cruise). Oh, and I also highly recommend the train ride over to the Yukon. Again, we did this on the previous cruise and loved it. Princess does a great job with their Alaska trips. I think you will thoroughly enjoy it if you travel with them. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2017
We had cruised SF to Sydney in 2011 and loved it. We decided to do this one in reverse of that one. We enjoy repositioning cruises. When asked what is our favorite place to visit. We always say Bora Bora and Moorea. Doing this a ... Read More
We had cruised SF to Sydney in 2011 and loved it. We decided to do this one in reverse of that one. We enjoy repositioning cruises. When asked what is our favorite place to visit. We always say Bora Bora and Moorea. Doing this a 2nd time reinforced our view. This was a great cruise. We had beautiful weather and almost all flat seas. The cruise could have been from Sydney to L.A. but we spent a month in Australia the previous May and didn't feel the need to go there. Plus my husband is from New Zealand and we didn't need to repeat those ports. We chose to start in Auckland. We actually prefer a little smaller ship, but the Emerald was good. Amazingly, this cruise had 940 Elite and 1024 Platinum passengers. You didn't get to take advantage of the Elite perks (Like tender boarding without the lines) but it was still a good experience. Our Cabin was great, the cabin steward was excellent. Always greeted us by name. Dinning was okay. Sometimes it seems like the menus are limited and repeated. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2017
We added this cruise at the end of our Auckland-Hawaii-LA Vancouver. Cruise. We had warm weather so fantastic scenic cruising in Glacier Bay & also Sitka & Juneau. It did rain in Ketichan & there were 5 ships in port & we ... Read More
We added this cruise at the end of our Auckland-Hawaii-LA Vancouver. Cruise. We had warm weather so fantastic scenic cruising in Glacier Bay & also Sitka & Juneau. It did rain in Ketichan & there were 5 ships in port & we had to tender so we were late & our excursion there was cancelled. We didn't walk much there do to crowds & rain. In Sitka we took an excellent off ship excursion by Tribal Tours. $30 each & we went to the Bear Sanctuary & then to the Raptor Sanctuary & then a short tour of downtown. (3hr) It was the best. A really good bus & lovely driver, also a short scenic photo stop.we bought this in town at tourist info. Free shuttle took us to town. Emerald Princess has great crew, Steve & Mikey & entertainment crew were so hardworking to give us a good time. Excellent production of Magic to do & others , AJ Kamal (comedian). Really good food & we had excellent waiter & stewards. We were on for 32 nights, had a great time. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: April 2017
Great over all April–May, 29 day South Pacific cruise! We enjoyed every stop! Australia, New Zealand, Bora Bora and Thaiti were hot, people were very nice on the islands and the islands were breath taking.The Emerald Princess is a great ... Read More
Great over all April–May, 29 day South Pacific cruise! We enjoyed every stop! Australia, New Zealand, Bora Bora and Thaiti were hot, people were very nice on the islands and the islands were breath taking.The Emerald Princess is a great ship. Its small but as an older traveler it was way big enough! I was not pleased with the Crown Grill on this one...I had a bad experience! Server truned over our wine we had ordered for our anniversary and covered up our table with napkins...then my sea food was cold and the server tried to convince me that they serve it that way so it will be tender...can you believe that! well that is not all it took us about three hours of our afternoon to get our dinner on the table and out of there! Emeralds Crown Grill I cannot recommend...Other than that everthing on the ship was good to excellent. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: April 2017
The staff was wonderful as always and the weather was very good. There were a few days that we had moderate seas (12 ft). I noticed that the food was not quite as good as previous cruises, but still very good (this was our 30th cruise, 21 ... Read More
The staff was wonderful as always and the weather was very good. There were a few days that we had moderate seas (12 ft). I noticed that the food was not quite as good as previous cruises, but still very good (this was our 30th cruise, 21 with PCL). The entertainment was so-so. The singers and dancers were great as always as were a few of the shows, but there were several that were awful. With a longer cruise/itinerary this was a more mature crowd than the shorter cruises. There were so many people that had colds. I felt that there was not enough staff making sure people sanitized at the dining rooms and Buffet. Would have liked to have the Alfredo Pizzeria. We had several things happen.......leaky toilet (took 3 times to fix properly), safe that was finicky, a new dress bought in Tahiti that was not washed according to written instruction and shrunk about 3 sizes. So many elites that it took 3 - 4 day to get our laundry back.....1 time 5 days. Everything was taken care of, but I was a little upset with my new dress. On the bright side the beds were fantastic! We loved the itinerary. Saw some fabulous ports. I would definitely do this itinerary again. My biggest complaint - women wearing so much perfume it was ridiculous. Would be nice if they could follow the lead of hospitals, Dr. offices etc. and ban wearing perfume altogether like they have mostly done with smoking. Much better for everyone's health. So many people were complaining about the perfume. It is very difficult when people have asthma, lung disease or colds and have the perfume smell so strong all over that you have to leave the area. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2017
First, and foremost, I must complement the head waiter that I selected for this cruise, the chef and the kitchen staff. I have a significant number of dietary restrictions and therefore when we decided to take this cruise recognized that ... Read More
First, and foremost, I must complement the head waiter that I selected for this cruise, the chef and the kitchen staff. I have a significant number of dietary restrictions and therefore when we decided to take this cruise recognized that I may have to put up with a series of rather bland and uninteresting do at most land-side restaurants. This was definitely not the case. I had meal after meal of excellent dishes for dinners and the lunches that we had on board, most of them custom prepared, in order accommodate my restricted diet. I know that many times I had entire meals that were unique to me, and served nowhere else on board. The entrees, appetizers and side dishes were excellent. I always had a dessert that met my needs as well. The standard fare included fresh breads and pastries prepared throughout the day, as well as unique gelatos and sorbets daily. My favorite breakfast quickly became the almond croissants hot out of the oven in the International café with a cup of fresh cappuccino. The entire ship had recently completely a refit (about 18 months ago) and everything looked great. The 3-story atrium was beautiful and always filled with music. The piano bar, overlooking the atrium, featured 'The Scottish One', an exceptionally accomplished pianist and singer who shared his dry wit with us every night of this extended cruise and only began to suffer for fresh material on the last few nights, quite a feat for a 29 night cruise! We made regular use of the walking tracks and fitness center on sea days. There was a bit of congestion very early in the mornings but by 10 AM, we could usually get on any of the machines that we desired. Since I was still rehabbing my left knee due to recent surgery I was pleased that I find a wide enough selection of specialty machines in addition to the numerous tread mills and stationary bikes that are common. There was a variety of evening entertainment spread about the three larger venues, so we had our pick to match our taste. As we departed Australia and then a week later New Zealand, cruised the South pacific with many stops before getting to Hawaii, before our final stretch to Los Angeles, we had fresh acts come on board several times. The ship's company of singers and dancers was better than others we have seen on other cruises. We liked every port of call, with the sole exception of Pago Pago, American Samoa. There is much to see in American Samoa, but this port an its island is not one of the better places to visit, and paled in comparison to our 4 stops in New Zealand, Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora and Hawaii, all of which were excellent with a wide selection of excursions. All of the staff, from our cabin attendant to the greeters at the dining rooms, the waiters and waitresses in the dining rooms and bars, the servers in the International Café (a real gem of a place), and especially our Head Waiter, were above the level we had come to expect on cruises. We quickly learned to order room service coffee in lieu of a wake up call and it was always timely, hot and fresh. Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2017
We chose to fly to Sydney from Melbourne the day before embarkation so we wouldn't be rushed and would begin our holiday in a relaxed way. We stayed at the Grace Hotel which we really enjoyed and met our daughter (who lives in ... Read More
We chose to fly to Sydney from Melbourne the day before embarkation so we wouldn't be rushed and would begin our holiday in a relaxed way. We stayed at the Grace Hotel which we really enjoyed and met our daughter (who lives in Sydney) and enjoyed dinner at Jamie's Italian which was a perfect choice. We took a taxi the following morning to Circular Quay and had a lovely time wandering around admiring the Emerald Princess before embarkation. This was our first cruise and so everything was new to us. We understood the huge number of people there were to be processed so we found it quite streamlined and didn't have to wait long before we went through customs and onto the ship. We went down to find our cabin before enjoying lunch at the Horizon Court buffet. Our cabin was D622, a mini-suite, which was situated mid to aft which we found convenient and experienced less movement than those further forward or back. We would always choose this deck and cabin again. The cabin was spacious with a large king size bed, a desk, seating area with a couch and table, an ample ensuite with shower over the bath, toilet and large vanity. Plenty of wardrobe and storage space and lots of coat hangers, although I am sure you could have asked for more if needed. We had a generous balcony with table and two lounge chairs that we spent many hours on, enjoying the passing scenery and warm breezes. The ship is huge and beautifully decorated. There are numerous bars, restaurants, shops and seating areas all finished with the glamour and quality you would expect from an Italian built vessel. When we booked the early dinner sitting was full but as we wanted a table for 2 we decided to select the 8pm sitting rather than opt for anytime dining. It was a delight each evening to sit at our own table and have the same 2 waiters looking after our every need. They knew which wines we preferred and always remembered we enjoyed a pot of tea after our dessert. The food was 5-star as was the service. Dinner became a highlight of my day! There was a good selection of entertainment and activities available for all tastes although I did find these dropped off once we began stopping each day in port. I can understand the expectation that most people would go ashore, but for those who for whatever reason didn't, there were very limited activities. We found the seating for some areas became impossible to get as they filled up early and people seemed to spend their days in the same seats. The International Cafe was one place that due to its popularity was very hard to find a seat but it was certainly a great spot with lovely coffees, teas, cakes and savouries 24 hours a day. I would certainly suggest buying a coffee card but wait until you are aboard as I paid about $10 more buying beforehand. The drinks package too is much cheaper once onboard so if you want to purchase this do wait. Given both my husband and I enjoyed wines with dinner and after dinner drinks each day and occasionally a pre-dinner drink and between us didn't reach the price of one drinks package, I wouldn't suggest buying the package. The prices for alcohol are very similar to what you would pay in any pub in Australia. We opted for 3 ship organised shore excursions and was very impressed with all of them. It worked out that we had one excursion every couple of ports which we enjoyed giving us a 'rest' day to do as we pleased in between. We would certainly go on another cruise with Princess Cruises and hopefully on the beautiful Emerald Princess. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2017
We combined our March 18, 2017, New Zealand cruise with the Emerald Princess’ March 7 New Caledonia & Vanuatu cruise I have written a separate review for that cruise and our 4-night pre-cruise stay in Adelaide, Australia ... Read More
We combined our March 18, 2017, New Zealand cruise with the Emerald Princess’ March 7 New Caledonia & Vanuatu cruise I have written a separate review for that cruise and our 4-night pre-cruise stay in Adelaide, Australia (www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=574153). In 2012, we spent five days in the Sydney, Australia, area before boarding the Diamond Princess for a 14-day cruise from Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand. After disembarking in Auckland, we traveled for another six days in New Zealand touring the Kumeu, Marlborough and Central Otago wine regions. The review for that trip is here: www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=115008. CRUISE ITINERARY: New Zealand (13 days) Sydney, Australia; Fiordland National Park (Scenic Cruising); Dunedin (Port Chalmers), New Zealand; Akaroa, New Zealand; Picton, New Zealand; Napier, New Zealand; Tauranga, New Zealand; Auckland, New Zealand; Bay Of Islands, New Zealand; Sydney, Australia ABOUT US John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our mid-sixties, who currently reside in central North Carolina. Both of us are natives of New Orleans and, as such, are interested in good food (and wine!) and good times. Our preferred souvenir is a small regional or national flag. On this itinerary, I did not need to acquire any flags. We enjoy both cruises and land tours; often our trips combine the two. We have cruised to or toured all seven continents, primarily in the Americas and Europe. On our trips, we prefer nature and wildlife tours that involve snorkeling, SCUBA diving or hiking. In particular, we will hike for miles to see waterfalls, volcanoes, caves or other interesting geologic features. We also enjoy lighthouses, forts, castles and anything else we can legally climb up on for a good view. We are Elite members of Princess' Captain's Circle loyalty program, but have also sailed with Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Costa, Celebrity and Commodore. ABOUT THE REVIEW Other reviews give extensive information on the ship, cabins, on board activities, etc. Our reviews are not like that; they are primarily a journal of what we did in the various ports, including web links to tourist information sites and maps. TOUR GUIDE CONTACT INFORMATION In general, we prefer DIY port tours, independent tours with other Cruise Critic roll call members, or shared public tours. However, we will take Princess tours when the logistics or cost make that a better option; we did not take any Princess tours on this cruise. These are the operators we used for this trip: Dunedin, NZ: Good Company Tours (www.goodcompanytours.co.nz) Picton, NZ: Jade Tours (marlboroughjadetours.co.nz) Napier, NZ: A1Tours4U (www.a1tours4u.co.nz) Tauranga, NZ: Paul Marston, Tauranga Tasting Tours (www.tastingtours.co.nz) [Booked through Hinterland Tours (www.hinterlandtours.co.nz)] Auckland, NZ: John Meadows, Auckland Wine Trail Tours (www.winetrailtours.co.nz) Bay of Islands, NZ: Shore Trips & Tours (www.shoretripsandtours.com) SOME NOTES ON THE “AUSTRALIAN SEASON” There are a number of differences between the Emerald Princess’ “Australian Season” and her sailings in other parts of the world (e.g., Alaska): 1. Passenger Mix: The passengers are predominately Australian. Out of 3100 passengers on this cruise, there were about 2000 Aussies; only 475 were from the USA. 2. On Board Charges: The currency used on board is AU$. Although at the start of our voyage the exchange rate was AU$1 = US$0.75 (or US$1= AU$1.25), a variety of different exchange rates were used to convert US$ OBC from various sources. Some items were converted on a one-to-one basis (e.g., the usual US$29 cover charge for the Crown Grill was AU$29). Some wines on the wine list were priced the same in AU$ as they usually are in US$; for others, the prices in AU$ were marked up a little compared to the US$ prices. However, the markups were less than the conversion rate plus there was no automatic 15% gratuity added as would be for a standard US cruise. The wines were essentially on sale to US passengers. 3. Gratuities: Tipping is not part of the Australian culture and the stateroom directory indicates that no tipping is required. However, those of us who booked in the USA were automatically charged a daily “Hotel Gratuity”, converted into AU$ (e.g., the usual US$13.95/day for a balcony was AU$18.10/day). However, there is no automatic 15% gratuity applied to purchases of alcoholic beverages. 4. Menus: There is a special set of menus featuring so-called Australian and New Zealand Regional Favorites. I’m not sure I would consider spaghetti with Bolognese sauce particularly Australian but that’s what it said on the menu. That dish alternated with Fettuccine Alfredo as the “Always Available” pasta selection. On the dessert menu, the usually “Always Available” cheesecake was replaced with Pavlova. It was good to see some new dishes but we felt that the menu lacked variety from night to night. 5: Beverage Packages: The Silver and Gold 7-, 10-, and 12-bottle wine packages were not offered. On the other hand, the All-Inclusive Beverage Package (AU$59/day) was heavily promoted. The Premium Coffee Card (15 specialty coffees) was AU$36. 6. Entertainment: Four production shows were the same as on other Princess ships; “Magic to Do” is a new show appearing only on the Emerald, Ruby and Crown Princesses. Only a few of the entertainers seemed to have been chosen to appeal more particularly to an Australian audience. There was also a game show, “How Aussie Are You?”. REVIEW OF THE CRUISE SAT, MAR 18: SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, 6AM – 3PM This was the turnaround day between our two cruises. Last night we received new cruise cards, “Guest in Transit” cards, Australian Incoming Passenger Cards and instructions for Transit Guests. We had to exit the ship and go through Australian immigration and customs by 10 a.m. We would not be allowed back on the ship before 11:45 a.m. and, once aboard, we could not get off again. Best of all, we were exempt from this afternoon’s General Emergency Stations (muster drill)! John and I had hoped to to take the Manly Ferry and hike in the North Head Sanctuary. Unfortunately, the continual rain or threat of rain made us eventually drop the idea of a Manly hike. It was raining rather hard when we got up and the forecast was for a 90% chance of rain throughout the day. We decided to wait until the rain slacked off and tour some sites along the Sydney waterfront (www.therocks.com/media/1031789/shfa_the-rocks-map-2017-v7-lr.pdf). We walked west from the Overseas Passenger Terminal (OPT), past the Museum of Contemporary Art, along Argyle Street, towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge. On the right, just before Cumberland St. (which is elevated), are the Argyle Stairs. Across Cumberland St. at the top of the stairs are the Bridge Stairs, which give access to both the pedestrian walkway across the Harbour Bridge and Cahill Walk. First we walked to the north side of the Harbour Bridge. From here we had great views of the Emerald Princess, the harbor and the Sydney Opera House on the other side. About halfway across the Bridge, it started to rain hard enough that we were forced to don our plastic ponchos. The rain had mostly stopped by the time we reached Milsons Point on the other side. At the bottom of the northern Bridge Stairs was a large planting of Bird of Paradise and we spotted a real bird (Noisy Miner) perched among them. We continued out to the Point, where there is a large abstract statue, “Australian Angel”, made of steel industrial scraps. We followed the seawall along Lavender Bay, past Luna Park (an old-style amusement park), to the end of the boardwalk. Then we walked back across the Bridge, once again encountering rain in the middle. Coming down the southern Bridge Stairs, we continued on Cahill Walk, the elevated pedestrian walkway that goes from the bridge all around Circular Quay to the Opera House and the Royal Botanic Gardens (www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/welcome/royal_botanic_garden). The gardens are free to visit and are well worth a visit; they are well signposted and labeled. Although there are several self-guided walking tours provided on the gardens’ web site, it is fun simply to explore at leisure. After enjoying the garden, we walked over to the New South Wales Parliament House, which turned out to be rather unimpressive. We retraced our steps to the Cahill Walk and descended the Argyle Stairs. Continuing west along Argyle St. to Kent St., we came to the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel (www.lordnelsonbrewery.com). The Lord Nelson has been making 100% natural ales for over 30 years; we already knew their ales were outstanding because we had tried them during our 2012 trip to Australia. I got a pint of one of the seasonal ales, Anileation. (Pronounced A-nile-ation, this is a pun based on Nelson’s victory over Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile.) John got a pint of Victory Bitter followed by one of Old Admiral (I helped with that). This was a nice way to quench our thirst after a long (the Garmin said 11+ miles) walk. Before heading back to the ship, we stopped at the Liquorland Express inside the Cole’s on George St. to pick up a couple of bottles of wine. Once back at the OPT, our “Guest in Transit” cards let us breeze through immigration and back onto the ship. We had booked a category BF balcony guarantee stateroom and were assigned a category B2 cabin on the Caribe deck starboard near the forward stairs/elevators. We had been offered an upsell to a mini-suite for US$169 pp, but preferred to stay on the Caribe deck because of its extra-large balconies, which are half open and half covered. Once in our cabin, John called the Dine Line to make reservations for dinner tonight at the Crown Grill (AU$29 pp) and I called Room Service to exchange some of the items in our complimentary minibar setup. While we unpacked again, our cabin steward, “Eddie” (Edgar) from the Philippines, stopped in to introduce himself. We only have a few special requirements for our cabin steward: bar soap for the shower, clean wine glasses and a steady supply of laundry bags. For once, the ship actually departed near the scheduled time. By now the weather had cleared up and we could really enjoy the sailaway. The scenery leaving Sydney Harbour is lovely; we watched until the ship had passed between the North and South Heads into the Tasman Sea, which we would be crossing for the next two days. After leaving the protected harbor, we started to notice some pronounced wave action. We chose “Anytime Dining" for both cruises and generally opt to to dine at one of the specialty restaurants on the first night rather than brave the chaos in the main dining rooms. We had had all of our Crown Grill favorites (diver scallops, Black and Blue onion soup, the Sterling Silver Beef Chop) on the previous cruise, so we tried some other dishes this time. During the night, the clocks would be set ahead one hour. SUN, MAR 19: AT SEA Our normal sea day schedule consists of waking up, showering and getting dressed, finding a spot to read that gets us out of Eddie’s way so he can make up the cabin, having a slice of pizza for lunch, relaxing and reading on our balcony, enjoying an afternoon drink or soft serve ice cream, having dinner, going to a show, and reading until it is time for a good night’s sleep. Occasionally we vary that busy program by attending a port or enrichment lecture, watching a movie, going for a walk or participating in some other activity. When we left the cabin this morning, we found an invitation to the “Most Traveled” luncheon in the mail holder. We were surprised that it would be held tomorrow and we had to RSVP by noon today; usually this function is held near the end of a cruise. Of course, we are always happy when we make the cut-off to be among the top 40 passengers by number of days cruised. We made sure to drop off the reply card before the deadline! This morning, we went to a port talk on Dunedin. The Port Lecturer, Douglas Pearson, is British but lives in Tahiti. He does not waste any time during his lectures, which are jam-packed with useful information. We also attended his double lecture on Akaroa and Picton after lunch. Tonight was the first formal night. It was nice to see so many men wearing formal dress, suits or sports coats with ties. Although not everyone agrees, John and I enjoy the opportunity to dress up occasionally for an evening out. Many of the menus on this cruise were a repeat of those on the previous cruise. After dinner, we attended the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Party and Champagne Waterfall. Because we had seen tonight’s production show, “I Got the Music”, on the last cruise, we stayed for the whole party. There were some interesting people who wanted to help the Maitre d’ pour champagne for the waterfall. One was a man wearing a Spanish-style dress, huge fake boobs and a crown proclaiming him to be “Queen Is-a-Fella”. There was also an ersatz nun. Less flamboyant were some ladies of the Red Hat Society. When we returned to the cabin, we were again pleased to see the laundry order that we sent out last night had returned already. [Note: I later learned that there were only 225 Elites aboard, which explained the quick turnaround.] Tonight the ship’s clocks would again be set ahead one hour. MON, MAR 20: AT SEA This morning was another double port talk: Napier and Tauranga. After that was the Cruise Critic meet and greet in Skywalkers Nightclub. Ann (love2cruise) had made the arrangements with Princess and invited officers to attend; six officers from the Hotel, Customer Services and Entertainment departments were there. Considering how little activity there had been on our roll call, I was surprised to see how many people came to the meet and greet. We got to meet all the people who would be joining us on independent tours later in the cruise. After the meet and greet, we attended the “Most Traveled” luncheon in the Crown Grill. As usual, this was a fantastic meal with special dishes: Halibut & Salmon Carpaccio with California Roll and Enoki Mushrooms, Milk-Fed Veal Chop Forestiere and Coconut Mousse with Dark Chocolate Cream. We were seated with the Staff Captain, Chris Lye, so we were probably in the top 10. Because of the luncheon, we had to miss Doug Pearson’s double lecture on Auckland and the Bay of Islands; we watched that talk later on the stateroom TV. Later in the afternoon, we had complimentary invitations to the “Princess Grapevine” wine tasting. However, we decided that we could not endure a repeat of last cruise’s interminable discourse on bottle shapes. For dinner tonight, we decided that a slice of pizza was sufficient after our large lunch. The show tonight featured Steve Larkins in “Mercury Rising”, a tribute to Freddie Mercury and Queen. We had seen this show on the last cruise and chose not to see it again. TUE, MAR 21: FIORDLAND NATIONAL PARK (SCENIC CRUISING) 7AM – 4PM Today we were officially in New Zealand, although we did not dock or anchor. We spent most of the day sailing through the Fiordland National Park (www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/fiordland/places/fiordland-national-park/ or www.fiordland.org.nz/about-fiordland/maps/). We started at the northern end, with Milford Sound, where it was quite foggy. Our scenic cruising was accompanied with commentary by a park ranger on the history, geology and ecology of the park; the commentary was broadcast to the open decks, public areas and on stateroom TV channel 45. Milford Sound has a very narrow entrance and was similar to the Norwegian Fjords, with waterfalls cascading down all the cliff sides. Most of these waterfalls are transient but we also saw year-round falls such as Stirling and Bowen Falls. Unfortunately, it was too foggy to see the celebrated Mitre Peak. Nevertheless, the views were uniformly stunning! When we reached the end of the sound, we turned around and went out the same way. The ship continued south along the coast of the park, past the entrances to other fjords, to Thompson Sound. This and the other three fjords we visited were much wider and did not have as many waterfalls as Milford Sound. However, the fog had lifted and we had better views. Instead of turning around in Thompson Sound, we sailed around Secretary Island and exited through Doubtful Sound. Next we sailed further down the coast, into Breaksea Sound, around Resolution Island and through Dusky Sound. The Park Ranger pointed out a number of sites, such as Astronomer’s Point, that related to Captain Cook’s voyages in the 1770s. He also noted that several of the islands in this area are now pest-free sanctuaries for native species endangered by animals (especially stoats) brought to New Zealand by the Europeans. As we exited Dusky sound, we passed Five Fingers Peninsula; these jagged rock pinnacles do look like the four fingers and thumb of a person’s hand (at least from some perspectives). We were very pleasantly surprised tonight to see that Veal Osso Buco was one of the main course choices. This was the first cruise in a long time that has offered that great dish! This evening’s production show was “DISCO...Blame it on the Boogie”, which featured songs by Donna Summers, KC and the Sunshine Band and the Bee Gees. WED, MAR 22: DUNEDIN (PORT CHALMERS), NEW ZEALAND 8AM – 5:30PM The Emerald Princess docked in Port Chalmers, about 7.5 miles (12 km) from Dunedin (visitdunedinfl.com). That is too far to walk, so the town offers a shuttle service (NZ$10 return) to the city center. This is a commercial port, with lots of pine logs waiting to be shipped to China and be turned into furniture. Nevertheless, there is a small cruise terminal with an iSite, free WiFi and a designated place for people to meet their private tour operators. Unlike many commercial ports, it is possible to exit the cruise terminal and tour Port Chalmers, should one want to do so. When we visited Dunedin in 2012, we took a wildlife tour on the Otago Peninsula (www.elmwildlifetours.co.nz). This time we wanted to ride the train through the Taieri River Gorge (www.dunedinrailways.co.nz). The ship offered this tour for AU$339.95 pp and its train would depart right from the cruise dock; morning tea and a light picnic lunch were also included. We located the same train ride, plus a Dunedin city tour for NZ$140 pp, a significant savings for a better tour! The only catch was that we would have to ride the Good Company Tours (www.goodcompanytours.co.nz/shore-excursions-dunedin) bus to the Dunedin Railway Station and buy our own tea/lunch—no big deal. [Note: The cafe on board the train accepted payment in NZ$, AU$ or US$.] The tour company was ready dockside when we got off the ship and everything worked beautifully for our tour. The train ride was fascinating and the gorge was beautiful. After we returned to Dunedin, we had a few minutes to admire the historic train station before starting the two-hour city tour. This tour took us through all the neighborhoods and past all the sights of Dunedin. We had stops at several lookouts and at Baldwin Street (the world’s steepest street). Richard was the guide for the bus portion of the tour; he was funny and knowledgeable. He even gave us some excellent advice to watch for Royal Albatross flying above the Albatross Center on the Otago Peninsula when we sailed out of the harbor later in the afternoon. We passed fairly close and got some nice photos. [Hint: Sit on the left side of the bus for the best views during the city tour.] We had tried the Salty Dog Gastropub (AU$18 pp) on the previous cruise and dined there again tonight. This venue features dishes created by Chef Ernesto Uchimura (www.princess.com/ships-and-experience/food-and-dining/specialty-restaurants/the-salty-dog-gastropub/salty-dog-menu.pdf). The meal starts with a shared appetizer, then each person chooses two small plates and a dessert. We thought the best item is the “Ernesto”, a fancy cheeseburger. One of the toppings is a beer-battered jalapeno, which the waitress warns might be very hot; we did not find it too spicy though. We both enjoy eating and thought that this was plenty of food to satisfy our appetites. However, I have seen complaints on Cruise Critic that that a trip to the buffet was necessary afterwards. Tonight’s show was a vocalist, Annie Frances. This was another SRO performance and we did not arrive early enough to get seats. THU, MAR 23: AKAROA, NEW ZEALAND, TENDER 8AM – 5PM Akaroa harbor (www.akaroa.com/maps-transport/activity-map) is the flooded crater of an extinct volcano. Over the years, soil from the slopes of the caldera has filled the harbor, so the water is not very deep and there is no dock that can accommodate a ship as large as the Emerald Princess. This was one of two tender ports on this cruise. When we were here in 2012, we did a dazzling wildlife cruise with Ray Shoebridge on the Manutara (aclasssailing.co.nz/index.html). When we got off the tender, we saw Ray on the dock and told him hello and how much we had enjoyed that day. Today we planned to take some hikes into the hills around Akaroa (akaroa.com/activities/walking-tracks). Last time, John downloaded (and saved) more detailed hiking maps from the Akaroa web site; those are no longer available for free but can be purchased at the Akaroa iSite/Akaroa Adventure Centre in the city center. Our first hike was to Newton’s Waterfall in the Misty Peaks Reserve. Most of this walk is on city streets or country roads. From the tender dock, we took Bruce Terrace to Percy St. and then Aylmers Valley Road. This is a pretty walk, with black-and-white cattle on the hillsides and many Pink Ladies (a type of Amaryllis) growing on the roadsides. The last part of hike follows a short, wooded path along a stream to the fall. This is not a very impressive waterfall (at least at this time of year): the fall is more of a rock face with water running over it and a small pool at the bottom. The rock face is covered with moss, ferns and other water-loving plants. Nevertheless it is attractive and worth the hike. The round-trip distance is about 3 miles (5 km) from the tender dock and took us about 1.5 hours. The next hike started right across the street from the iSite/Akaroa Adventure Centre in downtown Akaroa. While we were walking there along the waterfront, a siren started to blare. We thought it must be for a fire (it was) but I asked at the iSite to make sure it wasn’t a tsunami warning. We planned to do at least part of the Skyline Circuit (via the Paripai Track shortcut), depending on time available and our stamina. Again, the trail initially follows roads: Rue Balguerie and Purple Peak Road. Those roads are quite steep and we had been hiking for 30 minutes before reaching a real trail—the Purple Peak Stock Route, a grassy path between two stock fences. As we climbed higher into the hills above town, we had spectacular views of the harbor, hills and countryside. We made it up to 1726 ft (526 m) a.s.l. before having to admit that it was too late in the day to attempt the entire circuit. As we retraced our route, we realized how steep the trail had actually been—we had to be careful not to walk down too fast or we might start running and fall. Round-trip we hiked about 5 miles (8 km) in about 2.25 hours. By the time we got back to the tender dock, the Garmin said that we had logged 8.4 miles (13.5 km) today. It was definitely time to go back to the ship for a gin and tonic! Akaroa is another beautiful sailaway. We watched for Hector’s Dolphins with no luck. We had seen lots of them from Ray’s sailboat in 2012. With all that hiking, we had worked up quite an appetite. We had no trouble doing justice to the delicious food at the Crown Grill later in the evening. Tonight’s entertainment was a new show by Steve Larkins as “Mercury Rising”; we did not attend. FRI, MAR 24: PICTON, NEW ZEALAND, 7:30AM – 4:30PM Today the Emerald Princess again docked at a working commercial port with tons of logs waiting to be shipped to China. No pedestrian traffic was allowed in the port area, so a free continuous shuttle service took passengers for a 10-minute ride to the iSite in Picton (www.visitpicton.co.nz). For some reason the ship was delayed in docking but we had a beautiful sunrise sail-in. Even though we caught the first shuttle, we only had about an hour before we were supposed to meet our tour group. We had hoped to hike in the Victoria Domain (www.marlborough.govt.nz/sitecore/shell/Controls/Rich%20Text%20Editor/~/media/Files/MDC/Home/Recreation/Biking%20Walking/PictonWalks.ashx). Unfortunately, we only had time to take the footbridge over Picton Harbour and walk down a short distance past Shelly Beach—about 1.3 miles (2 km) round trip by the Garmin. This is a pretty walk along the waterfront though and we saw a number of sea stars in the water. In 2012, we had stayed in Blenheim and taken a tour of the Marlborough wine region (www.wine-marlborough.co.nz). We decided to use a different company this time and chose Jade Tours (marlboroughjadetours.co.nz). This was a very popular tour; Jade filled three vans and we had ten people in our group. Our first tasting was at Hunter’s Wines (www.hunters.co.nz), where we were able to see some grapes being crushed. Next came two wineries we had visited in 2012: Wither Hills (www.witherhills.co.nz) and Giesen (www.giesen.co.nz). We then had an excellent tasting at Allan Scott Family Winemakers (www.allanscott.com) and lunch (at our own cost) at their Twelve Trees Restaurant. Our final tasting was at Saint Clair Family Estate (www.saintclair.co.nz). We ended the day with a chocolate tasting at the Makana Confections Chocolate Factory (www.makana.co.nz). The tour went to some excellent wineries. Our driver, Kevin, was friendly and informative at the wineries. John sat in the front of the van with him and enjoyed their conversation about wines and the countryside. However, the tour would have been better if Ken had a sound system so that the rest of the van could hear his commentary. Also, a ten-person group was a bit of a crowd in a van and at the some of the wineries. This five-hour tour cost NZ$85 pp plus NZ$20 pp for tasting fees. [Note: Princess’s 3.5-hour tour, The Wines of Marlborough, included tastings at two wineries and Makana Confections for AU$199.95 pp.] As we left Picton, the ship cruised slowly out the beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound on its way to Napier. We have had two previous experiences with the Crab Shack (AU$29): on the Grand Princess in 2014 (so-so) and on the Regal Princess a few months ago (excellent). This dining option is only offered on a few nights each cruise in the aft portion of the Horizon Court. The menu includes one appetizer (fried shrimp and hush puppies), one soup (Manhattan clam chowder) and four combination pots of boiled/steamed seafood with corn on the cob and potatoes. After our experience on the Regal, we had high hopes for tonight. However the quality of the seafood on the Emerald was definitely a step down and we will be hesitant to choose this extra-cost dinner option again. Tonight the entertainment was Annie Frances in a new show; we did not go to it. SAT, MAR 25: NAPIER, NEW ZEALAND, 8AM – 4PM In Napier (www.hawkesbaynz.com), the ship docked at yet another working commercial port with lots of logs. No pedestrian traffic was allowed in the port area, so a free continuous shuttle service took passengers for a 10-minute ride into town, with stops at the iSite and at the Aquarium. We wanted to take advantage of this port call to see this really interesting Art Deco town. However, we are also interested in wines and had never visited the Hawke’s Bay wine region. We contacted Nick at A1tours4U (www.a1tours4u.co.nz), who indicated that he could combine most portions of his half-day Art Deco tour and his half-day wine tour into a full-day private tour for very reasonable NZ$125 pp. We booked immediately and are definitely pleased that we did so! [Note: Princess’ 4-hour tour, Hawke’s Bay Wine Country, included tastings at three wineries for AU$159.95 pp.] In 1931, a massive earthquake and the resulting fires destroyed most of Napier’s city center. Rebuilding started quickly and reflected the fashionable styles of the 1930s: Art Deco, Spanish Mission and Stripped Classical. Because it has such a large number of Art Deco buildings in a small area, Napier is known as the “Art Deco Capital of the World” (www.artdeconapier.com). The day was rainy so we could not do much of the walking parts of the tour (although Nick stopped for numerous photo ops and got us inside the fascinating movie theater) and the viewpoints were limited. Nevertheless, we got an outstanding introduction to the city, its architecture and its history. Next we headed out to the wineries (hawkesbaywine.co.nz) and Nick made an excellent selection to visit. Our first stop was at scenic and historic Mission Estate Winery (www.missionestate.co.nz). We only had a look around and did not taste here; Nick said we should save tasting for other, better places. Nick picked these really good wineries: Church Road (www.church-road.co.nz), Moana Park (moanapark.co.nz), Crossroads (www.crossroadswines.co.nz), Trinity Hill (www.trinityhill.com) and Askerne Estate Winery (askerne.co.nz). Nick had also prearranged a winery platter (extra cost—NZ$25) for us at Trinity Hill to help soak up some of the alcohol; it was a nice assortment of local cheeses and charcuterie. He had offered to take us to a winery for a full lunch but we were doing a bit of rehab after so much ship food. The half-day wine tour normally includes only four wineries but, since there were just two of us, Nick was able to add an additional winery and we appreciated that. Nick makes his own wine, beer, and spirits so he knows the details and was able to handle our irritating questions about minutia. He is an interesting man who gives great tours in an interesting place. Tonight we went to the Princess Theater very early to be sure of having a seat for the 7 p.m. performance of Princess’ production show, “Magic to Do”. We had gone to this show on the last cruise and it is a “must see”. The title of the show is also a song from composer Stephen Schwartz’s musical, “Pippin”. Other of his songs (from “Godspell” “Wicked”, etc.) were interspersed with classical magic illusions. This 55-minute show was definitely a step up for Princess. SUN, MAR 26: TAURANGA, NEW ZEALAND, 8:45AM – 7PM This morning the ship docked near Mt. Maunganui, which is a long way from the Tauranga (www.taurangatourism.com) city center. There was a local shuttle into town for a fee but there was not much point in going there because most businesses are closed on Sunday. Staying in the town of Mt Mauganui (www.visitbayofplentynz.com/walk-about-mount-maunganui.html) was probably a better option for those who did not choose to take a shore excursion On our 2012 visit to Tauranga, we had taken a private tour with Walking Legends (www.walkinglegends.com) to two of the fascinating thermal areas of Rotorua: the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland (www.waiotapu.co.nz) and Waimangu Volcanic Valley (www.waimangu.com). This time, we wanted to tour the Waitomo Glowworm Caves but from Tauranga, not Auckland (like the ship’s tour); we had other plans for Auckland. We had a difficult time finding an independent tour operator who would take us to the Caves from Tauranga, but we finally arranged an excursion with Hinterland Tours (www.hinterlandtours.co.nz). However, we needed a group of 6-8 people to guarantee the tour and I was only able to find one interested couple on the Cruise Critic roll call. Fortunately, a group of four contacted Hinterlands separately and was willing to join with us. That made the final cost NZ$185 pp, including all admission fees but not lunch. [Note: Princess offered a 9-hour tour from Auckland to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves for AU$279.95 pp (includes lunch).] It turns out that Hinterlands subcontracted our tour to Paul Marston of Tauranga Tasting Tours (www.tastingtours.co.nz). Whatever the arrangements, Paul gave us an excellent tour to the Glowworm Caves. He included wonderful commentary and some nice additional stops. Those included a quick visit to the Kiwi House to see an actual Kiwi and a quick visit to an orchard to see actual kiwi fruit. It is a 2.5-hour drive from Tauranga across the Kaimai Ranges to the Glowworm Caves. On the way, we passed the turnoff to Hobbiton; Paul said the Hobbiton Move Set Tour was NZ$79 pp! Later we made a pit stop at the Karapiro Look-out, high above Karapiro Lake. The lake was formed by damming the Waikato River and is a world-class rowing venue (the New Zealand Olympic rowing team trains here). When we were there, the lake was full of scullers. Once at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves (www.waitomo.com), Paul picked up our reserved tickets and we waited for our designated tour time. Since it was a Sunday, there were hoards of people wanting to take the 45-minute tour; fortunately, one leaves every 15 minutes. The Caves are justifiably famous since the insect larvae are impressive with their beautiful glow. However, their fame has only made them too popular and the operators try to cram too many people on each tour. The crowd makes it difficult to hear the guide and especially to appreciate the quiet elegance of the cave. There should also be an age limit on children since the young ones can be difficult to manage in the cave and on the boats. We had two crying kids (an infant and a toddler) who were a little disruptive to the larger group. Nevertheless, we felt fortunate to be able to experience this amazing sight. Next we were going to make a lunch stop at Ronnie's Cafe & Bar in Otorohanga. There were large tour buses outside, so Paul decided to head first to the Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park (kiwihouse.org.nz) for a brief stop. Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit the entire park, only the Nocturnal House. Nevertheless, we did get to observe a live Kiwi in a simulation of its natural habitat. We were surprised to find this bird to be the size of a large chicken. Then it was back to Ronnie’s Cafe; the crowd had now dispersed. The Cafe is self-service, with a cafeteria line featuring sandwiches, cakes and a variety of other foods at reasonable prices. John and I weren’t very hungry, so we each had a turnover (identified as apple but looking and tasting more like apricot). This was a good choice to allow those who were hungrier to be accommodated without taking a lot of time. Paul drove us back to Tauranga by a different route, this time crossing over the Waikato River on the Arapuni Dam. As we were crossing back over the mountains, Paul stopped at an overlook for some great views of the countryside. He also stopped at a kiwi orchard so the we could see how the fruit is grown. Back at Mt. Maunganui, he stopped at the main beach for more views before returning us to the ship. This was a very long day and tiring because of the long drive. We had considered climbing Mt. Maunganui (econtent.tauranga.govt.nz/data/facilities/files/walkways_mauao.pdf) after the tour, but decided that we did not have enough time. It really looks like it would be fun, with great views. Tonight’s show was “Under the Umbrella Life is a Circus” with juggler Steven Ragatz. This was much better than we thought it would be. MON, MAR 27: AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND, 10AM – 8PM Today, we were supposed to be in port from 7 a.m until 5:30 p.m. However, when we looked out from our balcony shortly before 7 a.m., it was obvious that we were still far out at sea. Soon after, the Captain made a ship-wide announcement that the ship had had technical problems during the night and had to reduce speed. That caused the ship to miss its time slot for boarding the harbor pilot. As a result, we would not be able to dock in Auckland until 10 a.m. As compensation, the all-aboard time would be extended to 8 p.m. John immediately emailed this news to John Meadows, our guide today from Auckland Wine Trail Tours (winetrailtours.co.nz), whom we were supposed to meet at 9 a.m. Fortunately, John M. received the email and knew that we would be delayed at least an hour. We did manage to exit the cruise terminal at 9:55 a.m. and found John M., waiting as promised, a few minutes later. We like his flexibility. We had toured with John M. in 2012 and were pleased that he was available to be our guide today. On our last trip, John M. led us on a marvelous trip to waterfalls and wineries on the west side of the area. We enjoyed it so much that this time we booked his East Coast Matakana Wine Tour (winetrailtours.co.nz/wine-trail-tours-selection/east-coast-wine-trail-tour.html). Many cellar doors are closed on Mondays, so we would only be able to visit three instead of the usual four. As a result, John M. discounted the cost of the tour from the normal NZ$265 pp, which includes all tasting fees, transportation and lunch at a winery. [Note: Princess’s 6-hour tour Auckland Wine Trail & Tastings, included tastings at two wineries (cheese pairing at one winery) for AU$99.95 pp.] We were soon on our way for our tour of the East Coast region of Matakana wine country (www.matakanawine.com). After reaching the outskirts of Auckland, John M. left the expressway so that we could enjoy beautiful coastal and countryside vistas. Our first stop was at the Puhoi Valley Cheese Store (www.puhoivalley.co.nz), where we tasted some excellent local Bries and blue cheeses. After that, we visited the Honey Centre (www.honeycentre.com), where we could taste the famous Manuka honey and many other varieties. The Honey Center also has three glass-sided bee hives for observing the bees at work. Finally, we sampled handmade chocolates at Chocolate Brown (www.chocolatebrown.co.nz). Now it was time to get down to real business—wine tasting! First we tasted at Ascension Wine Estate (ascensionwine.co.nz) where we especially enjoyed a couple of sparkling wines. Then it was time for a tasting at Brick Bay (www.brickbay.co.nz) and lunch in their restaurant, the Glass House Kitchen. Their winery platter was full of delicious and fresh offerings ranging from hummus to roasted vegetables and local cheeses. We accompanied that with a glass of their nice rosé. A delightful lunch! The cellar door and restaurant are in a glass-sided structure that is set on a pretty pond and surrounded by lovely vineyards. We stopped to see a pretty marina at Sandspit before proceeding to the last winery, Heron’s Flight (www.heronsflight.co.nz). There we met David Hoskins, a really passionate wine maker who produces an excellent Sangiovese; he was fun to talk to! All the winery people knew John and one made sure to tell us that John was the best. We know—that’s why we toured with him again! Our final stop before returning to the dock was at Parry Kauri Park to see the 800+ year old McKinney Kauri. Kauri are very large and long-lived trees that are native to the northern parts of the North Island. Because of heavy logging, by 1900, less than 10 per cent of the original kauri survived; there are now several forest sanctuaries to protect these majestic trees. The show tonight featured Patrick McMahon, billed as “The Superman of Entertainment”. He is a singer, songwriter and guitarist who does some good musical impressions. His first number was an impression of Topol singing “If I Were a Rich Man”, followed by a medley of other singers. His impression of Elvis Presley trying out for the part of Tevye was excellent. TUE, MAR 28: BAY OF ISLANDS, NEW ZEALAND, TENDER, 9AM – 4PM Today we were supposed to anchor in the Bay of Islands and commence tendering to the Waitangi Pier at 7 a.m. However, it was quite foggy and the Captain delayed tender operations until conditions improved. When the tenders finally started operating at around 9 a.m., the Captain announced that it might take until noon to get everyone ashore. As compensation, the last tender back to the ship would be at 4 p.m., an hour later than originally scheduled. Although our independent shared tour started at 11 a.m., we did not want to get stuck on the ship, so we caught the first tender. There is a free shuttle from the Waitangi Pier to Paihai. Because we had plenty of time, John and I walked the 1.2 mi (2 km) into town instead of taking the shuttle. This is a pleasant walk along the waterfront. Once in Paihia, we checked in for our tour and I inquired at the iSite (www.visitboi.co.nz) about hiking trails near town. With the amount of time we had available, most of the options were not feasible. However, the Maiki Hill Lookout is on a small hill near the iSite (next to the helicopter tours), so we climbed that for some nice views of the harbor. Then we walked across the street to the town green, where a crafts market was in progress. After that, we walked south along the waterfront to the start of the Paihai-Opua Costal Walk. We didn't have enough time for that walk either. We prearranged for the “Islands, Cliffs & Caves" tour (www.shoretripsandtours.com/Product/Bay%20of%20Islands%20Cliffs%20&%20Caves%20Cruise.php) with Shore Trips and Tours but many people simply walked up to the ferry dock and booked on the day. Our two-hour tour cost NZ$79 pp. [Note: Princess offered a similar two-hour tour, Island & Cave Adventure, for AU$105.95 pp.] This two-hour tour uses a Naiad boat, a high-speed, rigid-hulled inflatable boat with an enclosed cabin. We were each equipped with life vests and proceeded to wait in the hot boat for almost 15 minutes past the scheduled departure time for a group of four who were late. They eventually arrived and we were off on our adventure. Our crew today was Rick and Jenna.[Hint: Sit on the left side of the boat around the middle row to get the best pictures and to be out of the direct sun. There the sides are open so you get no reflections in pictures. Of course this was in March and the sun angle will different in different seasons.] Finally we went zooming off to the western, more rugged side of the Bay; our destination was the Black Rocks. According to the promotional materials, the Bay of Islands is one of only three places in the world where these volcanic structures can be found. Actually, such collections of polygonal basalt columns are found in many other locations, perhaps most notably at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. We have also seen them at Devil’s Postpile National Monument (California), Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming) and the Galapagos Islands. These are distinctive because they form a small archipelago in the Bay. Then we motored over for a stop at Motuora Island, where attempts are being made to repopulate a Gannet colony. So far these attempts have been unsuccessful and the only birds we saw were the decoys set out to entice the Gannets to nest there. There is a hammerhead shark nursery area nearby but we didn’t see any of those either.  Next up was Marsden Cross Island, where there is a large sea cave. The boat was able to enter the cave, where the sound of the rushing water is likened to the roar of a taniwha (water monster). From here we zoomed over to the eastern, more sheltered side of the Bay. During the ride, Rich pointed out Piercy Island, the location of the “Hole in the Rock” formation, in the far, far distance. Unfortunately, this tour did not go there. At Waewaetorea Island, we waded ashore for about 30 minutes of "island time". There is a lovely small sand beach and people from other boats were swimming and snorkeling in the clear water. John and I climbed the steep, rugged bush track (about 15 minutes up and 5 minutes down) up a hill to about 250 ft (76 m) a.s.l. From there we had fantastic 360-degree views of the Bay of Islands. More people chose to climb an equally steep and rugged track to a lower headland. After carefully making our way back down the track, we had just enough time to walk to the far end of the beach and return to the boat. After a ride along the eastern side of the Bay, we had the choice of being dropped off in Paihia or continuing on to the small historic town of Russell on the other side of the Bay. Those who chose to visit Russell could return to Paihia at their leisure on one of the local ferries (NZ$7 pp, one-way), which run every 20 minutes. This was a very enjoyable tour and relatively inexpensive. It was not the tour operator’s fault that we saw only a little bird life and no marine mammals. However, we did expect more commentary about them and the history of the area, which was promised in the tour description and not delivered. John and I still entertained hopes of making a hike to Haruru Falls, so we ended our tour in Paihia and took the shuttle bus back to Waitangi. After discussing our plan with the shuttle driver, we realized that we would barely have enough time to do the 10 km (6.2 mi) hike and still make the last tender. Rather than rushing through the hike and worrying about the time, we decided to return to the ship and enjoy some wine and chocolate. Once everyone was back aboard and the ship was underway, we had plenty of time to enjoy scenic cruising through the Bay of Islands before dinner in the Crown Grill. We were seated by a window, so we had scenic views of the New Zealand coastline until it was dark. Tonight John chose the Tiger Prawns, onion soup and ribeye steak; I picked the lamb carpaccio, Crown Salad and filet mignon. For dessert, John had a cheese plate and I had the Molten Chocolate Obsession. The show this evening was a sand artist, Marcus Winter, AKA “The Sandman”. The performer tells a story by making sand outlines on an illuminated table; the designs are projected on a screen so that the audience can see them being created. (We had seen a similar performance on the Oasis of the Seas last summer.) We mistakenly thought this kind of entertainment would not be very popular; when we arrived shortly before it started, it was SRO. We chose not to wait for the next show and took advantage of a relatively clear night to do some star-gazing from the upper decks. It is not easy to find a dark enough spot to view the night sky but on Deck 19 aft allowed us to spot an upside-down Orion and the two pointers (Alpha and Beta Centauri) to the Southern Cross (www.teara.govt.nz/en/diagram/7486/navigating-by-the-southern-cross). WED, MAR 29: AT SEA Today would be a 25-hour day; the clocks were turned back one hour last night. They would be set back again on the last night of the cruise to put us on the correct time for our arrival in Sydney on Friday morning. This morning Douglas Pearson gave a port lecture on Sydney; we had attended that on the last cruise and we will only have minimal time in Sydney on the way to the airport, so we did not go again. We resisted the allure of the various sales, art auctions, etc. and found a nice spot in Skywalkers to relax and enjoy views of the ocean until it was time for our penultimate pizza lunch. This afternoon, I organized our travel documents and repaired John’s formal trousers. The hem in one leg had completely come unsewn when the pants were dry-cleaned the other day. Eddie provided a sewing kit and I could press the repaired hem in the self-service laundry, which is only a few doors down from our cabin. I couldn’t wait to fix the hem at home because tonight was the second and last formal night. John made an early reservation for dinner in the Michelangelo dining room, where we had the traditional lobster tail, accompanied with two jumbo prawns. Alas, there were again no escargots on the menu. Instead, we both had the duck carpaccio and the prawns with brandy sauce. For dessert, John enjoyed strawberry cheesecake and I chose the cookies and cream parfait. After dinner, we attended one of several Captain’s Circle parties for those who have cruised previously with Princess. Almost two-thirds (1942) aboard were repeat passengers and 225 had reached the Elite level. The most traveled couple had 2634 days, second place had 1385 and third place had 1347. Even after another 25 years of cruising, I don’t think we’ll reach those numbers! Unlike most CC parties on other ships, no hors d’oeuvres were passed; the emphasis was on serving drinks. John and I had some nice after-dinner brandy. This evening we had a choice between “Magical Showtime” with Justin Gentry, who performed the illusions in “Magic to Do”, and the production show, “What a Swell Party”. By the time the Captain’s Circle party was over, there was no hope of finding a seat at the 8 p.m. performance of either show. However, we had already seen both of these shows on the New Caledonia/Vanuatu cruise and decided not to wait up for the 10 p.m. performances. THU, MAR 30: AT SEA This morning we slept in a little before heading up to Skywalkers. Not that there wasn’t a lot going on today: an outlet sale, the culinary demonstration, etc. None of that was of any interest to us. We both had a chance to catch up on our reading. I read 12 books over the 24 days of the combined cruises and John was down to two books left on his Kindle. We are really going to miss the opportunity to have pizza for lunch every day! After lunch, I had the sad task of repacking all of our clothes and souvenirs. I had thought we would end up with extra room in the suitcases, but the two beautiful wine glasses that were gifted to us at Two Hands Estate took care of that. Fortunately, they came in heavy cardboard tubes so I didn’t have to worry about their breaking, For dinner we had one of our favorites: Moules Marinieres. Tonight they were called Belgian Mussels with French Fries—”a rose by any other name...” This evening there was a variety showtime with Marcus Winter, the sand artist, and Patrick McMahon, the singer/songwriter/guitarist. I was a little disappointed with the sand artist because he just did individual scenes. The sand artist on the Oasis of the Seas started with one scene then gradually altered it to form a new scene, eventually telling a whole story. Nevertheless, Marcus Winter’s talent was evident. The singer gave another good and energetic performance. Tonight the ship’s clocks would be set back one hour. FRI, MAR 31: EMERALD PRINCESS TO SYD TO DFW TO RDU Australia has extremely strict biosecurity regulations; be sure to declare anything that might be a problem on your Incoming Passenger Card (www.agriculture.gov.au/travelling/arriving-in-australia#declare-it). We had to declare the chocolate with nuts that we bought at Makana Confections and the honey we bought at the Honey Centre. The inspector did not care about the chocolate but carefully inspected the jars of honey, looking for bee parts. Because of the ongoing work on the train tracks in Sydney, we had decided to splurge on the Princess airport transfer (AU$19 pp) instead of taking the Airport Train (AU$17.95 pp) and risking the need to transfer to a bus. This worked out just fine and we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. We flew Qantas to DFW and American to RDU. The pillows and blanket on Qantas seemed nicer than on other recent transoceanic flights (American, Delta). The seats were also a bit better; however, we were still glad that we brought along our Therm-A-Rest Travel Cushions (www.thermarest.com/seating/travel-cushion) and Wrap-a-Naps (www.wrapanap.com). The food was decent: we were served dinner (3 choices) and breakfast (2 choices) plus between-meal snacks (candy/cheese/fruit) in the galley. A variety of complimentary alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages were available but those who wanted something alcoholic besides beer or wine might have a wait to be served or be forgotten entirely. We had a six-hour layover in Dallas/Fort Worth. However, we had two day-passes (purchased on eBay) to the United Club there. The quiet surroundings, comfortable chairs and complimentary snacks and drinks went a long way to making that a relatively painless wait. We finally made it to RDU around midnight to find out that our bags (which had to be re-checked at DFW) had decided to remain overnight in Dallas. At least American knew where they were and they were delivered to our home the next afternoon. Overall, this was a fantastic trip with only a few wrinkles. We loved all of the ports on both cruises and only wish that Australia were not quite so far away from North Carolina. But who knows—there is still another major wine region (Margaret River) in Western Australia that we have not yet visited! Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2017
This was our 30th Wedding Anniversary and our first without our kids in tow. Leaving our kids and daily world behind we embarked on our journey. We stayed two nights in Sydney at The Grace Hotel which was a lovely hotel, reasonable ... Read More
This was our 30th Wedding Anniversary and our first without our kids in tow. Leaving our kids and daily world behind we embarked on our journey. We stayed two nights in Sydney at The Grace Hotel which was a lovely hotel, reasonable priced and the location was perfect. We arrived earlier in Sydney as we wanted to do the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. The weather was perfect for our climb, was initially worried as Sydney had been having the most awful weather conditions. The climb was expensive but really lovely and l would say otherall worthwhile experience. We choose to walk from our hotel to the OPT to embark the Emerald Princess. It was an easy walk with our suitcase in tow as we couldn't justify the taxi trip as in most cases there is a bit of a traffic delay around the terminal. The boarding was quick and hastle free, we had priority boarding but even if you didn't I would think you would find the process well organised. You need to keep in mind that you are one of 3000+ passengers boarding so you need to put the event in prospective. They really do well! The Emerald Princess is a lovely ship, l was super impressed by the layout and loved the deck plans and variety of pools. 4 pools to choose from, one was part of the Santuary where a cost was involved, pool two was were live music, pool games or recorded music played, pool three was were the movies screen was which played movies or other shows such as Cirque du Soleil or music concerts like PINK. Pool four was at the back of the ship and was a great place to relax and soak in the sounds of the waves adults only. All the bars and seperate entertaining areas were great with lots of activities happening if you so wished. We didn't do much of the daily activites offered as l like to just relax on a deck chair. The shows by the ships entertainment team were good quality but were short in comparison to other ships. The theatre was packed for the earlier shows and you would need to get there at least 1/2 hour earlier to get a seat. The Horizon Cafe and Calibre Cafe were buffet areas and pretty much operated all the time with good choices available. I think they do better than P & O with hygenine control with strict entry and exit points for the food areas and the staff are attentive with clearing away and getting your drinks. The Pizza bar, Trident Grill & ice cream bars where very popular and food there was excellent. The main dining rooms, we only went twice as we found that the service there was not how we would expect, coming from Royal Carribean or P&O their service was better. The food was excellent but service was a little lacking. No real problem it was still good but not the same. Cabin was lovely and our cabin steward was fantastic as they all are, how can you complain when your room is keep tidy for you morning and night! They work super hard. We choose a balcony Aft cabin B749. First time we have opted for a aft cabin and balcony. It was nice being able to take a seat out the back and watch the ports as we sail away. Definitely recommend this cabin. We did not opt to get the drinks package this time around as we felt that we would not utilise it with all the port days that we had and l was right we didn't spend anywhere near the total cost. ($59 x 11days x 2people) we came in well under that. We took up the ships many 'happy hour' offers buy 1 drink and get another for $1. We are not huge drinkers, it one of the biggest ? always asked by passengers as to whether to get the package or not. My suggestion do your sums. (cocktails/martinis were about $14 spririts & beers $7/8) The ports and excursions we did were great, we opted to do the ships arranged excursions which worked out fine for us. We have done our own on previous cruises as well as ships arranged. Both ways are fine and yes the cost can be more via the ship but sometimes they are just more convienent if you don't want the hassle of negotiating the people on the docks for the best trip/cost. Gym was great, big selection of equipment, lots of treadmils and xtrainers etc. I am a personal trainer by trade so the gym is a must have for me. You can opt to do classes which you would have to pay for. I did the spin classes but was not overally impressed by the instructor. He was not my cup of tea in his style but l won't hold that against the ship. All i will say is l am more of a road cyclist working the rpm and gears and he was more soul cycle putting in squats/pushups/hovers. Dismbarking was easy and painless. Once again they did really well moving off the thousands of people in an organised manner. We love cruising and we will go again and l would travel Princess again. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2017
This review includes information on both our March 7, 2017, New Caledonia & Vanuatu cruise and on our 4-night pre-cruise stay in Adelaide, Australia. The cruise portion of this trip gave us the opportunity to visit five new ports and ... Read More
This review includes information on both our March 7, 2017, New Caledonia & Vanuatu cruise and on our 4-night pre-cruise stay in Adelaide, Australia. The cruise portion of this trip gave us the opportunity to visit five new ports and dive at several outstanding dive sites. The land portion allowed us to tour three of Australia’s premier wine regions. We combined this cruise with the Emerald Princess’ March 18 New Zealand cruise; I have written a separate review for that cruise. CRUISE ITINERARY: NEW CALEDONIA & VANUATU (11 DAYS) Sydney, Australia; Noumea, New Caledonia; Mystery Island, Vanuatu; Vila, Vanuatu; Champagne Bay, Vanuatu; Luganville, Vanuatu; Sydney, Australia ABOUT US John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our mid-sixties, who currently reside in central North Carolina. Both of us are natives of New Orleans and, as such, are interested in good food (and wine!) and good times. Our preferred souvenir is a small regional or national flag. On this itinerary, I was hoping to acquire flags from New Caledonia and Vanuatu. We enjoy both cruises and land tours; often our trips combine the two. We have cruised to or toured all seven continents, primarily in the Americas and Europe. On our trips, we prefer nature and wildlife tours that involve snorkeling, SCUBA diving or hiking. In particular, we will hike for miles to see waterfalls, volcanoes, caves or other interesting geologic features. We also enjoy lighthouses, forts, castles and anything else we can legally climb up on for a good view. We are Elite members of Princess' Captain's Circle loyalty program, but have also sailed with Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Costa, Celebrity and Commodore. ABOUT THE REVIEW Other reviews give extensive information on the ship, cabins, on board activities, etc. Our reviews are not like that; they are primarily a journal of what we did in the various ports, including web links to tourist information sites and maps. TOUR GUIDE CONTACT INFORMATION In general, we prefer DIY port tours, independent tours with other Cruise Critic roll call members, or shared public tours. However, we will take Princess tours when the logistics or cost make that a better option; we did not take any Princess tours on this cruise. These are the tour operators we used for this trip: Adelaide, AU: SeaLink (www.sealink.com.au) Adelaide, AU: Premium Wine Tours by Scott Ninnis (premiumwinetours.com.au) Noumea, New Caledonia: Fernandos Tours & Transport (www.fernandos-tours.com/tours.html) Vila, Vanuatu: Big Blue Scuba Diving (bigbluevanuatu.com) Luganville, Vanuatu: Aore Adventure Sports (aoreadventures.com) PRE-CRUISE TOUR IN THE ADELAIDE AREA TUES, FEB 28: RDU TO DFW TO SYD (ARRIVE THURS, MAR 2) Note that USA citizens visiting Australia must obtain an ETA (www.eta.immi.gov.au/ETAS3/etas) online before leaving the United States. Also, Australia has extremely strict biosecurity regulations; be sure to declare anything that might be a problem on your Incoming Passenger Card (www.agriculture.gov.au/travelling/arriving-in-australia#declare-it). These cards will be handed out on your flight to Australia and the flight crew will warn you not to take any food off the plane. We flew American to DFW and Qantas to SYD. The pillows and blanket on Qantas seemed nicer than on other recent transoceanic flights (American, Delta). The seats were also a bit better; however, we were still glad that we brought along our Therm-A-Rest Travel Cushions (www.thermarest.com/seating/travel-cushion) and Wrap-a-Naps (www.wrapanap.com). The food was decent: we were served dinner (3 choices) and breakfast (2 choices) plus between-meal snacks (candy/cheese/fruit) in the galley. A variety of complimentary alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages were available but those who wanted something alcoholic besides beer or wine might have a wait to be served or be forgotten entirely. Sydney was on Australian Eastern Daylight (AEDT), which is 16 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST). Alternatively, you could say that AEDT is eight hours behind EST by the clock and a day ahead by the calendar. John and I had made a slight effort to pre-adjust to the time change but only managed to move our bedtime and wake-up time forward an hour. We decided it would work better to combat jet lag if we tried to stay awake as long as possible at the beginning of the 17-hour nonstop flight from DFW to SYD and to sleep as much as possible during the last part. WED, MAR 1: DAY LOST TO INTERNATIONAL DATE LINE THURS, MAR 2: SYD TO ADL Our flight left DFW late so we arrived in Sydney 45 minutes behind schedule. USA citizens over 16 years of age holding an ePassport (with a chip in the cover) can scan their passport at a SmartGate kiosk (www.border.gov.au/Trav/Ente/Goin/Arrival/Smartgateor-ePassport) and get a ticket. There are special immigration lanes for those who have obtained this ticket. The ticket is simply inserted in a turnstile and the passport holder looks at a screen to have his/her photo taken; if the photo matches his/her passport photo, the turnstile opens and he/she is cleared to enter Australia. This worked perfectly for me but apparently John did not look at the camera long enough and had to go to a live agent to have his passport photo verified. Nevertheless, we made it through immigration quickly. After that, it was hurry-up-and-wait for our luggage. The plane was an Airbus 380 and many people had three pieces of checked luggage. Our bags finally came out and we could proceed to the customs inspection. This time, John had no problems but I was randomly picked for extra screening: I had to go through the line for people with items to declare and have my bags sniffed by a security poodle. After finally clearing customs and immigration, we had to exit the International Terminal (T1) to reach the Qantas Express counter and recheck our bags to Adelaide. Even though we still had 45 minutes until the next flight, it was too late for our bags to make that flight; we were rebooked on a flight 2-1/2 hours later. We went through security again and took the complimentary shuttle bus to the Qantas domestic terminal (T3) to wait for the flight to Adelaide. While we were waiting, I found a bank ATM and used our CapitalOne debit card to obtain Australian currency. The exchange rate was much better than on our previous trip: US$1 = AU$1.30 (versus AU$1.08 in 2012). Of course, the ATM only gave out large bills, so I bought a couple of candy bars to get some change in case I needed it for the bus in Adelaide. We gained a half hour on the two-hour flight to Adelaide, putting us on Australian Central Daylight Time (ACDT)—15.5 hours ahead of EST (or 8.5 behind by the clock). We caught the city J1X bus located past the taxi rank (www.adelaidemetro.com.au/Timetables-Maps/Special-Services/Airport-services) to our hotel. There was a ticket machine at the bus stop that accepted either cash or chip-and-PIN credit cards (one-way fare AU$3.40 pp). The bus driver was very helpful in explaining to each passenger the best stop for his/her hotel and announced the stops when he reached them. We had booked four nights in a queen room at the Comfort Hotel Adelaide Riviera (www.adelaideriviera.com.au), which is located on North Terrace directly across the street from the distinctive blue building of the SAHMRI, a medical research facility next to the new Royal Adelaide Hospital. This is a standard budget hotel—small rooms but clean and in a convenient location. The room had a mini-bar with an empty shelf for guests’ own items; a tea kettle; TV; air conditioning; two extra pillows; shampoo, conditioner and shower gel dispensers in the shower; hand soap, hand lotion and shaving cream dispensers by the sink; two towels, two face cloths, a hand towel and a bath mat; shower cap and sanitary bag. Breakfast was not included in our rate (AU$148.75/night) but there was a bowl of complimentary apples in the lobby. Over the years, we have learned that the best way for us to overcome jet lag and reset our internal clocks is to get outside for some sun and mild exercise. Adelaide has a free City Connector bus service and a free City Tram (www.adelaidemetro.com.au/Timetables-Maps/Special-Services/Free-City-Services); those services have stops near the hotel. However, we decided to walk about 1.2 mi (1.9 km) to the botanic gardens. The Adelaide city center is bounded by North, South, East and West Terraces. It is a straight shot down North Terrace to the botanic gardens, near the intersection with East Terrace. However, we detoured into a large shopping area, which includes Australia's first pedestrian mall, Rundle Mall (rundlemall.com). This area contains a number of interesting landmarks, such as sculptures and 19th-century buildings. We stopped at the tourist information center for some maps and checked out the grocery stores for later. We learned at the tourist office (www.cityofadelaide.com.au/explore-the-city/visit-adelaide/) that not only was the month-long Adelaide Fringe arts festival (second only to the one in Edinburgh, Scotland) happening but also the week-long Adelaide Festival and Adelaide Writers’ Week were about to start. To top it off, a four-day car race, the Clipsal 500 Adelaide, was going on just east of the city center in Victoria Park. No wonder the mall and surrounding streets were packed with people! As we got closer to the botanic gardens, we could hear the roar of the race cars. The well laid out Adelaide Botanic Garden (www.environment.sa.gov.au/botanicgardens/visit/adelaide-botanic-garden) is more of a traditional Victorian garden rather than a collection of plants from all over Australia, like the one in Sydney. Among many other areas, there are a rose test garden, a palm house, a large wetlands exhibit and a striking pavilion housing rain forest plants. We spent about two hours here before heading back to the grocery to pick up some roast chicken and potato salad for supper. In South Australia, beer, wine and spirits must be purchased at a special store. Although we were not able to stay awake much past 8 p.m., that was not really a problem because we had to be up very early tomorrow for our all-day tour to Kangaroo Island. FRI, MAR 3: KANGAROO ISLAND, AUSTRALIA, 6:30AM – 11:30PM More than half of Kangaroo Island (www.tourkangarooisland.com.au/visitor-guide) is still covered in native vegetation and most of the rest is devoted to agriculture. A quarter of the island, which just off the coast of South Australia, is conserved in national parks and wildlife preserves. It is one of the region's most popular tourist attractions for camping, hiking and other outdoor activities. Cruise ships occasionally call here as well. Because we only had a limited amount of time for touring, we chose Sealink's "1 Day Kangaroo Island Experience" (www.sealink.com.au/kangaroo-island-tours/1-day-tours/kangaroo-island-highlights-day-tour/), which includes all transportation and lunch for AU$275 pp. The bus was supposed to pick us up in front of the hotel at 6:30 a.m. but was about 10 minutes late, probably because we were the last pick-up point. The tour began with a two-hour bus ride through the Fleurieu Penninsula to the Cape Jervis ferry port. Along the way, the driver pointed out various sights, including many Western Australia Kangaroos in the fields. He told us that we might not see many Kangaroos on Kangaroo Island because they are a subspecies of the Western Australia Kangaroo and have heavier coats. If the day turned out to be hot and sunny, they would likely be hiding in the shade to stay cool. Despite that pessemistic prediction, the day turned out to be overcast and we did see quite a few Kangaroos as we rode around Kangaroo Island. Once at Cape Jervis, the driver gave us passes for the ferry, which departed about 20 minutes after we arrived at the terminal. While we were waiting, we saw dolphins cavorting outside of the breakwater. The ferry trip takes about an hour to reach Penneshaw. Today the ride across the Backstairs Passage was a bit rocky and a young lady on our tour became seasick. As we disembarked the ferry, buses were waiting to take each of the various tours to its included attractions. Our bus was nearly full when we boarded because many of the people had spent the previous night on the island. Our driver, Marc, was a great guide; he was funny and knowledgeable. He walked with us to each of the various sites to make sure we would see everything that was at each stop. Our first stop was at the Seal Bay Conservation Park (www.environment.sa.gov.au/sealbay/home) for a beach walk guided by a Parks Interpretive Officer. The animals here are actually Australian Sea Lions, not seals, and this beach is home to the third largest breeding colony in Australia. Only a few Sea Lions were swimming; most were basking on the sand. They generally looked pretty lifeless, except for one juvenile who finally succeeded in rolling mom over for a snack of milk. By now it was well after noon, so we headed to lunch (included) at the Vivonne Bay Lodge Bistro. [Note: This place is not the Vivonne Bay General Store, celebrated for its whiting burger and lamb burger.] The two-course lunch here included both a beef sausage and piece of chicken, accompanied by a choice of several salads, and dessert. The food was okay—the chicken was better than the sausage—and we needed the calories. The local Cabernet Sauvignon (AU$7.50/glass) from Hazyblur Wines (www.hazyblur.com) was really good. Next we drove through the Flinders Chase National Park (www.environment.sa.gov.au/parks/Find_a_Park/Browse_by_region/kangaroo-island/flinders-chase-national-park) to Kirkpatrick Point. As we approached the Point, we could see the Remarkable Rocks in the distance. These are a group of huge carved granite boulders clustered atop a granite dome next to the sea, almost like a surrealistic henge. Soon we were scampering down the short (1 km or 0.6 mile return) Remarkable Rocks Walk (www.environment.sa.gov.au/files/sharedassets/parks/maps/flinders_chase_np_cape_du_couedic_optimised.pdf). We had about 30 minutes to wander among these fantastic shapes, forged over the eons by wind and water. This was a real treat for lovers of erosion like us! Continuing on to Cape du Couedic, a boardwalk (0.8 km or 0.5 mile return) extends down a rugged cliff face from the parking area to Admirals Arch. Along the way, Long-Nosed Fur Seals could be seen lounging on the rocks. At the end of the boardwalk, stairs lead down to several viewpoints of this spectacular rock archway. After returning to the top of the boardwalk, John and I still had enough time to walk part of the Cape du Couedic Hike along the cliffs to two higher Fur Seal lookouts, good views of the Cape du Couedic Lightstation and more vistas of the stunning coastline. We did not have time to climb all the way up to the Lightstation but it is not open to the public for tours anyway. This was followed by a toilet break at the Flinders Chase Visitor Centre. We had a short time here if we wanted to view the interactive displays and information panels. Instead, John and I took the short (400 m or 0.25 mile return) Discovery Walk to the Black Swamp lookout. We had been scanning the trees unsuccessfully for Koalas but came upon two Kangaroos foraging in the bush beside the lookout. When we returned to the bus, we saw people looking up into a tree near the parking lot: there was a Koala right there! Now it was time to look seriously for Koalas at our final stop, the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (www.hansonbay.com.au). There were Kangaroos in a field near the entrance; some of our group took off that way as soon as they got off the bus. (We were envious later when we learned that they also spotted an Echidna.) The rest of us followed Marc over to the Koala Walk, a shady avenue of Eucalyptus trees. After Marc pointed out a few Koalas relaxing in the trees, we were able to start spotting them ourselves. There were plenty here and even in the trees around the parking area! Overall, the 17-hour trek from our Adelaide hotel to Kangaroo Island and back was outstanding. The tour was well-coordinated, especially considering all the pieces involved and the number of places to stop. We saw Kangaroo, Koala, Fur Seals and Sea Lions. Remarkable Rocks and Admirals Arch are especially interesting geological sites. This trip was a relative bargain for all the services provided. SAT, MAR 4: BAROSSA VALLEY John and I went to Adelaide specifically to tour the wine country around there, so we wanted expert guidance. Fortunately, we found Scott Ninnis’s web site and so we took the plunge. We booked three full days with Scott and his associate JR in the Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale. We were definitely impressed by the beauty of the wine areas, the wines themselves and by the wonderful service of Premium Wine Tours (premiumwinetours.com.au). Prior to our trip, Scott emailed us about potential wineries to visit with comments about each. We let him arrange all the visits and the lunch reservations for us; his choices were superb! Today we would drive about an hour north-east of Adelaide to the Barossa wine zone (www.barossa.com/wine), the location of more than 80 cellar doors and 150 wineries. Barossa includes two wine regions, Barossa Valley and Eden Valley. This zone features a wide range of climate conditions, so both grapes that need warmer temperatures (e.g., Shiraz) and those that need cooler ones (e.g., Riesling) can be grown with great success. In the morning, we started at Hemera Estate (hemeraestate.com.au), where we tasted whites and reds from their Evolution, Estate and Limited Release Ranges. Of special interest was the 2014 Old Vine Grenache, from 100+ year old vines. After the tasting, we had a short tour of the winery. Next up was Yelland & Papps (www.yellandandpapps.com). The owners, Michael and Susan Papps, do not come from a long line of winemakers; they are simply passionate about wine! This is a small, family-owned winery. Just how much the whole family is involved was underlined when we drove up to find their their young daughter out in the vineyard picking grapes. Susan led our tasting and is especially proud of their 2015 Devote Roussanne. It was time now for more tasting and lunch at Saltram (www.saltramwines.com.au). We started with the tasting at the bar in the Cellar Door and proceeded to the restaurant, Salter’s Kitchen, for a two-course “Lavish Lunch”. The lunch was an ideal combination of a starter of local charcuterie followed by a main course of grilled lamb rack for me and steak for John, along with a paired wine for each. The food was delicious and the presentation excellent! After lunch, we were offered a taste of Mr. Pickwick’s Tawny. The wine here was outstanding. Then it was on to Tscharke's Place (www.tscharke.com.au). This is an especially attractive cellar door—with a German theme and an abundance of interesting art, including Eva Tscharke’s pottery. Their 2014 Shiraz Shiraz Shiraz says it all. Damien Tscharke believes that the wholesale-retail divide is not good for wine drinkers so he prices his wines at basically wholesale prices. They are outstanding bargains. The final tasting today was at Two Hands (www.twohandswines.com). This winery also focuses on Shiraz wines and we had a fantastic chance to try them while relaxing outdoors on their deck. The tastings here include a high-quality wine glass as a souvenir. Thankfully, those were packed in strong canisters that could survive our travels. SUN, MAR 5: ADELAIDE HILLS The Adelaide Hills wine region (www.adelaidehillswine.com.au) is only about a 30 minute drive from the Adelaide city center. This area is home to nearly 50 cellar doors and 90 wineries and seems more rural than the Barossa Valley. The wineries also seem to be more spread out among the hills. This area is at a higher elevation than Barossa, so it specializes in cool-climate wines, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Our morning started at Hahndorf Hill Winery (www.hahndorfhillwinery.com.au) followed by The Lane Vineyard (www.thelane.com.au). Both of those had beautiful views out over the vineyards to go with the beautiful wines. Hahndorf had an Austrian tilt to their wines with a couple of versions of Gruner Veltliner and a Blaufrankisch that was quite good. We also saw extensive netting over their red grape vines to help prevent birds from feasting on their wonderful grapes. Lane was a strikingly modern looking cellar door and had a nice range of varietals to taste culminating in their inky “Basket Press” Shiraz. After that came a tasting at the Sidewood (sidewood.com.au) Cellar Door and lunch in their restaurant, Maximilian’s (maximilians.com.au). Seth guided us through delightful wines, including some of the best sparkling wine and whites that we tasted in the area. For lunch we had the multi-course tasting menu with wines. This was a delicious selection of dishes from their menu and left us more than a little satisfied. For golfers (not us) there is also the Sidewood Golf Challenge: attempt to hit a hole-in-one onto a green floating in a small lake. The final tasting of the day was at Somerled Wines (somerled.com.au), on Main Street in Hahndorf. We were able to taste these lovely wines while enjoying the beautiful day in the shade of their courtyard. The owner, Rob Moody, worked for over 30 years with Penfolds Wine Group. His Somerled Shiraz (we tried the 2012) has been favorably compared to Penfolds Grange (which retails at more than ten times the price). Like many of the places we visited, Somerled wines are only available at the cellar door and in a few select restaurants in Australia. MON, MAR 6: MCLAREN VALE AND ADL TO SYD For the last day of our touring, Scott had a family obligation, so our guide was his associate, JR. The target today was McLaren Vale (mclarenvale.info), which is about 45 minutes south of Adelaide and adjacent to Adelaide Hills. There are more than 70 cellar doors in the region. Although over half of the wines are produced using Shiraz, some wineries are experimenting with less well-known varietals such as Fiano, Tempranillo, Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne. Our first stop was at Oliver's Taranga Vineyards (www.oliverstaranga.com). In addition to excellent wine, there is a lot of history here: the vineyards were first planted over 170 years ago by the 4xgreat grandfather of the current owners. The names of several of the wines are based on incidents in the family history. The cellar door is housed in a workers’ cottage dating to the 1850s. Here we encountered one of those emerging varietals: Fiano, a white varietal from Southern Italy. Next came a visit to Mollydooker (www.mollydookerwines.com). The name is Australian slang for a left hander; both of the owners are lefties. This is a bigger operation than most of the places we visited and the wines are widely available in the USA. Like at Oliver's Taranga, the wines are named after family members and events. We have had their wines before and were happy to be able to visit this lovely place. From Mollydooker, we could see the d'Arenberg Cube (future home of a new tasting room) under construction across the fields. This is shaped like a five-level Rubik’s Cube with the top two levels turned askew from the others. It is set out in the middle of a vineyard of Mourvedre grapes, so there will be 360-degree views from the top. We made a quick visit to d'Arenberg (www.darenberg.com.au), not to taste but just to get a closer look at this dramatic building. The menu at the Salopian Inn (salopian.com.au) is honest when it states that their food is eclectic and it also comes from local, fresh sources. The combination is a knock-out! John and I shared the tasting menu and loved every bite. The small plate starters ranged from cheese arancini to sticky buns and crab and prawn pot stickers. Our shared main course was outstanding Szechuan Salted Free Range Duck. This restaurant has a relatively small selection of wines by the glass but literally pages of gins, each matched with specific tonic waters. Alas, so many gins, so little time. Despite that temptation, we had a glass of Pinot Gris with the lunch. The Shiraz at McLaren Vale III Associates (mclarenvaleiiiassociates.com.au) is so dark that it has names like The Descendant of Squid Ink, Squid Ink and Giant Squid Ink. Our tongues may have been stained permanently purple from those really good wines! We also happily tasted a Grenache made from vines planted in 1928. Our final tasting was at Chapel Hill (www.chapelhillwine.com.au), where the tasting room is in a 150 year old chapel. After tasting a selection of their other wines, we moved on to a tasting of their flagship red wines—the Icon Range. Three of those are single-block wines (two Shiraz and one Cabernet Sauvignon) and the other is a blend of Shiraz from the vineyard’s top blocks. These four exceptional wines were paired with a small plate of local charcuterie, cheese and crispbread. Alas, we had reached the end of our tour. Scott and JR were both excellent guides and hosts and, like all the Aussies we encountered, were quite easy going and helpful. They were knowledgeable and tried to answer our numerous trivia questions (or looked up the answers for us if they did not know—like details about an extremely uncommon grape we encountered at one winery). We enjoyed the geeky stuff and the pleasure of the wines and wineries. We never felt rushed and always felt like the wineries were treating us especially well because we were with Scott or JR. These wine tours are really at a bargain price (AU$190 pp/day) for what you get; all cost are included except the lunches. At the end of another thoroughly satisfying day, JR dropped us off at the Adelaide airport for our two-hour Qantas flight back to Sydney. After collecting our bags in T3, we started off on what was supposed to be a 10-minute walk to our hotel. I had contacted the hotel manager to find out the best route. He advised us to cross over from T3 to T2, follow the sidewalk on that side of the street, continue along past the DHL facility, then turn right for a short distance to the hotel entrance. However, John put his faith in the walking directions from Google Maps, which directed us to stay on the same side of the street as T3. Unfortunately, Google Maps also wanted us to climb a fence and cross a busy, four-lane street with no crosswalk, which forced us to go by a rather circuitous alternate route that took about twice as long as expected. [Note: A shuttle bus to the hotel was AU$7 pp and a taxi was about AU$20.] The Ibis Budget Sydney Airport Hotel (www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-5957-ibis-budget-sydney-airport/index.shtml) is a very basic budget hotel—tiny rooms but clean and cheap (AU$129/night). The room had a tea kettle, TV, air conditioning, two extra pillows, two minuscule bars of soap and two towels. This was the tiniest bathroom that I have ever seen: the sink was essentially inside the open shower stall. Clearly a bath mat was not provided because the entire floor, including around the toilet, was flooded after taking a shower. On the other hand, we were there fewer than 12 hours and there was only minor noise from the airport. Breakfast was not included in our rate; it is AU$8 pp extra. The hotel also charges extra to store luggage. SOME NOTES ON THE “AUSTRALIAN SEASON” There are a number of differences between the Emerald Princess’ “Australian Season” and her sailings in other parts of the world (e.g., Alaska): 1. Passenger Mix: The passengers are predominately Australian. Out of 3100 passengers on this cruise, there were about 2100 Aussies; only 48 were from the USA. 2. On Board Charges: The currency used on board is AU$. Although at the start of our voyage the exchange rate was AU$1 = US$0.75 (or US$1= AU$1.25), a variety of different exchange rates were used to convert US$ OBC from various sources. Some items were converted on a one-to-one basis (e.g., the usual US$29 cover charge for the Crown Grill was AU$29). Some wines on the wine list were priced the same in AU$ as they usually are in US$; for others, the prices in AU$ were marked up a little compared to the US$ prices. However, the markups were less than the conversion rate plus there was no automatic 15% gratuity added as would be for a standard US cruise. The wines were essentially on sale to US passengers. 3. Gratuities: Tipping is not part of the Australian culture and the stateroom directory indicates that no tipping is required. However, those of us who booked in the USA were automatically charged a daily “Hotel Gratuity”, converted into AU$ (e.g., the usual US$13.95/day for a balcony was AU$18.10/day). However, there is no automatic 15% gratuity applied to purchases of alcoholic beverages. 4. Menus: There is a special set of menus featuring so-called Australian and New Zealand Regional Favorites. I’m not sure I would consider spaghetti with Bolognese sauce particularly Australian but that’s what it said on the menu. That dish alternated with Fettuccine Alfredo as the “Always Available” pasta selection. On the dessert menu, the usually “Always Available” cheesecake was replaced with Pavlova. It was good to see some new dishes but we felt that the menu lacked variety from night to night. 5: Beverage Packages: The Silver and Gold 7-, 10-, and 12-bottle wine packages were not offered. On the other hand, the All-Inclusive Beverage Package (AU$59/day) was heavily promoted. The Premium Coffee Card (15 specialty coffees) was AU$36. 6. Entertainment: Four production shows were the same as on other Princess ships; “Magic to Do” is a new show appearing only on the Emerald, Ruby and Crown Princesses. Only a few of the entertainers seemed to have been chosen to appeal more particularly to an Australian audience. There was also a game show, “How Aussie Are You?”. REVIEW OF THE CRUISE TUES, MAR 7: BOARD EMERALD PRINCESS, ALL ABOARD 5PM We left the hotel about 9:30 a.m. to take the more direct route to T2. Midway to the terminal, it started to rain, so we took shelter under an awning at the DHL facility. Once the rain stopped, we continued on to the Domestic Airport train station (www.airportlink.com.au). In the light of day and with the previous night’s experience as a lesson, we took the proper paths and the walking time actually was ten minutes. The train fare (AU$17.90 pp) seems rather high for the 20-minute ride to Circular Quay because it includes a special airport access fee. Tickets must be purchased from vending machines (cash or credit card) in the station and also must be tapped on sensors to open the turnstiles at the beginning and end of the ride. Because of work on the train tracks, we had to change to the Circle Line at the Central Station. That train was on the same platform, so it was only a minor inconvenience to make the change. During our ride, we noticed that it was raining again, much harder than before. Luckily, the rain had stopped again by the time we reached the Circular Quay Station. From there it is only about 1/3 mi (450 m) to the Overseas Passenger Terminal (OPT), where the Emerald Princess was docked. As we walked over to the terminal, it started to rain again lightly. We got into the boarding queue and were handed health forms and forms to exit Australia. At about 11 a.m., a Princess agent came along asking for those of us with Preferred Boarding to form another queue. In a few minutes, we were allowed to check in, given a boarding group card and then directed to a waiting area. After a short wait, people without Preferred Boarding were processed through customs and passport control, then sent to another area to wait. While they were waiting, those with Preferred Boarding were processed and allowed to board the ship first. John and I were aboard by about noon, along with two bottles of wine that we had purchased during our touring in the South Australia wine areas. We had booked a category BF balcony guarantee stateroom and were assigned a category B1 cabin on the Caribe deck starboard near the midships stairs/elevators. We had been offered an upsell to a mini-suite for US$199 pp, but preferred to stay on the Caribe deck because of its extra-large balconies, which are half open and half covered. Once in our cabin, John called the Dine Line to make reservations for dinner tonight at the Crown Grill; however, no one was answering the phone. I had better luck reaching Room Service to exchange some of the items in our complimentary minibar setup. We decided to wait to unpack and headed off to the Prego Pizzeria for a slice of pizza to tide us over until dinner. Later in the afternoon, we stopped by the Crown Grill (AU$29 pp) to make our dinner reservation. We had considered getting off the ship to explore the Sydney waterfront (www.therocks.com/media/1031789/shfa_the-rocks-map-2017-v7-lr.pdf) but the intermittent rain made that an unattractive option. Instead, we went back to the cabin and unpacked. By and by our cabin steward, Warlito from the Philippines, stopped in to introduce himself. We only have a few special requirements for our cabin steward: bar soap for the shower, clean wine glasses and a steady supply of laundry bags. Later we attended General Emergency Stations (muster drill). We chose “Anytime Dining" for this cruise and generally opt to to dine at one of the specialty restaurants on the first night rather than brave the chaos in the main dining rooms. Tonight we had all of our Crown Grill favorites: diver scallops, Black and Blue onion soup, the Sterling Silver Beef Chop with sauteed wild mushrooms and onions, and garlic and herb fries. Normally we would have shared an order of lobster but the menu now specifies that guests may only choose one starter, one soup or salad, and one main course. For dessert, we each had a plate chosen from the cheese cart plus a cappuccino. During dinner, Captain Martin Stenzel announced that we would finally be leaving port around 7 p.m. After exiting Sydney Harbour into the Tasman Sea, we would turn north toward the Coral Sea. The ride was expected to be a bit rough tonight but fortunately we have never been troubled by motion sickness and actually enjoy being rocked to sleep. WED, MAR 08: AT SEA We would spend the next two days crossing the Coral Sea to New Caledonia. Our normal sea day schedule consists of waking up, showering and getting dressed, finding a spot to read that gets us out of Warlito’s way so he can make up the cabin, having a slice of pizza for lunch, relaxing and reading on our balcony, enjoying an afternoon drink or soft serve ice cream, having dinner, going to a show, and reading until it is time for a good night’s sleep. Occasionally we vary that busy program by attending a port or enrichment lecture, watching a movie, going for a walk or participating in some other activity. When we left the cabin this morning, we found an invitation to the “Most Traveled” luncheon in the mail holder. We were surprised that it would be held tomorrow and we had to RSVP by noon today; usually this function is held near the end of a cruise. Of course, we are always happy when we make the cut-off to be among the top 40 passengers by number of days cruised. We made sure to drop off the reply card before the deadline! We had a reservation at SHARE for tomorrow night but we knew from experience that we would not be hungry enough after the luncheon to enjoy dining there; John called and moved our reservation to Saturday night. This morning, we went to a port talk on Noumea. The Port Lecturer, Douglas Pearson, is British but lives in Tahiti. He does not waste any time during his lectures, which are jam-packed with useful information. He would be presenting another lecture, on Port Vila, right after lunch. We decided to watch that talk later on the stateroom TV. After the lecture, we went to a presentation in the SHARE restaurant. Attendees were welcomed with a glass of Champagne or a Mimosa. Then each of Chef Curtis Stone’s creations was described and shown around so we would all know what to expect if we chose to dine there. Although SHARE has received a lot of negative reviews on Cruise Critic, tonight and tomorrow night were already sold out. Tonight was the first formal night. John was afraid that he would be the only male guest in a tuxedo or dinner jacket but there were about as many formally-dressed men as on a Caribbean cruise. There were many other men wearing suits or sports coats with ties and we even saw one wearing a kilt. John had reserved a table for two in the Michelangelo Dining Room. We were shown to a nice table right next to a window. As noted above, there is a special set of regional menus for the “Australian Season”. We enjoyed the shrimp fritters, Australian rock lobster bisque and roasted red snapper. After dinner, we attended the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Party and Champagne Waterfall. We noticed that the Maitre d’ was not allowing people who wanted to pour champagne to actually touch the bottle; he was deftly moving their hands to his elbow. John wondered whether a past accident might be responsible for this procedural change. We left the party a bit early to get seats for the production show, “I Got the Music”. This show was quite popular; there were few empty seats and people were standing along the walls of the theater. When we returned to the cabin, we were happily surprised to see the laundry order that we sent out last night had returned already. We each only had one more set of clean underwear left and I was not looking forward to “going commando”! There must not have been many Elite Captain’s Circle members on board if the laundry could be processed so quickly. [Note: I later learned that there were only 354 Elites, which explained the quick turnaround.] THU, MAR 09: AT SEA Today the early morning port lecture was a twofer: Mystery Island and Champagne Beach. We attended that and most of the late morning port lecture on Luganville. We had to leave the second lecture early to attend the “Most Traveled” luncheon in the Crown Grill. As usual, this was a fantastic meal with special dishes: Sun Dried Tomato and Ricotta Cannoli with broccoli cream, olives and pistachios; Bacon-Wrapped Beef Filet topped with blue cheese and served with a truffle demi-glace; Sable Breton (butter cookie) layered with Bavarian cream and chocolate. We were seated with the Entertainment Director, Matt Thompson, so we were probably in the bottom 20. Although we did not count heads, it did not appear that we had the usual full complement of 40 attendees. In the afternoon, we attended the “Princess Grapevine” wine tasting. At one time this event featured the same wines over and over; in recent years, there has been more variety. Today there was a regional flavor to the tasting than usual: one wine was from Italy and four were from Australia. The crowd was also more boisterous than usual, with one group in the back corner having a grand (and loud) old time. To be fair, the tasting started 20 minutes late and the headwaiter who led off the tasting spoke in excruciating detail about bottle shapes before moving on to a discussion of the first wine. By the time we reached the fourth wine, many people had finished all five and were leaving in droves. For dinner tonight, we checked out the buffet but decided that a slice of pizza was sufficient after our large lunch. We headed to the Princess Theater about half an hour before showtime, a Dolly Parton tribute by singer Donna Campbell. Dolly Parton (or Donna Campbell) must be incredibly popular in Australia: the theater was already SRO and people were being turned away. We are not such great Dolly Parton fans that we wanted to wait up for the late performance. FRI, MAR 10: NOUMEA, NEW CALEDONIA, 8AM – 4:30PM Noumea (www.newcaledonia.travel/au/noumea) on the main island, Grand Terre, is the capital of New Caledonia. Like French Polynesia, New Caledonia is a French Overseas Collectivity, so French is the official language and the official flag is the French tricolor. The official currency is the Central Polynesian Franc (CFP). Many merchants will accept AU$; however, the franc is preferred and some attractions will only accept francs. When we visited, the exchange rate was US$1 = 113 CFP. Smaller ships can enter the Baie de la Moselle and dock at the City Terminal (Gare Maritime). However, the Emerald Princess had to dock at the Container Terminal, where no pedestrian traffic is allowed. Instead, a free shuttle to the City Terminal operated continuously until 4:30 p.m. Early in the morning, a shuttle ticket was required to head into town; we managed to be on the first shuttle. John had booked a six-hour tour with Fernando’s Tours & Transport (www.fernandos-tours.com/tours.html) for 15,000 CFP (US$133) pp, including lunch. Fernando and his van were waiting for us in the parking lot on the opposite side of the City Terminal from the shuttle drop-off point. He greeted us with colorul faux leis and a two-cheek kiss. We learned that our group today would also include another couple and a family of three. Fernando accepts payment on the day in cash (francs only) or by credit card (with a 1.5% surcharge), which avoids issues if our ship had not docked. There is a grocery with an ATM directly across the street from the parking lot, where we could obtain francs. Note that there is no fixed itinerary for Fernando’s tours: there are standard sights plus various options that are selected each day by the group. For that reason, admission prices for the optional attractions are not included in the price of the tour. Also note that some of those fees must be paid in local currency. If part of the group wants to visit a site that others don't, Fernanado will accomodate that. Once our group had gathered, Fernando showed us a big piece of nickel ore that he had recently found. Mining was once a major component of New Caledonia's economy and there is still a large nickel processing plant on the shore only a short distance from the city center. Now that tourism is becoming more important, plans are for that area eventually to be reclaimed as a recreation area. Our first stop was at Les Petits Choux (www.facebook.com/Les-Petits-Choux-412353895622444/), a boulangerie-patisserie where we could enjoy a snack or coffee. Most of the pastries cost about 500 CFP (US$4.45) and payment in AUD$ was also accepted. Next we visited Le Marche de Noumea (www.noumea.nc/en/discover-noumea/port-moselle-market), also called the Morning Market. There is a big handicrafts section and I was able to buy a Kanak flag, which is the offical New Caledonia regional flag and can be flown alongside the French tricolor. Now that I had my favorite souvenir, we could enjoy strolling through the other pavillions and admiring the fruits and vegetables, tropical flowers, meats and seafood. It did seem a little odd to see Parrot Fish laid out on ice instead of swimming around chomping on a reef. Fernando next took us to a lookout at the end of Alée de Bougainvilliées, a short distance from the market. From here we had great views of the port and the city center. Fernando pointed out many points of interest, including St. Joseph's Cathedral. We would not be able to visit the Cathedral today because it is currently under renovation. We drove past a number of sights, such as the the American Monument, several museums and the Place des Cocotiers (Coconut Tree Square), on the way to the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre (www.adck.nc/presentation/english-presentation/visit-the-center). The striking modern design of the Centre—ten conical pavilions of various sizes—is meant to evoke the conical shape of a traditional Kanak hut. Part of the Centre is a museum, with artifacts from the Kanak culture and contemporary works by artists from the region. After touring the exhibits, John and I took the Kanak Pathway through the wooded grounds so that we could better appreciate the design of the Center. At one end, the trail leads to the Mwakaa (ceremonial area), where there are replicas of three traditional huts. At the other end is a lagoon surrounded by mangroves. Along the path are information boards about the symbolism of plants in the Kanak culture. Admission to the Center was 500 CFP (US$4.45) pp (senior rate). Next we headed north into the countryside and the Fontaine du Plum near the Commune du Mont-Dore. This is a public fountain, fed by springs from the mountain. Locals come here to fill up containers with the water and it is also commercially bottled. There is a hiking trail here that leds to the top of Mont-Dore; John and I hiked a short portion of the trail to get some good views. After this, we made a brief visit to Fernando's home and got to meet his beautiful two-year-old son, Lorenzo, and wife, Soana. On the way back to town, we made a stop at one of the oldest (1874) churches in New Caledonia, Eglise de L’Immaculee Conception. This church is popularly known as the "Miracle Church" due to the number of favors and miracles sttributed to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. An unusual feature of this church is the steeple, topped with a statue of Mary instead of a cross. Now it was time for lunch at L'Eau Vive du Pacifique. This restaurant is one of 13 around the world (www.restaurant-eauvive.it/who-are-we/) operated by the Missionary Workers of the Immaculate Conception, an order of Carmelite nuns, to support the work of the order. The nuns don't wear habits though; they wear traditional dresses from their homelands. Our tour included a three-course lunch (two choices for each course) with wine, beer or a soft drink. I had a gratin of endives as a starter; John had a salad with pasta. We both had the fillet of merlin (whiting) in a mustard butter sauce as the main course, accompanied by the local beer, "Number 1". For dessert, I tried the waffle with mango coulis and John had ice cream. After that, we were off to the peninsula south of Noumea and Ouen Toro hill. The park at the top of the hill has two WWII guns and great views over Anse Vata, Baie des Citrons and the islands in the lagoon around Grand Terre. We drove back to town along Anse Vata beach and Baie des Citrons beach, two popular beaches for swimming. At this point, time was getting short and one couple wanted to be let off in town to do some shopping. After dropping them off at the City Terminal, Fernando took the rest of us to the Musee de la Seconde Guerre Mondiale (www.noumea.nc/musee-de-la-seconde-guerre-mondiale). This is a very small WWII museum with some nice exhibits; the admission is only 100 CFP (US$0.80) pp (senior rate) but must be paid in francs. After touring the museum, John and I left the group to walk back to the City Terminal. I had a few francs left and bought a string necklace with a fish charm before we caught the shuttle back to the ship. We had a fabulous time but we’re not sure whether Fernando didn't have an even better time! He was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide and seems to know everyone in Noumea and beyond. This was great fun and great scenery. Fernando even emailed us pictures that he had taken of of our group. [Note: Princess offered a three-hour “Noumea Town and Country” tour for AU$109.95 pp that included most of the same photo ops (but not a visit to the museum or cultural center) plus a stop for tea/coffee and cake.] We were not enthralled by tonight’s dinner offerings, so we decided to try the Salty Dog Gastropub (AU$18 pp), with dishes created by Chef Ernesto Uchimura (www.princess.com/ships-and-experience/food-and-dining/specialty-restaurants/the-salty-dog-gastropub/salty-dog-menu.pdf). This meal starts with a shared appetizer, then each person chooses two small plates and a dessert. We thought the best item is the “Ernesto”, a fancy cheeseburger. One of the toppings is a beer-battered jalapeno, which the waitress warned us might be very hot; we did not find it too spicy though. We both enjoy eating and thought that this was plenty of food to satisfy our appetites. However, I have seen complaints on Cruise Critic that that a trip to the buffet was necessary afterwards. This evening’s production show was “DISCO...Blame it on the Boogie”, which featured songs by Donna Summers, KC and the Sunshine Band and the Bee Gees. We got there early enough to get a good seat. SAT, MAR 11: MYSTERY ISLAND, VANUATU, TENDER 7AM – 5PM Today the ship anchored off Mystery Island and a tender ticket system was in operation: no returns to the ship were allowed before 11:30 a.m., no one could tender ashore after 2 p.m. and the last tender back to the ship was at 5 p.m. The real name of Mystery Island is Inyeug, a tiny islet off the coast of the much larger island of Aneityum on the southern tip of the Vanuatu archipelago. Mystery Island is home to the Aneityum Airport, a grassy strip that takes up most of the islet; it was used by Allied forces during WWII. The island is uninhabited, except when cruise ships visit. Then villagers from Aneityum set up a market with handicrafts, massages, hair braiding and the like. There are a lot of places to eat and drink as well as many snorkeling tours on offer from the locals. When we got off the tender, we started walking counterclockwise on the sand path around the perimeter of the islet; making a complete circuit takes about 20 minutes with no stops. However, we stopped plenty of times to take photos, first at the airport. Along the path there were lots of beautiful flowers (perhaps wild varieties of Poinsettia and Spider Lilies) and coconut palms. We also saw plenty of Pandanus, with its clusters of spiky leaves and fruit that resembles a pineapple. There were even a few information markers explaining aspects of the local environment. We stopped before reaching the crowded area of the beach in a spot that looked good for snorkeling. We had brought our own snorkels, prescription masks and snorkel fins. Water shoes are also a good idea; we had our dive booties. The water temperature was very pleasant and there were many small coral heads scattered on the sandy bottom. The water was calm and only a few feet deep but we did not have any problem floating above the coral formations. There were many varieties of colorful reef fish and lots of huge sea cucumbers (including a blue one!). Some of the coral heads were purple, which we had not seen before. We spent about an hour enjoying this area before heading back to the ship. Tonight we had reservations at SHARE (AU$39 pp). This is a six-course meal (www.princess.com/downloads/pdf/ships-and-experience/food-and-dining/curtis-stone/SHARE-by-Curtis-Stone-Menu.pdf), so we were glad we had worked up a good appetite snorkeling. We both had the Charcuterie as the starter (two to choose from) and the Lemon Poached Prawns as the salad (three choices). There are two pasta choices: John had the Ricotta Cavatelli and I had the Pork Ravioli. Then came four choices from the sea: John picked the Butter Poached Lobster Tail and I had the Day Boat Scallops. There are also four land dishes: John had the Duck Leg Confit and I had the Lamb Loin. Finally, there were three dessert options: John had the Toffee Cheesecake and I had the Dark Chocolate Cremeux. We thought the food was excellent but the surcharge is a little steep; also we hate that Sabatini’s was eliminated to make room for SHARE. The featured performer tonight was Donna Campbell in a new show but we didn’t make it to that. SUN, MAR 12: PORT VILA, EFATE, VANUATU, 8AM – 5:30PM Once again, the Emerald Princess docked at an inconvenient location: well away from the city center at Port Vila’s main wharf. For those looking for souvenirs, the locals set up a large market right next to the ship. For those who wanted to go into Port Vila, there are taxis and water taxis (both AU$5 pp) just outside the port gates. We took advantage of our port call here to book a dive with Big Blue Scuba Diving (bigbluevanuatu.com). Our instructions were to take a water taxi, which would stop right at their dock. Unfortunately, we were not alerted that there are multiple taxi stops in Port Vila and Big Blue is not at the first one. We got off with everyone else and looked around for the dive shop. It was nowhere to be seen, so we asked directions at the Grand Hotel and Casino. We were directed to continue walking into town. We had to ask directions again at a liquor store but eventually found Big Blue behind the Nambawan Cafe. If we ever come here again, we will be sure to ask the water taxi driver to take us to their dock and avoid the long walk that we had to make this time! Big Blue is a very low-key but professional operation and provided excellent service. Sam was our dive master and he certainly knew his stuff! There were only two other divers on the boat and they were doing some special course, so we had Sam to ourselves on the first dive. We did a beautiful reef dive at the Twin Bommies. There were lots of fish, including plenty of Clownfish and Moorish Idols, and a small shark that wanted nothing to do with us. I got to hold a Pufferfish and Sea Star and to “pet” a Spiny Sea Cucumber. The second dive was a tour of the wreck of the Konanda and one of the other divers joined us. The wreck site was a little murky but still quite interesting. The wreck is open enough that it is safe to penetrate some of the holds, cabin and bridge areas even with OW certification. Sam tried to pose me for a “I’m King of the World!” photo on the bow but I am just too buoyant to hold still long enough for John to get a good photo. We saw a Lionfish here—right where it’s supposed to be: in the Pacific, not the Caribbean. [Note: Princess offered a one-tank dive on the Konanda for AU$189.95; that was the same price as our two-tank dive with all equipment.] When we returned to the ship, we stopped at the handicraft market, where I found a Vanuatu flag. Two for two on finding flags! As we went up the gangway, we were astounded to see a huge number of bags lined up on the pier, full of liquor from the duty-free shops. This is obviously the St. Thomas of the Pacific, where everyone in Australia comes to get their liquor! Later, as the ship was pulling away from the pier, the dock workers sent up the cry, “Aussie Aussie Aussie!”, which was followed by a resounding answer from the ship,”Oi Oi Oi!". That cheer was repeated heartily several times until the ship was out in the channel. Tonight the performers were Robert Pearson and George Harvey, formerly members of the Four Kinsmen (an Australian variety act). Pearson is a singer and straight man to Harvey's physical comedy. Even though this is an Australian act, there were only a few comedic references that were unintelligible to us. We had seen these performers on our Indian Ocean cruise in 2015 and were happy to be able to be able to enjoy their hilarious act again. MON, MAR 13: CHAMPAGNE BAY, ESPIRITU SANTO, VANUATU, TENDER 7AM – 4PM Today the ship anchored in Champagne Bay and we were tendered into Champagne Beach, a lovely crescent of white sand backed by coconut palms and other tropical trees. As at Mystery Island, a tender ticket system was in operation, no returns to the ship were allowed before 11:30 a.m., no one could tender ashore after 2 p.m. and the last tender back to the ship was at 4 p.m. As we exited the tender pier, there was a group of local schoolchildren singing a welcome song. I wish we had known to bring some school supplies. Next came the gauntlet of taxi drivers. After that, the beach was to the left and a large market to the right. On the beach were people offering fishing trips or glass bottom boat rides. Everyone seemed to expect payment in AU$, with bills much preferred over coins. This was one of the few times that John and I planned to engage a tour in port. We wanted to swim in one of the “blue holes” that dot the coastline of Espiritu Santo island. These are deep-blue pools where fresh water springs bubble up and mix with salt water from the ocean. The first taxi drivers we encountered wanted to take us to the Riki Blue Hole and a couple of other sights (an overlook, snorkel time at another beach) for AU$20 pp. We were not really interested in the extra amenities at Riki (rope swing, pontoon) and opted to go to the closer and less-developed Hog Harbour Blue Lagoon for AU$10 pp round trip. All of the various blue holes charge AU$7 pp entry fee. Our driver was Arnold (“like Arnold Schwarzenegger”) and he had a comfortable minivan for the 15-minute drive to the blue hole. Along the way, he proudly pointed out local sites like traditional houses and the village schools. Once at the blue hole, we arranged for him to pick us up after an hour. We paid our entry fee (AU coins accepted, change for notes available) and headed down the steep, rough steps to the pool. On the way down, there were some young boys dressed as native warriors and two little girls dressed in grass skirts available for a photo op in exchange for a tip. Part way down the steps is a small overlook of the pool, surrounded by lush tropical foliage. At the bottom there are some rocky areas around the edges of the pool where you can leave your towels and other belongings while you swim. We had brought our dive booties to wear around and in the pool and they were good protection from the sharp lava rock. We decided against using our snorkel fins and had not bothered to bring our wet suits. The water at the entrance to the pool is a bit cold but not a problem once you are in and swimming around. In any case, parts of the pool are warm and areas where the springs emerge are much colder. It is really interesting to see the mixing lines where the warm and cold water meet. The water is fairly clear away from the entry point and there are a good number of tropical reef fish schooling among the lava boulders and submerged trees. The water is not very salty but even John (who is not nearly as buoyant as I am) had no problem floating. We swam around the main pool and found that it connected to a smaller pool at the end opposite the entry point. We swam through a narrow channel into the smaller pool and could see and hear the ocean waves crashing on the beach. After exploring the small pool, we swam back to the main pool and spent the rest of our time there. This is not particularly exciting snorkeling but the unique setting makes it special. Soon it was time to climb up and wait for Arnold to drive us back to Champagne Beach. On the end of the beach away from the tender pier, fresh water springs bubble up through the sand and sea bed; these are responsible for the names Champagne Beach and Champagne Bay. There were lots of coral heads that attracted swarms of reef fish. The snorkeling here was good but not quite as good as on Mystery Island. The coral tended to be sandy as this whole area was open to the ocean and waves. As at the blue hole, there were warm and cold regions and it was easy to see the mixing lines. We spent about an hour snorkeling before heading back to the ship for some pizza. The show tonight was “What a Swell Party”—this is essentially a nice Cole Porter tribute. TUE, MAR 14: LUGANVILLE, ESPIRITU SANTO, VANUATU, 7AM – 4:30PM Today the Emerald Princess docked in Luganville (www.espiritusantotourism.com), called Santo by the locals. We docked at the Santo Main Wharf, where a new cruise terminal is under construction. It is an easy 15-minute walk from the ship to the city center. Today we wanted to dive the SS President Coolidge, a WWII troop ship accidentally sunk by a friendly mine. The cruise ship offered a pricey (AU$189.95 pp) one-tank shore dive but Aore Adventure Sports (aoreadventures.com) had a better deal. We did two great dives on the Coolidge from their boat, the Full Boar, for about AU$245 pp. We simply walked down to the small dock behind Santo Hardware (just west of the BP Wharf), where we were picked up and whisked to the dive site. There was only one other diver in our group; she was also from the Emerald Princess. The Coolidge is enormous and is resting on its side. It looms out of the slightly murky water as a giant structure and the first dive was almost like a wall dive, except with fewer fish and lower visibility. Nevertheless, it was an impressive dive site. We were down to 34 meters (112 feet) for a time and had to do two safety stops on the way up. The second dive involved some minor penetrations of the wreck in order to see lots of the military equipment on board. This was a real safety conscious operation. The dive master carried a pony bottle (which John needed when his regulator started leaking) and had a full tank with three regs tethered on the bow line in case we got low. Our safety stops were in nice clear, warm water and it was like swimming in an aquarium. There were some huge anemones and we found Nemo, his brothers, sisters, cousins and distant relatives. They were all curious about us and came really close. Paul, the owner and boat driver, and Sethy, our dive master, were professional but friendly and very helpful. Paul had lunch for us during the long surface interval and shared some history about the ship and the dive site. Be sure to check with Paul about your weight needs, since he uses aluminum tanks with thick bottoms. This gives them neutral buoyancy at the end of your dive so you don’t have to worry about floating to the surface. The show tonight featured Steve Larkins in “Mercury Rising”, a tribute to Freddie Mercury and Queen. He is an energetic and entertaining performer but these are not really among our favorite artists. WED, MAR 15: AT SEA This morning we attended a port lecture on Sydney. Given that the vast majority of the Emerald’s passengers are from Australia, the lecture was only sparsely attended. Even though we spent five days in the Sydney area in 2012, John and I enjoyed reliving our memories of that visit and gathering ideas for our turnover day in Sydney. This afternoon we attended the Maitre d’ Wine Club (AU$34 pp). This is a more elaborate tasting than the Princess Grapevine. The upper-tier wines included a Champagne, a Pinot Gris, a Viognier, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Barolo and a Shiraz. The Champagne and the Barolo were obviously from France and Italy, respectively; the Pinot Gris was from New Zealand and the other wines were from Australia. The wines were supposed to be paired with appropriate canapes. The canapes were quite skimpy and, after the first couple of wines, the presenters forgot to suggest pairings. Although it was nice to taste some of the better offerings on the Princess wine list, I thought this activity was overpriced. Tonight was the second and last formal night and dinner featured the traditional lobster tail, accompanied with two jumbo prawns. We were disappointed that the appetizers did not include escargots. Instead, John had the duck carpaccio and the prawns with brandy sauce for starters; I also had the prawns and sweetbreads and chicken in a puff pastry shell. For dessert, John enjoyed strawberry cheesecake and I chose the citrus souffle. After dinner, we attended one of several Captain’s Circle parties for those who have cruised previously with Princess. We had seen so many blue cruise cards (first-time Princess cruisers) that we were a little surprised to learn that about two-thirds (2051) aboard were repeat passengers. The most traveled couple had 2621 days, second place had 2196 and third place had 1522. Even after another 25 years of cruising, I don’t think we’ll reach those numbers! Unlike most CC parties, no hors d’oeuvres were passed; the emphasis was on serving drinks. John and I had some nice after-dinner brandy. By the time the party was over, there was no hope of finding a seat at the 8 p.m. performance of Princess’ new production show, “Magic to Do”, so we waited for the 10 p.m. show. The title of this show is also a song from composer Stephen Schwartz’s musical, “Pippin”. Other of his songs (from “Godspell” “Wicked”, etc.) were interspersed with classical magic illusions. This outstanding and creative 55-minute show was definitely a step up for Princess. Perhaps they are trying to compete with Royal Caribbean’s incredible entertainment package? [Note: We saw a Broadway-quality production of “Cats” plus two diving shows and an ice show on the Oasis of the Seas last summer.] It was after 11 p.m. when we made it back to the cabin. A few minutes later, there was a ship-wide (even in the staterooms) announcement asking anyone with both O- blood and their blood donor card to contact the Medical Center to donate for a critical medical emergency. John (A+) and I (A-) always bring our donor cards but could not help in this instance. Later there was another announcement thanking those who volunteered and saying that no more volunteers were needed. The ship did not divert to New Caledonia for a possible helicopter evacuation, so perhaps the patient was stable after the transfusion. [Note: In Thursday’s noon announcement, the Captain said that the patient was expected to make a full recovery and we found out later that over a dozen blood donors turned up and others were turned away.] THU, MAR 16: AT SEA This morning we slept in a little before packing up the last bag of laundry for this leg of the cruise. Then we found a good spot to read or work on this review until lunch time. We picked up our customary slice of pizza and took it back to the cabin to enjoy on the balcony with the last of our wine. The sky was overcast but the air temperature was about 78 F (25 C)—very pleasant for sitting on the balcony and watching the ocean go by. This afternoon, Douglas Pearson gave an astronomy lecture on “The Eccentric Star Gazer: From the Big Dipper to the Southern Cross”. As in his port lectures, Doug provided an enormous amount of information, albeit in a rather scattershot fashion. His topics ranged from the Andromeda Galaxy, to the speed of light, to the diameter of the moon compared to the width of Australia, to the women for whom geographical features on the planet Venus are named. In his enthusiasm, he ran well over his allotted time. It was an interesting but exhausting talk! Tonight was Italian Night in the main dining rooms, one of our favorite menus. The headwaiters made Penne Arrabiata, so we had a small serving of that plus the seafood antipasto and the Eggplant Parmesan as starters. Our main course was Brasato di Manzo al Barolo: beef pot roasted in Barolo with grilled polenta cakes. For dessert, John had tiramisu and zabaglione ice cream; I had apple-filled crepes with a custard sauce and vanilla ice cream. This evening we had a choice between a new show by Pearson and Harvey or “Magical Showtime” with Justin Gentry, who performed the illusions in “Magic to Do”. We decided on the magic show, which turned out to be more of a mentalist show with some sleight of hand. The last trick involved solving a Rubik’s cube in seven moves while blindfolded. FRI, MAR 17: AT SEA Today was St. Patrick’s Day, so shamrocks adorned the cover of the Princess Patter, green balloons and other decorations were scattered around the ship, and we were promised traditional Irish dishes in the dining rooms. We had chosen to make another reservation at SHARE. The Culinary Demonstration and Galley Tour were held this morning. However, we have attended that many times and decided to pass today. I also skipped the Onboard Outlet Sale and all the other spending opportunities. This afternoon we organized our belongings for their move to our new cabin for the next (New Zealand) leg of our cruise. I put all the swimming/snorkeling/diving equipment that would not be needed again into one suitcase and all of the loose clothing into another. Warlito would move the bags and any clothing on hangers to our new cabin tomorrow while we enjoyed the turnaround day in Sydney. At SHARE tonight, we selected some new dishes: Tomatoes and Burrata, Steelhead Trout, Strip Loin Steak and Citron Tart. We again thought the food was excellent. However, we had exhausted the list of dishes that really appealed to us and did not plan to return here on the subsequent New Zealand cruise. We did find out that the menu will change again when the Emerald Princess is repositioned to Alaska this summer. The featured performer tonight was Steve Larkins with a new tribute show based on the music of Freddie Mercury and Queen. We had enjoyed the first show but we are not huge fans of those artists. We also missed the “Sherlock Holmes Musical Murder Mystery”. Tomorrow was the turnaround day between our two cruises. As noted above, I have written a separate review for that cruise: “The Far Side of the World, Part 2: New Zealand”. Read Less
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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