A little background on me/us; I am 52, DH is 57, and this was our 19th cruise, our 12th time on Princess. Other cruises have been on Carnival (4), and one each on HAL, RCCL, and NCL.
Our main reason to book this cruise was to escape an unusually brutal winter in the mid-Atlantic. Also, we had done the 10-Eastern Caribbean cruise (Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Kitts, & St. Thomas) 5-years ago, and wanted to do the Southern Caribbean 10-day before the Emerald is redeployed to Houston, TX during the winter months. Our ports of call were: Aruba, Bonaire, Grenada, Dominica, and St. Thomas.
When we had first sailed on the Emerald 5-years ago she was still a fairly new, and she had the new ship look and feel. I was curious after 5-years how well she had held up. Overall I thought she looked pretty good. The ship was clean, and was well maintained. There were a few areas where varnish needed to be reapplied to handrails, and there were some noticeably big paint chips on the metal loungers in the Sanctuary, but overall she looked good.
Embarking There were a large number of PAX on this sailing that had priority boarding (300 Elites and 900 Platinum’s plus suite guests) so they divided us into two groups. Elites & Suites went to the priority lounge and boarded first, while Platinum’s where held downstairs. We were seated in rows and there were suppose to release one row at a time, in the order we were seated. As we were the first two Platinum’s to board (Not including those in suites or traveling with Elites) I am not sure how that worked out. We boarded around noon, and raced up to the Sanctuary.
Spa Our first stop was the Sanctuary to reserve two spots for the cruise duration. The prince had increase effective with our sailing from $150 pp for the cruise duration to $270 pp for the cruise duration, and you can no longer use the Sanctuary the first day. The prince increase did not seem to deter many. When I got up there many of the spots in the sun had already been taken by those doing B2B or Elites. There were 2 people ahead of me, and a small line quickly formed behind me. I was told that by 12:30 all available spots for cruise duration passes had been sold. On sea days the available daily spots were all taken. The first sea day I was up early walking around and the line had started at 6:30. I walked by at about 6:50 am, and there were 3 people in line. On port days it was possible to go much later 9 or 10 am and still get a spot. We did enjoy our time in the Sanctuary very much, and the stewards were very nice, but I did feel that the service was a little less attentive then I remember. It may have been because two of the three Stewards were fairly new, only a few months in their first contract with Princess.
We then went to the Lotus Spa to get Thermal Suite passes. They were $149 pp, but they were running a special for $129 pp. While the Thermal Suite appeared to be well attended we could always get a space on one of the heated tile beds. I don’t think they sold out on the passes.
I used the spa on one other occasion when I did get a head to toe massage that included a facial and scalp massage-Heavenly.
Cabin We had an interior cabin on the Baja deck. I loved the forward location as it was close to the forward elevators that led to the areas we used the most; the Sanctuary & Thermal Suite. The mattress was okay, room temperature was fine, but the pillows were thin and lumpy. They really need replacing. Our room steward was Christian and he was one of the best room stewards ever. Not only did he keep our cabin clean and neat, it was the little touches such as lining up in neat rows the jumble of shoes on our closet floor, or folding clothes draped over a chair that made him special.
Dining The food ranged from fairly good to just awful. We ate in the buffet all but three evenings. The first 2-3 days all the food was way too salty. It did improve as the cruise went by, but with a few exceptions most meals in the buffet were just average. We did dine at the Crab Shack one evening. The Crab Shack, which debut on the Royal Princess is apparently being offered on select ships on select nights. On our cruise it was three nights. The food was very good. You start with a basket of fried shrimp and hush puppies, followed by a good size bowl of Manhattan Style Clam Chowder that was delicious. There were 4 entrees to choose from. They are meant to be shared. We got the Emerald Steamer which included mussels, clams, shrimp, snow crab, corn on the cob, sausage, and potatoes. Our waiter even honored our special request and had them include a few crayfish. The cost is $20 pp and I felt well worth it.
Our last night we dined in the Crown Grill. I did not feel it was worth the $25 pp charge. If you are going to have a premium steak house on board, it needs to be more like Morton’s or Ruth Criss, and less like Outback. My filet was cooked as I ordered, but was dry and could have benefited from a reduction sauce of some kind. DH and I bother ordered mushrooms and backed potato as our side and they were served family style on one plate. Presentation was definitely lacking. Service would have been a fail, if not for the fact that a waiter in another section recognized us from our daily forays to the Sanctuary and stepped in to refill water glasses, get my DH his customary glass of ice tea, and bring our dessert.
Entertainment We didn’t go to a single show or watch any comedians. However, the Platter (The daily guide to shipboard activities) was full of options. We did go to MUTS four nights to watch a movie. Some of the movies playing were Thor: The Dark World, Hunger Games, and Captain Phillips.
I loved the way our itinerary ran; Two sea days in the beginning, followed by 5 port days, and then 2 more sea days to recover from our island fun (Princess Cay was cancelled due to high winds)
We did ship sponsored shorex at each port, and chose moderately active activities.
Aruba we did a 4x4 across the north end of the island. Truly off road, and good time had by all.
Bonaire we did snorkeling. It was an easy walk from the ship’s pier to a water taxi, and from there another short walk to a catamaran. A relaxing boat ride to the snorkeling site, and about an hour to enjoy the beautiful aqua blue waters.
Grenada we went river tubing. There was a van ride up into the mountains to the entry point into the Balthazar River. It was almost all rapids, hardly any lazy river floating, and over very fast, but the guides worked very hard to ensure we had a good time.
Dominica we went snorkeling on the Champagne Reef, which was truly amazing. There is a volcanic vent under the sea bed floor that releases sulfuric gas, which in turn causes the bubbles that cause the champagne effect. The water is also noticeably warmer in that area, which attracts many colorful fish. The sea is a bit rough, so if not a strong swimmer go out with the novice group. I had a great guide who ensured I got fantastic photos.
St. Thomas we went to Coral World and partook in a Sea Lion encounter. You cannot take your camera into the sea lion enclosure, but there is someone taking photos that I felt were reasonably priced ($39 for a flash drive that included everyone in our group).
Overall I had a great time, and I am sorry that the Emerald is being redeployed to Houston, TX next year for the winter season as I would love to sail on her yearly.