We had our first cruise due to the generosity of my in-laws. They purchased tickets for 14 of us to go together over Christmas week 2014 in honor of their 55th wedding anniversary. Further, they got everyone balcony rooms. We sailed out of Houston on the Emerald Princess (all from Texas). After loads of research before departure, I wanted to put in some notes from our experience.
First, we found our departure out of Houston to be flawless. Smooth and easy. A moderate line for embarkation, but, vacation was officially underway, so who cares about a line! All the port employees were smiling, friendly - even jovial. Thanks to all the reviews and information available online, I felt pretty well prepared. Right down to carrying a small bag with anything I'd like to have on hand immediately or even for dinner (we didn't board until 2:00 and dinner was at 5:30). Luggage did take a bit to arrive (mid-evening), but, again, with having the items I really wanted on hand, it was no biggie for us.
I cannot say enough about the wonderful staff on the ship. I am lucky to have a husband with the gift for genuine interest in others and he's a great conversationalist. He and I believe in treating our waiter or bartender like a friend and not a servant. I'm sure, because we treat folks this way, we may receive better or more thoughtful service. However we got there, I can tell you we felt pampered 100% by all the staff (steward, wait staff, head waiter and bartenders). All the little details we mentioned up front enjoying were remembered and repeated daily - without a request. For me, that's pampering. Bless the dear soul who brought us coffee and juice each morning with a smile. We had standing reservations for dining daily at 5:30 PM at my in-laws request. My husband and I did not think we'd like the time being so early, but it was perfect. Two large tables takes about two hours to serve and we'd head out each evening to the main show in the theatre. At that point, there's a line waiting to get into to their tables. Choose 5:30 - trust me. We passed on a lot of the ancillary daily activities until the last two days as, I admit, some sounded a bit gimmicky. But, the last two days we participated and had a great laugh and good time. We both agreed, next cruise, we'll be checking out those opportunities daily.
MOTION SICKNESS: I chose to use the prescription patch to keep potential motion sickness at bay. For those worried about the matter: IT WORKS!!! Don't bother leaving without a patch in place. Why even risk feeling badly when you can prevent it? No pill to pop, no sleepiness. In 14 people, about half had some minor to moderate sea sickness symptoms off and on. We were the only ones armed with the patch.
FOOD: We found the food to be wonderful. The staff offered us "appetizer" portions if we were curious to try an entrée but did not want to have it for our main course. My college age sons tried so many different things I cannot recall. Our request for a special appetizer (off menu) was granted the follow evening. With a smile. We enjoyed most of our dining in one of the main dining rooms. I'm not keen on buffet food so this served my preference well. We did enjoy a pub lunch (fish and chips) one day and slices of pizza another (really quite good). Had a room service lunch of club sandwiches one day as well. Our sons enjoyed a second dinner after 10 PM in their rooms many nights. I appreciated the portion size being reasonable. Not small, but not "Texas sized". You can order whatever you want, but, if you are wishing to show some restraint, it's not hard to do. If you don't have dessert in the dining room, there are options to grab tiny confections at a coffee bar spot. They are really almost better than the main dining room. Grab three and share.
ALCOHOL: All over 21 carried a bottle of wine onboard. Husband got one beer package (six for the price of five I believe). He ordered a few extra through the week. I got one canned soda package (diet coke and tonic water) and purchased a smallish bottle of vodka for $17 (room service). We enjoyed a bottle of wine in the evenings as a nice cabernet was available at $15/bottle. We did not spare on the consumption for our liking and felt the prices were reasonable.
I had a minor accident that required a visit to the medical facility. Get the insurance that will cover these things!!! This was the last day at sea so not a real downer for the trip. I was surprised that the medical facilities are not available all day every day. It seemed to be 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening. I assume there's reasoning behind this, but we had to beg to be let in (doors locked) while my foot was bleeding quite a bit. They'd really wanted me to wait to the afternoon hours. With my right toe toenail ripped half off (there's a story....), I felt pretty emergent. Some insistence by my husband got me in the doors, but, it's the one thing I did not research and wanted to share. It's a bit of a complaint, but, awareness would have been wise on my side to know the hours before the trip began. We had some looking for treat for motion sickness and they were always closed - just by chance. FYI for all to know!!
CONDITON OF THE SHIP: There was constant maintenance going on everywhere. Not intrusive, but, evidence of real work being done (varnish, paint, etc. outdoors). Public restroom facilities were CLEAN and plentiful. I'm a real stickler for cleanliness and freshness. I appreciated the sense the ship was well maintained daily.
OVERALL: The cost to value ratio worked for us and we are dreaming of indulging again - hopefully this year on a last minute deal. We will go Princess again. We'd both love to do Alaska in a few years. I am happy to report that I am a "cruise person". I wondered if I'd dislike the experience (kind of dreaded part of the year leading up to it). But, I'm sold. Eventually, more interesting destinations may be our goal, but, for now, we both agree the 'floating resort' experience we can get to via driving fits our budget and felt luxurious. We were pulling out our cash and leaving additional monetary tips for all that took care of us - in addition to the room gratuity. That's how much we felt well cared for that week. Thank you Princess!!
Being our first cruise, I don't have a point of comparison. The queen bed was quite comfortable which surprised me. Nice bathrobes provided were used daily. The room was not palatial, but nowhere as small as I worried it would be. Bathroom is small. No way around it. But, adequate for our needs. LOVED the balcony. Sheer bliss sitting out there reading or just 'wave watching'.