We were 1st time cruisers, so we can only say what we liked and what others may have told us. Having read previous reviews we had only modest expectations as we felt we'd be the youngest passengers at 59 and 65 and the age of the Canadian Empress. However, the cruise exceeded our expectations and we had a very good time!
We missed being the youngest by a few years, that was a 52-year-old woman accompanying her mother. The ship may be older but she ran well on this trip! We compare life on board to camping in our pop-up camper, only without the extra bed to use as storage. Other passengers told us the tiny cabins are typical of river boats. It was also somewhat noisy - from ships' noises, not passengers - even though nights were spent at dockside. Therefore, we felt a bit sleep deprived at the end of the trip.
We were busy every day! Each day combines cruising, fine dining, excursions and entertainment. With the OUTSTANDING weather on this trip, cruising was fantastic, including SPECTACULAR sunsets! Dining included 3 meals each day, due to the capacity crowd, they provided 2 seatings at noon and evening; you had to chose which early or "main" at the beginning of the trip. Snacks were always available at all times in the Lounge (didn't partake), they were also served near the end of each evenings entertainment, plus the great bar Steward kept munchies out at all times. I heard no complaints about the meals even though there was no choice in foods, you got what they served. Meals were also served in smaller portions that usually found at restaurants but, given the frequency with which full meals seemed to occur, we heard no complaints!
Our daily 1 or 2 excursions were interesting, especially for history buffs! We learned a lot about early Canadian settlers and their "take" on history, which is somewhat different that I recall from my long-ago U.S. history lessons! Entertainment consisted of local individuals and small groups presenting music, comedy and magic; all were worth seeing.
A few things to be aware of: hotels and shopkeepers will accept U.S. dollars but they make about 12% on the deal. I suggest using an ATM and withdraw Canadian dollars, they use an exchange rate very close to the official rate. Having a few hundred Canadian $ provides more than adequate funding for modest purchases along the way and for the recommended gratuity of $10 per person per day. The Holiday Inn at dockside provided an ATM which worked very well, although the one at the Ambassador Hotel would not function with any of the 3 cards presented, perhaps because Canada is using the chip technology we U.S. citizens are soon be offered. The Ambassador, however, is a very nice hotel with very helpful and courteous staff, PLUS they let you park your car for FREE during the trip, a savings of $20-30 USD per day!
Things to consider: The Empress has multiple decks connected by steep, narrow stairs; we had several co-passengers with disabilities whom we wondered how they could travel between decks. However, with one possible exception (he may have been satisfied to slightly limit his activities), all seemed to come and go as they wished. Also, excursion transport, all short rides, was provided on school buses, you know; those with bench seats and little ride comfort. We also wanted to go ashore while docked in the evening, primarily for exercise and to get a few supplies (drinks) for our cabin. Strolling was possible at most moorings but shopping at only one. Also, the one mooring location featured a rusty old warehouse wall as the dock-side view , while an "ok" neighborhood in which to stroll it was not at all pretty.
The crew was excellent and provided a first class experience to all, right down to the Captain's wild dance floor gyrations! The Stewardesses (their title, really) were well trained even though this was the first trip for 2 of the 4. The Bar/Wine Steward is a phenomenal guy and the consummate professional. The Purser worked her butt off to make things happen and ensure all had a good time, on time! The navigation crew were all very friendly and informative, always willing to explain the various operations which kept them busy!
Cramped, approx. 8'x7', with an odd-shaped bed from which 1 person must crawl over the other to get out. The odd shape resulted in the bottom sheet never being fully tucked at one corner. The combined commode/shower worked well and the water got good and hot! The A/C and heat unit was noisy and periodically made a "THURRUMP!" sound, frequently disturbing sleep. The shower fan, recommended to be left running at all times to provide fresher air, was excessively loud but it did block a lot of other noise, sort of like white noise can do.