Emerald Princess, 2nd July 2016, Northern Europe.
This was our 3rd cruise having been twice with P&O on Aurora in 2014 and Britannia in 2015. We won’t be using Princess again and I would like to share our experiences. I am sure plenty of people had an enjoyable week and I am pleased for you if you did. I found many things to be totally not up to standard and as such my review will not be positive. I’ll break it down into categories:
Embarkation: Very, very smooth. Yes, it is a bit odd to have numbered cards as you wait in line, but it is a system that appears to work. Good for the suite and elite passengers to get to queue jump...I find that to be absurd and a little demeaning, but it is what it is. Those extra 5 minutes must be worth the pushing in, eh?
Cabin. We had an outside cabin with a fully restricted view. This did not bother us as we rarely used the cabin other than for sleeping and changing. You could see the sea or the quayside to see if we were docked, etc, so no problem and a fair bit of cash saved for spending elsewhere; cash you’ll need, by the way, the ship is very expensive. The shower is small, as per expectations, but the shampoos and soaps are a bit cheap to say the least. The bed, as reported elsewhere, was magnificent.
Food. Dire. We are generally quite easy to please and my wife is a vegetarian, but not a fussy one, if you know what I mean. But the non-meat options are so poor, she barely had what you could describe as a full plate for most of the cruise. She had to ‘piece together’ suitable meals and all had to be fish with no special vegetarian meal on offer. The buffet is way too small and there are nowhere near enough seats in the Horizon restaurants with breakfast being particularly shambolic. We shared tables, often, which is fine, but it is not a good set up at all. The buffet food was a bit strange, we felt, and the concept of vegetables is misunderstood. If there is a carvery, for example, have carrots, peas and green beans instead of just one with several potato variations. Strange. We only went to the anytime dining restaurants on one occasion and had that been a paying restaurant (well, I suppose we did pay up front...) I would have challenged a number of items on the bill, not least the ‘gourmet burger’, which was poor. We sat down and were asked if we wanted sparkling or still water. I asked for sparkling and so had to pay, though I didn’t know this at the time and no-one said anything...the sharing table guests got still water...free. This sort of mealy mouthed money grabbing leaves its mark and I hope they are pleased with themselves for it.
Ports of call: Really, just really? In a nutshell:
Bruges. It is not Bruges, it is Zeebrugge, a soulless container port. Bruges is miles away and Princess made it very clear in their port description that taxis from the port exit were ‘not plentiful’. Plus, as Zeebrugge is a container port, you cannot just walk off the ship and make your way to the exit. You could, of course, buy their trip into town for an amazing, amazing, amazing price of $179...each. This is laugh out loud ridiculous. Money grabbing, did I mention that? We stayed aboard, fed up, not knowing how to get to Bruges. Many people went to Blankenberge for about €10, I think, but the itinerary said it was Bruges...no, it was a container port and the sales pitch for a Princess partial excursion monopoly.
Helsingborg: Nope. Too windy for tenders, so we carried on towards Oslo at walking pace. Safety first, we have no problem with that, of course not. We also got $18 each refunded for the missed port as a port tax rebate. That bought a single drink! Lol.
Oslo: Fine, but it left at 15.30 hours...we had missed the previous port, so why not extend this one? Oh yeah, it would probably have cost Princess more, of course.
So, 4 ports...well, we got 2 and a container port. Useless.
Entertainment: We only checked out the theatre on the last night and saw the very talented Neil Lockwood, very good he was too. We generally avoid cruise entertainment as it is not really our thing, but he was excellent. The theatre is large.
Staff: In general they were a delight. However, the more ‘elevated’ staff were not, particularly the Cruise Director, who I found to be generally awful. I’m sorry to be specific, but I was unsure what he brought to the show other than his starring in his own intergalactic movie attitude. Tune in to Channel 29 in your cabin and you can watch him and his sidekick embarrass themselves each morning. We watched it as it was so bad, you just had to. Self-indulgent and childish, it was at best patronising, at worst a pair of adults behaving like gushy school children. Truly dreadful and I’d be all over this if I was running the ship. Haha, that’s likely! Do you really need to have his young woman sidekick being quizzed about not having a boyfriend? That is plain creepy. Am I interested in how the Cruise Director ‘keeps an eye’ on his favourite football team? No mate, I am not. The worst bit about them is how they are totally on-message with the Princess trademark upselling. When asked about the best restaurants aboard, the woman started to pretend to be thinking before coming up with 3 choices...all of which ‘she loves’. Which 3 do you reckon, then? Correct, the extra charge ones! Do me a favour the pair of you...One assumes she doesn’t join the fist fights in the overcrowded buffet then or, indeed, is not a vegetarian or a lover of fresh vegetables. Ridiculous and just out of touch with many passengers. I know some people will like the skittish banter but it is just endless and vacuous, it really is a tired formula. Holiday camp?...maybe. On the extra sea day because of the Helsingborg issues, they came up with a great idea for entertainment...making paper planes...I kid you not. The front desk staff were surly and unhelpful. Sorry, but that is how we found them. I loved the separate velvet rope section for elite and suite passengers...again, really? Do they actually push in like this anyway?
Shopping: Awful. Expensive and lacking in choice. My wife bought a bag which was reasonably priced once they had applied the advertised 30% discount to bring it back to the price on the mainland, groan. We found another bag for my daughter back home, but we noticed it appeared to be damaged as we took it to the till. They whisked it away without any offer to knock a bit off. I raised this with the Retail Manager who brushed it all off a little too easily; fact is, I think, the same bag will be back on the shelf on the next cruise or back to the retail outlet village it came from. Buyer beware, that’s all I’m saying. The fragrances are more expensive than on the mainland and everything, everywhere is in dollars, by the way. It is an American ship, so fair enough. But it does slightly affect the cruise experience for Brits sailing from, erm, Britain. Go figure.
The art auction: This needs its own section because it was so totally dreadful. Our ‘invite’ was received and the idea of free bubbly definitely got my wife’s interest. Sure, you can choose not to go, but it was a sea day and we were intrigued as to what this auction would be like. I have asked Princess directly to talk to me about our experience at the auction because what I saw does not sit well and I wish to establish what was going on. It was pressure and squeeze and foam and blather, laughable from start to finish except for the bit when bidding started after the auctioneer had taken an age to butter up the increasingly bored audience before she started her comedic selling patois as well as the hyper speed auctioneering spiel. Honestly, we were giggling like kids...perhaps good enough for Channel 29. The art work itself was a mix of horrendous garish coloured works together with stuff you can see in any school art department, no better. Just our two cents!
Bars: Wow, expensive. They whack on a service charge on every drink, so we felt miffed about being asked for an additional $12.95 per day, per person for gratuities. We removed these and tipped our room steward ourselves, a lovely guy called Michael. Just increase the price of the cruise by $100 and do away with this contentious gratuity issue, it really does nobody any favours at all. There is a happy hour (2nd drink for $1) in the Skywalkers ‘nightclub’, which is worth taking advantage of if you are late up each night, as we were, though you’ll need to be able to withstand the same standard playlist of music each night...the opening hours of the bars is a little skitty and seem subject to alteration without notice. Generally, they are fine, it is the prices that are not, they are way out of order.
Disembarkation: As easy as getting on, absolutely first class. I guess the suite and elite people get carried off on thrones...who knows! The only gripe is that they want everyone out of their room by 08.00. which leads to everyone piling for food in the already inadequate Horizon area...well, not everyone but a lot of people. Given that fellow cruisers love to place bags on chairs designed for actual humans, an act of selfishness that too many cruisers seem to enjoy (not all, but too many), you will find it hard to get a seat. Very hard.
The weather was mainly superb and we had plenty of laughs. But it was not great, not by a long way.