This was our 3rd cruise as a couple, and our second cruise as a family with 2 children (aged 7 and 5). Our two previous cruises were with Royal Caribbean to Alaska and the Baltics respectively.
We chose Norway and the Fjords for 3 main reasons. The embarkation port was Southampton so we could avoid the scrum, exhaustion and baggage weight anxiety of airports. The cruise was to a temperate part of the world- whilst warm, sunny weather is always pleasant we have no real interest in baking ourselves in the sun whilst drinking cocktails alongside others doing the same thing in limited open space. The wilds of nature also hold real fascination for both of us. Princess delivered on the vast majority of our expectations- whilst we didn't quite return home 'new' as the brochure suggested we would (thanks to the traffic hampering our 200 mile journey from the port), it is safe to say that we all enjoyed both the inside and outside aspects of out cruise.
It was initially quite strange being aboard a different ship with staff trained differently and employed with a focus on different competencies. The RCI staff are very much 'in your face' from the moment you arrive, whereas Princess staff as much more stand-off-ish and discrete in their behaviour. In the end, this approach definitely 'sold' Princess to us. It was nice to be able to walk around the ship with a 'just got out of bed, don't talk to me until I've had coffee' look on your face without having to high-5 anyone, or grimace for a photo next to a staff member wearing a sub-standard costume vaguely resembling a Viking. Basically, if you sit down anywhere, even for 5 minutes, a member of staff will offer you some service of some description. They do this in a way that is unobtrusive and sincere (i.e. without 'please tip me' puppy dog eyes).
The ship itself is also a major plus on this sort of cruise for some really key reasons. Unlike other ships we have sailed on, the deck areas / promenade deck enable you to walk around the entire ship and get vantage points from a range of angles. When navigating tight, towering Fjords, this adds to the experience considerably. The balconies are also a good size- deep enough to recline and catch some sun, and also high enough to not feel like you are in some kind of Perspex box. There are 2 main pool areas, both spacious enough to accommodate a number of people, and tiered to enable some escape from dive bombing children, or get shade when the sun is high in the sky. There are also 2 'adults' only pools at the forward and aft of the ship. The aft pool particularly offers stunning views over the back of the boat, and was quiet on the occasions I used it. High on the aft of the ship is a small but secluded family area with a large hot-tub and small pool too. This was a safe and pleasant area for our small children to play, although the small pool was the only pool not heated so it was pretty cold when the weather turned. The main pools were warm which, given the terrible weather we had at times meant that we could enjoy a swim without hypothermia (it was 8 degrees C at one point!).
The dining areas are pleasant enough- the Michelangelo dining room where we ate most evenings was smart and felt fairly special, although the style is looking a little dated (dark wood panels, 1970s pub carpet etc.). I personally didn't like the buffet areas particularly, but that had nothing to do with either the décor or cleanliness, more the overall management of the operation. People routinely remained at tables long after they had finished eating. A polite 'oi, hop it please' would have been welcome for guests circling trying to find a seat with laden plates.
Other areas of the ship were pleasant without 'wowing'. The atrium area was smart but quickly became crowded, and the other public bar areas were comfortable but seriously lacked natural light. The furnishings seemed to be modelled on a London 1920s Gentleman's Club crossed with country-house and sadly soaked up a lot of the natural light, low ceilings and soft-furnishings didn't help the effect of this. Some brighter colours, chrome and mirrors would be welcome (but equally that may create the effect of a different type of Gentleman's Club, so caution should be exercised if they do re-fit the ship!). In other words, the outside deck areas were excellent, but on a cruise beset by poor weather (cold and wet at times) we spent a lot more time inside that we would normally like.
The stateroom (twin, balcony cabin, Aloha Deck, A703) was very comfortable. It's layout wasn't brilliant at night with a fold-away bed, but otherwise it was great. Warm, very good shower (although if you are over 6ft tall as I am, the ceiling is a little low) with comfortable beds. I liked the partitioned off area for storing clothes and the mounting piles of washing). A major plus was the TV- on previous cruises the picture has been poor with a woeful choice of entertainment unless you pay for it. On Emerald Princess there were 3 dedicated movie channels, one specifically for family viewing which we used daily. It was a great way to end an evening and settling the children. The stateroom attendant Jovito was fairy quiet an discrete but was responsive on the few times we needed him.
Embarkation and disembarkation was seamless and fast. Genuinely the best we have ever experienced. It was very well organised at the start and end of the cruise.
Dining was generally good. Breakfast and lunch in the buffet offered good selections, though after 14 days it was hard to get too excited about it. The dining room menu needs some work. It was well cooked and well presented at all times, and whilst one meal was too cold, it was the only time this happened. Options for kids were fairly good and the waiters attentive. Our main concern was the lack of variety and particularly spice. Of the 3000 passengers, the significant majority were 'mature' British people and I suspect that this played some part in the food choices as the menus were usually a take on 'pub classics' (fish and chips, beef wellington, pork belly etc.). The only curry we saw on the menu was straight off the Wetherspoon's 2 meals for £5 board - chicken tikka masala. It was pretty good, but they could easily have build more into the menu for more cosmopolitan tastes. The starters were OK, but needed some variety- for some reason, in contrast to the main meals, they were often too exotic for more conservative palates / children. Overall though, the food was good and we ate well.
The majority of frustrations we experienced on this cruise stem from the other customers rather than Princess, although they should probably have a look at what they could do to improve the experience for families / younger guests. To get the best out of this cruise required military-level standards of organisation and time-keeping to keep up with the older guests / seasoned cruisers. Every activity seemed to have been designed for the older generation (bingo, comedy acts, health seminars to reduce varicose veins, bunions, hair loss, swollen ankles etc.) and although we took part in the quizzes on a daily basis, it became very trying to pre-empt the hoards by arriving increasingly early at the event. It is no exaggeration to say we arrived at the theatre a full 35 minutes before the showing to find the room 80% full of more mature couples doing soduku puzzles, reading 'Mills and Boon' or sitting, highlighter in hand, scanning Princess Patter (the daily cruise planner) to get the march on events for next 24 hours. On one occasion we noticed a man fast asleep waiting for the show- he slept right through it to the end whilst families arrived with kids in tow, unable to find a seat. The 10pm show was just too late for our 5 and 7 year olds meaning we had a frustrating choice of arriving excessively early and enduring the bored whinging, or miss the show. Princess need to address this via a reservation system or giving priority to the earlier showing to families somehow.
The same pattern played out across the boat- all of the best seats with good views were occupied by the same people at the same times, day in, day out. I swear that one lady was spending the night in her favourite chair, and by the ever increasing size of her knitting, suspect that she must have been commissioned by Princess to knit a winter coat for the ship or something. This basically meant that we partook in a limited number of events, but the ones we enjoyed were good fun- the entertainment staff were excellent throughout. The shows were a mixed bag but when they were good, they were excellent- well polished and energetic. It would be easy to criticise the performers but they performed with gusto (sometimes a little too much) and gave everything for their 35 minute slots, twice per night. The Queen tribute performer was very good, well worth seeing (but get there early!).
We did not do any of the Princess excursions, preferring to book the local options instead. This proved to be wise- we did very similar excursions for up to 50% of the cost. Do not pay attention to Princess worrying passengers with missing the ship leaving port etc. All of the independent operators work to the same schedule. We found leaving the boat and returning straightforward, even when it involved a tender in the Lofoten Islands. The overall itinerary was disrupted by poor weather which was a shame. Stavanger was very cold and wet, as was Olden and Trondheim so it's unfair to be overly critical. We had to miss Flaam due to dangerous sea conditions which frustrated passengers, but given we had a very bouncy trip to Olden in 5m swells and that was 50% better than it would have been, I'm grateful the captain took the decision to remain in port.
The itinerary lacked balance in my view. Norwegian towns are limited in their appeal when the weather is poor. They are staggeringly expensive (at one café a pint of local beer was advertised at nearly £17) and not that tourist friendly- it is the natural beauty which is the most impressive element in most places we visited. That said, it was an odd decision to dock in Tromso on a Sunday making it hard to get around with a limited public transport service and very few open shops, and Bergen had a lot to offer with only a morning in the city. Aalesund was stunning and has good access to the Fjords yet we left there fairly early too. It would have been better, if tides etc. allow to spend less time in places like Gravdal and Honnigsvag. The sail-aways were breath-taking at times. The trip out of Aalesund will live long in the memory, but don't expect much from the port stops themselves. The excursions were fairly varied and definitely championed the natural world. A hidden gem was the ship museum in Tromso next to the Aquarium. It is great for kids, giving them the change to explore a real arctic fishing boat. Don't miss the trip to the glacier in Olden and some good excursions are bookable on the pier at Lofoten; one of the highlights of the trip for us.
Our kids attended the Princess Penguins kids club twice and the feedback was mixed. My daughter enjoyed it but my son found it a fairly negative experience. He is shy, but I think the majority of the children were a lot younger so he didn't really make any friends. It seemed well organised and the room was pleasant with a dedicated outdoor area. I imagine that all of the kids clubs can get quite busy on the Mediterranean / Caribbean routes.
In summary, this was a good cruise offering a bit of everything. The usual gripes are present with over-priced excursions and drinks etc, but the over experience felt 'premium'. Princess could do well to look at their dining room management and listen to younger guests views. Nearly all of the complaints overheard or discussed with other passengers related to the behaviour of guests.
There were a couple of small touches that we found really effective. My wife had her birthday on board and received a card, some balloons and a cake which was a nice touch, and we all received a good quality certificate confirming we had been to the Arctic Circle which the kids loved. I particularly enjoyed the cruise summary sheet from the captain and found it interesting to read. The ship's staff are low-key and industrious. They could smile a bit more at times, but then so could I. I'd take efficient and fast service any day over excess selling and forced jollity. This was a pleasant and memorable experience and we will definitely consider booking with Princess again.
Really comfortable and well laid out. A bit snug at night time with fold-away bed. Good sized balcony.
The glacier is a must. Really nice walk through valleys along waterfalls / rivers. C. 2hr round trip with a lovely bus ride to base of glacier.
This is a fairly big town with a lovely cathedral but it's too small to spend a full day there, particularly in poor weather.
Stunning town, but poor public transport on a Sunday. The Arctic centre is OK and ship museum alongside it a must. The views from the cable car are incredible.
Lovely city but not enough time there. The boat left at 1.30pm which was far too early.
Stunning town with lots to see. Incredible views from view point and museums are interesting. Good areas for lunch etc.
We did not stop in Flam due to dangerous sea condition.
Good boat, horrific weather but really enjoyed it. The views were stunning when the fog cleared slightly.View All 68 Lysefjord Reviews
No excursion and I know Southampton well. It is better to take a trip to Portsmouth. The naval museum and Victory is really worth a visit.