I must admit to being sceptical and very stressed on boarding our first ever family cruise. We chose Princess from recommendations by others, and chose this itinerary as was wholly within Australia and didn't require passports.
I travelled without my husband - and took my 16 yo intellectually handicapped daughter, plus my other 12yo daughter - so my circumstances were no doubt vastly different to the many relaxed retirees we found onboard.
Embarkation was just 'ok' as we suffered an initial 'rookie' hiccup - in that we weren't given a plastic 'boarding card'. These were issued on check in to seemingly every other passenger - except us (ugh!!). But this was quickly resolved by a kindly Princess staff member and we were ushered onboard at the allocated deck boarding time of midday.
The ship is incredibly impressive, and the service we received from staff on board was excellent.
Highlights for us included:-
1) The Pizza and Ice Cream bar. Delicious woodfired pizza, and soft served ice cream (with sprinkles and toppings if you desired!) were definitely a hit with my girls - and me!!
2) Movies Under the Stars - fantastic, as they screened all day long with good quality, new release features
3) Botticelli Dining Room. We opted for Fixed Dining at 5.45 each night and for me, this was the best part of our cruise. Food quality was exceptional, and they had a fabulous kids menu. Service was impeccable and we were seated, fed, and gone - before 6.30 in most cases!! This was great with 2 impatient kids who detest long waits.
4) Room Service Breakfasts - OH MY GOD - once I discovered I could order brekky for free (and beat the huge crowds at the brekky buffet) - I was hooked. Croissants, coffee, fresh OJ delivered straight to my room to be enjoyed on the balcony without seeing a single other passenger?? I think YES.
5) International Café - best coffee ever. Loved this place. Delicious cakes. Miss it already.
6) The in cabin TV!! I have to admit that this was the biggest shock for me - as I'd heard the TV at sea was 'crap', with re-runs of the Love Boat and Princess Merchandise channels only. I can say - proudly - that my family spent an EMBARRASSING amount of time in our cabin because they had 4 dedicated new release movie channels, two dog and cat channels, and comedy channel, and a beautiful vacation channel showing all my future dream cruise destinations. My girls were completely obsessed with the 24 hour bridge cam and ship location channel!! We loved it!!!!!
7) Port Arthur - what a fantastic, eerie, picturesque, surreal little place it is! Tenders were organised expertly with very little waiting time. A fantastic first port.
Lowlights for us:
1) Horizon Buffet. To be fair - the choice of food at brekky and lunch was awesome - if you are an adult like me who eats anything. But I can honestly say my girls went in there for lunch on the first 3 days and came out with a breadroll - as they had no 'plain' foods on offer for kids. Thank GOD for the pizza bar and the Trident Grill - which served burgers and chips - and was basically where the kids had lunch every day thereafter.
Also with the buffet - there is just not enough seating. In 8 days, we were never once seated inside - at any meal. On some days, even sitting outside was a challenge. We heard from other experienced travelleres that the Emerald was bulging with passengers for this trip - and had too many on board.
But - ever positive - we opted for room-service brekky, pizza for lunch, and Botticelli for dinner.
2) The cabin bunk configuration (see comments re cabin below)
3) No Aussie power points - make sure you take US adapters!!!
4) Disembarkation problem at Melbourne. Passengers were informed that we would be able to get off the ship at 10am - but it was closer to 11am due to a problem at the Port of Melbourne- and this caused a great deal of stress and anger as all passengers were made wait in claustrophic, hot queues for almost an hour. My daughter was having a meltdown and I felt nauseous and light headed from lack of oxygen in the cramped waiting lines. Once the line started slowly moving - it led to some of the more entitled passengers thinking they could outrank us first timers and jump queues - and it was just ugly scenes. This then flowed on to the 1km line up for non-existent taxis (and more well dressed entitled queue jumpers) - and all in all it was a disastrous day in Melbourne that I wished I'd just stayed on board for!!!
5) The decision to drain one of the 2 main swimming pools on day 5 of an 8 day cruise - in 38 degree heat - in school holidays - was ridiculous. To make it worse - they never refilled it. This forced basically every child on board to flock to the one remaining pool/deck area. It was a nightmare and we preferred to stay in our air conditioned cabin, away from the crowds.
Overall, the experience of not having to prepare a single meal for 8 days - and ship life in general - was definitely a 'yes' from me, and although I'd love to go on another cruise very soon - I think I may lean towards a smaller boat with less crowds!
We loved our little cabin and it was kept beautifully clean twice per day by our quiet, but hard working steward Francis.
The balcony was the best decision we ever made and I will never stay in anything less! We were able to stay in complete privacy and luxury as we enjoyed scenic cruising up the east side of Tasmania - bliss!!!!!
The only negative comment I will make is probably another 'rookie' error. As mentioned in my comments - my two girls and I spent a lot of time in our rooms watching the fabulous tv (and avoiding the crowds). Our room had 3 beds - but one of them was suspended from the roof and was (annoyingly) tucked away from 9am until 7pm.
When we arrived on board - only two beds were made up and I made the embarrassing phonecall to reception to ask 'where the hell is my 3rd bed??' - only to be told, in a knowing voice, 'it's in the ceiling madam and will be lowered at turn-down tonight'
I'm not a passenger who likes to make a fuss so we put up with this for the first 3 days - but by day 4, my poor little 12yo was complaining of having no where to 'lay' during the day - so I rang and had it lowered. I should have done this on the first day because the steward happily kept it down 24 hours a day from then on!! Doh!!!
Sailing out of Sydney Harbour should be a bucket list item for everyone! The ferries all honking their horns added further excitement against the backdrop of the magnificent Opera House and Harbour Bridge
Tenders were expertly handled and there was minimal waiting time.
A beautiful, picturesque, yet eerie place to visit - and the history is astonishing! Would love to go back one day and do a ghost tour!!
We just did our own thing and mostly visited the CBD and Constitution Dock. The huge sheds at the Dock were more aimed at cashed up older tourists and not kids - so we found the CBD and its shopping precinct more to our liking.
I love Melbourne - normally - because I always fly there.
But sailing in with 3000 passengers in the middle of a heatwave was nothing short of a nightmare.
We were ushered onto a 'bus' (destination unknown??) which dumped us at Federation Square - 2kms from where we needed to be - and no other stops offered.
The 109 Tram service back home to the Port stops almost 1km from where the ship docks - and once again , after an already exhausting day in the heat - this just pushed us over the edge.
Huge queues for taxis (which were spasmodic) led to ugly scenes, queue jumpers and much frustration.