Emerald Princess Cruise Review by powderqn
- Sail Date: October 2009
- Destination: Eastern Caribbean
We drove down from Central Florida the day before and stayed at the Springhill Suites in Dania Beach. They allow you to park you car there up to 14 days for free. The rooms are clean and the people are very helpful. There is shopping center across the street and Bass Pro shop less than 2 miles away. The hotel also offers a shuttle to the ship, but you do need to arrange for transportation back to the hotel. We use a private car service to take us to the port and back to the hotel.
We arrived at the port about 10:30 and walked right into the reception area. We received boarding card #1 and was told that it would be about 11:30 or noon, before check in would begin, which we knew in advanced from reading previous reviews. After Elite and Platinum members, we were lined up at the check-in area and within 10 minutes were on the ship. I wanted to be first on, or as close as I could be because I really wanted to book the Chef's table (which we got, but I will discuss that more later on). We went directly to our cabin and dropped off our carry-ons. Our other cruises, cabins weren't open until 1 or 1:30, so you had to drag your carryons with you to the buffet, or just around the ship. Princess cabins are available when you board. We were in our cabin and calling the Dine line by 12:30. The line was busy, and then I was placed in the automatic "queue", as all operators were busy. We went down to Customer Service, but they couldn't help us and said the Maitre'D would not be available until 2...so back up to the room and as luck has it, we got straight through. We were put on the list for the Chef's table and also made reservations for Sabatini's that night and Crown Grill for Tuesday (Formal) night.
After making our reservations, we went up to the Horizon Court for lunch. Here's where I think Princess is not as good as Carnival/RCCL. While I'm not a fan of buffets or cafeteria type dining, if there is enough variety, you will always find something to eat. Princess did not have a large selection...in fact the area of the buffet was confusing and was the size of one area of the other lines. I'm use to several different hot stations, maybe a nationality of the day, deli, seafood and other variety...daily lunch buffet seemed to have 3 or 4 hot choices, a small salad bar, fruit, desserts and some premade sandwiches. I thought the choices were very limited and was not a fan of the set up - too small for the amount of people trying to get to the food. Yes, there are alternatives to the buffet, but Princess could make the buffet more appealing by opening it up and offering more selections.
We walked around the ship. It's a beautiful ship and the crew/staff were very pleasant and helpful. Our luggage came before the muster drill and we quickly unpacked. Our wine made it safe and sound...we always travel with a wine packing box, and this cruise was no different. The box has Styrofoam inserts and the ours holds 12 bottles. We have taken the box (and previous boxes) on all of our cruises, even RCCL, and have never not had our wine/champagne delivered to our room. This box was no different - 6 bottles of wine and 6 of champagne delivered to the room. We have no problem paying a corkage fee for any bottle we take to dinner. Our normal evening is a glass or two of champagne before going downstairs...a Bellini for me at the bar, double Jim Bean Manhattan up for DH, and a bottle of wine with dinner. Our softsided cooler was in the carryon and had already been filled with ice by Jovito, our great room steward. Muster drill was inside, but could have been outside; as there was a cold front in Florida, and the weather outside was windy and chilly. After the drill, went to the Outrigger Bar at the rear of the ship for an impromptu meet and greet with several cruisecritic members. Since we had reservations at Sabatini's, we left the M&G and went to the cabin to change. Had a bon voyage champagne toast and headed upstairs. Sabatini's is on Deck 16 aft, and Adagio is adjacent to the restaurant. Adagio is a gem of a lounge. Guitar or piano music nightly, excellent cocktails (you have to try the Tiramisu Martini - to die for), and you can order desserts from Sabatini's ($4). Dinner at Sabatini's was so good, and much better than the reviews I had read. Food is subjective, and that's why I always take food reviews with a grain of salt. Sabatini's has a $20 per person charge and is an Italian tasting menu. The complete menu can be found on Princess' website. There are hot and cold appetizers, soup, salads, pasta and entrees. With everything but the entrEe and dessert, you get a small amount of everything. The waiter will put a small portion on the plate; you'll have 4-5things on your plate at any given time. The portion is small and doable. Just take your time and you will get through it all. The entrEe, you order as many as you want, but they are dinner size portions. DH love the raviolis so much, he asked for another plate...they were that good. I had the lobster with pumpkin risotto and DH had the veal chop...so good. We brought a bottle of wine with us, and the waiter didn't charge us a corkage fee. We did leave an extra tip...service and food was excellent. The first day, Monday, we stopped at Princess Cays...the day was grey and dreary...not warm, not cold. We stayed on the ship and worked out and enjoyed the pool. MUTS (movies under the stars) is great. The screen/projection is better than I've seen on Carnival/RCCL, even on the brightest days you could see the screen. I didn't think the sound was too loud. I would read and it didn't bother me. We did the buffet for lunch, since we weren't really hungry. We walked around the ship and looked at everything. I love anytime dining, and we never made pre-reservations. The longest we had to wait was 10-15 minutes, and we usually went down to dinner at 7:00. Vines became one of our favorite hangouts. It's the wine bar on deck 5, and had a great selection of wine. I'm a cheese lover, and you can order a cheese platter for $3. The bar has a list of 9-10 cheeses and you choose three. The plate comes from the galley with an ample serving of the cheeses, crackers, walnut bread, grapes, dried fruit...way too yummy. The International Cafe was across the way, and they had sandwiches and salads, plus a selection of pastries, available at all times. In the morning, they had quiches. On the other side of the International Cafe was the bar (best peach bellinis) where you could get coffee, lattes, and of course cocktails. A good place to wait for you beeper to go off to alert you that a table was ready. We aren't really into the entertainment on the ship, but was very surprise at the variety that was offered. On Carnival/RCCL, there seemed to be one venue for shows/entertainment. Not so on Princess. There are different lounges throughout the ship, all had some type of entertainment. The main show lounge had the big productions, Explorer Lounge had music, comedians, and smaller venue entertainment. The disco and nightclub also had a variety of entertainment. If you missed a show one night, you could catch it later in the week. Although, we didn't go to many shows (okay, only saw the hypnotist and a comedian), we thought that the offerings and variety sounded good.
Tuesday was a day at sea, and back to the gym in the morning we went. It was always busy first thing in the morning, so a lot of times we'd just walk deck 7 (goes completely around the ship). The jogging track was at the opposite end of the ship from the gym, which didn't make much sense to us. Breakfast in the dining room (can get eggs benedict even though it wasn't on the menu), and then up on deck for sun and reading. Reading is a luxury I don't get at home, so I took advantage of the time. We went to the Neptune Pool today...weather is now hot and sunny. This pool is louder, IMHO, than the pool where MUTS is located. The live and piped in music was too loud for my taste. We never ended up having lunch in the dining room, as we were running around and missed the 2 hour time period. Either we had lunch in the buffet area, or went downstairs to the International cafe and had salads and sandwiches. Tonight was formal night and we had made reservations for the Crown Grill, $25 per person. Another comparison to Carnival/RCCL...the specialty restaurants are much better on Princess. On Carnival/RCCL, you can only order one item from each course...Princess, you can have as much as you want from each category. Not that you need to be a glutton about it, but sometimes I would want both an salad or soup, and I would have to choose one or the other on the other lines. I did try the black and blue onion soup...yuck...I did not like the blue cheese on the soup. But that was the only disappointment we had. We did bring a bottle of wine to dinner and were charged the corkage fee. DH upgraded to the larger lobster ($9 additional) but the 5 oz lobster was large enough for me. I had the lobster and filet mignon, DH had the 12 oz Brazilian lobster with a filet mignon. Very good...we also had reservations for the Crown Grill on the last night, but cancelled. By the end of the cruise, we were tired of eating...a shock, I know, but true. I had the sampler dessert and it was really good...a little sample of each dessert, DH had the 7-layer s'more dessert.
Wednesday, we docked in St. Martin. We had a tour planned with Bernard Tours, and had an excellent time. Bernard was our tour guide, and there were 8 of us on the tour (2 other CC people). We went to Rina's for a 20 minute shopping stop, sightseeing on the road to Margot. We stopped at Maho Bay, the Sunset Bar, and saw small planes land. It's the slow season, and the larger planes were few and far between. It was a neat place, though, and we saw a large jet leave...the jet wash blew all the towels and personal belongings on the beach into the water. People were scrambling to get there items out of the water. Next stop was Margiot, and we spent 30 minutes walking around the open market. Last stop was Orient Beach (for us)...the other people on the tour stayed for 15 minutes and then Bernard took them back to Phillipsburg for shopping. We decided to stay on the beach for 2 hours. I had a massage on the beach and DH spent time in the water. It was $15 for two chairs and an umbrella. Bernard returned to the beach and took us back to the ship. On the way back, we learned a little bit about Bernard and living on St. Martin. He lives on the French side and all medical is covered by the government, as long as you are employed. This came up, as Bernard explained his second (or his first) wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 and was sent to France for treatment. Everything was covered by the government. He also had a son who was in France because of a motorcycle accident, paralyzed from the neck down; all medical and transportation covered by the government. Bernard's current wife leaves in Ft. Lauderdale, so he flies there once a month or so. We returned to the ship from the beach.
Tonight was the Chef's Table...the most remarkable meal ever. The reviews I read didn't even begin to compare. We meet downstairs by the International Cafe, and were issued lab coats. We proceeded to the galley and instructed on proper hand washing procedures. The galley is a very busy place. It was spotless and the crew worked like a well-timed machine. We walk through all the cold areas; salads, fruits, cheese plates, etc. The chef talked about his history, while champagne and appetizers were offered to us. Who would have thought crème fraiche, caviar and baby red potatoes would taste so good. We had 3 or 4 different appetizers, and then off to the dining room to return our lab coats and begin the meal. Wines were offered with each course...asparagus and lobster risotto, lemon sorbet with vodka, braised veal shanks, veal tenderloins and fresh root vegetables, fried chambert (sp) cheese with pine nuts and walnut bread. Dessert was on a sugar spun plate, passion fruit dome cake with raspberry filling...and then bon-bons...so good...Pictures were taken during dinner; the whole group, and each couple with the chef and head sous chef. The pictures were given to us at the end of the meal, along with a signed Princess cookbook. After all this, there was nothing more to do then to walk the deck and go to bed.
Up early, as we had a snorkel tour through the ship (Captain Nautica's). We arrived at 7:00 and were to meet at 7:30. Several couples were late, so we didn't leave until 7:45, but we made good time on the tour. Usually, we do private tours, but since there is only 2 of us, it's hard to get a snorkel tour. Most boats want you to charter the whole boat, as they hold 6-8 people. The tour is on a fast dive boat, and we were on our way. There were 10 snorkelers and 2 crew (captain and first mate) and it was roomy on the boat. The afternoon they were expecting 16 snorkelers, that would have been crowded. Buck Island Nature Reserve was the first stop and we snorkeled for 45-50 minutes. The main draw here is the turtles. This area is a nature preserve and you were not allowed up on the beach. The turtles were plentiful and feeding on the turtle grass. The water was 25-35 deep. Just as we were ending our time there, a catamaran pulled up loaded with people. We got out of there just in time. Our next stop was Saba Island, normally a dive spot. The captain said the ocean was only calm enough for snorkelers 3-4 times a year. The captain even got in the water, since it was such a rare event to be able to snorkel there. We returned to the dock at 11:00, walked to the ship and put our gear back in our cabin. Off to town for some shopping. Some people walked to town, but it was worth the $4 for a cab. We were let out of the cab at the Post Office and proceeded to walk down Main Street. We stopped at AH Riise and purchased some alcohol (delivered directly to the ship) and purchased some Christmas ornaments from their outside display. We weren't looking for jewelry but DH bought me a gold and Caribbean topaz bracelet for my birthday. One of those, it just happened. We always visit Mr. Tablecloth when we visit St. Thomas and this trip was no different. We have more than enough tablecloths, so this time we purchased placemats and napkins. We had lunch in a little restaurant down one of the side streets, great pizza and salad, and headed back to the ship. Dropped off our purchases in the cabin and headed towards the pool for some down time.
Dinner (Formal night) was in the dining room and no big wait. The longest we had to wait for a table for 2 was 15 minutes. We could share a table immediately, which we did the second night, but most times we liked having dinner on our own...It was hit or miss regarding the cover charge for the wine. We brought a bottle to each dinner (except for the Chef's Table) for a total of 6 bottles; we were charged 3 times, 3 times no charge. I thought the food was good, a lot of variety and choices. How could it not be good...no cooking, no cleaning, and dessert every night.
Friday - Grand Turk
We had breakfast in the dining room, table for 2, after walking the deck in the morning. We went upstairs and sat by the MUTS pool and enjoyed the weather. I was on my third book, and wanted to finish four before we returned home. We had a quick snack before porting at 1:00, as we had a snorkel excursion at 1:30. The Ultimate Snorkeling excursion was okay, just too many people for me, 48 people on the boat. There was enough room on the boat, but when you were in the water, there were people around you most of the time. We had two stops and the reef was excellent in both spots. They have a barracuda and rays that know the boat and come in the area when the boat stops. The excursion was a couple of hours long. When we returned back to the dock, we checked out a couple of the stores and watched people on the Flowrider. Margaritaville was packed and they were just starting to have happy hour and free shots. We got back on the boat, dropped off our gear and headed for the pool. Dinner was in the dining room, and we stopped for our usual (double manhatten up and peach bellini) before dinner.
Saturday - Day at Sea
Walked deck 7 before going to breakfast in the dining room. We were bad, and put our stuff on two chaise lounges facing MUTS before going to breakfast. We were in our loungers by 9:30 (they were unoccupied for 30-40 minutes), and there were still plenty of empty ones around us, so we didn't feel guilty. Meet a group of 55 people from Canada, that were onboard for a wedding (took place on the first day at sea). I went to the spa to see if there were any openings for the spa deal, 50 minutes of pampering for $99, and got an appointment for 2:00. We decided to try the grill for lunch and had a burger and fries, very good. This is when we had the only "bump" in our cruise experience. I wanted to shower and change from my bathing suit before the spa treatment. We went to our room, and our key card wouldn't work. The battery had gone out, so no key card would work. This was at 12:45. A cabin steward called maintenance and told us that it would be 10-15 minutes, as he had two other locks he had to check first. After 20 minutes, our steward came by and he also called. Another 10-15 minute wait time was given. It was 45 minutes before the engineer came by to recharge the battery. He was the only person who works on the locks. You'd think with the amount of cabins on the ship, more than one person would be able to do the cabin doors. I changed quickly, and left for my appointment. The spa treatment relieved any stress I had from the cabin door being locked. I returned to the cabin and we packed our luggage and put the suitcases in the closet to wait for the final packing after dinner. We went to our favorite bar, Adagio, before dinner. The citrus bellini with limoncello and tiramisu martini are to die for. After dinner, we changed into our "going home" clothes, locked up the luggage and left the bags (and alcohol/wine box) outside our cabin. Back up to Adagio for dessert and a good-bye drink.
Debarkation - never fun. The only debarkation I ever liked was on Disney cruises...they just let you walk off the ship after it is cleared. They were about 1 hour behind the schedule they gave us the day before, so we just hung around Gatsby's, which was our meeting place. We had "light blue" tags and were one of the last 4 or 5 colors. We also had docked at a different pier than we had embarked from, but an announcement was never made. We had gone outside to wait for our color and noticed that the Ruby Princess was at Pier 2 and we were at Pier 21. There were shuttle buses to take passengers to the parking garage. After our color was called, it took us only 10-15 minutes to get our luggage, check through customs and out the door to wait for Bob, our driver. We were on the road by 10:30, and home at 2:30.
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