Overall Rating = 4.5
We have been on a total 19 cruises on many different lines, including Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian, Disney, and Carnival. This was our fourth cruise on Empress, beginning in her inaugural season in 1990.
Reviews never cease to amaze me. Reviewers will complain about everything. Do these people eat gourmet style dishes with scrumptious desserts at home? Are they constantly waited on and cleaned up after? Do they have a variety of activities and entertainment choices every day? If you think the world revolves around you and you have expectations that can’t be satisfied; Stay home!
Cruise experiences are very different depending on the cruise line, ship, destinations, and time of year. Do your research (Cruise Critic is a great resource); know the cruise line; know your destinations; and, most importantly know your ship, its’ restaurants, entertainment options, amenities, and it’s age and renovation history. NEVER pay attention to any reviews written before your ship’s last refurbishment.
Empress is 30 years old in 2020, was last refurbished in 2016 and had a routine dry dock in 2019. It is less than half of the size of most cruise ships in service with the major lines and 1/5 the size of Royal Caribbean’s largest ships. At that size, there simply isn’t room for all of the amenities you see on larger ships. Some view these facts about Empress as limitations, while others view them as positives. The cruise experience is quieter, slower, and more intimate than others; this doesn’t make it better or worse, just different. You should know what experience you prefer and choose your ship accordingly.
Empress is maintained like other Royal Caribbean ship, clean and inviting. Restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, shopping area, and the casino may be smaller in scale and not as shiny and new, but the quality is still up to Royal Caribbean standards.
Embarking and Debarking:
With Royal Caribbean’s infrastructure set up to accommodate much larger ships, getting on and off of Empress was a snap. We docked in Fort Lauderdale and were off the ship and in the Miami airport by about 9:30.
Empress doesn’t have the myriad of cabin choices of larger newer ships. The only balcony cabins are suites. We had an ocean view cabin, #8156. It was smaller than similar cabins on newer ships, which was most noticeable in the shower and closet space. The window was a large picture window with a clear, unobstructed view. The cabin was cleaned twice per day by our excellent steward, Sethko. He was virtually invisible and never disturbed us for any reason.
We had dinner in the main dining room at one of the standard seating times. Empress also offers “my time” dining and I believe three specialty restaurants. Our food and service in the dining room was excellent. We did not visit any of the specialty restaurants, but a filet from Chops Grille was offered for $15, much less than a full meal at Chops. This is the first time we had seen an entree from a specialty restaurant in the dining room. It was a good, thick cut that was cooked absolutely perfectly.
We had buffet style breakfast, lunch and late night snacks at the Windjammer Cafe, which offers a wide variety Hot and cold items and desserts. The Cafe was always clean and the old hot and plentiful, but Hey Folks, this is a buffet not a gourmet menu.
Entertainment and Activities:
Empress offered Las Vegas style shows, as well as two guest comedians, a guest singer, and a guest juggler. The production shows were of smaller scale than larger ships, but the quality of the entertainers was very good. All of the guest performers were excellent. Each comedian performed a “family show” one night and a late night “adult” show another night. All of these shows were hilarious.
Many other entertainment and participatory activities were offered, including bingo, several game shows, live music, trivia games, karaoke, competitions, Christmas caroling, pool games, cooking demonstrations, slot machines and casino table games. We participated in several of these activities and enjoyed them all. We most enjoy relaxing in the sun which we were able to do as much as we wanted.
Service was excellent, from our cabin steward to our waiter and assistant in the dining room, to bar service around the pool and at shows.
Ports and Shore Excursions:
The ports for our cruise were Coco Cay, Cozumel, Costa Maya, and Key West.
The transformation of Coco Cay is amazing. We first visited Coco Cay 30 years ago when it was literally a deserted island. Now your visit to Coco Cay can be as relaxing or adventurous as you want. There are now multiple barbecue venues and bars scattered around the island, as well as the water park, a massive pool, a protected lagoon for swimming, and multiple beaches. We lounged in some of the free loungers with umbrellas, swam in the ocean, layer in loungers on the pool’s tanning ledge and played some lawn games. The barbecue lunch was excellent, providing many options for your main course and desert. We did not visit the water park.
There is a wide variety of things to do at Cozumel. We went on our own and chartered a private 35’ catamaran through an operator called “Deluxe Private Boats Tours”. It was for a half day and cost $1,200, or $120 each for our group of ten. It included food and drink, a nice cruise along the coast, a stop for snorkeling and a stop at a beach. It was one of the best island experiences we have ever had. I would highly recommend a private charter if you are traveling in a group of six or more.
We did not book any activities at Costa Maya or Key West. Both stops offer shopping and dining options right off of the pier.
We did not travel with children.
We vey much enjoyed our cruise on Empress. It offered a quiet, relaxing experience with plenty of entertainment and activity options. Empress does not have the options and amenities of a new mega-ship, but the cost of our seven day cruise was only $550 each for an ocean view cabin. Do your research, know what your ship has to offer and you will not be disappointed.
The cabin was smaller than those on newer ships, which was most noticeable in the shower and the closet space. This really doesn’t matter because you spend so little time in your cabin. It was cleaned twice per day and was always spotless.
We did not pay for any activities at Coco Cay. We used longe chairs at the beach and pool, and played lawn games. The barbecue lunch on Coco Cay was excellent with wide selections for both your meal and dessert.