Emerald Princess Eastern Caribbean March 28, 2011: Emerald Princess Cruise Review by pandora518

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Emerald Princess Eastern Caribbean March 28, 2011

Sail Date: March 2011
Destination: Eastern Caribbean
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
We booked this cruise on Emerald Princess primarily because we wanted to visit relatives in Antigua and we had missed the window of opportunity for a balcony cabin on the only HAL ship that includes that island. I read a lot of EP and Princess reviews here before we left, some of which we found to be true and others not so accurate, at least not in our opinion. Some of the key points:

* Yes, the cabins are very small, the beds are pretty bad, and the public spaces are quite crowded. However, storage space in the cabin was excellent, everything worked, and we were very glad NOT to be in a suite or mini-suite, where you're on display on your balcony. We recommend booking only a standard balcony stateroom.

* Yes, the bed was horrid, but we knew enough to request the "egg crate" topper. While that had seen better days, our cabin steward lost no time installing it and it did make a difference. Princess could definitely improve the beds and gain points with us.

* More The ratio of public space to passenger is really low on this ship, so whenever we were in any public area there were crowds. That was our biggest disappointment regarding this cruise. HAL has far less crowded ships and we definitely prefer them, now that we've tried something different.

* Despite their "scholarship at sea" advertising, we found VERY little in the way of educational enrichment activities on board. There were no cooking classes, and the two crafts "classes" - for which there was an extra (although nominal) charge - but neither offered any instruction whatsoever. We were given materials and left to figure out what to do with them. This is one way {rincess really trails HAL. On our HAL cruises, we've participated in a number of classes and activities that truly taught us something new, and we never paid extra for any of them.

* On our first day aboard, crew members were trying to sell us something all the time. I'd read about this but even then I didn't expect quite so many hard sells. After that day it pretty much stopped except for waiters suggesting wines or cocktails. My DH purchased a soda card for $45, but unless you spend most of your time on the ship (and not in the ports) you'll never drink that much soda. I'm a wine drinker and I brought quite a bit on board, which helped keep the bar tab down.

* If you like old-fashioned teak decks, loungers on the promenade deck, cooked-to-order food on the Lido deck, game rooms or spaces (for cards, scrabble, etc), or peace and quiet on board (WITHOUT paying extra for it), this is NOT the ship for you. On the other hand, if you're looking for good value, good itineraries, and aren't too fussy about the onboard experience, EP will definitely appeal.

* MUTS is a terrific idea and we enjoyed it several times, but the popcorn was simply awful. Bring your own snacks. :)

* Contrary to a number of reviews, we did not encounter any less-than-courteous crew members. Our cabin steward was fantastic. We used Anytime Dining so we had different waiters frequently, but most of them were very good and two were outstanding. Some of the deck waitstaff and others did seem to be bored or weary, but they were always friendly when approached and they know the ship well. It's a very diverse crew, which we enjoyed.

* The food in the dining rooms was, for the most part, good. Not outstanding, but we always enjoyed it. The food on the Lido deck's buffets was generally mediocre, unfortunately, and that applies to both taste and presentation. Nothing (at lunch or dinner) is cooked to order. The sandwiches we tried were all very dry. We didn't even bother to get in line for a made-to-order omelet, as the line was really long. We HATED the way the buffets are enclosed - everyone is always bumping into everyone else, and there's nowhere near enough room to maneuver - and while it's nice to have waitstaff to serve beverages the wait was often too long. We'd prefer the option to get our own. Anytime Dining worked perfectly for us: we wanted to meet new people so we always did "two to share" and never had to wait. Logistically, Anytime Dining is very difficult to manage and Princess did it very well, especially with >3000 passengers. The pizza bar was one of our favorite places for a quick snack: NY-style pizza and always fresh. Skip the burger bar unless you're really desperate for french fries, and the only free ice cream is vanilla or chocolate soft-serve.

* Hands down, Princess wins the award for the most efficient, least stressful embarkation and disembarkation processes, and that includes tendering to ports of call. Kudos to them for nailing this, because at embarkation it really sets the tone for the whole trip and at disembarkation it makes catching taxis/flights/transfers much less stressful. Our disembarkation waiting area was the Explorer's Lounge, where there were trivia and travel slides playing and coffee, tea, and water were freely available.

* Emerald Princess is unusually difficult to navigate. I give the ship's designers very low marks... I suspect that they were trying to break up the public areas as much as possible to permit the perception that they're not as crowded as they really are. But the end result is that it's hard to get from point A to point B, even after 10 days of trying. We carried the map with us at all times and frequently had to refer to it. And even then, we often ended up at the wrong end of the ship... Between that and the cascading balconies that leave suite and mini-suite passengers with neither privacy nor shade, we think Princess would be wise to reconsider this design.

* Contrary to many reviews, people CAN win in the casino: I did, and I'm one of the unluckiest people alive (at games of chance, anyway.) We aren't big gamblers: I especially am reluctant to just throw money away, which is how I generally perceive gambling. But my DH wanted to try the slots, so on the second night at sea we allotted $20 to them. He let me play it and I won $60. On another evening, we again agreed to a $20 total limit, and I won $150. After we'd left Antigua, we again agreed to spend $20, and my DH again let me pick the machine and play. It was a $1 machine and after playing just $9 I won $2700! My philosophy is "take the money and run" so we did just that. It paid for our passage, so we're living proof that people do win sometimes.

* I can't rate Princess Cays, our last port of call, below, as there's no menu selection for it. But I'd rate it a 3 at best. There's no comparison to HAL's Half Moon Cay, which has far better (warmer, less rocky) beaches. Overall it wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. However, I do like that it was the last port, as a pure beach stop is a terrific way to end a 10-night cruise. Less

Published 04/11/11

Cabin review: BCA635 Balcony

Our cabin, Aloha (deck 12) 635, was directly across from a crew service door. If there was luggage or a meal to be delivered to any Aloha midships or aft cabin, it came through that service door. Nevertheless, we were only aware of that when luggage was being transported. Since we embarked early (noon-ish) and spent that afternoon exploring the ship, we really only noticed activity through the service door on the night before disembarkation, when they were trying to get most of the luggage down to the holds. So, don't be afraid of any cabin in close proximity to a service area. There is ALWAYS a vibration aft of midships...on any ship. The engines are between midship and the stern; even up as high as we were you're likely to feel that vibration, especially when the ship is moving fast. However, if you don't lean on hard surfaces (the headboard, e.g.) you probably won't notice it. We have sailed further aft on other ships, where you couldn't escape the vibration. On EP, I only really noticed it once. Pitch was almost non-existent; roll was occasional and depended upon sea conditions and our speed. Our cabin steward, Nonato, was perfection. While very small, our cabin was adequate and the storage space was excellent. The beds on Princess suck, to be honest. Request an egg crate topper as soon as you board, and don't expect too much even then. I liked that the bathroom had real tile on the floor, and that everything worked. Yes, the shower is MINISCULE! Do NOT drop the soap! LOL But it works, and we'd much prefer the tiny shower and smaller balcony of this standard balcony stateroom to the suites and mini-suites below us, which afford passengers no provacy whatsoever when they're outside. I like that the cabin doors are recessed from the corridors; I think that contributes to the quiet we experienced. I also like that the balcony door is a slider, which let us keep it open at night.

Read All Balcony (BC) Reviews >>

Port and Shore Excursions

I'd actually give Antigua a 4.5. :) Granted, we saw it through the eyes of my cousins, but perhaps that's better than a paid tour: we saw how and where they really live, and learned about their day-to-day lives on this lovely island. Antigua has many gorgeous beaches, so if you're a dedicated beach enthusiast don't miss visiting one or more of them. There's also terrific food to be had: we had lunch at a divine place called Cecelia's, which had a really eclectic and utterly delicious menu, and some fabulous desserts. It's right on the water, with its own little beach and beautiful harbor views.

Antigua's economy has been devastated by two big blows to its offshore betting industry: (1) Antigua's decision to try to collect taxes on the proceeds, and (2) the USA's attempts to shut it all down (despite having lost that decision via the WTO, the US continues to try to prosecute Antigua OSB business owners.) Where there were once >200 such companies, today there are fewer than 12, and that has really hurt the Antiguan population. There's no industry on the island, and - unlike St. Lucia - no real agriculture. Service industry jobs are the best that residents can hope to get, and they don't pay much at all. The US needs to leave Antigua alone, in our opinion, and let the OSB companies grow again, lest all of that activity move to central America. It will thrive someplace...

Read 1191 Antigua Reviews

I'm sure there are lovely parts of Barbados, but we didn't see them. We had booked (through the cruise line) an afternoon shore excursion, so in the morning we first took a taxi (over-crowded, hot, and over-priced even at $4 apiece) downtown, where we found little to interest us. The whole downtown area was noisy, dusty, dirty, and unappealing. We decided to walk back to port, as we had noticed an arts and crafts mall on the drive into town. Unfortunately, that was mostly deserted, as the taxis/buses bypass it. It's too bad, because we found some real treasures there. Be sure to look for it if you visit Barbados.

Our excursion was a snorkeling and beach trip, with the possibility of an encounter with sea turtles. It definitely didn't disappoint! While snorkeling just a few hundred yards offshore, we were joined by several turtles (the guide was chumming) that stayed with us for more than half an hour. Back on board, we were treated to rum and whatever: punch, Coke, pineapple juice, or more rum. It all flowed freely, even when we stopped at a beach for an hour of frolicking in the surf. The beach itself was rather ugly, as it was backed by plywood walls from a deserted construction project, but the water was warm and clear and the rum kept flowing. We all had a good time.

Read 1223 Barbados Reviews

We were lucky to have one of my cousins and her grown daughter meeting us in St. Kitts. They rented a car, and because they're used to driving on the islands (they live on Antigua) they were happy to be our guides for the day. We visited the old plantation that's now a batik production shop, Brimstone Hill, and then had lunch at Ottley's Plantation. All were lovely, and we found the natives to be friendly and helpful. Lunch was simply divine and the setting was stunning. My cousin and her daughter wanted to see monkeys, and they did but only after we'd already departed the island.
Read 1319 St. Kitts Reviews

Other than the somewhat scary narrow, windy roads, St. Lucia is paradise. We had no idea beforehand, but we had booked an all-day excursion, half on land and half at sea. Our bus (really, a van) driver, Eldon, was knowledgeable and an extremely good driver, and we saw and learned about much of this gorgeous island before stopping for a divine buffet lunch at a place that served authentic Caribbean dishes. After a bit more of a drive and a visit to the volcano and sulphur springs, we boarded a catamaran for the return trip. We saw some of the most gorgeous sights ever, and all the while more rum flowed freely... Apparently, rum is cheap on these islands, because stateside we'd never get drinks that strong, especially at an open bar! Neither of us drinks much and we had no idea beforehand that drinks would be served. The tour itself, sans rum, was well worth the price. We highly recommend it. We will definitely return to St. Lucia for a longer stay someday. The island is like one continuous botanical garden, and the residents were lovely.
Read 1134 St. Lucia Reviews

Shopping, diving, snorkeling, shopping, eating, shopping, fishing, and shopping. That's St. Thomas, with an emphasis on the shopping when the cruise ships are in port. It's good shopping, too if you're looking for good jewelry bargains, interesting local art, and/or "straw market" type goods. I indulged my craving for ammolite by purchasing a pair of earrings that I KNOW I couldn't get in the US for twice the price... We ate in a local café, which was excellent: the food was scrumtious; the service was outstanding; the environment was authentic and rustic. We also visited the "straw market," where knock-offs of designer goods are omnipresent and really good quality. I honestly don't care if something is a replica if it's made well and very reasonably priced, and I certainly couldn't fault the "Coach" bag I bought for a haggled $40, complete with dust bag and serial number. ;)

We knew we could have had another excellent snorkeling experience in St. Thomas, but we were frankly tired so we asked the shore excursion desk to try to sell our seats (we were too late to cancel.) They did, and the reverse transaction was painless.

Read 3993 St. Thomas Reviews

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