Eastern Caribbean on the Emerald -- Just OK: Emerald Princess Cruise Review by Petersonfcu

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Eastern Caribbean on the Emerald -- Just OK

Sail Date: October 2011
Destination: Eastern Caribbean
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
My wife and I just returned from a ten day Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Emerald Princess. The Emerald makes two different loops through the Caribbean, and this particular loop stopped in Princess Cay, St John, Dominica, Grenada, Bonaire, and Aruba. Overall, we had pretty good weather (considering that October is still the rainy season in the Caribbean) and the cruise was enjoyable. We cruised on Disney the previous month, so some of our review below is a comparison of Disney and (recent) Princess experiences.

We parked using the Park'n Go lot near Fort Lauderdale Airport, which is only a ten minute drive from the cruise terminal. Park'n Go parking costs only six dollars a day through the internet special, and the Park'n Go shuttle got us to the cruise terminal quickly (and were there to pick us up right away when we disembarked). I highly recommend Park'n Go.

Embarkation was a breeze. We arrived at the Princess terminal to go through embarkation about 1:30 More PM, and we were checked in and on the ship and in our room in less than 20 minutes. The older gentleman who checked us in said that the crowds all try to check in before 1 PM, so our timing was perfect by waiting until 1:30.

On the Emerald we were in cabin E502 on deck 8. The room was an "obstructed" ocean view, meaning we got plenty of light but couldn't see much past the big lifeboat right outside our window. The room and bathroom were nothing exceptional, but they were functional and met our needs. The room location was great -- right in the middle of the ship, just steps from the mid-ship elevators and only one or two decks above many of the lounge and entertainment venues, and two/three decks above the dinner dining venues. Our cabin steward, Andres, did a nice job cleaning up all the sand we tracked in from our various ports of call. The room was well soundproofed, and we never had a problem with noise from our neighbors or the hallway.

The entertainment was a mixed bag on the Emerald. We enjoyed the Emerald Princess Orchestra, a seven piece combo fronted by a trumpet, trombone, and tenor sax. Every one of these musicians was an outstanding jazz soloist, and they played together very nicely as an ensemble. We also enjoyed two comedians (Troy Threadgill and Jay Moore). But the Orchestra did not play enough, and the professional entertainers did not perform enough, to fill up the day. Otherwise, there was too much staff (talent show) and passenger (talent show and karaoke) type stuff. The production shows we saw were colorful, and the dancers talented and energetic, but we just weren't taken with the material. Perhaps we were the wrong demographic (we are around fifty years of age and so a musical review based on Cole Porter songs does not do it for us). In comparison, we thought the Disney Magic production shows were better than the Princess production shows, and the Disney guest entertainers were marginally better.

We went to some movies on the Emerald, and liked the concept of the Movies Under the Stars on the top deck, but on two separate occasions there were technical difficulties. For example, we went to the "Green Lantern" scheduled for 10 PM up under the stars. The movie started on time, but at about 10:12 PM it stopped, and then when it came back on they put some trivia up on the screen and the announcer said that the "entertainment" would start in 15 minutes. Well, we didn't feel like waiting around, and then having to see the beginning of the movie again, so we left. We saw another movie, the "Lincoln Lawyer," in the Princess Theatre, and the top 10% of the projection was cut off. We stayed for the entire movie, but they never fixed that, so I guess we saw 90% of the movie . . . ..

We were also disappointed because the Emerald had no lectures on the history, culture, or politics of the Caribbean and our various island destinations. Maybe Princess doesn't put such lectures on because they don't appeal to the target demographic, or maybe because the average Princess passenger has cruised so many times to the Caribbean they just aren't interested in that stuff anymore. But we missed having those sorts of educational lectures. The Emerald casino was nice. The blackjack was good (five dollar minimum, with 3 to 2 payout for blackjack). I also enjoyed the poker a bit, but the Emerald Princess uses the Pokerpro electronic dealer rather than the live dealer, and I know a lot of folks don't like that. Also, the house poker rake was really too high (15 percent), and the combination of no live dealer and a high rake seemed to kill interest and participation in the cash poker games. In comparison, Disney did have a lecturer who spoke about our destinations -- but no casino at all.

We were signed up for "anytime" dining on the Emerald. The food was OK, but really nothing spectacular. Generally, we thought the meat dishes were better than the fish dishes. The only memorable dish I had was the escargot on the second night, and I ordered two of those. We got a couple of inedible dishes, including one labeled "grilled calamari" that was nothing like any calamari I ever had, mushy and tasteless. We thought the food on Disney was overall marginally better than Princess.

The anytime dining has pros and cons over the Traditional (assigned time) dining. With anytime dining, you can't be assured of eating when you want (unless you always want to eat after 8 PM). You can try to make reservations for sometime earlier than 8 PM, but often when you called you couldn't get the time you wanted. You could also just go downstairs to the dining venue at the time you wanted, but then sometimes you have to wait in line. We did that once and waited about 15 minutes for seating. I guess that is OK for some, but who wants to wait in line on a cruise? Another disadvantage of anytime dining is that you don't get a chance to know your tablemates very well in the way that you do for traditional dining. Of course, if you have traditional seating and you get tablemates you don't like, maybe having new table mates every night can be a positive. And with anytime dining you do meet a lot more people than with traditional dining. Another disadvantage of anytime dining is that you rotate wait staff and do not get to know and interact with your wait staff in the way you do for Traditional dining. I also would not be surprised if the wait staff does not like anytime dining. It seemed that they were using fewer waiters to cover more tables than with the traditional dining. Also, I think anytime dining may result in fewer tips for the wait staff. I know that when we had traditional dining on the Disney Magic we really appreciated our assigned wait staff, and we gave them some extra cash on top of the automated tip amount. But we didn't know our waiters when we did anytime dining, and so we just gave the recommended (automated) tip amount. We ate a few times in the Princess' Horizon court buffet, and it was just OK. After awhile we stopped eating there, and instead went to the sit down restaurants for breakfast and lunch.

The Emerald had a lot of nice bars. A lot of passengers we overheard on the ship were excited about the happy hour drink specials, or, rather, the perception that the bar staff tried to hide the existence of such specials from the passengers because the tip (15% added automatically to your bill) would be less with the specials. Don't know about the accuracy of that perception, but I can inform you here that between 4 and 7 PM you can get a variety of cocktails and mixed drinks for $3.99 each in most of the bars on the Emerald. Just ask!

The Emerald shore excursions were a mixed bag. Although I discuss the various ports below separately, I should say that the best excursions were not the ones organized by Princess, but, rather, the private excursions we booked separately after some research on the internet. The private excursions are smaller and generally cheaper, and you get to where you are going without being part of a mob. Also, we did not see even one other cruise ship during the ten day cruise -- probably because we were so early in the Caribbean cruising season. But that meant that each of our ports were relatively uncrowded. Less

Published 11/01/11

Cabin review: DDE502

Port and Shore Excursions

Oranjestad was getting prettied up for the pending visit of the queen of the Netherlands. A pretty city. We took a private minubus tour (white minibus) for $20 a person that circled the northern part of the island in about two hours. I recommend it, the bus driver was a hoot.

We booked the Princess tour to the little island of Klein Bonaire to do some snorkeling. The ferry picked us up just 30 feet from the cruise ship, and deposited us on Klein Bonaire after a ride of only about ten minutes. Even though it had rained the day before, the water at Klein Bonaire was clear, and the snorkeling was phenomenal. The reef is only about twenty feet off the beach, and we saw hundreds of fish, of all different sizes and colors, including large and small fish and huge schools of fish. WSe also saw mutiple different kinds of coral. Overall, it was the best snorkeling experience we have ever had, better even than Hawaii. A couple of caveats. If you have your own snorkel gear, you can skip the Princess tour and just walk a bit further off the cruise pier down to the private water taxi (only $15 roundtrip to Klein Bonaire). That will save you some money over the ship's excursion. Also, make sure you go to Klein Bonaire for your snorkeling, and not somewhere else on Bonaire. Another passenger on the Emerald told us that they went to some other beach on Bonaire designated for snorkeling and the water was so murky due to the rain that they couldn't see anything -- exactly the opposite of our experience on Klein Bonaire.
Read 444 Bonaire Reviews

Dominica is a beautiful, lush island. We took a private tour with two other couples. The hike to Middleham Falls was about 2.5 miles (5 miles round trip). The falls were beautiful, but the hike through the rain forest was very strenuous, with constant ups and downs and some very muddy and slippery places on the trail. We also went to Titou Gorge, where you have to swim about 30 meters through a very narrow gorge to come to a beautiful pool with a nice waterfall. That was interesting and refreshing. We then went to Trafalgar falls, which involves a shorter hike and includes a sort of a hot springs, and that was OK, but not as interesting as Titou Gorge. Largely because of the Middleham Falls hike, our legs were sore for several days afterwards.

We booked a private tour with Stan of JnJ tours. Although the weather did not cooperate well (it rained off and on), we very much enjoyed Stan's tour. Stan took us to Ansell fall, Grand Etang National Park, Fort Frederick, and Anse beach. He also took us through the main town (St George), and, when I expressed some interest in seeing the campus of the St. George University medical school, he took us there as well. Stan is upbeat and knowledgeable. In addition to some of the standard info about the various sights we saw and all the exotic fruits we passed along the road, we were able to ask Stan questions about the Grenadian economy, culture, and politics and so get a feeling for Grenadian life that you wouldn't get on a mass tour. Stan's tour was relatively inexpensive -- only $40 U.S. for each of us ($80 total) for several hours of touring. The ship was in port early, but Stan was there at 7:30 AM to pick us up right when he said he would -- and he got us back to the ship with plenty of time to spare before the all aboard time. Because we left so early, and being a private tour, Stan got us to the sites ahead of the other cruise ship passengers which was really great, because the sites are small and the roads narrow so crowds can quickly overwhelm the sites. But one of the best things about Stan is that although he is a native Grenadian, he lived and worked for many years in the United States before returning to Grenada. So, unlike some of the other tour guides we ran into in the Caribbean, Stan English is very clearand understandable to the American ear.
Read 531 Grenada Reviews

We took the Princess excursion to Trunk Bay on the neighboring island of St John. The 45 minute ferry ride over to St John was packed -- you couldn't move around or get out of the sun if you wanted to do that. That was not too pleasant. St John island, and Trunk Bay, were beautiful, and the snorkeling was nice.

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