This Jewel did NOT Sparkle
Serious disappointment after months of excitement.
I have cruised prior with Celebrity, and I know every line is a little different. I had hoped I would be wowed in the same way by Princess that I had been by Celebrity. I am sorry to say, that was not the case. Having never done the Southern Caribbean sailing, I was excited to see new islands and enjoy all that the Caribbean has to offer. I had visited Puerto Rico previously and Hawaii and it seemed like a great way to see the islands. Our cruise was off to a good start as we breezed through the check-in process with helpful and happy agents.
Then we arrived on the ship. We were "greeted" if you can call it that by the individual charged with scanning our entry cards and taking our pictures. I assume he was with security. No one greeted us to take us to our room. No one asked if we needed assistance. We were left to our own devices and did eventually find our room. The room itself felt dated and worn. Linens had holes, bed coverings were ratty and worn. The sink would not drain upon our arrival, but that was corrected reasonably quickly. Other than an occasional rattle, the room was surprisingly quiet, and the HVAC worked pretty well.
Our first dining experience was less than exemplary. We were shown to our table to find many folks were in tee-shirts and VERY casual pants. Nowhere do I expect to find tee-shirts at dinner. I'm sorry, I didn't pay what I did in order to dine with folks who think they are at Chili's or Applebee's. The menu was lackluster and honestly it didn't get better throughout the cruise. Don't expect to be wowed by cuisine on this ship. It lacks seasoning, often wanting for a pinch more salt, or something that would imbue some sense of flavor. The exception to this is Sabatini's or the Crown Grill. Though these are premium dining options, they are well worth the effort if your taste buds need to be woken up after days of bland fig and prune compote. The menu feels as if it was borrowed from a nursing home.
Our first day ashore in Princess Cay was pretty much what I expected of it. Thank you to those who posted about the shops just outside the Princess area, great prices, friendly, and authentic products without "made in china" stickers.
Next day was a formal night and we chose to be seated at the Crown Grill rather than risk being the only people in the dining room in formal attire. Dinner was great, service somewhat hit and miss. Drink refills were slow and the timing of the meal felt awkward.
Our next stop was in St Thomas and we had an amazing time doing the Dolphin Tour! If you can, do it. Great time spent with the animals in the water. A warning though, be prepared to shell out quite a bit for photos. They do send a photographer along with you who takes on average about 50 photos of each person as they interact with the dolphins. They offer a package where you get two prints and a cd of all your photos for $110. Expensive yes, but worth it if you can pull it off.
Next day, Dominica. Have to say, this is where things really got bad. The island was hit by a tropical storm about a month ago, and many roads are not up to par. The island's infrastructure is crippled and Princess made no mention of it. The tour we selected was the Emerald Pool and Black sand beach. In all honesty, the Emerald pool is not to be missed, absolutely beautiful. The unfortunate part is that it's on the island of Dominica. I feel somewhat bad about writing this because it is truly not the people of Dominica's fault and I hate to see the cruise line pull away support from the island as they truly seem to need it, BUT, I can't ignore the fact that this was a horrible tour after we left the natural falls and pool. Sitting in traffic on a bus, having a near miss with a construction vehicle, being driven through what at best is an unsavory area and learning all about the interaction between the Chinese and the native populations left us feeling uneasy and somewhat unsafe. To sum it up, Dominica is gorgeous from the ship.
We wanted to share our experience on the island with the shore excursions desk, so we did so that evening. The associate we spoke with took down no information, acted as if we were insane, and then informed us that the line was well aware of the problem and had notified us. Well, no warnings were issued. She was convinced it was in the Princess Patter, she poured through them to no avail. To get rid of us we were handed a form to fill out and assured that somebody would be in contact shortly. We took our "please go away now" form, and after a few minutes returned and asked to speak with the manager. He was on the phone, and unavailable, yet when he did make an appearance he was no more help. He simply asking if we had filled out the form. I tried to explain the situation to him and our dissatisfaction with the fact if the line knew there was a problem on the island, they certainly should have notified customers. He then said they were not aware. The associate who had shared with us that they knew then lied and said she had never told us that. Horrible, Horrible, Horrible customer service. What truly bothers me is she had no idea who we were, not that I'm all that important, I can only imagine if a guest in a suite had a similar experience, and was treated this way? I drafted an email to Princess, and received back a form letter indicating how important my opinion is, and they would get back to me in approximately 3 weeks. Must not be that important?
We moved on to Grenada, another lovely island, would have rather spent more time there and no time in Dominica. Great tour though when they say "active" tour, they mean it. Took an incredible hike through the rainforest and visited the 7 sisters waterfall.
Next up we had Bonaire, another beautiful island and we had reserved the 4x4 journey. Looking forward to a day of fun off road we piled into our Range Rovers only to find out our guide spoke very limited English and handed off the narration duties to another guest on the ship. She did the best she could, but I really don't like paying for a guided tour and having another guest tell me "oh look, there are animals to the right." Another fail.
Finally Aruba, absolutely beautiful island, crystal clear waters, everything you could ask for. We had opted for the Mi Dushi cruise and lunch with snorkeling. Don't think you are saving yourself a few bucks by booking the other snorkel trip. These folks do it right and served a fantastic meal of rice, bbq chicken, fish, fresh fruit, and a roll. After the snorkeling they open the bar. This was an amazing and welcome treat after a week of overpriced cocktails on the ship. Do this one if you can, the crew is a lot of fun.
We had given up on standard dining by now and had started doing the specialty restaurants. Sabatini's is well worth it, and if you can get him, ask for Daniel. I hear he's going to the Caribbean Princess sometime soon, but if you get lucky he's amazing. Knowledgeable and a bright star in an otherwise challenged cruise. We ate there for the last three nights, so that should say something!
All in all, our Emerald Princess experience was less than magical. The itinerary is a great mix of the islands in the region and you get a good feel for the area. The ship itself though is showing a good amount of wear after only 4-5 years of service and leaves a lot to be desired. Beds are uncomfortable, carpeting is well worn and fading or stained. Her crew with the exception of a few shining stars seems to be suffering from the same fate as the ship they sail. The menu was bland and even when something appeared to be "exciting" when it arrived on the plate it was less than notable.
I'm doubtful I'll ever sail Princess again. Save your money up and go on a different line.
Not a bad location even though far forward.