EMERALD PRINCESS CRUISE REVIEW SAIL DATES SUNDAY JANUARY 24, 2010 - SUNDAY JANUARY 31, 2010 FROM PORT EVERGLADES FT. LAUDERDALE FLORIDA CRUISING THE EASTERN CARIBBEAN
SUMMARY: This was our first cruise and will be the start of many more ... Read More
EMERALD PRINCESS CRUISE REVIEW SAIL DATES SUNDAY JANUARY 24, 2010 - SUNDAY JANUARY 31, 2010 FROM PORT EVERGLADES FT. LAUDERDALE FLORIDA CRUISING THE EASTERN CARIBBEAN
SUMMARY: This was our first cruise and will be the start of many more cruises. We had the greatest time on this trip and very happy with our experience. The Emerald Princess is in pristine shape after coming out of dry-docking a month earlier. The exterior was sparkling white with fresh paint. The interior was immaculate with fresh carpet, paint, and tasteful decorating. The crew is in very good spirits and service outstanding from day 1 till the end of the cruise. Weather was wonderful with the minor exception of Princess Cays. This cruise was so nice we will be doing our best to return to her next year around this time. 5 Stars all the way. We will go into detail for all of the aspects of the cruise we experienced. If you have any questions please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook (West Anson and Michelle Anson).
BIOGRAPHY: We are West and Michelle, a married couple around 40, from Omaha Nebraska. We celebrated 20 years of Marriage on 1/29/2010. Never getting to take a honeymoon when we were young prompted us to go "all out" for this celebration. We are your average couple with 2 teenage kids. Both of us work hard and enjoy our time off trying new experiences. We were deciding between an All-Inclusive resort and a Cruise to a warm weather climate. After thinking it over we decided to go "cruising" and I am certain we made the right decision.
PRE-PRE CRUISE: We started planning 3 months prior to our actual cruise date. This gave us enough time to do research and prepare for the expenses which go with a cruise. We studied all of the major cruise lines and destinations. It came down to Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises to the Eastern Caribbean. We wanted the Eastern Caribbean because of the ability to go to the beaches in the wintertime. The tough call was choosing RC or PC, we decided to go with Princess because both of us watched "The Love Boat" growing up and since we were celebrating "our love" it just seemed to fall in place.
We did all of our booking through the Princess Website. We originally booked a AA Mini-Suite as we wanted the balcony and some of the extra amenities which come with the higher class cabin. Three weeks prior to departure we were pleasantly surprised as we received a "free major upgrade". They had moved us up to a Penthouse Suite! We were in absolute shock as this is unheard of. The only suite higher in class is the Owners Suite. We were very excited now.
To prepare ourselves for the cruise we purchase a few items every payday. Since we had plenty of time, 3 months, it was not a burden. Each of us updated some items in our wardrobe, but not too much. Formal wear was the big purchase, luckily we found lots of stuff on sale just after the holidays and tuxedos are plentiful on eBay.
Both of us are semi-active, but we really got active and watched the holiday eating so we were in decent shape prior to the cruise. In addition, all people should go "tanning" long before your cruise. We are not kidding or trying to insult you. First off, you want to look good for the cruise as you will be in your bathing suits and summer clothing in the wintertime. Secondly, if you do not tan you will get "burned to a bright fire red!" Seriously, we could not help but laugh our asses off when we saw some of the people after one day in the sun. They looked terrible and could tell they were in absolute pain! We have no doubt they were very ill during the cruise from over exposure to sun. Photos are taken all of the time while on-board and the ones which had sunburns looked absolutely hideous! Photos are displayed throughout the cruise along the hallway to the dining rooms. Everybody was laughing so hard at those who were "red-faced" in more ways than one. So for your physical and psychological health please visit the Tanning Booths a couple months prior to departing. Sunless tanning is not tanning and using UV protection lotion will not work, you will go from orange to red-orange after day one. Do the tanning beds for a couple of months and you will not regret it.
About 2 week before departure we started packing. This was a 7 day cruise with 2 formal nights and 4 Island stops. We over-packed at first and then pared down on the last couple of days prior to leaving. This worked out great as we had plenty of time to really think about what we really wanted to bring and what was just not needed. Each of us had 2 large checked bags and 2 small carry-on bags. We had plenty of extra room to "smuggle" alcohol and bring back souvenirs.
We booked our excursions and special requests prior to embarkation. When you book through Princess you are guaranteed a spot. Excursions filled up fast and not having to wait in line before docking in ports was a real time saver. The prices are the same whether you book pre-cruise or during the cruise. Be sure you have your passport and all other materials prior to leaving. Do not pack your passport or sailing documentation in your checked bags as you will need them to board the ship.
PRE-CRUISE: We recommend booking your pre-cruise transfers with Princess for two reasons. The first, all of the arrangements are made for you and don't need to think about it. Princess Personnel will meet you when you arrive at the airport and guide you. Secondly, perhaps the best benefit is you get Priority Embarkation. When we arrived at the Cruise-port we were able to go in the side door. The main entrance had a line about a mile long and could tell the passengers were not at all happy to be waiting in such a long line. We had our ID cards and on the ship in 20 minutes. The other passengers spent at least an hour getting aboard the ship. This alone is worth the Pre-Cruise Transfers cost, we paid $99 each for hotel and all transfers. The hotel was a nice Marriot about 10 minutes from the Cruise-port and close to stores/restaurants. We purchase our alcohol and last minute items at the local liquor store and Walgreens.
BOARDING: Each passenger goes through security and ends up at the check-in stations. The check-in stations are separated based on classes of cabins. We had the Penthouse Suite so we were able to check-in the Preferred Line. The Preferred line had red-carpet and Paparazzi snapping photos, no not really but it was better staffed. Each line went very quickly and we were on the ship in about 20 minutes. This process is very smooth and did not see many issues.
CABIN: Penthouse Suite R412 (Aruba Suite, Riviera Deck 14). We had a good idea of what to expect when we arrived at our Suite. However, it was better than expected. The Penthouse Suite is huge in size, over 500 square feet. The sleeping area and living area can be separated by a heavy curtain partition. A very large walk-in closet is just off the sleeping area. The bath is a 3 foot deep whirlpool Jacuzzi! Large glass shower is separate from the bath but next to the bath. The lavatory and sink is separate from the bath area and is well stocked with upgraded amenities. There is a huge dressing vanity in the sleeping area separate from the vanity in the bathroom. All of the walls and ceilings are very posh and nicely lit. I believe there are about 10 different lighting accents. The balcony is very wide and adequately deep, enough for the 2 lay-down wood lounge chairs and a cafe type table and chairs. Riviera is also the highest cabin deck, you can see down into the other balconies but they cannot see up into yours. The sides are partitioned off and locked.
This Suite has so many amenities to list. You can get a basic list from the Princess website but here are the ones we really enjoyed. • Free access to the Thermal Suite in the Lotus Spa (~$200 pp value). This is absolutely the best kept secret on the entire ship. The Thermal Suite is a secluded, quiet, & very private area with 2 wet saunas, 2 rainforest showers, dry spa, & 5 hot beds. You get to go anytime to just relax. They will put a star sticker on your Ships ID card when you visit the spa the first time. We visited on a daily basis and really became spoiled. • Free access to the Captains Circle Elite Events held everyday. Numerous events are held just for Elite and Suite Members which you get special treatment such as gifts, food, drinks, etc. • Free access to VIP Port events. All of the ports have special events for VIP members from the ship which you get special treatment such as gifts, food, drinks, etc. • Upgraded Room Service menu. Suite owners get the entire kitchen at your "beck and call". Seriously, you get whatever you want just ask for it. • Free internet and laptop use. Not many know this but you can have a ship provided laptop in your room. Go down to the internet cafe and just ask for one. If they have one, which they will because nobody knows about them, you can have it for the entire cruise. When you sign up for internet access, sign up for the max price plan and you will be charged at first then credited later that night. • Free laundry service. No need to bring a lot of extra clothes with use of the laundry service. Put your clothes in the laundry bags and they will be returned the next day cleaned, pressed, and on hangers. • Afternoon tea available everyday. This isn't your typical "tea party". You get many different teas, sandwiches, & pastries. One order is enough for 6 people. We hosted a "tea party" on the last day with a few of our fellow shipmates and had a great time. • Free breakfast each morning at Sabatini's. Suite owners get free access to Sabatini's for made-to-order breakfasts which are much higher quality than anywhere on the ship. • Priority Tender processing for Princess Cays. You get to go on the tender when you want and they will bump everyone else for you to have your spot. While we didn't get to go to Princess Cays, due to weather, this would have been nice as there were hundreds of people waiting in line. • Anytime disembarkation at the end of the cruise. Want to sleep in on the last day? Go ahead; you get to leave the ship when you feel like it. You will have to depart the ship eventually but at least won't be rushed off the ship. Plus you get a Continental Breakfast while waiting.
FOOD AND DRINKS: We choose to have Traditional Dining on the second seating as opposed to Anytime Dining, it was a great decision. Second seating is at 8:15pm giving you plenty of time to be prepared for eating. Traditional Dining is served in the Botticelli Dining Room. If we were hungry earlier we would simply visit one of the Cafes, room service, or grab a snack. The food in the Traditional Dining was outstanding and exquisite. Finer dishes along with standard fares were served by very professional and courteous maitre des. The room was beautiful and the other patrons were very festive throughout the cruise. When we think of Cruise Dining this is what we thought of and received. Talking with fellow shipmates about their experience with Anytime Dining confirmed our decision was correct. While the food and service with Anytime Dining was okay, it was not spectacular. In addition, many complained about the wait time. Go with the Traditional Dining and you will be very happy.
As for the Specialty (pay extra) Dining, we enjoyed Sabatini's for our complementary breakfasts a couple times. The service and food were very good made-to-order breakfasts. This was included in our Suite so we did not have to pay. A couple of our shipmates we talked with said both Sabatini's and Crown Grill were good and worth the $25 pp. In addition, we requested to have the Chefs Table Dinner for $75 pp but were not selected. We were hoping to get this but there are a limited number of spots and selected by lottery.
The best dining we had was the Balcony Dinner which we paid $50 pp to celebrate our 20th Wedding Anniversary. It was incredible, absolutely the best time we had on-board. We were served a 5 course meal with alcohol, wine, & champagne. Each entrEe was 2 extremely large Lobster Tails, at least 2 lbs each! They were magnificent and the other dishes were just as good. We were so full and drunk we couldn't even leave our room. We highly recommend doing this at least once on-board.
The buffet and deck area food was satisfactory. Don't expect giant seafood buffets or exquisite meals coming from the buffet. It is on par with Old Country Buffet or Golden Coral. You won't be dissatisfied, but you will feel longing for something better. The "fast food" around the pool area was good, especially the pizza and ice cream.
The food in the Piazza was very good. The International Cafe has a great mix of salads, "fingerwiches", and deserts. Vines wine and Sushi bar is outstanding. Sushi is free with purchase of wine. We ate about $100 worth of Sashimi for the cost of $20 in wine. We highly recommend visiting Vines a couple times while on-board. The English Pub had fish and chips every other day. We enjoyed the typical English fare but after eating it twice that was enough.
Now for the 3 things most people want to know. Here is the skinny on soda, coffee, and alcohol. Soda, buy the soda sticker as soon as you see someone selling it. The crew personnel are by the elevators and throughout the ship selling them and you get a free soda bottle. Cost is $30 pp for the whole cruise and can get soda anywhere. Sodas will cost around $2 each without the card. We carried around a flask to spike our sodas when we wanted a mixed drink. Coffee, we are not so sure about the value of the card. We are not big coffee drinkers so we did not get a card. Free coffee is available in all dining areas and the buffet. The buffet coffee is terrible and would be better put to use as a cleaning agent. The dining room coffee is good. The Cafe coffee is outstanding. We found out why the buffet coffee is so bad, it is made from liquid concentrate. All other areas it is made from grounds. If you don't care about paying exorbitant prices for adult beverages then don't read any further. If you want to save money, "smuggle" onboard rum, vodka, whiskey, tequila, etc in Rum Runners (www.rumrunnerflasks.com). We did not get caught and I don't think many others did either. Wine and Champagne can be brought on board without any questions, just remember to bring a corkscrew it will cost you $15 if you don't. In addition to our own "stash" we bought numerous specialty drinks which were very good. Each day there is a specialty drink for $6-$7, otherwise expect to pay a lot for alcohol.
SHOWS AND MUTS: The large production shows provided very good entertainment. Each night, in the Princess Theatre, a Music Show or Comedian performed. The two Comedians on-board this cruise were Kevin Hughes and Phil Tag. Both were outstanding at poking fun at the ships "special features", fellow shipmates, and life in general. The Music Shows provided good entertainment and the costumes very elaborate. Throughout the ship, in the lounges and sitting areas, performers also performed acts and small shows. The Piazza was the busiest with short acts every few hours while at sea. Be sure to catch as many of the shows as possible, you will not be disappointed. Tim Donovan is the ships Cruise Director; he was a show in and of himself! Defiantly see all of the shows in which his staff performs. The London Pub Night was a riot, be sure to catch this show with Tim and his staff.
Movies under the Stars, a.k.a MUTS, was always on in the pool area Amidships. Most of the shows being played were recent DVD releases along with some concerts and sports. We caught a couple of the movies while at Sea.
OTHER SHIP AMENITIES: The gym on board the ship is very modern and all of the way forward on the upper level. The gym was busy while at sea with lots of people staying in shape and enjoying the views. The spa is in the same location as the gym and is very nice with reasonable prices. As a suite passenger we had unlimited access to the Thermal Spa. The TS is incredible and worth the cost if you really want to unwind on a daily basis. We did not visit the Sanctuary as we didn't feel the need to use it. Duty/tax free shopping can be done on the ship. Your ships ID card is used to pay for everything and should be monitored daily. Every morning we would get a print out of our account to keep track of expenditures. Some good deals can be purchased while on-board, some not so good deals. Photos are a little expensive but are very high quality. There can be deals throughout the cruise but wait till the last day as all of your photos will be on display. The casino is a typical casino. Lots of slots, a few table games, etc. You can use your ships ID card or cash for playing. Be sure to "cash in" your casino winnings before the end of the cruise. If you don't you will not get your money you have won.
PORTS OF CALL AND EXCURSIONS: The Eastern Caribbean is well known for the POC featuring beaches and lots of sun. For the most part, we were please with the POCs we visited and the excursions we participated in. Be sure to book your excursions early to avoid missing out on the best excursions. While the veteran cruisers have no problem going out on there own, first-timers should probably stick with the planned excursions. The prices are reasonable and if the Princess sponsored excursion is late, the ship will not leave. The ship leaves at precise times and will not wait for late-comers. There were at least a few shipmates who found that out the hard way.
The first POC was Princess Cays, Bahamas. When were arrived in Princess Cays the weather was not the greatest and the seas very high. Due to the high seas the Captain cancelled this POC. While we were disappointed in this it ended up being a good thing for St. Maarten/St. Martin. The Captain was able to get us into St. Maarten/St. Martin 4 hours earlier on day 4 and stay an hour later! St. Maarten/St. Martin is one island with 2 countries.
St. Maarten is the Dutch side with good shopping and where we docked for the day. You will not be disappointed if you plan on visiting St. Maarten for shopping. As with all of the POCs in the Eastern Caribbean, you will find great deals on jewelry, liquor, tobacco, perfume, and clothing. The day prior to our arrival, the ship's "Shopping Guru" has a large POC presentation you will not want to miss. The presentation will give you the best places to shop for the goods you are looking for and be sure to purchase a POC Shopping Book for $25. All of the ports offer great deals and this book lists them along with the "free stuff". We visited St. Maarten in the AM to purchase some great items. Color changing clothing from Del Sol, some great local Guava Berry Rum, a Cuban cigar to smoke while in port, and the best chocolate we have ever tasted. As for the "free stuff" don't expect to get a $1000 diamond ring. However, you will be able to get lots of loose gemstones and other items for free just by visiting the shops. Don't get too stressed out trying to get all of the free stuff, just wonder around and if you see something you like go take a look. Of course, if you have a problem with "hard sale" salespersons you may want to avoid shopping. But you really can find some great deals and believe me you are not the only ones who just "browse" for the free stuff. Some of the places prefer cash but all of the shops take CC and are duty/tax free. When we checked our bank statements there also was no money conversion fee, so the price you see in US Dollars is the price you pay.
St. Martin is the French side of the island with the great beaches. We booked the Orient Beach Bash via Princess and were not disappointed. A tour host meets and greets you on the pier and guides you all the way. Orient Beach is a "Clothing Optional" beach about 20-30 minutes away from the pier. The weather was windy, sunny, and warm. The beach is very clean; the water was warm and absolutely beautiful. Free rum punch was served all afternoon and food/other drinks are available for extra. However, the prices are high and they only accept Euros. We ate on the ship prior to the excursion so eating was not very important. The scenery was wonderful, including the "clothing optional" beach-goers. After a short while we didn't even take notice to the topless women. The full nude beach is further south and was busy as both sexes just "hang out", literally. While one of us had no problem taking it all off (you can guess which one, West), Michelle never felt intimidated and rather enjoyed the views. We had such a great time here we will defiantly visit Orient Beach in the future.
On day 4, the ship visited St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. St. Thomas is very modern and not much different than a typical city in the United States. This is where we made our "steal of the cruise" purchase of 2 Movado Museum Watches for $300! We were given the "heads up" in the POC Presentation and did not want to miss out. We were very happy as these watches are over $300 each in the States. We purchased some other small items as well. For our Excursion we chose the half-day catamaran/snorkeling tour of St. Thomas and St. Johns. A tour guide met us just outside the pier and we took a shuttle bus through St. Thomas to the docks where we met the catamaran. The weather was incredible in St. Thomas/St. Johns and the excursion was outstanding. Food and drinks flowed at this excursion and the catamaran crew was great.
On day 5, the ship visited Grand Turk. Grand Turk is still recovering from Hurricane Ike in 2008. While the port is new and modern the inner city has been devastated. If at all possible try to save a lot of your shopping for this port as the country really needs as much help as possible. You will find the best deals on alcohol, tobacco, perfume, and clothing. There are some local goods, but not much as there is not much of an island or people left over after the hurricane. We visited Governors Beach for the day for sun and snorkeling. The water is absolutely crystal clear and clean! We could see 20-30 feet down. Coral and fish were everywhere. Grand Turk is a superb place to snorkel and SCUBA dive. Food and drinks were available for those who paid for the excursion. The beach is a couple of miles from the pier and within walking distance. Of course, a trip to Grand Turk is not complete till you visit Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. Once again I highly recommend spending as much money as you can afford at Grand Turk. The deals are good and the island desperately needs the tourist money.
DAYS AT SEA: We enjoyed three and a half days at Sea relaxing and getting to know our shipmates and the ship. There are lots of areas on the ship to see and escape to. We highly recommend starting at the top and keep working your way down. This ship is very large but you will learn very quickly how to best navigate the winding halls and large common areas. Carry the pocket map with you along with your ID card at all times. The pool areas are very large and of course you must deal with the "chair hogs". A fun game is to get up early and hang out on the pool decks and remove all of the "chair hogs" towels from the chairs then watch them freak out! Hahahahaha! There are three pool areas with "distinct" patrons on each of them. You will figure it out immediately as they will gravitate to the "not pre-determined but you swear it is" locations. Use the stairs as the elevators are always packed with "people" riding the elevators up/down one level instead of walking one hundred feet. It is so funny to see people take an elevator one level when they could simply walk. You will not have access to the crew areas, but magically crew members come out of nowhere!
DISEMBARKATION AND POST CRUISE: Sadly it all must come to an end and the ship will be in Fort Lauderdale. Disembarkation is very simple and you will be off the ship in an orderly fashion. You can pay to have your bags sent to the airport by the ship and disembark early if you need to leave promptly. Otherwise the night before you will get color/number coded luggage tags. The last day you will muster in the designated areas and leave the ship. We stayed an extra day in Fort Lauderdale to visit the area and see the NFL Pro-Bowl. Rented a car for cheap and stayed near the Cruise port/Airport. Shuttles and taxis are in abundance. Taxis are reasonable and recommended to get to your final destination the fastest.
FINAL WORDS AND THOUGHTS: This was the best vacation we have ever had and will be cruising for the remainder of our life. It is really hard to beat the luxury and value of cruising compared to other forms of vacation. Princess Cruise Lines and The Emerald Princess have our loyalty and trust to make sure we have a great time in the future. We hope you enjoyed this review and if you have any further questions please contact us at your convenience. We kept most of the cruise specific documents such as Princess Patters (daily news and schedule) and other items. We have tons of photos and videos which we are posting on our Facebook Pages(West Anson and Michelle Anson). Let us know if you want anything. See ya my friends! Read Less