This was our second cruise on Emerald for the 10-day Eastern Caribbean Voyager (we did December 2007 and January 2009), this last time with the two at-sea days in the beginning so much better!. On prior cruises on Emerald and other Princess ships, we've done the formals, traditional dining, lots of on-board activities, the shows, etc. Nowadays, wife and I are simply looking for a quiet, peaceful, private, romantic, let-our-hair-down getaway. Great thing about Princess cruise on a ship as large as Emerald is that there is something for everyone. Food is superb, and entertainment first-rate, but won't go into that (see other reviews). We didn't have kids on either cruise, but I was impressed with the deck allotted only to kids, and the special gatherings and activities Princess devotes exclusively for kids.
We arrived at boat about 11:00 AM, and got to our room around 12:30. Not too bad a wait. Got quick lunch at buffet, did quick tour of ship, then up to Sky Deck for waving farewells to all the people in the high hotel balconies lining the mouth of the port. Real fun tradition, and something all first-time cruisers out of Ft. Lauderdale should definitely experience!
Got to the Sanctuary early, which my wife adores. It's pricey, $150.00/person ($300.00 total for two) to reserve a lounge chair(s) for the whole cruise (they have half-day rates too if you prefer to not make that commitment). It closes at 5 PM (why?). One deck below is a no-kids area pool and 2 hot tubs adjacent to Lotus Spa. The entire-cruise reservation is well worth the price if you're simply looking for maximum R-&-R and pampering; you don't care that much about ports (or do ½-day excursions-1/2-day Sanctuary); and you're not all that interested in attending other daytime activities on board. Tip: get there ASAP on embarkation day to reserve the best seating.
Emerald Princess, one of Princess's three Grande-class ships, truly boggles the human mind-scale of things. When you roll into port on Emerald, you will be the biggest man-made object for 500 mile radius. Even after the second time on Emerald, it still takes days to really find your way around. But what a ship!
We really liked the International Cafe, and especially loved the classical music string quartet (the four girls), who played about 5-ish each evening. To get some alone-time, I trekked up to Princess Links mini-golf on Sky Deck. Go early/late, take three balls, and you can practice by yourself. Hole 4 is par 10,000 - don't even bother with it. Unfortunately, the course has really become run-down between our first and second cruises on Emerald.
Antigua: Did Circle Antigua by Sea w/Lunch excursion. (see Woodmnky review - pretty spot-on, so will only give my impressions). Antigua is a dryer, more arid southern Caribbean island. Since we're from West, seeing yet more arid country (scrubby trees, cactus, yucca, thorny plants, etc.) wasn't that welcome, even though the island is otherwise beautiful. Circumnavigation of Antigua pretty much shows you all you might want to see on Antigua for a one-day shot. We really enjoyed this excursion and heartily recommend it for Antigua. The crew was lots of fun good humored party folk and yes, the banter from the host can be a bit bawdy, but they also never stop pouring the rum punch either. So maybe you go with the flow, right? In any event, we had no kids on our voyage. The 20-minutes on the NE Atlantic side really was Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. When the captain says, "Maybe you all ought to get indoors and hold on for dear life" - seriously consider it! But overall, I thought the whole timing of the excursion is what made it most memorable: about an hour or so around the north side sight-seeing, stop at Green Island on east-central side for private 2.5 hour snorkeling, decent lunch (chicken or fish) and swimming, then several more hours S, SW, and W sides for return trip, also touring Nelson's Dockyard and English Harbour (mega-yacht tours). The thin beach at Green Island is not much to write home about, and it had goatsheads of all things! (thorny stickers for you Eastern U.S. types, so wear sandals). But still, very pleasant. Tip: after lunch on return trip, get your sunscreen on, go to the front of catamaran starboard side, hang on to the rail and dangle your legs over the sea, have your drink cup always at the ready, then, let the water lap your feet as you lose yourself in Antigua...
Barbados: Stayed on ship (Sanctuary) on this second cruise. On first cruise, went ashore. Kingstown is a big city, and we're after smaller tropical island experiences now. But for Anthony Bourdain-types, you can have an authentic street-eating experience in Bridgetown and/or try the fantastic beach on the south side of town. If the kids in Barbados are at school, you won't get too hammered by beach vendors.
St. Lucia: Quite possibly the most beautiful tropical island in the world. Or at least that's what two ladies who had recently cruised w/Princess in Tahiti and Hawaii had told us while swimming with us in Soufriere Bay (BTW, the buoyancy of the water in that bay is phenomenal - floating is effortless, you can't drown in it). On first cruise, I thought scenic beauty of St. Lucia was on a par with Grand Canyon or some other beyond-words-beautiful destination, but come 12/8/2009 wife and I are off to Tahiti on Pacific Princess to make the comparison for ourselves.
On first cruise, we met a vendor at Castries port entry showing us pictures of their boat tour to Pitons, Soufriere, Sulphur Springs volcano, the Falls, with great lunch in open air restaurant in Anse La Rey (or was it, Anse Chastenet?). Wish I could remember the name of the tour outfit for you all because that was a great tour of the main tourist sites on the west side of the island, and a real bargain over the comparable Princess excursion. Moreover, at last minute we played poor and haggled with them for an even better price! I think they are a permanent fixture there, so you should find them (or they'll find you).
One thing I missed on that first cruise tour was a real exploration of the island's interior, so on this second cruise we took the Best of St. Lucia by Land and Sea excursion. Half-day in bus down coast road, with stops for picture taking (and vendors), a tour of a plantation with lunch (pretty good), same stops as first tour less the Falls, ½-hour or so swimming in bay, then half-day by water back to Castries. We didn't really like this tour. You see the interior, but half-day in crowded bus is not fun, and our tour guide was disinterested to the point of being surly. Plantation stop was very interesting though. Even though scenic, thing that really disappointed me about St. Lucia was the poverty, dirt, garbage. Tip: Save money and enjoy yourself even more by taking the non-Princess boat tour at the port entry.
St. Kitts: This is a really lovely island. On first cruise, we took a taxi to beach at South Frigate Bay. What a view! A setting like Diamond Head in Hawaii. You pay a nominal fee for a lounge chair on the beach, unless you buy lunch/drinks at their nearby cabana -which of course, we gladly did.
Second cruise we did St. Kitts Rain Forest Walk excursion. This was our "educational" experience, and worth the $$$ if you, like us, divvy up your cruise experience between equal parts education, sight-seeing, beach lounging, shopping, shore dining, etc. After narrated bus ride west, walk starts out from Romney Manor. Very beautiful gardens and a batik demonstration worth seeing at Manor. Our guide, Winston, was wonderful and very knowledgeable about every nuance of the rain forest. St. Kitts has monkeys, but as Winston says: In St. Kitts, if you see a man with a monkey, expect "monkey business" (i.e., it costs to touch). This afternoon tour moves slowly and has plenty of stops for Winston's narratives, but it also has about ¼-mile of a pretty steep climb. We're in reasonably good shape, but if you have some health or physical fitness issues you might consider avoiding this tour. The tour advertises fruit drinks and light lunch at end, but they also pulled out some rum, which was a fun surprise. I'd eat a hearty lunch on boat beforehand because it can seem like a long hot day. Also, we got to St. Kitts on a Sunday, when everything was closed down. On first cruise, a weekday, we really enjoyed the town square activities in downtown Basseterre from the veranda at Ballahoos.
St. Thomas: Did the Champagne Catamaran Sailaway to St. John excursion. Half-day, morning cruise, drive out to east end of the island (interesting in itself), then on catamaran operated by expatriate Americans. The captain and crew were fun! And willing to share with you their Margaritaville experience. Do I hear, "House Hunters International, Baby?" This was our best excursion for snorkeling (plentiful colorful fish, turtles, lobsters, etc.), out on a limestone reef off St. John, and it's a very scenic cruise through the straits going out (port) and coming back (starboard). They motor out to give you as much time as possible snorkeling and swimming, then set sail (slower) on return trip, all the while pouring champagne. Hmmm...got a little "wavy" on the return trip (LoL). Only down-side: lunch was chips, crackers, and cheese, like something off the shelf from Wal-Mart. Eat a hearty breakfast. Otherwise, definitely recommend this excursion for snorkeling and sailing. And then you still have the afternoon for a taxi ride to downtown Charlotte Amalie for shopping save your shopping for St. Thomas or sleeping it off on the boat.
Princess Cays: Ahhh....if only the weather in the Bahamas can hold long enough! Always a crap-shoot for sun versus rain at Princess Cays. And water is much colder there too (like public swimming pool). BUT, if it's gets sunny and warm hopefully burning off by mid-morning, then definitely make Princess Cays your primary beach day experience sunning, swimming, snorkeling, band music, barbecue, beach-combing, volleyball, ping-pong, water sports, excellent kids playground, cabana socializing, no harassment from vendors - just the fun stuff. Princess goes to the total max entertaining, feeding, and pampering you on Princess Cays. Makes for the perfect last day of the cruise.
Which, of course, is always the ultimate problem with a cruise vacation - it ends too soon!!! Read Less