Pre Cruise: Our vacation began in Ft. Lauderdale where we stayed in a small, newly-built, Quality Suites hotel near the airport. If you're staying overnight prior to the cruise, you won't need a rental car. The hotel will pick ... Read More
Pre Cruise: Our vacation began in Ft. Lauderdale where we stayed in a small, newly-built, Quality Suites hotel near the airport. If you're staying overnight prior to the cruise, you won't need a rental car. The hotel will pick you up at the airport and transport you to the cruise pier for free. You won't need a car rental, as you can walk to a few nearby restaurants. But if you plan to do shopping or site seeing, rent a car and enjoy everything that this city has to offer.
Embarkation: We boarded the Emerald Princess on Saturday around Noon time and the call for general boarding had commenced. Although we have Elite status, we were ushered into a long line which took about an hour for us to get on board. So we missed having lunch in the MDR which closes at 1pm. We didn't mind this so much because we had five days at sea before reaching our first port. We were not in a hurry. We chose this voyage because we wanted to experience ports that we had not previously visited. In Barcelona, all passengers were required to exit the ship for customs clearance. No luggage checks, just passport clearance. Passengers on a tour/excursion were required to take their passports with them for re-entry at the terminal. Those individuals who remained on board took their passport to the control officer. Quick & easy. Of course, some passengers didn't understand that the term "all passengers" applied to them, so the crew had to locate those individuals and usher them off the ship before the rest of us could return. We waited about 2 hours in the terminal before we noticed that everyone was already returning to the ship. I recommend that you take a tour of the city to avoid the wait time and enjoy a walking tour of Barcelona. The bus & metro service are super easy, the taxi service is reasonable, and the city is very pedestrian friendly. Las Ramblas is an area that should not be missed.
The Ship: The Emerald Princess emerged from dry dock just prior to our cruise. So much of the public areas were updated and polished. The most noticeable upgrade is the Market Fresh dining area. Other areas of the ship received fresh carpet and some areas were got a fresh coat of paint. We were pleased that the zumba classes were moved from the piazza area. Sports events, competitions, and musical celebrations can get pretty loud. We could clearly hear the dance music in the elevator on the Lido Deck (deck 15). We found several empty bar areas to use as a hideaway for reading, puzzles and light conversation. The destination lectures were fabulous. The expert advice offered during these sessions were invaluable. She had a wealth of knowledge, a great personality, and a direct focus on the important issues.
Entertainment: I don't enjoy the musicals and stand up entertainment shows provided on cruise ships. I live in a city where entertainment is the main industry.So I don't attend these shows while cruising. Some people in the audience clearly love them. So I consider myself an anomoly. The ring toss, bag toss, and poolside events appear to be very popular with the majority of cruisers. Since I don't enjoy watching or participating in those activities, I don't criticize them. The ratings scale does not provide N/A options.
Dining: The Horizon Court is now called World Market Fresh which features a clean and spacious design with new tables and chairs. The food is appealing, artfully displayed, and makes self service much easier. The section at the rear of the ship featured made-to-order omelets at breakfast and ramen noodle stir fry at noon. The serving lines could be long on those days. At dinner time, those areas at the rear were converted to casually elegant restaurants called Planks and Steamers Seafood which alternated from one night to the next. I don't know the schedule because we dined only once in each venue. They weren't busy so the hostess would seat you without reservations. There was a lot of food included for the $12 upcharge and the food was plentiful and flavorful. It was also nice and quiet. Other dining options that are free, besides World Market Fresh, include International Cafe, and the open deck spots featuring pizza and a hot dog/hamburger grill. The Crown Grill and Share are specialty restaurants, in elegant surroundings, which charge $39 and $29 respectively. There are three main dining rooms (MDR) on this ship. Two feature traditional dining and one features anytime dining. The Anytime Dining option has improved significantly. If you arrive anytime after 7:30pm, you'll be seated expeditiously. If you prefer to eat earlier, I recommend the traditional dining. It might have been a fluke, but it seemed to me that the MDR is as noisy as Market Fresh with clattering of dishes, loud conversations and very little sound absorption.
Excursions: In Funchal, Portugal we thoroughly enjoyed the TukTuk Taxi tour. We made reservations prior to departure at http://www.tukxi.pt/, and the driver, Caroline, picked us up right outside the terminal at the pier, right on time. She took us on a 2.5 hour ride through the winding streets of the city where there were very few cars, lots of locals, and some terrific photo ops. We visited the major tourist attractions and she even stopped to pick some fruit and fragrant plants along the way. The cost for 2.5 hours was 52.00 USD (47.00 Euro) and we were extremely satisfied.
In Morocco, we selected a Princess excursion that included a visit to the capital city of Rabat because our research indicated that there was not very much to see and do in Casablanca. In both cities, the traffic jams, road construction, and pedestrians made it extremely difficult to move around. Our guide had a very strong accent and the radio communicators were fuzzy and annoying. In Casablanca, we stopped at a mosque and a government building to view non-descript mosaic tiles. There was really nothing else to see. On our way to Rabat,the guide told us that we would enjoy a bathroom break "very soon" which turned out to be after noon. He told us that the acceptable bathrooms along the road were closed for construction. In Rabat, we visited a major mosque with acceptable toilets and we were able to see only the outside of the Royal Palace because, unfortunately, the royal family was in residence. We had lunch, with lots of food, in an upscale restaurant without air conditioning before returning to ship. The rush hour traffic of Casablanca was the most memorable portion of the tour. I don't mean to sound snobby in my assessment of Morocco and I hope to visit again in a couple of years as it will likely be more prepared for western tourism. Read Less