Empress of the Seas Entertainment & Activities
The crew of Empress delivers enough music, dance and activities to keep cruisers entertained for a few days. Most events are well-attended onboard, but keep in mind that this vessel is less of a massive "floating city" with neighborhoods and over-the-top entertainment and more of a traditional cruise ship where lounging and mingling with other passengers keep guests busy.
The Royal Theatre is a dazzling, two-deck theater that feels part opera house, part comedy club, with white marble stairs, a curved balcony and glass cocktail tables. The theater hosts a main event each evening, such as a performance from a comedian or a musical impressionist to shows like "Bailamos," featuring talented ballroom dancers, and "Three," a musical celebration about the showgirls from different eras. Each of the main events has two show times. The theater also hosts other occasional events like bingo, daytime shopping highlights and Quest, Royal Caribbean's hilarious, adults-only scavenger hunt.
The cruise director and entertainment crew do a nice job with the roster of activities and getting the passengers involved to build a sense of onboard comradery as well as excitement about the Havana call. During the day, there's dance classes, napkin-folding lessons, health seminars and yoga, line dancing at the pool, liquor tastings, and snorkeling demonstrations (in preparation for days in port). Cuba-appropriate activities include basic Spanish lessons, salsa dance classes and cigar-rolling. For some friendly competition among passengers, the crew hosts scavenger hunts, shuffleboard challenges, plenty of trivia, belly-flop contests and speed climbs up the rock wall.
In addition to all the activities happening in the bars and lounges (don't miss the salsa dancers and band in Boleros), cruisers will find poolside movies on the big screen, dance parties on the pool deck, blackjack tournaments and lotto in the casino, and night climbs on the rock wall. While the constant dance music playing from the Centrum (main atrium) during the day can be a bit much, at night when the activity staff takes to the floor and gets the crowd involved it transforms into a fun, temporary dance club. The Casino Royale has numerous slot machines and table options like blackjack, roulette and craps.
Empress of the Seas Bars and Lounges
Bars and lounges on Empress tend to be busiest right when the main show in the dining room lets out, but fizzles out fairly early in the night. Schooner Bar is the most obvious choice since it is right next to the Royal Theatre and Centrum. A fairly good crowd keeps things lively in the evening, but with limited options the music winds down around midnight to 1 a.m.
Schooner Bar (Deck 5): Located next to the Centrum, the traditional, nautical-themed bar is a staple on many Royal Caribbean ships. Dark woods, ship wheels and paintings of sailboats make up the decor, and a piano player belts out favorites in the evening. The bar itself can get crowded at times and the bartenders know how to whip up just about any drink imaginable -- from mojitos and martinis to rum runners and cosmos. During the day, it is a popular place for trivia, Spanish classes and seminars.
Boleros (Deck 6): A main hub for activities, Boleros is a fresh, new Cuban-themed bar and lounge that hosts Latin dance classes, game shows, trivia, karaoke, daiquiri-making classes, tequila flight tastings and Latin dance music (so you can show off those moves you learned). During the day, the Cafe Royal serves up specialty coffees -- making it a great spot to get the morning started. The lounge spills out onto a quiet section of the promenade (where smoking is permitted) at the aft of the vessel.
Viking Crown Lounge (Deck 10): Featuring a dance floor with disco ball dangling above it, the Viking Crown Lounge serves as the ship's dance club. The second story balcony (once part of the club) is still visible, but it now contains the fitness center. Even without the balcony, the space is still large, but features a rather unexciting decor -- it has no real character to it at all. During the day, the bar and lounge hosts a handful of health-related seminars but is otherwise a quiet place to relax.
Pool Bar (Deck 10): Grab a tropical cocktail on sea days or join one of the outdoor dance parties held here. The bar can get crowded at times, but the bartenders are efficient.
Empress of the Seas Outside Recreation
Empress only has one main swimming pool (Deck 10) and it is very small -- too small for the number of passengers lounging in chairs nearby. There are three equally small whirlpools covered by tent-like shade structures, and a children's splash pool that's easy to miss. For those seeking watersports onboard -- Empress is not the best choice.
Other outdoor recreation is very limited on Empress but includes shuffleboard and table tennis on Deck 10 and a rock wall on Deck 11. The ship has no dedicated jogging track.
There is no shortage of places to relax on Empress of the Seas with plenty of chairs and loungers on the pool deck (Deck 10). Many chairs and tables are also under Biminis for those who need some shade. There is no adults-only area, but on Deck 11, a handful of wicker chairs and hammocks provide additional lounge options that are more secluded. However, there is no break from the sun here. Chairs and loungers can also be found on the wraparound promenade on Deck 6, including the spacious smoking area outside Boleros at the aft -- but here you'll be in the shade.
Empress of the Seas Services
Deck 5 is home to the guest services and shore excursions desks, just next to the Schooner Bar, while the library is located on Deck 9 next to the main atrium, and includes small bookshelves with a handful of books and sleek, modern furniture. The main draw here is the dazzling floor-to-ceiling windows they face. These panoramic windows and new furniture are found on both sides of the ship, including in the Deck 8 card room, which features Jenga, checkers and dominoes. The loyalty desk is opposite on the starboard (right) side. Deck 7 is home to the internet cafe with eight computers, a printer and work desk. You don't need to be in the business center to use the internet, Empress' VOOM Wi-Fi is one of the better cruise ship internet systems we've come across. Prices are $12.99 per day, per device to surf, or $17.99 per day to surf and stream.
The Royal shops for jewelry, perfume, souvenirs, liquor and duty free items are located on Deck 6 next to the centrum, and the photo gallery is located on Deck 5 next to Chops and the "Picture This" photography studio.
There are no self-service launderettes onboard but laundry services are provided at an additional charge.