My wife, Ginny, and I cruised on the Emerald Princess to the Southeastern Caribbean, embarking in Ft. Lauderdale on November 30th and disembarking 10 days later on December 10th. The ship was very nice and the staff were excellent. This was our 8th cruise on Princess and it lived up to our expectations.
Parking and Embarkation We drove from Suntree, Florida, just north of Melbourne, Florida, to Ft. Lauderdale's Port Everglades, about a 175 mile drive South on I-95. This required parking at the terminal which was complicated by the fact that the Emerald Princess departed from a different terminal than it planned to return to after the cruise. It required leaving passengers and baggage at one terminal, driving a couple of miles to another terminal and taking a shuttle back. Internet directions did include the correct parking garage but not the correct pier. I followed signs at the port and it worked out okay but created a little anxiety.
Hint: Take cell phones if you drop off passengers so you can contact them if you are separated. It took about 40 minutes to park and shuttle while fellow passengers were expecting 5 or 10 minutes. Our cell phone contacts kept everyone informed.
Embarkation was fairly routine and it took only 15 or 20 minutes to board the ship at about 12:30 PM even though the ship was booked to capacity. We had "preferred" boarding passes but went through the regular lines.
Ship The Emerald Princess is a beautiful, 113,000 ton, 3080 passenger ship. Its venues, restaurants, lounges and dining rooms are all similar to the other Princess ships in its class. A couple of very notable exceptions are the renaming and positioning of the steakhouse, the repositioning of the Wheelhouse Bar, and the Adagio Bar. The Crown Grill is now the steakhouse, a much more elegant and upscale restaurant compared to the Sterling steakhouse on similar Princess ships. The Wheelhouse Bar location was traded with the Crown Grill with both locations benefiting. The Adagio Bar sits next to and nicely complements Sabatini's restaurant on deck 17. The Sanctuary of the Lotus Spa is a new venue on deck 17 but we are not spa patrons so don't have a feel for it. The lounges, shops, and casino are all very nice.
Restaurants There are three main dining rooms with two designated for "anytime dining". We elected "anytime dining" and had our choice of either the DaVinci dining room on deck 6 or the Michelango dining room just below it on deck 5. We had no wait of longer than five minutes for dining anytime during the cruise.
Hint: You can make reservations for "anytime dining". You might also avoid times that are real busy if you do not have a reservation. We always dined about 6 PM without a wait.
Sabatini's, one of the personal choice dining rooms, is a special treat. We have tried Sabatini's on several Princess ships and have always been pleased with the service, food and atmosphere. With the Adagio Bar next door, the two make for a pleasant evening.
Hint: Skip a late afternoon snack before Sabatini's because the amount of food treats in the dining experience are big!
The Horizon Court Buffet, where we had our embarkation lunch, several breakfasts, and afternoon snacks is in the Horizon Court. A very nice feature is that it is open around the clock in some form. A hidden feature is the afternoon ice cream and waffle bars which are open around 3:30 PM.
Hint: Don't give up if you can't find "free" ice cream. It was usually on the side marked as "buffet line closed".
The food in all the restaurants was very good. Occasionally we ordered something to try that we didn't care for, but more often than not the things we tried were very good. I didn't care for the smoked sturgeon, for instance, but the butterfish and tiger prawns were excellent.
Ports We didn't take any shore excursions although there were many for passengers who wished to tour the islands, partake in water sports, or shop. Shopping was available within walking distance from the ship at all the ports. The significant near pier shopping was in Aruba and St. Thomas with St. Thomas having a clear edge in variety. Pier side shopping in Grenada, Bonaire and Dominica was meager, at best. You could get local souvenirs.
Hint: If you want to see or experience the island stops, book a ship's sponsored tour. You cannot properly experience the island or its people with a pier side visit.
Shipboard Life We cruise in the Carribean principally to experience the shipboard life. There are a large variety of activities and venues. The pool areas on the upper decks may be the most popular. There is also the casino which we enjoy. The Emerald Princess had a nice variety of games and slot machines in the casino with optional coinless play.
Hint: Establish the coinless bank system for yourself using your cruise card. It is an efficient, fast and safe way to manage money in the casino.
Disembarkation Disembarkation was fast and efficient. We enjoy every minute of our cruises, but waiting around in one of the public areas in order to be called for disembarkation is painful for us. Spoiled? Yes. Princess provides the option for "drag your own bags off" which is nice if you and every one in your party can manage their own bags. We opted for going to a designated area and getting our bags after we disembarked. Bags were well organized in the pier area and it took just a couple of minutes to find ours. Customs was painless.
Hint: Be timely to your designated disembarkation area. Princess was. Have your cruise card, customs form, and passport ready before they are needed.
Staff Every member of the Emerald Princess staff we encountered was excellent. There were smiles and greetings everywhere. We felt comfortable and pampered.
Conclusion We had a very nice time on the Emerald Princess and will sail with them again for the 9th time. Why? We booked an open future cruise with the future cruise consultant.
Hint: Booking a future cruise on board is a great deal. Great benefits, like shipboard credit and lower booking down payment, with little or no risks.