The New Emerald Princess - Part 2 in a Two-Part Series

| Tuesday, 05 Mar. 2013

Emerald Princess Accommodations

Princess staterooms are comfortable and very well appointed. The ship has an abundance of balcony cabins, 710 out of the total 1300. The standard balcony cabins come with very small bathrooms and a shower with a plastic curtain that gets a little too intimate. There is barely enough space to hang two bath towels, and while they provide shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and shower caps, they forgot the shower gel. If you want a decent sized bathroom opt for a mini-suite at least, You will get a full bathtub and two sinks in the bathroom. You also get a full seating area with a separate television, a table large enough for dining, and an extra large verandah.

All staterooms come with mini-bars, comfortable beds with extra pillows and blanket, plenty of hangers and closet storage but fewer drawers, hair dryers and an abundance of American 110-volt outlets. This is the first ship I have ever seen with 110-volt outlets throughout - even in the public rooms. This is helpful, because Internet access of any kind is not available in any staterooms, so if you have a laptop you will have to carry it to the Piazza or top deck to connect.

There are launderettes on every stateroom deck, with free irons and boards, and soap & softener for sale. Bring plenty of quarters.

The room stewards are vigilant. They will leave fresh fruit in your room upon request at no charge. A large, 1.5 liter bottle of water is only $3.25. This is first time I did not feel compelled to buy water on shore to avoid ship prices.

For more on the ship's staterooms refer to our ship review.

Family Cruising on Emerald

There were over 600 minors on our cruise, infants to 20 years old, and we heard the following cruise would have 900. The ship has extensive programs for children from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. with a gap for dinner. Activities are free of charge and babysitting is available after 10:00 p.m. for a fee.

I have to say that I have never seen more vigilant youth counselors at night, working well after midnight to keep on eye on the night owl teens. They were posted at the doors to the nightclubs, checking IDs, and even hiding in dark corners with vantage points of the places where youngsters are most likely to get in trouble after dark. They carried with them dossiers on every minor on board, including their true age, cabin number, etc. Keep in mind the legal drinking age in Europe is 18.

Of the many comments I have received about the ship, only one complained about the children's programs. She contends that Royal Caribbean is a better choice if your goal is to travel with kids. She noted there is no water park or even a water slide like Carnival ships, which kids admittedly love. There are plenty of other things for kids however, and though this may not be the number one class of ships for kids, it is probably in the top three.

My personal opinion is that if you are taking a European cruise you should ask yourself if your kids will really appreciate it, or will they just become a hindrance and cost liability? Europe is expensive, and paying hundreds of dollars for food and tours, only to end up shushing them every other minute because they are bored will make it much harder for you to enjoy your trip. Based on what I saw, I personally would opt to take children to the Caribbean, and travel to Europe on my own.

Emerald Princess Shore Tours

When we first arrived on the ship, we were disappointed to see that some of the tours we wanted were already marked "sold out". All the major cruise lines now accept excursion bookings online well in advance of the sail date. Upon asking the tour desk, however, we were told it was possible to still get on these tours. I cannot say why, but it obviously never hurts to ask.

Princess deserves a reputation as a tour innovator, finding the unusual and challenging ventures well beyond the old fashioned "drive-by bus tours" once so common. Every stop on this 11-port itinerary had a dozen or more tour options priced anywhere from $40 to $350. In some ports almost all of them were marked as "challenging" for people of lesser stamina, involving steep or long walks.

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Ceiling of Pantheon   Guides with Headsets   Inside the Colisseum
 
Monte Carlo (left) Monte Carlo (Right)   Inside St Peters - Pieta

These days, however, almost every cruise line has a great variety of shore tours, so Princess is not so differentiated from other cruise lines. As to pricing, keep in mind that the Dollar to Euro exchange rate generally means shore tours in Europe on any cruise line will not be cheap. You may be able to save some money by booking private tours, especially private cars, but it requires a lot of work before you leave and such arrangements make more sense if you have another couple or two to share the cost.

You can opt out of a tour with 24-hours notice, but do not expect refunds or the right to cancel at the last minute just because there is a heat wave. You can cancel anytime with a ship doctor's note that you are ill or hobbled. Otherwise you will be billed for every tour you book. Also be sure to read the order form carefully, it is hard to see that some tours offer you a choice of either morning or afternoon. If it is hot - take the morning tour.

In any case, though some of us found the tour desk a bit snippy at times, one must give them credit for managing thousands of excursions day after day. Seeing almost the entire passenger contingent returning to the ship in Livorno after a day in Florence and Pisa just minutes before Emerald was set to sail proves how well coordinated. We liked most of tour guides, especially when we were provided with radio frequency headsets to transmit their dialog right into our ears.

Overall - you go to Europe to tour so plan ahead for the expense. By booking the ship's tours you will be well cared for, and you can't beat the convenience of not having to coordinate your own details. One drawback may be that you have limited choice about some matters, but if you want to bypass a cathedral for a little shopping, for example, talk to the tour guide and ask her where you can meet the group later.

Emerald Princess Entertainment

I often say that I cruise to travel. On a 12-day cruise in Europe, with only one full day at sea, I am not too picky about the onboard entertainment. My modus operandi is to tour all day, get back to the ship, enjoy a great meal and go to bed early.

But not everyone is like me. Some people cruise because they love the ship's activities, and a telling note is that I met a first-time cruiser whom when I asked her how she liked the ship she couldn't stop talking about it. I mentioned to her that as a cruise writer I run into a good number of people who have never cruised and have all kinds of pre-conceived notions about cruise ships they just can't seem to get past.

"I was one of those people!" she gushed. "I actually admit I said that I didn't want to be stuck on a boat when I was in Europe. Now I can't see myself ever coming here any other way." Before the cruise she had been thinking of the ship as just their mode of transportation to get around Europe, but she discovered she was enjoying the ship more than the ports. She marveled at the fact that the convenience factor had not occurred to her before. "I don't have to pack and unpack all the time. Every day we wake up in a different place ready to tour, and I didn't have to even think about how we got there. It's amazing!"

She added that the food onboard was far better than anything she had found on land, to which I agree. With the Euro at $1.36, and the European style of dining where everything including bread, service and a cover charge is paid for separately, it was very hard to find a decent restaurant meal in Europe for under $30 per person. Meanwhile, Emerald Princess was giving us lobster, king crab and filet mignon included with our cruise cost. In my opinion, almost every meal we had on land was a disappointment compared to the ship's food, and considering this was Europe, that is a real tribute to the ship.

This young lady said she loved the spa and the nightlife with dancing. She never expected such quality production shows with special effects and very talented performers on a cruise ship. She also mentioned the Movies Under the Stars, and how great it felt to be sailing at sea and sitting in the sea air with people bringing you popcorn and pizza.

This young lady said she loved the spa and the nightlife with dancing. She never expected such quality production shows with special effects and very talented performers on a cruise ship. She also mentioned the Movies Under the Stars, and how great it felt to be sailing at sea and sitting in the sea air with people bringing you popcorn and pizza.

The casino is large but did not seem overly crowded or generous. The craps table was unattended most of the time. The most interesting game is a Texas Hold'em video table that pits up to eight players against each other around a giant video screen that deals everyone's hand and displays their bets. Not for high rollers, the raises were limited to six bucks, but with eight players and several draws the pots could grow pretty quickly. There are slot machines of every denomination from penny to dollars, and table games like face-up 21 and Let it Ride.

The "Movies under the Stars" were showing all day long, beginning at noon. During the day they were mostly background noise, but at night they become events. The in-cabin television channels offer recent movies plus CNN and ESPN around the clock.

There was an onboard destination specialist who gave a preview of every port, which was thankfully NOT a shopping talk. He provided history, maps and genuine tips on what to see and how to get around each port. His talks were recorded and shown on the cabin television sets day and night well in advance of arriving at the port.

Some people complained there were not enough of the usual shipboard activities like dance lessons and pool games, but once again, this was a European cruise with only one day at sea. On that sea day there were dance lessons, bingo, horse racing, several lectures on gemstones, ice carving and the usual cruise ship activities. But port days were understandably quieter on board.

One item to note is that if your kids like water slides and kiddie pools, this ship does not have them. If you want a water park, go on a different cruise line.

Spa, Fitness and Other Facilities

There will be a separate article about this, but I need to mention two features: The Sanctuary and the Thermal Suite, which serve as extensions to the Lotus Spa. The Sanctuary, referred to by Princess as a "pocket of tranquility," is an adults-only outdoor area on the upper-most forward deck featuring quiet music and surroundings of lush greenery. There are outdoor cabanas where one can receive full massage services from the Lotus Spa staff, or there are simpler neck and shoulder massages available. The space also offers signature beverages and light meals such as smoothies, energy drinks, flavored waters and lemonade. A menu features fruit skewers, lettuce wrapped spring rolls, and spicy tuna.

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Welcome to the Sanctuary   Loungers   View from Cabana

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Massage Bed for One   Couples Massage Cabana

There is also the Thermal Suite, an area inside the Lotus Spa offering steam saunas infused with aromatherapy essential oils such as eucalyptus or lavender, a dry sauna, rainmist showers and heated ceramic "zero-gravity" beds to rest upon after your steam.

The Sanctuary is offered for $10 per session (morning or afternoon), The Thermal Suite comes at $15/day or at a reduced price per person for the entire cruise, reduced even further for pre-paying couples. Costs will be pro-rated if you decide to join mid-cruise.

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Welcome to the Thermal Suite   Cool Drinks waiting Area
   
heated ceramic zero gravity beds   Thermal Suite Steamroom   Rain Mist Shower

The medical center is one of the most advanced at sea, and one of the first to offer real-time teleconferencing support from a leading national cardiac care center in the United States.

There is a basketball court that doubles as a tennis court, a cyber golf center and a 9-hole miniature golf course. There is a jogging track.

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Aerobics Class   Jogging Track

Finally, Are the Rumors True?

One seems to hear it about Princess more than any other cruise line, they just want to "nickel and dime" you to death. Is it true? Well yes and no; I would say it is not as bad as it used to be, and when it does happen it is small change.

As mentioned, except for an hour per day you must pay for ice cream on board. If you want an espresso or cappuccino at any time, even with dinner, you have to pay for it.

Of all the nickel & diming on board, I have to say room service is the worst offender. Pizza delivery is $3.00 and the suggestion that you offer a service gratuity whenever room service is delivered is blatant. I have never seen a cruise line charge anything for room service unless it was for alcohol or special items like party trays. Princess offers special "veranda dinners and breakfasts" for what I think are exorbitant prices, and I wonder how many takers they get.

The photo gallery was unreal, but that is now typical industry-wide. I saw one of the few pictures I have ever liked on display, and was going to buy until I heard the price; something like $15.00 for a 4x6, and on cheap paper to boot.

Alcohol prices are high, no glass of wine for under $5.50, or beer for under $4.50. As I said, getting a bottle of wine is the best route. Each beverage has a service charge of 15% added, including sodas. Adults must pay for hot chocolate, though for children it is free. Charging for fresh juice or special coffees in the dining room is not the usual practice on most ships.

On the other hand, the gelato we paid for was definitely worth the money; $1.50 for six scoops (three different flavors). The coffee, even Jamaica Blue Mountain, was only $1.95 for a large cup, the same for a cappuccino. Three dollars for pizza delivery is not bad, or you could walk up to deck 15 and get it for free. It is tacky to sell bottles of water to people walking off the ship, but they offered it free when you were coming back in from the heat.

Bottom line, in most cases it is the mere concept of being asked for the money that grates; not the actual cost. I don't know if it is worth it to Princess to have these policies since I can live without most of the things they charge for (and maybe that is the idea), and if I really want it, then the cost is reasonable. It won't stop me from going on their ships, but it certainly is a recurring topic of conversation Princess could live without.

Summing Up

The larger Princess ships are big enough to be considered mass-market ships, like Carnival or Royal Caribbean, but with three dining rooms and clever design and décor, they feel much smaller and intimate, truly a premium ship. On ships of this size they cannot possibly anticipate the needs of everyone, but it is the willingness and ability of the excellent management onboard to offer as much personal service as they can that is the differentiating factor. If you have a special diet, for example, be sure to speak up to the right person and you will be accommodated.

The key thing is finding the right person, which on Princess is an easy thing to do. I have been on many cruise ships, but I have not seen any where the people of management were in the public eye so much of the time. Even in the wee hours of the morning in the buffet area I was asked by a headwaiter if I had everything I needed. That is a dedication to service that makes a difference, which is why I can recommend Princess Cruises.

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