One of the newer and larger Princess ships with many activities, good for families
Best For People Who Want
A roomy ship with ample choices for alternative dining, wide-ranging fitness programs; true onboard weddings as well as vow renewal; programs for children of all ages, tweens and teens; balcony cabins and mini-suites; plenty of nightlife choices, extensive golf and snorkeling programs.
Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
Small-ship cruising, extensive room service menu options, enrichment lectures, all-inclusive ships
Emerald Princess entered service in May, 2007, a true sister to the Crown Princess and a near sister ship to the 2,600-passenger Grand Princess presented in 1998, once the biggest cruise ship at sea, though that didn't last for long. Emerald Princess comes in at a heftier 113,00-tons and carries about 410 more passengers at a capacity of 3080. Therefore, as opposed to the eerily empty feeling you can get aboard the spacious 2700-passenger Grand-class vessels, on these ships you get more of a feel of "abuzz with activity", akin to the 110,000-ton Conquest-class ships of Carnival that can hold as many as 3400 passengers.
However, thanks to shrewd layout, multiple dining venues, four expansive outdoor deck areas (1.7 acres!), multiple sports facilities, four pools, and nine hot tubs, passengers are rarely concentrated in any one area. Meanwhile, the mega-ship amenities included for those who can never get enough dining, entertainment, spa and fitness choices, means the Princess ships of this class make the best of everything for ships in this size and price range. Their programs for younger passengers are exemplary, and their Lido buffet dining spot is open around the clock.
One new feature which is a first for Princess with the sister Crown Princess is the Sanctuary, an adults-only spa-like space on the upper-most forward deck featuring quiet music and surroundings of lush greenery referred to by Princess as a "pocket of tranquility". There are outdoor cabanas where one can receive full massage services from the onboard Lotus Spa, or there are casual 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.
An adjunct to the Sanctuary is the Thermal Suite, an area within the 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.
Another new feature is a spiced-up atrium known as The Piazza, featuring the a 24-hour International Café with sandwiches, tapas and special coffees available for very reasonable prices; and Vines, a wine bar where one can get expert advice from the on duty sommelier and sample a variety of fine wines by the glass. On the Piazza stage, various entertainers will appear seemingly out of nowhere to amuse and entertain you; jugglers, close-up magicians, tumblers and an assortment of costumed oddities.
Emerald Princess also offers "Movies Under the Stars," a huge (300 sq. ft) flat panel rear-projection video screen and 6900 watts of sound power to show up to four different near first-run films daily outdoors above the pool. This was such a hit on Caribbean Princess that the concept was added to all the large Princess ships. On some ships they hand out headphones to viewers to alleviate complaints from nearby cabins.
Having offered the first wedding chapel at sea (with the Captain doing the honors) on Grand Princess, Emerald Princess also offers true marriages at sea, as well as vow renewals. A complete professional digital photography studio in the F/X Digital Photo Center is perfect for those all-important wedding photos. The medical center is one of the most advanced at sea, the first to offer real-time teleconferencing support from a leading national cardiac care center in the United States.
The most incongruous, and arguably pleasing, factor about these mega-ships is that the public rooms aren't much bigger than those on much smaller ships giving it the feel of a much smaller ship than it really is. The one oddity of the "Grand-class" design is the compromised privacy of most balconies that extend out from the ship in a pyramid-like stacking arrangement which allows people from several decks above can look right down into your "private" enclave. From the Deck 11, for instance, you can watch other passengers on deck nine and ten balconies. Deck 10 occupants can in turn observe their counterparts on the Deck nine.
Unlike the theme park atmosphere of some other cruise lines, the décor on Princess ships extends an understatedly elegant and refined atmosphere, with hand-painted murals and etched glass partitions in the dining rooms. Little apparent expense was spared on materials, with rich fabrics, beautiful woods, and marble everywhere, all topped off with a $2 million art collection aboard each ship. The cabins are tastefully decorated in soft, inoffensive shades -- beiges, creams and muted pinks.
The main gathering spot, the three deck tall, open Piazza, has boutiques, the 24-hour International Café, the Internet access room, the Vines wine-tasting room and and passenger services, all connected by circular glass staircases and glass elevators. It's the best people-watching place on the ship, especially when there's a string quartet playing a piece you adore, but watch out for the street performers who will sneak up on you and make you a captive audience of two. Among the nearby public rooms are the casino, entrances to the two open-seating dining rooms, and the shore excursions desk.
We favor the maritime-themed Wheelhouse Bar, full of memorabilia and paintings, not to mention comfortable leather wingback chairs, a small dance floor, and a piano singalong motif that will make you want to use it. The safari-themed Explorer's Club offers cabaret, trivia competitions, art auctions, and between-meals dancing. The gigantic Casino contains some 285 slot machines and gaming tables beyond counting. You can relax in the Cigar Lounge, or recline in leather chairs while perusing any of hundreds of books in the beautiful library.
The main showroom, the Princess Theater, presents production shows, cabaret, comedians and magicians. With seating for 1600 we found it unusually cramped with airplane-like seats jammed together and not enough footspace to allow for fast escapes during a brief production show set changes. Once you're in there, your stuck for the entire show unless you sit on the aisle. The upside is that everyone has a great view of the stage.
The Club Fusion Showlounge offers live dance combos for various kinds of music, Latin or Rhythm & Blues. Karaoke contests and theme-parties such as a "'60s British Invasion" also happen nightly. Later on, it doubles for a secondary disco for those who get light-headed scaling the heights to Skywalkers, the real disco on high at the stern of the ship. Unlike the smaller Grand-class vessels, however, Skywalkers is no longer suspended high in the air. It lies on Sky Deck and now has a large balcony included for smokers and those who favor the wind-blown look.
What can you say about a ship that offers three main dining rooms instead of the usual multi-tiered, bigger than life one? They are more intimate and definitely quieter, but the decor is not likely to elicit a "wow" response either. There are three dining rooms, two dedicated to "personal choice" dining which means open seating and country-club casual dress nightly from 5:30 to 11:00 p.m. For the more traditional minded, the third dining room, deck six aft, offers the standard cruise line seating, early at 6:30 and late seating at 8:15 (subject to change). Diners are assigned tables and tablemates, and are serviced at the same time and by the same waiters every night.
Unlike many cruise lines, Princess does not have an executive chef designing the recipes for the entire fleet. Each ship has its own executive chef who is responsible for the menu creation. This means cuisine is more tailored the region the ship is cruising, a nice touch. It also gives the chef the ability to change food selection according to passenger response. In talking to the executive chef on board, we were told that the best food is served in the open seating restaurants (though the menus are identical in all three main dining rooms) because of the ability to cook food as it is ordered, rather than according to a pre-determined time schedule. Our food always arrived hot and perfectly prepared.
The ship offers two alternative dining spots carrying cover charges. First is Sabatini's Trattoria where guests are required to try a little bit of everything on the menu, the only choice being your main course. The second premium dining option is Crown Grill, featuring chops and seafood, and the one we preferred.
The three principal restaurants, the Michelango, Da Vinci and Boticelli Dining Rooms, seating just over 500 passengers, feature hand-painted murals and etched-glass partitions. The drapes and carpeting in the main dining areas absorb sound efficiently enough to preclude diners having to holler across the table to one another.
Personal Choice Dining offers either traditional cruise dining (In the Boticelli), with a set seating time (6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.) and the same waiter and tablemates each evening, or new restaurant-style seating, allowing passengers to dine when and with whom they choose, with each party seated at its own table, as at a restaurant ashore (offered in the other two dining rooms). Restaurant-style diners may be seated in either of the two elegant main dining rooms any time between 5:30 and midnight. Many passengers are understandably grateful for this reprieve from having to hurry to dress for dinner in the traditional way after a long day ashore.
Sabatini's Italian Tratorria dining begins with focaccia bread and olive oil. next comes a wonderful selection of Italian antipasti, complemented with Sevruga caviar, delicious seafood salads, homemade pastas, and soups. Salads are tossed before your very eyes, and soup ladled into fresh bread bowls. Seafood predominates on the list of main courses; there are lobster, langoustines, tiger prawns, Chilean sea bass and scallops, with red meat dishes also on offer. Save room for the exquisite Italian pastries that will be wheeled before you toward meal's end. The service charge is $20 per person.
The Crown Grill, featuring Angus beef and seafood specialties all custom-prepared in an open, theater-style kitchen, is the restaurant most preferred. The courses are served traditionally; salad, appetizer, soup, main course and dessert. The difference is in the quality and careful preparation. Using our meal as a sample, the carpaccio of pine nut-coated lamb loins with gooseberry chutney was the most unusual and delicious carpaccio I have ever tasted. Soups and salads include rockfish chowder or marinated goat's cheese. Main courses include a four-ounce Maine lobster tail, or for an additional $9.99 you can have an entire 24 to 32-ounce lobster, split and either grilled or steamed (your choice). Other main courses (no extra charge) are steaks of every traditional cut, lamb rack, pork, veal or beef chops; and seafoods including mussel pot, striped bass and tiger prawns or Australian barramundi. The recommended dessert choice is the chef's sampler which includes a small portion of every dessert offered. Service charge is $25 per person.
The Horizon Court is open 24 hours per day, with menu service at night, plus casual breakfast and luncheon buffet. There's also a festive pizzeria. For $100 per couple, you can book the Ultimate Balcony Dinner, to be served by a butler who discreetly makes himself scarce behind drapes or out in the hall between courses. The ship's photographer snaps a complimentary photo while you're eating.
At night, the Horizon Court restaurant is transformed into Cafe Caribe, offering a self-service buffet of tasty hot food in a very casual setting. Once seated there is full waiter service at fully set tables for drinks or anything else you may need. The courses change nightly, and it stays open until 4:00 a.m. (when breakfast begins). There is no service charge.
Room service on Princess ships is probably among the most limited you will find in this price range. They will not serve you a hot breakfast unless you opt for the $25 per person champagne balcony indulgence. They will bring you hot coffee, juice, rolls, cereal and yogurt. Lunch and dinner include the usual club sandwich, hamburgers and apple pie. There is no option to choose from the dining room menu, even during regular dinner hours. If you want a hot, fresh pizza they are delicious and enough for two people, but there is a $3 delivery charge.
The International Café in the Piazza offers a number of tidbits for just $1 apiece, including shrimp salads, tapas style hors d; oeuvres, and the best "service charge" items on the ship, the six scoops (choice of three different flavors) of real Italian gelato for a mere $1.50. You won't mind paying since the portion is more than enough for two people and includes toppings.
While Princess has a well-deserved reputation for good service securely footed in its British roots, truly personalized service may be too much to expect on a ship this size. That noted, cabin stewards and waiters are both efficient and personable. And rote processes that should be standardized and well executed on other ships but often fail miserably, such as efficient disembarkation, are generally practiced and polished to the point of excellence here.
A charge of $10 per person per day (including children) is automatically added to your stateroom account for dining and stateroom personnel. This applies to all passengers, adult and child alike, whether or not they choose traditional or personal choice dining. The amount may be increased or lowered at the Purser's Reception desk during the cruise.
A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage tabs. Gratuities for spa, casino and other staff are at your discretion. Every room service delivery must be signed for, and next to the signature line is the opportunity to add a gratuity - hint, hint.
With a dozen or so venues for nightlife, you're virtually assured of finding something that floats your boat, to coin a phrase. There's no faulting the lavishness of the production shows, which feature extravagant special effects. The performers in the cabaret are a talented bunch. As stated, the theater itself is rather cramped and not easy to escape unnoticed.
The Internet room on these Grand-class ships do not qualify as "cafés" as there are no café-style treats available. Another drawback is the limited number of wi-fi wireless enabled areas on the ship, pretty much limited to the piazza area. It is too bad to see a modern ship without Internet access in the cabins. The connection speed was spotty, but usually fast enough to be workable. Tech support was almost invisible, but fellow passengers are knowledgeable enough these days to help in almost any situation.
The casino has all of the standard slot machines, including nickel and even penny machines - a great way to waste away your day with little risk to your pocket book. There is craps, roulette, blackjack (also face-up blackjack), and other table games. The most noticable new attraction is a video screen driven Texas Hold'em table where up to eight players compete against each other, but the antes and raises are limited to $3 to $6 per round. This can add up when all the palyers are involved, but it keeps the pots reasonable enough in size that it's unlikely anyone is going to pull out a six-shooter to snatch the pot and ride out of town.
are built out from the body of the ship so as to permit bigger staterooms. 710 of the 1300 staterooms have balconies, ranging up to 257 sq. feet, but the balconies are not very private, as they're in plain view of the occupants of the cabin on the next deck up. Standard inside staterooms are 160 sq. ft., while outside cabins range from 168 to 210 sq. feet. Mini-suites with private verandas are 325 sq. feet. Vista Suites, called mini-suites on other Princess ships, range from 515 to 800 sq. feet. Sun and Dawn Princess offer larger minisuites for less money.
Closet space is minimal except in the suites; leave some things home! There are launderettes available on nearly every passenger deck, with coin-operated washers & dryers, ironing boards and soap and softener for sale in vending machines.
All staterooms have color TV with CNN and movies, a radio and small refrigerator, suites have spacious bathrooms with storage space and hair dryers, but any cabin of balcony category or less has a tiny bathroom with "huggy" shower curtains and barely enough rack space for towels for two.
It is rare to find such ample fitness facilities, especially when you add in the Sanctuary and the thermal suite which serve as extensions to the existing spa and offer many of the same services and more. The thermal suite is offered for $10 per day, or at a reduced price for the entire cruise, reduced even further for pre-paying couples. Costs will be pro-rated if you decide to join mid-cruise.
The four pools, including a "swim-against-the-current" lap pool, are uniformly gorgeous, thanks in no small part to colorful mosaics and surrounding palm trees. Low marks, though, to whoever decided to put the separate jogging track right above the spa, as the relentless thundering of hooves overhead isn't terribly conducive to one's enjoying her massage or beauty treatment. Even though prices are substantially higher than ashore, spa services are very popular, especially in the afternoon. You'll occasionally have to stand in line for some of the more popular workout apparatuses in the gym. There's a wrap-around promenade deck for long walks, a golf simulator and 9-hole putting green, and courts for basketball, volleyball or tennis.
Seven- to 14-night cruises offer two opportunities to put on the Ritz in formal attire. Many men opt for dark suit instead of tux, while their distaff companions often prefer dressy pants to gowns. The rest of the time, think smart casual. Formal attire is only required in the traditional dining rooms, though most people opt to dress up no matter where they are headed that night.