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Just back from Emerald Southern Caribbean 1/29-2/8


NewPennCruiser

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I intend on adding an official member review in CC but I thought I would throw out a few of my own thoughts here from our recent 10 day Southern Caribbean cruise on the Emerald. We’ve been back for a few days now and I think I’m still mentally somewhere on the ship (or at least I wish I was still there) Let me first say how beautiful the Emerald is. We loved the Piazza design of the Atrium and thought the ship was in great condition. We have cruised twice on the Sapphire so we didn’t have much of a problem finding things but it was funny to see people still getting lost on Day 9. We like the grand class ships because of the options they afford you but heard some complaints that the ship is too big. That’s why there are many options and sizes of ships out there. Pick what works best for you and enjoy.

The passenger mix was surprisingly diverse and while still leaning toward an older demographic, there were a lot of younger people on this cruise (20s and 30s) and it was a lively bunch. It was also nice that most everyone seemed to be in a good mood and there wasn’t much bickering; at least with what we saw. I’m always amazed how cranky some people can be on a cruise when you are being waited on, fed, entertained, etc, etc. Anyway, it was nice to have a generally “chilled out” crowd on board. Paul, the cruise director, announced at one of the shows that there were 3,089 on board so it was a full ship.

Food: We are not really picky eaters but we do like to eat at nicer restaurants and enjoy trying new things. We thought every meal was very good, most were excellent and some were exceptional. We were really impressed with the International Café and Café Caribe. We got to know the servers in our section of Café Caribe and sat in their area all the time which I guess made it more like traditional dining because they got to know what we liked to drink and service was great. Yes it’s still a buffet, but they do serve drinks and we saw them helping people to tables, carrying plates, etc. It was just always a relaxing way to spend dinner and you could go whenever you wanted and it never seemed crowded or rushed. It’s almost like people forgot Café Caribe even existed, except on Bavarian theme night when it was packed. We weren’t sure what to expect beforehand and wondered why they needed a 3rd buffet area, but it is nicer then HC, a step above your normal buffet and it really works well. Actually most will probably like it better then HC because it really is a buffet “line”. In one side and out the other, a little more organized then HC with a way to pop into the middle to pick up desserts later without getting in someone’s way. Café Caribe was open for breakfast and dinner. As far as breakfast, it was all rather boring, but we’re not big breakfast eaters anyway. One thing to make note of; they serve fresh waffles at the ice cream shop near the pool for breakfast. I never saw people there so either people didn’t realize it was there or just didn’t like waffles. They were very good because they also made fresh mini waffles in HC during ice cream hour in the afternoon.

We seemed to be under a minor noro alert (yellow) for the first half of the cruise but it cleared around day 5 because tables in Café Caribe were set for the remainder of the cruise with condiments, silverware, place settings, etc. One item I never noticed before but did this time because it’s mentioned so much on this board is lemonade. There were signs in HC telling you if you wanted lemonade to ask a server and they would get it. There were pitchers of it around and I started to laugh thinking about some previous posts in CC where people said their cruise was almost ruined because they couldn’t get lemonade. Anyway, it seemed to be available throughout the cruise for those of you who would be interested.

The Int’l Café also seemed to be a hit and we loved it. The pastries and desserts were to die for, lunch selections were also great and the gelato was a real bargain at $1.50. Most food there is free except some items, especially at dinner. If there is a charge, it’s clearly marked. The chicken salad and shrimp salad were fantastic. It is a great choice for a quick lunch coming back from port. And don’t forget the Pub Lunch in the Wheelhouse Bar on sea days. It was very popular and the fish and chips were excellent. Another nice option was available in Adagio and it seemed most people never even found this venue. It’s near Sabatini’s and they serve drinks and desserts from the restaurant. They also have great stuffed olives and bread sticks for appetizers if you want to meet with someone before dinner. There were often pianists here and on numerous nights the Princess Orchestra played jazz after 9:30. This is a great venue to search out for some quiet time or great music and conversation.

In all, there are so many options for food I find it hard to believe that anyone can walk off this ship hungry. Between the various buffets, International Café, Vines (sushi), dining rooms, specialty restaurants, pub lunches, pizza, burgers, ice cream in HC at 3:30, cookies and milk by the pool, etc the options are endless. Give everything a try… you may not agree with what we liked best but I’m sure you’ll find something memorable.

Entertainment: It seems like it wasn’t that long ago that people were afraid Princess was doing away with live entertainment and cutting back. We were even kind of agreeing with that because we had done the 12 day Australian/Kiwi Cruise a year ago and there were times on the Sapphire that it seemed like the Explorers Lounge or Wheelhouse Bar were not being utilized. Well not this cruise. There were shows going on everywhere all the time and live music in the Piazza pretty much all the time and all the venues were packed. Production shows in the Princess Theatre and most major shows in Explorers Lounge are now running across two nights for 4 shows so that everyone has a chance to see them. The early show first night in the Theatre still seemed to be the most crowded so wait until the second night and those shows were less crowded, with available seats up to showtime. Explorers lounge was always overcrowded and didn’t seem to matter who was there performing. It was always packed so if you’re going, go early to get a seat.

We were skeptical regarding MUTS and wondered if we would go but we ended up loving it. What a great venue for watching movies or whatever they choose to show, and for us we also got to see the Super Bowl on MUTS. I’m surprised they actually show movies during the day but people seemed to like it. We tended to wait until evening when we could go after dinner and just relax and catch a movie. Plenty of popcorn, pizza, etc is available and they will provide blankets if there is a chill in the air.

Sea Days: The ship only really seemed to get crowded on sea days when everyone is trying to do the same thing like eat lunch, use the same bank of elevators or sit around the same pool. We found the Aft pool area busy but if you went up a couple of decks toward the kids area, you could stretch out on lounge chairs there and it was generally very quiet. It didn’t seem like many people were using the Sanctuary area but maybe I just didn’t notice. There were the usual chair hogs that people complain about but it didn’t seem to cause issues and if you looked around you could usually find a spot to plop down for the afternoon whether you wanted shade or sunshine. I didn’t notice any fights and everyone seemed generally polite and pleasant. (at least what we saw) The gym is very well equipped and generally busy in the morning. I tried walking the “track” on deck 19 near the mini golf but it’s rather small and if you job or walk quickly, you might get dizzy. Walking the promenade deck was usually easier although you do have the steps up front if you want to do a complete circuit.

Ports: What is there not to like about any of the places we stopped at when it was 10 degrees with ice back home!!! Aruba, Bonaire, Grenada, Dominica and St Thomas were all fun and we did a couple of organized tours but mostly explored on our own. The ship almost left 2 people in Dominica, so a word of warning to those of you wandering off on your own…. If they say they want you back on board by 4:30 so the ship can leave at 5:00, don’t test them. We were leaving at 5:00 without two people as they jumped out of a taxi and started to run toward the ship. Fortunately we still had 2 lines tied and the gangway had just been pulled in. As passengers cheered off the side of the ship they were able to throw the gangway back out quickly as the last two lines were ready to be let loose and they got on and away we went.

Embarkation/Disembarkation: Princess seems to do this all very well even though moving 3000 people off and back on a ship within hours is a daunting task. Port Everglades can be amazingly busy. I think we were 1 of only 2 ships when we left but we came back with 5 other ships for disembarkation. We were also in with the Crown, so we didn’t dock at the usual Princess pier. Pay attention to this because traffic and service in and out can be greatly affected when the port is handling 18,000+ people coming and going. And even if Princess has its act together, Customs might be a mess and there might be issues in port, so plan ahead.

Embarkation was a breeze but the waiting area can get very crowded if everyone shows up at 11:00 and wants on the ship at once. Be patient and take a seat and it will all go smoothly. We were in the platinum/elite waiting area and we were amazed that people insisted on creating their own queue when they were being told to please just take a seat so they could board by rows. Well they didn’t listen and created a crowded line in the middle of the hall anyway and they looked really cranky when Princess started to board by row and made them wait. I thought it was pretty funny, but geez, folks, just do what they ask you to do, sit, relax and you’ll be on board in no time. Disembarkation was amazingly easy. We were to meet in the Casino at 8:15. We did, were escorted off immediately, through customs, on a bus to the FLL car rental center and in our rental car by 9:00. It couldn’t have been any easier then that.

In all, we had an amazing time and this really was one of our favorite vacations in recent memory. I’m having a really hard time getting back to reality here!!! For those of you cruising soon; don’t let the small stuff get to you, take time to explore all the options this beautiful ship offers and enjoy your cruise.

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Thanks so much for the great review! We are onboard April 9 and doing the opposite itinerary. Great to hear all of our favorite spots you mentioned are still fabulous. Except for Balcony dining and 2 nights at Crown Steak House, we spent every morning and evening in Cafe Caribe! A real gem.

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Thanks for the review, Penn, and I'm glad you had a great time. We also loved (!) the International Cafe, and found that we were never in the buffet for lunch. Even when returning from a day in port, when the dining room had closed, we gravitated toward the International Cafe before we even returned to our cabin.

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PescadoAmarillo - We really need to thank you for your 20 day live report prior to us getting on board. You gave us a lot of great ideas and I took notes!! We actually had a room on Plaza deck so the Internation Cafe was one of the first things we saw every morning. Pretty dangerous considering how good the donuts and pastries were!!

 

Dave (Penn)

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DiTomCruisers - We did a couple of excursions through Princess and pretty much wandered on our own the rest of the time. I’ve added some comments below in no particular order.

Aruba and Bonaire – We shopped and checked things out around town. Bonaire was a short day and we had been to Aruba before and kind of knew places we wanted to venture off to again so we just got off the ship and explored on our own.

Dominica – We did the Trafalgar Falls and Aerial Tram tour. I’m not sure why because I don’t like heights but we did it anyway because it sounded nice and to be honest I was fine. We really enjoyed this. The water falls were nice and the tram/rainforest was very interesting although we didn’t see many birds or wildlife. It was pretty low key and relaxing actually. They tell you to wear bug spray up here but one thing they don’t tell you is that it will be noticeably cooler when you get up the mountain. Many people complained that it was cold. They advertised lunch as being a picnic style lunch and I assumed that might mean something local but we laughed when we found out it was actually food from Subway. It was fine but somewhat unexpected… just catering to the typical American tourist I suppose. We enjoyed it and had time to wander some of the markets in town and sample some local island beer after we got back.

Grenada – We just explored St Georges. What an interesting town and while I know some folks complain the locals can be pushy, we didn’t have issues and we found everyone to be nice. Just get past all the people trying to get your business near the pier and you’ll find a very nice place albeit very busy with lots of traffic. We walked through the tunnel to the nearby harbor and climbed the streets to see some of the buildings and churches still in ruin from Hurricane Ivan. We also wandered up to the Fort where you get panoramic views of this section of the island. Princess said we would tender here but we got to dock.

Princess Cays – We tendered in and just wandered around. A lot of people stayed on the ship because it was a cloudy and cool day, but I guess that just made it nicer on the island because it wasn’t crowded. I think they were using 5 or 6 tenders so the trip back and forth was easy and uneventful.

St Thomas was spent doing the short Views of St Thomas tour. Believe it or not I had never been to St Thomas before so I just wanted a quick tour and this was a nice ride around to Mountain Top and back to the tram up to Paradise Point. It was a beautiful day and the views were spectacular. This pretty much allowed us to also spend time wandering around and shopping while in port. We docked in Havensight and there were 4 ships in port that day so the island was busy.

In talking to others, river tubing in Dominica or Grenada seemed to be a big hit and snorkeling anywhere on Bonaire was extremely popular and recommended by everyone.

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Thank you very much for the splendid review. As a matter of fact,it was one of the most informative, concise reviews I have every read. It was a pleasure not having to read about the prior night's problems with a hotel, someone's fish allergies, gout attacks etc.

By the way did you visit Morne Rouge beach in Grenada and Emerald beach in St. Thomas? We are booked on the same cruise next month in a mini-suite. Accordingly, in the event you were in a mini-suite, we would be most appreciative as to your impressions.

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Sorry, I can't speak about either of the beaches you asked about. Maybe someone else reading this can chime in... We also were not in a mini-suite this cruise BUT we have stayed in a mini-suite on another Grand Class ship and I believe Emerald's are the same. You will have a ton of space and be spoiled. We missed the space this time being in a standard cabin but this time we were trying to escape winter and I would have been happy sleeping in a closet! The mini's have a really nice separate seating area, a larger bathroom and of course a nice sized balcony to relax on. I'm sure you'll love it. I will say that when we did stay in the mini-suite we spent a lot more time in our cabin. Take a basic food tray with you. We found ourselves bringing food and drinks back to our room more often so we could eat in the room or on the balcony. Of course you can use room service too, but you get the idea.

 

Dave

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Thanks for your review; I really enjoyed reading it. No wonder you had such a great time -- you demonstrated such a positive attitude ("Subway sandwiches for lunch on Dominica? No problem!"). Glad you enjoyed your escape from winter so much and thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us.

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Dave;

 

Thank you for a wonderful review, full of helpful details and information. We will be sailing on the Emerald next week, with the same southern itinerary. I can't wait....your comments have me daydreaming about the upcoming cruise.

 

Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts.

 

Susan (soleil4ever) :)

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I had a couple of emails asking about MUTS. Right now it seems like most ships are showing the same range of movies. There have been a few detailed posts recently for other ships and everything seemed pretty much the same. Mamma Mia, Dark Knight and Hancock just to name a few. There seemed to be “lighter” stuff during the day and most movies were replayed later on the cabin TVs which I don’t remember having before. In fact I thought the TV selections have been expanded since our last cruise even though I didn’t turn it on much. There were a few news channels, a couple of ESPN channels, various movie channels, etc.

Regarding food, we thought the pastries, cookies and breads this cruise were mostly exceptional. There were some bland choices but compared to past cruises on other ships, we rarely found a dessert this time that we didn’t like. I’m sure that’s more a result of the pastry chef then the ship, but hopefully the quality stays high for those of you leaving soon.

Also it seemed like people were not spending extra money this cruise (sign of the times) so the Specialty Restaurants were not busy. It seemed most nights you could probably walk up and get a table. Also, they were advertising good specials on buying pictures if you are a Captain’s Circle member. If you are interested in doing photos and purchasing that stuff, make sure you stop by and get details. I think prints for Platinum members were being offered 30% off. We didn’t buy any so I’m not sure of all the details but check it out if you’re interested.

And what’s with the end of cruise “flea market” sale they hold in the dining room that causes such chaos!?! They did say that some Nike golf stuff was being sold (not sure what that entailed because we didn’t go) but you would have thought they were giving away gold. The line formed early and snaked through the Piazza numerous times. It was impossible to move around and most people coming out didn’t seem to buy anything. I realize Princess is just trying to get rid of old stuff but there is probably a better way to do it although it seemed like a lot of people thought it was fun.

Dave

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Morne Rouge beach in Grenada and Emerald beach in St. Thomas...

Mourne Rouge beach is slightly further from the ship, and there is not a water taxi that goes there, so it is a bit less crowded than Grand Anse (but still a lot of people selling things). Also, some of the ship excursions use Mourne Rouge beach for their beach stay, and it can get pretty crowded in ebbs and flows as those people come and go. We were at Emerald Beach just once, and I remember it as being okay. Lots of shade, but there were some really large rocks in the water, and I wouldn't want to be pushed into one of those by a wave. We used to love Coki beach for much better snorkeling, but I've heard that's gone downhill a bit recently. So, if you're not interested in Magen's Bay, Emerald would be a good choice.

 

Penn...thanks for the comments, and I don't get that end of cruise garage sale either. In fact, it is remarkably "unelegant" for a cruise line like Princess to hold it. You're right, the line snakes through the entire Piazza, and they only allow in a few people at a time, so people really were waiting in line for an hour or so. For what? Mostly junk, although I heard that there was a bit of clothing (matched workout sets) that, with the discount, were brought down to an almost reasonable price. But we saw most leaving with nothing. I just don't quite understand the fascination.

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