Emerald Princess, which debuted in April 2007, follows the highly evolutionary Crown Princess, whose launch took place in March of 2006. (A third ship in the class, Ruby Princess, launched in 2009.) All three ships are virtually identical in layout and design, so if you have sailed on Crown Princess ... well, you won't have any trouble finding your way around Emerald or Ruby. (The layout for all three is based on the Grand-class ship design, though slightly larger.)
But for those who haven't traveled on Princess' Grand-class ships -- or for travelers for whom an Emerald Princess voyage is a first cruise with the line -- the ship will surprise, and in most cases, delight you with far higher levels of cuisine, service and amenities than you would expect on a modern, mega-ship catering to over 3,000 passengers. There's the Italian-styled piazza, around which are centered the International Cafe (with its excellent coffees and scrumptious pastries, quiche and chocolate fondue); across the way is Vines, the ship's wine and sushi bar (it's got the only really good wine list onboard).
There's the occasional "street theater" in the three-deck high piazza. Offerings range from stilt walkers to comedians, and from chef and bartender demos to a pianist singing Broadway tunes. People flock to this part of the ship, day and night. Another neat Crown feature that made the transition is The Sanctuary, the top deck's adult-only outdoor spa area. And Skywalkers Nightclub, Princess' distinctive top-ship disco, is as pared down from older versions (as it was on Crown) -- which means the pool below it is much sunnier and cheerier.
In some ways this ship is better suited for Caribbean itineraries, where it spends half the year -- and when you have lots more time to enjoy the onboard ambience -- than on the Mediterranean cruise on which I sailed. That's simply because the days in port are so intense that onboard activities, which run day to night and offer some genuinely fun diversions, get the short shrift. Most passengers are simply worn out by evening, and prefer buffet dining at the Cafe Caribe over long, languid dinners at Crown Grill or Sabatini's, and early bedtimes to late night carousing at Skywalkers.
Wherever you cruise on Emerald Princess, what's clear is that this latest offering from Princess epitomizes much of what the line does best. The experience onboard is sophisticated to a point -- but also wholesome and down to earth.
Princess has deftly maneuvered the tight rope at dinner time between pleasing passengers who prefer a traditional dining experience (set time, tablemates and restaurant) with those who desire flexibility. Passengers can opt for the structured choice in the Botticelli Restaurant (seatings at 6:15 and 8:30 p.m.). The Michelangelo and Da Vinci restaurants handle the flex-dining crowd where passengers can turn up anytime between 6 - 10 p.m.; beepers are provided during busy times -- or you can opt to dine with other passengers.
Editor's Note: Because passengers can pre-request their evening dining option (traditional or anytime), the maitre 'd onboard will tweak as best he or she can to accommodate everyone.
Typical dishes served in the three dining rooms include Strasbourg duck liver pate with black truffle, gnocchi pillows filled with Asiago cheese in a truffle creamy coulis, aged beef tenderloin in a whole grain mustard crust with chasseur sauce or baked Italian crepes filled with Fontina cheese and porcini mushrooms. As well, Princess features standards on every menu; these include sirloin steak, grilled chicken or salmon.
Desserts range from amaretto torte to vanilla souffle with Grand Marnier sabayon.
Breakfast and lunch are served daily in, usually, Da Vinci; it's open seating during these meals. Hours are 7 - 9 a.m. for breakfast and noon - 2 p.m. for lunch. An elegant afternoon tea is also served here from 3:30 - 4:30 p.m.
While main dining rooms are a focus for many, one of Emerald Princess' greatest strengths throughout the day is its sheer volume of noshing options. The Horizon Court is the ship's buffet venue and it's open for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner. Hours are: 6 - 11:30 a.m. for breakfast; 11:30 a.m. - 3.30 p.m. for lunch; and from 3:30 -5:30 p.m. for a light snack buffet. Typical breakfast offerings include omeletates, pastries, cereal, etc. For lunch, you'll find deli fare, made-to-order sandwiches and meats, and a whole hosts of sides and salads.
Just beyond the Horizon Court on the Lido Deck is the smaller and slightly more intimate Cafe Caribe. While also a buffet-style venue, the adjacent Cafe Caribe offers terrific themed buffets for lunch and dinner (such as Asian one day for lunch, with an expansive sushi bar, and French Provencal on an evening for dinner). It's also the best place onboard for "home food" -- our roast chicken, mashed potatoes and pea dinner one night was just the ticket. Wines are sold only by the glass here.
On the same deck, midship, you'll also find a pizzeria and an ice cream bar, as well as the Trident Grill, which serves the usual grilled items like hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken and fries. All are open daily from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
It is open from 5:30 - 11 p.m. for dinner and from 11 p.m. - 4 a.m. for "bistro dinner." The latter's aimed at night owls, and the few evenings we actually were up late enough to check it out we were unimpressed with dried out, steam-table fare.
For even more casual noshing, we adored the cluster of food emporiums around the Piazza. Vines, the ship's wine bar, has, in addition to the best selection of wines onboard (far, far superior to the pedantic list available in the main venues), freshly prepared sushi. There is an additional cost, but this is not your standard "buffet" sushi, left out for all to grab at. You order your rolls, and a chef actually makes it in front of you. The International Cafe, across the way, has its own bakeshop (with onsite ovens so you can smell the tantalizing cookies, desserts and croissants as they cook). For breakfast, there are croissants and pastries, and for lunch there are salads and quiches, all included in your cruise fare. The cafe does have a short menu of specialty items that are a la carte priced -- the chocolate fondue is worth every cent and calorie.
The Cafe is also a coffee bar; lattes, espressos and more are available here and all command a price. Most formal are the ship's two specialty restaurants. Sabatini's, which levies a $25 per person service charge, is the fleet's Northern Italian-themed restaurant based on an eatery in Florence. And, as with Crown Princess, it's been moved to a top deck (previous iterations on older ships were situated lower down). The dining experience now comes with gorgeous views -- so if you want to see the sunset plan to dine fairly early). In terms of the menus, while basically the same, they've been pared down slightly (no pizzas are offered, for instance), and passengers are served small bites of a variety of different tastes, from antipasti to the main course. There are plenty of fish dishes, (my favorite has always been the lobster with pumpkin risotto).
One neat aspect to dining here is you can have your dessert served in the adjacent Adagio, a piano bar.
Crown Grill is another popular venue that debuted on Crown Princess; it's a seafood/chop house and is elegantly dark. There's an open kitchen and the seafood, including lobster, is so fresh it's occasionally still alive. It costs $25 per person to dine at Crown Grill.
We loved the Chef's Table concept; a group of up to 10 (and not necessarily all known to one another -- you just sign up for designated evenings) start the night off with champagne cocktail and appetizers in the working galley. Anyone who's done a tour of any ship's huge galley will understand that these are always held, for obvious reasons, when there isn't much going on! What's neat about Chef's Table is that your group occupies a corner of the main galley at the height of dinnertime. The chance to see chefs and waiters in action -- a real behind-the-scenes experience -- is worth the price of admission alone. Then you're lead out to specially designated tables in a private dining area and served a multi-course menu paired with wines that are selected just for the evening. The Chef's Table is $95 per person.
In-cabin dining options abound. There's a no-fee room service menu (continental breakfast in standard cabins, and a selection of sandwiches, salads and entrees throughout the day). Pizza delivery costs $3 per pie. And for a really special evening, try the Ultimate Balcony Dinner. You need to reside in a cabin with a verandah, of course and what you get is a romantic meal for two outdoors (complete with table set with white linen and festooned with flowers). The $100 per-couple charge includes a four course meal, a half bottle of sparkling wine, a pre-dinner cocktail and a photo portrait.
The Champange Brunch is another option. For $32 per person (and of course a balcony), a waiter comes, sets up the table, and presents several covered plates with quiche, fresh fruit and lots of (way too many of) pastries. As the name indicates, you also get a split of champagne.
Princess has always been an industry leader in offering a high ratio of balcony cabins (which means that they're value priced as well as generally available) and Emerald Princess excels in that regard with 880 on tap.
All standard cabins (insides on up) are uniquely laid out with a little hallway off the main hallway that leads to your open-door closet and to the bathroom. It's like having a walk-in closet! Staterooms are simply and tastefully furnished, all with ensuite facilities, and most have twin beds that can be converted into a queen-size bed.
They also have individual air-conditioning systems and are equipped with a mini-fridge, hair dryer, and flat-screen TV with a variety of films, television programmes and news channels. One special-to-Princess feature is its romance channel -- which showcases classic and contemporary chick flicks and other worthy entertainment! Cabins are also equipped with a multi-channel music system, and a writing desk.
Most cabins tend to have two bunk beds that fold down from the ceiling above the main beds, enabling the cabins to cater more easily to families. This layout also keeps the sleeping area compact, so it is still easy to move around the cabin. There is also a handy walk-in closet area with plenty of storage space, plus a safe. Bathrooms are efficient, with generous enough space for stowing toiletries, and are shower-only in standard categories (from insides to balcony staterooms).
Sizewise, standard cabins are neither overly generous or excessively miserly. Insides are 160 square ft., outsides range from 158 to 181 square ft. and staterooms with verandah are 233 to 285 square ft. (the last includes the balcony in the measurement).
Thirty staterooms in a variety of categories have been equipped for disabled travelers.
For more spacious accommodations, the ship offers a couple of different options. Beds are made with plush duvets and lots of pillows; bathrooms have good quality towels.
Those opting for more room should start by looking at mini-suites, at 323 square ft., which include a separate living nook and a full length couch, along with a chair and an extra remote-operated television. Its bathroom comes with a tub. Then Princess has a raft of names for its other suites (Vista, Penthouse, Owners), but they all come in between 468 - 591 square ft. Other perks include a separate sitting area, DVD and MP3 player (DVD's are available for free to borrow), free laundry and dry cleaning, and a more elaborate bathroom. Interestingly, there's no over-the-top, 1,000-plus square ft. suite onboard.
There are two family suites onboard; these measure 607 square ft.
The impressive atrium of the Emerald Princess with its sweeping tiered staircase is the focal point of the ship and it succeeds in being grand but not too over the top. This is the venue for gentle daytime entertainment, from engaging street theatre entertainers to relaxing classical interludes from string quartets and the ship's pianists. With the patisserie serving up tempting pastries, it is a popular spot for an afternoon treat.
Despite the fact that Emerald Princess accommodates the most passengers in the fleet, it is still possible to find intimate and quiet nooks and crannies, such as the library (books are sparsely stocked but there are fantastically comfy leather chairs, facing out windows, with listening stations).
There's a 24-hour Internet center. Rates are 75 cents per minute and packages are available for heavy users (100 minutes for $55 or 55 cents per minute; 150 minutes for $75 or 50 cents per minute; and 250 minutes for $100 or 40 cents per minute). As well, wireless is available throughout the ship's public spaces, but not yet in cabins.
One nifty Princess feature is its wedding chapel, which hosts marriage ceremonies and vow renewals.
Gratuities, which are automatically charged to onboard accounts, are $11.50 per person (including children), per day, for passengers staying in standard accommodations and $12 for passengers staying in mini-suite and suites. A 15 percent gratuity is added to beverage purchases onboard, including wine at dinner. Spa and casino staff members do not share in the gratuity charges -- if you use these services, tips are advised.
|Fitness and Recreation|
Emerald Princess has plenty to offer fans of pampering with its Asian-style Lotus Spa, which spans two decks and offers a mouth-watering array of treatments. They range from an "Aromapure" Seaweed Massage (costing $195) and "Aromastone" Therapy ($195) to revitalising hair and scalp treatments and Botox.
One of the more novel attractions on deck is The Sanctuary - a cordoned-off adult-only retreat with cream awnings that give the appearance of a tented-style shaded haven. For $15 for half a day (open from 8 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. and 1 - 5:30 p.m.), guests can relax on sumptuous sofas or padded chaise lounges and enjoy massages (extra natch) in special outdoor cabanas while "serenity stewards" bob about dispensing chilled face towels, Evian water atomizers -- and for an extra charge of, "healthy" drinks and light meals, and even MP3 players for rental ($10), loaded with "relaxing" music. Be sure to book ahead for this facility on sea days, which is when it tends to be most popular and soon gets fully booked.
Like most ships, Emerald Princess has its own fully equipped gym, plus a sports court where enthusiasts can practise their basketball and paddle tennis skills. They can also pound the decks on the ship's jogging track, swim a few lengths in the lap pool or perfect their swing on the golf simulators before striding the greens of the Princess Links nine-hole mini-golf course.
At the end of the day, this is a big ship with the facilities to match -- but there are a lot of passengers to entertain and on sea days the decks can get pretty crowded (it can prove fairly difficult to find sunbeds close to the pool, which is fairly essential if you're trying to supervise children).
There are three kids clubs for kids between the ages of 3 and 17. Princess Pelicans serves those aged 3 to 7, Shockwaves is for ages 8 to 12, and Remix caters to 13- to 17-year-olds. Activities range from pirate parties and treasures hunts for younger cruisers to PlayStation tournaments, JuniorChef@Sea cooking classes and hip-hop dance classes for older kids.
Remix, a relatively new concept for Princess, is hip and edgy. There are PlayStation2's, movies and music, Karaoke, giant screen TV's, card games, board games, Ping Pong tables and juke boxes. Teens also have a separate Jacuzzi and sunbathing area. They can even mix their own dance tracks and take hip-hop dance lessons.
Youngsters have their own "Chill Out" splash pool. And it goes without saying that more generic attractions such as Movies Under the Stars hold an instant appeal for them too -- but beware of what's being shown as sometime the language is more suited to an adult audience than young viewers.The two main pools on the Lido Deck are popular with children, but they are deep so kids need to be reasonable swimmers.
The most unique new aspect to Princess' program -- one they've quietly rolled out -- is a Youth Security Program. Young folks (early 20's) wearing bright yellow (and instantly identifiable) polo shirts, patrol the ship -- and even are waiting at embarkation -- with a purpose of discouraging outrageous behavior before it has a chance to occur. What's more, these staffers, just slightly older than the kids they oversee, are of the same generation so to speak and come across as cool and hip -- and the teens look up to them. As an onboard staffer explained, "They come across as teen-friendly and are not perceived as a police force."
Fellow passengers come in a wide range of ages, both couples and families -- particularly during school holidays. The mix is split, with the majority being Americans (about 70 percent), followed by Britons (about 15 percent) and other cruisers from as far away as Australia and Japan. You'll likely find that many have traveled with Princess in the past. In fact, on one recent voyage, we were informed that 500 of the folks onboard would be doing back-to-back sailings.
It's all pretty relaxed most evenings. There is one formal night on each one-week cruise and around two formal nights of cruises of 12 to 14 nights. Most men were in suits and a number were wearing black tie while the ladies opted for long or short evening dresses on these nights -- but if you didn't, it wasn't a big deal. There were no raised eyebrows!
The Piazza is a marvelous destination. Located on Deck 3 -- and the first deck of the three-story atrium -- it serves as an impromptu performance venue, demo area and, during down times, adjunct to the International Cafe. We loved it. On one sea day, for instance, there was a chocolate demo from the pastry chef, followed by a mime, followed by magic tricks and then a "physical comedy" act. On another day, the young members of Princess' Fun Zone program had a "street fair" there. On the second formal evening, people thronged all three levels to watch the fabled "champagne pour," a Princess tradition.
Beyond that, the ship has so many entertainment options that my head literally was spinning as I tried to figure out which to choose. Each lounge has a different personality. Crooners, on the promenade, is right in the heart of the action, overlooking the Piazza, and features a vocalist (on particularly boisterous evenings the joint may erupt into a passenger singalong). Known for its martinis, Crooners serves 52 different types! Explorer's Lounge is primarily an events' venue for everything from art auctions to guest lectures. At night, it often served as a secondary movie theater.
Club Fusion was also busy during the day -- with Ballroom Blitz, line dancing, bingo and Jeopardy -- and into the evening with other varied activities, from trivia to "Princess Pop Star," a take-off on American Idol, to Bee At Sea, a spelling-themed competition. This venue also hosts Captain's Circle meetings for frequent Princess cruisers.
The Speakeasy, tucked into Gatsby's Casino, is the only place to smoke a stogie. The Wheelhouse Bar, a Princess tradition, has nautical character, but lacks the intimacy I've associated with smaller versions on other ships. And Adagio, tucked into a light-filled corner on Deck 16, is an elegant, Ritz Carlton-esque venue with a cabaret singer/pianist. Late night action is to be found, natch (albeit in more limited fashion on my Med sailing), in Princess' trademark Skywalker's (this version has a nice balcony off the end); it's a kids and then teen disco early in the evening and adults only later on.
The Princess Theater is the ship's main show venue, and it also showed movies from time to time when not featuring production shows and comedy acts.
During the daytime, beyond the aforementioned entertainment, Princess is definitely committed to its ScholarShip@Sea program. Some are more light-hearted -- I had a blast bringing out my "inner artist" at Ceramics at Sea (it's tucked into an alcove by the Neptune's Reef pool); you pay only for the plate or frame or whatever you choose -- the paint is supplied and staffers fire it for you to take home. Other facets of the overall program include culinary arts demonstrations (wine tastings, ice carving and the like), an extensive array of Computers@Sea classes and a guest lecture series.
Movies Under the Stars, in the Calypso Pool area, is a major attraction and is on all day (with family fare), as well as into the night (with action flicks and such). Occasionally the line will program special events (like the Super Bowl). Also keep an eye out for boutique kiosks in this area, which will allow you to shop for items without cutting into your tanning time.
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