I want to continue my review of the Emerald Princess. I had mentioned that I would be discussing some more of the ship herself and then briefly talk about the ports of call.
The ship has some quirks that I want to mention. The best way to describe them is to simply call them “dead ends.” For example...if you want to get to the Botticelli Dining Room on Deck six near the back of the ship (aft) and you happen to be in the forward or middle part of the ship, you have to go up to deck 7 and walk towards the back and then go back down to deck 6. And just try to get to the quiet, adult pool in the aft part of the ship from deck 15 or 16...you must navigate your way through all of the buffet dining areas to get there. You saw a lot of people walking around looking confused at how some of the areas were laid out. I say all of this just to prepare you and give you ample time to pack your compass or GPS unit.
Another “con” I will mention is the Thermal Suite in the Lotus Spa. For those of you who are experienced spa-goers, you know that these areas are supposed to be for unwinding and relaxing. They are generally considered “quiet areas.” Some ships such as the Disney Wonder will have nice peaceful music piped in to help set the mood along with the low lighting. Well...the Emerald’s Thermal Suite had neither and more often had clientele who felt the need to yammer on about some mundane issue in a very loud, less-than-soothing tone of voice. Most of these folks were in there with friends and used the area more as a social venue than one of relaxation. Since you must pay a fee to use these areas, I feel Princess needs to address this and simply mount some “quiet please” signs as you enter and also let patrons know that it is meant to be a place of tranquility.
Ok...enough of the quirks and cons. Here is another “pro.” We have been on some ships where we felt the shopping was less than adequate, but that was not the case with the Emerald. Some ships load up their shops with large selections of alcohol and cigarettes that you can buy duty free and then leave little room for those items that some of us prefer to shop for on board such as logo apparel or other souvenir-related items. The Emerald Princess had a great selection in “Calypso Cove” of both souvenir clothing and other things that you might want to purchase in order to take home as a cool reminder of your cruise experience. I am also pleased to say that their pricing for some of the duty-free items such as perfume or cologne were not that much different than the prices on shore at some of the more well-known duty free shops. So budget accordingly!
Ok...time to get off of the ship and talk quickly about the ports of call. We made 4 stops; Princess Cays (their private island), St Maarten, St Thomas and Grand Turk. We have been to 2 of the 4 ports on a previous cruise so I will only just touch on what we did on this cruise that was different than the previous cruise. First, we booked an excursion for St Maarten through a 3rd party excursion company called Shoretrips.com. It was a short, 3-hour island tour of the Dutch and French sides of the island with 3 stops along the way. It went great. The van was comfortable and air-conditioned and the driver was very nice and courteous. I would recommend using this company if you want to be more in control of your schedule and want to pay a little less than what the cruise lines usually charge for basically the same excursions. The tour itself was OK, but not great and one we will probably not do a second time. We got to see the French town of Marigot, try some tasty French pastries and snap a few pictures of Orient Beach. Those were pretty much the highlights of the tour. Most likely we will just stick to shopping on the Dutch side the next time we visit St Maarten and take advantage of getting back on the ship early. I should also say that St Maarten now is probably our least favorite port of call in the Caribbean (Nassau is our least favorite of all time).
In St Thomas we decided to go on our own and see what we could find to do in town. I had done a little research and found that there is a very cool walking tour that you can do after you catch a cab from the pier to the main downtown area. You can ask to be dropped off at Emancipation Park and from there you can slowly work your way up the hill to Blackbeard’s Castle, passing several historic homes and buildings along the way. The scenery, as you make your way up the hill, is breathtaking so make sure you take lots of batteries for your camera.
The 2 biggest surprises to us on this cruise (surprise in a good sense of the word) were the stops in Grand Turk and Princess Cays. First let me say that both are beautiful islands. The various blues and turquoise that the ocean paints for you is just hard to put into words. Both stops had beautiful beaches loaded with palm trees. My expectations were not that high for Grand Turk which is maybe why we felt blown away by what we saw. It is still a fairly new stop for cruise ships and the new cruise ship center is clean and basically just a few steps away from where you dock. But I must admit that the nicest surprise was the beach adjacent to Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. It is a FREE beach with loads of lounge chairs and plenty of room (especially if you happen to be the only ship in port as we were). And to top it off...the pool at Margaritaville was also FREE and again had an abundance of lounge chairs which made the stop very similar to the one we had at Princess Cays. Both were days where we felt completely relaxed and didn’t feel any need to plan any additional excursions. Thumbs up to Grand Turk!
But I want to end this review mentioning more about Princess Cays. Previous to this cruise, I had been able to visit 2 other cruise line private islands; Disney’s Castaway Cay and NCL’s Great Stirrup Cay. Princess Cays blew both of them away in my opinion. I know I know...if you are a Disney fan, that will be hard to fathom, but it is true. The only and I mean only advantage I see that Disney’s Castaway Cay has over Princess Cays is the fact that the Disney Cruise Line Ships actually dock versus having to be tendered in as you do with Princess. But that is it. Princess Cays is just as beautiful, just as pristine and the barbecue was just as good. To me, what makes Princess Cays better is that you did not have to take a tram to get to the main beach area and the beach actually seemed larger. I also felt the overall landscape was more scenic than both Disney’s and NCL’s island and gave you lots of room to move and walk around. The tendering process went very smooth and quick. My wife and I both agreed that our stop at Princess Cays may have been the best one out of the whole cruise and frankly we cannot wait to get back there.
So to keep this post from being another novel, I will just sum it all up by saying that I can recommend Princess and the Emerald Princess without hesitation. If you are a family...just know that they do have great kid’s programs, but the overall “kid population” may be much smaller than what you will find on other major cruise lines such as Disney, Royal Caribbean and Carnival. Case in point...this cruise had over 3000 passengers on board and only 77 of them were under the age of 18. Depending on your perspective, that could either be a pro or a con. But I say give Princess a try if you have not already. I do not think you will be disappointed. If you would like to see pictures of the ship and ports of call...click HERE
Thanks Princess for a wonderful experience.