So with that being said...this review will discuss both the positives and negatives of the ship. Cruises are like hotels...each should stand alone on its own merits. In my opinion, it is not fair to judge an entire hotel chain based on one good or bad experience at a particular hotel in a particular city. I feel the same about cruises. It is not fair to judge an entire cruise line based on one good or bad experience. The overall experience relates directly with the management and regular staff that is onboard that particular ship just like a hotel.
So this review comes from the perspective of my experience aboard the Emerald Princess and I will be comparing it to my experience with other ships such as Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas and the Freedom of the Seas as well as NCL’s Norwegian Sky and Disney Cruise Line’s the Disney Wonder.
So let’s get started. First let me mention the ship’s overall appearance. I found the ship to be strikingly beautiful. It is still a fairly new ship so I expected everything to be shiny and clean and it did not disappoint. I noticed the staff on a regular basis cleaning, doing touch-up painting and staining and keeping it as sparkling as possible. Lot’s of calm color tones (earthy versus the bright neon on Carnival ships), lot’s of deep, dark wood colors in the lounges with comfy leather chairs and elegant artwork throughout the ship. I am a traditional sort of person which is probably why I found the ship’s public areas to be more appealing than my wife did. She prefers more of the modern decor that is found on the Royal Caribbean ships. But overall...I give the public areas an “A” grade as far as decor and cleanliness is concerned.
Next...let me mention the staff. Attentive, caring and friendly are words that come to mind when I think of how we were treated onboard the ship. Most of the staff that you passed in the hallways were always ready to give you a smile and warm hello. Our stateroom attendant was probably the best so far out of all of our cruises. He was ready to go get whatever you needed and was extremely aware of making sure you had your laundry back in time for the dinner’s each evening. Thank you Isidro! Our dining staff (Saulo from Peru and Cecelia from Brazil) were top-notch. We judge the wait staff simply by how present they are (at the right times) and how willing they are to help you find the right food choice. We also judge them by their ability to pay attention to the simple details. My dinner drink of choice was simply an ice tea with lemon and my wife’s was a diet coke with lime. After the first night...we never had to ask for those again. We were greeted each evening with our beverages and refills were always done promptly. I can say that this is not the case with some of our past cruises so we appreciate the staff that makes it a point to pay attention to the small things. So again my grade for the staff is an “A+.”
Moving on, let me discuss just briefly our stateroom. We were on the Plaza Deck (deck 5) in P309 which is right off of the art gallery. We were in an ocean view stateroom. The location was excellent! We spent a lot of time at the various public areas of deck 5 such as the International Cafe which serves wonderful little treats of all kinds throughout the day (including my wife’s favorite, “Cookies and Milk”) and we also frequented the Internet Cafe where we kept folks updated back at home. We would choose this deck again for any future cruises aboard the Emerald or any of its sister ships. The stateroom itself was adequate for 2 passengers, but I cannot imagine adding a 3rd or 4th. The bathroom was probably the smallest that we have had to date, but the closet and storage space was the best so I guess that is the trade-off. Here is the only exception to what I said earlier about the decor; the decor of our stateroom can be summed up in one word...BLAND. It just was not as nicely decorated as any of our previous cruises. We had a flat-screen TV which was nice and we were thrilled to see that they actually play old episodes of “The Love Boat” onboard (we love that old show). For those that may not know...Princess Cruise Line’s Pacific Princess was “The Love Boat.” Overall stateroom grade...a “B.”
Ok enough about the stateroom. I have to next mention the food. I can say that the food was good, but not great in comparison to some previous cruises. I was hoping it would be a “wow” experience when we ate each meal and it was just not that. Don’t get me wrong...I enjoyed the meals, but some of the dishes just lacked some overall flavor. We ate most meals in the main dining room (Botticelli) where we also chose to do one of the traditional dining times (early dining at 6PM). The staff more than made up for the lack of wow food experience. The buffets were ok...food was warm to hot on most occasions, but the buffet areas are crowded and not laid out well. We prefer the way Royal Caribbean designs their buffet areas which minimizes the congestion around each food station. We enjoyed the pizza pool-side as well as the hot-dogs and burgers which were all near the pool areas. Food tip: if you like gelato...make sure you try some at the International Cafe on deck 5. For a small fee (under $2), you get 3 heaping helpings of their gelato and it was excellent.
But now for my first real negative (outside of the bland stateroom decor). We ate at one of the 2 specialty restaurants...the Crown Grill. The Crown Grill resembles some of the best steak houses on land. The decor is warm and elegant with lots of dark woods and low lighting. It would have been a great place to celebrate a special occasion such as an anniversary etc. BUT...the food was disappointing along with the service. The server was very nice, but he messed up our side-dish order and never brought me an ice tea that I had asked for at least twice. Remember what I said about attention to the small details? But really the most disappointing part was the steak and other dishes. I ordered the filet mignon (8oz). It was very bland and frankly tasteless. I salted it at least twice trying to get some flavor out of it and it didn’t work. And the grain of the meat resembled more of a roast than a good filet. The sides were the same with the exception of the corn casserole. You pay at least $25 per person to eat in the specialty restaurants and I have come to expect a “wow” experience in each one that we have eaten in and this was less than that by far. So save your $25 and stick with the dining room or maybe try Sabatini’s (the other specialty restaurant option). So if I were to grade the overall food experience...it would receive a “B-.”
Hurrying along, the entertainment onboard was excellent. They put a lot of time and money into each production show and it really does show. We were also able to see at least 3 comedians onboard. Our 2 favorites were Kevin Hughes and Phil Tag. We were also able to see Phil Tag again in the Explorer’s Lounge and he did not disappoint. The only negative about the shows is that the Princess Theater is very small compared to the number of passengers onboard. Tip: Get to either the early or late show at least 30-45 minutes early if you want a seat. Another great entertainment option onboard is what they call “MUTS” or Movies Under the Stars. The staff prepares each lounge chair with a blanket and a comfy chair cover with a built-in pillow and they also provide fresh popped popcorn for each movie. The same movie screen shows movies and music videos throughout the day. Entertainment...an “A.”
Since I have probably lost you attention along the way in this lengthy post, I will end this portion now and write a part 2 a little later on where I will discuss a few more aspects of the ship as well as the ports of call. I will also be posting a link to all of the photos taken during the cruise a bit later so stay tuned and feel free to comment or ask any particular question that you may have about the ship, the cruise line, etc.