January 2015 - Emerald Princess to Caribbean - Western
Our first time on Princess was very good. I especially was impressed with the wood and well kempt structure of the ship. Everything was immaculate and sparkling clean. You knew there were workers and maintenance staff about but they almost seemed invisible. You could tell that they took pride in their jobs everywhere you looked. Our room though small was spotlessly clean and perfectly kept by our Steward, Andreii. We always book a balcony stateroom and this makes the size of the room ok. Professional yet extremely engaging and courteous, Andreii was the perfect room steward (I would have taken him home for a house butler if I could have!). The service and staff were exceptional throughout the ship. Main Dining Room: Although the quality of food was not the best, for most cruisers it would be just fine. There were several couples at our dining table who had cruised more than 15-20 times and they too, agreed that the food quality could have been better. However, when serving over 3000 people with a variety of palates it is nearly impossible to please everyone. International Cafe: has delicious food throughout the day and most is included in your cruise fare cost. I did not partake of any of the additional specialty cost restaurants on the ship as I felt that upscale dining should be included in the cruise fare. Buffets: were like any buffets......lots to choose from; hot, cold and in between.
We enjoyed the entertainment on the ship....not Broadway nor Vegas but still good. The dance classes were just ok. I had hoped that they would have dance hosts for those of us who were solo travellers. Unfortunately, they did not. This is something that I would hope they would consider adding, as well as activities strictly for solo travellers. The age group of most on the ship and the activities of this ship are for those 45 and above. We did see a few children (and I am sure they had activities for them too) but mostly this was for an older crowd. I appreciated the fact that there was not the usually "boozy crowd" you see on Carnival and even though there were over 3000 on board, the ship never felt crowded. We enjoyed the movies under the stars and most of the flicks were fairly current. We enjoyed several of the lounges with live music and the wait staff in all the bars were very attentive, even if you only wanted a glass of water. The Princess Patter, delivered each evening directly to our room, helped us prepare and choose our activities for the following day. I really like this aspect! There were many items and amenities that we did not partake of.....not enough time or not any interest (such as the spa, gym, library, etc.). They have a wonderful selection of pools and hot tubs and lots of chaises and seating areas.
Embarkation and debarkation were an absolute breeze! Even though there is the possibility of fog in the ship channel causing a delay, it would still be my choice in Texas just due to the size and ease of it all.
All three ports of call (Roatan, Honduras; Belize City, Belize; Cozumel, Mexico) were lots of fun. I used an outside excursion company called Shorefox to book the Zip and Dip Tour in Roatan and the Altun Ha & Belize Zoo Tour in Belize. I researched reviews etc. before booking with Shorefox and I must say that they lived up to all the reviews and expectations I had. Both excursions were exceptional in every way: the tour guide, the vast knowledge of the guide, the more personalized service (the maximum group size is 14 unlike the ships which is 40-50!), the excursion itself and the guarantees provided by Shorefox and the price (it was less expensive than going through the cruise line and we got more personalized service). On both excursions, we were the only ones who arrived so we had private tours!!! We were able to do "local" which is what we prefer.
In Roatan, our guide was James Taylor. He took us to the Zip and Dip Tour (17 ziplines) that we booked through Shorefox where we met our zip guides, JB and Pedro of Jungle Top Zipline Adventures. Again, we were the only ones with these 2 guides on the lines so it was an absolute blast! I had never ziplined before so was a little apprehensive with the height and speed of jumping of a platform into air. JB and Pedro quickly put me at ease and half way through the first line, I was flying by myself. JB and Pedro taught us some fun tricks to do on the lines as well as made certain that we were secure before each zip! The harnesses are in great shape and security plus fun are their focus. Afterward we were able to pet and interact with the monkeys. James then loaded us back into our private van and we were off to have lunch at a local spot where he would normally eat! We stopped along the way at a local market so that we could buy some avocados to enjoy with our meal. James corrected the cashier when she tried to overcharge me since I was a "tourist"! We had local food at local prices with local people. Perfect!!! Not touristy. I had fried conch, my friend had conch ceviche and James had oxtail! All served with fried plantains, red beans and rice; main staples for Honduras. Can't say enough good things about James Taylor (Roatan Adventure Tours: Zip & Dip) and JB & Pedro (Jungle Top Zipline)!!!!
Our next stop was in Belize. Again, we booked using Shorefox for the Altun Ha & Belize City Zoo Tour. Once again we were the only people on the tour (the others who had booked did not show up). Our guide, Jeff Lopez, was absolutely delightful. As we drove through Belize City out to Altun Ha Mayan Ruins, Jeff told us of the history of Belize and the sights we were passing. On the way, I asked Jeff to stop at a roadside market so that I could buy some bananas, which he gladly obliged. He corrected Once at Altun Ha, he gave us a personal tour and told us of the history of the Mayan Ruins. He even sourced some specific carved wooden tongs for my friend who wasn't having any success in the markets finding these particular items! After the ruins, we again enjoyed a local lunch where we ate Gibnut (the Queens' rat....not really a rat but there is a story about the queen eating this particular meat on her trip to the island). I had split peas, coconut rice & fried plantains with the Gibnut. All delicious! The local beer, Belikin, was quite oh so good.....especially on a very warm day! Both Honduras and Belize can get quite hot from mid morning on. After our delicious local lunch, Jeff took us to the zoo and gave us a personal tour, finding each and every animal in its' enclosure so that we could photograph it. This zoo is much different than American zoos, as the animals are in natural habitat and very, very large enclosures....almost as if in the wild. Jeff with his quick eyes was able to spot the animals (though some took longer than others). Had we been on our own, we probably would have missed quite a few! This tour was a 6 hour adventure that was worth every cent and then some!
A Word of CAUTION: Be sure to take your bug spray!!!!! The "no seeums" (you really can't see them) will get you otherwise and when you realize you have been bitten and the itching starts, you will desperately wish you had used bug spray!!!! Even though I was sprayed up with DEET, I still had 6-7 bites and boy howdy do they itch!
I can not recommend SHOREFOX enough for excursions!!! Best price, best service, best guarantees!!!!
For our Cozumel excursion, we booked through Princess. We booked the Salsa and Salsa Tour. There were 40 or so from our ship plus about 160 from other ships in dock that were all involved in this tour. Even with so many people, 200+, this excursion was held in a local all inclusive hotel and had ample space and tour employees to accommodate us. The salsa/margarita class was so, so much fun and the salsa dancing even better! This is a cooking class filled with entertainment, drinking, good food, some learning, and fun dancing! For those not wanting to dance, the pools/hot tubs are open for them to enjoy. Linda, the main emcee of the event could have a show all her own if wanted.....she is that good! I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a day of fun in Cozumel!
We had a great time throughout the entire cruise and I would highly recommend the Emerald Princess to everyone looking for a cruise out of Houston!