Although we have cruised on many other lines, this was our first cruise with Princess Cruise Lines. We chose the Emerald Princess – Panama Canal for our first experience with Princess.
Pre-Princess Cruise Planning
The Princess reservation process was easy to navigate. However, the Princess app was not consistent and we experienced some issues during our pre-cruise preparation.
Before setting sail, we uploaded our documents (including our passports) into the Princess app to ensure a smooth embarkation process. The app is pretty intuitive, and it will tell you what documents are needed to board the ship. Once you have completed all the steps required, the app will show you are in the “green lane” and allow for swift embarkation.
We chose to prepay for two excursions, wifi on one device, housekeeping gratuities, and to have water and soda delivered to our cabin. We did not purchase a beverage package or specialty dining for this cruise.
Time to Travel
The day before the cruise began, we traveled to Florida, flying JetBlue to Fort Lauderdale. We highly recommend traveling to the city you will be departing from at least one day prior to setting sail to avoid missing the ship due to travel hiccups. Once we made our way through the airport we called the hotel shuttle to take us to the Tru by Hilton hotel in Dania. The transportation process was quick and easy. The check-in process at the hotel was fast and efficient, which is always nice after a long day of travel.
After checking into the hotel we found a fantastic lunch spot; Jaxson’s Ice Cream Parlor. Jaxson’s is a local favorite; our server was fantastic and we really enjoyed our meal there. It’s always a great idea to explore the area around your hotel, especially if it is your first time visiting. The Dollar General Store that was next to Jaxson’s was a convenient stop for picking up a few last-minute items we needed before embarking on our Princess Cruise.
Finally, we met up with friends at the hotel, who arrived later. It was the perfect way to wrap up the day.
Embarkation Day - Emerald Princess
We took the shuttle from our hotel to the Fort Lauderdale port which was a convenient and stress-free option. The Emerald Princess check-in process was swift and efficient, there were no lines and we were able to quickly proceed through security. We were able to use the “Green Lane” for check-in, which expedited the process even further.
Instead of having our Princess Medallion mailed to us, we chose to pick it up at the port. The Princess Cruise embarkation team gave the Medallion to us during the check-in process. We were able to easily board the ship after a short wait in the staging lounge. Once onboard we went to the buffet on the 15th floor, for lunch. It was a bit crowded, but we were able to find a table in the overflow room and had a nice leisurely meal.
After lunch, we explored the ship and then went to our cabin when they announced that rooms were available.
As instructed, we watched the muster drill video and then checked in at our muster station.
Our cabin steward, Dennis, introduced himself to us when we returned back to our room to unpack. Dennis did a great job for the two weeks we were on the cruise. He was always polite and quite stealthy. It was not uncommon for us to leave our room for breakfast and for the room to be made up by the time we returned. We are early risers, so we were impressed with the quick service.
Emerald Princess is a Crown-class cruise ship for Princess Cruises that entered service in April 2007. The ship is 951 feet long and she can accommodate up to 3,080 passengers and 1,200 crew members. The ship has 1,350 staterooms. Emerald Princess offers a variety of amenities and activities, including:
- 17 restaurants and bars
- Five swimming pools
- A spa and fitness center
- A casino
- A theater
- A nightclub
- A children’s center
- A variety of shops
Although everyone is welcome on board, the ship appears best situated for mature guests. There are pools but no water parks or slides, rock climbing walls, zip lines, or other activities that the larger cruise ships have that attract young families or couples. She is a mid-sized ship, which we prefer to the mega-ships. Once you get a feel for the layout, it’s easy to get around and there is generally little wait for an elevator.
Emerald Princess is an older ship but the crew works hard at keeping her in shape. Our balcony rail was given a new coat of varnish while we were in port one day and we saw several places with wet paint signs. Carpeting throughout the ship appears fairly new but the hallway walls show scuffs and signs of its age.
We had a balcony room on the Baja (11th floor) deck. The ship is older and although the carpet appeared fairly new, the furniture was a bit dated. The chairs on the balcony were quite worn and almost looked permanently dirty. There was hand soap and lotion on the bathroom counter and body wash and a combination shampoo/conditioner in dispensers in the tiny shower. Bring your own conditioner if you normally use it, the combo product that Princess supplies doesn’t seem to condition at all. We also found the lotion to be very thin and used some that we brought instead.
One of the biggest perks I found of the Emerald Princess was the self-serve laundromat! We travel light with just a carry on so a 15-day cruise really stretches our clothing supply. After being on the ship for several days we went in search of the laundromat. The laundry room on our floor only had two washers and two dryers and they were both in use, so we went to the floor below us where we found a laundry room twice the size. Princess sells tokens, via a vending machine in the laundry room, to be used for the machines and for detergent and dryer sheets.
Something has changed
About six days into our Princess cruise, as we made our way through the dining area, we observed subtle changes that were being implemented. A friendly attendant stood guard at the entrance of the buffet, kindly reminding all guests to wash their hands before their meal. The tables were now bare with no salt & pepper shakers or utensils, and there were attendants handing out plates and utensils and serving the food. When we asked the servers why things had changed, they said that did not know and they were just following the directions their boss had given them.
Returning to our cabin later that evening, we noticed a note from the ship’s captain, informing us of an increase in gastrointestinal illnesses on the ship. All around the ship, we saw that the crew was already busy with a comprehensive disinfection program to curb any further spread of the illness.
Although it may have seemed inconvenient, we were happy to follow all the new procedures put in place to ensure the health and well-being of everyone on board. The enhanced protocol was left in place for the duration of our cruise.
Although the Emerald Princess is not a mega-ship, she does have a nice selection of shops onboard. They sell everything from fine jewelry to fine spirits as well as souvenirs and snacks. The sundry section came in handy after a sea day with too much pool time; thank goodness for aloe vera!
There were many dining options on the Emerald Princess included in cruise fare: the main dining room, the World Fresh Marketplace (buffet), the International Café, The Slaty Dog Grill, Slice Pizzeria, and Coffee & Cones. In addition, there are several specialty restaurants onboard that are at an additional cost; we did not eat at any of the specialty restaurants.
One of the most popular venues is the World Fresh Marketplace – the buffet. It is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is usually well-attended. They serve a variety of dishes that were generally pretty good.
One of our favorite things at the buffet was the coffee “on tap”. Plus, the creamer was in a pitcher so you didn’t have to open all those little containers to get your coffee to your liking.
The International Café is small but mighty! It is open 24 hours a day, so there is always something available if you are hungry. We found that they offer things that are not available in other restaurants on the ship…like cookies! The cookies are baked fresh and were not in the display case. We happened to see them on the back counter; they are happy to give you as many as you like if you just ask for them. Also, there is a gelato station on the far right of the café. The gelato is not free (the cookies are) but it is very reasonably priced.
We chose to eat in the main dining room each night. A table was assigned to us for the duration of our cruise and we had the same servers, Kristian, Antonio, and their boss George. The service was excellent. Kristian and Antonio quickly learned not only our names but our preferences. They were engaging and efficient; we looked forward to dinner each evening and truly enjoyed their company.
There were two formal nights during our 15-day Princess cruise. We are more casual people and did not feel out of place with dress pants and shirts on a formal night in the main dining room. We saw lots of beautiful dresses and tuxes those evenings but just as many dress/casual outfits as well.
Fitness Center and Spa
We toured both the fitness center and spa but ended up not using either. Although I am a daily treadmill person, the treadmills were not available until after 8:00 AM as to not disturb the guests with rooms underneath them, so the timing didn’t work out for me. I used the outdoor tracks and even the indoor corridors on cold weather mornings. Tip – check the deck plan before you book your cabin to make sure you’re not under the fitness center or other high-activity area.
Every evening there are multiple options for things to do. We saw a few performances in the main theater but several times we were turned away due to lack of seating; even when we showed up well before the show started. Some of the performances were better than others; the shows were mainly themed musicals lasting between 30 – 45 minutes.
Other areas of the Emerald Princess also had evening entertainment including many of the bars.
Movies are played on the outside screen above one of the pools both during the day and in the evening. We spent one night watching Top Gun Maverick under the stars. The crew passed out blankets and I’m told popcorn is available.
Ports of Call
On the cruise that we took,15 Day Panama Canal / Emerald Princess, we stopped at the following ports:
Fuerte Amador, Panama
Puntarenas, Costa Rica
These stops are discussed in separate, linked, articles.
Sea days on the Emerald Princess are filled with fun. The daily newsletter, which is left in your room each evening, outlines all the available activities, where they are located, and what time they are held.
One of my favorite things about spending time at sea is the opportunity to see sea life in its natural habitat. During our cruise, we saw both dolphins and turtles swimming in the water around the ship. It was an amazing experience to see these beautiful creatures up close.
We also attend a lecture on the history of the Panama Canal and what to expect when we cross through it. We learned a lot of interesting information that we would have missed out on had we not attended.
On one of the sea days, we were invited to a meeting for first-time Princess Cruisers; we were a bit disappointed by the lack of depth in the presentation. Although the crew played a fun game to introduce some of the senior officers, they only briefly touched on the app and loyalty program and did not provide any details on what makes cruising with Princess truly special.
Service with a Smile
The service on the Emerald Princess was excellent. We have cruised many different cruise lines and I think this Princess cruise was the best service we have ever received. From Kristian and Antonio to the servers in the other food venues, Denny our room steward, and every other crew member we encountered, all went out of their way to answer our questions or provide whatever direction (or cookie) we requested.
Will We Sail Princess Again?
Yes, we will. The ship size and superb service won us over. The Princess cruise reminded me a lot of our time on Holland America and Cunard.
Is a Princess cruise for everyone? No. It’s a great option for the mature cruiser but it doesn’t have the whiz-bang fun for families or couples looking for those types of activities. Princess does have kid’s clubs for various age groups and there are some itineraries that have a very strong educational value (like the Panama Canal) but it might be tough to keep kids entertained on the sea days. If you are thinking about bringing your young family on a Princess cruise I would suggest you research articles from others who have done so for a more accurate account of what the cruise would look like for that age group.