While we’ve navigated the seas with various cruise lines in the past, we recently set sail for the first time with Princess Cruise Lines. We embarked on the voyage of the Emerald Princess, cruising through the Panama Canal for our first cruise.

Charting the Course: Pre-Cruise Preparations

Embarking on an adventure with Princess Cruise Lines starts right at their reservation process. We booked our voyage, setting our sights on the Emerald Princess as she journeyed through the Panama Canal.

Yet, every adventurer encounters hiccups, and ours came through the Princess app. While generally user-friendly and informative, we did somewhat grapple with its consistency.

To ensure swift and seamless embarkation, we uploaded all our essential documents, including passports, into the app well before embarking. The app provided clear instructions on the required boarding documents. Once we navigated through these steps, our status switched to “green lane,” an indication of smooth sailing during the embarkation process.

As part of our journey’s preparations, we chose to prepay for a pair of excursions and wifi for one device. We also opted for housekeeping gratuities and the convenience of water and soda delivery to our cabin. We didn’t select a beverage package or specialty dining for this trip, as we don’t drink enough to justify the cost.

Setting the Stage: Pre-Cruise Travel and Accommodation

The day before our cruise set sail, we caught a JetBlue flight to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Based on our travel experience, we always suggest making your way to your departure city at least a day earlier. Arriving a day early helps avoid any rush and ensures you won’t miss the ship due to unexpected travel delays. If we are cruising from an international port, we usually go 3 days early.

After landing in Fort Lauderdale, we quickly organized a shuttle to Tru by Hilton Hotels in Dania. The transportation process was swift and smooth, efficiently taking us from the airport to our hotel. Checking into the hotel was a breeze – fast, efficient, and a welcomed end to our travel day.

Jaxsons Ice Cream Dania Beach FL picture of burger and fries
Server at Jaxsons Ice Cream in Dania Beach FL
Hot fudge sunday from Jaxsons Ice Cream in Dania Beach FL

Upon arrival at the hotel, we decided to check out a nearby eatery, Jaxson’s Ice Cream Parlor. Known as a local favorite, we were not disappointed with their yummy burgers and excellent service. After our meal, we found a Dollar General Store while returning to the hotel. It was a handy stop to pick up a few last-minute items we realized we needed for our cruise.

Later in the day, our friends made it to the hotel; we were able to visit and make some final plans ahead of our cruise.

Backpack on suitcase at airport with plane in the background
Atrium on the Emerald Princess
Crooners Lounge on the Emerald Princess

Setting Sail: The Onboard Experience Begins

Navigating from our hotel to the Fort Lauderdale port was a easy thanks to the convenience of the hotel shuttle service (for a fee). Check-in for the Emerald Princess was quick, free of long lines, and with security checks that were well organized. We further sped up the process by choosing the “Green Lane” option during check-in.

Rather than receiving our Princess Medallion by mail, we collected them at the port. The Princess Cruise embarkation team swiftly handed us our medallions during check-in. After a brief stint in the staging lounge, we were all set to board the ship.

Our first port of call onboard was the 15th floor for lunch at the buffet. Though a tad crowded, we secured a spot in their overflow room and had a relaxed meal with our traveling companions.

Post-lunch, we spent time checking out the ship until the announcement came that the cabin was ready. Afterward, we headed to our cabin, where we watched the mandatory muster drill video before confirming our attendance at our assigned muster station.

Back in our room, ready to unpack, we were greeted by our cabin steward, Dennis. He proved to be a gem throughout our two-week-long cruise. Always courteous and efficient, often having our room spruced up by the time we’d return from breakfast. As early risers, we particularly appreciated the pace of his service.

Guesst Services desk on the Emerald Princess
Aft pool on the Emerald Princess
Excursion desk on the Emerald Princess cruise ship

Exploring the Emerald Princess

Emerald Princess, a Crown-class ship by Princess Cruises, began service in April 2007. With a length of 951 feet, it accommodates around 3,080 passengers and approximately 1,200 crew members making it more of a mid-sized ship. The ship boasts 1,350 staterooms and a variety of amenities and activities. These include 17 restaurants and bars, five pools, a spa/fitness center, a casino, a theater, a nightclub, a kids club, and several shops.

The ship is more appealing to mature guests as it lacks attractions commonly found on larger vessels, such as water parks, slides, or rock climbing walls. The mid-sized Emerald Princess offers a simpler layout, leading to fewer elevator waits.

Despite being an older ship, diligent upkeep by the crew keeps it in good shape. Regular maintenance like varnishing and painting appear to be done when the ship is in port, and most guests are off the ship exploring the area. The carpets throughout the ship seemed somewhat new. However, minor signs of age, such as scuffs on hallway walls, are visible.

Balcony cabin on the Emerald Princess
Balcony cabin on the Emerald Princess
Closet in a balcony cabin on the Emerald Princess

Our Balcony Cabin Accommodations

We stayed in a balcony room on the Baja deck, which is the 11th floor. The ship has some age to it; the carpet appeared recently updated, but the furniture showed its years. Notably, the balcony chairs looked worn and constantly dirty. I wiped them down, but the weather and salt water have permanently scarred them. The bathroom had a hand soap dispenser on the counter, a body wash, and a combined shampoo/conditioner in the shower’s dispensers. If you heavily rely on conditioner, consider bringing your own, as the ship-supplied combination doesn’t offer much conditioning. We provided our lotion and other toiletries.

A Bonus!

One standout amenity of the Emerald Princess was the self-service laundromat. Traveling with only a carry-on for a 15-day cruise requires strategic clothing management. After spending several days onboard, we sought out the laundromat. The laundry room on our floor had only two washers and two dryers, all in use. So, we checked the floor below and found a larger laundry facility. Tokens for the washer and dryer, as well as for detergent and fabric softener sheets, are available for purchase from a vending machine within the laundry area.

Crooners lounge on the Emerald Princess
Club Fusion on the Emerald Princess
Elevator lobby on the Emerald Princess

Health and Hygiene

Our Princess cruise brought an unexpected turn of dining experiences after around a week onboard. We began noticing adjustments made in the food service. An attendant was now greeting guests at the buffet entrance, gently advising everyone to wash up before dining. Tables, earlier adorned with salt and pepper shakers and utensils, appeared bare. Attendants handed out plates and utensils and served the food instead of self-serving stations.

When we inquired about these adjustments, the servers indicated that they were acting as their superiors instructed, unsure of the exact reasons themselves.

Things became more evident when we found a communique from the ship’s captain in our cabin later that evening. The letter disclosed an uptick in gastrointestinal illnesses on board the vessel. We noted that the crew was already executing an exhaustive disinfection drive across the ship to halt the further spread of the ailment.

While the changes might have introduced some inconvenience, we willingly adhered to the new protocols, understanding they were to safeguard everyone’s health onboard. The rest of our cruise continued under these enhanced measures.

Shops aboard the Emerald Princess
Shops aboard  the Emerald Princess
Shops aboard  the Emerald Princess

Retail Therapy

Even though Emerald Princess isn’t considered a mega-ship, it still hosts many shops. These shops offer various products, from luxury jewelry and premium liquors to souvenirs and snacks. The general store proved helpful, especially for an overindulgent sea day involving the pool – with aloe vera to the rescue!

Fresh Market Buffet on the Emerald Princess
Fresh Market buffet on the Emerald Princess

Dining Options on Emerald Princess

The Emerald Princess included numerous free dining options in the cruise fare. The included venues are the main dining room, the World Fresh Marketplace (buffet), the International Café, The Salty Dog Grill, Slice Pizzeria, and Coffee & Cones. The ship also housed several specialty restaurants that charged extra; we didn’t dine at any of the specialty restaurants.

The buffet – the World Fresh Marketplace – was quite popular. It often drew a crowd open for all three meals of the day. It offered a variety of good-quality dishes.

A standout feature for us at the buffet was the self-serve coffee. Conveniently, creamers were available in a pitcher, saving us from the hassle of opening multiple small containers to get our coffee just right.

Coffee on tap on the Emerald Princess
Fresh Market buffet seating area on the Emerald Princess
International Cafe on the Emerald Princess

The International Café

The International Café, though compact, leaves quite an impression. Open 24/7, it ensures no passenger goes hungry at any hour. This café is unique because its offerings, such as cookies, are not found elsewhere on the ship. The cookies are freshly baked and often not in the display case. Just ask, and they’ll happily provide you with your desired quantity. Additionally, there’s a gelato station at the right end of the café. While the cookies come free of cost, the gelato does require payment, albeit a reasonable one.

Main dining room food emeral princess
Main dining room food Emeral Princess

We chose to dine in the main dining room every evening throughout our cruise. We had an assigned table and servers, Kristian, Antonio, and their supervisor, George. The service was exceptional, with Kristian and Antonio remembering our names and dining preferences. They combined efficiency and a friendly demeanor, making dinner something we looked forward to each evening. They were probably the best-serving team we have experienced in all of our cruises.

During our 15-day cruise, there were two formal nights. Even though we tend to prefer a more casual dress code, we felt comfortable in our dress pants and shirts in the main dining room on those evenings. We saw a range of attire, from formal gowns and tuxedos to more casual wear.

Wellness

We had a look at both the fitness center and spa, but we didn’t end up using them. As someone who usually uses the treadmill very early in the morning, the 8:00 AM opening time of the fitness center treadmills was inconvenient for me to avoid disturbing guests in the rooms below. Hence, the outdoor tracks and indoor hallways were my go-to for morning exercising during cold weather. A pro tip for booking: Review the deck plan before you select your cabin to avoid choosing rooms under the fitness center or in other busy areas.

Varied Entertainment Aboard the Emerald Princess

Every night onboard the Emerald Princess offers a variety of activities. We often enjoyed performances in the main theater, even though they sometimes ran out of seats. The shows, which primarily showcased themed musicals with a duration of 30 – 45 minutes, varied in quality.

There was additional evening entertainment available in various bars across the ship.

Alternatively, watching movies on the outdoor screen above the pool was another daytime and evening entertainment option. One night, we watched Top Gun Maverick beneath the stars, provided with blankets by the crew. Rumour had it popcorn was also available for these special viewings.

Things to do on Sea Days

Sea days on the Emerald Princess offer avariety of activities outlined in the daily newsletter delivered to your room every evening, complete with locations and times.

One of the great things about Sea Days is the chance to observe sea life in its natural setting. We saw dolphins and turtles swimming around the ship and always had our eyes in the distance, hoping to see some whales.

We also attended a talk on the history and nuances of the Panama Canal, learning insightful information that enhanced our impending crossing through it.

One sea day included a meeting designed for first-time Princess Cruisers. The staff played a game introducing the senior officers; however, the presentation fell short of depth. The ship’s app and loyalty program were briefly mentioned, with minimal information on what makes cruising on the Princess unique. We were slightly disappointed as we had hoped for a more robust agenda.

Servers for our table on the Emerald Princess
Servers with baked alaska on the Emerald Princess

Excellent Service

On this cruise, we received excellent service from the crew.

Let’s start with Kristian and Antonio, often our first point of contact at the dining area. They had an uncanny knack for making us feel welcome. Always ready with a smile and engaging conversation, they made every meal feel like a special occasion. They were prompt in their service yet never hurried. Always willing to assist and do so with a cheerful spirit.

Denny, our room steward, had impeccable attention to detail. From making sure our rooms were clean and comfortable to answering any questions we might’ve had about the ship or itinerary.

As we explored other dining venues on the ship, we found the same level of service. However, what stood out was the consistency of this high-standard service throughout the ship, from the buffet restaurant to the specialty eateries. Post covid, service on many cruise lines has been all over the board. It was nice to experience excellent service throughout the ship on this cruise.

Another Princess Cruise on the Horizon?

Probably. The moderately-sized ship paired with excellent service were definitely good points. Many cruise lines compete for the same demographic, so we are not ready to commit to one line as a favorite.

Princes does have a really nice selection of itineraries to choose from. 

However, Princess Cruises might not suit everyone’s preference. While it’s an excellent match for mature travelers who want more tranquil and leisurely activities, it might not have enough high-energy amenities that many families or young couples might look for. That said, Princess does provide children’s clubs catering to varied age groups, and specific journeys — such as the educational Panama Canal cruise — are worth considering for their unique offerings. Still, should you be contemplating a Princess Cruise with a young family, I highly recommend doing a bit of research and reading experiences shared by those who’ve sailed with Princess in a similar context, which will give you a more precise idea of whether it could be the ideal fit for your little crew.

Jim and Jim show their approval on the Emerald Princess
Sunrise from our balcony on the Emerald Princess