The Emerald Princess was having its Houston inaugural cruise season, and as the port was nearby, we made the drive and embarked on a 7 Day Western Caribbean Cruise aboard the ship.
Houston Bayport Cruise Terminal Impressions and Emerald Princess Embarkation Process
We live in Austin, Texas, and was excited to hear about the recently constructed Houston Bayport Cruise Terminal, which serviced cruise ships by NCL and Princess Cruise Line. The drive from the Texas State Capitol to Houston was slightly more palatable than having to get to Galveston. Along the way we stopped at Hruska's Store and Bakery and enjoyed some of their delicious Kolaches, and also checked out the new Chinatown area of Houston, before overnighting at La Quinta Inn Pasadena North.
The hotel was a good value at less than $100 a night, and offered a clean, well accommodated room with microwave, fridge, and free Wi-Fi internet access. In the morning they had warm breakfast which included sausage, bacon, omelets and waffles. Checkout was not until noon, and we stayed there until 11:45, wanting little part of the early crush of people at port. See more pictures of the hotel we took.
The drive from La Quinta Inn Pasadena North to Houston Bayport Cruise Terminal took only about 25 minutes (~18 miles), though we would have been there quicker if it weren't for having to wait at a railroad crossing nearby the port. If you are planning on driving there yourself, do take into account of possible delay due to a freight train crossing.
Once we drove up to the port, we were directed to drop off our luggage to a porter waiting on the left side of the car. Next, we basically made a loop back out away from the terminal, then returning via an inside lane which lead to the central parking lot. We had pre-paid the 1-week long parking cost of $75 (which is a $5 discount vs paying at the lot). They had car covers for rent for $10 which was a reasonable price, and something you probably want to do since there was no covered parking space.
The Cruise Terminal building itself looked modern and was adorned with turquoise color that reminded of the beautiful ocean waters of certain Caribbean beaches. We entered at around 12:40 PM, and passing through security only took about 10 minutes. The check-in process only lasted 5 minutes, and within another 5 minutes we were on the ship at 1 PM. That pretty much was the fastest embarkation process have ever experienced- so kudos to Princess for that. Interestingly, the taking of security photo took place after we set foot on the Emerald Princess, which aided in the speediness of boarding.
Our stateroom was located on deck 8 (Emerald Deck) forward, number E110. The thing that struck us as the most surprising was that the porthole ocean view window backed to a walking track. So despite not being categorized as an obstructed-view cabin, we got the feeling that it probably should be.
Otherwise the stateroom itself was well laid-out. Similar to our room from aboard the Caribbean Princess, there was a walk-in closet with plenty of room to place luggage and hang clothing. Unfortunately, to enable such a spacious closet, the shower was noticeably smaller than most ships we have been on. A nasty surprise came courtesy of some left-over stain-specks inside the toilet, though that was cleaned up by the time we retired to the room for the night. A bar soap was placed next to the shallow sink, while a pair of bottled housed body wash gel and shampoo/conditioner in the shower. Families with small children may be disappointed to find that the shower head was of the non-removable type, though its angle and spray power could be adjusted.
The desk was nice and wide but provided only a pair of closely spaced 3 prong wall plugs, so be sure to bring a surge protector/power strip. There were four shelves and one large cabinet built-in to provide ample storage space.
The beds were separated in a twins configuration, and despite not being able to notify beforehand that they be put together to form a single queen-sized bed, Princess was able to accommodate once we made the request to our room steward.
There was in-room Wireless Internet access, but the signal was weak, and of the ancient 802.11a variety, as opposed to the newer 5 GHz 802.11n. Interestingly, the signal strength increased drastically when trying to connect from the bathroom or behind the front door. This was likely due to the position and likely poor transmission power of the wireless access point located in the hallway.
Another bit of annoyance of this particular cabin was the strong vibration we experienced while the Emerald Princess docked, lasting for at least 15 minutes. If you were not up by the time of arrival, this unceremonious "alarm clock" will surely shake you out of whatever slumber you were in.
Impression of the Ship's Public Areas
The Emerald Princess had an atrium that stretched 3 decks high from 5 to 8. Circular staircases connected these decks with a pair of central glass-view elevators in the center. It was holiday season and there were wreaths and lighting to match the occasion.
The pool deck was well-appointed. A giant flat-screen TV hung over the main pool provided football games, Christmas themed screensaver type fireplace videos, and at night Princess' Movies Under the Star feature. It was fun just laying there while the ship is traversing the Gulf of Mexico, enjoying a nice movie with a bag of fresh popcorns. Yes, that snack is included for free courtesy of a popcorn station nearby. There were plenty of lounge chairs for sunbathing, several jacuzzi hot tubs, plus ping-pong tables as well.
If you want to soak in a smaller, more intimate pool, there is one at the back of the ship as well.
How about the casino? The best thing we could say about the Gatsby Casino was that there was actually a smoke-free day. It's too bad that Princess does not yet ban smoking all together there, but baby-steps I suppose.
There is a library, gym, several lounges such as the SpeakEasy. Other locations of interest include a small Arcade room, and yes a DYI laundry rooms (a terrific feature of many Princess ships)!
If you like to walk or jog, you can do it in sections of deck 7 and 8.
Emerald Princes Service
We had some issues with our stateroom attendant. On multiple occasions, he only gave us a pair of bath towels despite the fact there were 3 people in the cabin. Our request for an extra tissue box was ignored, and then met with skepticism when we asked again, but we did finally receive it. In addition, several times during the cruise, items we wanted to be positioned out of the way would find their way back to the original location, which was somewhat annoying. He also did not change the glasses inside the bathroom, despite strong hints we gave otherwise.
The service at the Horizon Court buffet, however, was very good. The wait staff there would come and ask for and bring your drinks, and were speedy in cleaning out used plates. The extra large oval plates were also appreciated to minimize the number of trips to get what you want. This is significant considering the disappointingly long wait in lines just get into the buffet area during peak lunch and dinner times. Unfortunately, like what we have seen in our previous Princess cruises, there were no ceramic cups available at the buffet for hot beverages.
We utilized Princess' Anytime Dining, which in the past we remembered still required calling to reserve. This time we were informed that only the earliest 5:15 and 5:30 PM time slots were available for reservation, and were already taken when we called at around 11 AM. Too bad that the lines were always seemingly too long, even when waiting 15 minutes before the restaurant opened. Service was good in general, though the food did come out slower than we would have liked.
Emerald Princess Food Quality
Speaking of food- it did not disappoint. The buffet regularly featured quality ingredients such as jumbo-sized shrimps, and most offerings there were well executed- lots of flavor without being overly salty. Like the Caribbean Princess, there was a German themed night that featured a delicious myriad of Bavarian sausages, meats, and veggies. It was very good and likely the most excellent dinner offered by the buffet of the entire cruise.
The nearby Prego Pizzeria, also on deck 15, presented some of the best pizza we have eaten on cruises. The Calabrese pizza, a special for day two, was absolutely mouth watering. It is too bad that they do not make this a permanent menu item. On this cruise we also experienced the best popcorn at sea, and it was free. They were freshly popped and placed in movie-theater style striped bags for guests to enjoy while watching "Movie Under the Stars" on the pool deck.
The entrees from the main dining room (MDR) were of above-average quality, though we still think the ones we experienced from the Caribbean Princess were better overall. Some of the best dishes included the Roasted Cornish Game Hen with Pan Jus, Beef Pot Roast Braised in Barolo Wine, and Crawfish Etouffee (Cognac Flamed).
The International Cafe on deck 5 also had some delectable offerings such as tiramisu and tasty sandwiches and soups. The only thing missing down there is a self-serve beverage station- if you wanted water, you will have to get it from the bar, which could usually meant extra waiting.
On sea days, you can have lunch at one of the main dining rooms between noon and 1:30 PM. I tried it once and found the main entrees to be pretty good, though the desserts we ordered were a bit underwhelming. For example the Baba au Rhum Baked yeast cake was lacking in liquor flavor. The entire lunch unfortunately took too long at about an hour and a half, so suffice to say we only tried eating at MDR once for lunch.
Entertainment aboard the Ship
The cruise director on the Emerald Princess was Kelvin Joy. He was a well-spoken, humorous fellow from UK who did a good job MC'ing and introducing performers. Duncan Tuck, a comedian/musician, was good at the guitars and vocals, though his jokes were not as spot-on. The dancers and singers did a solid job, though there was not a single production which was especially memorable. The most entertaining performer of the cruise was the magician. His card tricks and sleight of hand tricks were pretty funny and impressive. He concluded his show by getting out of a straight jacket while balancing himself on a surfboard atop a cylinder. The comedic duo of Alfred and Seymour were very funny. We have seen their routine before on another cruise ship but it was still quite hilarious.
It is our impression that Princess does not focus as much on main stage entertainment as some of the other cruise lines such as Norwegian or Royal Caribbean, but that is fine by us as they make up for it with better food quality.
Emerald Princess Kid's Club
We found the Princess Pelican's play room area to be well equipped with plenty of fun toys, video game stations, and classroom-like tables and chairs for kids. Registering your child was an easy process done online before boarding (you can do it after getting on the ship as well). The staff was friendly and there were plenty of activities available such as Olympics, ice cream party, and T-shirt painting. You are given a pager every time you drop off your child, and would return it when you sign him or her out. One element they could add in the future to save time is an electronic check-in system instead of relying on pen-and-paper to check kids in and out.
Overall Impression and Rating
This was another fun trip we had aboard a Princess Ship. The food was enjoyable, though we do miss the main dining room food execution by the chefs of the Caribbean Princess. On the other hand, Prego had mouth-watering pizzas, easily the best at sea, and the buffet was very good accompanied by excellent service. On the down side, our room steward was not very good, and wait times for dinner could get excessive. Overall, however, it was happy times and we would recommend Emerald Princess, which gets a 4/5 rating from us.
Emerald Princes Pros
Delicious piazza from Prego Pizzeria
Above-average main dining room and buffet food, though selection could be better
Plentiful of large shrimp entrees throughout the cruise
Self-service Laundry available
Buffet does not close until midnight
long wait at to enter Horizon Court buffet for lunch or dinner
long queue to get into main dining rooms even before they opened
asked for extra tissue box but did not receive; only 2 bath towels despite 3 people in cabin
still no ceramic cups for hot drinks at the buffet
weak Wi-fi signal inside cabin
non-removable shower head
vibration while docking wakes you out of bed
minor issues with Room Attendant
Be sure to check out our videos of the Emerald Princess Youtube Videos:
Day 2 of Our Cruise on the Emerald Princess: Sea Day 1
We all woke up late and went for lunch at Horizon Court pasta area but found another buffet with more selection of food. I got some sauted vegetables and steamed ones as well. We also tried some BBQ ribs which was ok. There were some roasted beef, rice and fruits- the food was ok. The lasagna was pretty good, however, and so was the vegetable soup. After lunch hubby went with our little one to sport court to play some basketball, and I went around at the shopping to shop and took some pictures. I then went up the kids area to meet with hubby and our son for him to do the t-shirt coloring. We didn't get to leave the place until half an hour later since the little guy didn't want us to leave.
We finally left at 2:40pm and went around the ship a bit and then went back to our cabin to chill out for a bit before we picked up the little dude. We went to pick him up at 3:30pm and then returned to our cabin. We then attended the Princess Cruises Gold Members cruiser party which was boring. They showed us video clips of their two new ships, the Royal and the Regal Princess. The captain did come out on the stage and spoke for a bit. They ended the "party" with giving some prizes and as well gave each of us a coupon for a free drink with a maximum value of $8.50. The whole event was about 30 minutes but we came early that was a total of 45 minutes- will not do that again (waste of time!)
We went back to the cabin to get ready for dinner. We got to the Michelangelo restaurant (Princess' anytime "freestyle" dining) at 5:25pm and there was already a long line to get in to the restaurant which opened at 5:30pm. Later on we noticed the line got so long it was ridiculous! We didn't have to wait for our appetizers & main entrees but dessert took a while. Hubby and both had smoky duck salad for starters. For main courses, hubby had roasted hen (was very good, the chicken was so sweet!), and he also had jumbo shrimp with rice. I had white fish filet which was good, though special. We shared three desserts, the highlight of which was banana flambe.
We exited restaurant at 7pm and noticed a super long line on our way out. We walked around to take some pictures since we were all dressed up for tonight's formal theme. Then hubby went to drop off our little one at The Pelican kids area, and then he came back to the cabin to meet me, and we went to 8:15 pm show together. We went to pick up the little dude after the show and we went to the Horizon court buffet afterward for some fruits and salad. On our way back to the cabin, we could not resist the magnetic smell of the margarita pizza with tons of fresh garlic and tomatoes- it was really good. The little guy got his popcorn which he was quite content with and finished the bag by himself. We then went back to our cabin at around 10:15ish and had the dude ready for bed. I went to get my steps and hubby tugged him to bed, but didn't go to sleep until 11:30, probably because he wake up so late this morning1
09/29/2015 - 06:39 PM CST
Day 3 of Our Cruise on the Emerald Princess: Roatan Honduras
Our 4 year-old and I woke up at 9:45ish and just hung out in the cabin while hubby still snoozing on. We all got ready for lunch at 11:30am and then left the cabin for lunch at Da Vinci restaurant which was the place that offered sit-down lunch on sea days only 12pm-1:30pm. Little buddy had a cheese burger with fries (the burger patty was thick and didn't have the smokey burger taste or smell to it but at least it was not burnt). I had a chicken tortilla soup which wasn't that good, and hubby had herring for his starter. For main courses, I ordered a Greek salad and Indonesian rice with fried egg which was quite delicious. Hubby had the fried seafood dish and the Indonesia rice dish as well. And for dessert, we had the rum baba yeast bread cake. That was not very good as the pastry was too dry. Hubby seemed to like his peanut butter cake with chocolate.
We walked around for a bit after lunch and then went back to cabin to chill out and watch a movie with our little one. We then left the cabin at 4pm and got some fruits and a bit of pizza to snack on. Later I tried to get the little guy to have some fun time at the Pelicans but he just didn't want to so he went to play some basketball with daddy while I took a walk. We met up in front of Michelangelo restaurant at 5pm and got in line for dinner.
Speaking of the line to the restaurant, I was there walking around 4:50 and there was already a line with about 20 people but I didn't get into the line until 5pm and the line was getting pretty long by then. Once they open up the door to the restaurant, we got in quickly. I started out with ordering the food for our little one, and then we ordered our starters: cock-a-leekie soup and seasonal field greens with shredded carrots and cherry tomatoes for hubby. Hubby ordered Grilled Seafood Skewer with Mango and Lime Salsa (a combination of salmon, red snapper, shrimp and sea scallops with book Choy and jasmine rice), and he also ordered Kassler-Style Smoked Pork Loin and Sauerkraut (served with buttered carrots and parsley potatoes. I didn't order any appetizer but ordered two main courses as well, and I had Suf &Turf (petite filet mignon and jumbo shrimp with jus and bearnaise sauce asparagus, carrots and sauted new potatoes), and the other dish was Pad Thai - Southeast Asia's Favorite Noodle Dish (quick-fried rice noodles with tofu, egg, vegetables, cilantro, chili lime and crushed peanuts). The food for our little one came fast and hubby got his starters quickly as well. Unfortunately I didn't get my orders until an hour later- that was too slow for me, so good thing I wasn't too hungry, otherwise I would have been pretty cranky. Our dessert did come out pretty speedily. We left the restaurant at 7pm and once again, noticed a massive line to get in to the dining room.
Hubby went to drop off the little dude and I waited for him at the International Cafe so we could take a little walk before heading for the show but hubby could not get to me until 7:45pm. We took a little walk and went to watch the show, and when we got to the theater at 8:06pm, it was already jam packed. So we had to split up to sit to different area where there were single seats available. The show was about music comedy by the onboard singers and dancers. We got out from the show at 9pm and went straight up to get the little dude and then we went to the Horizon Court for some fruits and vegetables. Tonight was German food theme featured with four types of German sausages and other Bavarian dishes. I only got one small piece of sausage. After our "snack", we went back to our cabin to have the little one ready for bed. While hubby went out for a walk, I bathed the dude and read to him. Hubby got back to tug the little one to bed, and I went for a walk to reach my 20,000 steps a day goal for this cruise. I needed to be careful with my food intake - we have been 'tasting' desserts everyday and more than once daily, even only taking few bites here but the calories add up!
09/30/2015 - 03:14 PM CST
Day 4 of Our Cruise on the Emerald Princess: Belize City, Belize
We left our cabin for lunch at Horizon Court at 11:30, and then we took a tender boat to go on land to check out city Belize. We went with a local tour for $40 for the three of us (two adults and a four years old) for 1 hour and 15 minutes where the driver/tour guide drove us around the city. Belize city is a very poor looking city (like a dump frankly). I wouldn't recommend that you waste your time and money to explore the city. The tour attractions that is worth to check out are the nature-related ones, but avoid the city itself.
Several hours later we returned via tender back to the ship (15 minutes boat ride). For dinner I went for the Quail & Venison Terrine (gingered red and white onion compote, mesclun salad) as starter and hubby had Twice Baked Goat's Cheese Souffl (garlic sabayon). He liked the souffl, it was nice and creamy. I didn't like my quail terrine, neither did hubby. I think the general rule of thumb is to avoid any terrine in general on cruises.
As for the main courses, hubby ordered the Skillet- Fried Orange Roughly (a fish) with Tomato & Capper Dressing (on potato, green bean, Bermuda onion and black olive hash). He also ordered the Seared Diver Scallops in Three Citrus Sage sauce (freshly squeezed lemon, lime. & orange juice reduced with white wine and bound with butter, warm vegetables juliennes and red bliss potato). Hubby thought the roughy was a bit salty; I had a bite and agreed. But both of us thought the scallops were sweet and tender - the julienned vegetables were also good. Overall, the food tonight was quite tasty. The little buddy's Crispy Southern skillet fried chicken served with coleslaw and French fries was good though the fries were a bit soft. For dessert, we had Chocolate Lovers Delight (dark chocolate truffle mousse, tiny gateau opera velvet chocolate brownie) and French Vanilla Bean Creme Brle (sugar cane crust, lemon Madeleine's). The chocolate brownie was good and the Creme brle was so good, just melt in your mouth - maybe one of the best Creme brle I have eaten and I can be picky when it comes to this delightful treat.
Tonight, the line to the Michelangelo wasn't as long as normal and during the time we were in the dining room, it was not super-busy like the first two evenings. We didn't even see a line on our way out from the restaurant and it was at 6:30pm. Hubby took the little guy to the Pelicans and I took a short walk. We then met in front of the Princess Theater at 6:48pm and there were still plenty of seats which was a pleasant surprise.
10/02/2015 - 06:42 PM CST
Day 5 of Our Cruise on the Emerald Princess: Cozumel, Mexico
Dinner time! For starter of dinner I had Tian of Crab, Scallop and Shrimp (poached seafood layers with duo of caviar and papaya dressing), Escargots Bourguignon for me, and hubby had Goat Cheese and Apple Soup with Grape Tempura (chilled goat cheese, honey and yogurt cream with crispy grapes -winning dish of the 3rd annual Bacardi bartender and chef cruise competition awarded to Princess Cruises). He also had the Asian Crab which was good with many big chunks of seafood went well with lightly salty caviar. I really like this different way of having the Escargot (smelt butter on top and the snails themselves had a nice red wine flavor-almost like red wine snail stew).
For the main course I ordered broiled Lobster Tail and King Prawns with Butter Lemon Fondue (paired with a side of grilled asparagus and rice pilaf), and Roasted Farm-Raised Pheasant with Thyme Jus (caramelized shallots, bean and bacon bundle and basted potatoes). My lobster was overcooked but hubby said he was good. Hubby ordered the lobster tail as well and on top of that he also ordered Roll Tine Ripiene con Zucca, Mascarpone e Noci (baked crepes filled with roasted pumpkin, mascarpone and walnuts thyme-cream sauce - hubby thought the flavor was good (super creamy and flavorful) but at the same time he thought the crepes was so mushy that it didn't taste like a typical one.
Little dude had the Red Wine Braised Beef Short Ribs served with hearty vegetables and whipped potatoes - the short ribs were so tender with full yummy wine flavor, and the vegetables had a nice garlicky taste to them, and the whipped potatoes was smooth and flavorful.
10/04/2015 - 11:23 PM CST
Day 6 of Our Cruise on the Emerald Princess: Sea Day 2
We woke up at 10am and rushed to the Princess Theater to watch the cooking show with Hotel director and executive chef on stage, and some crew members performed a talent show for about an hour. It was pretty funny and enabled the crowd a nice chance to appreciate the crew. We then went to eat lunch at the Horizon Court buffet and later found out that on the other area of the buffet served slightly different food from the main buffet area.
We walked around the ship a bit after lunch then returned to our cabin to chill out. We dropped off the little buddy at Pelicans so he could have some Bubble Magic fun time with other kids. Hubby and I then took a walk on walking trail on deck 7 outside for about half an hour. We also circled the the ship to check if we missed out any area where we had not been. We discovered this exclusive area that was tranquil with spa but you have to pay $20 for half day and $40 per day to stay. No thanks.
While walking about the ship, we stopped at the Piazza (lobby) deck 5 to watch the Runway at Sea Fashion Show which wasn't what I expected. I thought that the ship's dancers were going to walk on the runway and show the clothes being sold from the Princess stores aboard but it turned out that it was actually volunteer passengers who wore accessories and clothing of the shops instead. The "show" only lasted for about 20 minutes thus we went to the afternoon tea time at the Da Vinci restaurant at 3:30. The small sandwiches were not very good and the sweet treats were ok.
For dinner starters we got the Trio of Sea, Citrus and Avocado (lobster, shrimp and squid with orange filets and lime-cilantro vinaigrette)- both hubby and I had that, and he also had the Chilled Curried Pumpkin Cream Soup (spiced with cumin, coriander and cardamom in coconut milk). As for main courses I went for the Grilled Salmon with Herb & Lemon Compound Butter (vegetables of the day and parsley potatoes), and Linguine alle Vongole (noodles with little neck claims in cream sauce and parsley). Hubby ordered Mainer-Style Black Mussels in White Wine Cream Sauce served with home style garlic bread and French fries. He also got the Roasted Tom Turkey with 'All the Trimmings' (giblet gravy, cranberry relish, Apple & raisin stuffing, cornbread and sweet potato. That was a nice dish- the turkey was quite tender.