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Relaxing cruise on the Emerald Princess

Cozumel, QROO, Mexico
2 Kudos
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My wife and I sailed on the Emerald Princess, departing from Houston on 1/4/15 with port calls at Cozumel, Belize City and Costa Maya. Fortuitously, our departure ensured we missed the below zero weather in Chicago.

We’ve traveled with Princess before so we recognize this is, umm…a more mature crowd. Not to say it’s all blue hairs, as there was a pretty good mix of ages on this cruise.

This is the first time that we scheduled our flight and cruise departure on the same day, although it worked out, it was stressful since we had a bit of bad weather leaving Chicago which could have been an issue. Next time we'll go the day before even if it's just staying near airport as port of Houston has no nearby hotel facilities and transferring from airport to hotel to port is expensive and a lot of other steps.
We used the same day cruise line transfer from Houston Bush (IAH). The Cruise Line representatives were in the baggage area to handle check in and provided tags (if not using your on-line tags) and directions. You’re required to take your bags to a separate van for loading and sorting at the port facility. We had a short wait and boarded the bus for the 40 min drive to the port of Houston.Other reviews have pointed out there is NOTHING to see along the entire route to the port unless you’re into industrial/oil refinery facilities. Sorry Houstonians, maybe there is something but just not on this route? The actual cruise terminal is at the end of the quay and pretty basic but functional. There is on-site parking if you drive, check out the port web page for details, especially prepay discount.

The Embarkation process went very smooth, typical X-ray screening, wine check in (none for us) and health question/inspection prior to check in. The Princess staff were very efficient and the whole process from off the bus to on board was maybe 30 minutes. Granted it was a bit later in the process, 2PM ish, so there may have been more lines for the Noon start time. Princess suggests check in times based on the Cabin floor, not sure if that is really policed.

The Emerald Princess is a pretty big ship, 3000+ and our previous experience has been with ship in the 1900ish range so we were a bit concerned about crowding on board. With the exception of a minor back up at the Buffet on sail away (let the feeding frenzy begin!) we did not find crowds to be a problem at all. Plenty of public space across several decks, pools and lots of stairs to climb (gotta work off a few calories).

Our stateroom was on Baja deck, forward, balcony room. The info on the web site accurately reflects what you can expect. Nicely sized for two, functional and consistent with our other trip (they must be standardizing décor to get some savings). We really enjoy the balcony so it’s worth the upcharge for us—not that the view of the port of Houston is really all that interesting per say. Our baggage showed up late afternoon and there is plenty of storage space including in room safe. Housekeeping was superior and unobtrusive; room refreshed in AM and PM including supply of ice, fruit on request and evening sweet.

Princess does a great job providing activity options for varied interests. You can be as busy as you like! Our cruise directors, Kalvin and Dan, as well as their team, were outstanding and they really appear to like their jobs. We looked forward to seeing them on the Wake Show, the daily TV update of the day’s activities. We really enjoyed the hosted “game” shows and musical performances which were fun and entertaining. The Movies under the Stars is also a neat option and they had some good films that we enjoyed while munching on freshly made popcorn.

Princess has a new web version of the Princess Patter, the daily activity newsletter and we found it to be very handy. It utilizes the ship’s wireless network and there is no charge to access through your phone or tablet. For those who need to be connected, the ship has internet access packages and I understand you can have cell/data coverage (at absolutely outrageous price), neither of which we choose to use—on the cruise to “disconnect from electronics and reconnect with my wife.

We took full advantage of the “any time dining” plan which allowed us to use any facility of our choice. The main dining rooms are elegant and cuisine was varied and tasty. The buffet is a staple, good quality, variety and easy access. There are a couple of casual options, outstanding freshly made pizza, a grill with hamburgers, hot dogs and brats as well as the international café which has Panini and desert treats. You can also opt for the extra cost specialty restaurants, $25 per person, which had an Italian and Steak theme. We did not do the specialty restaurants on this trip as there are so many options we could not justify the extra cost. We’re not big drinkers, so we don’t do the beverage options; alcohol, specialty coffee or pop. You get tea, coffee (tip, order coffee from room service in AM as it is MUCH better than the buffet and bring a water bottle with top big enough to put ice through), tap water and milk included “free”.

The quality, variety and service in all of the restaurants were excellent. The in room dining options are the only area where we were a bit disappointed in section, specifically breakfast options. I can understand limiting choices on port arrival days due to demand, but otherwise wider cooked breakfast options would be appreciated.

Surprised my wife with a Spa treatment for her and she said the service was great and very relaxing. Of course I was trying to win a few bucks back down in the casino while she enjoyed her treatment. I actually ended up $20 and took the money and ran.

We do a bit of research for shore excursions and make arrangement accordingly. We’ll compare the cruise line offerings with the on-line providers as well as trip advisor to validate pricing and itinerary. There are some savings as well as different venue options that can be found if you do the research. We also prefer to try more local options if possible.On this cruise we utilized the cruise ship tours of Belize City and Isle of Cozumel tour/tequila tasting/Folkloric show. These were handled in professional fashion and we enjoyed them. We made our own arrangements in Costa Maya with excellent results.

One observation; each of our port of calls landed us in the midst of cruise line operated (controlled?) shopping villages. If you want to see the real local population, you need to do a little research and take the effort to get out of these shopping villages (in some cases it can be a bit of a challenge to find the exits).

The only complaint, if that, is the constant barrage of “shopping” promotions. While I realize this may appeal to some on the cruise, in my opinion it is a bit over board (no pun intended). There are constant sale events in the Piazza area (which constrains pedestrian space), constant coverage on the on board TV and mentions at most events. We pretty much tune it out but the whine is constant, especially in conjunction with arrival at the shore ports. If the cruise line ever reads these, please tone it down…

The crew was professional and the timing for our arrivals did not tax the capabilities of the vessel. The Captain provided a warm welcome and timely updates to adjustments to our schedule; we pushed off about 4 hours late as we needed tug assistance to navigate the Houston ship channel and we made an unscheduled stop to transfer a passenger for medical reasons. None of these incidents impacted the port of call schedule. The Navigator gave an interesting presentation about shipboard operations including navigation. There is also a behind the scenes ship tour, but it’s rather expensive at $150 per person.

One item we do recommend is the on-board future cruise credit. You can put a $100 down, per person, to gain future on-board credits and reduced deposits that are combinable with other promotions so you can leverage your best deal. It’s good for up to two years (we don’t plan on waiting that long) and then refundable if you don’t use. Overall this is a win-win, low risk deal so go for it.

Disembarkation was handled in an efficient and timely fashion. You’re assigned a color and number which will designate your que area and time for disembarkation. Baggage to be put out in hall at dinner time on the day before arrival, and you won’t see till you claim port side so remember to keep items and a bag/case for that last nite stuff. You’ll claim your bag in the port facility then proceed to US Customs for processing. As info; the State of TX will tax all booze and cigarettes, if you’re a state resident or not, that you bring back.Transfer busses were waiting to return us to Houston Bush (IAH). Loaded up quickly and we’re dropped back in plenty of time to hit the airline lounge and make our 2:30PM departure.

Overall a very relaxing trip, a week goes amazingly fast when you’re being pampered on the Emerald Princess.

We are already thinking about our next cruise with Princess!

Happy Cruising.
Story Details

Transportation

PORT OF HOUSTON
PORT OF HOUSTON
Unfortunately not the nicest port setting. Set in midst of huge oil refineries.

Culture and experiences

Mahahual
This area is also known as Costa Maya. Took the Native Guide Experience to enjoy touring ruins of Chechooban and lunch with real Mayan family. Best part of trip

Hotels

Belize City
Belize City
The Emerald Princess is amazing; floating city to pamper you for a week

Points of interest

Belize City
Took tour of this colonial city. Makes you appreciate what we have here in the United States of America.
Cozumel
Enjoyed getting out of the cruise line compound to enjoy scenic drive to the west side, then tequila tasting and Folkloric show.

On The Map

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