We needed to get away. We hadn't had a vacation in more than two years and a few stressful events had taken place during that time. Normally, we would have called our good friend who is a travel agent but we had bucket-loads of points on our credit card and some were starting to expire so we called their travel department.

The cruise expert at the travel center spent about an hour very patiently going over options until we settled on an Eastern Caribbean itinerary on the Emerald Princess. The scheduled ports of call were Princess Cay, St Maarten, St Thomas, and Grand Turk... all destinations that were on our list of places we wanted to go someday! This was starting to look pretty good. Then the travel expert explained that Princess Cruise Lines was a bit more expensive than Carnival or Royal but, because it was more expensive, there was typically fewer kids and they tended to be better behaved. Okay, we're sold! By cashing in travel points, we paid next to nothing for seven days, six nights in an upper deck, exterior stateroom with a balcony and anytime dining.

We spent a couple of evenings going over the online information for optional shore excursions. In the end, we booked a transparent hull kayak to paddle around on Princess Cay, a three and a half hour tour of St Maarten that included visits to both the Dutch and French sides of the island and an excursion in a partially submersible glass bottom boat, and a three and a half hour tour of St Thomas (well-known for its beautiful vistas). On Grand Turk, we were going to split up so I could scuba dive while Sara hit another island tour.

On the day of our departure, we showed up in Ft Lauderdale with bags in hand and my carry-on packed with camera and underwater housing gear. At first glance, the cruise terminal looked like a madhouse but they had it organized pretty well and we were sipping a rum drink in impressively short order.

The Ship

The Emerald Princess.

Deck Six Walkway

Cruise Ship Departing Ft Lauderdale

Ever go into a Walmart or a Lowes and have a question but no matter where you look you can't find someone to help? That doesn't happen on a Princess ship. The crew is everywhere and very attentive. (more about that later) Also, the interior of the ship is quite elegant. Think of the Emerald Princess as a large luxury hotel (or small city) where every detail has been thought of. ...but for a hotel, it's really fast. ;-)

The Vines, a wine bar.

The Piazza, the center court of the ship.

Princess Cay

Overnight, we repositioned to Princess Cay, which is barely offshore of Eleuthera island in the Bahamas. We were amazed at the number of people that had been sunning themselves on a chaise lounge on the deck of the ship and scrambled like rabbits to run ashore and plop down in one of the chaise lounges there to sun themselves. Okay... whatever.

The Emerald Princess at Princess Cay. A postcard shot.

Desolate Beach on the south end of Princess Cay.

Dead, washed out tree stump on Princess Cay.

The Emerald Princess at anchor. Another postcard shot with plenty of "negative space" for logos and text. ...ehem. Sorry. That's the photographer in me.

Princess Cay, as seen from the ship.

Just before lunch, we took out one of the transparent hull kayaks. Paddling around was fun. If you do this, be prepared to get a little wet; it's inevitable. We also discovered that paying the extra charge for the transparent hull version of the kayak was useless. The hull was scuffed so much that few underwater features were really all that visible. Ah well. You live and learn, right? Lunch on the island, where we met a fun family from Tucson, AZ that we would see several more times during the trip, and then back to the ship.

The Emerald Princess is over 900 feet long, drafts 27 feet of water, holds over 3300 passengers, and has a crew of over 1100. Yes, that's right... a three-to-one passenger to employee ratio. I learned all of this and more the next day, which was a day at sea. I explored the ship, made friends with some of the crew, and accidentally walked through a couple of open doors that weren't supposed to be open and saw some of the crew areas.

St Maarten

The following day we made our first port of call, the island of St Maarten. For hundreds of years, the Dutch have owned one side of the island, calling it Sint Maarten, and the French have owned the other side, spelling it Saint Martin. They have coexisted peacefully that entire time and have worked out a unique culture that many countries could benefit from modeling.

Our tour guide was excellent and injected a lot of funny stories throughout the ride. Well worth the time.

Phillipsburg Harbor, Dutch side

The Emerald Princess and the Liberty of the Sea at dock.

Simpson Bay, Marigot, French side

Gun Placement and French Flag, Fort Louis, Marigot.

Commanding View of Simpson Bay, Fort Louis, Marigot.

Gun Placement and Commanding View of Simpson Bay, Fort Louis, Marigot.

Derelict Freighter, Hurricane Damage, Simpson Bay, Marigot.

Diver feeding the fish as viewed from the underwater port on the glass bottom boat.

St Thomas

The next morning we woke to find ourselves docking in St Thomas... and I was disappointed. The excursion I was most looking forward to was this one for the beautiful scenic shots of the island and harbor. Unfortunately, the sky was overcast with a lot of low-level haze. :-( Our tour guide took us to all of the places we wanted to visit and we saw all of the sites we wanted to see but, trust me, these photos of St Thomas look better than what we saw the day we were there.

The Emerald Princess Docked in Cockburn Town - Wider view.

Harborside Village.

Luxury Marina, Cockburn Town.

Hilltop View of Cockburn Town.

Magen's Bay

Sitting Room, St Peter's Greathouse.

Lush Gardens at St Peter's Greathouse.

Skytram Going Up to Paradise Point.

Beautiful Flowering Tree on top of Paradise Point.

View of Cockburn Town from Paradise Point. That tiny white square in the upper left is our ship.

View of Cockburn Town and Bay from Paradise Point.

Large Iguana sunning himself on the dock near the boat.

Large Iguana warning me to stay back.

I didn't listen very well. :-) This is not zoomed.

Peaceful Anchorage.

Serene Mooring.

Layers of Civilization in St Thomas Grand Turk Diving Photos

Grand Turk was the smallest island we visited. Perhaps appropriately, we spent the shortest amount of time there. There was, however, plenty enough time to squeeze in a two tank scuba dive while Sara went off to explore the island with a tour. Now I understand why many scuba divers refer to cruise ship divers as "pod divers". The group I was with was horrible. One big guy took 30 pounds of weight and he wasn't wearing a wetsuit! They were kicking the reef, kicking up the sand, kicking each other... yikes. But it was better than not diving at all. Anyway, this is probably what you came to see so here they are:

Reef Edge and Sea Fan.

Pillar Coral Growing with Other Corals.

Reef Edge, Corals, Sponges, and Diver.

Colorful Coral Look-Through

Honeycomb Cowfish.

Porcupine Puffer Fish.

Lionfish. These are not indigenous to the Caribbean. They have been imported as aquarium pets and then dumped. Unfortunately, they are voracious eaters and destroy the local marine life.

Hawksbill Turtle from above.

Hawksbill Turtle, side view.

Stoplight Parrot Fish Over Reef.

Stoplight Parrot Fish - Alternate Phase - Over Reef.

Very Healthy Pillar Coral Stand. Pillar Coral is considered one sign of a healthy reef.

Backlit sea fan.

French Grunt and Schoolmaster.

School of Caesar Grunts.

Diver Hovering at Safety Stop With Sunball Behind Boat Stern.

Divers on Safety Stop.

Saturday was a day at sea. Sara read some more while I killed time in the morning. I spent the afternoon doing the most fascinating thing of the whole cruise: A behind the scenes tour of the restricted areas of the ship! They only run one such tour during each cruise and it only takes 12 people so I was lucky to get in. They didn't allow photos but they took us

  • Behind the stage
  • To the laundry, the photo lab, and the print shop
  • To the galley where I met the Corporate Executive Pastry Chef, who was on the boat to train the chefs. He served mimosas and chocolates that he had hand made for us. Everything is made fresh on board, including the pastas, the breads, and even the ice cream.
  • To the medical department where I met the senior physician. Princess Cruises takes their medical department seriously; they're the only cruise line where the medical department is accredited as an actual hospital. They have an impressive eight bed ward, a surgical room, a pharmacy, and even a morgue.
  • Engineering, where I met the Chief Engineer and learned all about how they power and control the ship. It's literally a floating city with it's own water treatment plant, garbage disposal system, and everything.
  • The Bridge, where I met the Captain and First Office. The bridge is the widest point on the whole ship with the two wings on each side for docking. Amazingly, it has very little equipment in it. Almost everything is controlled by computer and the Auto Helm. At one point, one of the ladies in the tour looked out of the bridge wing window and commented that the bridge crew could see down onto the balconies for the first dozen or so staterooms on the first few decks. The navigator acknowledged that they could, indeed. Then the lady hesitantly observed, "and you could see...whatever... they're... doing! The navigator looked away, grinned, and said, "...on every single cruise!" LOL

When I got back to the room, there was a chef's smock (you know, the white one with the double row of buttons up the front) and a very nice, full-length bathrobe, both with the cruise line's logo, custom-printed stationary with my name on it, etc. All from areas that we visited on the tour. There were also a few photos from the tour that were taken by the staff photographer but they are prints and haven't been scanned yet. Wow! Nice parting gifts for those on the special tour.

That night we attended the crew talent show in the theater. Quite impressive, really. They were non-professional acts by waiters, bridge crew, etc but some of them were very talented.

The next morning we docked in Ft Lauderdale and it was all over except the four hour drive home.

Some general thoughts

Activities on the ship ranged from ballroom dance lessons and high tea to nightly professional shows in the theater and movies on a huge screen. There were six swimming pools (one of which had to be drained and sanitized after a "fecal incident") and a dozen or so hot tubs. There were two night clubs, two dance floors, several musical groups, a magician, a library, a basketball court which could be converted to a tennis court, a huge gym, a running track, two golf simulators, an 18 hole putt-putt course, ...well, okay. You get the idea. Lots to do.

The food is terrific and there was plenty of it. During the galley tour, I learned they have a computer model for everything we're likely to want to eat based on age, nationality, gender, etc, and it's amazingly accurate. Apparently, they knew I was going to order French onion soup one night, even though it wasn't on the menu, and another night I was going to ask for two lobster tails instead of one because both times the waiter said it was no problem at all. Huh. Go figure.

Princess is doing something right with their crew because they all seemed to be happy (not that fake Disney happy - genuinely happy). They work hard, they're given time off, and they must like it because lots of the crew had been with the company for a long time and 53 or 54 of the current crew had been with the company more than 20 years. Impressive, indeed!

You're still reading this? Everyone else stopped a long time ago. This is way too long so I'll end it here even though there is much more that could be said. If you got this far, thanks. Hope you enjoyed.