Compare and contrast . . .
I've cruised Royal Caribbean, I've cruised P&O and I've enjoyed river cruises too. I'm now discovering Princess and have just returned home from two weeks in the Med, from Istanbul to Barcelona via Rome, on board Emerald Princess. How did it compare? Extremely well. Those who cruise take good service for granted but on Emerald it was exceptional. Irawan, my steward on Emerald deck, couldn't have been better. Not only did he do what he was supposed to do - maintain my cabin - he did a lot more, providing tips on the best port wifi, suggestions on places to visit and making sure my laundry was returned on time. He even came on duty early on one occasion to deliver my formal shirt in time for dinner. I found similar standards elsewhere. International Cafe on Deck 5 offered hot drinks, pastries and savouries throughout the day and evening, and - however busy - the team found time for a chat when they delivered orders. We took dinner in Botticelli's on first sitting and the service was excellent. Our head waiter, Douw from South Africa, was a real character - keen to talk and even keener when he discovered a shared interest in rugby. I’d loved to have seen his face when outsiders Japan beat his team, the World Cup favourites! Unlike P&O where cruises vary in length, Princess cruises in the Med this year comprised 7-day itineraries. Don’t knock it. We took two, thus benefiting from weekly welcome parties with champagne and chocolates and weekly loyalty parties. The Company celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and so we enjoyed two 50th anniversary dinners as well. They were superb. I chose the beef tornados and the fillet steak was the best I’ve tasted on any ship. Flying to Istanbul we missed out on P&O’s transit to the Med via the Bay of Biscay. Our direct flight with Turkish Airlines was exceptional. Generous leg room, splendid service and a first class lunch (with wine) provided an excellent start to the holiday and the Princess check-in was smooth and rapid. Quizzes in the evening were good fun (thanks to the wit and professionalism of hosts like Madison and Brandon) as were the films on Lido deck. Movies Under The Stars is a new concept for me but, with free popcorn and even a blanket if the weather cooled (it didn’t), I enjoyed the experience as an occasional alternative to the stage shows. The programme of excursions was as varied as on any cruise ship. In Salerno (Italy), we took a day tour to Sorrento and Pompeii and decided it provided real value. This is not something we usually agree on, but the day was enjoyed by us all. Paulo, our guide, was witty and knowledgeable, and he didn’t fall into the trap of speaking all the time. A rare quality. I liked Sorrento with its narrow streets and clifftop view across to Vesuvius but Pompeii was the highlight. We spent more than two and a half hours exploring part of the lost city, a triumph for the archaeologists who unearthed it, and along with everyone else found the brothel of particular interest. If you’ve only cruised with one provider, I’d urge you to try some of the others. I’ve only just discovered Princess Cruises. Yes, it’s slightly more expensive than, say, P&O but the facilities and the service are superb. I was told that Emerald is due for a re-fit later this year. Really? In my view, the ship already sparkles.
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