We made a last minute decision to fly out to Athens and join the Emerald Princess for a cruise in the Mediterranean & Adriatic from the 13th-20th July 2019. This would be our first cruise with Princess and also our first in the Mediterranean & Adriatic.
There were a couple of deciding factors, the first was that Santorini has been on my bucket list of places to visit, which is our first port of call. The second was that Naples was also on the itinerary, which would fulfil our quest to visit Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. Plus from a business perspective we wanted to experience this particular cruise company, having booked a number of clients previously.
From Lanzarote, we flew with Vueling to Barcelona, then on to Athens with the same airline. We booked our pre cruise stay accommodation at the Piraeus Dream Hotel which was perfectly located for a wander around the area between the Port of Piraeus and Pasalimani. There were plenty of places for dining and any last minute shopping.
Piraeus Dream Hotel
We had booked an executive double room at the Piraeus Dream. However on check in, we were offered a suite room (408) which suited us perfectly, as we could catch up with our work in the living area. Plus we had an enormous balcony. This hotel room met our basic requirements when travelling which includes efficient air conditioning, a good wifi service, plenty of sockets (there were 18!), good level of cleanliness and a comfortable bed with nice linen. If I was being picky the shower was awkward, it was fixed to the wall at a low level aimed at guests taking a bath, so to have a stand up shower, required holding it free hand. We enjoyed an evening drink at the hotel’s roof bar restaurant Niners, which has a great view where you can watch the ships arriving at the ferry port.
The hotel arranged our private airport transfer which cost a preset fee of €50. Demetrius was waiting for us in arrivals, we had a new Renault Traffic minibus to ourselves and it was an excellent and friendly personal service. Don’t let the official 2 star rating put you off, the room standard was equal to 4* hotels we’ve previously stayed in the Canary Islands and Greece.
We ventured out for lunch in search of some great local food and we found it! Kali Pita has a fabulous choice of souvlaki & kebab cuisine. It is situated on the busy waterfront overlooking the Bay of Zea which is now known as Pasalimani. This restaurant dates back to 1876! We can see why it’s stood the test of time, the food is fantastic and extremely good value.
On our evening walk we found ourselves drifting back in that direction, but this time had a light bite and beer at Route Souvlaki 24 in the same area.
Emerald Princess Cruise Itinerary
Saturday 13th July 2019 Athens (Piraeus), Greece embarkation available from 12:00 departing 19:00
Sunday 14th July 2019 Santorini, Greece (tender required) 07:00-19:00
Monday 15th July 2019 At Sea
Tuesday 16th July 2019 Kotor, Montenegro (tender required) 07:00-15:00
Wednesday 17th July 2019 Sicily (Messina), Italy 13:00-21:00
Thursday 18th July 2019 Naples (Capri & Pompeii) 07:00-19:00
Friday 19th July 2019 At Sea
Saturday 20th July 2019 Barcelona, Spain 05:00
We spent the first afternoon onboard getting to know the Emerald Princess. With 19 decks, 10 bars / clubs, 4 swimming pools and 14 cafe / restaurants there’s plenty of areas for relaxing, drinking and dining. The Princess Patter newsletter is delivered each evening for the following day. There’s so many options of events on the daily itinerary, it’s worth taking a few minutes each day to plan out what you’d like to attend. The Princess App is good, you can select your events into your personal planner, without roaming. You connect in airplane mode via your internet browser, it even has a messenger service to communicate with other passengers.
The compulsory Guest Safety Assembly was well attended, and you are checked in for this event. So anyone who thought they might have got away with missing it, were summoned to a second briefing! It was good to hear a few words from our Captain, Steven Lewis, and meet Fernando, the Cruise Director.
As Athens was the start of the cruise for many, the ships band, The Sound performed live for the sail away deck party at 7pm. We watched the Windstar depart although they didn’t drop their sails, and the P&O Oceana. Finally it was our turn to leave Athens, and our thoughts turned to our evening meal. We were on anytime dining, so decided to try the Michelangelo restaurant on the first evening. Rather than waiting for a table for two, we opted to join other passengers on a table. We met a family of 3 ladies from Vancouver Island, and a British couple from Lincoln with mum who was from Ontario in Canada.
When we’ve cruised previously we’ve had an ocean view stateroom. However on this occasion we had an internal stateroom C204 which is forward on deck 10 Caribe. In the stateroom we had a big and extremely comfortable double bed, bedside tables, desk, huge TV, hairdryer, minibar, and plenty of handing and storage space. The bathroom includes shower, toilet, sink and toiletries. We had a lovely lady called Marilyn as our stateroom steward. She has the biggest smile, always wanted to know about our day and impressively knew everyone by name.
Our television had a channel where you can see the bridge view and listen to announcements. As well as BBC world service and lots of other channels with popular programmes such as Friends, and the Love Boat, documentaries / reality TV and films. We tended to have the bridge view on overnight, so we had a window to the outside. It was also great waking up to dawn breaking and the first glimpse of our new destination.
We didn’t leave the ship until 10:00 for our tender service as we made use of the wifi service to catch up on work first, whilst the majority of excursions left. We walked straight on to the cable car service costing €6 per person for a one way ride. It’s a steep, short climb, before you know it, it’s time to get off. Our plan was to do the Caldera hike from Fira to Oia which is 10.5km. However we didn’t want to get stuck trying to find a bus / taxi back on a Sunday afternoon from that end of Santorini, and risk missing the last tender service at 18:00. We decided to walk the route in reverse, by taking a taxi from Fira to Oia. We found the taxi rank in Fira, it’s behind the Hotel Santorini and arrived in Oia 20 minutes later, which cost €35.
We went to the famous viewpoint with the two blue domed churches, before walking to the edge of Oia to pick up the caldera footpath. It wasn’t obvious where to go, we simply kept to the top of the cliff and soon we were on a track heading in the right direction. For more information about this walk, you can read our more detailed article Caldera Hike Santorini. We arrived back in Fira at 15:00, the cable car queue was already stretching down the street and around the corner. We decided to walk the donkey steps (587 of them) down to the harbour, it sure does stink!
Other options for this destination if you haven’t pre booked an excursion could be a boat tour to Oia from the harbour of Fira. There were loads of rental companies in Fira to hire a car / quad / scooter and explore the island at your leisure.
We had pre booked a table at the Crown Grill for our evening meal, there’s a cover charge of $12 each to dine at this restaurant. We were given a window table for 2 and the service from our waiter Alex was excellent. He was knowledgeable about the menu & wines to give advice on our selection and empowered to make a decision to allow Mike to have prime rib with lobster tail instead of the usual surf and turf steak. We started with lobster fishcake with asparagus which was superb. Followed by the recommendation of black and blue soup. For my main course I had the lamb chops served on mashed potatoes. It was an excellent meal and evening.
Day At Sea
We’d booked the Maitre d’Hotel Wine Club for the afternoon of our first day at sea. The charge of $25pp included 6 premium wines as selected by Rui Pereira from the ship’s million dollar cellars. The event was well attended, and a sell out. The Emerald Princess sommeliers were brilliant, we had 3 of them, each presenting 2 wines. They were very entertaining as well as informative, often making us laugh with their wit and charm. Unfortunately our wine waiter was bit stingy on the measures, leaving us just a mouthful for tasting, where as some of the other tables were struggling to consume each glass, before the next wine was presented. A second tasting has been scheduled for the second day at sea, so we booked. This time the charge is $9.50pp for a grapevine tasting under the heading “A day without wine is like a day without sunshine”. This event also allowed us into the Botticelli Dining Room, usually assigned for passengers on fixed dining tables.
It was a formal evening, so we dressed to impress and made our way to the Piazza for the Captains Welcome Aboard Champagne Waterfall Party. There was an everlasting queue of willing volunteers to step up and pour fizz over the tower, whilst posing for the ships photographers. Our Captain, Steven Lewis gave a welcome speech and introduced the heads of departments.
We decided to return to the Michelangelo restaurant and asked for a table to share. This time we sat at table 256, we noted the number as our waitress Ylena was fabulous. Sharing our table was a couple from Canada who regularly cruise with Princess, and a family from Nottingham, UK who have returned to cruising with their 16 year old daughter after a 10 year break. Both of these parties were delighted to have secured a space on Ylena’s tables and we were soon to find out why. Ylena recommended the white rum tapioca fruit salad, and braised lamb shank with lemon, garlic and thyme for mains. The majority of us complied, Mike ordered her second choice of Catalan- Style Flatbread Tapas and Medallions of Beef Tenderloin, with Cognac and Peppercorn Demi-Glace. Ylena is an absolute delight, she is confident, amusing and assertive. If you dared to deny yourself a dessert, you were served a plate with “nothing” scribed on it in decorative sauce!
We were warned of a 1 hour time change ahead of our overnight arrival into Montenegro. What we didn’t realise is that the ship’s internet and our own worldwide wifi device would not be connected in this destination. So, if you need to get online without costing a fortune (not within EU roaming), get off and head for a a cafe / bar with free wifi in town. There were 4 cruise ships due in to Kotor that morning, luckily for us the Emerald Princess had secured the prime tender location. The other two ships (Celebrity Infinity) & Norwegian Star) had a 35 minute tender journey to reach the port, and SeaDream Yacht Club was small enough to dock alongside. As you exit the port, don’t try and cross the road in front of you, walk to the right, past the boat excursion companies. Shortly you will find the pedestrian crossing, directly in front of the sea gate (west gate) to access the old town.
We decided not to walk up to the fortress, which is 1350 steps, 1.2km and 260m above sea level. If you fancy it, the blue / yellow route is supposed to be the best option. Instead we took a leisurely walk around the old town. First out to the Gurdic Gate (South Gate), I wanted to capture a reflection of the wall, but the rubbish floating around in the water below spoiled it. We worked our way around the maze of streets, also stopping to admire the River Gate (North Gate), which had crystal clear water flowing down from the mountains above. Kotor is very picturesque, it’s easy to understand why the old town has earned its UNESCO status. I had been informed that there are loads of cats, and many of the tourist mementos have a cat theme. However we only saw a handful of felines scattered around the place on our walk through.
Other options for this destination if you haven’t booked a ship excursion could be the Hop On Hop Off bus tour – although the traffic was really bad. Or one of the boat tours including the Blue Cave, Island of Mamula, Submarine Tunnel, Perast and Lady of the Rocks. There was also lots of taxi drivers touting for business at the port exit.
This evening we decided to watch the early performance of the Princess singers and dancers in their production show DISCO…Blame it on the Boogie before dining. We made a reservation at the Salty Dog gastropub to try their menu for a change. There’s a cover charge of $12pp for this restaurant. You can choose a combination of 2 dishes, plus a dessert. We selected the Maryland Style Jumbo Crabcake, The Ernesto (award winning burger), Spicy Stout Beef Short Ribs and Wild Caught Calamari Frites for our mains and shared them tapas style.
After a relaxed morning at sea, we enjoyed the sail into Messina in Sicily. There’s only a 3km stretch of water, known as the Messina straits, dividing the island from the mainland of Italy. You can’t help but notice the golden statue at the entrance to the port, this is La Madonna della Lettera. The wording that can be seen underneath the madonna is “Vos et ipsam civitatem benedicimus” which translates to “I bestow my benediction upon you and your city”.
We weren’t sure what to do in Messina, as we were arriving at 13:00. That meant we had missed the astronomical clock performance at 12:00. The local food markets had also closed. We did get off the ship to stretch our legs and have a walk around. Messina was mainly closed and very quiet during the afternoon. On my list of things we’d wanted to do was to try a cannoli as well as a granita di caffè con panna. We were in luck the Pasticceria Irrera 1910 was open and provided the perfect opportunity to taste Sicily. With the frozen coffee, you tear pieces off your brioche and scoop the thick cream off the top, then drink the coffee to finish!
We made the decision to go back aboard, and chill out by the adults only pool on the aft deck, which we almost had to ourselves. Later we dined in the Da Vinci restaurant and was placed with 3 other couples, two travelling together from Sydney and a couple originally from London, living in Brisbane. After a dinner of cheese soufflé and a main course of scallops it was time for the Deck Party. There was live entertainment from The Sound, who had everyone up and dancing.
We had booked a car hire with Avis from the Piazza Garibaldi / train station for our day in Naples. Rather than walking the 2.6 km we decided to jump in a taxi from the cruise terminal who dropped us at the door for €18. The Avis office is situated at the Star Hotel, however once the paperwork was complete, we collected our vehicle from the garage at the Ramada Hotel on Via Galileo Ferraris, a short walk away. We had booked an Audi A3 or similar and were given a Lexus UX250H with 3,000 km on the clock. It was a good location to collect the car from, as we were straight onto the motorway heading for Sorrento / Pompei without having to negotiate the busy streets of Naples.
Our plan had been to visit Pompei first, then onto Positano for lunch and drive the Amalfi coast. On reflection, we decided to do the reverse, as the Amalfi coast was our must do, and we wasn’t sure how long it would take with the traffic. We actually had time to do everything we wanted, including a visit to Pompeii, as well as driving the Amalfi Coast. The bonus was squeezing in time for a traditional pizza doc at Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, which is rumoured to be the world’s first pizzeria! For more detailed information on this day out from Naples, read our Driving the Amalfi Coast article (coming soon).
As we’d had a late lunch of pizza just before returning to the Emerald Princess, we went to the early performance of “Magic to Do” the premier show of our cruise. If I’m honest, the storyline was a bit confusing, however some of the magic effects were amazing. We also enjoyed the combination of the ship’s dancers, singers and musicians performing together. We went to the buffet restaurant for a snack later in the evening, there was a really good choice of dishes available and open until 11pm. It was a formal night, which included a balloon drop party in the Piazza.
Day At Sea
Our last full day aboard was a sea day, having realised that our internet wasn’t working, we had to resign ourselves into enjoying a full day off work! We shortlisted the events we wanted to include from the latest edition of the Princess Patter. It was actually quite difficult as there were a few that appealed but clashed with each other. The Culinary Show with the Executive Chef Russell Clarke and Maitre d’ Rui Pereira was brilliant! It had packed the main Princess theatre, their commentary whilst preparing dishes was very funny. Next we hit the gym, it was busy but there were plenty of cardio machines available for an hour’s work out with a panoramic view. I’d been wanting to watch one of the Movies Under The Stars all week, so next on the agenda was a daytime showing of Mama Mi! Here We Go Again. We were lucky to find 2 sun beds available as the decks in this area were packed. We watched the ice sculpting demonstration, these guys were from families of ice sculptures, the trade handed down through the generations. Next it was time for our second wine tasting event. We enjoyed the experience and were pleasantly surprised by some of the wines listed, but it wasn’t as well attended or presented as the first one.
Our last evening was at another speciality restaurant with a $12pp charge, this time it was Steamers for seafood. There are 3 courses, the starter is a choice of caesar salad or clam and smoked ham chowder. The main course is a choice of 2 steamers – black & blue mussels or classic clam, and a choice of 3 sauces marinero, cioppino or bacon curry,. Or a third main course option of fried seafood platter. A lobster tail and king crab legs could be added for $10. Desert was key lime pie or strawberry shortcake. Afterwards we toured a selection of the evening entertainment shows. The ship was very quiet in comparison with other evenings, we assumed people were busy packing their cases for the 10pm deadline. We enjoyed the Greg London show in the main theatre, this guy was incredible at imitating famous singers, switching from one to the other with a change of wig / jacket. Accompanied by talented musicians from the ship’s orchestra. Doug Funk at Comedy Showtime was also funny, dragging members of the audience up to help him on stage. We finished the evening with the 2000’s Dance Party in Club Fusion. This was the final performance from The Sound, who were finishing their tour in Barcelona the next day.
As we weren’t rushing off to catch a flight, we opted for the last disembarkation time at 08:50. We had an early breakfast and worked on deck until it was time to depart. The process was very slick, we literally arrived at the designated lounge for our group and were almost immediately directed to our gangway to exit the ship. The luggage reclaim area was clearly set out in coloured groups, and it was easy to find our cases. On exiting the building there was a queue for taxis and a steady stream of vehicles arriving. We were checked into our hotel by 10am. As we were too early to have access to our room, we had a walk around the marina area, where we could see 4 ships docked in the cruise terminal nearby.
After a tapas lunch, we set off on our Gaudi walk to find the Casa Battló on Passeig de Gràcia. This was a new area of Barcelona for us, so we enjoyed walking through the Gothic area despite the humidity and 34 degree heat. We were amazed that we couldn’t see any sight of the Sagrada Familia as we walked towards it, we were literally in the Plaça de la Sagrada Família before the top was visible through the trees. Construction started in 1882, Gaudi took over in 1883, he died in 1926 when it was one quarter finished. The building license was granted in 2019! Hopefully the work will be completed in 2026 to mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.
We strolled along the busy Paseo Maritim Barceloneta on our last evening. We wanted a paella and the two-michelin starred chef Xavier Pellicer’s Barraca came highly recommended. It’s a chic restaurant situated over two floors with fabulous views.Our paella marinera didn’t disappoint! There was just time left to watch the sunset over Barcelona from our hotel’s rooftop terrace and we were ready to go home.
We’ve loaded our full photo album on our Facebook page: Emerald Princess Cruise Photos there’s an explanation with each one, so do click through and take a look.
Hopefully for those that haven’t cruised before, we’ve given you a flavour of what to expect on a 7 night cruise in the Mediterranean. The Emerald Princess was refurbished in April 2019, she carries a maximum of 3,080 passengers and 1,200 crew. We liked the clientele with Princess, the average age was much younger and more international than our previous experience with CMV. The predominant nationality was USA with over one third of passengers from America, the next two biggest groups were from Australia and New Zealand, followed by Asia. Most of the passengers we met were cruising around the Med for 14-21 nights.
Please do get in touch if you’d like some personal advice and a cruise quote.