Age: 46 to 55
Number of Cruises: 6 to 10 Cruises
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Nordic Empress
Sailing Date: NOT FOUND
The best things: 1) Beautiful ship, one of the nicest we’ve seen. 2) Friendly, lively crew. 3) Absolutely no hassle about bringing or buying liquor on board for use in your cabin. The worst things: 1) No complimentary beverages available except at meal/snack times. 2) Inconsiderate smokers (though the dining room and main show lounge are smoke free).
We drove from Atlanta (about 500 miles; 8 hours of fast driving). Parking at the port was convenient and cost $7 per day. The port facilities at Canaveral are very nice. Embarkation was about as good as any we’ve seen. They were already boarding when we arrived at 11:30, and we were on board in about 30 minutes.
The Empress is a beautiful, glitzy, well-maintained ship. The grand "Centrum" makes the ship seem bigger than it is. Crowds weren't as bad as I had feared with almost 2000 passengers on a 48,000-ton ship. For a few hours on the sea day, all the lounge chairs by the pool were taken (not really occupied, but "reserved"), but there were other chairs available. The pool area is large and attractive, with a kiddie pool and main pool separated by a group of three nice hot tubs. I like the fact that the glass enclosures along the pool deck are just waist high; it seems less confining that the full-height enclosures on many ships. There's some teak around the pools, but it would be nice if it were all teak instead of the aqua-blue carpet. The all-teak promenade deck is truly beautiful.
Our standard outside cabins on deck 8 were smaller than any we’ve had on other ships, and the bathrooms were tiny. But the rooms were well laid out and decorated, and really very comfortable. It made us wonder why we need anything bigger. Cabin service was great. The twin beds that serve as couches during the day can be made into a king size bed. But then it’s normally left that way during the day, making the room much less usable. When we asked, our cabin steward agreed to change it back and forth for us. We realized that was extra work for him, and we tipped him extra for it. I looked at the veranda cabins on deck 9, and they were also smallish (same tiny bathrooms), but very nice, with sofa & chair sitting areas.
The beautiful, 2-level main dining room didn't seem unduly crowded or noisy. Food and service were very good overall. Our busboy was charming, but new and didn’t speak English very well, so he occasionally missed requests. The Windjammer (buffet) dining room was also very attractive, and the food there was as good as you can expect on a buffet. The midnight buffets were good, though we ate very little. The grand buffet was truly a work of food-art on a grand scale…as impressive as any we’ve seen. Room service was prompt and efficient. We had coffee and rolls most mornings (before breakfast in the dining room), and the kids loved ordering afternoon snacks.
The clientele was the youngest we've seen on any ship, probably due to the 4-day itinerary. Lots of families with children and teenagers. Also lots of young couples. Activities were clearly geared toward this crowd, like I'd expect to see on Carnival. This included beer-chugging, belly flop, and (men’s) sexy legs contests by the pool. At least the kids got a kick out of it. Also lots of "horse racing" and bingo. The exercise gym was well equipped, but small. The Steiners’ spa attendants were snooty, as usual.
Evening entertainment was also unsophisticated, but upbeat and fun. It was concentrated in the main show lounge, emceed by ultra-perky cruise director Helen Kennedy. I thought the song & dance troupe was less professional than others we’ve seen, but Rebecca disagreed. The next biggest attraction was karaoke in the Carousel Pub. Other lounges were under-utilized, sadly including the RCI-signature Viking Crown Lounge, which was mostly idle and/or empty. There was a decent pop/rock band on board, but they played at odd times to near-empty rooms.
Nassau was OK, a lot like most busy Caribbean ports. We shopped and took a pretty good Sail & Snorkel excursion ($38 pp). Coco Cay was nice; not horribly crowded, especially if you’re willing to walk a half mile or so from the tender dock. You can also find some shade if you look for it. I felt a little ripped off by the $25 pp charge for snorkel gear, especially when it turned out to be a "swimming with the jellyfish" experience. They say it’s just a problem in the summer, and we didn’t see any at NCL’s adjacent Great Stirrup Cay when we were there in March. At least we learned not to fear just one or two jellyfish, after trying to dodge literally thousands at Coco Cay. We also learned that their sting isn't all that bad.
Clearly, this cruise was not for the sophisticated cruiser. But it met our needs in this case very effectively. I enjoyed it, but wouldn't choose it again unless it was for the kids. I wonder if the atmosphere is the same in the winter, when they do short cruises out of San Juan. RCI plans to move the Empress to the NY-Bermuda run next summer. The ship will be great for that itinerary, assuming they adapt the entertainment and activities to a more sophisticated clientele.