Hungry For An Emerald

September 22, 2007 -

John Heald

Take two chefs, give them the same ingredients and you will no doubt find yourself eating two completely different dishes both cooked to perfection.

The same can be said within the cruise industry. Take Carnival and Princess ……the recipe was to design ships to carry 3,000 plus guests using the same ingredients. Both have done so with huge success, yet, like chefs, both are very different.

I say this because as I start my review of my day onboard the Emerald Princess, I want to stress that at no time will I be comparing the ships against each other and that this blog is based purely on my views of the Emerald as seen by someone who loves ships…………and I thought I would take you along…………..so, if you are ready lets go aboard.

Amazingly, this was my first time aboard a Princess ship and as Heidi and I walked from one side of the pier where we were docked in Venice to the other side I was very excited to see the vessel.

Previous to our leaving we had gone through the usual “what shall I wear ” routine and as I patiently waited for Heidi to try on five different outfits (I already knew that she would end up wearing the first one she had tried on) the anticipation grew.

The Emerald Princess is 116,000 GRT yet she looks bigger and as we approached her bow (Heidi moaning that she had worn the wrong shoes) the ship glistened in the Venetian sun…………….this was going to be fun.

We were met at the gangway by a very happy security guard from the Philippines and I introduced myself with a greeting in her language “Magandang Abon” which either means Good Morning or if pronounced incorrectly by replacing the A of Abon with a H means “I am a good lover”…….I must have pronounced it right because rather than calling for back up she used her radio to let someone know we were here and politely asked for our identification.

As we handed over our ship I.D.’s we were met by the ships’ Chief Security and at this point I cannot remember his name which I am deeply embarrassed about. I can tell you that he was from the North of England although his nametag said Ireland and that he was so polite and very, very funny. That therefore narrows it down because it is rare that you meet a man in his position who is funny, as security is a serious position and even rarer that you meet someone from the North Of England with a sense of humour at all.

Anyway, Chief Happy called for the ships Cruise Director on his radio and we chatted for a while and I thought that he had already made us feel “at home”.

Then we were met by our two guides the ship’s Cruise Director James Lay and the First Purser in charge of Food and Beverage operations Andrew Spencer.

I had heard about young James and how highly thought of he was by Princess Cruises. There are too few occasions where a Cruise Director will meet another and when we do there is always a little bit of professional rivalry between us. I am always very conscious that every other Cruise Director I have ever met is either a Brad Pitt look a like with perfect teeth, a gorgeous tan and one of those deep, sexy voices or the female version, just replace Brad Pitt with Catherine Zeta Jones.

I was very pleased therefore to see that James was nearly as ugly as I am and that he was only two X’s away from sharing my clothing. As we shook hands it was obvious that this young man was in the right job. This cannot always be said in our profession. First impressions are very important to me and my first impression was that he was genuinely pleased to see us and I already could sense how proud he was to be showing off his beautiful home. Then there was Andrew. His firm handshake and warm welcome showed a man who also was very excited to be able to present this magnificent ship to us. More about these young men later.

It smells……….I mean, in a good way………….. There is a familiar odor about a cruise ship and that odor is one of excitement, fun and on the deck where we boarded it was the familiar smell of hard work from the crew. We walked up one deck using the stairs, (both James and Andrew ignoring my statement of “oh look, an elevator”) and reaching the top of Everest we entered into one of the most brilliantly thought out areas of the ship. The Piazza.

This is the heartbeat of the ship and, unlike most other cruise lines that place their information centers in the lobby, this is completely different. Think of this as European Café district, more importantly put all your favorite public spaces on your favorite cruise ship and put them all in one area……………… and that’s The Piazza.

It is designed to be an area just to “hang out” in which upon seeing it and feeling it you immediately want to do. It contains an Internet Station, a premium wine bar, a coffee and treats cafe and inviting seating that shouts for you to sit and stay a while. If you decide to do this you will not be bored. James explained that this area is designed in the same way as places like La Rambla in Barcelona or Covent Garden in London. As he spoke and as if on cue, a juggler/acrobat/street entertainer began his show to an audience of 50-plus people seated in the center of the Piazza and many more watching from other areas above………………yep, I was in Covent Garden …………the only difference was that nobody was trying to sell me a fake Rolex or tell me that I must repent my sins as the end of the world would be here in a few hours.

The wine bar I mentioned is called Vines and serves a flight of premium wines by the glass along accompanied by zesty sushi and daily specials such as Tapas. It is designed in such a way that as you enjoy a glass of Opus One, you can still enjoy the entertainment that according to James is constant and ongoing most of the day and night.

Across the way from Vines is the International Coffee Shop which was manned by a chef with a wonderful smile who greeted us warmly. Like most shipboard coffee shops you pay for the specialty coffees but unlike any other ship I had been on the pastries, doughnuts, treats and lunchtime salads were complimentary. You do pay a few dollars for the “Extra Special Selection ” which included ……..Toffee Apples the size of Pamela Andersen’s ……………… hands………. and just looking at the them put my sugar level up 10 points. The Coffee Shop was inspiring and the best I have seen on land or sea ……………it just made me want to buy one, sit down, watch the entertainment and stay a while……………….The Piazza is brilliant, simply brilliant.

As James and Andrew ignored my comments of “I am a food critic as well and I must try the pastries” we headed up to look at the various dining options on the vessel……………..oh joy I thought we are going to talk about food………….just talk.

There are many varied dining options on the vessel and they include the sometimes controversial “anytime dining.” “Some guests like it, some do not,” said Andrew which is why they have a regular dining room with conventional confirmed seating times. The anytime dining seems to be working for them especially as they will take bookings as late as 9:45pm. Andrew told us that if there is a small wait for a table that guests are provided with beepers and invited to relax in one of the many lounges and bars until they are beeped when their table is ready. The menu is the same in both restaurants and to me; it seems that they have successfully covered all the angles.

Unfortunately, there were no examples of the food for me to taste and as I contemplated pretending to faint from the lack of food my situation got worse as we were led into the galley and introduced the Executive Chef Michele Cozzoli.

My Dad once told me “never trust a thin chef “………….Chef Cozzoli was therefore very trustworthy.

He greeted me with the words “at last, a proper sized Cruise Director” …………actually, being Italian he said ……………”ata lasta, a propera size bigga Cruisa Directa” ………………………and that was me in love.

We chatted about his passion for food and again you could feel the pride oozing out of him as he spoke about his love of cooking. During the cruise the Chef will offer something called “An Evening At The Chef’s Table” which sounds like an unforgettable experience as you actually get to follow him around the galley during the galleys busiest hours followed by a VIP table hosted by Chef Cozolli where you get to everything……….even the table .

As we said Ciao to the Chef and he shook my hand I realized two patterns were emerging………….Princess had taken their best people and put them on this ship and the second ……………bloody hell when are we going to stop talking about food and actually feed me…………………..but the torture continued.

“Welcome to The Crown Grill” said Andrew as we entered the first of the Emerald’s two specialty restaurants. Oh good thought I, surely here there will be samples to try……………but no, nothing………….the tables were empty and the galley which is on display to the guests was quiet and still……………….it was a bit like saying…..”Angelina Jolie is waiting in your bedroom but the door is locked and there is no key.”

The restaurant is beautifully designed with rich oak tables, upgraded silverware and a real steak house feel, there is even a fireplace. The menu (which I will add onto the end of the review) costs $25 and the selections include a 22 ounce Porterhouse Steak, Lamb and Pork chops………..I mean separately, they haven’t fused a pig and a lamb together and called it a pimb…….I mean you can get…..you understand …………………..and of course a very large selection of Appetizers and deserts. Now, be prepared to be amazed. For only an extra $9, you can get a whole Main Lobster or a Brazilian Lobster Tail……………….and it is cooked LIVE……..I mean the lobsters are alive……………..now that’s something to scream about ……………especially if you are the lobster.

The Crown Grill is inviting and I can imagine that booking early is a must.

We left the Crown Grill and saw the casino and the Speakeasy cigar lounge but I was not really listening to what the chaps were saying as in my mind I was tucking into Larry the Lobster who had not died in vain.

I was snapped back to reality by the words “Let’s go and see our other specialty restaurant Sabatini’s”…………surely this time there would be some form of nourishment.

Sabatini’s is the second of my top three favorite areas of the ship. It is based on The La Tratoria (I know the words La and the are the same but I love the Movie “Mickey Blue Eyes.”) Before you go and eat there is a huge area for pre-dinner drinks with deep sofas and a wonderful piano entertainer……………then its time to manger…….mangai…eat.

The cover charge is only $20 per person but what a menu. It includes an all you can eat selection at the start which includes the various mixed Italian delights you would expect to find at a canal side restaurant in Venice. As for the main courses…….well rather than me ramble on and probably spell everything incorrectly as well I thought I might as well just slap on the menu which I will do later…………….”oh by the way, if the weather allows there is an outdoor area for Al Frescos dining,” said Andrew……..I was to hungry to be bothered to ask who Al was.

Andrew explained that after dinner. guests could return to those deep comfortable sofas and chairs for coffee and desert ………the cost of hiring a crane to hoist you out of them again was not discussed. Sabatini’s has been designed to perfection and especially with the ship being in Venice ………….but when it sailed, you would still fell like you were in Italy…………..it was indeed “Italy To Go.”

I now wanted to hit both Andrew and James over the head with one of Sabatini’s sofas as there was still no food and now the torture level had increased as the smell of cooking wafted past me from the galley as I nibbled on my last Tic Tac.

Please God can we see something else apart from food I thought and for a few moments we did as we explored the very impressive kids and teen areas ……….one separate area for each age group each done superbly and decorated with the kids in mind…………..I was very impressed. It was then that I saw a young lad of about 7 years of age playing in a thing with things in it and in his left hand he was holding ………………..a bag of potato chips…………right kid I thought, those are mine. ……………..but just as I was about to turn into Jack Bauer, set a perimeter and snatch the kids chips……..James said “Let’s Go,” …………and my plan was foiled.

We then saw Club Fusion Lounge. This is used as a multi activity and entertainment center and again is superbly laid out with more comfortable seating, plasma televisions and from 2 pm, bowls of peanuts…………….I looked at my watch…………it said 11:45 am.

This brings me to one of James’ most difficult jobs, scheduling the entertainment. Because of the Anytime Dining concept coupled with the set seating times and constant performances in the Piazza, he has to make sure that shows are scheduled accordingly. This means that guests not only have dining choices but entertainment choices as well with two shows going head to head in the 900 seater Princess Theater and the Club Fusion Lounge. I would be terrible at this as scheduling is something I leave to the Mrs. but James seemed to really enjoy it and it was obviously something he has perfected…….well done mate.

Following our chat about the joys of scheduling Andrew then led us up to the Horizon Terrace where not satisfied with the levels of torture he had bestowed upon me already he explained about the daily lunch specials and how in the evenings gusts could dine in a casual atmosphere while devouring themed menus. We walked to the outside deck where they were still serving breakfast and I felt Mike Tyson had given me the good news with a right hook as I watched a beautiful lady officer devour eggs, bacon and sausage………….a trickle of egg was running down her chin and I was about to leap over the railing and mop it up with a small piece of bread she had left on her plate when Little and Large decided it was time to go.

We then passed by the Ice Cream bar and my stomach was now making noises similar to the engine of an Aston Martin Vanquish. We walked under the big screen that plays movies under the stars and then headed for a very special place…………..both James and Andrew were explaining all about it but I had only heard four words “let’s stop for refreshments”………………………more about that later.

The Sanctuary is a slice of paradise, it is something that when Heidi saw it for the first time I thought she was going to fall to her knees and weep with happiness……………..I would have done but I was still climbing up the 20 steps to get there in my wool blazer, in 80 degree heat………..once I was there I my breathing sounded like the air conditioning unit on my old Alfa Romeo.

So what was it that had Heidi dreaming of being a Footballers’ wife as she lay there next to Posh and Pecks……….well, imagine suddenly being handed a remote control that paused the everyday life that can be found on every Lido Deck on every mega ship in the world………….pausing the kids screaming for there 12th ice cream……….pausing that one couple who insist on having a domestic louder than AC/DC on steroids……….pausing the search for that elusive spot that offers piece and quiet and tranquility…………..well imagine no longer………………it’s real…………….it costs only $10 for a half day pass and it is called The Sanctuary.

Large doublewide sun beds with extra padding, dedicated staff to serve your every whim, complimentary water and juices and if you have the energy you can walk 10 paces and have a massage in one of the special cabanas. There is also a lap pool which is one of those contraptions where you swim against the current………….rather like a treadmill in the water but don’t worry ………..exercise is not compulsory.

As we chatted about this special place the refreshments arrived…………..four Diet Cokes……………I looked longingly towards the steps to see if another waiter would be arriving, laden with fresh fruit and Porterhouse Steaks …………….nothing…………..Cheers said James………………..cheers mate…………………..and I drank my Diet Coke trying to decide if it would be rude to ask if the had a vending machine onboard.

Leaving The Sanctuary we stopped by the Lotus Spa and something unique to Princess, a place called….. a gym. I would describe it to you but for some reason Andrew and James had started speaking Klingon and I could not understand anything they said. After that we went through the theatre and backstage and met two of the beautiful dancers. They took the time along with a the not so beautiful but charming Technical Manager to walk us around backstage and through the dressing rooms explaining all about the various grand shows they perform. The two dancers and the technical manager were also suffering from the oozing with pride syndrome which seemed to afflict everyone we had met.

Leaving the dressing room and the wonderful aroma of feet it was nearly time to say goodbye but not before we were graciously met by the ship’s Senior Officers.

CAPTAIN: GIORGIO POMATA
CHIEF TECHNICAL OFFICER: ALESSANDRO
PASSENGER SERVICE DIRECTOR: MARTIN FORD

As we chatted I knew I had discovered the source of the “oozing with pride syndrome” ………..it was them. On a cruise ship hospitality and respect for the guests and fellow crew has to start at the top and it was obvious from meeting these fine gentlemen that the pride they had in their ship was shared by the rest of the ship’s company………….congratulations Captain, you should be very proud.

We said our goodbyes and walked down to the gangway. We said goodbye to James and Andrew who are two fine people and who Princess should be proud of. They both love their jobs and were the perfect hosts (well nearly) and I thank them so much for their valuable time. The guests of the Emerald Princess have a top notch Cruise Director in James and I can see why he is considered one of the very best in the business……………..it was great to see passengers coming up and saying how happy they were that he was the Cruise Director as they had sailed with him before.

Andrew is full of passion about guest service and I wish he could be cloned …………except maybe his nose…………..because Andrew is one of those rare people who love ships, love people who cruise on ships and truly love every nut and bolt of the Emerald.

What to say in closing……………….well, it was a great experience. The Piazza, The Sanctuary and Sabatini’s stole the show along with the crew themselves. Can I recommend this ship?…………………………..well let’s just say this. Following the bloggers cruise in January I am going to cruise on the Emerald Princess……….I haven’t asked yet but I am going to……….I am going to eat at every restaurant and probably three times at Sabatini’s……….I am then going to sit in one of those deep sofas and when I am ready to leave I will order a large German woman named Helga to carry me to bed.

In the morning I will lay on the doublewide sun lounger in The Sanctuary and when they ask me if I want fruit juice I shall say no thank you and order four Toffee Apples instead.

Most importantly I shall enjoy sampling more of that oozing of pride from the crew and everything that makes this ship something very, very special. The value of an emerald depends on cut, color, clarity, and carat, the four C’s………….well this Emerald has the four C’s as well………..

Charismatic………….The ship is stuffed full of Charisma – especially it’s Captain, Officers, Staff and Crew.
Cool……………..with its Piazza and the incomparable Sanctuary this is one cool ship.
Choice………….with the many dining and entertainment options available …………..the choice is yours.
Captivating……She certainly captivated me and I wanted to cruise on her right there and then…………as will you.

The value of this Emerald……………………………..she is priceless.

So Heidi and I returned home happy and hungry. We have invited the Captain and his Senior Officers over to our place next time so we can show them how proud we are of our home. We will treat them like royalty as we show them the fantastic Carnival Freedom but if they think they are getting anything to eat………………….they are mistaken..

Here are sample menus from Sabatini’s and the Crown Grill………..mmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Here are sample menus from Sabatini’s and the Crown Grill

Here are sample menus from Sabatini’s and the Crown Grill

Here are sample menus from Sabatini’s and the Crown Grill

Here are sample menus from Sabatini’s and the Crown Grill

Here I am with from left to right.

JAMES LAY – CRUISE DIRECTOR
MARTIN FORD – PASSENGER SERVICES DIRECTOR
ME
GIORGIO POMATA – CAPTAIN
ALESSANDRO – CHIEF TECHNICAL OFFICER

Here I am with from left to right.

PIAZZA CHARACTERS

PIAZZA CHARACTERS

PURE TORTURE AT THE INTERNATIONAL COFFEE SHOP

PURE TORTURE AT THE INTERNATIONAL COFFEE SHOP

JOHN AND CHEF COZZOLI

JOHN AND CHEF COZZOLI

THE SANCTUARY

THE SANCTUARY

THE SANCTUARY

THE SANCTUARY

A DIET COKE – ARE YOU KIDDING

A DIET COKE - ARE YOU KIDDING

WHERES THE FOOD AT

WHERES THE FOOD AT

THE EMERALD PRINCESS AND THE CARNIVAL FREEDOM

THE EMERALD PRINCESS AND THE CARNIVAL FREEDOM

Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.