Emerald Emerges in Europe

What better time to debut a new ship than in the Mediterranean during Mother's Day weekend? That's just the scenario Princess Cruises had when it unveiled the 17th ship in its fleet, Emerald Princess, during a 12-day jaunt through the Mediterranean and Greek Isles. Travel Agent was on hand to take in the new 3,070-passenger ship, which will continue 12-day Mediterranean and Greek Isles service throughout the summer, before repositioning to the Caribbean in the fall.  Every night, Emerald Princess conducts its Movie Under the Stars program on Deck 16, with free snacks and a movie shown on the 300-square-foot screen

Wow Factor: If you've been on Crown Princess, Emerald's sister ship, which entered service last June, you'll more or less have the lay of the land. The hub of the ship is the piazza-style atrium that stretches three decks. A twisting staircase offers passage to such public areas as the International Café, which doubles as a coffee bar, and the sprawling Gatsby's Casino. Many guests will lounge around the Piazza, sitting at tables, sipping coffee and watching intermittent entertainment, such as a magician whom I caught performing one afternoon.

Top Table: Perhaps more than anything else, I was most taken aback by the ship's dining. In a word: experiential. While grabbing breakfast or lunch on Lido Deck (the pizza at the ice cream and pizza bar, or hamburgers and hot dogs at the Trident Grill are a better bet) is nothing to write home about, the dinner hour is. That's because of the choices offered: Emerald offers three main dining rooms, two of which are anytime seating (Michelangelo and Da Vinci), the other is time-specific (Botticelli). Surprisingly, the food in the main dining rooms was as good, if not better than, some of the specialty restaurants on ships that charge.

Emerald Princess docked off Santorini, Greece

Emerald offers two specialty restaurants at a charge of $20 per guest. Sabatini's offers Italian fare in a comforting Mediterranean setting, while Crown Grill dishes out steak and seafood in an atmosphere that screams New York. Both restaurants lived up to their billing, but if you really want an unforgettable experience for your client, persuade them to book the chef's table dinner. For $75 per person, Princess' corporate executive chef, Alfredo Marzi, personally devises the menu and greets you in the ship's galley with champagne and an assortment of pre-dinner appetizers. Once seated at the chef's table in the dining room, you are literally bombarded with an array of dishes—the assortment of grilled meats flambéed and presented on medieval spikes not only was delectable, but elicited head turns and snapshots from the other dining patrons.

If your clients are looking for something more intimate, turn them on to the ultimate balcony dinner. A four-course meal featuring lobster is arranged on the stateroom balcony, replete with a waiting dining staff. The cost for the service is $50 per person, but that also includes an in-room floral assortment and professional photograph.

Rating The Digs: Let's just say I was pleasantly surprised. I am often used to and expect a room to not overly floor me. This one did. My brother and I shared a mini-suite with a generously sized balcony (you could fit four seats out there) and even more generously sized bathroom (it had an actual tub!). Upon arrival, our beds were already set up as twins, and—get this—the room featured not one, but two flat-screen TVs—one positioned to face the beds; the other facing the couch in the pseudo-living room space. The room is perfect for a couple, especially on a trip longer than a week, when being cramped can become cumbersome.

Hot Spots: There are plenty of pools and hot tubs dotting the ship's upper decks. One of the best places to sunbathe and take a dip is the Outrigger Horizon Terrace area on Deck 16 aft. A turf-covered loge flecked with tables and having a faint resemblance to what you'd expect to see in a country club surrounds a pool below, while two hot tubs are perched just above. It's a great place to hang out and watch the sea.

Princess also conducts its popular Movies Under The Stars program on Deck 15. Every evening a movie is shown on the 300-square-foot screen (and the popcorn is free).

For adults (although I didn't see many children on the ship), there is The Sanctuary, which is only open to those 18 and older. It sits above the Lotus Spa and, as the name suggests, is a place of quiet respite, away from the otherwise busyness of the ship. There is a $10 fee to access the area, which includes passage into Lotus' thermal spa of steam rooms and sauna.

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