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rafinmd

Empress of the Seas Western Caribbean August 18-24

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Posted (edited)

I fly to Miami Saturday evening and will board the Empress for a 6 night getaway to Key West, Costa Maya, and Cozumel.  This was (for me) something of a last minute booking, just a couple of months ago.  My style is a bit different than many, I will normally post just once a day unless something unusual, and my style tends to be narrative more than pictorial.  This thread will be a companion to my blog (http://getawaysfrom21044,wordpress.com)  which will also be the hosting site for my photos, and at the top of the page are tabs to pages with Compass and menus.

 

A bit about me.  I’m pretty much an out of control, sailing on several lines, but mostly Crystal, Cunard, Holland America, and to a lesser extent Royal.  My totals for this year will be 94 days HAL, 33 Crystal, 26 Cunard, and 6 Royal.  My Royal activity has been mostly out of Baltimore (Enchantment and then Grandeur), but I’ve also sailed Allure, Anthem, Monarch, Jewel, and Radiance (not yet on the mid-size ships).  I tend to prefer smaller ships although amenities and service are also important.  I’m a bit unsure of the Empress as although my 3 favorite ships (Crystal Serenity, Crystal Symphony, and Prinsendam) are roughly the same size the Empress carries more people than any 2 of them combined.  I hear she isn’t crowded and hope that will be true; I really like her Bermuda itineraries next year.  This will be my first cruise as D+.

 

I welcome questions although it may take me a little while to respond.  I also invite any of my roll call members to add their perspectives to the thread.

 

Roy

Edited by rafinmd

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I will be following. Because of @twangster and his great reviews of Empress, I too want to experience this ship. We started on Adventure, now going to the monster Harmony this October then smaller to Freedom the following October. I would like to book Empress after that. Have a great cruise!

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Have never sailed Crystal, or Cunard, aren't those lines many steps above RCCL? Food , Service etc. ?

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19 minutes ago, Jimbo said:

Have never sailed Crystal, or Cunard, aren't those lines many steps above RCCL? Food , Service etc. ?

They (especially Crystal) are many steps above in many areas including price. There's a big step from Royal to Crystal but also a big step from making my own bed, making my own meals, and looking out the window at the same back yard every morning vs. Royal.

 

There are a few lines I'm unlikely to go back to but even there I have a favorite quote.  It sounds like it should be Casey Stengel but it's actually from Colonel Potter on MASH-- "If you aren't where you are you're nowhere".

 

Roy

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Hi Roy,

We started sailing on Empress in 1994, she's one of old favorites. We have her booked for an unusual Montreal-Miami 12 night repo October 2020. Haven't been on her for several years, will be interesting to sea your reviews. Have a great cruise!

Rick and Deirdra

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8 minutes ago, Pumbaamd said:

Hi Roy,

We started sailing on Empress in 1994, she's one of old favorites. We have her booked for an unusual Montreal-Miami 12 night repo October 2020. Haven't been on her for several years, will be interesting to sea your reviews. Have a great cruise!

Rick and Deirdra

Thanks.  That looks nice but I think it’s a bit too close to another group of cruises I have booked.  I do have my eye on a Bermuda cruise in July.  If I like the ship I think Hamilton AND St. George’s would be a real winner,

 

My trip has started.  My flight to Miami leaves in about 100 minutes.  Dinner is on the flight but I just dropped by McDonalds (in the Southwest concourse) for ice cream.

 

Roy

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We did the Hamilton/St. George cruise on EM many years ago. Yes, a winner. Enjoy.  Speaking  of enjoying, try some of that excellent chocolate in Costa Maya, another winner.

R&D

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You say that you will be Diamond Plus on this Cruise. I have had conflicting information on how the Diamond Lounge is handled. I have been told by a pinnacle that they cordoned off part of the Viking Crown Lounge and you could get unlimited drinks during the happy hour time in that area. Not just the 3 three drinks on your card.

 

I have also been told that they are only giving three drinks on your card during those hours. Would appreciate you confirming which of the above scenarios are correct. I know that the first night they have a special event at the back of the ship outside of boleros. I want to know what they do on the other evenings for those diamond and above members. I hope I was clear in  giving the scenarios.

We sailed the empress on its third sailing when it came to Miami. They claimed that it was only the three drinks on your card as they had no room to handle a lounge area. I hope this has changed. A pinnacle who has sailed on her many back-to-backs for over 2 months claim that they cordoned off an area in the Viking Crown Lounge. Have a great cruise and look forward to your reply.

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11:30PM Miami time and I've been in the hotel about half an hour.  Flight was pretty much uneventful.  More later.

 

Roy

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Prelude, Saturday, August 17, 2019, Baltimore to Miami

 

I like to take the stress out of cruising by arriving at the port at least a day early.  Unfortunately, the flight schedules are a bit slim on that route and the only nonstop was at 7:15, but I still got started surprisingly early in  the day.  While retired I am still involved with our local fire department (as treasurer) and am involved with the scout units they sponsor.

 

https://getawaysfrom21044.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/ontheway.jpg

 

I left home just after lunch and headed to the fire house for a final check on things there as well as refuelling the car.  I had a parking reservation at the Fast Park at BWI.  The scout shop is close to the airport and I had wanted to visit there for a while so I made a quick stop there and then on to park the car.  I always like to allow plenty of time at the airport and perhaps overdid that.  passing through TSAprecheck by 4:30.  I am not a big reader but tend to do most of my reading while flying.  My regular readers know I have been obsessed with "Come From Away".  One of the heros of the play is Beverly Bass, first female Captains for American Airlines, and I am reading Takeoff by one of her contemporaries, Bonnie Tiburzi, the first woman to join the flight deck at American.


My flight ended up being a bit early.  We started boarding at 6:40 (5 minutes early) and stayed 5 minutes ahead of schedule for the entire flight.  I had splurged on first class and had pre-ordered the beef for dinner.  The tray did not include a desert but cookies came around a bit later.

 

https://getawaysfrom21044.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/dinner.jpg

 

We had some congestion at the gates but still arrived 5 minutes ahead of the scheduled 10PM.  One of the perks of first class is priority bag delivery but a lot of bags still came off the carousel before mine at 10:20.  I pulled the straps out of their pocket to make a back pack and headed out to the taxi stand.

 

https://getawaysfrom21044.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/bagarrived.jpg

 

The taxi ride was quick, probably not a lot more time than it took me to check into the downtown Hyatt Regency.  I was in the room about 11 and in bed a little after 11:30.

 

https://getawaysfrom21044.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/hyatt1923.jpg


My regular readers know I like to close each post with a "parting shot" which could be a comment on most anything, related to the days activities or not.  I mentioned in my first paragraph that I'm involved in my fire department's scout troop, and Friday night I begged off on an Eagle review for one of our scouts on my getaway night unless really needed.  I got an email Friday that Sam is our newest Eagle Scout.  Congratulations and well done.

 

Roy

 

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Following as I’m sailing the Empress in September. Have a great cruise!

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1 hour ago, cruzrman said:

Following as I’m sailing the Empress in September. Have a great cruise!

Thank you, and I think you'll like the Empress.

 

I'm on board, camping out in the Viking Crown lounge for about another 45 minutes until the rooms open up.  Boarding was a very pleasant surprise, one of the easiest of I've seen for a while.  Nothing went as planned, and all in a good way from the ship's point of view.  I will say more but I write mostly based on my blog so I'll save the specifics until my blog post is ready.

 

Repeat, I am very impressed so far.

 

Roy

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I've sailed the Empress in the distant past and recently on two cruises. One was to Cuba. As a large ship cruiser I enjoyed the Empress very much and have another cruise booked on her. The staff were amazing and brought me back to my early cruising days. Enjoy your cruise,  I'll be checking your blog as always. 

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18 hours ago, travelwide said:

We sailed the empress on its third sailing when it came to Miami. They claimed that it was only the three drinks on your card as they had no room to handle a lounge area. I hope this has changed. A pinnacle who has sailed on her many back-to-backs for over 2 months claim that they cordoned off an area in the Viking Crown Lounge. Have a great cruise and look forward to your reply.

 

A couple of questions I want to try to deal with.  I'll let you know if I find something different in practice but from the letter about D+ offers it appears to be just the 3 drinks on the seapass.  I am curious to see what the Chops breakfast will look like.

 

The other question was about USB outlets.  They are definitely not in my inside (SMALL) cabin so they are likely just in suites.

 

30-minute warning for Mustard drill in process as I type.

 

Roy

d+offers.pdf

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Thanks very much Roy for the up-to-the-minute information. I am not really happy with it but I guess we need to deal with what we are dealt! You know, it's tough being able to take a lot of Cruise's!

 

We'll continue to follow you along your journey. Have a great Cruise. If anything changes regarding getting additional drinks let me know. Thanks so much.

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Concerning USB - did you look at the light fixture(s) next to the bed?  Somewhat hidden -

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Posted (edited)
19 hours ago, travelwide said:

You say that you will be Diamond Plus on this Cruise. I have had conflicting information on how the Diamond Lounge is handled. I have been told by a pinnacle that they cordoned off part of the Viking Crown Lounge and you could get unlimited drinks during the happy hour time in that area. Not just the 3 three drinks on your card.

 

I have also been told that they are only giving three drinks on your card during those hours. Would appreciate you confirming which of the above scenarios are correct. I know that the first night they have a special event at the back of the ship outside of boleros. I want to know what they do on the other evenings for those diamond and above members. I hope I was clear in  giving the scenarios.

We sailed the empress on its third sailing when it came to Miami. They claimed that it was only the three drinks on your card as they had no room to handle a lounge area. I hope this has changed. A pinnacle who has sailed on her many back-to-backs for over 2 months claim that they cordoned off an area in the Viking Crown Lounge. Have a great cruise and look forward to your reply.

 

Here is how it was for the last 4 cruises, mid July until this morning.

 

From my D+ welcome letter

1246291558_Empressnolounge.thumb.jpeg.3d29ed2e3da2ca8c75831f3c93a05cbb.jpeg

 

I tested the unlimited drink theory in the VCL.  The two bartenders were relatively new and looked at me like I was crazy to suggest unlimited Diamond happy hour drinks.

 

Night after night the only people in the VCL were some teens hanging out, there with no one at the bar.

 

The unofficial meeting place where I ran into the same Pinnacles and other D+ night after night was the Schooner Bar.  

 

I tip for Diamond drinks regardless what ship.  The bartenders took care of me even when I had exhausted my 3 drink coupons.  YMMV.  The official policy was no unlimited drinks during happy hour for my cruises.

 

If the right sort of numbers are present, anything can change.  This week there are 18 or 19 Pinnacles on board.  Last week there were 12 Pinnacle, two weeks ago 2 Pinnacles.  If there are large numbers they might do a dedicated Diamond event.  On my cruises mid July through today they did not.

 

Edit to add - new Hotel Director took over this morning.  Other management team changes.  Quite a few contracts ended today.

Edited by twangster

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2 hours ago, twangster said:

 

Edit to add - new Hotel Director took over this morning.  Other management team changes.  Quite a few contracts ended today.

 

Is John Denton the Hotel Director? If so he is the rotational HD for Empress. One of the best!!!

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We've sailed with JD on several ships. His parties on Coco Cay were the very best! Great HD and hope you all onboard have him on this cruise.

R&D

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3 hours ago, Scotty G said:

 

Is John Denton the Hotel Director? If so he is the rotational HD for Empress. One of the best!!!

It IS John Denton.  Not sure if he is regular rotational or not.

 

I've started setting up my blog pages for menus and compases.  It's mostly a skeleton now with just tonight's menu, I'll fill in more as the cruise unfolds.

 

https://getawaysfrom21044.wordpress.com/menus/empressmenus/

 

I've also gotten a start on the page of Compasses:

 

https://getawaysfrom21044.wordpress.com/programs/empresscompass/

 

The first entry on that page is not exactly a Compass; it's the bios of the key officers, Captain, CD, HD, and Chief Engineer.

 

Roy

 

 

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Twangster....... you said what I wanted to hear. Money talks and........walks.

 

This is what we do on all of the cruises, tipping the bartenders for each drink that we get. We even do this in the lounges that are available for diamond and Diamond Plus members. I can't believe there are so many Pinnacles on the short cruises at this time of the year.

 

Thank you so much for your input.

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Day 1, August 18, 2019, Board Empress of the Seas, Miami, Florida

By the time I arrived in Miami I was beginning to get into cruise mode.  That includes setting the alarm on my IPAD daily for 5AM.  I did not do a lot early in the morning and was mostly on line.  I did watch the Empress arrival on the Miami webcam.


https://getawaysfrom21044.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/eishere.jpg


My home church for almost the past 50 years has been a union of the Methodist and Presbyterian denominations.  I don't visit Miami often but when there I have 2 sort of "home away from home" congregations.  From my early days in Columbia I was friends with a family whose son was then a teen but is now a pastor.  David Range is at a church in Miramar and it's my first choice but getting there requires a car which I don't have.  The other one is Miami's First Methodist Church but they are in a temporary location for the next couple of years.  Their site has been sold to a developer and plans include a worship space in the new high rise development, but in the meantime they are sharing space in a church about a mile west of that location.  I made my way there using the automated metromover system first and then walking the rest of the way.  I arrived about 15 minutes ahead of their 8:30 service.


https://getawaysfrom21044.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/firstumctemp.jpg


Pastor Kipp greeted me outside the door and explained that the early service congregation is small, and would be especially small now since it is back to school week.  I was prepared for that but not prepared for the congregation to be me (plus him and the accompanist).  


One of the features of that service is a place where the congregation gets to choose hymns.  I chose 2 although it did not go terribly well.  My first selection was "Here I Am Lord".  I was a volunteer on my congregations missions to the Appalachia Service Project about 35 years ago and that was one of the standby selections for their evening gatherings and my congregation has adopted it as one of their favorites as well.  My congregation uses the Presbyterian Hymnal and their version has the same words but the Methodist Hymnal organizes it a bit differently and I had some difficulty following along.


My second selection was a bit more problematic.  As I mentioned in Saturday's post I'm obsessed with the musical "Come From Away".  One of their best scenes is an adaption of the Prayer of St. Francis, and I was drawn to it but the hymnal version had no music.  We gave it a try but ended up reciting it as a prayer.


After the way I walked part way back to the Hyatt and I also rode the Coral Way Trolley part way.  The trolley stop was further from the hotel than I was prepared to walk with my bags and I looked at the people mover to get me to the trolley stop.  The Knight Center people mover stop is right next to the hotel but aside form the Kinght Center entrance (closed) the only other exit is too far to walk with bags and in the Miami heat.


I checked out of the hotel at 11 and took a cab to the ship.  Although Royal has a new big terminal, Empress uses Terminal G even when there's no other Royal ship in town.  It would have been an easy walk from the trolley stop if the way from the hotel to the trolley had not been such a challenge.  I took my time getting from the taxi to the terminal but was still far ahead of my "Arrival Appointment".


Checkin was a surprisingly pleasant experience.  There was a bit (2 min) of a wait in the line where port staff checked documents before allowing us to proceed to security but that was the longest wait I had.  Security was a breeze and just past security the ship had a coffee station.  My arrival appointment was at noon but at 11:30 nobody checked it.  In fact, the staff didn't check anything; they just directed me to the Suite/Pinnacle checkin line even though I was no way eligible for it.  The checkin process was quick and then it was up another escalator and on to the ship by 11:40.

 

https://getawaysfrom21044.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/welcomecake.jpg


I walked back along decks 5 and 6 and settled into Boleros while I finished my coffee from the terminal.  I believe the only place for lunch on boarding day is the Windjammer and I headed up there about noon.  The Chicken Noodle soup I saw on entering looked good and a waiter got me a carton of skim milk.  I finished off with an ice cream cone and coffee refill and headed back to the Viking Crown Lounge to chill until the rooms were opened.


At 1:30 I headed down to my cabin on deck 7.  It is SMALL, and seems smaller with bunk beds protruding from the wall on each side.  It is ok for me but I can hardly imagine 4 people sharing it.  


https://getawaysfrom21044.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/7027a.jpg


The TV is on the wall where it is pretty much visible only from the bed although if I swing it out I can see it in the mirror from my little desk.  The bath is ok with a surprising amount of little storage nooks.  While the rooms are tiny I suspect that is a good thing on a ship this small with so many passengers as the space is really needed for public areas to avoid it feeling crowded.


https://getawaysfrom21044.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/7027b.jpg


There was no notice when my big bag arrived but it was in the hall a bit after 2 and unpacking got started.  There are virtually no shelves but more than enough drawer and closet space for my needs.


https://getawaysfrom21044.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/bagarrived.jpg


The Muster Drill was at 3:30.  It appears that some muster stations are inside and others our outside under the lifeboats.  My station 6 is outside.  There was a sailaway party for C&A Diamond and above as well as suite guests in the deck behind Boleros.  The ships left in order from the outermost starting with the Carnival Horizon, then the NCL Breakaway (which I have sailed), and finally us.  I say "finally" but it was actually very quick.  Our lines dropped at 4:10 and I stayed on deck until we passed the cutoff to the cargo docks and Terminal J about 4:30.


https://getawaysfrom21044.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/sailaway.jpg


I am early seating at table 463 on deck 4, a 6-top near the entrance.  There were only 3 of us for the first night and our waiters are Nigel and Ryan.  Empress has no Diamond Club so drinks are a bit limited at happy hour but the system works for me.  My coupons are good at dinner and I like a daily Diet Coke.  Not only did Ryan get it for me but a fresh one came as soon as he noticed my glass was empty.  That pleases me greatly.  


There is a lot of interest on Cruise Critic on "food porn".  My tastes are actually pretty simple and I don't really get into that but I do make a collage of my dinner service.  My first night choices were the fruit plate, Chicken Marsala, and the Key Lime Pie.


https://getawaysfrom21044.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/dishes18.jpg


There were 2 welcome aboard shows, 8:15 and 9:45.  The band opened things up followed by introductory remarks by Cruise Director Cece and Activities Manager Tanya.  We have about 1600 passengers on board including about 200 children, down quite a bit from the last full week of summer vacation,


https://getawaysfrom21044.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/duo.jpg


The show finished with Comedian Nate Weatherup.  I thought he was good but not great.


https://getawaysfrom21044.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/weatherup.jpg


My parting shot will look back at one of my favorite ships.  I had a marvelous 80 days on the MS Prinsendam this winter in South America and Antarctica, her last Grand Voyage for Holland America.  She left the fleet at the end of June and is now in the of Phoenix Reisen as the Amera.  Since it's now a German language ship I'm most unlikely to ever sail again but on Sunday she made her maiden port call for Phoenix Reisen in Dover.  May she bring the joy I felt with her to a new generation of guests for many years.


Roy

 

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