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twangster

Empress B2B 14 nights On The Biggest Little Ship July 2019

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I wasn't sure I would live blog this trip but Empress is secret favorite of mine and she doesn't get much attention here in the live blogs.

Empress is a small ship yet she doesn't feel small on board, as long as you pick the right cabin.  In the wake of the abrupt Cuba changes fares have been very reasonable including Junior Suite rates.  On a small ship the added space and balcony of a Junior Suite goes a long way to not feeling the size of the ship. 

The fact that cruising solo in a suite will net me triple Crown and Anchor points wasn't lost on me.  That's a whopping 42 points for the price of a 7 night cruise in a balcony on an Oasis class ship.  

Since I'm flying to the ship I always prefer a B2B.  If I'm coming all this way I might as well cruise twice.

I thoroughly enjoyed my last Empress cruise so given the great last minute rates and affordable suites I couldn't pass up the opportunity to sail this little beauty again.

Itinerary 1 - 6 nights

Key West, Costa Maya, Cozumel

Itinerary 2 - 8 nights

Key West, Costa Maya, Belize, Cozumel, CocoCay

I like to scuba dive so the opportunity to visit Belize again was appealing.  This will also be my first trip to see the new Perfect Day additions.  Cozumel is a perennial favorite as is Key West.  Costa Maya is also an easy port to spend a day at. 

Put it all together and the answer computed to... YOLO, why not?

I am going to take a more relaxed approach to blogging this one.  It is after all a small ship and I've got two weeks to spread my posts over so I may not be as active on this one as I have on other cruises.  

Flying in the night before my plane takes off in a couple of hours.  Time to finish packing and get moving. 

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After a number of weather delays we finally boarded 2 hours late.  Lining up to board there was a lady who had clearly spent the delay at a bar.  

Once boarding was complete there was another delay.  Apparently somewhere behind me a drunk lady did something to draw the attention of the crew.  The same lady I saw while boarding was removed from the flight.  While not very dramatic it further delayed us.  I was worried our flight crew would time out but eventually we took off.  

Thunderstorms along our flight path made for a beautiful nighttime show.   The power of nature is amazing.   Thunderstorms in Ft Lauderdale area slowed us down some more.   

At 2:25am we landed.   After waiting for luggage I hailed an Uber for the $45 ride to my Miami airport area hotel.   Finally in my hotel room at 4am.  Thankfully that’s only 2am mountain time so not as bad as it sounds.  

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IT’S CRUISE DAY!

At the terminal by 10:10am after a $20 Uber ride.  Today we are using terminal E.  

Check in was smooth as an early bird and I was led to a small waiting room for suites.   Three other guests were already waiting.    Terminal E has a lot of Carnival signage and reminds me of Terminal G.  Very similar.  

At 10:15am I heard a radio call that the ship had federal clearance.   At 10:45am boarding commenced.  First on the ship.   #winning 

Deluxe drink package $63 per day.  Empress doesn’t have a Diamond Lounge so I used my 30% D+ discount and bought the DX.  It was $50 in the cruise planner so I saved a few bucks by buying it on board at $44 but this only works because I am D+.   Most folks should buy the DX in advance except they were offering the BOGO50 for DX on day 1 only.   The beverage package table in the Centrum had the new cups (no handle) while the other beverage package displays in other areas had the old beverage cups. DX packages offered on day 1 & 2 only. 

Booked Chops using my D+ BOGO.   Normally this requires nights 1 & 2 but they allowed me night 1 and any port day for the return visit.  I had a really good Chops experience on my last Empress cruise so it’s one of a select few ships where I’ll pay for specialty dining.   It’s also the only specialty venue on Empress so there’s that too.

Noted signage for the Key in the theater and at Chops. 

Cabins ready at 1:30pm with muster at 3:30pm.

Waited until 11am for my first beverage since it was after noon on Canada’s East coast.   

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7 minutes ago, twangster said:

IT’S CRUISE DAY!

At the terminal by 10:10am after a $20 Uber ride.  Today we are using terminal E.  

Check in was smooth as an early bird and I was led to a small waiting room for suites.   Three other guests were already waiting.    Terminal E has a lot of Carnival signage and reminds me of Terminal G.  Very similar.  

At 10:15am I heard a radio call that the ship had federal clearance.   At 10:45am boarding commenced.  First on the ship.   #winning 

Deluxe drink package $63 per day.  Empress doesn’t have a Diamond Lounge so I used my 30% D+ discount and bought the DX.  It was $50 in the cruise planner so I saved a few bucks by buying it on board at $44 but this only works because I am D+.   Most folks should buy the DX in advance except they were offering the BOGO50 for DX on day 1 only.   The beverage package table in the Centrum had the new cups (no handle) while the other beverage package displays in other areas had the old beverage cups. DX packages offered on day 1 & 2 only. 

Booked Chops using my D+ BOGO.   Normally this requires nights 1 & 2 but they allowed me night 1 and any port day for the return visit.  I had a really good Chops experience on my last Empress cruise so it’s one of a select few ships where I’ll pay for specialty dining.   It’s also the only specialty venue on Empress so there’s that too.

Noted signage for the Key in the theater and at Chops. 

Cabins ready at 1:30pm with muster at 3:30pm.

Waited until 11am for my first beverage since it was after noon on Canada’s East coast.   

Following. Have a great time, 84 days from Harmony, I'm D+ now so plan on buying the DX on board, already bought the Unlimited on Black Friday.

Something to point out that @twangster had already pointed out previously, if you have the Unlimited make sure and point this out to the waiter when you order, just giving them your card and assuming they will see it doesn't always work. In Jamie's on the Anthem GC did not point this out to the waiter, he came back with a $94 bill, no problem, he reversed it but it still showed as a charge and a credit on my account, which meant I had to watch my account on the TV until it showed, the rest of the cruise I pointed the Unlimited out up front and had no more issues.

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Sitting at the Schooner Bar.  Overheard bartender talking with a guest.  DX covers up to $13 drinks.

Guest remarked it showed a $12 limit on the Internet.  Bartender responded on this ship basically everything at the bar is covered except wines that are over $13. 

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Just saw the replay on pericope!  Glad your flight got in eventually... Hope the drink lady wasn't getting something important!  Keep the pics and posts coming!!!   I still have 3 days before I get to go...I'm distracting myself with your blog!  Jane

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Noticed your periscope and so then popped over here and saw your live blog. Always excited to follow along.  So glad you arrived ok despite the weather (and drunk person!).  Looks like it'll be a great cruise. As you state, there isn't much about Empress so thanks for the review. Enjoy!

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27 minutes ago, Boston Babe said:

Following !!! Empress sounds like Grandeur?? Same era?

Empress was ordered by Admiral Cruise Lines but then in 1987 Royal Caribbean acquired Admiral while Empress was being built so they absorbed her into the fleet.  Since the ship was designed and ordered by Admiral before acquisition she has a unique design that couldn't be modified in a significant way before taking delivery.  They were able to get a Viking Crown Lounge and a Windjammer cafe added as signature Royal Caribbean features. 

Admiral had plans to use her on the short cruise market to the Bahamas so the cabins were not designed to be as large as they would be on ship designed for longer itineraries.  

Empress is smaller than Vision class but she has a bigger heart (and a smoke free casino).  

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I wasn't going to post many pictures but since @Matt threatened to lock my account for fear it's been hacked, I guess I had better.

I was in my hotel less than I was on the plane so I skipped taking picture of my hotel room.  We'll start with terminal E at the Port of Miami.

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Once upstairs it's very similar to terminal G often used by Royal when multiple Royal ships are in port.

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Suites have a dedicated room off to the side like terminal G where I was first able to get a glimpse of Empress.

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I didn't buy The Key but I noticed the large banner welcoming guests who had.

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Carry on holding area in the theater.

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A half dozen guests were in Chops enjoying a lunch.

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Dedicated theater seating for The Key along with Gold card holders. 

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Empress has a casino that is open to other guest areas so it is non-smoking.  Here is the casino bar.

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They wasted no time opening the casino after sail away as soon as we were in international waters.

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Boleros located aft is one the biggest and nicest Boleros in the fleet.

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Behind Boleros is an aft facing public deck.  Empress doesn't have a Diamond lounge but on day one they have a sail away gathering for Diamond and higher with complimentary drinks and a piano player.  I'll try to get some photos on the next cruise.

Empress offers a very classic approach to cruising with outdoor seating areas under the lifeboats.  A great place to enjoy the sea with a good book or a beverage, or both.

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The pool deck checks all the boxes.  A main pool, a kids splash area and hot tubs.

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No pool deck is complete without a pool bar.

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Covered seating areas line the outside of the pool deck.

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Deck 11 forward has more sitting areas and some other relaxation option like these hammocks.

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A look back at terminal E.

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Dinner in Chops on night one.  

Chops on Empress is one of the nicer Chops with windows to the sea.

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A deconstructed Wedge salad because I forgot to take a picture when it arrived and jumped right in.  Oops.  

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Nine oz. filet cooked to perfection.  My mouth is watering as I write this recalling the flavor.

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Missed taking pictures of the sides.  Oops.  Must be the drink package effect.  

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Key Lime Meringue Pie

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The pie was a bit of a let down with sugar grains in the meringue creating a weird texture.  Flavors were good but the chewing on sand effect of the sugar was a miss for me.  Given the otherwise great experience I'll give them a pass on the pie.

Excellent service and great tasting steak, Chops on Empress did not disappoint once again.

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