Posted September 22nd, 2014
Impressed By The Empress
Following Fred.\’s exciting partnership with Spanish cruise line Pullmantur, allowing us to bring their fantastic cruises directly to the UK market, a few of us at Fred.\ head office spent a few hours looking around one of their five ships…
On a misty morning and after a hassle-free drive down to Dover, the Empress’s Pullmantur livery finally appeared over the brow of a hill as we drove into the dock. The four blue waves adorned on her funnel seemed to offer us a warm greeting as she floated peacefully but proudly against a backdrop of white cliffs and the hilltop castle.
As this was a port day in the middle of a cruise, as opposed to a rest day in between itineraries, we had limited time to look around a ship which a few of us remembered from her days as Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas. So as the current guests disappeared on coaches to explore the castle or head into London, we boarded the Empress in anticipation.
The first thing you notice is the stunning atrium which stretches all the way from deck 4 up to deck 10. Either side of this beautiful centrepiece, which is adorned with gold coloured banisters and stair edges, were lifts that resembled the glass elevators from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. However, these particular ones were unlikely to take us crashing through the ceiling, and instead merely served as an easy way to navigate between the decks.
Before moving on we got a quick glimpse of reception and the excursions desk, which remain open throughout the day to help guests book their latest shore adventures and answer any questions they might have. As we made our way through the Embarcadero Lounge, which we were told serves the best coffee on the ship, two things caught our eyes. A dedicated gin bar was situated close to the entrance, offering a variety of different standards of the classic British tipple, and a piano and drum kit both stood silently in the corner waiting to be brought to life during that evening’s entertainment.
Through the door on the other side of the lounge, we were greeted by a strange juxtaposition. On our right hand side, frustratingly behind a netted shutter, was a myriad of sweets laid out in pick and mix fashion, just waiting to put smiles on the faces of children of all ages. Whilst directly in front of this were plush gambling tables featuring roulette, blackjack and large leather chairs similar to the ones found in the dugouts of the top premier league football teams. Perhaps the sweets are a regular source of energy for late night gamers chasing their luck into the night.
Dining And Entertainment
As we continued our tour we reached the Asian Fusion restaurant, Wu. Here, you can enjoy a variety of different Oriental delights from countries such as Japan, China and Thailand. The tables were all laid out invitingly and the menu looked very appetising. This dining area is not included in the all-inclusive price, however.
After exiting the restaurant and strolling through the photo gallery, where you can have your picture taken in front of various different backgrounds, we reached the extravagant main dining area known as the Miramar Restaurant. Tables of differing sizes were spread across two floors, featuring a turquoise colour scheme that almost matched the waves we could see through the surrounding panoramic windows. There are two sittings for dinner, one at 7.30pm and, due to the Spanish culture of eating late in the evening, one at 9.45pm. As it was Caribbean night in the restaurant that evening, the dining area was also filled with a menagerie of colourful parrot statues and other vibrant centrepieces that had been carved out of fruit.
Up the stairs on the next deck, we entered the Salon Rendezvous, which seemed the perfect place to relax during a day at sea. A group of Spanish guests sat playing cards jovially and a small, curtained-off stage was ready for a night of musical entertainment. We continued along the ship’s corridors, talking a look at the teen’s club where younger cruises can enjoy their evenings, the main casino area which featured a parade of flashing machines, and a line of duty free shops selling souvenirs and holiday essentials, before reaching the ‘Salon de Espectaculos Broadway’.
This two-tiered theatre features a large number of comfortable, red swivel chairs which can be positioned either to face the stage or a table between each set of three. Here, guests can enjoy a production that could include cabaret, music performers, stand-up comedians or a variety of other entertainment at two different show times; 8.30pm and 10.15pm.
Keeping Things Suite
We ventured up the stairs again and, after walking through the computer area where guests can log onto the internet and keep in contact with loved ones back home, we got our first glimpse at Empress’s accommodation options. (Pullmantur plan to extend internet coverage across more areas of the ship in the coming months). We looked at three different rooms in total, all of which were pleasant and offered as much space as you would expect on board a ship of this kind. The junior suite that we viewed was unsurprisingly the most spacious and also offered a balcony area. Room service is available at an extra cost and each cabin had all the amenities you would need for a comfortable stay.
From the deck which features the computer space, we ventured up another flight of stairs to the card area. Next to this was the ‘Grand Class’ desk which is dedicated to the guests staying in Empress’s four full suites. As well as their own member of staff, Grand Class members will receive priority embarkation and disembarkation, a menu from which they can select their pillow, money off onboard spa treatments and a whole host of additional extras.
Up we went again to the small, but well stocked, library and then again onto deck 10 and the top of the atrium. After walking past the kids club, designed for children too young to enjoy the teen area, we entered the spa and immediately felt a calming influence wash over us. Part of this may have been our tour guide asking us to politely keep the noise down, but the peaceful atmosphere and pleasant aromas certainly helped. This is possibly the most modern part of the ship and features many different treatment rooms in which you can receive your choice of massage or wellness treatment, and some additional rooms which simply allow you to relax in the presence of candles and an excellent sea view.
As we were ushered out of the Spa del Mar, we were taken into the Starlight nightclub. With a bar on one side of the room, a dance floor on the other and tables and chairs situated in between, it was easy to imagine spending an evening happily going between these three different areas with a group of friends or family members. One rather disconcerting thing that it was impossible not to notice was that the gym was positioned so that it overlooked the dance floor. However, we were informed that it closes in the evenings and so there was need to worry about being watched by anyone as they pounded the treadmill or stared out to sea whilst lifting the free weights.
Pizza, Pasta and Pools
It was almost as though our guide could hear the sound of our rumbling stomachs by this point as she happily told us that lunch was not too far away. In fact it was on the other side of the impressive open deck area that featured a children’s pool, Jacuzzi, bar and full-sized swimming area surrounded by sun loungers. This looked the ideal place to spend a day in the sun and, had it not been for our expectant bellies, many of us may have opted to enjoy the remainder of our time aboard in this area.
Lunch was served in the self-service Panorama Restaurant which offered a good choice of dishes to help yourself to, comfortable seating, and a great view of where the ship would be headed had she been under full sail. Favourites such as pizza, pasta and deli options filled us up as we washed it all down with our choice of wine, soft drinks, and tea and coffee. Afterwards there was just time for a quick photo opportunity before we had to disembark and say adios.
All in all it is clear to see that the Empress has a great focus on younger cruises as well as providing plenty of public areas for the older ones too. The spa and the pool deck offer excellent ways to pass the time spent at sea and the accommodation provides a comfortable retreat at the end of the evening. Whilst this experienced vessel is never going to compete with the newest generation of super liners, she is a great choice for those who are new to cruising or are looking for family friendly options. And for a ship that will enter her 25th year of service in 2015, she has withstood the test of time very well and still offers some excellent modern facilities.
If you are interested in learning more about our Pullmantur cruises, the Fred.\ team is always on hand to answer any questions you might have. Simply call us on the number above or submit an online enquiry.