Island Princess March 18-28, 2012
My first cruise as an Elite member of the Captain's Circle Club was a wonderful 10 day Panama Canal cruise on my favorite ship, the Island. My DH and I love the size and easy layout of the Island. We could always find a couple of lounge chairs by the Lotus Pool and a quiet place to read or soak up the sun. The only crowding we saw was two nights at the Princess Theatre (where we had gone 20 minutes early to easily secure seats) and a few mornings at the Horizon Court buffet during early port days.
We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale a day early and stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Convention Center on 17th Street. We landed at the airport at 7 p.m. and called for a courtesy shuttle pick up. The shuttle arrived within 20 minutes of our call. This hotel was suitable for a one night stay. Our room was quiet and we enjoyed the free breakfast at 7:30 a.m. before the crowds. The evening before we took an easy walk to the Harbor Shops and bought some last minute items at the Publix and two bottles of wine at the liquor store. Afterwards we had an enjoyable St. Patrick's Day dinner of corned beef and cabbage at Duffy's Sports Bar.
The next morning we went to the lobby at 10:30 a.m. intending to take the shuttle transportation provided by the hotel for $8 each. In came a bus for about 30 people! I realized this would be fairly time consuming & flagged down a taxi in the hotel parking lot looking for a passenger. This was stress free and even with the tip was less money than the shuttle. By 11:00 a.m. we were seated in the platinum section at the port waiting to board the ship. As promised, the first passengers were allowed on at noon. By 1 p.m. we were eating beef tenderloin in the dining room. What a delicious lunch!
I had taken the advice of fellow cruise critic members and brought along a list of the elite member perks. Our wonderful room steward already had everything waiting for us. I found the schedule for the nightly platinum lounge, an invitation to the wine tasting, a basket of upgraded bathroom amenities and the mini-bar set up. The only thing missing was a form to request the formal night canapes, but this appeared the next morning in our room. When Rommel came by to introduce himself I requested two wine glasses & to have the miniature bottles of gin & whiskey swapped out for vodka. Most mornings I left a bag of dirty laundry on the bed and would receive the clean clothing back in two days. In the price area of the form I simply wrote "elite". That evening my DH and I both went to the internet cafe to sign up for our free internet service. I love my new perks!
One new feature on the ship was a self-service machine on deck five to check your shipboard account. We took advantage of this frequently. The only issue I ever had was that two of the laundry charges appeared on my husband's account instead of mine, although I had made sure to mark the bags with my name. As he is not elite, there was no corresponding credit to the account. A trip to the passenger services desk resolved this issue.
Here is my commentary on our cruise, arranged by subject:
Staff: Although half of the cruise we were under special controls because of passengers stricken with noro virus, the room and dining staff offered us the same high level of service we have come to expect from Princess. You could see how much additional work this was for the staff, but they remained courteous and patient throughout the voyage.
We thought CD Gavin Chandler and his staff did a wonderful job. One thing that was very different from our other trips occurred at the various parties (Sail away, Island, 50's, Western). Instead of clearing the guests from the dance floor to present a skit done by the staff, they just kept encouraging everyone to stay and dance. The passengers really seemed to enjoy this and the momentum didn't stop.
Room: We had an inside room B224. The location close to the buffet and pools was great. We could hear the nearby service elevator sometimes and for this reason I would not book this particular room again.
Food: Each day we enjoyed the plentiful offerings at the buffet, dining rooms and grill. Bavarian night at the buffet is not to be missed if you love hearty breads, various sausage and pork dishes, tasty cabbage and beets and apple strudel. The only thing missing was a better selection of German beers.
Our favorite meal of the trip was a table for four on the second formal night with our new friends, Fred and Sue. We had a wonderful meal of lobster and with just four of us we could actually enjoy the conversation.
Daytime: My favorite activity was Zumba classes with Laura, one of the princess dancers. I also went to line dancing which was fun. We did daily walks on the promenade and made a few trips to the gym during non-peak times to try to keep our weight gain down. The rest of the non-port days were spent reading, swimming and sitting in the hot tubs.
Evening Entertainment: We only went to one production show, On the Bayou. My DH said it was the best production show he had ever seen on a cruise. We enjoyed Asad the hypnotist and many other comedy and musical shows during the cruise.
Ocho Rios: We took the ship's Pottery Art Gallery Tour. Although the stop at the gallery was not very noteworthy, the excellent tour guide and stop for delicious blue mountain coffee and fresh banana bread made the tour worth it. When the tour stopped at the Taj Mahal shopping center, we simply walked across the street to the Village Island Shopping center and made our way to Jimmy Buffet's Margarita Ville for Volcano Nachos and draft beers.
Cartagena: We choose to stay aboard this day. It was a quiet and relaxing day.
Panama: After going through the locks we took the ships Rainforest Aerial Tram tour. After a long bus ride we did like the tram portion of the trip, but the rest of the trip was boring and much longer than was advertised. The so called "light lunch" was a tiny bag of chips and bottle of water. When arriving back to the port, the passageway to the ship was blocked and a big crowd was gathered. I was feeling light headed from the lack of food and couldn't wait to get back on the ship. We had to wait about 30 minutes.
Costa Rica: This was the best port of the cruise. We took the ships Off Road Tour with Village Visit with our friends Fred and Sue. The owner's of the 6X6 all-terrain vehicle were Erick and Jose and they made the trip so much fun! You can see for yourself if you look into Off Road Adventures in Costa Rica.
Grand Cayman: We took the ship's Scenic Bike Ride tour which we can highly recommend. The stops at the rum factory, turtle farm and Hell were all enjoyable. I wish we had more time at the turtle farm so I didn't have to scarf down the turtle soup I purchased so quickly. After the tour we walked across the street to another Margarita Ville for beer and appetizers.
Disembarkation: We signed up for the self-help option and discovered this is the way to go. We gathered in the casino and after a Â½ hour wait were let off the ship. We quickly found a taxi and were at the Fort Lauderdale airport by 8:15 a.m. We paid $50 each (ouch!) to switch to a 9:45 a.m. flight to Detroit. It was great to be home by 1 p.m.