EMBARKATION: We flew into FLL the day before, as I always like that buffer day. Pre-cruise hotel was the Sheraton on the Beach. It was a nice hotel -- but was a fair walk to the beach, as we were in the furthest building. However, we didn't mind the walk. We had dinner at the pool bar, but had to basically beg the server to come to us to take our order, THEN, it took two tries to get the order right. But the food was good when it came the third time. I think we could have walked away without paying, as I had to go to the bar and ask for the bill.
The next morning we walked out the front of the hotel at 11am and the concierge hailed us a cab. We were at the cruise ship terminal within a few minutes. There was a very large snaking line at the terminal. When we walked up to it, they checked our tickets, and luckily we had preferred boarding and were ushered to the first holding area. The wait was about Â½ an hour, then they proceeded to guide us to the shore-side check-in. I'd say we were within the first 100 people on board. If you're considering loyalty to one cruise line -- I'd say that preferred boarding is one of the most valuable perks there is! I was on this cruise with my 9 year old son so we had a few different priorities compared to mature travellers.
Once on the ship (which was by 12:15pm), we were able to go directly to our cabin and drop our stuff off, which was nice because I was carrying around a large bottle of wine! We had a nice lunch in the Horizons Buffet. Did a little tour of the ship to get our bearings and then it was time for the Muster Drill. They had several announcements letting everyone know that you were to be at your station at 3:15pm but as always, there were stragglers. Our station was in the Princess Theatre and we were there by 3:05. They filled the theatre from back (top) to front (bottom) based on when you arrived. We were in the 8th row from the back. They wouldn't start the muster drill until everyone was there. People were walking in with their drinks in hand until 3:30 and complained as they walked down to the bottom of the theatre. Please -- if you are reading this and are going on a cruise -- don't be one of these people! If you are one of these people, please realize that the world does not revolve around you and that you deserved the evil eyes as you sauntered to the front of the theatre. End Rant Here.
We ran back to our room to drop off the life jackets and pick up our flag for our Webcam Wave By! Once we got home, we were thrilled to see that we got a great wave recorded!
STATEROOM: BAJA 317 INTERIOR
This cruise we got an interior cabin: B317. It was wonderful! It was the first cabin from the forward elevators. It was quiet and felt very little movement from the ship and none of the shaking that is often felt in the aft. We were just two decks below the entrance to Horizons and the Lido pool (the pizza station was right there -- which was most important to my son!). The only issue with the location was that the youth (Pelicans, Shockwaves, Remix) was all the way to the aft, and we walked the whole length of the ship at least three times a day! Just a thought for when you pick your cabin if you have kids! The shower is VERY small. We had the beds split and it felt like we had more room than when we have had the beds together. Loved the bed linens (duvet). The mattress's are worn - and we could feel the springs in certain areas. The flat screen TV was wonderful. We just left the bow cam on all night - helped us not to feel like we were in an interior cabin! Although - there were a couple of nights that the signal was lost. I know everyone says that TV is not important when you're on a cruise ship - but we were thankful for the family movie channel that changed programming every day. Sometimes you just need to veg in the cabin and watch a good movie/show.
DINING: We had anytime dining and were assigned to the Bordeaux Dining Room. Always sat with shared seating at a table of 10 and loved meeting new people every night. My son only ate with me in the dining room on 4 out of the 14 dinners on board. He was always eager to get to the kids club for their theme nights. Except on formal nights, (which there were 3 of them) the dress is smart casual. On the other cruises we've been on, they've permitted kids 12 and under to wear dress shorts and a button down shirt. But not on Princess. They turned my son away, and so we hiked back to the room and he put on jeans, which didn't look near as nice as what he had on before. The meals in the Bordeaux were good. We checked the menu each day before deciding where to eat. If the menu didn't offer something great, we just ate in Horizons. The fettucine alfredo in the main dining room (which is delicious) is NOT the same as the one they serve periodically in the buffet (yuck). The only complaint was some of the desserts -- both in the main dining room and at the buffet all tasted the same. They rarely tasted like they said they would -- ex: a carrot cupcake tasted more like pineapple, and most of the cakes were dry and tasted as though they had been in the fridge a couple of days. But you could never go wrong with the Princess Love Boat (chocolate mousse)! On the 2nd last night of the cruise we ate in the Bayou Cafe and Steakhouse. It was ok. The air conditioning was on full blast and our food was cold in just a couple of minutes from being served. Everyone around us was shivering and pulling their jackets/sweaters on, but the staff said nothing could be done about it. I was hoping for a little more Creole flavour on my steak, but it was perfectly cooked to order and quite tender. Just a note: kids pay full price in the specialty dining rooms, and there are no child size options. Horizons had themes to their evening meals -- biergarten, Mexican, sushi night, etc... but it was never posted anywhere -- you just had to go up and do a walk through at 5:30 to see what was there. Except for one or two individuals, the staff in all dining venues did a wonderful job! They seemed very patient with the exaggerated pickiness of those that we sometimes ate with, they always had great recommendations and were friendly. Pizza was the best I've had on a cruise ship.,, and we especially like the 'make your own pizza' days. My son had ice cream from the Lotus pool ice cream bar often and said it was really good! The Grill had nice hamburgers/hot dogs/sausages and was great for a quick lunch. There were three pub lunches in the Bayou Cafe. The fish & chips were great, as bangers were cold, but the mash was warm. The service was a bit disorganized, but it was pretty quick -- in and out fast was the goal of the wait staff.
YOUTH ACTIVITIES: There were 25 kids (under the age of 17) on this cruise, so the kids activities were scaled back. There was no Culinary@Sea and only one evening with Science@Sea. The 4 counsellors were all female, which was a new experience for us -- there is usually at least one male counsellor. They were really nice, and the kids all seemed to like them. Usually there is a daily itinerary for the kids, but there was nothing like that. When we arrived in our cabin the first day, there was a multi page handout that listed the theme for each night. These often coincided with what the adults are doing (tropical island night was on the ultimate deck party night, Cowboy night on western night, etc..). There was very little division of the age groups -- the kids mostly just stayed together -- probably because the majority of the kids were in the Shockwaves age group. On formal nights, they had kids dinner whereby you could take your child up to Horizons at 6pm. They'd eat and take the kids back to the kid's club for the evening. It was a great idea, except for those families that had the early seating at 5:30.
ENTERTAINMENT: There were several shows and evening entertainment options. We did saw three of the shows performed by the Princess Singers and Dancers and thought they were really good. There was comedian (Elliott Marx) and he was hilarious. The illusionist was a little bit strange -- but I think he probably fits right in on the Vegas Strip where he usually performs! The hypnotist was really funny and he did a Scholarship@Sea session the next day. There was a band called 'Icon' who I, personally, did not like. They seemed more karaoke than a hired band.
EASTER: This cruise went over the Easter Weekend and the cruise activity/youth club staff put together a fun Easter morning Family Fun Fair in the Atrium. They had cookie decorating, a Klutz craft, a ring toss game and button making. Then there was a visit from the Easter Bunny! A couple of times I had to ask some of the 'adults' if they would mind moving out of the way so the kids could get to the tables/in the line for the Easter Bunny. It was like they wanted to relive their childhood! All the kids did get their picture with the Easter Bunny and Cruise Director Frank gave them each a stuffed puppy with the Princess logo embroidered on the paw. It was really really nice! There were lots of giant chocolate decorated Easter eggs throughout the ship. You could tell a lot of work went in to them.
PANAMA CANAL: Before each port, there was a Scholarship@Sea presentation by Bill Keene. He was wonderfully knowledgeable and I learned a lot about each destination. He told you where the shopping district was, but was sure to stress that this was not 'the shopping talk'! When it came to the Panama Canal Day, Bill was on the bridge and broadcasted throughout the ship. He was so incredibly knowledgeable -- he's probably forgotten more than I'll ever know about the Panama Canal! We watched the first Gatun lock from a public verandah at the front of the ship -- deck 11. It was a great place to watch! Then we went down to the open verandah on deck 7. This was also neat as you're right at ground level when you start, and you can see the ship rise. Also -- you can get a close-up look at the mules (trains) that pull the ship through the locks. We spent the rest of the day looking out from different locations depending on what we wanted to see. All the while Bill was giving commentary -- including great insights into the constructions of the new canal. The other part of Bill's presentation was a breakdown of how much it cost for the Coral Princess to transit the Panama Canal: it was very interesting! (Purposely NOT telling you how much -- you need to do the cruise to find out for yourself!)
PORTS: We did not do any of the organized Princess excursions. After attending each of the Scholarship@Sea port lectures, we felt confident to venture out on our own. In Fuerto Amadore (Panama City) we did the Hop On Hop Off bus and felt we got a great tour of the city, and the surrounding area. The handouts we received about each port were very helpful in that they supplied a great deal of info including where to get cheap wi-fi and where to mail a post card. We mailed postcards all along our trip -- and three weeks later, we still have not received them. We only mailed one in Cartagena @ the shopping spot just off the ship because it was $4.00 postage per postcard! IF you are thinking of doing one of the shore excursions on the ship - book it ahead of time! The cancellation policy is usually up to 48 hours before the tour. Many of the tours were sold out!
SANCTUARY: I did not use the Sanctuary and it did not look busy any of the times that I looked into it.
MOVIES UNDER THE STARS: I watched a couple of the movies in the evenings -- they were new release movies. They also showed a Final Four Basketball game and some golf event that were on while we were sailing. The chairs and blankets in the evening were really comfy and on the last few nights along the Baja coast, they were needed! They had cookies and milk in the afternoon -- but you often had the chase them down around the pool deck.
LOTUS POOL: We loved LOVED the lotus pool. It is enclosed with a glass roof, but was well ventilated. We try to stay out of the sun as much as possible, and this pool was the answer to our prayers! It had stairs for easy entry, and very comfy chairs. There was a bar at one end of the pool area and the ice cream parlour at the other end.
DVD: There was a photographer/videographer crew that took footage of all the events on the cruise (incl. Panama Canal passage). Portions of the video ran continually on channel 31. You could purchase a copy of the DVD and pick it up on the last day.
DISEMBARKATION: A few days before the end of the cruise, we were given a form to fill out asking us what our requirements were for disembarkation. There were several options ranging from early disembarkation with you carrying off your bags to excursions for those flying out of LAX later in the day. Two days before the end of the cruise we were given our disembarkation info/luggage tags. They had separated everyone into thirty or so groups and you were given a time to report to your specified lounge. When it was time for your group to disembark, they made an announcement and off you went. We waited in a line up for about 10 minutes to go through Customs. We went down to the bottom level of the San Pedro cruise ship terminal and our bags were lined up in the specified disembarkation group. We walked out of the terminal and were able to track down our shuttle. There were lots of people around to tell you where you needed to go for each of the transportation options. It was very smooth and quick.