As we sailed out of the port of Los Angeles we saw harbor seals and dolphins. We took this to be a good omen and it was. This is a fantastic cruise with a wonderful itinerary, and the helpful and friendly attitudes of Princess crew. The ship was last refurbished in 2009 and, I think, could use a little updating in the cabins but overall is a very nice ship. Our embarkation was smooth and we were able to use the Platinum passengers lounge for the first time and this was fun.
E212 was in a nice location close to the bow. There wasn't much traffic past the door and we weren't by an elevator. As the waters were almost always smooth we didn't feel much movement. There are some improvements that could be made in this room: the floorboards gave a little outside the bathroom door and on the balcony side of the queen size bed. The drapes are worn and light showed through some cracks; and a toilet seat cover stuck to the seat necessitating rapid hand movements or manual effort to dislodge it. This was definitely not good in the middle of the night! We got prompt service when we called to report that the lights over the bed and at the foot of the bed went off after several minutes, and we were satisfied with the repair. Customer relations even sent us some chocolate dipped strawberries to thank us for reporting the issue and we were pleased. Our cabin steward, Conrad, did a wonderful job servicing the cabin and met all of our special requests in a gracious manner.
We always choose Anytime Dining if possible because we don't like to be tied down to eating at a specific time and we enjoy meeting and talking to new people everyday. The first night at 7:30 pm in the Bordeaux Dining Room was a zoo. There were long lines of people waiting for the buzzer that announced that a table was ready. The lines stretched most of the way to the bar, and the bar was filled with people who already had the buzzers. We realized that we should have made a reservation which was completely unlike our previous dining experiences aboard Princess ships in which we could usually walk right in. The phone lines for reservations are open approximately from 8 am to 11 am. If one needs to know in the morning at what time hunger will strike that evening and plan accordingly this detracts from the "Anytime" dining experience! Luckily things settled down after several nights and we were able to be seated whenever we arrived in the dining room. Sometimes if we wished to dine alone we were taken upstairs to the other dining room and seated at what crew called the "honeymoon" tables. Overall I found the crew to be quite accommodating. The service was almost uniformly pleasant and well informed. There was the usual practice of asking if we wanted to purchase wine or an alcoholic drink but the crew did not push it too much. The food was very good and the selections were numerous. On the one day that we requested chocolate milk with our meal we were told that we would probably be charged for it (but children got it free). I thought that this was a penny pinching attitude but the server did give us some instant chocolate mix with our milk for free. Come on! I don't think serving complimentary chocolate milk will break the bank! On the other hand when we requested an ice cream that had been served the previous evening we were told that it was gone but that if we wanted something special we should request it in advance and it would be made available for us. Very nice!
We always ate breakfast, and most lunches at the buffet. This wasn't "wow" food but it was ok. The servers were very quick to retrieve a special item if requested such as a different salad dressing. The hamburger bar on the Sun Deck took some time to make items but they were always fresh and hot. The pizza bar was also a nice variation on this long cruise.
I bought a coffee punchcard and was informed that Princess no longer gave away a thermal coffee mug with this purchase. Too bad. I need a new one as mine gets used all the time and is excellent advertising for Princess.
Scott Wyler the comedian was very funny but I wished he would have stayed away from political humor. It was great to be away from the noise of an election year for awhile and some of his jokes just brought the ugliness of the current political situation back to awareness. Blah.
Phoenix Rising, the dance band, was great. We went to see them almost everyday and we danced up a storm which was great fun.
Movies Under the Stars was always fun and the selection of movies was more current than usual.
We were invited to the Captains Cocktail Party for repeat passengers and the crew did a great job of bringing around the complimentary drinks and appetizers. The Wheelhouse Bar staff also did a terrific job with the Platinum Passengers special cocktail hour each evening and the food was great.
William Keene was the port lecturer who also did a play by play going through the Panama Canal. He did a terrific job of educating us.
Isabella Perez-Tyler and Jack Tyler were the dance instructors. She had previously taught for Arthur Murray and she handled the multitude of dancers like a pro. We took every dance class they offered and even remembered most of the steps post-cruise which is a wonderful tribute to their teaching style. Their playfulness and sense of fun were much appreciated.
We took the Poas Volcano and Sarchi trip In Costa Rica and were very lucky to have Erick as a guide and Julio as our driver. Both of them went out of their way to educate us about their country and to give us some extras like fresh strawberries. We were very happy with this all day trip.
In Fuerte Amador we took a taxi into the old city. It was hot, humid, and fairly dangerous to walk around as the sidewalks definitely needed a lot of work. There wasn't that much to see in the old city and we were happy to return to the ship. We didn't go into Panama City but we did see the skyline from a distance.
Transiting the Panama Canal was fascinating and the highlight of the trip. It was closely followed by Cartagena and this was a pleasant surprise. We were on the Princess walking trip of the old city. Although we were not able to enter the old fort we did have a photo op outside of it. Exploring the fort would have taken a good part of the day. It was massive. The city was bustling but polite and the architecture was interesting.
We took the snorkeling trip in Aruba. Be aware that this trip involves snorkeling over the Antilles shipwreck. If we had been by ourselves this would have been lovely but being kicked in the face by oblivious snorkelers wasn't a lot of fun. There were probably 3 boats of people at this site, all of whom were on a deadline to see the wreck. Yikes. The fish were spectacular but we would have had a better time if we didn't feel like we were ants in a colony all rushing into the nest simultaneously and being kicked by many of them as they went by! The coral reef stop was more relaxed and we did see interesting fish. The rum punch that is served on the way back to the ship is sneaky. Enough said!
All in all we would highly recommend Princess and this itinerary. It was a great time. We learned, we relaxed, we enjoyed. Not a bad way to spend two weeks!