This was my sixth cruise and my third cruise with the Princess line.
My flight arrived in Fort Lauderdale on the day before embarkation and I spent the night at the Fairfield Inn & Suites near the airport. Although the hotel is close to the airport, there was little noise from aircraft. The Fairfield offered shuttles to Port Everglades for $8.00 which I used.
The Island Princess suffered an outbreak of the Norovirus on the previous cruise and embarkation was delayed until 1:00 p.m. while the ship was disinfected. This was only a thirty minute delay from the original schedule. I arrived at the terminal at 1:10 p.m.. Quite a few passengers were already there and a long line formed. Still, I was in my cabin at 2:25 p.m. and this included checking my luggage at the curb, check-in, security check and getting to my cabin. My luggage arrived shortly before the Emergency Stations drill at 3:45 p.m.
My inside cabin B724 was located aft and was clean and in good condition. There was little noise from other passengers in this area and it was three cabins away from a partially covered balcony at the stern. The TV was a 26-inch ViewSonic flat screen. Two 115V outlets were available at the cabin's desk. The cabin door seemed to be a bit warped at the top and required a little more force than usual to close it. It wasn't a problem for me but some might find it annoying.
The Island Princess seemed less crowded than the Crown Princess and Emerald Princess that I sailed on previously. The public spaces featured a decor of light wood with brass colored metal and were all in good repair.
Norovirus precautions were in effect during the first days of the cruise and passengers could not serve themselves at the buffet and even the bread in the dining room was handed out with tongs. Despite the added workload, the crew members I encountered were friendly and seemed in good spirits.
Food in the Provence (traditional) dining room was very good. The twice-baked goat cheese souffle was my favorite appetizer and chocoholics shouldn't miss the Love Boat Dream dessert. Service was excellent and food was always served at the appropriate temperature. The always available fettuccine alfredo was delicious, but needed more sauce.
The Horizon Court buffet was busy on the mornings of port calls, but I was always able to find a seat. There were themes such as Oktoberfest and American BBQ for lunch or dinner on some days. In addition, a British pub lunch was offered on three days in the Bayou Cafe.
Production shows consisted of "Piano Man", "Motor City", the high energy "Do You Wanna Dance" and "On the Bayou" which featured a New Orleans voodoo theme and was held in the Universe Lounge. The schedule was:
"Piano Man": Thursday 3/29 at 8:15 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.; Friday 3/30 at 9:30 p.m.
"On the Bayou": Saturday 3/31 at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday 4/1 at 6:45 p.m. & 8:30 p.m.
"Motor City": Wednesday 4/4 at 8:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.
"Do You Wanna Dance": Thursday 4/5 at 8:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.
Other entertainment included The Comedy Magic of Lorenzo Clark, the hypnotist Asad, comedian Billy Vader (one night only) and the music and comedy of Duncan Tuck. Piano player and singer Tom Franek attracted a following in the Crooner's lounge and did two shows in the Princess Theater as well as one in the Universe Lounge.
Author L.C. Hayden presented a series of entertaining and informative lectures on writing techniques and publishing for aspiring writers. Excellent port lectures were provided by former Canal Zone resident William Fall who also did the on-board commentary as we passed through the Gatun locks.
One comedian aboard described our port call in Aruba as a drive-by. Passengers were allowed off at 7:00 a.m. and all aboard was at noon, although the ship waited an extra 45 minutes for a passenger with a medical issue to return from the hospital. My Princess excursion was the Semi-submarine, Shipwreck & Island Drive which left at 7:30 a.m. and included a semi-submarine trip around the sunken German ship Antilla, a visit to the Casibari rock formations and a bus tour of the north side of the island which included stops at the California lighthouse and the natural bridges, the largest of which has collapsed. On the semi-sub, we circled so that both sides could see the wreck while the guide gave a lively narration about the Antilla and the marine life we saw which included a sea turtle and many small fish that swam right up to the windows. At the Casibari rocks, I climbed the steep steps for a panoramic view, but the climb required squeezing through a tunnel-like gap in the rocks and was not recommended for people with mobility issues. There was a botanical garden at the base of the rocks. The tour took the entire time we were in port.
The next port was Cartagena, Columbia. I booked the Highlights of Cartagena, Fortress & Las Bovedas tour through Princess and was in the Princess Theater at 8:50 a.m. along with passengers going on other tours to await disembarkation. Princess issued a sticker to wear with the tour number, but Columbia was quite humid so I put it on my hat where perspiration wouldn't affect it. The first stop on the tour was the massive Fort of San Filipe (started in 1536), considered the most formidable of Spanish defensive complexes. The climb to the top of the fort was steep but gave a good view of the layout of the defenses. Also covered on the tour were the old city walls near the ocean, a brief stop at the small shops (former dungeons) of Las Bovedas, the Inquisition Palace, San Pedro Claver Sanctuary and a walk through part of the old town. A final stop was made at the Pierno Gallo shopping center which featured jewelry stores although there was a shop with coffee products and souvenirs. They offered free samples of their coffee candy which was tasty enough for me to bring a bag home. The tour took most of the time in port and all aboard was at 2:30 p.m. for our next stop in Panama.
The Island Princess lined up for its approach to the Gatun locks at 6:30 a.m. the next morning and passengers lined the decks to watch the transit and listen to commentary by port lecturer William Fall. It took over an hour and a half to transit the locks and the ship then anchored in Lake Gatun. At 8:40 a.m. tours were called to commence tender operations. My tour was the Panama Canal & Locks Transit by Boat. At 9:30 a.m. I was on the bus headed for the town of Gamboa to embark on the Fantasia del Mar, a 434 passenger tour boat operated by Canal & Bay Tours. Our tour left the dock about 11:30 a.m. and the buffet lunch started at noon, done by sections on the boat to control crowding. Food included chicken skewers, ham and cheese sandwiches, pasta salad, fruit and muffins. Tubs of iced soft drinks and bottled water were available throughout the cruise. We passed through the Galliard (Culebra) Cut, under the Centennial Bridge, transited the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks, where a thunderstorm struck, and finally passed under the Bridge of the Americas before docking in Balboa (Panama City) on the Pacific side at 3:15 p.m. Meanwhile, the Island Princess had passed back through the Gatun locks headed to the dock in Colon. Our bus to Colon from Balboa arrived back at the ship at 5:10 p.m., hindered somewhat by heavy traffic. Departure for Limon, Costa Rica was at 6:30 p.m.
Photographers found their lenses fogged up immediately when coming from an air-conditioned cabin into the humid morning air at the Canal. It took about twenty to thirty minutes for lenses to warm up. Wiping a lens only helped for a few seconds.
Island Princess docked in Limon a little after 7:00 a.m. and the call for my Veragua Rainforest tour came 45 minutes later. The bus arrived at the combination research center and park around 9:30 a.m. and we were offered a choice of the more strenuous path to the 65 foot high waterfall or a less strenuous path through the rainforest before being split into groups, each with a guide. Next our group visited the day and night frog exhibits featuring live poison dart frogs and then entered the insect hall with its colorful collection of mounted butterflies and a live butterfly garden. Following an included lunch of a turkey sandwich and fresh fruit our group watched a researcher mount a butterfly for display and then took the roughly ten minute ride down the aerial tram. Our guide pointed out a sloth in the trees and other items of interest on the way down. Once down, we followed the guide along a boardwalk to a viewing platform at the Puma Waterfall. The walk involved going up and down a number of wooden steps which would have been very difficult for persons with mobility issues. After viewing the waterfall we rode the aerial tram back up to the last part of our tour: the reptile habitat. Here we saw live lizards and snakes including the highly poisonous Fer-de-Lance. A thunderstorm started as we approached the reptile habitat, but we were able to view it and return to the bus without getting soaked and departed at about 12:30 p.m. for the hour and fifteen minute return trip to the ship. All-aboard was at 5:30 p.m., so I used the time to buy some t-shirts and carved wooden items from the vendors set up near the ship.
After a sea day the Island Princess anchored off Grand Cayman Island shortly before 7:00 a.m. and tender operations started shortly afterward and I was able to get on a tender 45 minutes later. I chose the Atlantis Submarine Scenic Adventure which left from the North Terminal at 10:05 a.m., so I walked around a bit and took the local bus to the Hell gift shop and rock formations. The bus (really a van) left from the bus terminal on Edward Street near the Public Library and took about 40 minutes to reach Hell, as it stopped to pick up and drop off locals who worked at the resorts along Seven Mile Beach. It only cost $2.50 each way and the friendly drivers accepted U.S. currency. After mailing a postcard from Hell and taking a few pictures of the rock formations, I waved at the next bus, they picked me up and 25 minutes later I was at the North Terminal (across from Margaritaville) in time to join the excursion group. The Atlantis dock was just past the South Terminal on South Church Street (near the Hard Rock Cafe) and our group walked with a guide to the ticket office and boarded the boat to the submarine. The sub was air conditioned with large windows, very smooth underwater and the air pressure stayed at sea level so there was no effect on the ears. We saw a sea turtle and numerous fish including a barracuda and a lionfish. The narrator on-board was humorous and knowledgeable and the entire trip took about an hour and a half with around 45 minutes of dive time. This left plenty of time to check out George Town as the last tender left the North Terminal at 4:30 p.m. I visited the Cayman Islands National Museum located in the Old Courts Building on the corner of Harbor Drive and Shedden Road (across from the harbor). The small but interesting museum had a short film, a Natural History Gallery with a sea turtle nesting diorama, a submarine model with underwater video, exhibits on the geology and habitats of the islands and a Cultural History Gallery which featured a catboat with an animatronics fisherman. The staff was very friendly and the museum was a welcome break from the souvenir shops.
After another sea day the Island Princess docked in Fort Lauderdale along with five other cruise ships. I booked the Everglades Airboat Ride & Flamingo Gardens tour since my flight didn't leave until late afternoon. Passengers on this tour met in the casino at 8:10 a.m. and ten minutes later we were allowed off the ship. It only took twenty minutes to find my luggage, clear customs and find the waiting tour bus. It took until 9:20 a.m. to collect all the people going on the tour. Our first stop was at Everglades Holiday Park where we saw the Gator Boys (as seen on Animal Planet) alligator wrestling show. We then took a thirty minute ride through part of the Everglades in a covered airboat holding about 25 people and spotted an alligator and some birds. The park was quite crowded as it was a Saturday during spring break and six cruise ships were in port. We left the park at 11:25 a.m. and went to Flamingo Gardens, a sixty acre botanical collection and wildlife sanctuary featuring native south Florida wildlife and a walk-in aviary. The bus left the park at 1:10 p.m. for the Fort Lauderdale airport. One nice feature of this tour was that your luggage was carried on the bus and you could leave carry-on items inside while at the parks. In addition to the driver there was a guide with us throughout the tour who was quite informative.
Princess also offered a service called EZCheck where they pick up your luggage the night before disembarking, deliver it to the aircraft and issue your boarding passes on-board, eliminating the need to check in at the airport, just proceed to security. The cost was $20.00 (added to your shipboard account) plus any regular baggage fees charged by the airline.
A Princess shuttle cost $14.00 to the FLL airport and $19.00 to MIA.
There were a total of four times changes during this cruise. The Princess Patter always notes them on the front page and the cabin steward places a card on the bed on the night before the change which occurs at 2:00 a.m.
In conclusion, I was very pleased with the Island Princess and the service provided by its crew. The itinerary was varied and interesting and I enjoyed all my shore excursions. Hats off to the crew for their handling of the Norovirus outbreak on the previous cruise.