Hubby and I flew in from Detroit two days after Hurricane Sandy, and had no issues with flight delays, thank God. Some of our other travel companions, not so lucky.
We stayed one night, pre-cruise at the Renaissance Fort Lauderdale (Cruiseport) Hotel, (booked through Hotwire.com) and it's just across the street from the entrance to Port Everglades. It is a beautiful hotel with all the amenities you will need for a relaxing stay to get you motivated for a cruise.
Took a shuttle from the hotel for a small fee ($6 PP)although many hotels have a free shuttle. Embarktion was a breeze and only took about 30 minutes from the end of the line to our stateroom. We were in our room by 1:15 p.m., exploring the ship by 1:45pm and eating lunch in the Horizon Court by 2:00. More exploring and then to the lido deck for sailaway!
We had traditional dining for the early seating and requested a large table, hoping to meet some interesting people. Only one couple joined us, every night. The other two couples only ate in the diningroom, one night out of the 10, so moving us to a smaller table would have been nice.
Hubby and I have dietary restrictions (we are gluten free) and the dining staff was most accommodating! The head waiter would bring us the next days menu, and we would choose what we wanted to eat, and if possible, it would be made gluten free for us. If it was not possible to make a dish gluten free, then other recommended foods would be presented to us as another option. This concern actually made our cruise fantastic!
Our first stop was Aruba, and we arrived early, and overnighted at the port. There was a reason for this, but I am not sure why. We were allowed to disembark at 11:00 pm (even though we were not supposed to be there till 7:00 am, and when I asked when we left the ship at what time should we be back, the security officer told me, 11:30 am the next day. LOL
Our next stop was Cartegena, Columbia, and it is a beautiful city. We choose a Princess excursion to see the highlites of the city, including the Fortress at the old city. It is a very steep climb, and very hot, so it is something you should be aware of, but the views from the top are spectacular! The only thing I didn't like were the street vendors on you as soon as the doors to the bus opened, and at one point a police officer pushed them back so we could at least get off the bus. These vendors, though, as soon as you said no, would back off, but another was there to quickly take his place, and they were at every venue we went to see, so be aware.
The Panama Canal was our next stop for a partial transit, and it was very early morning for our trip through. You needed to be up by 5:00 am at the latest to get a prime viewing spot at the front of the ship. William Fall was the lecturer who guided us with information as we transited the canal. Then everyone who had excursions were tendered off the ship. We chose to say on board.
Our next stop was Costa Rica and hubby and I went on our most exciting excursion of the 4 cruises we have been on. We did the class II river rafting on the Reventazon river. The most beautiful and fun time we have had. It wasn't too strenuous to paddle, but the rapids were exciting! Water fights with the other rafts were hilarious, and the pictures taken of us, were well worth the money paid. Lunch was provided and was very good as well.
Our last stop was Grand Cayman, and this was our biggest disappointment. Actually it was a weather related cancellation of our excursion, which Princess could not control, but they cheerfully refunded our money, when we chose to cancel the whole tour. We had chosen the stingray city, turtle farm and Hell excursion, but the stingray city part of the tour was cancelled due to higher than normal waves stirring up the sandbar, so it was too dangerous to go out and the stingrays wouldn't come anyway. We could have done the turtle farm and Hell, but the stingrays were the only reason we chose that tour, so not being able to see them, it was pointless for us to go.
The production shows on the Island Princess are nice, but only one stood out and it was the "On the Bayou" show. Highly recommend that you make time for that one, and on the last night, several talented members of the crew also perform for you. (these are waiters, room steward and such, who just have a lot of talent) Even the ships head doctor performed! (She's a fabulous pianist!)
Disembarkation was slightly delayed as not enough customs agents (in my opinion) were available to put through all passengers in a timely manner. Then it was on to our Princess transfer to the airport and our flight home.
Hubby and I would happily recommend the Island Princess for a transit of the Panama canal. The staff are incredibly hard working and funny. It was a pleasure to cruise with Princess.