This is our fourth Princess cruise. This is the smallest ship we have ever cruised on. We chose this cruise because of the 10 day Panama Canal itinerary.
We stayed overnight in Ft. Lauderdale and took shuttle to the cruise terminal. We met people from our town in the airport shuttle on the way home who missed the first two days of the cruise because of airport delays. When flying in winter, we now always fly down a day early. We arrived at about 11:00 and went through the check-in process, got a number and sat and waited until about 1:30 before we were boarded. The check-in was smooth and orderly, we weren't sure what the delay was in beginning to board passengers.
We went straight to our room to drop off our stuff and began to explore the ship. The buffet was crowded, but not any more so than embarkation day on any other ship we've sailed on. Our luggage was delivered to the room by about 6:00.
We did get our Scavenger hunt ticket filled out and deposited and went to some of the area tours and to the to the Sail Away party. Actually, there were more people at this party than on many other cruises we've taken. It was relaxed with music and a cameraman catching people and displaying them on the Movies Under The Stars (MUTS) screen.
The layout of the ship was a little different. We try to walk as much as possible instead of taking elevators (always down usually up). Our room was in the back of the ship, the buffet is at the front of the ship, so we got in a lot of walking. The only way to make it to the buffet without going outside on the Lido deck is to walk through a lot of cabin hallways. These were times that we appreciated a smaller ship.
The buffet was usually crowded before and after excursions and early into serving times. If you waited about a half hour after serving began, there was usually little or no line. Servers were friendly and helpful. Evening service was more relaxed and choices were similar to what was served in the dining rooms. Several special buffet presentations were great including desserts, sushi, Mexican specialties.
There was even an outdoor lido buffet one evening.
Afternoon tea was a pleasant diversion with tiny sandwiches, deserts and scones with jam and clotted cream. Sometimes live music was played at tea.
We really enjoy at sea days, so it was nice to start a voyage with two of them. We had anytime dining, but we really don't like to take a couple of hours to eat, so we usually only use the dining room on formal nights. We check the menu and check the buffet. Usually they are serving exactly the same food from the same kitchens, so in the buffet, you can choose to try a little bit of many options instead of just one whole entree. We did not have problems with waiting. From past cruises, we know that seating and waiting is an issue on formal nights, so the night before, we look at our schedule, figure out when we want to eat and call in an reservation early in the morning. If it looks busy and we don't have a reservation, we just wait a half hour and the line is usually better.
Almost everyone dresses up on formal nights. We love getting our photos taken, even if we don't buy very many. We've met some interesting people waiting in line. (Especially for casual portraits - be sure to have some taken with Mark, his sense of humor is delightful!) If you don't want to stay dressed up, many people change after dinner.
We enjoy watching movies outside on MUTS, but unfortunately, many football games and concerts were shown here at night instead of movies.
We don't go to too many of the shows. My husband is a musician, so we pop in and see what's going on and usually leave after a little while. The shows seemed pretty average for Princess. The Nat King Cole review was very good. We did stay for all of that one. The best entertainment was at the Bayou Cafe. You don't have to eat there, there is a small stage area on the left with performances. The Jean Mac Trio was wonderful. If they are on board, and you like jazz standards, don't miss them.
We also love the Trivia contests. Most people were very friendly. Competition was high, but people were mostly friendly about it. It was nice that the same teams didn't win all of the time. It was interesting that there were few people playing at the beginning of the cruise, but the last few days ere packed!
A warning for those of you who are sensitive to smoke, for some totally unknown reason, Princess chose to put the Churchill Lounge on deck 7 starboard side on the Promenade deck. Even with the doors closed, the smell of cigar and pipe smoke permeated the whole area. We eventually found detours to walk that avoided the area.
We always take Princess excursions. This time we were glad we did because several of our tour buses had maintenance and traffic issues. We visited Aruba (Butterfly Farm, Rock Formations and Shopping), Cartegena (Highlights of Cartagena, Fortress and Las Boedas), the Panama Canal (Panama Canal & Locks Transit by Boat), Puerto Limon-Cost Rica (Veragua Rainforest Tour) and Ocho Rios-Jamaica
(Dolphin Cove, Shark Show & Dunn's River Falls). I've put review of our shore excursions on this site.
If you want to watch the ship go through the canal, be aware that folks already had seats lined up across all of the front viewing areas by 5:00 a.m. Bring your rain gear, just in case. It poured! Many people left to go get their gear and some arguing ensued about "saved" places. If you don't mind watching the process in reverse, go to the back of the ship on decks 8, 9, and 10 for great, way less crowded viewing. We started up front for the first lock, went to our balcony for the next and then ended up at the back of the ship - by far the best area.
There were very few children aboard. I counted a total of 11, most under the age of about 4. The people we met on board were wonderful. There were mostly older cruisers (we're 57 and were some of the younger cruisers on board), but there were also a few young couples (two couples that got married on board - Congratulations!) and many middle aged folks. Everyone we met was interesting to talk to, polite and caring. We met several couples who will probably become life-long friends.
The staff was wonderful. The customer service desk was always helpful. If you are interested in the service that brings your bags to the airport and you don't see them again until your flight reaches home - be aware that it needs to be booked before the ship reaches Aruba. We've used the service on other Princess cruises, it's great, but we've always had more time to book it, so don't let the deadline pass if you are interested.
We also splurged and did the Platinum Portraits. Paul did an amazing job. He took more than 80 pictures and narrowed them down to 50 to make a slide show. We were both almost crying after the slideshow, it was that touching. Do be aware that it is very expensive (minimum package was around $500.00 - the top package was several thousand, but we considered it a once in a lifetime thing. As much fun as it was, I won't let myself be tempted again because I'll want them all! He really was that good. If you had several family members involved, it would be a better bargain. We actually received our photo package today only 15 days after our cruise.
The ship was showing its age. Everything was spotless and in good condition, but the hallway floors were spongy and made strange noises in some places. I believe is is going in for some changes around May.
All things considered, this was one of our all time favorite cruises. We'd love to go back in a few years after the new canal upgrades are finished.