This was a trip that I have dreamed about for over 47 years. I did a report on Panama in 5th grade and I have always wanted to visit. Since the prices have dropped considerably, my daughter and I decided this was the time. We arrived the day before in Ft Lauderdale and stayed at the Hampton Inn Airport on 12th Ave. This is an ideal spot since you are only 3 miles from the cruise port for embarkation, but you are right across the street from a shopping center for any last minute item you may have forgotten to pack.
We took the free shuttle from our hotel to the dock at 1PM and there weren't any lines at all. We pretty much walked on the ship. We had decided to bring our luggage with us and skipped the porters so that we could get unpacked and start enjoying our cruise.
Our room was a balcony stateroom and we had lots of room for all of our clothes and shoes. We had the twin bed configuration and we had plenty of room. We really enjoyed our balcony too.
We hurried up to the Horizon Court for a quick bite (we had a wonderful breakfast at the Hampton Inn earlier) then it was time for the lifeboat drill. This was a lot longer than other drills I have sat thru. I guess they are trying to be safer since the Concordia incident last year. This drill lasted over 30 minutes and before we even had time to take life jackets back to our room the ship was setting sail.
We had 2 days at sea before our first port of Aruba. The seas were horribly rough on the second day with swells over 12 feet. It was hard to walk anywhere on the ship and the water in the pools was a sight to behold. They actually closed the pools for the safety of the passengers. You couldn' have swum in them because the waves in the pools were as bad as the ocean. The water was splashing out of the pools and the decks were a mess with all the water.
Just a quick rundown on the ports:
Aruba- disappointed with only 5 hours in this port. Not enough time to really see and shop. Besides, it was raining most of the time.
Cartagena, Columbia- what a suprise this town was. This was the port I was the least interested in, and it ended up being my favorite behind the Panama Canal. The old city was beautiful and the old fort was facinating.
Panama Canal- I was so impressed with this wonder of the world. It was everything I was expecting and so much more. Just be sure to get up early if you want a spot up front when you first go thru Gatan Locks. Remember, you will get great pictures of the locks from the back of the ship when you go thru the last lock. The crowds thin out for the passage thru Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks. You won't have any problem getting up close to the rail on the last 2 locks.
Fuerte Amador- This is a port where the ship is anchored and you must take a tender to the dock. We just walked along the City Walk during the morning hours. We now wish we had taken a tour. Other passengers that came back from their tours had some great stories. We definitely missed out.
Puntarenas, Costa Rica- This was another surprise. We took the rain-forest tour in a gondola over the top of the rain forest. It was a lot of fun and we were very impressed with the beauty of this country. We saw toucans, iguanas and crocodiles.
The food on the cruise was very good. It was a 14day cruise so there was some repeats. We had anytime dining and ate in the dining room only 3 times. Most of our meals were in the Horizon Court Buffet or pizza at the Pizzeria. The pizza was excellent and was served from 11AM to 11PM When we did use Anytime dining, we only had about a 30 minute wait. The ice cream was wonderful too.
All in all it was a wonderful trip and I would recommend it to any one. Our only complaint was the long 5 days at sea when headed back to Los Angeles. It did get boring. There is only so much the cruise staff can think of and I am glad I brought my books to read.
Another great thing that Princess does for its passengers on the full canal passage. They make a Video of your passage thru the canal and you can buy it for $39.00 at the end of the cruise. They take video of the ship and passengers waving at them during transit. To be sure you get on the video, make sure you go to the Panama Canal sign making class offered a couple of days before you transit the canal. The camera man will be looking for these and then you will be on the video.