We just returned from our 10 day cruise aboard the Island Princess. Below is my overall review:
1. Pre-cruise: We flew to Fort Lauderdale 4 days early and stayed at the Universal Palms in Fort Lauderdale. We arrived at about 2am and I was honestly hesitant to check in. The hotel lobby was very well maintained and the front desk attendant was quite helpful however the outside of the hotel was concerning. The room was clean for the most part however the bedding was like sleeping on cardboard. The shower was something to behold! There was no tub or any way to contain the water to the shower area. It just drained onto the bathroom floor down a small ramp that they fabricated to make the room wheelchair accessible (we did not ask for this accommodation and did not need it). There was mold around the baseboard however that was likely due to the shower arrangement. I would not recommend this hotel. We toured Everglades Holiday Park (where the Gator Boys are) and took pictures with the crew and then took an air boat tour and saw lots of alligators. This was a great experience. The next day we drove to Everglades National Park and saw even more alligators. This was very interesting to us as the people in the park were much more interested in the birds rather than the alligators. It seemed like they thought of seeing alligators as I think of seeing deer or squirrels at home! Both of these are must sees for people who don't live in the area. The remainder of the time we spent touring around Miami, Palm Beach and a drive though safari/zoo (Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee).
2. Embarkation day: We returned our rental car to Hertz at the Fort Lauderdale airport around 11am and the staff there was nice enough to drive us to the cruise terminal. The terminal is only a few miles away and on the return trip we took a taxi that only cost about 12 dollars. I appreciated the ride to the terminal though. We arrived about 11:30 and entered the terminal to find that there was almost no line. We checked in and were asked to wait for about an hour or so until the ship was ready. We boarded about 12:30 in groups of about 50. Embarkation went smoothly. The ship itself seemed a little worn as compared to the other 9 cruises we have been on. That being said, it was clean and there were no obvious issues or significant concerns with the ship itself on first impressions. The crew was always great! We were allowed right to our cabin (A-307) which was also clean and well appointed and comfortable.
3. The cruise: We headed out for Aruba at about 4:30 and had a really great time on the ship. Aruba was awesome (my wife enjoys the duty free shopping) but it was quite warm and humid. It seemed that there were problems with the ships air conditioning system. It was never quite cool enough and it seemed that the temperature in the cabin was much to warm at night on several occasions despite having the AC set on the lowest setting. The cabin steward was excellent as always. One curious issue is that the cold water in the cabin was never cold. At best, it was in the 80's which was a new experience for me while brushing my teeth. The ports that we were able to get to were excellent and we had a great time.
a. Aruba: We did not plan a ships excursion at this port. We spent our time shopping (I could care less about the jewelry, but my wife goes crazy over this) but the deals seemed to be pretty good.
b. Cartagena: In this port, we did not schedule a ships tour, but on the advice of one of the staff members (not to be named as it may cause and issue for him on the ship), we rented a Taxi for the time we were in port. The Taxi cost $45 for the day and we had our own personal tour guide for the day. He was very informative and took us everywhere the ship's tours were going but we did not have to wait for 50 other people to get on and off of the bus. I would recommend this as an alternative to the ships scheduled tours. However, be sure that you walk past the first group of taxi drivers and get into an "official" taxi. They all have blue shirts with "Taxi" written all over them and be sure that your "guide" speaks good English (ours did).
c. Panama Canal: The Panama Canal is just how other reviews described. The ship started its approach at about 6am but the railing was already full of people. If you've read the other reviews, there are notes about a "secrete" deck at the front of the ship on decks 10, 11 and 12. This is where I was and it was not too difficult to see everything you wanted to see. After the passage through the first 3 licks, the ship anchored in Gatun Lake and then we tendered to shore for a ship's excursion. We decided to see the Gamboa preserve and took the gondola through the canopy. I rather enjoyed this and saw a sloth and lots of birds in the wild including several toucans. However, we had dinner with another group that took the boat tour (not the one through the other set of locks) and saw a significant more amount of wildlife up close including monkeys...
d. Costa Rica: Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate with us on this day and we were unable to dock in Limon. I was rather disappointed as this was the only port that we scheduled a tour in prior to the trip. We were planning on going to the Jaguar Reserve (http://www.jaguarrescue.com). We booked this through Eduardo at Your Lucky Tours (http://www.yourluckytour.com). All of my interactions with Eduardo have been excellent although we never had the opportunity to meet. Despite this, if you are going to be in Limon, I would recommend using him for your tour (he has other reviews that are all excellent).
e. Jamaica: What can I say about Jamaica mon...it was simply beautiful. Again, my wife decided to shop so I again acted as her courier and credit card holder......As they say in Jamaica, "no problems mon, just situations...."
4. Other ship items:
a. Food: As above, we have been on 9 other cruises and we both feel that the quality of the food has been in decline. I'm not sure why this is, but I think it is true (as well as others at our table). We chose traditional late dining (7:45) and had great table partners. The food in the dining room was overall better however certainly not the best or even in the same universe as we have had before. The buffets were like a mediocre Las Vegas buffet. The servers were awesome as always in the dining room. Richard (our assistant waiter) was excellent and probably the best we have ever had on any cruise. Our waiter was also good; however Richard seemed to outshine him in our opinion. We did eat one night in the Bayou Cafe. I was disappointed in this but my wife thought her food was excellent. She had shrimp and lobster (a $5 up charge for Lobster) and I had the NY Strip. I think that Outback does a better job on steaks....just saying...
b. Movies Under The Stars: Although this seems like a good idea, it was often much too windy to really be of much benefit to us. I would be nice if they also played the MUTS in the cabins. There were also other movies played in the Princess Theater. This would also have been better if there were more show times to accommodate different schedules.
c. Boutiques: The Boutiques were pretty similar to the shops on other ships, however this time I paid particular attention to prices and even compared some of the prices to stores in the US. They did have a rather unique line of Roman Glass that I had not seen before. We bough a piece for $180.00 on the ship but I did find it a little less expensive (same piece and from the same maker) on the internet....the difference was not significant so I'm glad I bought it on the ship for the 5 year guarantee. She shopping host (Dennis) was also very attentive and there were lots of raffles that were conducted after their presentations. Dennis was very entertaining and really tried to take care of us on multiple occasions. Kudos to Dennis!
d. Enrichment lectures: We had two speakers on board...one was a kind of self help lecturer with two or three presentations. I did not really get into this at all but her lectures always seemed well attended. There was also a lecturer who gave port lectures for each of the ports as well as a lecture on the canal and narrative as we passed through the canal. Although he was somewhat difficult to understand, he was pretty funny.
e. Shows: Although I generally do not enjoy Vegas style shows, the On the Bayou was actually pretty good. If I thought this was a good show, I'm sure that those of you who really like this type of show will agree. The singers and dancers were good however the shows were very short as compared to other cruises we've been on.
5. Disembarkation: We disembarked on 8 March at Fort Lauderdale. We arrived in port at about 7am and the crew divided everyone into groups depending upon travel arrangements and the need for assistance with luggage. There were only three customs officials and the disembarkation took much longer than originally planned, however this was really not the cruise lines fault. We took a Taxi to the airport with a meter cost of about $12.
Overall, a pretty good trip. If you are booking for the itinerary, then you really can not go wrong. If you are booking for the food and additional perks for the cruise, then I think that there are probably better lines, however overall we had a good time.