This is a long review. Please forgive me for my wordiness but I'm a nooby cruiser who enjoyed reading all the details in the reviews I saw before we went on this cruise and I figure there are others out there who are like me. I created subtitles so if you wish, you can skip to the areas that are most of interest to you.
Now I have to admit that because I follow a gluten free diet, I was a bit apprehensive about setting out on an 18 day cruise. We had only cruised once before, on the Diamond Princess in Alaska 2009 and although I was avoiding wheat back then, I didn't have the full GF dietary restrictions. Much to my delight, the Coral Princess Crew did everything right on this cruise. I was well taken care of and came home with a few extra pounds to prove it.
I'm going to try to curb my enthusiasm and not go into too much detail about the gluten free side of things in this review, I just want to give my fellow cruise enthusiasts, an overview of our trip. If you're looking for more specific detail about the food, I am a gluten free food blogger and plan to post details (along with pictures) of my gluten free experience over on my blog. I'm not sure if CC rules allows me to include an external link, so if you're interested, I suggest you search "Cruising Gluten Free" and "Fox in the Kitchen" blog.
On September 25, we embarked on the Coral Princess from our home in the Port City of Vancouver, BC and sailed for 18 Days on a Panama Canal Grand Adventure (Full Transit) to Ft. Lauderdale, FL. We chose this Cruise to celebrate my husband's 60th Birthday. It ended up being a perfectly wonderful and carefree vacation for both of us.
Our son dropped us off at the Cruise Ship Terminal around 1pm for embarkation. As soon as we parked, they took our main luggage off our hands. It took over an hour for us to get on board, where our luggage was waiting. The line ups were long but the Cruise Ship Terminal had things organized, so we kept moving steadily along. The time actually went by fairly quickly. We only had a carry-on bag and a bag with a few bottles of wine we were bringing on board with us.
Tip: If you are taking wine on board, do carry it with you. Do not pack it in your suitcase. The Princess Crew want to see/know how much wine you're bringing on board. They told us to stop before Customs, at a table to declare our wine. We were glad we did because we heard of people being called after they were on board to go down and claim their luggage after x-rays showed contraband inside.
We booked a guaranteed MD Category Mini-Suite and were very happy with our assigned cabin D705 on Dolphin Deck 9. A typical mini-suite layout but it felt almost like a corner suite. The cabin is in an area where the hallway takes a bit of a jog. It has a fully covered balcony, is right next door to the full size suites, is close but not too close to the aft elevators and passenger laundry room. We wouldn't hesitate to book this stateroom again in the future.
We were about ten doors from the aft deck. The ship wide aft deck is fully covered and nicely sheltered from the wind. There was seldom anyone else out there. With views from both the Port and Starboard sides, it had a rail from which we could get a close up view of the lock gates operating while we went through the Panama Canal. One passenger who was doing the Canal for a second time, said he actually enjoyed the aft view better than the view through the glass on the crowded forward decks. We found the aft deck with its wake views, was a great place for taking photographs.
Tip: There is plenty of room under the bed to store your empty suitcases.
Something Princess has a favourable reputation for, is the food. On the Coral, it was consistently good.
I can't say enough good things about Jose, the Head Waiter in the Provence Dining Room. I felt so very well taken care of by him. He arranged for a standing order so I could get gluten free pizza when ever I wanted it. The personal size gluten free crusts are always made in advance and usually you had to give the pizza guys 24 hours notice before you could get one.
I ordered most of my gluten free meals the day before from the next day's menus. You can order on the spot from the current day's menu, as I did a few times for lunch but its harder and more confusing for the crew to manage. I found that when I didn't order in advance, I often settled for a salad or something I was confident was naturally gluten free. Less chance of a screw up. Last thing I wanted was to get sick on this trip.
For Breakfast...on Port days, we ordered Room Service when all we needed was a quick bite before we got off the ship. The Room Service Menu is extremely limited but they would deliver early. The morning we were in the Panama Canal I wrote in a request to have an earlier than offered delivery. I wrote 6:00 am not knowing for sure whether they could accommodate my request and the guy was there at 5:50 am! Which was perfect for us to have our Coffee and Tea on the balcony while watching the sunrise.
Most other mornings we had breakfast at the Horizon Court buffet. They had a large choice of different foods for my husband. He really enjoyed it. I stuck to fresh fruit and plain yogurt because I didn't feel like going through the bother of asking a supervisor to walk me through the buffet to point out what was gluten free and therefore safe for me to eat.
Jose the Head Waiter told me that if I wanted, they could make gluten free French Toast, Pancakes, or special Muffins for breakfast in the main Dining Room but the one morning we went to the Dining Room for Breakfast, the waiter seemed to get flustered when I told him I was gluten free. He was getting people's food and drink orders mixed up. It wasn't the best experience for us, so we decided not to push it and stuck with Room Service and the Horizon Court for breakfast.
For Lunch we mixed it up. Several times we ate at the main dining room where the meals were really good but could be a little drawn out. Horizon Court was an option my husband enjoyed because of the variety of food. Much the same as breakfast, I stuck to things I knew were gluten free, which was generally fresh salad and cheese.
Princess Pizza, I loved their gluten free pizza. My husband said the regular pizza was just okay. It was like mall pizza by the slice and best if you could get it straight out of the oven before it sat under the heat lamps for too long. The pizza guys Constantine and Vito got to know me and usually a nod and a smile was all that was necessary before they got busy making a fresh GF pizza for me.
The Grill, my husband tried their beef burger and chicken burger with fries. He enjoyed both. I never enquired about getting a gluten free lunch at The Grill. I was happy enough with the pizza I was getting right below them on the Lido Deck.
For Dinner, we chose Traditional Dining, Early Seating (5:45pm) in the Provence Dining Room. I believe for someone with dietary restrictions, Traditional Seating is the best way to go because you have the same wait staff each evening. Almost all of our evening meals were in the Provence Dining Room.
One night at dinner there, the wait staff placed a meal in front of me that had non-gluten free orzo pasta. Before I could to question them, Jose the Head Waiter, swooped in, said "that's not for you" and whisked the dish away. They replaced it a few minutes later with the pasta free version I had ordered.
The Bayou Specialty Restaurant, after getting back late from an excursion one day, we dined there. It was a bit romantic to have a quiet dinner at a nice little table for two. The service and food were very good and we had a special bottle of wine that we brought from home and yes, we did pay a $15 corkage fee but that was something we budgeted for. We both ordered the filet mignon which at 10 oz was huge. Neither one of us could finish it all. Was it worth the extra $20 per person? I don't know, maybe but more for the experience and atmosphere than the food. After all, we already purchased a full complement of meals when we paid the fare for our cruise.
Now here I am going on and on about food and my gluten free experience when I said I would save that for the blog. Oh well, I am a foodie and dining on the Coral Princess was a good experience for me. This Cruise, convinced me that Cruising is a great way for someone with food allergies to travel and see the world. I did have to do my homework before we booked but I'm already used to doing that when I travel. At least on a Cruise Ship I can communicate my needs in English and not struggle with a foreign language like I would have to do at Hotels and Restaurants on a Land Tour.
This was not a concern for either of us. I do think of myself as someone who has a queasy stomach. Blame the gluten. On this cruise, the only time I felt woozy was on the morning before we got to LA. The Captain announced that they were changing course towards San Francisco because they had to meet a helicopter for an emergency evacuation of a very sick passenger. The ship started to rock back and forth after it came to a near standstill during the evacuation. We were walking down the stairs to our cabin when that happened and I must have turned three shades of green. You should have seen the look on my husband's face. I'm sure he envisioned having to carry me the length of the ship. Thankfully I made it back to our cabin without assistance. I laid down on the bed and was okay once the ship got moving again. That was it. I was good for the rest of the trip.
Staying in touch...or rather, Not Staying in touch...
This is about the only negative thing I have to say about our experience on this Cruise...the Internet was highly overpriced. It had a rack rate of 79 cents a minute and was slower than the squelchy old dial-up internet from back in the 80's. We decided before we left home to gift ourselves an Internet Package because we thought it would give us some bonus minutes. It was expensive for something we often get free when we travel. We budgeted for a meagre 10 minutes a day. I know we were on vacation, getting away from it all but it's still important for us to stay in touch with the kids and grandkids. Plus, I manage my website. The one with my gluten free food blog.
Often it took at least ten minutes to log on and another 10 minutes or more to download email. I didn't dare sit down to fully read and answer emails. A quick glance at the Subject Line to make sure our world wasn't falling apart was all we had time for. My website? It was sadly neglected. After a couple of days, my husband gave up even trying to log on. I persisted but found that unless I logged on after midnight when everyone else was asleep, it was too painful to bother. The last few days at sea I was not successful at logging on at all. Even after midnight my mobile device would just time out. We paid over a $100 for 250 minutes but were only able to use about 215 minutes and not a bit of that was quality time. We were counting on having some internet access every day, so that was a big disappointment for us.
Passenger Laundry Rooms...
I'm including this info because I've had a few people say they were not aware that Princess Ships had Passenger Laundry Rooms. Those people must have been on cruises that were shorter than our 18 Days :-)
On the Coral Princess the laundry rooms are all located aft on the passenger decks. On Dolphin Deck 9 there are 5 washing machines and an equal number of dryers. The laundry room on Emerald Deck 8 is smaller with only 3 pairs of each.
The machines are coin operated and only accept American quarters. It's $2 per wash and the same to dry. It takes about 40 minutes for each. There was usually a demand for the machines, so I set the timer on my phone to let me know when the load was almost done.
Also in the laundry room are a couple of Irons (free, but on timers) and Ironing Boards, a large sink, TV monitor, Coin Operated Soap Dispenser and a Coin Changer machine. I brought Tide Pods with me. They worked very well. Just tossed them into the machine along with my dirty laundry. I didn't pay attention to the Soap Dispenser but would guess it took quarters as well.
If you forget to take US quarters with you, there is the Coin Changer machine but it only accepts $1 US bills and it cannot be relied upon. It was empty for the second half of our trip. Actually we found out the washers and dryers accept Princess Casino Tokens. We know this because we went to Customer Service and bought a roll of quarters. It was about half full of Tokens.
The 18 Day "Grand Adventure" Cruise is actually a 3 Day repositioning Coastal Cruise from Vancouver to Los Angeles, plus a 15 Day Panama Canal Cruise from LA to Ft. Lauderdale. In fact, the Princess Captains Circle reward program will give you credit for 2 separate cruises "upon request". In other words they don't do it automatically. You have to call them and ask for an extra credit.
With this itinerary, we had a total of 10 days At Sea. So I brought a few books. We were looking forward to just kicking back and relaxing on those days but most often, we got caught up in the events of the day. They had everything in the Princess Patter. My books went unread.
We thought the Cruise Directors Staff on the Coral did a great job in keeping everybody entertained. The ship never felt crowded and there were always quiet spots available if you felt like having some down time but most of the time, we just felt like getting involved and did not want to miss a minute of anything.
In the evening we enjoyed the Dance Productions in the Princess Theater. Our favourite show was The Bayou that was actually in the Universe Lounge. Our only complaint was that at 30 minutes the shows were too short. I think they were longer back when we cruised on the Diamond in 2009.
We also enjoyed most of the comedians, instrumentalists, comedic magician, ventriloquist and singers who performed. Our favourite performers were Icon, the Coral Princess Party Band. We loved listening to them and dancing to their music. We ended most evenings in the Explorers Lounge with Icon.
Los Angeles - we didn't bother booking any tours here. The tours weren't offered on princess.com until about two weeks before the trip and by then we had already decided there would be enough to do in the immediate vicinity of the Cruise Ship Terminal. We walked off the ship around 8:30am and walked the Promenade to the Port of Calls Market. It was too early, the shops weren't open yet. We then walked up to a Starbucks in San Pedro where they had free WiFi and I was able to check in with the kids and see what was happening on my blog. We had a delicious lunch at the San Pedro Brewing Company which is about a 15-20 minute walk from the Pier. We found out later there is a free (I think it is the Red Car?) Shuttle that does a loop from the pier. It goes right past the Pub but we were already on our way back to the ship on foot before we found out about it.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico - this is a Port without a big enough dock for the ship. You have to take a Tender Boat to shore. It wasn't too bad but tendering does draw out the process of getting ashore.
At the Marina after our excursion, the high pressure sales tactics we faced, where it was not enough to say 'no thanks' over and over, was a big turn-off. The tour operators and peddlers on the dock kept hounding us. There was a nice touristy gift shop there with a good selections of souvenirs. At least they left you alone to take your time and shop in there. If you're looking for free WiFi at Starbucks on the dock, they don't have it :(
We faced a long line of people waiting for Tender Boats to go back to the ship but there were no Tender Boats in sight. We found out afterwards this was due to another emergency evacuation of a sick passenger. After standing there in the heat getting frustrated because we didn't know what was going on, a Tender Boat from the ship arrived and a passenger on a stretcher was taken from it to a waiting Ambulance. How heartbreaking it was to see that and the husband following along with a crew member who was carting all of their luggage. Sad.
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua - another Tender Port. Thankfully the last one on this itinerary. We had a long tour booked for this day. Actually I think almost all the tours for this Port are long because there's not much to see and do in San Juan del Sur. It just looks like a small village.
We had to drive for an hour before we got to a larger sized town but the drive on a luxury bus was nice. We got to see a lot of the countryside and get a feel for the way people live there. It is a poor country with high unemployment and a very young population. Most of the people living in Nicaragua are under the age of 21 years.
After our excursion, we shopped at the little market set up at the Pier. I picked up some little handmade leather sandles for $6 US to give to our granddaughter. Wish we would have had more time for shopping there but as it was, we were on the second to last Tender Boat going back to the ship.
Puntarenas, Costa Rica - when we got to Costa Rica, we were pleased to see the tour buses lined up right on the pier next to the ship.
After our excursion, we got back to the ship with plenty of time before sail away. There was a line of venders in tent awnings that we could see from the pier so we decided to wander down there. Soon after, it started to rain and the venders began to pack up their things, so we didn't get a chance to shop or see much.
I loved Costa Rica. It's lush, tropical, modern and clean. The people we came into contact with there were very friendly and not at all greedy and pushy like we found in Cabo San Lucas. I could see myself returning for a vacation in Costa Rica.
Panama Canal, Panama - was not one of the Ports we stopped at but this was it. The highlight of our Cruise!
Someone on Cruise Critic had suggested going to different venues on board to see the locks from different perspectives and I'm so glad we did! After all, each of the locks look the same, and there is plenty of time to move about when the ship is between locks. It takes about 40 minutes to move the ship into position and close the gates behind it in the lock. The actual filling (or draining) of the water to lift (or lower) the ship only takes about 10 minutes. So why not get a look at the locks from all different angles?
Moving around makes for some great photography. We took about 500 pictures that day. We started out watching from our balcony which was perfect because we entered in the locks on the left. With a perfect view from our starboard balcony, we watched a big container ship in the lock parallel to us. We also had a good view of the mules (electric trains), line handlers in the row-boat and the observation decks with the people waving at us as our ship went through.
That reminds me, if you go through the Panama Canal and you have family at home who might be interested in seeing your ship transit the locks, they can watch live from home by going to https://www.pancanal.com/eng/index.html We had a few family members who watched as our ship went through.
Anyways, we didn't stay in one place for long, we moved around the ship. We got a great view from the aft deck of the gates closing behind us. The forward Deck on Lido was pretty crowded with people three deep behind the glass at the rail. The big screen at Theater Under The Stars was showing the view from the Bridge Camera.
One of the most interesting views we got was from inside a window at The Princess Patisserie down on Deck 5. We were down low, I think it was in the San Miguel lock, waiting for the Coral Princess to get lifted to the next level. The view outside the window from down on Deck 5 was of the concrete walls inside the lock. The wall was so close we could have touched it. The ship started to rise up and the concrete wall started to disappear below us. Slowly, the ship was lifted until we were above ground level and then we were even with the Electric Train. The driver was waving madly at us and then on up we went some more until we were looking down at him a couple of stories below us. That view, and connecting with family at home who we knew were at that moment watching us...those were my favourite moments of that day.
The Panama Canal did not disappoint. It lived up to all the hype. It was fascinating and exciting. A real marvel to go through those hundred year old locks.
Cartagena, Colombia - our time in Columbia was short. We arrived at 8am and departed at 2:00pm. It was very hot and humid on the day we were there. After our excursion, we went straight to our stateroom to shower and change. Then it was time for lunch where we indulged in a couple of much-needed cold refreshments.
Aruba - another short Port Day. We didn't arrive until 1:00pm and sail away was at 7:00pm. As soon as we saw Aruba with the white sandy beaches, light blue water, pretty Resorts and sweet little one story island homes, we thought how beautiful!
After our excursion, instead of returning to the ship, we wandered down the street from the pier where we found tons of shopping. Every second store was a Jewellery Store. We picked up some hats and t-shirts to take home and then found more souvenirs in the few shops that are inside the Cruise Ship Terminal. We both really liked Aruba and loved the happy islanders who had unusual accents and a wicked sense of humour. Would have loved to have had more time to spend on this little island.
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida - we had booked an excursion, so we were among the first to disembark from the ship. That part went quickly but going through Customs took at least an hour. It was frustrating because the line we were standing in was not moving. We saw the next two or three groups of people leaving the ship get directed to another line and watched them get processed and leave while we just stood there. We heard later there were problems because of the US Government shutdown. Because of the delays, some people even had to cancel their excursion tours at the last-minute and go directly to the airport.
They shortened our excursion a bit but we still got all of it in so I guess we were lucky. We spent the night and then flew out of Miami the next morning. The Tour Bus dropped us at the Miami Airport where we got picked up by the Shuttle for the Hampton Inn & Suites Miami-Airport South-Blue Lagoon where we were staying. The Hotel was just okay. At most, maybe a three star? Paper cups, no glassware, that sort of thing. Being located so close to the Airport, I worried about noise but it wasn't a problem.
We didn't know it at the time of booking but the Hotel is in an area they refer to as Little Havana. All of the Store Clerks in the shops we went into only spoke Spanish to us. Few seemed to understand English.
We couldn't see any decent restaurants nearby, so we ended up getting fast food from Wendy's and eating it in our room.
The Hotel's Shuttle to the Airport was good. It ran every half hour and only took about 5 minutes to get there.
Note: we only booked excursions offered by Princess. I know people do book private tours that could be quicker with more customised sites squeezed in for less money, or there are people who just grab a taxi to drive them around but we've heard stories about people getting stranded and barely or **gasp** not making it back to the ship on time. If you book excursions through the ship, they will wait for you, or otherwise help you if things go sideways. We liked having that assurance and viewed the probable higher cost as if it were insurance.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico - We booked tour number SJD-110 Scenic Drive, San José and Shopping Tour. We really enjoyed the visit to the Glass Blowing Factory and the views from the Sunset Point Restaurant but the rest of the tour was just kind of...meh. What they advertised as a stop at Cabo San Lucas Town Square, turned into a stop at Mia Casa Resaurant/Shop where we were given a teeny taste of tequila and then we were pressed by our Tour Guide to order lunch and a margarita. We didn't partake of either. They had some musicians playing who came around to our table and bluntly asked for tips and then gave us dirty looks after we gave them a couple of dollars. I guess we didn't tip big enough.
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua - We booked tour number SJ1-470 Mombacho Volcano 4WD and Hike, Vistas & Lunch. I worried about the 4WD because I had read reviews about a really, really steep mountain road. I envisioned hairpin cliff edge turns on a gravel road but there was none of that. The road was steep and the open bed trucks noisy as they shifted into lower gears but the road is cobble stone and really wasn't that bad at all. Each truck has bench seats in back with enough room for about 24 people. They went about halfway up and stopped for 15 minutes at a beautiful coffee plantation before heading up to the top of the dormant volcano.
They list this excursion as strenuous because of the hike. We wore running shoes but hiking boots might have been more appropriate. The trail you hike down is very steep and slippery because you're in a lush tropical rainforest (they call it a cloud forest). We had a few people fall and get minor injuries. I fell myself but it was on soft grass, so I didn't get hurt. I could see why the guides carried first aid kits with them. The views of other volcanos and Nicaragua Lake were beautiful. It was a clear day and we could see far into the distance. We also got up close to some vent holes in the volcanic mountain where we felt the steam from Mombacho. The hike back up the steep trail was much harder than the hike down. I decided I need to start hitting the gym more often.
It was back in the 4WD Jeeps for the drive back down the mountain where we boarded the bus for the drive to Granada, population 100,000.
As soon as we got off the bus in Granada, people, mostly children surrounded us. The children would thrust a flower woven from palm fronds in our hands and then beg for "one dollar". It was hard to refuse them but I had heard that giving them money upsets their social economic structure because the children start to believe there is no need to go to school when they can make more money than their parents by begging rich tourists for money. Jobs are scarce and wages are low in Nicaragua. We were told the average wage for a school teacher is equal to about $300 US per month.
From the bus we walked as a group surrounded by local kids and peddlers, about a block and a half to a restaurant where we had lunch. I wanted to step away to take some pictures but it was impossible.
At the restaurant, we had a delicious meal. They were able to accommodate my gluten free dietary restrictions. I expected to eat only the snack bars I packed along but I think we lucked out with a guide who was well-informed and who spoke very good English.
While we ate, we could see the children and peddlers waiting for us outside the Restaurant's open double doors. We had to walk through them and listen to the clamour as we made our way back to the bus which was thankfully parked closer this time.
On the drive back to San Juan del Sur, the driver stopped so we could take pictures of Omentapie, an active volcano in Nicaragua Lake. There were skinny cows tethered on the side of the road. This was actually a pretty common sight in Nicaragua. Sometimes there were pigs and horses too. One of the cows broke its tether and walked in front of the bus. We had to wait for it to pass before we could drive on.
Puntarenas, Costa Rica - We booked Tour number PA4-210 Coffee Plantation, Sarchi & Country Drive. The drive to the coffee plantation was beautiful. Costa Rica is lush and green with steep rolling hills. They have lots of volcanos just like they do in Nicaragua but Costa Rica is obviously in a better economic state and their lands are beautifully developed.
Our first stop was at a Coffee Plantation. It was very pretty and reminded me of the vineyards in the Okanagan Valley where I grew up. We learned about their local farming practices, they're very eco conscious and use every part of the coffee plant as well as the beans. At this particular plantation they hand-pick the red beans before husking, drying and roasting them. It was a very enjoyable tour and we had a few minutes at the end to shop in their gift shop. We ended up with a couple of pounds of coffee to bring home.
Next we drove to Sarchi, home of the world's biggest Ox Cart. The bus pulled around so we could take pictures and then it was on to the furniture store where they build and paint the beautifully decorated carts. The old work shed is water powered and still in use. One of the workers there gave us a brief tour and then invited us to enjoy some fresh fruit they had fixed for us. There was also a restaurant upstairs for anyone who wanted to get some lunch but the fruit was enough for me and my husband.
The drive back to Puntarenas and the ship, took about an hour. It rained for most of the drive. It was a good time for a siesta.
Cartagena, Colombia - We were on Tour number CTG-380 Old City Walking Tour & Los Bóvedas. The only part of this tour that we enjoyed was the Walking Tour in the Old City. It was very hot and humid. I advise you to bring water. On the Tour, they gave us a small bottle (about 250 ml) of water but it was not enough. For the most part, Cartagena's over zealous peddlers left our tour group alone while we were in the Old City. There were several people dressed as statues who would pose for pictures and we tipped some young men who did some amazing break dance moves on the street. I loved the old rustic buildings covered with greenery and hanging baskets. I could have spent days in the Old City taking pictures of all the old architecture and street life. Beautiful.
We had a Photostop at the San Felipe Fortress but the aggressiveness of the peddlers was unbearable. You could not pause to take a picture of the Fort without them thrusting their wares into your hands and saying it was "almost free". After 10 minutes of it, I got disgusted and headed back to the bus. One of the peddlers followed me and continued to shout and tap his wares on my window until we drove away.
Our next stop was at Las Bóvedas (the vaults) for shopping. Once again we faced some very aggressive peddlers. We ducked into one of the shops to get away but found the clerks inside were almost as persistent as the guys outside. Inside seemed the lessor of two evils, so we wandered through a couple of shops but didn't buy anything. The persistent shoving of items in your face is a big turn off.
Aruba - The Tour we chose was number AUA-230 California Lighthouse, Ostrich Attraction and Shopping. Our Tour Guide/Bus Driver Eric Brown was the most entertaining of all the guides in the various ports. I expected him to have a pronounced Caribbean accent but it was more of a Caribbean/Dutch/Spanish accent. He had a great sense of humour and a wicked laugh. We thoroughly enjoyed this tour and he was a good part of the reason that we did.
Our first stop was at the Casibari Rock Formations where you could climb a set of really steep stone stairs to a lookout of the island. Aruba is very desert like with lots of cactus. It's not all palm trees like some caribbean islands. In fact half of Aruba is inhabitable because of strong trade winds and dry conditions. Also, there isn't much for soil. It's mostly rock and coral that rose up from the ocean. The only grass we saw there was on the golf course.
We went to the Ostrich farm which was interesting and entertaining. Big awkward birds who have the funniest expressions. I got to feed some younger Ostrich. It was surprising to find their necks are all warm and fuzzy like a puppy dog's.
We visited the site of the Natural Bridge. It collapsed about a half dozen years ago but the smaller one they call the Baby Bridge is still there. The Baby Bridge has cracks in it and is expected to collapse also. They warn people to stay off but some people ignore the warnings. Loved seeing this side of the island with the waves crashing against the rocks and the barren landscape. Such a contrast to the pretty Resorts and white sandy beaches on the other side.
California Lighthouse was our last stop. It is basically just another view-point. The lighthouse is not open. There is a fancy restaurant up there and a few venders selling refreshments. I caught a glimpse of some of the wild goats foraging in the shrubbery.
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida - On the advice of our Travel Agent we stayed on in Florida and booked Tour number FLL-640 Everglades Airboat Ride and Eco Adventure. We were really glad that we did. It was a little rushed because it took so long to clear Customs after disembarkation but the tour was still worthwhile.
The air-boats are loud. Like small airplanes I guess. We skimmed through the Everglades waterways and wondered that the guides don't get lost. Saw a couple of alligators in the wild and then watched "The Gator Boys" demo with some rescued alligators. For a $5 donation my husband got to hold a baby alligator while I took pictures.
After the tour they dropped us off at the Miami Airport where we waited for a shuttle to take us to our Hotel.
Tipping is such a personal thing it's hard for me to make recommendations on it. Do be ready with smaller bills if you are going ashore. We went to the Customer Service Desk the day before a Port Day to get change. Don't wait until the day of because they do run out of the small stuff. They have to close the Casino when the ship is in port, so that won't be an option for getting change.
If you are in a Mini-Suite on a Princess ship, they debit your account $12 US per person, per day to cover tips for The Crew. We always gave the room service guy a dollar or two and on the last day we gave cash tips (they leave out envelopes at Customer Service) to the Crew Members who we thought went above and beyond the ordinary. For me with my special diet, that was the guys at the Pizzeria, the Wait Staff and the Head Waiter in the Provence Dining Room. We also left a bit extra for our Room Steward.
That's it. I hope you were able to find something of value in this review.
In conclusion, I must say, my husband and I had an awesome carefree (and for me gluten free) vacation on the Coral Princess!