11/26/2013 through 12/07/2013
The views and opinions expressed in this review are mine and may conflict with others thoughts. That is what makes everyone unique. I have found these boards so very helpful in the past, and wanted to share my experience. I found little information on this cruise as I did my research that spoke to anything other than the canal. To me his trip was more than the canal and thus my review will hopefully provide a more comprehensive view on this cruise for newer cruisers such as myself.
My DH and I sailed on the Coral Princess roundtrip Panama Canal partial transit from November 26, 2013 through December 7, 2013. We are in our late 30's and this was our 3rd cruise (on the Ruby Princess in January of 2013 and Celebrity Solstice in 2012). Previously we have done 5 all-inclusive resort vacations at Sandals. We booked Balcony Class B2, room #C603 (Caribe Deck - 10). This floor’s balcony cabins are larger than regular balcony cabins and are ½ covered and ½ exposed.
I am a vegetarian when I travel (macrobiotic vegan at home) and I contacted Princess prior to departure. I was told via email that they would be able to accommodate my food request and to contact the Maître D once on ship. To get this out of the way, food was not very vegetarian on this cruise. Every main course contained egg. Why someone classifies chicken eggs as not animal is beyond me. Did I eat it, yes, because I didn’t want to cause a fuss.
Before the trip, I read the recommended book The Path Between the Seas. I normally read a fiction book a week and have a difficult time reading non-fiction. This was no different. It took me 2 months to read the book cover to cover. I am glad I did because I certainly did not know any of the history on the canal. There was a 10 page section toward the end that would have sufficed. My DH read that part and felt well informed. However, there were several lectures and movies that would have provide a similar background. In fact the movie by NOVA, A Man, A Plan, A Canal, was almost a word for word read of the book.
Travel and Embarkation
We had a direct flight from Detroit to Fort Lauderdale on the day of embarkation. Our flight put us in around 1:00. We got to the terminal and upon exit from the curb a representative from Princess took our bags. This next part made my DH very happy. There was no wait for security or check-in and we waked right on board. We were able to immediately head to our room and drop our bag before heading for lunch.
The balcony was very nice in that it was very large. It had 2 recliners and a table. On the way down, the balcony was always shaded which is good for us. The way back, the sun was intense, so we did not sit out there during the morning or afternoon. We used the balcony a ton, which is why I wanted the larger space. The room itself was small but very functional. In comparison to Celebrity Solstice, the bathroom was lacking in space and décor. I much preferred the Solstice’s shower including glass door to the Coral and Ruby’s small shower and curtain. They have added a dispenser for shampoo/conditioner and shower gel; one more obstacle to avoid in an already crowded area. The closet space was much better than the Solstice. The amount of hanging and shelf space was significantly more. The bed was horrible; we clearly must have had a mattress topper on the Ruby. You could clearly feel that it was two beds and I have bruises on my sides from sleeping. We could have asked for a topper, but it was not a huge deal. The décor inside the room and the ship was not my style. I found it to appear dated just like the Ruby. I much preferred the décor on Solstice, but certainly this did not impact my vacation in any way.
One tip I read on this board that always pays off is with respect to the carpet color difference on the port vs. starboard side. The port side had red in the side runners, vs. the starboard side which is pink. Sometimes you walk off the staircase and get turned around, but that always help steer you in the right direction.
Highly subjective topic. We ate well and were satisfied. We ate in the main dining room for breakfast for the first three sea days. For Aruba and Cartagena we ordered room service. All other breakfasts we ate at the buffet. We ate Muesli with Soy Milk. For room service we wrote in Soy Mile and got it without exception. Also we asked for room service between 6:30 and 7:00. We got it at 6:30 each time. We tipped nicely for this extra service.
For lunch, we ate in the main dining room every sea day. We each ate the vegetarian burger which was tasty. We ate at the grill on a few days and ate the same vegetarian burger. Many of our excursions included lunch also.
For dinner, we had anytime dinning and elected to eat at 5:30 almost every night. The weird thing was they seemed to be open earlier than the flyer suggested so we would go a few minutes early. One night we got back late from an excursion and ate more like 6:00 and still did not have to wait for a table for two. My DH ordered fish most nights and was pleased. I ordered the vegetarian main course on all but one occasion. One night they did not have a vegetarian main course (only the pasta) and I could not eat that option. The head waiter accommodated my request to just provide the sample of all the vegetable sides from the other main courses. If you have a special diet, they are supposed to provide you the menu from the night before and take your order. I did this for night 2, but after that I would ask to see the menu and explain the process, but it became too confusing to explain to the wait staff so I just stopped.
Overall the food was good. I would suggest the Solstice was much better in terms of options, quality of food science and overall taste. That is not to say I went hungry or did not like what I ate, I certainly did enjoy it.
We previously purchased the unlimited soda and more package when we traveled on the Ruby, which was a great value for us. This time around we did not think it would be a good value as we did not anticipate our consumption of beverage would be 3 or more per day. However when we got to our room, we found that our travel agent purchased this for us as a gift! So very nice and unexpected! We did use it every day, but would not have been cost effective this round. The package was convenient since we did not need to sign anything. We tried the mocktails and really enjoyed the Chocobanana.
Highly subjective topic. There were a few guest appearances (two comedians, a magician/illusionist and a hypnotist) and the house entertainers. The dancers were excellent. The house orchestra was ok. After the first show, we did not return to see any of the production shows because of the singers. The first comedian was funny but the crowd was not into him. The second comedian was not a comedian, but rather a singer and ventriloquist. I really enjoyed hm. We did not do the hypnotist.
This is why we sail Princess. My DH really enjoys MUTS. We watched Oblivion, Man of Steel, Star Trek into Darkness, and Wolverine. Another highlight was watching the Lions beat Green Bay on Thanksgiving!!!!!!! We also watched The Heat in the Princess Theater and a few in room movies.
I would say this ship had overall the most friendly crew members. Everyone we encountered was friendly, helpful, talkative, etc.
We played basketball, played put-put, worked out, watched a few lecturers, watched an in room movie, etc. Pretty much hung out and relaxed. They were great, but I would not want more than we had in a row. Otherwise I am afraid that my DH would get bored.
Ok so funny story. On the first full sea day, we were hugging the coast of Cuba. My DH always jokes that we are going to get bombed by them. We were in the room when I looked out and saw two super small boats racing towards us. Did you see Captain Phillips? Well we both grabbed our binoculars to check for machine guns. Nope nothing, whew! It was crazy, there was a larger fishing boat and then these two boats. Not sure why they were racing toward us, but it was a non-issue, but a good chuckle for us.
I booked an independent excursion through Jolly Pirates. For $51.00 each, we stopped at 3 snorkel locations, had lunch and got to rope swing off the boat. To get to the location we took the public bus which was $2.30 per person each way. No problems with the transportation. The first snorkel stop was at the Antilla shipwreck; a WWII ship. This was very cool to do. I have read reviews that suggest this stop is for experienced swimmers/snorkels due to the current and waves. I would not characterize myself as a strong swimmer. I had no problems at this spot and in fact really enjoyed this stop. The other two stops were in more shallow water or closer to shore. I had my fill after the first stop as I get headaches from the water easy. My DH snorkeled at the third stop. Lunch was BBQ chicken, ribs and rice and beans. I had preordered a vegetarian meal and they confirmed this via email before we left for vacation and again at check-in. However, there was no meal on the boat. They gave me beans and rice which was fine. Another highlight of this excursion was the rope swing. My DH with his 3rd degree separated shoulder got in line and did a flip into the water. Crazy man! At least he had fun. The ships near us all stopped to watch us; you could tell they were jealous! The way back they played music and everyone seemed to be having a great time. I would highly recommend this excursion to everyone. We would do this again if we returned to Aruba.
I again booked an independent excursion through Segway Tours Colombia SAS. We did a Segway excursion in Puerto Rico before and loved it, so we wanted to do another one in a historic city. For $65.00 each, we booked the 90 minute historic tour. We also arranged for taxi transportation with this company for $15.00 each way. There was one other couple on the excursion with us. We stayed in the walled city and stopped at major churches, public squares and other relevant places. It was warm that day and there was no wind. At each stop, César, our guide, would direct us to a shaded location and provide informational narrative on the location. He was awesome and so was the excursion. We traveled down the streets and got to see some magnificent balconies with flowers. We would do this excursion again in a heat beat.
At the end of the tour, the cab driver arrived to take us back, but for $20.00 each person, he would take us wherever we wanted to go before arriving back at the ship. The couple we were with wanted to shop for an emerald, so we agreed to go to various sites for the extra money. We stopped at a shopping center that the cruise ship stops at, and an emerald museum. Of interest to us, we stopped at the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. For $20.00 each we could have gone into the fort, but we just wanted to get photos. The last stop was at the La Popa Monastery. This is a top a large hill and gives some great photo opportunities of the city below. There was a $5.00 per person admittance charge, but again we were only looking for picture opportunities so we did not go in. After this we headed back to the ship. The taxi driver is the regular driver that César uses for his Segway business and is very polite and honest. Please note, the vendors in Cartagena are aggressive. If you are not interested, just tell them and they will leave you alone. If you act interested, they will continue to follow you trying to sell their wares. We had no problem, but saw others struggle with this concept.
Panama Canal and Colon
So the canal itself is interesting, but not the main reason why I wanted to do this cruise. I liked the various ports including this one. I have no idea how long it took to do the three steps of the locks, maybe 1 hour? It was raining hard as we approached the locks, but by the time we were in them, the rain was light and then stopped. There was a very pretty double rainbow. Ok so here was the first confusing thing about the ship. I read on this board that we could get to the bow of the boat from deck 10 and 11. However, when you try to get there, there are signs which clearly state for emergency only. As a result, my DH told me I was wrong. But I knew that this board would not lead me astray. So on the day of, I asked DH if we could just try. He agreed and as we got close to the door I asked a cabin steward if we could use the door and he said of course. So in we went. Yeah!!!! Thanks board! View was great from here because the upper decks are blocked by glass. We stayed here, then went to the 8th floor aft to see the gates close, to our room on the starboard side to see the landscape, to the 7th floor port side to see how close we were to the sides and back to the 10th floor bow.
We booked PC1610A Monkey & Wildlife Nature Cruise on Gatun Lake. This excursion boarded the tender 50 minutes after clearing the locks. I think this was my all-time favorite excursion. We drove a bit to get to our location with commentary from the guide as we went. Once there we boarded our boats in the Chagres River, went through the cut and into Gatun Lake. The guides pointed out various birds and reptiles. We stopped at a few islands in the lake and called the moneys! They threw peanuts or banana’s on the bow of the boat and the monkey’s came. First we got to see a family of 3 Capuchin monkeys. They jumped on the front and side of the boat, ate, jumped in the trees, etc. It was the highlight of my life! I so love primates and have never seen wild monkeys. Next, we spotted a group of Howler monkeys high in the tree tops. They are a lethargic group, so there was no interaction with them, nor did we get to hear them. The last set of monkeys we encountered were Geoffroy's Tamarin. I have never seen them before. Super cute, fast and less social than the Capuchin. This excursion included a snack, which consisted of a box lunch of a turkey sandwich, mango slices and a banana muffin. More than we expected.
Limon, Costa Rica
We booked LIO105A Rainforest Aerial Tram, Tortuguero Canals & Lunch. Wow is there a reason to book through Princess. This was a 10 hour excursion. The first part of the trip took us to a river boat where we saw various birds and a sloth real close up. It was lovely! Then we got back into the bus to go to the rainforest where they provided us with a snack of various fruits. Now it was a nice bus, but we got delayed due to the government deciding that it was time to trim trees. We were stuck on the road for an hour. We thought we would not make it to the rainforest or have lunch. We were able to do both. The rainforest was beautiful and the air quality was unbelievable. We did not see any monkeys, but we did see the largest wasp known to man. Good lord! We also saw butterflies and wonderful varieties of plants and trees. The lunch was served buffet style and consisted of fruits, rice, beans, chicken, pasta and a dessert dish of plantains. Overall super yummy! In total we were on the bus for 5 hours. We got back to the ship and they drove us straight to the gangway because it was 15 minutes past the time we were set to sail. Oops!
We booked GCM450A Scenic Bike Ride, Turtle Farm, Hell & Snorkel. The tour suggests that it is strenuous as it is a 7 mile bike ride. I am not sure we actually biked a full 7 miles, but I could be wrong. This was a great tour, but a word of warning, you are biking. If you are not used to biking 7 miles, this is probably not the excursion for you. It was a slow pace and at the end there were several folks who looked like it was way too much for them. The tour took us to the turtle farm (not a big fan of what I saw here), rum place, Hell and back to the shop. We don’t drink so the rum place was of no interest. Hell was boring as…well you get the point. Then we boarded the bus and went to the Tiki Bar for a snorkel break off the shore. It was a good snorkel; saw three lobsters and many various fish.
We were delayed getting off by about 30 minutes. Not sure why, but I would rather hang on the boat for extra time than hang in the airport. There was an announcement that I didn’t hear well, but I heard something about CDC. I won’t bore you with our flight back, but we landed in wind chill of 7. Not fun!
Overall, we had a wonderful time. I loved the balcony and chairs. The excursions were amazing! We have another cruise planned for April on Princess. Spending 11 straight days with my DH is priceless and I can’t imagine having a bad time on vacation ever.
I would like to thank everyone for answering my questions along the way and more importantly having the ability to read your questions and responses so I was well prepared.