My wife and I just returned home from the partial transit Panama Canal cruise on the Coral Princess. We had a wonderful time and so enjoyed fourteen days away from the cold winter weather of Indiana. We have only cruised four times, and all four have been on Princess. We have done an Alaskan cruise-tour in 2010 on the Diamond Princess, an Eastern Caribbean in 2012 on the Ruby, and an Alaskan cruise-tour in 2013 on the Sapphire. We have enjoyed our time with Princess and have no means of comparing our experiences with any other cruise line. The demographics of this cruise was mainly an older crowd with very few children; we fit in well with this group of people.
PRE-CRUISE TRAVEL: On each of our prior cruises we have arrived in the port city the day prior to boarding the ship. We don't want to risk any last minute delays that preclude our boarding on time. There had been so much bad winter weather in our home area with large traffic accidents closing down the interstates, that we drove to Indianapolis the day before we were to fly to Ft. Lauderdale. It was snowing when we left home, but by the time we arrived at our hotel near the airport, the snow had stopped. The next morning, Sunday, we flew to Ft. Lauderdale, arriving around 3:30 in the afternoon. A Princess representative met us in the baggage claim area and provided the transportation to the Embassy Suites on 17th Street. We spent the night at the hotel, and then on Monday morning we and our luggage were taken to the ship by Princess arranged transportation. We had purchased the pre-cruise hotel and transportation package from Princess on our prior Caribbean cruise and did the same thing for this one. We have had experience with the Embassy Suites in Indy and felt the one in Ft. Lauderdale met our needs.
EMBARKATION: The Ruby Princess also had a ship in port that was embarking passengers at the same time the Coral was doing so. Princess had arranged the motor coach transportation from the Embassy Suites so that passengers from both ships were taken to their correct ship. The Ruby was at terminal 2; the Coral was at terminal 21. We found that embarkation went smoothly; the line was relatively short; we cleared security, collected our room cards, and were in our stateroom in a timely manner; embarkation was much quicker than when we went on the Ruby in 2012 due to the difference in the number of passengers.
HEALTH CONCERNS: Since there had been an outbreak of the norovirus on a couple of other ships a couple weeks before our cruise, we went prepared with Clorox wipes to wipe down the room and with hand sanitizer, immodium, and Zofran in case we needed it. The first thing our room steward gave us was a handout about the importance of frequent handwashing with soap and water, minimizing the use of public restrooms, and other preventative means. There was hand sanitizer required at the entrance to the Horizon Court buffet. We did not experience any signs of noro, nor did we hear of any passengers having symptoms of noro. My wife did take Bonine every day to prevent any motion sickness; this cruise was relatively calm, so I only took the Bonine a couple times.
CABIN: Due to a desire to minimize motion we have always had a balcony cabin near the center of the ship on the Caribe deck. We had C515 this time which was just a short walk from the center elevators. The layout was similar to the ones in the Diamond, Sapphire, and Ruby but the balcony was a little smaller. We had the twin beds together as a queen. There is a small refrigerator, a flat panel TV, a desk, a desk chair, an arm chair, and two nights stands. The closet is quite large with a large number of hangars adequate for all of our hanging clothes. The bathroom is quite small; the small shower is even smaller than the ones on the other three Princess ships that we have been on. The room and balcony was adequate for our needs. Our only desire is to have more comfortable sitting arrangements in the room. We have to consider a mini-suite in the future.
SHIP: The ship was in good condition. It was clean and well maintained even if some of the carpeting was a little worn. The layout was a little different than the larger ships, but it took very little time to find our way around.
SERVICE: Our room steward was excellent. He was attentive to our schedule; he was personable and always greeted us by name (Mr. & Mrs. .......); he kept the cabin clean, the bed made, and the bathroom stocked with clean towels each day. The bathroom had a dispenser in the shower with shampoo/conditioner and liquid shower soap. We brought our own shampoo/conditioner and soap for bathing which was a correct decision because we did not like what was provided. We had no complaints with our interactions with any of the staff on the ship. The service did not disappoint us.
DINING: The Coral has two dining rooms, both with the same exact menu. The Provence dining room is for traditional sitting and the Bordeaux is for anytime dining. We have always chosen anytime dining so we can interact with more people instead of being assigned to the same group each meal. We are willing to share a table and usually end up at a table for eight or ten. Invariably we meet couples that we really get along well with and end up sharing tables with them and others most evenings. We eat dinner early, at 5:15 on this cruise so we have adequate time to get to the theater for the evenings entertainment. We ate all evening meals in the dining room. We always found the food to be good to excellent. If it is better than what we routinely prepare at room, we are satisfied. We had no complaints about the food or the service. We usually were seated at the same table each evening, and our waiter and his assistant provided very good service. There were two formal nights. I took my tuxedo for them; most men wore coat and tie.
The only night we requested a table for two was on Valentine's Day since that was our 44th wedding anniversary.
We did not eat at the specialty restaurants, the Bayou Cafe and Sabatini's. We ate breakfast the first few mornings in the dining room, and the rest of the time in the Horizon Court. We thought the breakfast selections to be much more varied in the Horizon Court and were good. Fresh fruit was always available. Service was adequate. Juice and coffee was always served almost as soon as we were seated. Our dining room waiter was also the server in the area of the Horizon Court where we chose to sit; we became well acquainted with him.
We ate a few lunches in the dining room; we also had lunch at the grill (cheeseburgers), the International Cafe, and the pizzeria. Two different days the ship served a Pub lunch which we also enjoyed. And I would be remiss if I did not mention the soft serve ice cream cones.
ENTERTAINMENT: We enjoyed all the production shows of the Princess singers and dancers. The shows were not quite Broadway quality but were well done and entertaining. The comedian was very funny without being vulgar or raunchy, the mentalist and the illusionist were very good and entertaining, the World Champion pianist was excellent. These were performances mainly in the Princess Theater or the Universe Lounge. You had to arrive well in advance of the early performances to get a seat. The balcony of the Universe Lounge does not provide good viewing for performances.
ACTIVITIES: There are a multitude of opportunities for games, lectures, gambling (donations as the cruise director called them), line dancing and ballroom lessons, and movies. The Crooner's Lounge had a really good pianist/vocalist in the evenings. Phoenix Rising played music for listening and dancing in the Wheelhouse Lounge. We danced some
EXCURSIONS: We took excursions at Cartagena, Limon, and Grand Cayman. They were informative. The highlight for us was the transit through the Panama Canal. Well worth getting up early to view from the bow.
DISEMBARKATION: The disembarkation routine was very familiar to us. The only negative for us was the process was slowed by a shortage of Customs Agents. Other than that we met with our group, were led off the ship at our appointed time, found our luggage, went through customs, boarded the motor coach and were at the airport well before our flight time.
SUMMARY: A great trip, highlighted by the Panama Canal transit and by our experiences on the ship and by enjoying warm weather for a few days in the midst of a miserable winter in Indiana.