My wife and I (60'ish) just returned from the Coral Princess 11 night partial Panama Canal cruise. We flew out of Michigan a day early to avoid an approaching ice storm that would have delayed us many hours, which put us in a bind for a room in Ft. Lauderdale. We ended up getting a great room at the Westin Diplomat on my Starwood Preferred Guest points which saved the day. We had a confirmed room for the next night at the Sheraton Airport Hotel which is very near the cruise port. You'll read some negative reviews of this Sheraton, but we found it to be super clean, and the staff could't have been more friendly and cooperative. The Hotel Shuttle took us to a nearby mall where there were a number of dining options in the evening and then took us to the port the next morning. It's not a resort hotel, it's a business hotel, so don't expect luxury, but don't be afraid of it. Cab rides in the area are costly.
The Coral Princess is an older ship, but is in good repair and very clean. We had a balcony stateroom on Deck 10. Not real roomy, but adequet. The only down side is the tiny shower. I'll be sporting bruised elbows for weeks after banging into the soap dispensers and grab bar for 11 days. Our cruise was sold out, so there were a lot of people around. It wasn't really a problem, but finding a quiet spot to sit and read on sea days was tough. Fortunately we had some great balcony days. The bars and shows were very crowded at peak times. We were never unable to get served and generally found a spot to sit in most venues, but it was tight.
As on other cruises, this one was short on activities of interest to men. I don't get seaweed wraps and steam massages. My wife loves them, but I got a lot of reading done. The average age of passengers on this cruise appeared to be well north of 60 years old, with many approaching their 80's. I don't think we saw any children or younger teenagers, and the youngest couples appeared to be in their mid-30's.
The service level on the Coral Princess was excellent to great. We didn't encounter a single grouch. We were lucky enough to get a great cabin steward who seemed to anticipate our needs. She was invisible unless we needed her, and then she almost magically appeared and handled things. Bartenders were friendly, the front desk service people were efficient, helpful and very friendly.
On this cruise we took one excursion with a group from our Cruise Critic roll call and three ship tours. Like we've experienced in the past, ship tours are too costly, too big, and too packaged for our liking. Our roll call group didn't do as much this cruise and we just didn't have time to do the research and start some of our own. We skipped any tours in Aruba because we had recently been there and had rented a car and pretty well seen everyting of interest. Our favorite port was Cartagena, where we wished we had much more time, and our least favorite was Ocho Rios. If we ever land in Jamaica again on a cruise, we'll probably just stay on the ship.
For this cruise, we chose early fixed dining and ended up getting seated with some great folks. It's always a crap-shoot, but we got very lucky this time out. We just don't do "formal" nights any more. We used to go all out and do the tux/gown thing, but we're way over that. I wore a black suit with no tie and my wife wore dressy pants-suits. We didn't feel out of place at all. The number of tuxedo's on this cruise was quite small.
You'll get mixed reviews on the dining. I don't think that the Coral Princess dining is up there with previous Princess cruises. I thought the entree selections were less than great. We did have a lobster night that was outstanding, and there was plenty to eat. We did all of our breakfasts and most lunches in the Horizon's buffet. Again, not great, but the variety up there was good and the food plentiful. The pizza by the pool is great, the burgers and hot dogs, not so great... We didn't go to any of the specialty restaurants this time because we enjoyed the company of our dining companions so much. Our server was friendly, but a bit overworked. He always seemed rushed and clearly had to many tables and too little help. On other Princess cruises in the past, I seem to recall the waiters having multiple assistants. Not here. And no bar service outside your table waiter. Princess left a LOT of money that we would have spent on drinks in our pockets because we just couldn't get drink service. The food was ok, it just wasn't great or even really, really good.
The entertainment we were able to see was fair to good. They have an absolutely horrible Mowtown tribute production show that must have been choreographed in about 1990, and the other ships-cast production shows weren't much better. There are some very talented kids in the cast, they just are wasted with the dreck they have to perform. The other acts (comic, mentalist, etc.) were ok to very good. And I should mention that the piano player and string group who performed nightly in the central area was outstanding.
We chose the self-exit option and carried our own luggage off the ship and grabbed a cab rather than wait for the ship's transfers. We did it for a couple reasons. One, we didn't have to put our luggage out early the night before and secondly, we wanted to beat the crowd to the airport in case there were weather delays. We walked off the ship at about 7:10 am, blew through customs with virtually no wait and were on our way. The cab ride to the airport was about $20 with tip. We did the right thing, because we no sooner arrived at the airport than we learned that our plane was held up elsewhere for a maintenance issue and we would be departing at least a couple hours late. As it worked out, we were able to grab the last two seats on a two-hour earlier flight and make our connection in Detroit. And our luggage made it with us the whole way as well.
The things I liked about this cruise were the cleanliness of the ship, the friendly crew and the great bunch of folks we met through Cruise Critic Roll Call and our dining partners. We also liked having four sea days. We didn't have any huge negative issues. We'll likely do Princess again, but we'll go for the larger ships.