A little bit of background info. Myself (Andrew) and my partner (Brad) have cruised once before with Princess last year on the Caribbean Princess. We are in our mid 20's and have traveled extensively throughout the US, Mexico, Canada and Europe. We both work in the service industry (myself in customer relations and Brad in restaurant management & events planning) so service is important to us. While neither one of us are critical or arrogant, we do expect a certain "effort" out of people but no more then we would expect out of ourselves. This covers a broad spectrum of areas.
Pre Cruise: Just like last year, we dropped our doggie off at the Pet Hotel and headed to Fort Lauderdale the night before to stay at the Hyatt Pier 66 again. This time, however, was a completely different experience (read my CB review to see what I mean). We called ahead of time to the hotel and got a really nice girl who looked up our previous reservation and found our room number from our last More
room which offered a great view. She said that particular room was booked but she would hold a different room with the exact same view on another floor. Once we arrived around 2pm (2 hours before the listed check in time) we were given a key to our room right away and it was EXACTLY WHAT WE HAD THE LAST TIME making the start of our vacation off to a great one. There was no switching rooms 2 million times like the last trip. The view was fantastic and so was the weather. We put our stuff down and sat on the balcony for a half hour just watching the ships in port (Ruby Princess, Celebrity Solstice & Carnival Miracle) then changed and headed down to the pool. That night we watched the Carnival ship leave port and ordered very expensive (overpriced) room service while enjoying the balcony views and Fort Lauderdale breezes.
Day 1 - Embarkation: We awoke to see RCI Enchantment OTS and the Island Princess in port. After enjoying coffee and breakfast on the balcony and reading the paper we headed over to Park n Fly to drop the car off. Everything went off without a hitch and the shuttle had us at Pier 21 right about 11:15. Unlike our last embarkation "experience" there was ZERO line and we went from being outside with the Porters to in our cabin in under 15 minutes. Yes, 15 minutes. We were in our cabins unloading our carry on by 11:30. This was a wonderful surprise compared to our last cruise. We had cabin E736 which was all the way aft. And while the IP doesn't have any true aft cabins this was as close as it comes with a semi wrap-around balcony to enjoy a partial wake view. It was also a much bigger balcony and was the only aft cabin that is covered (along with E737 on the starboard side). We then met Norman, our fantastic and amazing cabin steward. He knew our names after the 1st day and always made sure we had extra ice and even brought us clean wine glasses unlike our last cabin steward who told us she can't provide any and we would have to call room service and clean them ourselves. At 3pm we had our CC meet & greet at Crooners and about 25 people showed up which I'm told is a lot. We met many wonderful people and it was really nice seeing some familiar faces throughout the rest of the cruise. The rest of the day was spent exploring the ship I have to mention that our Captain was Roger Bilton and he was an absolutely class act. During our muster drill he made a wonderful speech over the PA system about being courteous to other passengers by being quite in the halls and keeping TV volumes down and not flushing down "objects" in the toilet. I found this to be a wonderful and classy touch and felt an honest concern for all passengers on board.. After the sun had set and we were on our journey, Brad and I changed into our swimsuits and headed to the Lotus Spa Pool to enjoy the hot tub all to ourselves. Around 8pm we decided we wanted dinner. I thought they had the seafood buffet on the IP but I was wrong. I guess that only consists on ships with the Cafe Caribe. So we showered and changed and headed to the anytime dinning room which had about a 15 minute wait. I found this a bit odd since it was so late but didn't mind waiting. We sat in the middle part of the Bordeaux Dining Room right under an air vent which made it a freezing experience. "Luckily" our service was extremely rushed so we were out of there in under an hour. We decided we were not going to ask to be seated with that team again. We headed back to our cabin and enjoyed cocktails and the wake from our balcony and went to sleep shortly after midnight. I'd like to add that we had a new mattress (I checked) and had an egg crate and while it was firm we slept better this trip then we did the last cruise. Movement was also considerably less in this cabin as opposed to our last cabin on the Lido Deck.
Day 2 - Sea Day: We awoke to cloudy skies. The Hurricane (Paloma?) was headed towards Cuba and we were sailing along the coast of Cuba so it was mostly a miserable day. We spent the day exploring the ship and people watching. During the middle of the day I noticed that we had stopped moving. The Captain came on and announced that a generator had gone out but all would be fixed and fine. And it was. However being at a dead stop in the middle of the Caribbean Sea is quite an interesting experience. One observation was that I found this ship to be difficult to navigate unlike the CB. I always had trouble finding my way around and I felt a huge design flaw was that in order to get to the atrium from our cabin you either had to walk forward and cross through the card room or library or go up or down a flight in order to avoid those 2 rooms. I still can't figure out why it was designed in such a bizarre way. Also because were were so far aft it was a LONG walk to the buffet. I researched the deck plans and knew this was going to be the case but it was a whole other situation actually walking there twice a day (sometimes more). At least I burned off all the calories walking to and from. Tonight was a formal night so we dusted off the suits and headed to the Captains Welcome Party. We didn't like anything on the tray so we went to the coffee bar and ordered some Scotch expecting to pay and the bartender (who we saw every morning for coffee) told us it was on the Captain. Again, another very elegant and classy gesture. The Captain then gave a great speech about the weather and how we were avoiding the hurricane. We also noticed just how beautiful the atrium is on this ship. It really is a site not to be missed at night when all the multi colored light are lit up all over giving it a romantic appeal. The water feature under the stairs is a beautiful touch also. We then headed for the Bordeaux dining room. This time there was no wait and we were seated with a new team, Waiter Dennis from the Philippines and Assistant Waiter Jennifer from Peru that worked together very well. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and then headed to the show for the evening, "Piano man." We saw this on our last cruise and enjoyed it even more on this cruise. It is a tribute to Billy Joel, Elton John, Neil Sedaka, Barry Manilow and Liberace. Overall we felt the singing and dancing on this cruise to be far superior to our last cruise.
Day 3 - Sea Day: Unlike the day before, it was beautiful weather today. Brad went to the gym and said it was better than the CB. We then headed out to the outdoor pool around 11am and it was cut throat to get 2 lounge chairs. We found this to be a big downfall on this cruise. The CB had plenty of pools to spread the people out and even more places that had lounge chairs set up. This was not the case on the IP and became a huge hassle. Obviously it's not possible but we felt the IP needed another pool to help absorb the masses. After searching and searching we found a pile of lounge chairs stacked up which we unstacked and set up a spot all while the deck attendants stood around and socialized with eachother. Again, another negative. As the day went on some of the elderly asked them for chairs at which point they caught a clue and put some more out so others could lay out. The highlight of the day came when a group of older single women were chain smoking and drinking near us. After one too many the ring leader stood up and announced to those sitting around us that she, "Doesn't need sex anymore and thanks God every morning." Classy! We had a dinner scheduled at the Bayou Steakhouse with 3 other people from Cruise Critic so we headed over there at 8pm. Our dinner can only be described as a show. The service went from bad to worse and then to mediocre and the restaurant wasn't even half full. We asked for wine and cocktails before we ordered dinner and from the time it took to order and for it to be delivered was, no exaggeration, 20 minutes. At one point we had 3 people waiting on us and each was from a different country (Romania, Thailand and Mexico) which made for a seriously hysterical lack of communication. After 3 hours had passed and an additional 30 minutes for us to get our receipt for our meal we left with the feeling that while everyone who waited on us had good intentions, the way the meal was executed and lack of communication was the downfall. We have no desire to ever eat there again and I think the others we dined with felt the same. Once back in the cabin "Sex and the City" was on so we watched most of that movie and fell asleep to the rockin' & rollin' of the seas.
Day 4 - Aruba: I awoke around 6:30 to watch us pull into the Port of Aruba and enjoy the sunrise. We were off the ship around 8am and walked around. What we found turned out to be a surprise. I never thought I would enjoy an island so much. There were so many things to do and the shopping and the people was just wonderful. They are also building great lofts right next to the pier. I'd love to find out more information but I couldn't find any signs or websites about the lofts. We spent the late morning shopping and sightseeing in this picturesque town. I bought some cologne and Cuban Cigars and Brad bought some Fendi suitcase thingy and some aloe along with some stupid tourist stuff to bring home to friends and family. We were back on board around 11am to enjoy the beautiful sun and give ourselves even more of a sunburn. We went to the "Motor City" show in the Princess Theater at 7pm and, again, it was wonderful. It was a throwback to the Motown days and the singing and dancing were just wonderful. The highlight was the duet of "Endless Love" while 2 dancers did a beautiful interruptive dance. This was just breathless and this show (specifically this act) became our favorite of the cruise. The evening concluded with dinner in the Bordeaux dining room with another team of 2 right near Dennis and Jennifer. While this team was good, Dennis and Jennifer were the best so we asked Dennis if we could sit in his section for the rest of the cruise. He politely agreed so we made a standing reservation for 8:15 for the rest of the cruise for their section. We enjoyed a Cuban and some wine on the balcony and went to bed. Day 5 - Colombia: We have never been to Colombia before and don't know much about it so we were excited. However, the night before we found out that our tour we booked (Playa Blanca by Boat) was cancelled due to lack of participation. We were bummed but rebooked for the Spanish Galleon Cruise which was 49PP. What a great value!! When we arrived at the ship that had dancing and a band and an absolutely great and knowledgeable guide. It was about 2 hours long and it went all through around the coast of Cartegena. A nice bonus was that they also served chips and beer/soda/water if you wanted one. This was never mentioned by the tour desk or in the paperwork so it was a nice surprise. It was beautiful weather and the atmosphere onboard the ship was great so we definitely felt we got our moneys worth. At the end of the tour he was offering another bus tour of 15PP which would go to the Old City for 2 hours of site seeing. We didn't participate but we did stop back at the port shops to buy some alcohol, coffee and some souvenirs. This is obviously not a Princess problem but the workers at the Colombian tourist store were some of the rudest people I've ever met. And it was a shame since Colombia turned out to be such a beautiful place (with million dollar condos. Who knew?). We were back on board by 12:30 and spent the rest of the day mulling around and enjoying the pool since it finally wasn't crowded. I have to point out the band at sailaway. I don't remember their name but they had a distinct Caribbean Sound...............until they decided to sing some Michael Buble' songs. Lets just say you haven't heard his song "Home" until you've heard it sung with a Caribbean accent. Very interesting. We saw the 7:00pm show of "Adrian Zmed in Concert" with the IP singers and dancers. He's been in a couple of TV shows and "Grease 2." While we thought the show was good, it was a bit self-indulgent. Dinner was again wonderful with Dennis and Jennifer who renamed herself as the "plate girl" since she also works in the buffet handing out plates. A bit of a distraction was this elderly couple and the husband who insisted on wearing this tacky blue hat IN THE DINING ROOM almost every night of the cruise (including Formal Nights). I'll give him the benefit of the doubt thinking the hat is either for religious or medical reasons even though I saw him around the ship without it on. Also there was an elderly gentleman who used a motorized scooter but instead of politely saying excuse me or even using the built-in horn if someone was in his way he would shout, "BEEP BEEP BEEP." This was never funny and became more and more obnoxious as the cruise went on. Especially when he would do it for fun while leaving the dining room at night. Others would laugh, we just glared and shook our heads.
Day 6 - Panama Canal: Yes! The highlight of our trip. We were up around 7am to enjoy the sights. The IP was told to go into the Right lane and we were on the Port side of the ship so we had a great view of the other locks and the ship going through it. There was also a narrator on board who offered quite a bit of good advice for newbee's like us. This was a wonderful experience of a lifetime and we'd love to do a full transit in the future. The sun was rising and shining in our balcony which made for a very hot transit so we kept alternation between the balcony and the cabin to watch it on TV. Once we anchored in Gatun Lake we stayed on the ship since we didn't have an excursion booked as we wanted to see us go back through the locks. There was some kind of "hold up" but we finally made our way back through the locks and I got some great pictures. There are 2 pics of Brad and I touching the Canal wall which was just an amazing feeling. After docking in Cristobal we got off the ship and walked around their little market area and bought a beautiful set of Espresso mugs made of solid, polished wood. Dinner was wonderful then we headed off to the Universe Lounge to see "Tribute" with the IP singers and dancers. It featured music from all different generations and had a great version of "Vogue" by Madonna too. Another observation was how under utilized this lounge was. Every night in the Wheelhouse Bar there wasn't a place to sit. It was just wall-to-wall packed. Maybe Princess would consider moving their functions from the Wheelhouse to Universal Lounge since it's much bigger.
Day 7 - Costa Rica: Since no excursion was planned we slept in. Once off the ship we just walked around the little market area and bought a couple bags of coffee. Costa Rica was very tropical and humid but picturesque as well. Walking back to the ship a worker on the ship sprayed a few of us with a hose while cleaning the Promenade Deck. This was just an accident but still a bit of a nuisance since we now covered in water. I politely told passenger services of the problem just so they could let the worker know to be more careful. Since we were sick of the buffet (I'll get to that later) we went to the Dining room for lunch which turned out to be a pleasant surprise. We had never done this before and were surprised at the quality of the food and service that was provided. The rest of the day was spent sunning on deck and enjoying dinner. We didn't go to the show which was a comedy act. Day 8 - sea day: Another sea day....which we very much enjoy. I think we would be happy with a 10 day cruise with nothing by sea days. We spent it wandering the ship and tanning and reading at both the indoor and outdoor pools. Two books I read on the cruise that were exceptionally good was David Sedaris' new one, "When you are Engulfed in Flames" and John Robinson's (Brother of Augusten Burroughs), "Look me in the Eyes: My Life with Aspergers Syndrome." I highly recommend both! Brad didn't pack any so we went to the library to rent some. However, there is rarely anyone working in there to allow you to check out a book. We found that annoying. The lunch buffet today was "Italian Trattoria" from 11:30-2 which we were both very excited about. However this was a complete let down. The extent of Italian consisted of a Pasta Dish and veal dish everything else was standard buffet food (mashed potatoes, some beef thing, sauteed veggies, salad bar, etc. There was NO lasagna, NO meatballs, NO Chicken Parm, NO stuffed shells and NO Italian deserts. Standard Italian food. This was a huge disappointment as was the breakfast buffet. Every morning the breakfast buffet consisted of the EXACT SAME THING. The only difference was the scrambled eggs with [insert misc. food item here]. We saw eggs with shrimp, crab meat, asparagus, cheese and other assorted items. Everything else was the same every single morning. And one morning we arrived around 9:45 and there was no bacon. We asked one of the cooks and he said they were out! What?? Looking back we found this to be the biggest downfall of the cruise. The CB always had a great selection morning, noon and night and was constantly changing. Unfortunately, the IP lacked this. Tonight was another formal night which we enjoyed and then went to a show in the Theater called "Do You Wanna Dance." It basically had less singing and more dancing and was good but not great. It was nice to enjoy evening entertainment after a wonderful dinner though. The Champagne waterfall was this evening at 11:30 which we didn't attend. After the show let out around 11 we walked back to the atrium and watched them finish setting up but we were tired and sunburnt so we went back to the cabin.
Day 9 - Jamaica: We had both been here before and don't particularly like it so we stayed on the ship and tanned and read. Another observation is that while the bartenders made great drinks on this ship (I sucked down enough Bloody Mary's) they NEVER said Thank you. Maybe it's a culture thing or they just don't care but everything Brad or myself would thank them they would just walk away and move on to another customer. We noted this on our comment card at the end of the cruise. We also went to pick up our pictures today and ended up spending 53 dollars on 3 4x6's. This is an absolutely absurd price but people are obviously willing to pay it so they charge what they want. There was 2 different charges for the 4x6 because one original print was a smaller size (5x8) and the other 2 were bigger (8x10). We were told that we are charged for the higher print cost regardless of the size we ordered. Again, What?? Overall we found the photographers to be nice on the cruise. The only exception was when we were going through the canal and they were on the ground screaming at the balconies, "You in the [insert color] shirt, give us a big smile!!!" That was a bit obnoxious. There wasn't any shows tonight so we enjoyed dinner and walking the promenade deck with our evening coffee and headed back to the cabin for wine on the balcony.
Day 10 - Sea day: Since this was the last day we spent it packing up our cabin and enjoying the casino. We had already gotten a print out of our bill and reviewed it for accuracy the day before and we bought FCC's the 1st day of our cruise so we had a relatively stress-free day. We were sure to fill out the "You Made A Difference" cards for our steward, waiter, junior waiter and coffee bar friend and allocated extra tips accordingly. Another observation we found is that the ship is severely lacking trash cans. I can't remember the number of times we had our empty coffee cups to throw out and there wasn't a trash can in site. The only time we ever saw them was outside on the pool decks. We felt bad but we weren't going to wander around the ship looking for a trash can so if we would sometimes just leave them on an open table or at the bar and let someone else throw them out. Dinner was, as usual, exceptional and we said our goodbyes and headed to our cabin to enjoy the final hours on our balcony.
Disembarkation: We chose the walk off option just like last time and reported to the Universe Lounge at 7:15 to "standing room only." Not a big deal. This disembarkation process went a lot smoother than the last one though. We were off the ship at 7:30 and through customs and back at the parking lot by 8am. There was no waiting in long, wrap-around lines in the lobby.
Overall a good cruise. Not a great one like our last. They say your first cruise will always be the most memorable and now I know that's true. The overall ship design and little nuances here and there created a some problems that we never noticed/never had on our last cruise. Was it enough to ruin our cruise? Of course not. But it was enough to give us a bit of more-rounded view of Princess. Looking at the laundry I need to finish and the dishes that need to get put away I can't help but think that a vacation is a vacation. Right? We are already booked for a 10 day Southern Caribbean cruise on the Ruby next November and we can't wait. But from now on I think we'll just stick to the bigger ships which attract a bit of a younger crowd and more variety.
And there you have our review and our opinions. Here is the link to our pictures.
Island Princess Cruises to the Panama Canal & Central America