Coral Princess Panama Canal 12-23-2008 to 01-06-2009
I recently returned from a 14 day Panama Canal transit where I was surprised by a rash of migraine headaches which completely disabled me and rendered me room bound for a good portion of the cruise. Having said that, I cannot think of a better place to have a Migraine, the Coral staff was one of the best I've experienced so far. I got excellent room service and even was allowed to order some items off the main menu when I couldn't get out of the room. Lauren, the Assistant Cruise director, was the best, she made everything more enjoyable and everybody loved her. In spite of having some health problems on this cruise, I really had a good time and I learned a lot about how to travel better.
I had a lot of misconceptions about some of the ports in Central America. I stayed back in ports that I otherwise wouldn't have and was pleasantly surprised at the small moments I found there. When I missed a port I made all my wonderful CC friends tell me everything! Strangers too. Our CC group was incredible; they all really made a difference for me. I made some mistakes and learned from them, always a bonus when traveling.
The Coral is in good shape and if anybody is in E736 you will have the best room steward ever, Supatra. She took care of me like a mother. Our balcony room was a perfect place to watch the canal transit since it was the most aft corner portside; I even got to touch the canal sides a few times. Although I had a headache, we were gratefully not on the sunny side of the ship so I was able (after taking my migraine pills) to watch the transit from the bed and eventually go out onto the balcony. I had planned to go all throughout the ship while transiting but when I got sick I had to stay in the room and frankly that turned out to be wonderful as well. One note on this balcony; it is completely connected to the aft viewing area and not private at all. Anybody can climb onto your balcony and walk right in to your cabin so make sure you keep it locked. This only applies to the Emerald deck far aft balconies; all the other decks are not connected. Finally, only the Emerald deck aft port balconies are covered, all the rest are uncovered. I was not clear about this but we did not mind the privacy thing and were grateful for the shade. I took pictures of the balcony, if anybody is interested I'll post them on the Princess boards when I get them downloaded to my computer in the next few days.
We enjoyed the ship so much because it was not unusual to walk through it and barely see a person. The ship was filled to capacity since it was a holiday cruise, but on this ship you hardly felt it. I never encountered lines during our traditional early seating in the dining room. We had a great diverse table which really made it interesting and the waiter was good if not great but our Junior Waiter Felipe from Chile was incredible, I can't praise him enough. We got there nightly at 6PM but often had to wait 30-40 minutes before our orders were taken and then things got rushed. Our table company was very good so it never was that big a deal, and I took my time eating anyway! We never encountered any angry or surly staff members all, I was struck by the happiness factor I encountered amongst all the staff. Nice.
I liked but did not love all of the new menu items. I am somewhat picky, and frankly I don't really care that much about food so I am not a fair judge. I lost 9 pounds on the cruise so I am not complaining about it! I did have a wonderful Turkey dinner for Christmas. I heard that the executive head chef was on the ship and he created a Chef's table at the last minute, several of my friends were able to attend that and they raved about it. They also got to try Sabatini's Breakfast, which is normally reserved for Suite passengers only, and I think this was the trial run. Again, I heard good things.
We ate one night at Sabatini's and they went above and beyond the call of duty in preparing my picky eater requests, bless them! I didn't feel at all like the pain in the rear that I usually feel like when I make all the special requests in restaurants and that was wonderful. The restaurant manager from South Africa was so nice. I loved his style, panache, and perfect attitude. The whole experience was fun and delicious.
One thing I did notice was a reduction of security, particularly youth security. Last year I was on B2B Island Princess Canal transits during the holidays and there were a lot more visible security people present. I was told that there were undercover staff around but I didn't notice them controlling the teens much. Most of the kids were very well behaved and a delight to meet.
There were a few permissive and somewhat aggressive families on the ship. I heard one large family kept calling the captain and asking him to move the ship closer to shore so they could whale watch, when they didn't get their way they threw a fit! They let their kids run wild, never a good idea on a ship as far as I am concerned. I saw things that shocked me regarding kids' and adults' behavior and I am a middle school teacher in LA Unified so you can imagine that I am pretty used to this.
Parents, be very careful about how much freedom you give your kids here. I caught some youngsters "doing it" on the aft balcony at 4:30 am on New Years day, or rather they caught me as I was half asleep and looking for the line of ships waiting to enter the Panama Canal. Many parents innocently think nothing bad can happen on a self-contained ship. Think again about that private room for them and protect your precious cargo on cruise ships.
Huatulco was wonderful, we took the Sail and Swim tour and swam in one of the bays and sailed around the others. We explored a cove and just floated around in the water with CC friends. As we swam back to the small boat a huge spotted Ray swam under us, it was so cool. The weather was perfect, the water was the same. You can easily do this town on your own, and a tour with Princess is also nice. You can walk to a great swimming beach right off the pier. There is plenty of shopping too.
I missed my tour in Guatemala and was so bummed out that I made myself hobble out to the shopping area right off the ship with a raging migraine, I just had to buy something and I wasn't going to allow a headache prevent me. I pooped out quick but managed to get some beautiful woven purses at extremely reasonable rates ($4 each). It was worth it! Princess was generous and gracious enough to let me cancel my pre-booked excursion at the last minute without making me pay, or even making me go to the doctor. I really appreciated that, it made all the difference in the world.
I also missed my private tour in Nicaragua, but was pleasantly surprised at the town of Porto Corinto. I was expecting it to be terrible, poor and filled with starving dogs and people but this was not the case. It was very cute; we caught a parade that was so interesting and different where they were carrying the statue of Mary through the streets and what a statue it was! I sat with my mouth open most of the time here, this is the kind of place where you get an authentic slice of the real locals, like it or not, but I really loved it! I bought a wonderful Chess set of the Conquistadors vs. the Mayans in ceramics for $30 bucks. I saw Crocodile purses for $35 and bought a wooden coaster set for $5! The prices were great, and the locals were very nice. Finally, I bought the best coffee beans here (I'm drinking it now) for $5 a pound. Wow.
We did a tour in Costa Rica with Charlie Soto to the Tarcoles River; it was my 3rd and last time with Charlie. We had a large CC group and while it was enjoyable enough, there were some disappointing moments for some and there were quite a lot of us who didn't think we got what we were expecting or paid for. I might have been grumpy from the migraine medication which was turning me into a zombie. ?
It was hot in Cartegena and there were 400 people on the "best of "tour so it was funny to see the massive line of buses, and soon we all descended upon the city like flies. But oh what a city, it is amazingly scenic and really not to be missed. The old city is gorgeous, narrow streets filled with colorful home and stores with balconies filled with flowers and flower boxes everywhere. I am certain I saw Carmine Miranda (and old movie star) walking down the street with fruit on her head. The views from La Popa Monastery were magnificent and we learned a lot about the history of the city from our tour guide. We even got to climb the fort and walk through the cave like passages. There was not enough time to shop for Emeralds yet I managed to buy one anyway. My only criticism is that there was not enough time to explore this fabulous port! Give us more time here Princess.
Aruba was the only port besides Huatulco that I felt great at and didn't have to take Migraine medication. We arrived late and this was where I made a giant mistake; I got in line very early (an hour and a half before we got to port) because I had reserved a car and we were late and I was hoping to jam off the ship and grab my car late. We were 5th and 6th in line. About 10 minutes before we finally got to port, there were people cutting into line left and right and I started telling them to go to the back of the line and wait their turn. Needless to say, I was called mean names or ignored which infuriated me and hurt my feelings at the same time (not the best feeling combo) and by the time we actually disembarked there were 30 or more people in front of me. I could see the Princess staff with there hands full of complainers, and there was not enough security to manage the crowd which was getting aggressive. I missed my car anyway, and it was not worth the hassle and humiliation of being on that line. We walked around Aruba, hired a local to drive us to the Temple which was closed and went back to the ship early. One of my CC friends (hi Cathy) shouted to me from the ship as I was running off, she was wise to wait the 20 minutes it took to offload most of the passengers and next time that is exactly what I am doing! I don't mind making mistakes if I learn from them.
After having some horrific experiences on past cruises with the hard sell at the spa, I broke down and got a message, which I sorely needed from all the tension of the migraines. This time I had a great masseuse, her name was Mai Mai and she was the best I ever had. ? She relieved me of all the knots and tension and I had to go back and get another massage the next day because it helped so much. Note to self, massages are much better than migraine pills on a cruise!
We had an awesome trivia team and won a lot of games, so I have enough luggage tags to last a life time. We loved playing trivia on this ship, it was pack and fun and the staff that ran it was great. We participated in more stuff on this ship than any other we've been on, from game shows to Princess Pop star (go Amanda) and loved every minute. The shows were good to great although they were crowded and you had to get there early to get a seat. Also, there were some rude people who talked loudly during performances which bugged the heck out of me, and these people did this every night. Eventually, we stopped going to the shows to avoid this rude behavior. Manners do count.
I took three pottery lessons on the ship during the first three sea days. I have taken Pottery lessons on several different Coral/Island Princess Cruises since they are the only ships that have a pottery wheel. I threw 14 pots but only had time to paint two, which is probably a good thing since I had to fly home. I love the pottery I made because I did it completely myself with only a minimum of help and they are both perfectly imperfect.
Disembarkation was a breeze (just like embarkation) since we carried our luggage off on our own. We loved getting off the ship quickly so we had more time in Florida and got a full extra day of sightseeing.
We spent three extra days in Key West (nice) and one in the Everglades (awesome) and I wish I had more time in the Everglades because I've never seen such a diversity of wildlife in one day including many different birds, rare trees and forests, American Crocodiles (much bigger than the Costa Rica relatives), and Alligators. We missed an Airboat ride because I had to spend some time picking up garbage dumped on the side of the road in the park. I couldn't believe people would throw trash in such a place and I couldn't just drive past it. It was well worth the extra time to drive to all the way to Flamingo (38 incredibly scenic miles) from the main park entrance out of Florida City because that is where we saw the Crocodiles, they were almost gone from the park (and south Florida) but are making a comeback. If you can, go to the Everglades. Pick up a few pieces of trash too!