Over the past five years, we have spent almost 300 nights on more than 20 cruises to all parts of the world. Even though I have leg problems, I have managed to climb the Great Wall, traverse the Acropolis, catch piranha in the Amazon, go on safaris in Africa, climb to the top of Edinburgh Castle, etc. In other words, we have seen almost the whole world and were looking forward to the Panama Canal, Central America, and southern ports in Mexico - one of the few places we have not visited. As a result, we embarked on the Coral Princess on April 26, 2009.
To be very honest, there were several excellent features to this trip. Embarkation and disembarkation were the easiest we've ever encountered in all our travels. The floor shows, pianists, violinists, and singers were again the best we've ever seen and the quality and timeliness of the movies excellent (I just don't like going on a cruise and spending my days in the theater). My husband adds that he loved the opportunity to play basketball every day and to practice whenever he wanted!
With the exception of the toilet (details later), our handicapped stateroom was excellent (roomy, enjoyed the window even though obstructed, room for my scooter) and the services of our steward, Pedro, were excellent. All of the public rooms were also lovely, well cared for, and with excellent service. The alternate restaurants (Sabatini's and Bayou Cafe) had excellent food and service for an additional $20 a person. Instead of lukewarm, tasteless coffee in the dining areas, one could, for a price, get excellent coffee in one area of the ship, and excellent ice-cream could be purchased as a substitute for the mediocre fare in the dining areas.
Unfortunately, that is really where the excellence ended. Through no error of the cruise line, the swine flu virus cancelled all five Mexican ports. Rather than extending our time in Costa Rica and allowing more time and tours in Panama, we were given two ports - San Diego (over 50% of the passengers on this ship live within a day's drive of San Diego) and San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua, where dire warnings were issued about the difficulties facing anyone with leg problems should they go ashore (tendering, a moving pontoon platform, and steep and hard-to-negotiate stairs).
While I tried to work with the tour office, I learned several things: 1) although they would allow wheelchairs to be tendered ashore, those of us with light-weight, portable scooters that come apart could not use the tenders -not even during quiet times when the tours were out 2) that their information was often Incorrect -San Juan del Sur was not a difficult landing and there was shopping nearby which could be easily reached by wheelchair or scooter - you could go ashore in Puerto Corinto, Nicaragua, and get transportation that would drive you through Antigua. Often, though, we didn't know that until it was too late; 3) even though the average age of the passengers was close to 80 and there were dozens of scooters, walkers, and wheelchairs and hundreds of canes, no special accommodations were to be made; 4) that e-mailing Princess Cruises for assistance does not even get the respect of a reply; 5) that, when all was said and done, I was only able to get off ship to see a foreign port twice in 19 days!
You would expect, then, that Princess would try to find some other way to keep us happy while on board - maybe 2 sheets of paper for scrapbooking. Maybe more games other than Trivia (4-5 times a day) or even Trivia where you were lucky if you knew even half the answers. It was amazing to hear the silence when a question was read and no one had a clue, but even more amazing when the answer was read - also to dead silence. While our Trivia crew captain was a delightful young man, his accent made it difficult to understand much of the time and the questions were often obscure. Imagine the top team getting a score of 9 out of 20! Many of us would have quit, but you can't desert your team mates.
A qualified craftsperson was not available to provide really good craft experiences - making something you would want to keep. Rec crew members would teach a paper rose or a simple paper box. They also ran the scrapbooking program, even they though didn't have a clue. They provided a die cut machine and a few die cuts, scissors, glue, and ONE 12X12 paper per passenger for the whole cruise. We started out with 45 enthusiastic passengers (including teachers and owners of scrapbooking companies). It would have been a fantastic opportunity had we had any supplies; no one came back again. In the past, I have had marvelous arts and crafts experiences.
There was a ceramic (throwing clay) class taught by a ceramist at $40 an hour or you could paint ceramics for $20 an hour or more. You could also take computer lessons for $25 an hour. The teacher was good, but the actual breadth of the learning was very narrow. But the end feeling iwas one of being nickeled and dimed to death.
Knowing this might be a looooooong trip, I signed up for 500 minutes of Internet time so that I could use my laptop wirelessly from most areas of the ship. Several days out, the ship lost all power. Apparently, according to the Internet attendant, when it came back on there was a huge power surge that took out the wireless network. No one informed us of this, so for two days I kept trying without success to get online. Finally I called to see if there was a problem, only to discover I could no longer use my laptop on board. Actually, I was lucky because I'm knowledgeable enough to figure out I could use my memory stick as a drive to hold my data files, insert it in a memory card slot on their computers, and attach files to my e-mails. The wireless network was never repaired. There was no credit for this.
Our cabinm while wonderfully appointed and suited for handicapped access, had a toilet so low a person on a wheelchair could not have transferred, and the bars were right next to the toilet rather than extending in front of the toilet to give the passenger the leverage to get up. So I requested a toilet seat riser. It came with tight arms so one could not wipe making it unusable. The arms were just screwed on so I requested that they be removed. Absolutely NOT, I was told. It took two weeks to get a commode so I had to use the public restrooms instead.
The food was another issue. Perhaps it was because we were on anytime dining (a new experience for us), but there were frequent examples of waiting to be paged for dinner, very long dinner services (once it was just short of 3 hours) wilted Caesar salad, tasteless foods that were described as mango or passion fruit, but just tasted vanilla, butter dishes and beverages are not refilled, lukewarm soups and coffee, and frequent evenings where everyone at the table (8) ordered the always available grilled chicken or grilled salmon because the menu offerings were so unappetizing. The one time I decided to try it anyway, I ordered a favorite, Irish Stew, and received a broth-based soup with some lamb, potatoes and carrots floating in it as my entrEe. I did not make that error again. Even the desserts just didn't match the desserts we've had on other cruises. The buffet was actually better tasting and hotter food, but without the nice ambiance of the dining room.
On the last two nights, the passengers expressed their feelings about the dining room by giving little or no applause for the food and service they had received. Hundreds of passengers left the ship with very negative attitudes toward the ship and cruise - that's all you heard the last week.
For me, it ended up being a long and boring trip - I've been on a 60 day voyage and several 30+ day trips and didn't want them to end, but this was the first time I wanted to go home before it was even half over. Shame on Princess!