We just got back from the Coral Princess (Ghost Ship more on that later) 19 day Panama Canal Cruise Ft. Lauderdale to Vancouver and here is my review. We left Ft. Lauderdale on April 21st about 300 passengers short as many people including the captain were unable to make it over from Europe due to the volcano. I'm not sure if this is why the ship was so quiet but most nights the sip was desserted by 11:00 p.m. sometimes earlier. The demographics definitely leaned to an older crowd 60+ with maybe two or three children that we saw.
Pre Cruise - We stayed at the Cambria Suites Hotel in Dania Beach. This is a new hotel and overall we were pleased with everything. The hotel provides free shuttle to/from the airport and cruise terminal. While we did have to wait a little while at the airport the service was excellent and the drivers friendly. The hotel provides a wheelchair shuttle (which we required) and may have been the reason for the delay getting picked up at the airport. The hotel has an onsite restaurant with decent quality food for a reasonable price. Breakfast buffet is $8.00 a person and a good value. The restaurant does not open during lunch time. The rooms are very nicely decorated with a separate living room area, fridge and microwave. Complimentary coffee is also provided (Wolfgang Puck brand which was excellent) The bathrooms are very large. Staff at the hotel were pleasant and very accommodating. We paid $99.00/night which was an excellent value compared to other hotels in the area which were almost double the price.
Embarkation - We arrived at the cruise terminal by 11:00 a.m. and were onboard by noon. Other than the onsite Princess staff being a little rude when the special need group was brought up to check in this was the quickest and smoothest embarkation we have had so far. I did mention to the lady who was harping about them not being ready for us yet that she wasn't making me feel very welcome and she changed her attitude so I can't be overly critical about this.
Meet and Greet - We held a meet and greet on the first sea day in the Wheelhouse and had about 50 people in attendance. I had the opportunity to organize it so any opinion I might provide would be biased. I did receive very positive feedback however. Other than the Captain's Circle Host (who send me a note to apologize) all the senior members of the ship stopped by to say hello. I should note that I sent invitations to them as my Princess contact provided me their names. We also had a gift exchange on our second sea day, also in the Wheelhouse which was attended by about 40 people. We had a great time and lots of laughs during the gift exchange which really went well. I would recommend to anyone going on a cruise to at least get on the roll call even if you don't want to go to the meet and greet. The information that was shared among us was really useful and it was fun to have others to share the excitement of an upcoming cruise with.
Our Cabin - We had a wheelchair cabin B633 and it was well laid out and the bathroom was easily accessible. I rented a shower bench as the fold down seat in the roll in chair is not adjustable and doesn't feel as secure as a shower bench. I recommend anyone needing a wheelchair cabin to rent this piece of equipment as it really is safer and makes life much easier. The Ship - Having previously sailed on the Caribbean and Star Princess we found the layout of the Coral excellent and easy to get around once we figured out everything was pretty much reversed. The Horizon Court is forwarded while the Spa is Aft. The dining rooms are both forward as well. The Wheelhouse Bar is much larger than on the other ships we sailed but just as elegant. Sabitini's is larger and the Bayou is also larger than the Steakhouses on the other ships we sailed. The two pools on the Lido deck (one is covered) seemed to be bigger than on previous ships as well but we aren't pool people so I didn't pay a lot of attention to them. The Casino seemed a bit smaller but for the most part we didn't have problems getting a machine to play. The layout of the spa wasn't quite as nice as the larger ships particularly in the area of the thermal spa but the spa rooms were slightly larger. We missed having an International Cafe and Vine's but it didn't deter from our enjoyment of the cruise. The Sanctuary which is on two levels looked very nice and while we didn't take advantage of it on this cruise we would definitely consider in the future.
The Staff - Probably the best overall crew we have come across so far on Princess. I'm not sure if this is because there are fewer passengers are if it was just an overall happy crew. Other than the Captain you always saw senior staff around the ship and available to talk to passengers. Our cabin steward, Carmelita was excellent and really paid attention to little details and how we liked things in our room. She would notice things like us using the extra bedding as a pillow and bring more pillows without us asking. When I asked for extra Kleenex she always made sure to have it on hand and instead of removing our wine glasses like on other cruises she washed them and left them in the room. Unfortunately she was moved to another area of the ship when we reached Los Angeles and our next steward was not nearly as attentive. We had traditional late dining and when I saw we had a waitress instead of a waiter I was a bit taken back. I'm somewhat old school when it comes to formal dining but our waitress Gabriella changed my tune with her outstanding and friendly service. She was such a delight and one of the highlights of our cruise. Unlike reports I've read on cruise critic our head waiter Alex and the Maitre' D Guiseppe were around consistently and both were very accommodating with any special requests we had. The bar staff were extremely friendly and helpful with drink suggestions. They remembered our names from the first day and always made us feel welcome. If you sail on the Coral make sure to find Mile the waiter who serves Crooner's Bar and Churchill Lounge (smoking and cigar lounge). He really is a lot of fun. The Cruise staff were everywhere and also remembered our names and had a smile a welcome whenever we saw them. We loved Andrew (ladies who wouldn't) who was a fellow Canadian and a real joy to be around. Billy Hygate was the CD and he and Andre (assistant CD) put on a great morning show which was always hilarious. I can honestly say I never once felt that our staff were looking for tips, they all seemed genuinely pleased to be there and to accommodate us in anyway possible.
Dining - As I previously mentioned we had traditional dining at the late seating. The food was excellent throughout and seemed to be better than on previous cruises. We booked the Chef's Table ($75 per person) and were not disappointed. If you enjoy food and wine you should try this at least once. Sign up is limited to 10 passengers and due to the popularity of it 3 Chef's Tables were held on the first 15 days of the cruise. We ate at both the Bayou and Sabitini's twice each over 19 days and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Sabitini's has a $20 per person surcharge and the Bayou has a $15 per person surcharge with an additional $5 for lobster tail (well worth the value). The Island and Coral are the only two ships with a Bayou which I thought was much better than Sterlings or Crown Grill. We didn't eat in the Horizon Court very often but enjoyed the meals we did have. As I previously mentioned we missed having the International Cafe but enjoyed the specialty coffees at the Patisserie which does not serve food. We had pizza a few times on the Lido Deck which was pretty good and my DH enjoyed the hotdogs and hamburgers at the Grill on the Sun Deck. Our travel agent sent us a gift of the champagne balcony breakfast which we enjoyed while docked of Cabo San Lucas. We have done this on both our previous cruises and enjoyed it thoroughly. There is a lot of food so be prepared. My DH doesn't like smoked salmon but we were allowed to substitute eggs Benedict.
Entertainment - For some reason the main rooms on this cruise didn't seem to have the calibre of entertainment we enjoyed on previous cruises. Crooner's which is usually one of the most popular places on the ship had a woman who most staff and passengers thought was awful and this was evident in the number of passengers who abandoned the lounge when she was playing. My DH a former musician said she was a competent piano player but she sang and played way to high which was a turn off and probably a killer for anyone with a hearing aid. The band in Explorer's lounge Indigo was okay a decent band with a good guitarist and pleasing to listen to. The band in Wheelhouse was again okay but not up to level of bands on previous ships. For the most part this is all very subjective and travelling with a former musician you get a different outlook on things but the Crooner's entertainment was really brutal. The ships house band that backed the entertainer's was great. We saw the comedian Al Katz who was awesome. A musical review of the Beatles, Rat Pack, Beach Boys, and Diva's was extremely well put together and enjoyable. We also saw a show by Jackie Wilson's son Bobby Brooks Hamilton that was very good. Unfortunately the night we went the crowd seemed to be in a coma or sitting on their hands so it didn't have the energy it could have had the crowd been more involved.
The Ports - I wish Princess would give a bit more time in some of the ports as we would have loved to explore a bit more. Aruba was quaint and the shopping area was varied and had some good deals. Cartagena is a fascinating port but the vendors just spoiled it as they were way to pushy and probably did themselves a disservice by turning off the tourists. This is one port were more time would have nice. Costa Rica was another nice port with a nice selection of vendors with very reasonable prices and while you could barter the prices were so good you really didn't need to. Going through the Canal was just amazing and I would do it again in a heartbeat. We really enjoyed Huatulco and were surprised at how beautiful and for unblemished it was. Cabo San Lucas (we didn't disembark) was also gorgeous and we enjoyed the time sitting on our balcony and just watching the activity in the harbour. Acapulco has a gorgeous harbour but I found it to be overcrowded. We did take a taxi tour and had some fantastic views of the harbour and also saw the cliff divers. We rented a limo in Los Angeles and took a tour of the highlights and stopped for a bit a the Farmer's Market. Since we are Canadians and have been to Victoria we didn't do any touring but if you go there for the first time be sure to go into town at least.
Overall - We had a wonderful cruise but it really was like a ghost ship with things shutting down early almost every night including the casino. We are not big partiers but there were nights when we walked around the public areas at 10:30 p.m. and didn't see one single passenger. I think this is in most part to the demographics on longer cruises. After 19 days cruising we were ready to come home and never eat again.
Notes to Princess - Is it really necessary to have sale tables set up near the dining room, we found this tacky and it blocked passengers entering and leaving. If you sell a 19 day cruise why does everything have to be reset after 15 days? We got a new cabin steward, had to have casino and internet credits reinstated and also started our billing process again along with getting new cruise cards etc. We found this entire process very disjointed. With all the technology available today there should be some way to avoid this disruption to passengers. The staff on the Coral Princess are awesome I hope you realize what a treasure you have with this group of staff.