Review of Island Princess Partial Transit of the Panama Canal, Dec 20-30th 2010
Here is my personal review of our recent cruise. We are not frequent cruisers; this is our 4th cruise, and our second with Princess. Some in the group were new to cruising
Even though we live in Florida (Tampa), we decided to drive to Ft Lauderdale on Dec 19th and spend the night there. We stayed at the Marriott Springhill Suites, and were able to leave our car there during the cruise for no extra cost. It was a nice place to stay and the shuttle service both to and from the ship was efficient and timely. There is no charge to get to the ship, but a 10 dollar per person charge to get back to the hotel. We had family that flew in from Michigan the day before the cruise left, and also family that drove from Michigan, so this was a good place to meet up.
We took the 12:45 shuttle to the port on Dec 20th. As another poster pointed out there was some trouble with the magnetic scanning of ID cards that held us up for about an hour or so, and then people that had come in after us all of a sudden were sent to the check in lines before us. This was upsetting to me, I do not at all mind waiting my turn, but I do not appreciate people getting ahead of me when I have been waiting patiently. There was definitely not enough Princess staff available to handle the crowds and keep people in proper order. However, this was a minor irritation.
We finally made it aboard around 2:30 or so and found our lovely mini suite with balcony, Deck 10, Caribe. I loved the room, and with my two nieces along in our room it was great to have the extra space. We have never had a balcony or mini suite before. However, I would never book in the back of the ship again, it was very rocky and noisy at night with all the vibration and the first night there was a lot of knocking outside that was very loud, but that seemed to get corrected after that night.
Room and smoking: Loved the balcony for my husband who smokes cigars. He only smokes outside, and was courteous and did not usually smoke if other people were out on the balconies near ours. He also kept the balcony door closed when smoking. I walked all of the halls, and on level 5, port side there was some awful smoking going on at all times that penetrated the entire hallway. I really think Princess should ban smoking in all cabins, but that is just my opinion. I am okay with it on the balconies and in the cigar lounge, etc. I am not a smoker and never have been.
Bedding: We both thought the queen sized bed was very comfortable, and also the pillows were great. We slept well for the most part even with the vibrations and rolling seas! We like a firmer mattress, and found this perfect.
Steward: We were lucky to have a fine gentleman named Nestor who took great care of us and our room. The girls loved him. He was always around. We tipped him extra on Christmas and when we left.
Dining: We opted for early seating, which we were told was 6 pm, but our card said 5:45. We arrived anytime between 5:30 and 6 depending on what we were doing that day. My husband is a very slow eater and many times we did not finish up until 7:30. Our servers were Noel and his assistant Francis. Noel was more reserved, and Francis more light hearted and he was very taken with our grandson who is 13. We also tipped them extra on Christmas Day as well as the last night. My husband ordered cappuccino the first night, I ordered coffee and our grandson had hot cocoa and after that night Francis remembered and we did not have to ask for it again. We all thought the food was pretty good, some choices better than others. I loved the cold fruit soups. I agree with another poster that said the halibut on Christmas Eve was overcooked, it was. Also the gingerbread soufflE was a big disappointment and I was really looking forward to it since so many previous posters had raved about it. In fact, I thought they must have made a mistake; it was very light in color and had only a hint of spice to it. The cream sauce over it was delicious however. The vegetables were always very good, grilled zucchini, tomatoes, asparagus, bok choy, etc. My favorite was probably the red snapper with a fabulous couscous, also the prawns and lobster was surprisingly good. One of my nieces was seasick and ordered green apples two nights in a row! The sorbets were delicious. We ordered room service several mornings for breakfast, I always wrote in bacon and hard boiled eggs, and always got what I ordered and also the various times I ordered it (6:15 am one day). One morning I ordered the corn beef hash for my husband and it came. We did eat in the dining room for breakfast one morning, and the rest of the time in the Horizon Court. Their oatmeal is fabulous; does anyone know how they make it? I would love to get that recipe. We tried the pizza twice for lunch, it was pretty good, and tried the grill for lunch twice as well, the fries and hamburger were good. We did not eat any lunches in the dining room. We loved the soft serve ice cream; it was a very good rich flavor. We did not eat at any of the specialty restaurants; we did not feel the need to. We liked the food and thought there were plenty of choices. None of us are gourmet foodies, but we all like to try new foods and are not chain restaurant type people usually.
Sanctuary: We went up there the first day to see it, but none of us used it at all.
Spas: My husband went down for a shave and massage one day and really liked it, and then made the staff very happy by buying several of their products for a ridiculous amount of money!
Pools: We had three kids in our group, ages 15, 13 and 12. They loved the pools and hot tubs and spent hours in them. They also went into the Lotus pool in the evening when it was usually deserted, even though it said adults only, there were no adults around and they were well behaved so we let them use the pool. I even used the Lotus pool the last evening, it was lovely and relaxing in there.
MUTS: I think 2 adults in our group liked this in the evening, and they saw three movies out there. They really liked it. I thought it was too cold, but probably would have tried it if it had been warmer. I sometimes thought it was too noisy out by the outdoor pool during the day, and could have lived without Stevie Wonder blasting me.
Kids Programs: All three kids were enrolled but probably partook in the activities only a few hours each. For my two nieces they could not tolerate the motion back there, and I agree with them, it was very rocky back there. My eldest niece said it was very cliquey and that a lot of the kids seemed to know each other and were not inclusive.
Entertainment: Because of the kids I personally did not get to as much of the entertainment as I would have liked. I went to Piano Man and it was okay. I went to the first night of Willie Tyler and Lester and thought it was just okay. I took my two nieces to see Tribute and we all really liked it. Just one of my nieces went with me to see "Do You Want to Dance?" and we both thought that was the best.
Sea and Seasickness: This was only our 4th cruise and by far the roughest. One day there were gale force winds and according to the ships log is was "mild seas" and that was a big fat lie. I was not bothered by sea sickness at all, but a few times had a bit of a queasy stomach which was quickly remedied with chewing on some ginger capsules. I have experienced horrible seasickness in the past, but seem to be a better sailor as I age! My sister and her husband and both my nieces were bothered by seasickness, three of them to the point of vomiting and I am sure cursing that they ever decided to go on their first cruise! They all had sea bands, were taking the bonine, green apples, ginger, and an aromatherapy inhaler. Nothing seemed to help, only time. My sister and her husband were on the 5th floor, in the middle of the ship and their room was so much smoother than ours. In fact when the kids were sick they went to that room and slept on the floor and they could not tolerate the motion in our room. I even tried to switch rooms due to the motion but was told the ship was full and we were not able to switch rooms. My one niece actually vomited one night in the dining room, they had to cordon off the table and decontaminate the area, but no one was restricted to their rooms by staff.
Ports of call:
Aruba, 4 of our group went snorkeling and liked it. The other 5 of us went to the DePalm Island/beach. Unfortunately we were not able to dock where we were suppose to in Aruba, so this excursion entailed about a 20 minute bus ride to get to where we needed to take the boat to the island, my niece vomited on the bus (luckily into a towel), and my sister was sick once she got off the bus. Luckily for them this was the end of their sea sickness and neither of them were bothered again with it on the trip. The swimming was wonderful here.We loved this excursion, but it was way too short, and then even shorter because of the unexpected bus ride back and forth.
Cartagena: Very hot. We took the walking tour and loved seeing the old town, but did not like how the tour was run. We had 12 minutes in the museum which was ridiculous, and only 5 minutes in this shop that sold emeralds and that was a bigger joke. Even if I had wanted to buy an emerald there would not have been time. Our guide started out good but ran out of steam; he did not do a good job of keeping the group together. I have heard a lot of good words about private tours in this city and I think that would be a better deal. The city skyline in this city is beautiful and impressive. There were lots of persistent vendors.
Panama: Since it was Christmas Day none of us took a tour. I got up at the crack of dawn and went forward through the "secret" door on deck 10. It was great seeing the canal that way and well worth getting up so early for. We did get off in Colon for some shopping and that was fun and convenient. Look for the handmade baskets and nativity sets, they are beautiful. I did not personally see them, but my sister and her husband did, they really enjoyed the shopping there and went back out to purchase me a few nativity sets, quite a bargain for 15 dollars each.
Costa Rica: My husband, my two nieces and I took the 10 hour tour that started out with a bus ride to the canals where we boarded the small river boat for 90 minutes or so on the river. I loved that, our driver and guides were good. We saw 2 toed slots, 3 toed sloths, frogs, birds including a green heron that I had never seen before and the amazing Jesus Christ lizard. We did not see any howler monkeys, but it was rainy all day. We then got back on the bus and went to where the aerial tram was. First we had lunch at the rainforest cafe, did a bit of shopping; bought some Costa Rican coffee, and some delicious candies called chocolates Britt that was dark chocolate covered orange jelly, and also pineapple. Both made in Costa Rica which I liked. Also bought a t- shirt which I was happy to see was made in Costa Rica. We then went on the aerial tram for about 70-80 minutes. It was lush and green and beautiful, but very wet and we saw no wildlife. Each tram carries 6 people and a guide. Then it was about a 2 hour ride back to the ship. We had no time for anything else. It was a full day and expensive, but I am glad we did it. Some in our group did the off road excursion and really enjoyed that, and others did the closer aerial tram and nature center and did not think it was worth the money. The only complaint I had on this excursion was it seemed disorganized at first. It was raining quite hard, my husband was in a wheelchair and were were directed to one bus, then my husband got out of the w/c to get on the bus and we were directed to another bus which we walked to then to another bus then finally to a 4th bus. All of this in the rain with my husband walking with his cane and his w/c getting drenched. Again because of this many people boarded the bus before us, even though we were there first. This really bugs me. I will again say I do not mind waiting my turn, but get very annoyed when I have waited my turn and others get ahead. This was very disorganized.
Jamaica: The weather was cloudy and not that warm. Six of us did the plantation and Dunns River falls. The kids loved the falls. It would have been better if it had been warmer, but cannot control the weather. I did not like the vendors in Jamaica. Our driver then took us to a store near the "Taj Mahal" where I bought 5 Cuban cigars at 10 dollars each for my husband, he said they were not very good! One problem in Jamaica; once again we were not able to dock where we were supposed to, and I don't think it was possible to walk easily to shopping or the Margaretville, but I could be wrong.
Miscellaneous: Christmas day was fun on the ship. They had a lovely kids program and each kid received a Princess teddy bear from Santa. All the Christmas decorations on the ship were lovely. The crew party that started at 11pm on the second to last night was a lot of fun; the kids really enjoyed dancing with the crew and the conga lines. I see previous posters complained about the toilets, we were not affected, thank goodness! I thought everything was pretty clean and well maintained, except at the outdoor pool area. It was quite windy much of the time out there, and lots of napkins, etc blew around and trash was very noticeable in some areas here. I noticed this on more than one occasion and more than one day, and think Princess should beef up their staff in this area and take notice of this. We had fun making our gingerbread house, making cards, playing bingo, trivia and family feud. We read and played games in the game room. My husband enjoyed some time in the cigar lounge. We spent very little time or money in the casino, and we usually like to spend some time there. My husband bought a coffee card, and did not quite use it all up. We used the self serve laundry and it was very convenient. It costs 1 dollar per wash and the same to dry. I would recommend bringing some quarters, and your own detergent although there was a change machine available as well as soap to purchase. The girls were very disappointed that they could not get their passports stamped anywhere, they had hoped to get a stamp from each country they visited.
Staff: We found all of the staff courteous and friendly.
Overall: It was a great trip and I would recommend Princess cruise lines and I would cruise with them again.