December 5, 2010 Panama Canal Cruise on the Coral Princess: Coral Princess Cruise Review by NJMom18
Overall Member Rating
December 5, 2010 Panama Canal Cruise on the Coral Princess
Destination: Panama Canal & Central America
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
This cruise was a belated celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary, which we were unable to schedule in June, the actual date of our anniversary.
This is a fun cruise on a professionally run ship. We had a fabulous time meeting other Cruise Critics. We wish that the food had been a little more consistent in quality.
This was our eighth cruise, the fourth with Princess. The Princess ships become a little bit like "home" the more you cruise with them. They have similar layouts, similar styles, similar food and there is definitely a Princess corporate culture present on all the ships which allows you to know what to expect. Overall, the crew was friendly and helpful. Because we were traveling about two weeks before Christmas, the ship was decked out with beautiful holiday lights, garlands, and Christmas trees, which created a festive atmosphere. There was also a Menorah located near the customer More service desk to commemorate Hanukkah.
Hotel in Fort Lauderdale
We arrived in Fort Lauderdale late in the evening before our cruise and stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott FLL Airport & Cruise Port in Dania Beach. We've stayed there before and selected it again because our credit card gives us points which are redeemable for Marriott gift cards. A very comfortable room was $123 per night plus tax (AAA rate) and includes transportation from the FLL airport and to the cruise port. Meals are extra. Upon arrival we had a very nice snack of fruit and muffins, although we saw the staff in the restaurant preparing salads and sandwiches for guests despite the late (after 10 pm) hour.
Transfer to Port
After a tasty breakfast of oatmeal and a fruit & yogurt parfait, we packed our bags and proceeded to the lobby area. The hotel has several shuttles to the port and the lobby was packed with folks going to various ships. Because the hotel had a sign-in sheet the process was pretty orderly, although our 11 am shuttle, never departed until almost 11:30. The luggage was placed in a little trailer which was hooked onto the shuttle bus. As we approached the shuttle, we were informed that our shuttle was a little "short on seating" and we might have to get pretty "cozy". Well, since our luggage was already in the trailer and there was only one seat left on the shuttle, I wound up sitting on my DH's lap on the trip to the pier! We tried to be good-natured about this, but the woman next to us was definitely annoyed as I guess I encroached a bit into her personal space.
The luggage was taken out of the trailer and we were instructed to remain on the shuttle during this process. When we finally exited the shuttle, we claimed our carry-on bags and left the remaining bags with the luggage attendants. This process always makes me squirm, as no claim checks are issued so you have no proof of luggage and no real way to trace "lost" luggage. That said, our bags were waiting outside our cabin door when we arrived at our cabin. We've seen baggage get misplaced and at times it's taken hours to "find" our luggage.
The embarkation process was slow. Since we arrived at the port around noon, I suspect that it was just a busy time. We probably would have done better had we arrived around 1:30 or so. We waited in a queue formation in the terminal for nearly an hour. No chairs, no coffee, no entertainment, no information, just a line that seemed endless and didn't move. I felt badly for some of the more incapacitated passengers who were forced to stand in this line. Finally the line began to move and once inside the registration area, embarkation went very quickly.
Once inside the ship, we quickly found our cabin, unpacked, and went to find some lunch.
The food on cruise ships is supposed to be one of the highlights. In this case, I would have to say that the food quality and selection was hit-or-miss. Breakfast was fine, with a plentiful selection of rolls, pastries, fruit, eggs, oatmeal, French toast, etc. We never had a problem with breakfast and we either ate in the Horizon Court or had it delivered to our cabin on four mornings. I was disappointed that I only saw smoked salmon (delicious) on the first morning, but maybe I missed it on days we ate in our cabin.
We usually ate lunch in the Horizon Court. This was where the food became a hit-or-miss situation. We don't eat a lot of meat and some days that was the only appetizing main dish that we could find. Some of the entrees were a little weird with strange combinations of vegetables and seasonings. I would have appreciated a few more "plain" items. There was always a great salad bar, however. So some days I went to the pizzeria and picked up a slice and then brought it back into the Horizon Court to enjoy with my salad. Desserts were always delicious and the fruit was abundant and fresh.
We ate one lunch in the Provence Dining Room. It was delightful and delicious...we should have taken the time to eat there again.
We did not feel like paying extra for Sabatini's or the Bayou Cafe. The menus just did not appeal to us, since I'm allergic to shrimp and neither of us eats a lot of meat.
We had signed up for Anytime Dining which was absolutely chaotic. The first night we had about a 40 minute wait for dinner. Now, mind you, we had requested a table for twelve because we had met a group of Cruise Critic folks and wanted to dine with them. However, even passengers with smaller parties were walking around with flashing beepers a la TGI Fridays. The second night the maitre d' in the Bordeaux Dining Room (anytime dining room) suggested that he call the Provence Dining Room (fixed dining) and we received a late dining seating (7:45 pm) which we held for the rest of the cruise. By this time our group had expanded to 14 people on most nights, so we occupied two tables next to each other.
The dinner menus were definitely the weak point for us on this ship. On several nights I felt my main course meal was inedible. Salmon was hard and tasteless, like it had been frozen for months. Penne pasta served with tomato sauce that tasted like it had been heavily spiked with chili peppers to the point of being nearly intolerable. Desserts remained the one strong point on all nights. And some meals were superb...seared scallops were sweet and cooked to perfection and the lobster tails were a complete delight. A vegetable and phyllo dough tart was also an absolutely delicious main course.
The service in the dining room was usually pretty prompt and accurate. Food was brought out hot and served promptly. However, we felt a bit rushed to leave after coffee and dessert as the staff obviously wanted to get out of there after their last shift of the evening.
The entertainment was generally good to excellent. Rodney Johnson, the comedian was hilarious. His humor was clean and very sharp and funny! We wish that we could have seen Rodney again, but we missed him on the third night because we had a late dinner seating and decided to attend the Adrian Zmed show (of "TJ Hooker" fame)instead.
Adrian Zmed is very talented and offered a great variety show that we totally enjoyed.
We also enjoyed Maurizio's show, as well as hearing him in Crooners on some evenings.
Most of the shows with the Coral Princess dancers and singers were pleasant and very energized. We also enjoyed the Joszef Trio with their classical strings performances.
I also have to make special mention of the Coral Princess International Crew Show. Billy Hygate, the cruise director, as Fiddler on the Roof's Tevyeh was phenomenal! He could put Zero Mostel to shame. We wish he could have done an entire show!
Billy Prudhomme, the juggler/comedian, was just average. We've seen his show on a previous cruise and seeing him again was too much. We also thought Jeff Nease, another comedian was just passable. He definitely needs to check his material as some of his jokes we had already heard from the first comedian. He seemed nervous and not very well prepared for his show.
We also could have done without most of the on-board movies. I can watch movies at home on demand or download them on my computer and I expect a little more original entertainment when we cruise.
I didn't go in the water so I can't comment on the pool itself. The deck around the Lido pool was pretty crowded but we never had a problem finding a seat. The deck chaises were not all that comfortable and definitely needed more padding. I loved the Lotus Pool with its very calm and quiet atmosphere which generally put me to sleep! The warm cookies and milk offered poolside were a lovely touch on most afternoons. Because the Lotus pool area is available for free we really felt there was no need for paying for the Sanctuary area.
Our Cabin was a reasonably size BA balcony unit on the Caribe deck. The bed was a little hard for me, but my DH loved it, so we decided not to get an egg-crate matress topper. The pillows were awful, and I don't know why we didn't complain about them. The balcony had a table and four seats. Two of the seats were covered in bird excrement, so we didn't use them. We loved having a balcony. The best part is enjoying breakfast, in our bathrobes, on the balcony on sea days. Please beware of opening the cabin door and the balcony door at the same time, or you will have a wind tunnel churning through your cabin.
The showers on the Princess ships are too tiny. I am not a large person so I can't even begin to imagine how someone with more body size would function in the shower. There was plenty of storage for toiletries in the bathroom. On some occasions, the "fresh" towels that we were given seemed a little damp. We had heard that one of the ship's dryers was not working, so maybe this was the reason.
Our cabin steward, Ronaldo, kept the cabin spotless and was extremely helpful. However, we did not appreciate his unsolicited offer to help us find cheap watches in one of the ports. We don't even know how that discussion came up!
We purchased a $100 package of 250 minutes at the Internet Cafe with a bonus of 30 minutes because it was purchased on the first day of the of the cruise. This was just the right amount of minutes for a ten-day cruise. We had brought our netbook along with us, but usually could not get a reliable connection and gave up on it after a couple of days. I don't think I'll bother bringing it on our next cruise as there was usually a terminal available at the internet cafe anyway
I didn't take out any books, but we really enjoyed the daily crossword puzzles that they provided. Also the chairs in the library were so comfy. It was a nice atmosphere for reading and watching the sea.
I utilized the hairdresser at the Spa. I had no problem getting an appointment and she did my hair exactly as I requested. I told her that the hairdryer she used was too hot as it felt like it was burning my scalp and I had to repeatedly ask her to turn the heat down. Also, she spent almost the entire appointment trying to sell me various hair care creams and potions, skin creams, and even vitamins! This selling mentality seems to be ingrained on Princess crews, as someone is always trying to sell you something from drinks to jewelry to exercise classes.
This was generally a busy spot, but I never had a problem locating a treadmill. The free weights were lacking. There was only one five pound weight and it was generally in use! The second weight disappeared after the second day of the cruise. Also the space to use the weights was too small. I felt like I was always in someone's way.
We thoroughly enjoyed the at-sea days with plenty of activities planned. We took the Galley Tour on the last sea day and found it to be very interesting. Also we enjoyed the culinary demonstration. The port informational seminars were interesting. We participated in the Trivia Challenges and I played way too much Bingo. I didn't win at Bingo, but it was fun anyway.
Because we were traveling during Hanukkah, there were lovely services conducted by fellow passengers. These were followed by delicious potato pancakes and donuts. The ship even provided prayer handouts. There was also a nice setup for the Friday evening service.
This was quite orderly and timely. Princess seems to have this under control. We made it off the ship, located our luggage in the terminal and passed easily through US Customs and Immigration. Locating a cab to the Fort Laurderdale Airport was easy and ran about $15, including a tip. We were at the airport by 9 a.m.
This is a clean and well-organized ship. Even though the food selection was a little unpredictable, we had an excellent time. We enjoyed meeting the other passengers. We definitely will sail with Princess again. It's not perfect, but it's pretty darn good and an excellent value for the money. Less
Port and Shore Excursions
We did the Arikok National Park Hike and Swim. This is very strenuous hike on uneven paths in the park. We were up for the challenge and found it to be interesting and fun. The Park Ranger who escorted us was knowledgeable and patient. Even though I had brought bug spray, I still got a few bug bites. Somehow the bugs always manage to find me, as most of the other hikers were not getting bitten.
The water was cold at "Baby Beach" and there were no chairs, so we just stood around and visited with some other tourists for 30 minutes while waiting to get back on the bus to return to our ship. Since our time docked in Aruba was short, this portion of the excursion would have been better spent shopping!
We took the Old City and Inquisition Palace tour. Our tour guide, Monica, was informative and very understandable. However, the various vendors who swarmed us outside of the fort were intolerable. They actually got on the bus in their efforts to try to sell us trinkets that were not wanted. The Inquisition Palace was interesting, but too hot with too many people in a room at one time. We also made a too brief stop at the Naval Museum. The native dancers at the Museum were ok, but we would have rather spent more time perusing the actual museum. We decided not to buy any jewelry in Columbia as I did not know enough about the shops that we visited.
We were unable to dock in Panama due to the wind, heavy rain, and flooding, although we enjoyed our ride back and forth through the Canal. Princess reimbursed us for the tour that we missed as well as for the port charges. We completely understand that missed ports due to Mother Nature can happen on any cruise, so while we were disappointed, we certainly were not angry about this.
We went to Dunn's Falls. It was a very strenuous climb and I decided not to do it, electing the dry steps that parallel the falls. This allowed me to take movies and photographs of my DH who thought he was up to the challenge. He finished the climb with a moderate gash in his leg which occurred when he fell on the slippery rocks. The Dunn's Falls' guides were trolling for tips even if they weren't your guide. I simply told them that I had no more money to give them, although I think they suspected that I wasn't totally truthful.
The tour also drove us around Ocho Rios, which seemed pretty impoverished for the most part. We stopped for a bit of shopping along the way. We also visited an interesting private park overlooking Ocho Rios, Shaw Park Gardens. With fabulous waterfalls and interesting botanical gardens, it made for an interesting hike, although there are a lot of stairs to climb, which was not a problem for us, but might be for less fit travelers.
We took the Eco-Cruise and Train Ride. The eco-cruise was fabulous---we saw monkeys and a sloth in the wild. The train ride was a little boring. It's rainy and damp in Costa Rica so I was glad I had a raincoat with a hood.
We also visited a Del Monte banana plantation. It was well presented and we came out with a deep appreciation for all the work that goes into the production of bananas.
There was a busy straw market near the ship's dock, so we were able to purchase some gifts at reasonable prices without having to go too far from the ship.
StarBreeze Panama Canal
Island Princess Panama Canal
Overall, A Good Trip