We really enjoyed our cruise on the Island Princess and, for the most part, it was wonderful. There were a few little glitches which I will go into later but, suffice it to say, we would definitely sail with Princess again.
We embarked at Fort Lauderdale after flying in the previous evening from Western Canada. We stayed at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel and found it very nice - friendly staff, clean and spacious rooms. The only drawback was that the restaurant was closed for renovations so we had to hike down the street to get breakfast but that turned out fine because we ate outside overlooking the harbour which put us into holiday mode.
We arrived at the dock about 2:00 pm and the embarkation was quick and efficient. Our group of four consisted of one lady in a wheelchair and the staff were very helpful. Our mini suites were side by side and we were pleased with the accommodations. There was a full size couch, two TV's and king bed. The bathroom was spacious and there was lots of storage space. Tip: your bags can be stored under the bed. We were able to open a door between the two spacious balconies which was nice for us to be able to pop back and forth.
We went up to the Lido deck where a nice buffet lunch awaited us. Again, the staff were always helpful with the wheelchair and in serving my friend. This brings me to the food on board which was very good. We ate breakfast in both the dining room and the Horizon Buffet - lots of choices from eggs any which way to fruit, pancakes, French toast (yummy), sausages, corned beef hash, etc., etc. In the dining room we had scrambled eggs with smoked salmon which were delicious.
For lunch we tried the pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers on the Lido deck, had salads and hot entrees at the buffet and ate in the dining room once. All were good and we were spoiled for choice.
We opted for Anytime Dining and found this suited us best because we could eat when we wanted. We sometimes had to wait ten or fifteen minutes but we were able to sit in one of the lounges and had a monitor that told us when the table was ready. The fare in the dining room was always fantastic with a myriad of choices. Sometimes the service between courses was a bit slow, particularly one night when they offered turkey pot pie and had a huge run on it. We asked one night if we could have escargot and the following evening it was served to us as promised. This is not on the menu so if you want it, ask.
We are only permitted to bring one piece of luggage and a carry-on coming from Canada so we decided ahead of time not to participate in the formal evenings. We were of the understanding that we could dine in the two specialty restaurants provided we were dressed smartly. My friend's husband had a pressed short-sleeve golf shirt with a collar, dress pants and proper shoes but he was denied entry. My husband had a jacket, long-sleeved dress shirt, dress pants but no tie and he was allowed in. That evening we split up and my husband and I went to the Bayou Cafe. I have to say this was a disappointment. It is purported to serve New Orleans fare as well as steaks. Having visited New Orleans, the offerings were a far cry from the fabulous food served in that city. There was no coconut shrimp, no soups, the appetizer selection was very minimal and included items like ribs with french fries - when did that become an appetizer? Our waiter told us it was his first shift ever in that venue and he obviously had not been given an orientation because he knew nothing about the items on the menu and didn't even know where the restrooms were. We decided to have a filet mignon and this was cooked to perfection, however, it was served with a bread plate on which were the side dishes for both of us - two pieces of potato, two pieces of fried green tomato, a spoonfull of succotash and a bit of rice - all of which were tepid. We mentioned this to our waiter and he replaced the plate with hot items. Much to my disappointment, there was no bananas Foster - a signature dessert of New Orleans. I asked for a bowl of berries - any kind - and was told there were none. Since we paid $40 for this dinner, I wasn't impressed. Princess needs to provide some other venues for people who are not dressing formally. I understand and totally agree that attire should be smart casual - no jeans, sandals, etc. In this age of limited baggage allowance, this should be addressed. The second formal evening we ate in the Horizon which was OK but not outstanding. The glare of neon lighting doesn't provide much ambience.
We did enjoy the afternoon tea - very pleasant and the scones were great.
See below for review of Cartagena.
The other two tours we did were through Princess. The first was All About Limon which was advertised as being wheelchair friendly - not so! the pathways around the banana plantation were very uneven, as was the walk to the dock to get on the boat. She stayed on the bus for the plantation part and was also unable to go through the rainforest path because the terrain was too difficult for a wheelchair. The animal rehabilitation centre was fascinating and educational - the sloths and howler monkeys were great. The "cultural" show portion was a joke - two guys dancing to a boom box - I've seen my sons do the same thing in my kitchen!
I organized a Meet and Greet prior to boarding and we had a very good turnout. Stacy Anderson was my contact and she was most helpful. If you are doing one of these, I would suggest that you print out some invitations for crew members, i.e. cruise director, chef, purser, etc. and leave them with Passenger Services. We had six crew members attend which provided us with an opportunity to ask questions and get to know them.
We enjoyed the shows - some of them are a bit amateurish but they were all fun and entertaining. My friend spent a fair bit of time in the Casino and found the winnings to be very sparse. We didn't use the spa or the library. You can sign up for Internet service and, if you have your own laptop, can access it from your cabin. Quite expensive but I think that is probably standard on most cruises. The fellow who is the Internet Cafe Manager is very unhelpful and basically tells you to figure it out for yourself.
The pool areas on the Lido Deck are side by side but the outdoor one is noisy - constant loud music and activity, including the MUTS which go day and night. If you just want to sit and read or snooze, all the racket can be annoying. The Lotus Pool is quiet but it is inside and air conditioned. We found it a bit chilly and, since we live in a cold climate, we wanted to be outside in the warmth.
A tip - bring along a power bar. It will come in handy if you need to plug in your computer, curling iron or recharge your camera. We didn't experience any problem with second hand smoke except for the day we went through the canal and people above and below our balcony were smoking but it wasn't unbearable as we were outside. I found it a bit incongruous that we had to travel with a stapler to put our luggage tags on our suitcases - surely there is a better way? Also one of our bags lost its tag and we found it sitting in a hallway just by chance. When we asked if we could take it, they said yes but didn't ask for any proof of ownership.
In summary, it was an enjoyable trip and I would go again in a minute after coming home to 20 cm. of snow and -28 Celsius.