This cruise was selected in order to witness the construction being undertaken for the new canal locks and channels. We booked the cruise in two segments, a two day cruise from Vancouver to San Fransisco in an inside cabin, B727, then the 15 day segment onward to Fort Lauderdale in cabin B735 a balcony cabin across the corridor. Our logic was that we expected cool temperatures out of Vancouver and didn't expect to use the balcony. This proved to be a wise decision and we got a cruise credit toward our Elite status.
The original plan was to arrive in Vancouver two days prior to sailing. The threat of an Air Canada strike the day before our flight caused us to re-book for two days earlier giving us 4 days in Vancouver. We chose to stay at the Quality Inn in Richmond near the airport. This was a reasonably priced, clean and comfortable hotel close to everything. The gorgeous Minoru park behind the hotel, the Foggy Dew pub across the street and numerous other restaurants and malls made this a delightful area to spend the time. We went by bus, a twenty minute ride, to Steveson, a fishing port nearby. This port offers a number of outstanding fish restaurants harbour-side.
On boarding day the hotel shuttle took us to the Canada line train station which we used for the trip to the Canada Place dock. We walked with our luggage from the train to the reception area, about 2 blocks. Arriving about 11:30 we were in our cabin by noon. We were greeted by Petra our exceptional cabin Stewart for the 17 days. She anticipated all our needs and made our move to the next cabin effortless.
We had done the 15 day cruise aboard the Coral 3 years before so we were familiar with the ship. The major change was the conversion of the rear adult only pool to the Sanctuary area. This was a disappointment because we had really enjoyed this area in the past. I believe all the ships should have an adult only area. The ship is very well maintained and generally spotless. The crew without exception carried on the Princess style of acknowledging everyone and being engaging.
We encountered heavy seas from Vancouver to San Francisco which slowed our progress and delayed our arrival by 3 hours. Because of anticipated heavy swells we did not stop in Cabo because the Captain believed that tendering would be too dangerous. This meant that we spent 6 1/2 glorious sea days getting to Puntaranous. Many passengers and crew were anxious to set foot on land but we thoroughly enjoyed of sea time. Missing Cabo meant that we were not able to exchange our entertainment crew. Nevertheless we enjoyed the comedians and in particular the ventriloquist. We had seen two of the production shows before and did not attend. We did see the first showing of a new and outstanding show called "Bayou" in the Universe lounge.
With few exceptions we would begin our evening activities by visiting the Elite/Platinum lounge in a corner Explorers lounge (5 to 7PM). There the chef, Christian, prepared everything that was presented often making each item to individual order. Whenever he was not serving he made sure he visited each table to speak with each guest. During the trip he learned that he had lost his home and that of his mother's due to a cyclone in Manila. Despite this personal tragedy he maintained his composure and continued to serve his guests as if nothing was troubling him. Each night this lounge offered a drink special at $3.99. This was a delightful way of trying drinks I would not normally indulge in. We wait staff consisted of Lerraine, Marcel and Venod. These servers very personable and made the lounge a special place.
After the lounge closed we would either remain there to listen to Passion, a group from St. Lucia, or go to another venue for music until our usual dinner at 8:00 PM. Although we had Anytime Dining in the Bordeaux dining room we soon established a standing reservation for table 29. This is a table for 2 by a starboard window in an isolated and quiet corner. Its other important attraction is that it is staffed by Vaughn and Miguel an outstanding wait team. Vaughn always impressed us with his menu explanations and wine appreciations. He was friendly and funny and really encouraged Miguel to interact and improve his skills. A great team. We made use of a new feature, apparently introduced on this cruise, called a wine card, similar to the coffee card. It was offered as either a 7, 10, or 12 bottle card in two colors. The Gold allowed you to have any bottle up to $30 and the other color (Platinum?) allowed up to a $40 bottle. We bought the 12 bottle Gold card for $240 plus 15% thus saving the approximate cost of 2 bottles. I hope they introduce this on all ships.
We took a city tour of Puerto Amador. After tendering ashore we boarded a minibus (19 pax) and had a delightful guide. Saw the old and new cities and considered this to be a worthwhile tour. We took a taxi with another couple into Cartagena, clock-tower gate. We were hassled approaching the taxi loading area and offered a taxi for $50. We declined. At the taxi boarding area there was a sign stating the fee for 4 passengers was $15 or $20 depending on the destination. We had hoped to wonder around the old town on our own but we found the aggressive vendors and hangers on coupled with the temperature too much to bear and retreated back to the ship. Will not try this again in Cartagena. In Aruba we took a Catamaran trip offered by the ship (Red Sail tours)and it was outstanding. We had good winds so we had great sailing to and from the two snorkel/swimming sites. The rum punch and music on the return sail were wonderful.
As stated earlier the primary purpose of this particular cruise was to witness the new construction being undertaken on the canal. This did not disappoint. Much of the work is being done adjacent to the present canal. Extensive dredging, earth-moving and lock building are easily seen. We were fortunate that we had dry mostly sunny weather for the passage. It was all I anticipated. We made the most of the small, mostly unknown and unused balcony at the stern of Baja deck. On days other than the passage we often had this balcony to ourselves and it was only two cabins removed from ours. There is a similar, slightly narrower, balcony directly below on Carib.
Disembarkation went very smoothly at Fort Lauderdale. We had Red 3 tags for a scheduled disembarkation at 8:10. We were off within 5 minutes of that time, and through US immigration promptly. We took a cab to the airport for $15 including tip, the ship wanted $19 each, and were at the Air Canada counter by 8:45. Except for security the flights home were uneventful.
This cruise was everything we had hoped for. We had a great ship and crew, good entertainment and outstanding dining and mostly super weather.
We've completed 12 cruises with Princess and hope to be Elite for our 28 day South Seas adventure in October 2012.
Dennis & Louise