Previously we had had to cancel on a Panama Canal cruise and, even when we were stood at the rail watching the ropes loose off at LA cruise port we didn't dare to believe that we were actually doing it! For months we had been participating in the Cruise Critic Roll Call for our cruise and were looking forward to meeting up. That was to prove a critical part of the success of this cruise, but so many other elements went in to making this cruise so good.
We got a head start with a great embarkation, not only did we breeze through the quayside formalities, but our luggage was with us almost immediately. We met up with our Cabin Steward and he took us through the main features of our cabin. Through the cruise he was quite excellent, keeping everything in order in a so efficient but so unobtrusive manner. Of course, they nearly all seem to do such a good job that it's often hard to differentiate, but he was one of our best without doubt.
As for the cabin itself, it did the job. The hanging space was excellent, drawer space about sufficient and the desk proved a helpful store for day to day items. We also appreciated the fridge and made good use of it. Incidentally, it was good to see a more relaxed attitude to bringing wine on board in limited amounts. We had more than usual sea days and the balcony did an excellent job as an impromptu art studio! Our steward very quickly changed our feather down pillows and duvets for polyester to counter allergies, but he probably couldn't have done much about the rock hard bed which took a bit of getting used to. Equally, he couldn't do anything about the miniscule shower. that was left for us to overcome and you can make out your own solution:)
We selected Anytime Dining which worked extremely well on sea days. Unfortunately, on embarkation and shore days problems seemed to arise. Essentially, people who had opted for early traditional seating did not get to their restaurant in time and found themselves shut out. On seeking alternative they were directed to Anytime Dining where they effectively flooded the restaurant and caused huge queues into the Anytime Dining Room on several evenings. It's a moot point as to who should take responsibility for this situation. Should it be the passengers for staying out on tours that returned late in the afternoon? Don't think so. Should it be the cruise line for not arranging earlier return times so that everybody gets where they should? And curtail the day of the rest? For me the real question was why weren't the people who missed early sitting directed to Horizon Court? It certainly shouldn't be the Anytime Diners who should pick up the problem. We recognise the problems of electing early seating and have the sense to book in at a time that allows us to enjoy all that the cruise offers when we wish.
As to the dining experience it was very good. I don't recall a single evening disappointment and recall several excellent meals. We took breakfast and lunch in Horizon Court. Early rising meant that we were usually ahead of the crowds at breakfast and enjoyed quite relaxed starts to our days. At lunchtime we were able to enjoy the wide range of salad options, but why do you test my character with those lovely desserts? Returning to the evening meal, we found the Wine Card excellent value. The 7 bottle gold card suited our needs perfectly and allowed us scope to enjoy wines which we probably wouldn't have tried otherwise. This would be one of my BEST DEALS ON THE CRUISE tips! If you do take this option it's well worth visiting one of the 4 wine tasting sessions on board as you will be introduced to a number of wines easily afforded within the card.
Our cruise coincided with Hallowe'en, which doesn't mean a great deal to me as I was always a Bonfire Night boy (USA Google Guy Fawkes - you'll get it!) However, the cruise staff really went for it. The Galley Staff had carved pumpkins and the ship seemed to have them everywhere! The restaurant staff went to town on the costumes, our meal being served by a waiter with a stake (no not steak) through his heart!
It never fails to amaze how so many people seem so few on a cruise ship but with the wide range of activities to keep us busy it's no surprise. We didn't make much use of the Theatre entertainment. Partly this was a matter of timing as we just felt the late show was too late. However, it was also because so much of the entertainment seemed so lame. Sorry USA we don't do hypnotists and magicians - bit 50s kid shows really. We weren't that enthralled with the idea of a juggler but I have to say that we found Randy Cabral very entertaining.People seemed very taken by the "On The Bayou" show which we missed and will look for on our next cruise. We spent a fair bit of time in the Wheelhouse Bar where the resident band performed a good selection of dance music each evening.
BY contrast we spent a lot of time in the Fitness and Spa area. A great table tennis group formed over the 14 days including some crew members who thoroughly enjoyed themselves and kept the group in swing. By the end of the cruise there were several firm new friendships with promises of photos to send on. The gym is extremely well equipped and Ryan and Stacey were usually around to offer help or encouragement. The second BEST DEAL ON THE CRUISE tip has to be the Lotus Spa room. We'd come across it first on an Alaska cruise when those warm stone beds and aromatic steam rooms were such a pick me up, but it worked just as well in the sub tropics!
Whilst I didn't attend any of the art auctions I took the opportunity to look in regularly and was impressed by the range of work on show. If art is your thing it's worth catching a lift as high up the ship[ as you can and walk down as far as you can go viewing the art on each landing. Don't expect everything to p[lease you, but there's a lot of good stuff on these walls. Another activity i missed but which drew a lot of praise from fellow cruisers were the range of talks about the Panama Canal and the Central American region.
Cruise photographers can come in for criticism but I was really impressed by the team on board Coral. You never felt pressured to pose disembarking, eating or whatever, and when you elected to have a photo taken around the Atrium you were always treated with care and courtesy. And here's another BEST DEAL ON THE CRUISE. We all know how we can get stung for photos but after we'd gone through the canal the staff were selling off shore and aerial photos of the Coral passing through. A ten photo collection cost just $29.95! One word of warning, don't expect these shots to be your cruise, even Princess can't afford a helicopter for photographers every 14 days!
Of course, to become fully involved in the ship you need to get about easily. This is a ship where the lifts work very speedily! Small point but it all adds up.
Of course, the highlight of the cruise had to be the passage through the canal, and Coral Princess made sure that it lived up to its billing. We had a superb commentary with plenty of good advice of areas being approached. That way you could listen to the commentary in your stateroom and rush up on deck as you approached a point of interest on the opposite bow. Of course, early in the day the rails were pretty full but within the hour crowds had thinned and you could pick your vantage point easily at most times. Sometimes the sunbeds did get in the way and maybe they could have been put aside on the passage day, but it wasn't a big problem. It was great fun passing through the locks, passing huge ocean going container ships and cruising alongside the site of the extension work to the canal. However, for me the highlight of the cruise was the view across the causeway to Panama City at dawn, a wonderful surprise! If you cruise FL to LA you'll never know!
I've listed most of our excursions in the sections below but the drop down menu does not offer San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua, so I'll incorporate it here. many people were critical of Nicaragua and I found that a shame. Any country as ravaged by civil war as Nicaragua has been in quite recent times is bound to measure short against our experience. It's up to us to look past that. I thoroughly enjoyed our tour from the ship. We visited the Masaya area and Granada. The walk through the streets of Granada was accompanied by hordes of children seeking to sell souvenirs, but they responded well to polite refusal. There are some attractive colonial style buildings in the town centre and it could develop into a very attractive venue with continued support. The pre-Colombian art collection in the San Fransisco Convent is very impressive and well worth a visit. The experience in Masaya market was much the same and most of the stalls were selling quite ordinary souvenir fare though we did find an excellent glass gallery, some very good leather work and attractive and distinct pottery. However, where this trip really sealed the deal for me was at the top of the Masaya volcano. Looking down into that crater was something I just hadn't anticipated. I'm not going to try to sell it to you except to say that of all the wonderful things I saw and did on this cruise. This is the one that will travel with me always.
And finally. As I mentioned earlier, prior to this cruise we had participated in the online ramblings of the Cruise Critic Roll Call. These resulted in some fantastic activities. We had two Meet and Greet sessions, a rambling cabin crawl with a poker crawl thrown in and two fantastic excursions organised within the group. We went knowing no one and returned with a whole new bunch of friends. We just kept bumping into one another around ship. It helped really make a memorable trip[ for us and we take this opportunity to thank you all and look forward to meeting up with you some time here or there.