This was our second cruise on the Island Princess. We first sailed on her on a cruise/tour to Alaska in 2009. That trip was spectacular and will probably remain as our #1 of eight cruises. But this moved to #2 over a Thanksgiving cruise to the Eastern Caribbean last November on Emerald Princess.
Positives: The food on Island Princess this time was noticably better than on the Alaska trip. The itinerary was very good (Aruba, Cartegena, Colon, Limon and Ocho Rio). Cabin Steward (Eduardo) was outstanding and responsive. Dining room wait staff were incredible though they always been great on all three Princess cruises. In general, all of the ship's company seemed friendlier and more welcoming than on previous trips. The ship is well maintained with no noticable deterioration in the two years since we last sailed on her. Also, there seemed to be a little less sales pressure than on previous Princess trips.
Negatives: Anytime dining seemed totally disorganized with long waits for a table if you didn't make reservations. The chaos was even worse on formal nights especially immediately following the end of a show in the Princess Theater.
There apparently was a leak from the aft holding tank into the starboard-most aft elevator which had a foul odor most of the trip. Some days it was so bad that it filled the entire elevator lobby.
Package deals for soft drinks and wines were not clearly explained. I took a soft drink package which was promoted at $45.00 though the steward told me it was $47 and would allow unlimited soft drinks. What wasn't explained was there was a 15% add-on for tips and that you were limited to a max of $4.50 per day in one kind of fountain soft drink...not canned soft drinks. There was no mention of a second package which allowed unlimited soft drinks of any kind up to a max of $7.50 a day for $75.00 plus 15%. I only drink cokes so was surprised when my bill showed an item of $80.00+ which sent me scurrying to Passenger Services for an explanation. The very courteous clerk had to go through every bill from the Lido Bar for that day and still couldn't find the original receipt. He also advised that he could take no action but that his supervisor would review the situation and make a decision. I was credited with the difference between the two packages on my final bill so, in the end, it was handled well. Strangely, once they put a little sticker on my ship's card, I could get a coke at any bar and there was no accounting of how many refills I got during the day...so I don't know how they would even know when I exceeded my limit. Friends had similar problems with a wine package.
One final note: On the second and third nights out winds reached full gale of 40+ mph with seas of 7-12 feet, occasionally reaching 20 feet. Island Princess handled the seas as well as the normal 5-7 foot seas we experienced most of time.
Considering the negative reviews we had heard about some of the ports, especially Ocho Rio, we were very pleasantly surprised at the lack of pushy sales attempts by locals in nearly all of the ports. Ocho Rio had some extremely bad reviews but we encountered no problems with locals harrassing us trying to sell trinkets. We did encounter some problems in Cartagena but our tour guide helped us out there.
Port Review for Limon, Costa Rico: Our fourth port was Limon, Costa Rico where we decided to do another tour on our own. This time we had the recommendation of a friend who had been to Limon the previous year. We didn't make reservations but as soon as we left the ship we encountered a barrage of locals hawking tours. We simply told them we were looking for OkeyDokey Tours operated by Charlie Soto and quickly got directions to their stand which was close by.
There were just two of us and after haggling a bit we got what we thought was a fair price which we agreed on. We were led to a very clean air six-passenger air conditioned van by our guide, Carlos Valladares (firstname.lastname@example.org) and our driver, Jose.
The per person price was about $30 less than we would have paid on the ship and the value was outstanding. It included a trip to a scenic garden where we could hear Howling monkeys roaring in the nearby rain forest; a roadside stop where we handled and photographed a sloth; several roadside stops to look at monkeys; a visit to a banana plantation; a river boat tour to view wildlife and a trip to a beach which we declined because of the weather.
Carlos spoke excellent english and talked non-stop about the culture and the sights we were seeing. We were fascinated with the operation of the banana plantation where the banana stalks were ziplined from the field to the plant. We got to watch the entire process from tree to shipping by truck to a waiting ship in the nearby harbor.
Carlos and Jose dropped us off at a boat operated by Alden whose english was extremely precise and much better than mine. The first thing I noticed about Alden was his extremely sharp eyes. He could see camoflaged birds, secretive sloths hidden in the trees and small but rare lizards in the woods and brush along the river. Once he spotted something, he would then maneuver the boat to make sure I got a good shot with my camera. We spent an hour on the river and I took more than 100 pictures of the birds and wildlife. The only negative was that it rained thoughout most of the trip. Though there was a top on the boat the wind was blown inside. Alden supplied us with heavy plastic ponchos so we stayed pretty dry.
We bypassed the beach to return to the ship to get a hot shower and warm up. The temperature never rose above 76 while we were there and with the dampness and walking we were pretty tired, but it was a good tired after an excellent tour.
OkeyDokey tours has a website at www.okeydokeytours.com.
The one thing that surprised me about Limon was its low standard of living. I had understood that Costa Rico had one of the highest educational levels and standards of living in Central America but it was obvious that poverty is similar to other Caribbean countries. Carlos also made it clear how important tourism and the cruise industry is to Costa Rico to improve the country's standard of living.
This was an outstanding stop and possibly worth considering for a future cruise.