We flew into FLL the day before sailing. Coming from Chicago, we never trust the weather, especially in winter! We stayed at the Best Western Oceanside Inn. Very basic but decent price, nice location. Easy to get a taxi to the port. Embarkation was easy but we arrived too early and had to sit for a long time waiting for our group to be called. Once we got to the check-in desk, we had our cruise cards within minutes and were on the ship and in our cabin in a heartbeat. Luggage was in the cabin when we came back from the Muster Drill.
Our balcony cabin was spacious with plenty of room for our belongings. The smoke sensor is right outside the bathroom door and ours apparently was especially sensitive because twice we got a call from security because the sensor had gone off! My husband likes hot showers but opened the door too quickly afterwards, allowing too much steam to escape!
Our cabin steward, Abner, seemed to be nowhere and everywhere. We hardly ever saw him but our room would magically be clean by the time we returned from breakfast. We never had to ask for a thing because it was always taken care of before we thought we needed it!
We loved the Island Princess! It was full yet never felt crowded. The staff is outstanding and went above and beyond to make sure we all had a good time. It must be so difficult for these crew members during the holidays when they are so far away from their homes and families. I will never understand passengers who are rude and overly demanding to the staff...and I am sorry to say I did witness that behavior.
The ship was beautifully decorated for the holidays which gave it an extra celebratory feel. New Year's Eve was a formal night and had all the bells and whistles you would expect. It was a great party! A special shout out to the Wheelhouse Bar crew. They treated us like we were the most important passengers on the ship each night and we had so much fun with them!
Having been on a couple of NCL cruises, we are so thankful that Princess does not "sell, sell, sell" via the public address system. We found it so intrusive and annoying on NCL and will probably not return to that line because of it. Yes, Princess does announce "buying opportunities" but seems to do it in a much more understated way.
We don't really participate in ship activities when we are on an itinerary to a warm weather climate. We try to soak up the sun and just relax. There were plenty of activities though, for those that wanted them. We did attend some of the port lectures with historical content (no shopping for us!) which were quite good. The Panama Canal has such an interesting history and we are so glad we did this cruise to see it up close and personal.
Debarkation at each of the ports was easy and efficient. It was pouring rain in Limon and people were trying to put on their rain gear at the gangway which caused some back-up for a bit but one of the officers made an announcement asking people to put their jackets on before they got in line and that solved the problem. There is a reason it is called a "Rain Forest"....bring your rain jackets or ponchos!
We had late seating, traditional dining. Because we were traveling with friends, this worked fine. We were at a table of 8. Interestingly, we were not originally seated with our friends and had to seek out the Maitre "D when we boarded to get this fixed (easily done if you go early so check the time and place he will be available when you board the first day). When we arrived at our "new" table that evening, we learned that the same thing had happened to the other 2 couples. In fact, one of the couples had been at our original table. Oh well...as I said, easily fixed.
Food was good, with some exceptional dishes offered and some that needed some work (steaks too tough according to my husband). All at our table noticed the Head Waiter/Maitre 'D never once stopped by our table but we did see him often stop at one of the other tables near us. The one big mistake came on the last night. The "Baked Alaska Parade" was a complete disaster. Princess, either do it right or don't do it at all anymore. We understand doing away with the flaming. Fire is never good on a cruise ship or airplane. But what happened to the REAL Baked Alaska dessert being paraded by the kitchen staff (instead of the junior waiters) and then cut at your table? Our portions of Baked Alaska were sent up by the kitchen and we had already finished eating it while we waited....and waited....and waited for the parade to start. It was a joke.
Debarkation was easy, efficient and stress free. Taxis are plentiful and the airport is close. Don't get fooled by the vans lined up in front of the taxi stand offering a fixed price. You have to wait for those vans to fill up before they leave. Our taxi got us to the airport faster and just as cheap.
All in all, a great cruise. A big thumbs up to Princess and the Island Princess.