My wife and I along with our great neighbors just returned from the Panama canal cruise, sailing aboard the beautiful Island Princess, it was a terrific cruise, and a special way to celebrate our anniversary. Having sailed on over twenty cruises, mainly with Princess, Celebrity, RCCL and Carnival, I feel well qualified to write an honest and neutral review. We choose this cruise as it was on my "Bucket list", and we did not want to go as far as the western Mexican coast, as it doesn't appeal to us and isn't the safest place to be anymore, so a partial transit more than satisfied our wishes.
We drove down from Mobile, Al the preceding day and stayed at the Clarion in Stuart, Fl., which we have done many times before. It's the perfect distance and the Clarion is warm, friendly and clean, with an attractive rate. The drive to the port is only an hour and a half.
We arrived around 11:00 and had about an hours wait in the lounge and then boarded with the first group. A very simple process and went straight to our Baja deck cabin. It was on the front bump out and proved to be a perfect location for everything. Unlike most ships the buffet, dining rooms and theater are all on the front end. We found the ship to be very easy to get around and was pleasantly surprised to see that the Island was in great shape, with know show of wear and tear, despite being a little older. The crew has done a super job keeping up the appearance.The staff and crew were the friendliest we have ever experienced, they were all terrific, especially in the Bordeaux dining room. Our room steward was also outstanding.
We followed the recommendation seen on Cruise critic and made an immediate reservation for anytime dining and were assigned a 7:30 seating each night at the same table, it worked out perfect. We also put our name down immediately for the Chef's table, and were fortunate enough to make the list, which was one of the highlights of the cruise. The food on the ship was terrific, as good as we have experienced on any ship.
I would recommend everyone try to do the Chef's table one time, it was an unforgettable evening. The Maitre d Ignazio D Agostino and Executive chef Klaus Otto were our hosts for our group of ten, and it would take a review all by itself to fully describe the evening, it was simply fabulous. Three of the couples had done this before, but I wouldn't want to do it again and spoil the memories of our evening, as it would be hard to top.
Having the first two days at sea was a luxury, as it was as peaceful as you could ever want, with plenty of places to relax. Our first port of Aruba was uneventful for us, as I had lived on the island for six years as a child and have re-visited many times, and with only half a day, it's little time to do much. The next day in Cartagena, we had booked a tour through Dora at http://cartagenatour.com, and what a wonderful decision it turned out to be. We had linked up with three other couples through CC and the ten of us had a fabulous day seeing all of the sights in and around the city, I would highly recommend her services.
The big day of visiting the Panama canal finally arrived, and we were out on the front of the Baja deck at 5:30, just in time time to see the pilot board, and then for the next 2-1/2 hours we proceeded through the locks, which were as exciting as imagined, and even more enhanced by narration of Dr. Ryan, who was our on-board lecturer. Once in Gatun lake, many passengers disembarked for various tours and later caught back up with the ship in Colon. We stayed on-board and enjoyed going back through the locks even more than the first time, what a wonderful experience. We later got off the ship to look around the dock area in Colon, but what a waste of time, nothing to see or do.
Our day in Puerto Limon turned out to be another wonderful experience as we booked a tour through Charlie Soto at http://okeydokeytours.com/ and saw everything imaginable around the area, including a Banana plantation, canal tour, wildlife in action( including several Sloth's) and a wonderful lunch. Our tour guide Jorge did a terrific job. Having been to Grand Cayman on many occasions we decided just to take a riding tour and visit the Sting rays. While it was fun, it's just never the same the second time around.
The only area to fall a little bit short of expectation was the entertainment, and while it was good we have seen better. Perhaps we were spoiled having been on the Oasis last fall, and that's not a fair comparison.
As you can tell, we really enjoyed the cruise and highly recomend it to everyone, it was loads of fun. I'll be pleased to respond to any questions. Now, it's time to start planning another cruise !