Our cruise on the Coral Princess through the Panama Canal started on 2/14/2012 at Los Angeles and ended at Fort Lauderdale on 2/28. We had port stops in Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia, and Aruba. We enjoyed the cruise very much. We had a room with a balcony where we spent a lot of time. I would recommend to anyone going through the Panama Canal to have a balcony. Our room was on the left side of the ship so we had a view of the shore when we were close enough.
The first 5 days were at sea except for a brief stop outside the harbor of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico where we saw a Disney cruise ship go by. During the days at sea, we explored the ship and watched the birds and fish from our balcony.
We had anytime dining for the dining room (Bordeaux Room). This dining area was only open during the evening (5PM to 10PM) and required smart casual dress (business casual) on all but 3 formal dress nights on the cruise. We tried the formal night once and were not impressed by the food or the service. The waiters seem to be irritated that we did not order wine with our meals (we don't drink). We also did one night with business casual and most of the same food on the menu was also available in the buffet dining area (Horizon Court) which is open most of the time and the dress is casual. The assigned dining room (Provence Room) was open for lunch (casual dress) on all days except the days we were stopped at one of the ports and the food was good but menu items here are also available in the buffet most of the time.
There is also a grill on the Lido deck that served hamburgers and hot dogs and a pizza place that served good pizza. Don't eat the hamburgers in the dining rooms; they are not very good (hard as a hockey puck). The hamburgers at the grill were good meat and had a good flavor. Soft serve ice cream was available at an ice cream bar from 11AM to 11PM on the Lido deck and the ice cream was good. The ice cream is made on the ship.
Unless you really feel you need the extra attention from the wait staff in the dining rooms, eating evening meals at the buffet, the grill or the pizza place is very enjoyable. I don't feel the dining room is worth the several minutes required to wait for a table. Eating in the dining room for lunch occasionally was enjoyable for us. The ship desalinates the sea water as it is needed and the water tastes good.
Soft drinks and bottle water are not free on the ship and Dr. Pepper is not available on the ship and we did not find any at any of the ports on the cruise.
On our 6th day, we stopped at Puntarenas, Costa Rica. We did not do any of the ship sponsored tours. There were local vendors at the end of the pier and we walked through and picked out some souvenirs. We departed for our next port around 7PM. We were at sea on the 7th day.
On the 8th day, we anchored around 7AM near the entrance of the Panama Canal at Puerto Amador, Panama. We took a small boat (tender) to the dock. We did a boat excursion (the boat had about a 400 person capacity) that was supposed to go through the first set of locks of the canal. When we arrived at the entrance to the locks, there was a problem that made us miss our time slot. We had a good view of the entrance to the canal and the structures along the shore and the tour guide gave a good commentary, but we were disappointed that we were unable to go through the locks. We returned to the dock and took a bus tour of part of the city and a section of the canal which we enjoyed. Since we did not get the tour we signed up for, Princess Cruises refunded all our money. The tour we had was free.
On the 9th day, we pulled anchor and began our entrance into the Panama Canal about 4AM. By the time we entered the first lock, the sun was beginning to come up. The view was great from our balcony and well shaded (deck 12). We could see the west bound locks as we passed through the east bound locks and the new construction for the third set of locks (for wider ships) that is projected to be finished in 2014. We could also see a partial view of what we were approaching at the front of our ship. After passing through the first two sets of locks, we entered the lake and cruised toward the Atlantic side locks. We passed several ships that were heading west as we headed east. We arrived at the Atlantic locks about 4PM and passed through the locks into the Atlantic (Caribbean Sea) and sailed towards our next stop. Passing through the canal was the highlight of the cruise for us. The views along our route were great.
On the 10th day, we arrived at Cartigena, Columbia about 7AM. We did a ship sponsored tour of the old part of the city. At the dock, we took a tour bus to the old city. Out tour guide (Willy), gave us a description as we were passing the sites. Our first stop was an old fort that dated back to the time of the early Spanish explorers. Street vendors were everywhere. If you don't want to buy from them, it is best to not speak to them and don't make eye contact. Our second stop on the bus was a small shop that sold tourist items. The rest of our tour was on foot and there was a lot of interesting buildings with a history behind them which Willy gave us a running story of. He was a very good tour guide. Our walk took us about 1 hour and included stops at three jewelry stores which I could have done without. Street vendors were everywhere along our route and occasionally beggars. When our walking tour ended, the tour bus took us back to the dock. We really enjoyed the tour and gave Willy a good tip to share with his driver. Tipping is not required, but it is very much appreciated by the tour guides. Our ship departed about 2PM and sailed towards our next stop.
On the 11th day, we arrived in Aruba about 1PM. The ship was to sail again at 7PM, so we just did a little shopping at the local stores that were located within easy walking distance of the dock. Several people from the ship went to the beaches, but we had no interest in that. We live in Galveston, Texas three blocks from the beach. We spent about 2 hours off the ship. We sailed at 7PM and headed toward our final stop in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The next two days, we were at sea. We spent that time watching movies in the theater and just enjoying the activities on the ship. We were given the chance to sign up for a program to make an easy transition to the airport after we arrived in Florida. For $20 per person, the ship contacted the airline for us and obtained a tag for our checked luggage and boarding passes for us which we received around 6PM the last night of the cruise. We tagged our checked luggage and put it into the hallway before 9PM. Our luggage was picked up by ship staff and was ready to go to our airline at the Airport. Our luggage was already checked to our destination. The airlines also charge a fee for the checked luggage ($25 for us) and that was added to our bill for the service. We did not need to deal with our checked luggage again till we arrived at our destination. I think this is a good service to take advantage of. We filled out a simple declaration form for customs. We spent less than $800 out of the country, so we just breezed right through customs. It only took us about 15 minutes including the time standing in line.
We arrived in Fort Lauderdale on the 14th day around 7AM. We left the ship in groups so that the departure process was faster. We were on our way to the airport in just a few minutes from the time our group started to leave. The cruise was a fantastic trip.