|Coral Princess set off "on time" Friday on its inaugural voyage. "On time," that is, after nearly a month of delays -- and the cancellation of two previously scheduled "inaugurals". Princess Cruises' sources told us that there was no one big problem but instead a myriad of relatively minor bugs that needed to be worked out before the ship was released from its European shipyard.
Of course, the first ship in a new class -- as is the 88,000-ton, 1,970-passenger Coral Princess -- often has a more complicated launching process. In this case, Coral Princess, which will sail Panama Canal itineraries out of Port Everglades this winter, boasts a number of Princess firsts, such as:
*The New Orleans-themed Bayou Café with its focus on traditional Cajun and Creole specialties and live jazz performances
*The fleet's highest percentage of balcony cabins
*A redesigned performance venue that's now called Universe Lounge; the two deck-high theater features state-of-the-art lighting, sound and video systems.
*The introduction of a new "educationally-oriented" onboard program called "ScholarShip@Sea." Topics that will be featured in its enrichment-style lectures and workshops include the culinary arts, photography, web design and ceramics.
*New style lounges including Crooners, a Rat Pack-esque '60s-themed martini bar and the clubby Churchill lounge for cigar devotees . The casino's been decorated with a "London" theme.
Of course, Coral Princess will maintain some old-line Princess traditions, ranging from the Explorers' Lounge to the Wheelhouse Bar, and from the wedding chapel to a round-the-clock Internet center.
After spending the inaugural season traversing the Panama Canal, by way of Costa Rica, Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Princess' private island, the ship will reposition to Alaska in May.