Sail Date: December 2010
I wont re-iterate other reviews about our 24 hour delay due to Thomas Cook, but I would like to say that the organisation of the Arora Hotel in Crawley was fantastic. However, we waited almost 2 hours to retrieve our luggage at Gatwick and ... Read More
I wont re-iterate other reviews about our 24 hour delay due to Thomas Cook, but I would like to say that the organisation of the Arora Hotel in Crawley was fantastic. However, we waited almost 2 hours to retrieve our luggage at Gatwick and many of the cases were inexplicably wet! Having waited at the airport for nearly 12 hours everyone was exhausted. We finally got on our way having had a 4am call at the hotel and the plane was delayed another 2hrs 20 mins from what we had been told when checking in. When we finally arrived at the ship we set sail immediately and were sent to the Buffet dining for something to eat - nothing very appetising was available. Also, we were not taken to our cabins on arrival by staff and were just told to go to our level by the lift, which it turned out was not on our side of the ship, so we had to go back to the Atrium to find out where the appropriate lift was. I have to say that it took about 3 or 4 days to get over the journey and I slept for hours (which isn't usual). We booked cabins with limited view due to lifeboats being in the way, so no complaints there; as long as we had light to wake up to each day. We saw our cabin steward that evening and only saw him once more for the whole of the cruise. Cabin a bit small. There were no bed side tables but a 3 drawer chest of drawers on one side which was difficult to open and nothing on the other. I used the dressing table seat (all wood) next to my side. You couldn't walk round the end of my side of the bed, but I had to climb over the bed in order to get out. Otherwise cleanliness, toiletries etc were good. I was disappointed with the food and I think P&O are trying to cut corners. On previous cruises with other companies, if you want a main course as a starter portion you could have it. You could also have a second portion of anything if you wished. The Christmas Day meal was very disappointing. I think nearly all the Brussels Sprouts were sent back as you could not cut them with a knife let alone eat them. A lot of the food was tasteless - very disappointing. I actually lost weight on this cruise! We enjoyed afternoon tea, but they cannot prepare crumpets, they are just shown the grill and not toasted at all! Very limp and pale. The entertainment was mediocre - Jimmy James, The Fortunes and Tony Gubba were good. The show team were a bit amateur but what I couldn't understand was that each show was repeated the following night. Therefore we didn't get many shows. One night the show was cancelled as one of the cast was ill. What happened to "The Show Must go on"? I once went to see the skater Robin Cousins, he was ill and the understudy skated in his place. We had a fantastic night and booked to go again when Robin was better! We were not impressed with Marco Pierre White's Restaurant. Although we only went to lunch one day the food was not good. Also, I didn't like the idea that passengers trying to get from one side of the ship to another walk through the restaurant. It was just like a motorway service station. We didn't go on any trips organised by P&O and we had a good time in every port taking trips or booking taxis ourselves. Next time I book a cruise it will more than likely be with Princess or Celebrity. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2009
We are experienced cruisers from AZ. We've been on RCCL, NCL, HA and Azamara but had never been on Princess. We decided to try it for this "Holiday Week" trip through the Panama Canal, which we had long wanted to travel and ... Read More
We are experienced cruisers from AZ. We've been on RCCL, NCL, HA and Azamara but had never been on Princess. We decided to try it for this "Holiday Week" trip through the Panama Canal, which we had long wanted to travel and for a chance to see some Central American ports. We arrived in Acapulco the evening before the cruise with time only for dinner due to plane delays. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza. We knew is wasn't going to be perfect but even so were not happy. It was fully booked with many many Mexican families of very noisy children and their parents who filled the elevators, restaurant and all public areas. It was nearly impossible to get an elevator down in the morning when we were checking out and then it got stuck between floors for several minutes (not fun at all). I heard from others on the cruise that Las Brisas would have been a better choice but have a feeling it was out of our price range. There don't seem to be hotel shuttles to the port in Acapulco but we got a taxi driven by the self proclaimed "Second Best Taxi Driver in Acapulco (the best is in the hospital recovering from an accident). We arrived at the port by 11:30 and waited with a porter for 12:00 to board. Boarding went smoothly and our cabin was already ready for us. We headed directly up to the Sanctuary having heard that to book for the full week we should do that first thing and traveling alone on a cruise that would have over 500 children on board we felt we needed the "serenity" of Sanctuary. We had over 30 minutes to wait (with a few other CC Members) for an attendant to arrive at about 1:00 and then were told that a) there was no discount to book for ther full week, b) there was a significant upcharge for Canal Day (more about that later), c) there would be no refunds and d) we could not reserve seating for the week. We all tried to argue with her to little avail. The best we could get was that she would make note of our seating preferences and give us preference during the week for shade (if that's what we wanted) and for the four cabanas (if that's what we wanted). So $230 per person later we headed to the Horizon Court for our first lunch. I have no complaints about the cabin The size was adequate, there was no motion/vibration problem and it was kept clean by an attendant who we almost never saw. This itinerary included four ports in the first four days. In Huatulco we took a walk around the town and beach. Not that much to do there and we were still acclimating to the cruise. In Puerto Quetzal we took took the Filadelfia Coffee Plantation tour and it was one of the highlights of the week. The tour of the plantation was well done both educational and fun and the lunch was probably the best I've ever had on a tour (note: on request we were provided with a vegetarian lunch). In San Juan del Sur, we arranged a short tour of the town on a pedicab and saw the local library (the first in Nicaragua, we were told) and participated in a holiday party for the local children. In Costa Rica we did a river rafting tour (also well done) all before our first sea day. Whew... In between al that we found time to eat and be entertained on the ship. Although we had signed up for Traditional Late Dining, we only ate that once and ate all other dinners in the Anytime Dining Room with the exception of one night at Sabatini's and one night in the Horizon (I think, or maybe not). We are pescetarians (we eat fish but otherwise are vegetarian). Also, I am trying to diet (not a good thing when cruising, I know). The food was not as good, in general, as we have had on the other cruise lines. The menus on the Formal Nights were very "informal" with lobster tail only offered in the main dining room on the Captain's Night (not a formal night). The salmon from the "Alternative (every night)" menu was nearly petrified (tough and dry). Other fish was marginally better with the exception of Barramundi (sp?) late in the cruise which was very good and sea bass which was good once and fair the other time. Salads were ok but skimpy. One appetizer, the last night, with seafood in it tasted really off and we returned it. There was pasta every night with fettucini alfredo there every (or nearly every) night. Bread and rolls with butter on the table every night were a downfall for me, I must get the courage to ask for crudites instead in the future. We had breakfast in the Horizon each morning, nothing special. Note that the coffee is AWFUL. We bought a "coffee card" which entitled us to "unlimited premium filtered coffee" and 15 espresso based drinks for $24. The premium coffee was hard to find (and why couldn't it be standard?) and the espresso was sometimes good, sometimes too acid. My DH got to like the cappucinos though. Also note that we were disappointed with the service in Horizon. We were never asked if we wanted coffee or juice. Also the only juices easily available were orange and apple, anything else was a special order. Dinner at Sabatinis was good quality. I can't remember what I ate, though, they just kept bringing out more and more and more. The production shows were better than average. We liked one comedian who did a fun act together with the cruise director. My husband liked the ventriloquist. My favorite (as always) was the piano bar. On this cruise it was Martin Kaye, a Manchester-Brit with a passion for Elton John who also managed to introduce us to Cold Play and some other post-modern music. When not on tour, we spent our time in the Sanctuary. Service there was spotty, sometimes getting the cabana we had expressed a preference for but about half the time, not. Sometimes we were spoiled with ice-water refills cold cloths and towels and other times, we were pretty much ignored. There was fruit-water set out each day but as the cruise wore on they neglected to put cups out for it. The gates to the Sanctuary area were often bolted shut to keep out non-paying guests but that made access hard for those of us who had paid. Canal day was a bit chaotic. We paid $70 per person for that day and were told we would get champagne, food, use of binoculars and free photos. We got a skimpy glass of champagne (refills were charged for), the same food that was offered every day (nothing special), binoculars that were collected before the transit was completed and the photos... well that was the part that pushed me over the edge. I had presumed (incorrectly) that the photos would be of US ! The photos were stock shots of the ship going through the canal. Oooh (not). I complained about this to the Director of Passenger Services (who responded by sending me a couple of extra stock shots). Also, the afternoon after the canal, a group of passengers decided to have a party on the Sanctuary deck with music played through speakers they attached to their iPods and loud talking and smoking by at least one of them. I complained about this to the attendant and she brought me chips and salsa in response to my complaint. But and however, the Sanctuary is a really good concept and when it works, it works and is a good thing. We are back home now and I have good memories of my cruise and I'm relaxed and ready to get back to the real world (as well as ready to plan more vacations). Who could ask for anything more? Read Less
Sail Date: December 2009
Introduction: We are a family of four, from Texas. This cruise was a gift to us from my in-laws, avid cruisers with 11 Princess cruises under their belt, 21 cruises in all. We were seven altogether. To cut to the chase, this was a ... Read More
Introduction: We are a family of four, from Texas. This cruise was a gift to us from my in-laws, avid cruisers with 11 Princess cruises under their belt, 21 cruises in all. We were seven altogether. To cut to the chase, this was a wonderful cruise, great food, great service, great excursions. Everyone on Princess went out of their way to make our trip memorable. I enjoyed each and every minute of it. December 19, 2009 Precruise We were met by representatives from Princess at the airport who took our bags and we climbed aboard the bus. The airport was farther from the hotel than I imagined from looking at Google Earth. Traffic was slow and uphill, so we were glad to leave the driving to someone else. As we arrived in front of the Grand Hotel, the driver had to make a U-turn on a busy street to drive up the hotel driveway. We left the bus and followed our Princess rep toward the back of the lobby and were greeted by waiters with glasses of something cold and tropical (pineapple and coconut? and non-alcoholic. We sat for an orientation and were advised that we could take an excursion that evening to see the Cliff Divers or wait for a bus tour of the city with cliff divers the next morning. We opted for the next day, got our room keys and went upstairs. We had three rooms on the 18th floor. The view from the balcony was nice -- the beach, the pool. We went to the beach in front of the hotel. It was a cloudy day, so the water was not sparkling blue as you would imagine. After a quick swim, we dressed for dinner. We decided on the downstairs restaurant -- pretty similar to any Mexican food restaurant at home. Not organized as we are used to, but not too dissimilar. We went to buy some wine to take on board, and perhaps some tequila, but I couldn't remember the brands I had heard recommended. Wine was surprisingly more expensive than the same brands at home, and the selection was much less than our regular grocery store. We got some Acapulco t-shirts and magnets and stood for a long time in line to check out. When we checked out with our credit card, we did not understand why we got pesos back and we did not understand the receipt. It looked like we were charged a lot more and got cash back? (Our credit card online showed the correct amount, so still don't understand why we got pesos back.) Warning: our card got frozen by this transaction by the credit card company and our ship charges were denied. We had to call the bank and straighten it out, so it's a good thing to let your credit card company know you'll be charging in a foreign country. Dec. 20, 2009 Acapulco My daughter and I woke up early and sat on the balcony in the pre-dawn darkness. We could hear birds and traffic below. As the sky began to lighten, we could see the Island Princess in the distance. When the rest of the family got up, we had breakfast in the hotel dining room. They gave us a basket with a variety of rolls, pastries and bread -- all excellent, especially the chocolate filled. There was an adult buffet and a smaller version children's buffet with both American and Mexican breakfast foods, as well as a menu. My daughter had the children's buffet and she went back several times for the fresh-squeezed papaya juice. I had a plate of tropical fruit, coffee and bread. We put our suitcases outside of our doors, checked out of the hotel and loaded onto the bus for our city tour. Our guide was 63-year-old Andres, who pointed out all of the homes of celebrities and movie stars. We drove to Los Flamingos Hotel that was owned at one time by Johnny Weismiller and John Wayne. We got out and walked around the paths and stairs, enjoying the spectacular view. Next stop was near the cliff divers to the P&P Jewelry Store for a free drink (beer, margarita, soft drink) and a chance to buy silver or gold jewelry. I realize the sales people work on commission but I do not like to be followed around the store. My husband and daughters were conspiring to buy me something, so I made myself scarce and went outside to take photos of the vendors. They were selling t-shirts, tablecloths, jewelry and other souvenirs. The group then walked to the Mirador Hotel to watch the Cliff Divers. It was very hot as we waited for the show to begin. After the show, we reboarded the bus and went straight to the cruise terminal. Check-in and embarkation was incredibly quick. In fact, my in-laws are 'preferred' and we were able to check in before them. As we stepped aboard and into the atrium, it was shimmering with white lights and garland. We were quickly whisked to the person selling the Ultimate Kid Package (unlimited soda, hot chocolate and mocktails) and the soda card. Everyone but me got the UKP sticker -- I'm not that big of a soda drinker and I'd rather have a real cocktail. Our mini-suite was B218, and we went to look out the balcony. Our room steward, Benedict, immediately welcomed us and offered us a glass of champagne but we were starving and opted to go to the buffet right away. (Benedict was a great room steward -- always seemed to slip in and get our room ready when we were out.) We had a 2 for 1 coupon for the coffee card and purchased two of those on our way to the Horizon Court. Paul found the Princess Pizza near the pool. Back at our room, we unpacked and decorated our door. I went to the Explorer Lounge for the Roll Call Meet and Greet. -------------------- Dinner that night at the Bordeaux Dining Room. We had opted for Anytime Dining as we had several excursions that might have run into the early dinner we were initially assigned. We ran out of time for dessert because of the muster drill and sail away party. We also had to register for the Shockwaves program for our daughters, so we went back later for coffee and dessert. We were glad we had purchased the coffee card as we had latte, cappucino or mocha every morning and every night. December 21, 2009 Huatulco Breakfast in the Horizon Court -- made to order omelets -- as we pulled into Huatulco. We opted not to have an excursion, instead the girls swam in the ocean and when they tired of that they built sandcastles and buried each other in the sand. I was approached by a young woman named Adelaide, who offered me a table, chairs and a beach umbrella. I asked if there was a drink or food minimum and she said no, so I sat down, ordered a Modelo and enjoyed the breeze while watching the girls. Many vendors brought by textiles, jewelry and carvings, none of which I bought, but they were not aggressive and I enjoyed watching them. We went back to the ship for a quick lunch, then found a taxi van to take all of us to the little town of La Cruecita. The town is very clean and has many modern buildings. The square looks like a typical village with a gazebo in the square and a church on one side. The church is beautifully painted inside with a large Virgin of Guadalupe on the ceiling above the center aisle and dark sky and stars above the far aisles. We bought some magnets, Christmas ornaments and t-shirts from a shop on the square. Our taxi came back for us on time, but in the meantime, other drivers had bargained for our business, and we were able to bring the price down. Back on ship, the sea was starting to get rough, the roughest we experienced on the voyage. I went to meet others from the roll call while my husband laid down and tried to feel less motion. I picked up my youngest daughter from the Shockwaves program where she had been coloring a Shockwaves t-shirt. She enjoyed the program, although there was too much other stuff going on for her to want to attend it all the time. We all got dressed for dinner, the first formal night. )While most people looked nice tonight and every night, it was not the huge deal I had read about here on CC. Smart casual was more casual than smart, and no one seemed to mind or be any the worse for it. Definitely not worth stressing over or buying new clothes.) My husband could not eat due to motion sickness and left the table. Both girls felt queasy and took my advice to nibble on crusty rolls and felt better almost immediately, enough to both order a half order of fettuccine. The girls and I left before dessert as we wanted to go to the Champagne Waterfall and then to see Wayne Hoffman, the mentalist and illusionist. I gave him my ring as part of his show and he linked it to two others. His show was great. After the show, we stopped by to see if my husband was feeling any better and wanted to go have dessert with us. He got up and dressed again and we went to the MDR for dessert and coffee. By this time, he was feeling sufficiently hungry that he spied some steak another diner was eating and ordered dinner. You have to love anytime dining! Tuesday, December 22, 2009 Guatemala Breakfast at HC, watching the coastline of Guatemala get closer and closer. At 9:15 met in the Explorer Lounge for excursion to Filadefia Coffee Plantation and Antigua. This was the first of four Princess excursions. The passengers exited the ship on a gangplank, through a "welcome tent" and past vendors with many beautiful items for sale. We were taken to three buses going to Filadelphia, about 1.5 hours away. Our guide was a fairly young man with a good grasp of English and easy to understand. He gave a good talk as we went through the countryside and was available for any questions. When we reached the plantation, the local guide boarded the bus. We stopped first for a quick bathroom break, then reboarded to go to the fields. She explained the coffee grows on lower bushes but is shaded by higher trees. She explained the different layers of the coffee beans, grafting and growing, then harvesting. We reboarded the bus and went back to the processing area to see how the beans are sorted first by washing them, then drying in the sun, hand sorting and finally roasting and packaging. We had lunch on the grounds under a very large tent, such as one would use for a wedding reception outdoors. A mariachi band played and we got our meal: chicken or beef, refried beans, rice, tortillas, chips and guacamole. Dessert was a luscious and light coffee mouse. We had orangeade to drink, and you could purchase a soft drink or beer. Outside of our tent, a male and female mascaradas -- giant puppets -- danced. After lunch, we went to Antigua. Our guide warned us the vendors would be very aggressive and they were - the most aggressive of any on our excursions in Latin American countries. They mobbed the bus as we got off, and it was impossible to hear our guide point out the different things in the plaza as the vendors moved into the crowd and tried to engage everyone to buy their goods. It was sad to see young children hawking goods -- I hope they are normally in school, only here because it is Christmas break. Our guide took us to a jade store/factory/museum and then to a market contained inside a building. Inside the stalls were like mazes. The shop keepers were friendly and had many beautiful items to sell. We returned to the ship in time for dinner -- my appetizer was pineapple and pistachios; mango soup and chicken breast from the "left side" of the menu -- the side that is always available. My husband had the chiappino (sp?), which he pronounced excellent. We went to the Adrian Zmed show at the Universal Lounge. Zmed was a co-star with William Shatner on TJ Hooker, also some guest starring roles such as the Love Boat. They played clips of his career and he good-naturedly made fun of himself now that he's a little older, less hair and a little more out of breath. During one of the numbers, a cast member pulled my 12-year-old daughter onto the floor with a hula hoop. At first she didn't know what to do and then went into action and hula hooped better than anyone to a big round of applause. Wednesday, December 23, 2009 Nicaragua I was awake early because of a cold and unable to sleep much. I went to the HC for coffee and sat on the Lido Deck watching the crew get the area ready for the day. We had breakfast and an early lunch at the HC so we could leave for our excursion to the Masaya Volcano National Park. We took tenders to San Juan del Sur. There were some vendors and dancers, as well as three firemen standing at attention for donations. Very dedicated, those firemen. Our local guide spoke excellent English and was easy to understand. He talked non-stop for 1.5 hours as we drove to the volcano. I looked out the window at the homes and countryside as I listened to him. He told us about the civil wars in the 80s between the Contra and the Sandinistas and related his own personal story that he had been drafted at age 17 by the Sandinistas. At that time, he was in high school and spoke English, having learned it in parochial school at age 12. His parents did not want him to be in the army, but reasoned that his knowledge of English and his education made him a valuable asset. But the Sandinistas wanted him to be "re-educated" and sent him to work in the morgue. Roberto was very passionate about his country and stressed that much has changed since the 80s. He said the country is trying to recover economically and to bring tourism to the country. It was a long 1.5 hour ride to the park -- the only national park in Nicaragua -- I enjoyed looking out the windows so it did not seem as long. If you have children, bring their DS or ipod, or a coloring book. The volcano itself is a large crater with sulfuric smoke. If you are asthmatic, I would not recommend this excursion. Frankly, there is not much to do here -- we peered over the edge, and climbed the stairs for a better look, but that's really it. The bathroom facility is primitive, more like an outhouse. Our guides gave us a snack of a bottle of water, an apple, croissant filled with some type of meat and a bag of corn snacks. We got on the bus and drove a short distance to Catarina, a village with a small market and a nice overview of the two large lakes. We had a beer at the restaurant and used the bathroom. The bathrooms were clean but one lacked toilet paper or a toilet seat. The vendors in the market were not aggressive at all. They had wood carvings, shoes, pottery and other items for safe. These bells were my favorite thing -- I would have purchased them if I thought I could get them home in one piece and not tip the scales on my suitcase. At the crest of the hill, there was a community nativity scene. I liked the fact that the baby had not yet arrived in the manager. We were only here a short time as we had to race back to the ship. On the way back, it became dark and we could see that almost all of the homes had a string or two of Christmas lights, a Christmas tree and a color television set, even though the homes were relatively poor. As it was, we were late to the tenders -- but so were about 1,000 others. The firemen were still there, and other vendors hoping for last minute sales. Back on board, we got in line for dinner outside the Bordeaux. It was the first time we had to wait at all for a table, but then, even the "first seating" diners did, too, as many people came back late from their excursion. We were escorted to a table and our waiter was a young Filipino man named Alvin. He addressed my oldest daugher by name -- he had been in an adjoining section the night before when we had dessert and overheard us calling her by name. He was very friendly to the girls, as was his supervisor, Nelson. They both did magic tricks. The girls loved all the attention and from then on, nothing would do but to be at Alvin's table. December 24, 2009 Costa Rica Again, I awoke too early and went to the HC for coffee and sat on the Lido Deck in the pool area. It was 5 a.m. and a dad brought his two teen-aged sons to swim laps! That's dedication. I moved to the Promenade and watched the crew swapping the decks and wiping the railings. The crew takes an amazing amount of care of the ship. One time we came across an entire group of young men on their knees on the stairs, scrubbing the carpet and getting into the corners of each step. I moved to the Crooner's Lounge and listened to the piped-in music, reflecting how lucky I was to be here. I got up, peered over the rail at the 5th deck of the Atrium and was delighted to see a huge display of gingerbread houses and Santas. I went back to the room and everyone got up and dressed for breakfast in the HC as we had to leave by 7:40 for our excursion to the Original Canopy Adventure zipline. It was already hot and humid. Our guide on the bus was already drenched in sweat. We had a small bus to take us to Mahogany Park for ziplining, about 45 minutes away. The guide told us that Costa Rica was pretty prosperous, due in part to investments in technology and call centers. There is a large middle class, a democratic republic with a balanced social program. The homes we passed seemed to bear him out, as they were small to medium sized, but well maintained with beautiful yards and gardens. Education was free and mandatory with government subsidies for families who couldn't afford to send their children to school. Tourism was also an important industry. As will all the tours we have taken, we felt very welcomed and valuable to the host countries. Our guide stressed that the ziplining was very safe, although not as exciting as some others, but it was safety first. Sounded good to me, as I am not a fan of heights. At Mahogany Park, we first used the rest room -- I mention this because it was very clean (smelled of Lysol!) and there were flush toilets, unlike the day before. We were outfitted with helmets, gloves and harnesses and walked a few minutes down the trail to the first tree we would climb via a metal staircase. The zipline guide explained how to sit, how to hold on to the strap, and how to brake with your hand behind your head. We could see the group ahead of us zipping along the first segment, not far off the ground. So far, so good. The first of seven segments was not too bad, but we landed on a very narrow metal platform, and I had to tippy toe and then pull down the line so the guide could release my pulley. There were plenty of guides, all about 20 years old, and we were tethered at all times by a safety line, but it was a little disconcerting if you are not a fan of heights. We made our way around the tree to the next zipline segment. We were filmed the entire time by the park still photographer and videographer. By the third segment, our 9-year-old was hysterical. The tree was very high up -- about 60 feet -- and the chasm seemed very great. We had to make our way around the tree again to zip off. She was screaming uncontrollably and I wasn't doing too well myself. (BTW, there were other children on the tour and none of them had any problems.) There was no way down except to zip down. At the end of the zipline, we got a bottle of cold water, much needed, took off our equipment, and walked 15 minutes to the base where we had the chance to buy the video of our experience (we did). Having survived once, I think I could do it again... The video does not look at high as it did in real life! Back on the ship, we had lunch and I took the girls to the pool to cool off. There were plenty of chairs available, and the pool was not crowded. After the pool, the girls wanted to play shuffleboard, so we went to the back of the ship where the shuffleboard was. They played a bit and then played checkers using the giant chess set since they don't know how to play chess. Dinner time at the Bordeaux. We were not able to get Alvin as his section was full. The waiter we did get seemed a bit preoccupied, I'm glad we had not been assigned to him for the entire cruise. I had the tropical fruit soup (really, it's a smoothie!) and fettuccine with a mocha and cherries jubilee for dessert. After a long day and full meal, we were sleepy and decided to call it a day. Christmas Day at Sea I woke up early and went to the balcony to see the first light. There, arching from the sea beside the ship, was the most beautiful and most vivid rainbow I've ever seen. Breakfast at HC and then met the family in the Wheelhouse to open presents. We were not the only ones with this idea -- the other large, extended family was very organized and had planned out their Christmas morning with stockings hung up, hot chocolate ordered and pastries delivered! We overheard them reading scripture and singing Christmas carols. Nice! We just drew up some chairs for the seven of us. Grandma and Grandpa spoiled everyone as usual, more than I anticipated as they already spoiled us by giving us the cruise as a Christmas gift! After opening gifts, we went to the Atrium, which was awash in red balloons and streamers in addition to the Christmas decorations already in place. There were tables set up for decorating cookies, tattoos, coloring, making buttons. And of course, Santa arrived down the elevator and was enthroned on the landing with the Youth program direct assisting him in giving out a package to every child that contained a Princess teddy bear. For lunch, we went to the Bayou Cafe for British Pub Lunch. I had the cottage pie, others in our group had fish and chips or bangers and mash. Food was good and hot! More swimming, shuffleboard and checkers in the afternoon. Unfortunately, we were not at Alvin's station as we could not make reservations on Christmas.We went to the comedy show with Billy Vader. We left after a few minutes because it was not appropriate for kids (and not labeled as such anywhere). December 26, 2009 The Panama Canal I was more excited about the Panama Canal than a kid getting up to check for Santa's arrival. My husbnad and I walked forward on the Caribe deck, there were only a couple of others out there as we approached Panama City and the Bridge of the Americas. We saw the pilot's ship and as it began to get lighter, got the girls out of bed to witness the Mira Flores locks. They were somewhat interested but it is a long process to go through each lock. We walked around the ship to see the locks at different perspectives and then had breakfast in the HC where we could hear the commentary. We sat on the deck chairs on the promenade as we cruised slowly through the channel. It was incredibly quiet and peaceful. We watched as the channel opened up into Gatun Lake and then the last locks appeared. We went back to the front of the ship to watch as we went through the locks. There was a green container ship beside us and we waved to the crew as they watched from their ship. We also noticed a road in front of the last lock that cars and buses were passing over and we wondered how that would work. When the gates opened the bridge swung to the side as well. Very interesting! We docked at Colon and there was a huge line to disembark. It moved very quickly and we wandered around the handicrafts and souvenirs. There were tribal people selling their wares, clad in loincloths and tattoos. We had a tropical smoothie blended for us at one of the stalls. After dinner, the girls and I went to see "Do You Wanna Dance" show featuring the Princess singers and dancers in a variety of dance styles and songs. We enjoyed it very much December 27, 2009 Sea Day We had breakfast at the Bordeaux with many waiters at our beck and call, and it was quiet and elegant as compared with the rushed breakfast in the HC. Alvin and Nelson fussed over the girls, bringing them pots of hot chocolate. After breakfast, we carted our laundry to the self-service laundromat on the Baja deck. We were able to use four washers at once and got our laundry done in record time. We enjoyed chatting with the other people who were doing laundry as well. Our daughters went with their grandfather to play Monopoly in the game room and my husband and I had a chance to visit with his mom until it was time to go to the youth program Talent Show in the Universal Lounge. My youngest daughter's part was in the Air Guitar number. The kids all had fun -- some hip hop dancing, some karaoke, some singing -- and everyone got a nice Princess Cruises medal at the end. My husband and I and my in-laws attended the Captain's Circle reception. Waiters carried around trays of drinks -- I had some champagne -- and my father-in-law remarked it was the best Captain's Circle reception they had attended (my inlaw's have 11 Princess cruises). From there, off to dinner. I had roasted tomato soup and lobster and prawns. Alvin expertly freed the lobster from the shell, then did some magic tricks with cups and croutons. He and Nelson kept the girls supplied with hot chocolate and banana-chocolate milkshake for my brother-in-law. Entertainment tonight was Motor City with the dancers and singers.My 12 year old was surprised to find out she knew about 80% of the Motown Sound. It was well done, even better than the night before. December 28, 2009 Jamaica I woke up with a terrible headache -- combination of sinus and migraine -- but got up and went to the HC for early breakfast. We were leaving by 7:20 for Dunn River Falls and Mystic Mountain Chairlift. Instead of meeting in one of the ship lounges, we all spilled out onto the pier and were greeted by an army of Jamaican women in white blouses and blue skirts (and incredibly, some in high heels!) We finally all got sorted out and boarded our bus. Our guide was Shanae, our driver was Dudley and our bus was Number 24. We had to repeat that several times. It was 1.75 hours to Ochos Rios, and we were supposed to be back by 1:30 p.m. Shanae pointed out the various golf courses and resorts, then sang the Jamaican national anthem and recited the national pledge. She is obviously very proud of her country. We arrived at Dunn River Falls and quickly took off shorts and tops and put on water shoes. Shanae gave us the usual warnings about not getting sidetracked by vendors and gave us a few Jamaican phrases. At the falls, we were handed over to two guides named Paul and Lopez who walked down to the beach, took charge of anyone's camera, and told us to hold hands up the falls. Some places were deep, or had hidden pitfalls, some places the water rushed forcefully. Rachel got scared at one point, but got over that and didn't want to leave to use the stairs. She was thrilled to make it to the top. I fell at one point in one of the aforementioned pitfalls and scraped by shin but no big deal. The guides took video and wanted $40 for it (hint -- don't do it -- buy the Princess video instead). Take some bills in your swim trunks to tip your guide or they will follow you to the bus! A few moments later, we drove to Mystic Mountain and ascended on the chairlift which accommodates 4 people. I had read reviews saying too noisy with the road below but I thought that was an extremely minor thing. We were very high up over the tree tops with a spectacular view of the bay. (And yet, I said to myself, what am I doing here? I get scared on ferris wheels!) At the top, we had lunch, which was included in our tour, jerk chicken, fries, macaroni salad and a soft drink. Unfortunately, we were running way behind, so we scarfed down the food, took a quick look through the window and jumped on the chairlift going down. I actually loved the going down part -- much closer to the ground and much cooler. We were late getting back (and very glad the tour was booked through Princess, so no worries) -- almost an hour late. It's just too much to do in the time allotted. The tour dispatcher was in constant communication with Shanae and sent a police escort to get us through the afternoon traffic. This didn't do much for my headache, but I'm glad I went on the tour. Dave took the girls for a while and I laid down after taking two Excedrin Migraine tabs. Felt better and had dinner. I had goat cheese souffle and pork tenderloin with a cocoa rub, which I have to say was my least favorite -- I should have had the lamb, which Dave said was excellent. Dessert was a raspberry mouse and a hazlenut mouse with cake between. (Too much headache meds, I'm a little fuzzy on the specifics.) After dinner, we went to the ventriloquist show while the girls played more Monopoly with Grandpa. Sorry to say, I found him not to be entertaining at all and we left. I was sound asleep by 8:30. December 29, 2009 At Sea It's my Birthday! All seven of us went to breakfast in the MDR to enjoy the fabulous service of Alvin and Nelson. We asked Alvin how he manages to wait tables for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He said he goes to bed about 12 or 1, and sleep a few hours before getting up for breakfast service. Takes a nap before lunch, and one afterwards. He was looking resplendent in his white coat with gold and blue braided epaulets; Nelson was wearing a blue jacket designating him as a supervisor. At 9, I scurried off to the Lotus Spa for my massage, my birthday gift from Dave and Norene. I was still feeling the effects of the headache as well as the migraine meds, but after the massage with Grace, I felt 100 percent better. She recommended I have a massage at least once a month at home since I was showing signs of very tense muscles (imagine that, since I had been off of work and off the computer for 10 days!). I then rushed over to the Princess Theater, where I caught the last of the "Hilarious Cooking Show" staring the dining room maitre d's and chef's. Unfortunately I missed most of it, but saw Jorge of the Horizon Court sing a wonderful rendition of "My Way." The show concluded with everyone singing "Leaving on a Jet Plane" and those words were never truer! The family said it was a great show. At the conclusion, the entire audience (and it was SRO) filed out and went to tour the galley. I saw Nelson standing at the back of the theater, and he walked arm in arm with Rachel as they toured the galley. We again had pub food at the Bayou Cafe and the girls again went to play Monopoly with Dave in the card room. There were many families in there -- the sedate bridge players must have been scared off. Paul and I packed up our suitcases and found we needed to buy another bag at the giftshop to accommodate all the new t-shirts, magnets and Christmas presents. We finished up and sat in the Pastriesse (sp?) for a drink before Paul headed for a nap and I played Scrabble with the girls. The card room was completely filled, so we took our game to the Crooner's Lounge, as did a couple of others. Dinner was the American theme. The waiters had on red, white and blue vests. Stephanie pointed out Alvin's bowtie was not lined up with his vest, so they helped him right it. December 30, 2009 We had one last breakfast with Alvin and Nelson (they were like part of the family by now), arriving before the doors of the dining room opened at 6:30. We said our goodbyes, not only to the waiters and our cabin steward, but to Dave, Norene and Brian as they would head to Miami and then to California while we went back to Texas. Disembarkation, Customs and Immigration were incredibly fast -- we were in and out in 15 minutes! Fort Lauderdale Airport, not so much, but we had a wonderful time. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2009
We boarded the Island Prince on December 20th for a full transit of the Panama Canal. The Island Princess is beautiful ship. She will benefit from her upcoming dry dock in terms of some cosmetics, but the layout is very good. There are ... Read More
We boarded the Island Prince on December 20th for a full transit of the Panama Canal. The Island Princess is beautiful ship. She will benefit from her upcoming dry dock in terms of some cosmetics, but the layout is very good. There are lots of open spaces to relax and it never seemed very crowded, no small feat considering our cruise was a "sold out" Christmas cruise. We had a mini-suite on the aft Dolphin Deck. It was spacious and the balcony was excellent. We had four chairs and a table and lots of privacy. When weren't in port we spent most of our time sitting on the balcony enjoying the warm sea air. Our cabin steward was excellent and was eager to please. The dining was excellent. We had the Traditional late seating and thoroughly enjoyed the food, service, and our table mates. We did the Chef's Table which was an outstanding experience. We had an Ultimate Balcony dinner, which was worth every penny. We also ate in the Bayou, but weren't all that impressed with the service. We are a couple in our early 50s and we weren't sure we would like cruising but the Island princess changed our minds. We had a fabulous time! Read Less
Sail Date: December 2009
We are a family of four (my husband and I in our early forties and our two boys ages 13 and 10). This was our 7th cruise (all on Princess). GETTING TO ACAPULCO: We are from the Seattle area, and have learned to not travel the day of ... Read More
We are a family of four (my husband and I in our early forties and our two boys ages 13 and 10). This was our 7th cruise (all on Princess). GETTING TO ACAPULCO: We are from the Seattle area, and have learned to not travel the day of embarking on a cruise, for several reasons. 1. Giving us (and the airlines) a few extra days to get us "there" takes a ton of stress off. (We have learned this the hard way) and 2. Getting to our destination early allows us to unwind and get acclimated to the weather and time change (plus it lets us start our vacation a little bit early). So we flew Continental to Acapulco. We loved Acapulco. We stayed at the Grand Mayan resort for 3 nights, and it was incredible. The Grand Mayan was a 10 minute drive from the airport. It was an awesome resort, a family friendly place with a great lazy river, aqua park for kids, the longest pool we have ever seen, great public facilities, and our two bedroom room was spacious (we all loved the soaking pool on our balcony). There was a terrific beach right out front. We had a good pre-Christmas experience there. The only con to the resort is because it is in the "newer" part of Acapulco, it meant it was a 40 minute drive to the older Acapulco/cruise ship terminal area. We found ourselves taking taxis every day, but well worth it. While in Acapulco we saw the cliff divers, Fort San Diego, the artisans markets, the Flamingo hotel, Hardrock Cafe, etc. All in all we had a great time. EMBARKATION: The day of embarking went fairly smoothly. We got to the terminal early and had no delays, and were on the ship by 1:00pm. THINGS WE LOVED ON/ABOUT THE SHIP: The location of the Horizon Court is awesome (at the front of the ship with great views). We always like the burger bar and pizza. We liked that the gym was open 24 hours. We loved the way they decorated for Christmas. We thought they did a great job celebrating Christmas for the kids (crafts, cookies to decorate and a visit from Santa). Our boys liked the Ultimate Drink Card, and we used the coffee card daily. We thought most of the crew was upbeat (except for a few pushy servers pushing those drinks). We thought the entertainment was average (The piano man was incredible and very entertaining, we saw a few productions shows, a comedian, and a mentalist who was so so.) Room service was ok (sometimes it took a while and occasionally the order would be incomplete). We loved that the day we went through the canal they had an ongoing informational blurb over the intercom system spouting great and interesting facts about the history of the canal and the procedures to transit the canal. We loved that. We loved that there was always great and uncrowded views going thru the canal (check out the secret passages to the front of the ship on deck 10 and the secret passages on the back of the ships on decks 9 and 10). Tea time is always fun. WE absolutely loved the putt putt golf course on the top. THINGS WE DID NOT LIKE: We thought the Island was beginning to show wear and tear (for example: the carpets were stained, the fabric seats in the Horizon court were soiled, some rust on our balcony, the couch in the cigar lounged had been feebly repaired.). We missed Skywalkers, we missed MUTS, we missed the International Cafe. We thought the cigar lounge was a "smoker's closet" - gross, small and smelly. We thought the Cruise Director (Frank) was a bit phony. We thought the food had dropped significantly in quality and selection (for example: no escargot and no crab, instead alot of veal, lamb and meatloaf - yep, meatloaf on a cruise ship...hmmm). And late at night there was minimal variety and quantity in the Horizon Court. We had a difficult time deciphering Princess' rules (as to what rules were being enforced and which ones most people could and did ignore.)...for example: if babies/toddlers were NOT potty trained they were allowed in the splash pool only - that rule was never enforced by pool staff. Which was gross considering that children (of all ages - as well as us parents if we so chose to hang out with our kids were limited to using only one pool (I'll expand on that below). Not allowed to wear shorts in the dining room for dinner? - sure you were, we saw several people in shorts that were never turned away. Children were not allowed in the first three rows of the Princess Theater - every time we saw a show in the theater there would be several children in the first three rows and even when they were climbing over the seats and being a huge distraction, they were never asked to leave or move. In fact we never even saw Teen Security on the entire ship. So if Princess is going to state rules then why not enforce them. OK, here's my biggest complaint about this cruise. We booked a mini suite for 4 people, we got a mini suite meant for three people. It was a huge inconvenience. Picture this. We could go from our balcony to our front door without ever touching the ground. Our one son slept on a (less than twin size) pullout couch, our other son slept on a crummy, dirty, flimsy roll a way bed (that we had to roll out in the morning ourselves), that went cross-ways from the pull out bed to our bed. We complained the first night to two people at the Passenger Services Desk and their reply was "we are sailing at full capacity, and really how much time do you plan on spending in your cabin?" We were told they would get back with us the next day - they didn't. Four days later we complained, we were told someone would get a hold of us - no one did. I think Princess' attitude is: once on board we, the passengers are stuck so why make anything better for us. In this case we asked for our situation to be rectified (and we were shut down). I have since written a letter to Princess and am awaiting their reply. THIS PART APPLIES TO PARENTS TRAVELLING WITH CHILDREN: On the Christmas cruise there were 500 children on board. If you ask me I think Princess "corralled" the children. For example: The back pool is in the adult/pay Sanctuary (off limits to kids and non-paying adults), the Lotus spa/indoor pool was adult only, so besides the splash pool it left children (families) to use the outdoor pool, and during pool games the kids had no pool. That meant if you child had gotten a bit too much sun, oh well, they could not use the indoor pool (that by the way was filled at 1/4 capacity). The kids were scrutinized poolside and reprimanded if they dare jump (feet first) into the pool, definitely not allowed. Kids clubs: When our boys were younger I think Princess did a great job with that 4-7 y/o group. But...the 8-12 y/o are put on auto pilot in front of PS2's and WII's. And my 10 year old son did not have a good time making a grass skirt for tropical island night. My 13 y/o was in the 13 to 17 teen club, and I think there is a big difference between 13 and 17. That group primarily focuses in a social setting (chatting, hanging out, dancing). There were few if any organized activities. So our kids hung out with us most of the time (which was fine with us). What we tell our kids on cruises, is: They have the right to enjoy themselves just like everyone else, regardless of age, but that they do not have the right to negatively impact any other persons right to enjoy themselves. MISC: There was quite a wide range of age groups. So to any grumpy adults out there that might be reading this, it's not always a kid that pushes the wrong button on an elevator, sometimes it's an adult that changes their mind mid-destination or accidentally pushes the up button when they wanted to go down, so please don't always blame the kids. And to kids out there. Don't scare people by running up or down the stairs taking 4 at a time. Our reflexes are slower and you look like a freight train coming at us. If you asked an older couple they would probably say that the children were running a muck. But if you ask me (from a parent's stand point) I think kids were not appropriately entertained and that they were being punished for being a kid and that they were corralled. It was almost like the ship was too small for kids. TRICKS: It always surprises me to meet people on a cruise that stare cross eyed at me when I order a bowl of strawberries with a side of whip cream for dessert at dinner. They say "can you do that?". Well if you take nothing away from this review, please remember this. Ask away. You might not get everything, but you won't get much if you don't ask. For example: Being in a mini suite we get a glass of champagne upon arrival - we ask for the bottle (and get it), no matter what cabin your in - ask for robes, ask for egg crate on the bed, ask to have your sitting chair of coffee table removed if you need the room, ask for strawberries for dessert or lox for breakfast. I think we are cruising at a time when even the cruise lines are cutting back trying to save money, but it never hurts to ask. We booked this cruise to experience the Panama Canal and that was amazing, awesome and something I think our entire family will always remember. Oh, did I mention that from our balcony, we were all able to touch the canal wall! Those are our favorite pictures. We realize that with any vacation rarely does it go perfectly, so you do the best you can with what you got at the time and we try to make every vacation a wonderful experience. OK, moving on...DISEMBARKING: My husband walked off the ship early, shared a taxi to the airport, picked up a rental car and came back for the three of us and our luggage an hour later. It worked out perfectly. As for us three disembarking...that was quick and easy as well. From there we drove to Tampa and did Busch Gardens for 2 days, then drove to Orlando and did Universal Parks for 2 days. In Orlando, we stayed at a Universal Property, The Portofino Bay, which is an absolute wonderful and amazing property. The best part is that if you stay at a Universal property, your room card gets you head of the line privileges, which saved us hours of standing in lines waiting to go on rides. On Jan 3rd our flight was cancelled so Delta put us up at a hotel and we arrived home Jan 4th in the evening. They boys were up early and back to school the next day. Oh, it's such a harsh transition from vacation to reality! Happy travels to all. HUATULCO, Mexico: Huatulco is a small coastal Mexican town. We got off the ship, took a $4 taxi ride into town and just wandered around taking pictures and picking up some souvenirs (vanilla, ceramics, pottery, t shirts and coffee). It was a relaxing day for us. There is a nice beach right by the cruise dock, and there is also some shopping close by the dock. We did know people that went snorkeling close by and seemed to have a good time. PUERTO QUETZAL, Guatemala: In Puerto Questzel we did a Princess "Antigua on Your Own" tour. We usually do not do ship tours, however I had read that there could be some safety/security issues in this area and also it seemed like most prominent areas of interest involved a lengthy drive. So we boarded a bus to Antigua. We had around six hours on our own there. We had a great time. That is a very picturesque town when the drive there showed only 3rd world poverty. This was by far the best shopping. Items to buy were: jade (although I did not think was so cheap, but did a have quite a selection), textiles (I bought a beautiful leather with a woven fabric panel for $140 dollars, there were also table runners, place mats, pouches, purses, bags, cigars, coffee, wood carvings). We had a very nice day, and because we were high in elevation it was cool and comfortable. We were late leaving Antigua and it was 1 1/2 hour drive, but the ship did wait for us. A fun day, but long. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2009
This was our 4th cruise, 2 with Carnival and 2 with Princess. We definitely like Princess and will cruise with them from now on. The Island Princess is smaller of course to go through the locks of the Panama Canal, but still everything a ... Read More
This was our 4th cruise, 2 with Carnival and 2 with Princess. We definitely like Princess and will cruise with them from now on. The Island Princess is smaller of course to go through the locks of the Panama Canal, but still everything a person needs for the best cruising experience. There was my husband and I, and our daughter of 26 years old, and we all had a great time, because there was a very good variety of different ages on board. There's so many things to get involved in, which is what we did; such as trivia, dance lessons, singing, drink mixing, sail away parties, toga party, even midnight mass Christmas eve, etc., as many or as few that you want to be involved in. We were involved with as many things as possible, but still felt like we had the most relaxing time of our lives. The cruise staff was so nice and friendly that they made you feel like getting involved, welcomed, and we became like family. We knew them by name and they knew us too. The ports of call were very nice, but most of the tours were a 90 minute drive one way, so we mainly went to the beach on our own at each port and enjoyed a local brewed beer from every country. In Costa Rica we did a private tour, which I posted on trip advisor. Nicaragua there is a hidden place called Pelican Eyes Resort that you can hike up to that let Ship customers use their facilities, and its very beautiful with beautiful views of the ocean.We highly recommend this cruise even over the holidays because everything was decorated so beautifully and everyone was in the Christmas Spirit!     Read Less

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