We chose this cruise because the Canal was on our "bucket list" and the last minute deals to fill the cabins were excellent. We like the size of the Coral Princess but if you need water slides and discos into the night to ... Read More
We chose this cruise because the Canal was on our "bucket list" and the last minute deals to fill the cabins were excellent. We like the size of the Coral Princess but if you need water slides and discos into the night to survive, you want another ship. Because this was a long cruise (15 nights) there was a lot of time spent on the ship. Surprisingly to us, the passengers were a mixed group from nearly all English speaking countries: USA, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. This led to some interesting dinner discussions (we had Freestyle dining) with a greater than normal variety of internationals. Because of the length of the cruise and the timing after the school year had just started in the US, there were very few children on board and they were a complete non-issue for the rest of us. The great majority were "seniors", most of whom had cruised with Princess before.
The ship itself was in great shape and in what I would call a 'conventional' Princess design. Unlike some ships the Atrium did not extend all the way up to the 14th deck. We found the Casino to be quite small compared to other ships we had been on (this was our 15th cruise). Moreover, it was mostly smoke-free and one could completely bypass it moving along the deck if desired. That being said, the tables were very close together and there was not a lot of 'gawking' room for kibitzers.
Having Freestyle dining, we were assigned to the Bordeaux dining room on deck 5. Again, this was laid out in a very conventional way. We had different staff nearly every night, which had the advantage of interacting with different waiters but the disadvantage of not getting to know them over the longer cruise length. Also, we had a variety of dining partners. Even when we were not 'sharing' a table, the tables for 2 were set so closely together that it was easy to have a conversation at the other tables should you choose.
Food-wise, the ship had just left the summer-time Alaska area and was moving to the winter area of the Caribbean. The menu also had turned over with some Caribbean offerings every night. However, on this initial run with the new menu, the wait staff wasn't always up on the new offerings. Plus, there was a Caribbean shrimp salad offered that the first night would NOT come with red cocktail sauce because it had an island sauce in the bowl with the shrimp. Later in the cruise, that same shrimp not only came with the typical cocktail sauce, but you had to request to NOT have the sauce on it!! The rest of the food was universally upper quality. My wife particularly enjoyed all the steaks as flavorful and tender. Plus, she could have creme brule' for dessert every night (but she didn't).
We did frequent the Horizon Court buffet and we never had a difficulty finding a place to sit. This may be a function of the smaller size of the Coral, but though there may have been a lot of people there, spaces were available. Of course, there were high times for example, breakfast in the early mornings before the shore excursions left and immediately after the excursions had returned when nearly everyone headed upstairs for a bite. We only made the afternoon tea once, finding its time too close to supper and we were already eating too frequently!!!
One of the attractions for us was that this itinerary stopped at a number of ports we had not visited before. We had a shore excursion in each one, generally opting for the Sightseeing and Scenic type of bus tours. Probably because of the demographic of the passengers, these tours frequently filled several buses!
It's a whole other review to go through each shore excursion, but my impression of each port was:
PUERTO VALLARTA: Acapulco on a junior scale. Very built up and developed. For instance, the closest store to where our ship docked was a Wal-Mart. It was a longish bus ride just to get somewhere scenic.
HUATULCO: Puerto Vallarta three decades ago. This is a made for tourists haven that boasts 9 different bays on the Pacific ocean. Our bus tour to La Crucesita traveled to what is really the center of the living area around the bays. We enjoyed the church with the ceiling fresco of Our Lady of Guadeloupe and several interesting shrines in the nave. The rest of the village was for shopping and dining;drinking. It seemed that every shop had a deal with one tour guide or another and you ended up where they would take you!
SAN JUAN del SUR, NICARAGUA: Great people and scenic beauty but not a whole lot more.
PUNTARENAS, COSTA RICA; A large number of ex-pats living in Costa Rica means they are very used to American tourists. Volcanic region with an active crater available for touring. We chose the more sedate vista which included a very nice folkloric dance group of young people. If you go, be aware, they will pull you into the dance, and if you are left holding the broom when the music stops..............
PANAMA CANAL TRANSIT: Full transit took about 9 hours. Many ships anchored waiting to go through on Pacific side but cruise ships have the 'right of way'. Still and engineering tour de force after a century but don't expect gee-whiz technology. Everything happens at a most sedate, but safe, pace. Exiting into the Atlantic, it's hard to miss the new bridge they are building that will span the Canal mouth in one great leap.
CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA: We took a unique shore excursion that first took us to a school where students of poor families are taught to make jewelry. In fact, every person on the tour had a student tutor who helped them fashion their own pendant, bracelet, earrings and ring out of sterling silver and emeralds (low quality of course). One of your masterpieces was included, the others you could buy to take with you. This tour did not include any time in the Old Town but the bus took us to an emerald "factory' where upper quality jewelry was fashioned. They also had raw stones for sale which interested a few of our party. One caution, after the factory tour comes the store where you are pressed one-on-one by a persistent sales person to purchase something. This is fine if you already intended to buy some jewelry but a little high pressure if you weren't planning to.
ARUBA: Because Aruba was the port we had visited twice before, we did not schedule an excursion here. Also, our visit was only about 6 hours long so the variety of tours was limited.
The staff of the Coral Princess were uniformly warm and welcoming. We didn't have an unpleasant encounter with any of them and they genuinely seemed to be enjoying their jobs. Read Less