We chose this cruise because it journeyed to new locations, for us. Plus, the chance to pass through the Panama Canal is a Bucket List experience. We wanted that for our kids, and we needed a relaxing vacation after a very stressful year. ... Read More
We chose this cruise because it journeyed to new locations, for us. Plus, the chance to pass through the Panama Canal is a Bucket List experience. We wanted that for our kids, and we needed a relaxing vacation after a very stressful year.
Previous cruises have been on Royal Caribbean and Carnival, and we found Princess to be superior in just about every way. With our kids, Carnival cruises out of Galveston have been a quick and easy vacation choice, but Carnival food is repetitive and boring, other than in the dining room.
We really enjoyed the food on this ship. The buffet had an enormous variety of foods, although their hot selections should be expanded, fresh fruit was the same every day, and their chef should go to Salad Bar School to learn how to set up an amazing salad bar. Theirs was below Pizza Hut level, unfortunately, with store-bought salad dressings. Just by adding a larger variety of salad additions and homemade dressings (very easy), this would have been a great improvement.
The dining room service was excellent, thanks to Benedict and Brigitta, but on a couple of days, there just wasn't anything that appealed to us. In fact, one night my daughter checked out the posted menu, took pics of it with her cell phone, and after we all reviewed it, we decided to eat at the buffet that night. Still, the main dining room food was very good quality.
Initially, we were assigned to Anytime Dining, but after 2 nights switched to the 8 p.m. seating. One night, there were so many people in line, they were trying to see if any of us could be seated in one of the assigned dining rooms and another night we were given a pager and told it would be a 30 minute wait. I've never been sold on the Anytime Dining concept, although it sounds good in theory.
One night we ate at the burger bar on the Lido deck and felt very insulted by the young man behind the counter. He didn't want to be there, he didn't want us to be there, and it showed. I ordered their signature burger, paid an extra $5 or so, and was told it would take 25 minutes to cook. I was willing to wait, and the burger was excellent, but the whole experience was very off-putting.
One of the premium restaurants is Crown Grill. The Crown Grill served 2 British pub meals on sea days, and we took advantage of both. We love British pub food. The Scotch egg was amazing -- huge! The size of a softball. Fish and chips were standard, but served hot, the curry dishes were very good, and the bread and butter pudding was like eating a hot, eggy cloud. So good!
We decided to take my son here to celebrate his 16th birthday. Dinner was okay, but if we had spent $120 of our own cash (we had onboard credit), I would have been disappointed. My Porterhouse steak had a massive amount of fat on it -- so much that I couldn't eat half of it. However, everyone else seemed to really enjoy their steak selections, and the steaks were very large. My baked potato was small and sad looking. The onion soup with blue cheese was probably the best thing I ate that night. Desserts were okay, visually appealing, but just didn't hit the right chords with us. The lemon tart was the only dessert we finished. Since it was my son's birthday, they brought out a huge chocolate dessert for him, with a candle, and sang the birthday song. The gesture was very sweet -- the dessert just wasn't our style. Very heavy, dark chocolate-y. It needed some whipped cream or vanilla ice cream to lighten it up a bit. Service was above average, not great.
About 6 days into this cruise, we took our son to the ship's doctor for a bad cold. The doctor told us that the median age on the ship was 71! Hubby and I are early 50s, our kids are 16 and 18. In spite of this, however, the experience around the other passengers was pleasant. One day, my kids went to the High Tea and sat at a table with 4 other people, and were treated so kindly! In fact, one of the women saw my daughter and I the next day and came to compliment me on having such great kids. Yes, that was a trip highlight! LOL
The excursions offered on the ship are typical but, oddly, in a couple of cases, nothing really jumped out at us. Princess Cays was an absolute dream day with perfect weather, perfect water, perfect everything. Coming on Day 2, it was just what we needed to ease us into a vacation mindset. I rented an air conditioned bungalow, thinking the AC would be needed after reading reviews of this itinerary saying how hot and humid it was. Because the weather was perfect, the bungalow wasn't really needed, although it was kind of nice to have our own private place to eat and store our stuff. At $199, it was overpriced, though.
In Cartagena, we just took a cab to the Old City, stopped at the fort for a photo opp, and went to an emerald factory to buy a pair of special birthstone earrings for my daughter. Traffic was bad and that slowed us down and limited what we could see, however, as this was my first time in South America, it made me realize how much I want to explore this continent! We bought coffee, Cuban cigars, lots of artisan products and in the shopping area by the ship, I bought a gorgeous leather purse.
Panama Canal was...interesting. The new locks are a little on the boring side -- they are concrete, technology, sanitized. We took a rather expensive excursion that allowed us to traverse through the entire canal going through the old locks, and those were far more interesting. Unfortunately, the excursion itself took over 11 hours, the boat ride to the old locks was excruciatingly slow and there was no time for anything else. Traversing the entire canal was cool, a bucket list type of thing, but would I spend an entire day doing it again? No.
In Limon, Costa Rica, we decided to not do any ship excursions but, instead, took the advice of one of the tour sellers on the dock and went ziplining at Jungle Breezes, about 20 minutes from the dock. We had a blast! At $50 per person, 11 zipline stations that are steep and fast, we had a blast. The people there were attentive, careful, and very nice. I highly recommend this experience.
Finally, Grand Cayman. In the previous ports, our ship was the only one there. In Grand Cayman, there were 5 and that created very crowded conditions. We did a little shopping, ate at Margaritaville, and went back to the ship.
Overall, we all really enjoyed this itinerary. Because we booked this cruise primarily for the itinerary, it met our expectations and then some. Our kids enjoyed the experience. My daughter and I loved our quiet afternoons in the atrium area, listening to live music, reading our books, and enjoying snacks and drinks from the cafe and coffee bar. The Movies Under the Stars had features during the day, too, and we enjoyed the experience.
Embarkation was an absolute breeze. Debarkation was a little more complicated because the ship was behind schedule and arrived back in Fort Lauderdale a few hours late due to a medical emergency. By the way, after reading other reviews of this same ship and itinerary, medical emergencies that require backtracking happens pretty frequently.
Now, for the one big negative that left us with a bad taste for Lotus Spa, an independent company that operates on the ship.
If you've ever gone swimming in a pool full of piranhas and had fun, then you may very well enjoy your interactions with the staff at the Lotus Spa. I found a couple of the ladies to be very hard sell, unpleasantly so.
I had planned on 1 or 2 treatments for myself but first, scheduled a lime and ginger massage for my 18 yo daughter as a treat. It was $155 for a 50 minute massage and when I scheduled at the counter, the spa manager, Margaritte, told me she would add another 15 minutes if I "schedule it for right now." She must have sold used cars in a past life.
I agreed and my daughter enjoyed the experience. However, when I saw the room charge, the spa had charged me $199 for the longer massage and had added their own tip for a total bill of $240. My daughter said she was never given the chance to add a tip. I thought I had read all the fine print, so it's possible the gratuity was automatically added and if so, it was not made clear -- bad, bad form.
I called the spa and left a message that we had been overcharged. I was told the manager would call me, but she never did. On the last day of the cruise, when my husband was paying our ship charges, he went to the spa to ask about the overcharge. The manager fabricated a story in which *I* had scheduled the longer massage! Since my husband hadn't been there when I scheduled it, there was NO WAY for her to possibly know or even remember the interaction, since she didn't know who his wife was. The woman refused to back down over $40 and basically accused my husband of lying!!
We are both business owners and this tactic was shocking to us. Since Lotus Spa is an independent business, there is NO ONE to appeal to. A customer service person from the ship came to the spa to talk with my husband and all he could do was give my husband the business card for the corporate customer service desk! So -- my advice is to confirm what you have scheduled. Find out what the tip policy is, and don't be bullied by Mararitte, the head piranha. Total experience: UGH. Read Less