Our Background: We are a married couple, ages 32 and 30. We consider ourselves pretty experienced travelers having vacationed throughout Mexico (Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Playa del Carmen), Europe (Paris and London) and throughout the U.S. in our 3+ years of marriage. Our only other cruise experience was an Eastern Caribbean itinerary on the Golden Princess in February 2003. We were pretty devoted land-based vacationers until we were introduced to cruising and especially Princess' version of cruising! Some of the things we love about cruising include visiting new ports of call, the convenience and options tied to dining and being treated very, very well by all members of the ship's company.
Itinerary: Saturday, February 21: Fort Lauderdale, Florida Sunday, February 22: Sea Day Monday, February 23: Montego Bay, Jamaica Tuesday, February 24: Sea Day Wednesday, February 25: Panama Canal Thursday, February 26: Limon, Costa Rica Friday, February 27: Sea Day Saturday, February 28: Grand Cayman Sunday, February 29: Cozumel, Mexico Monday, March 1: Sea Day Tuesday, March 2: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Embarkation - Ft. Lauderdale We booked the Renaissance on 17th Street in Ft. Lauderdale through Priceline. I probably bid a little too early to secure a room but did get what I thought was a good price ($95) for one night. We flew into Ft. Lauderdale and arrived to the hotel after midnight on Saturday, February 21. On our previous trips into Ft. Lauderdale (this was our third time) the time it took to get our luggage seemed excessive. This time, our luggage came out quickly. The cab ride was inexpensive ($10). The Renaissance was fantastic! We had previously stayed at the Pier 66 (Lanai rooms) and at the Embassy Suites on 17th Street. Although nothing can top the Pier 66 (and we paid rack rate there), the Renaissance was just a bit classier than the Embassy. It was bright and clean and the desk staff was exceptionally friendly, especially considering the hour! We were given a room with two queen beds, which was fine considering we were only going to be there for about 10 hours. The room was comfortable and had a view looking east. When we woke the next morning we could see the Grand Princess at her berth (Pier 2).
We grabbed breakfast in the touristy part of Ft. Lauderdale. We ate at a great restaurant called The Deck right along Seabreeze Boulevard (A1A). We had an outdoor table that overlooked the Boulevard and the beach.
We arrived at the pier at about 12:30 PM and were fairly quickly through the check-in procedures and security screening. We could tell pretty quickly that the average passenger age aboard this particular cruise was going to be older. We spotted more than a few wheelchairs and walkers in the cruise terminal. We were in our stateroom no later than 1:00 PM. Our bags were quickly delivered on this cruise - we had both our checked bags before 3:00 PM. We did put some of our embarkation essentials (swimsuits, shorts, toiletries, etc.) in our carry on bags so we could have them immediately upon arriving to our stateroom.
Stateroom We had booked a mini-suite on the Dolphin Deck (Deck 9). We were given D512 (category AB) and found it to be wonderful. We had previously sailed on the Golden Princess in a mini-suite and had an exact duplicate of our stateroom, except reversed! We knew what to expect and were pleased with the size of the closet and shelf space, the size of the bathroom and the additional seating area (with sleeper sofa) by the balcony door. Our beds were pushed together in a queen configuration. The beds were hard, which was fine. However, what I missed most during the cruise were my natural feather pillows. The pillows we had simply did not "mush". They certainly didn't spoil our cruise, however.
A couple of things we brought that made our stateroom even more comfortable were: -An inexpensive shoe organizer that hangs over a door; kept the limited counter space in the bathroom neat and free from clutter -A power strip for additional outlets. After reviewing Cruise Critic, I could not determine whether one needed a 3-prong adapter or not (a device that turns a 3-prong plug into a 2-prong plug). I brought one along but was pleased to find that the outlets in the stateroom were standard U.S. 3-prong types. The power strip offered additional outlets for such things as a laptop computer and battery charger used for my digital camera. -A corkscrew -Our own supply of wine and beer. I know the issue of "smuggling" booze aboard a Princess ship is a topic of heated debate on the message boards.
Here's my take: I'm simply not going to order a glass of wine or a bottle of beer from room service to enjoy on my balcony. It's simply not going to happen. However, when I am in the public areas of the ship, I order from the bars. We averaged 2 to 3 drinks per person per person from the ships' bars during the entire cruise so I don't feel Princess lost any significant revenue because we had our own stash in the stateroom. And, we did not bring or try to bring hard liquor aboard, either in Ft. Lauderdale or from any port.
Our stateroom steward, Sonny, was exceptionally polite and efficient. Our room was always tidy when we came back to it and Sonny made sure that we had clean wine glasses each evening (we had to initially ask for the glasses at the beginning of the cruise). Sonny did a great job for us and earned an additional tip from us at the end of the cruise.
We do enjoy spending time in our stateroom, sometimes to simply watch a movie that we may have missed. The television selection aboard was limited: CNN, CNNfn during the week and CNN Headline News on weekends shared the same channel, TNT, ESPN (the international version) and the usual Princess television channels. The movies shown during our cruise on TV included: "Bruce Almighty", "School of Rock", "Whale Rider", "Lost in Translation", "S.W.A.T.", "In America" and many more. Because we were at sea on Sunday night (Academy Awards night), they did lock onto the satellite feed and showed the event on the channel reserved for TNT. The feed was not 100% however and portions of the show were missed during "blips". They also had movies throughout the cruise in one of the public lounges. Some of those titles included: "Seabiscuit", "Master and Commander" and "Radio".
Our balcony was fully exposed to those above us but this did not bother us. We rarely saw others on their balconies except for the Panama Canal transit and upon entering or leaving a particular port. We had two plastic (heavy duty) chairs on our balcony and a good-sized round table.
We felt the Coral handled very well, even in rough seas. The roughest seas we had on our 10-day cruise were classified as "Rough" (7.5 - 12 feet) with near gale winds. We never felt the Coral pitching or rolling. There were times either in the Princess Theater (far forward) or the Universe Lounge (far aft) where we felt swaying, but nothing too dramatic. If anything, I would say we felt the Coral shudder under heavy seas and nothing too severe. Yes, there is some creaking, popping and groaning in the stateroom during active seas but it's only enough to let you know you're sailing!
The Coral's Public Spaces -Princess Theater: A nice venue on Deck 7 forward. There are only two entrances/exits to the theater at the top and back. This was a change from what we had on the Golden with exits at the back on a higher deck and exits at the front on a lower deck. The reason this was significant is because due to the advanced age of many of the cruisers, it wasn't necessarily fun to be seated at the front of the theater. Exiting seemed to take just a little longer getting everyone up the steps and out of the exits on Deck 7. A word of advice: most people appeared to use the starboard entrance to the theater, as the port entrance was less open due to the Wheelhouse Bar. Therefore, it appeared throughout the cruise that seats on the left side of the theater were more plentiful as people were not using that entrance. The left aisle was also clearer of passengers.
-Universe Lounge: A very nice venue on Decks 6 & 7 aft. On the Golden, this would have been the Vista Lounge, a pretty standard lounge. However, on the Island class vessels, the Universe Lounge has two tiers and plenty of good sight lines. The theatrical technology in the Universe Lounge allowed for some pretty spectacular shows throughout the cruise, including a singing and dance revue called "Tribute". The Universe Lounge used intimate sofas and chairs that made up the seating area.
-Explorer's Lounge: Deck 6. We only used this lounge for the art auctions that were held primarily on sea days. Apparently they used the lounge for a disco at night although we were never there to witness it.
-Wheelhouse Bar: Deck 7 forward. This was one of the spaces on the Coral that really surprised me. I was expected the Golden version of the Wheelhouse, which was an intimate space but certainly not grand. However, the Coral's Wheelhouse was large and very clubby. It was paneled in darker woods and held a variety of nautical memorabilia, especially from the P&O line. Even the hallways leading to the Wheelhouse were memorable in that they carried out the theme. If you are a cruise fanatic and enjoy history, stop into the bar and review the display cases and walls. There is a somewhat hidden niche just off to the side from the Atrium entrance where vintage cruise posters, postcards and even menus from past cruisers can be reviewed. The Wheelhouse Bar was also a good place to look for drink specials throughout the cruise. There were frequent 2-for-1's on margaritas, daiquiris, etc.
-Princess Casino: Deck 6. We're not gamblers but even we enjoyed people watching in the casino. The casino has a London-theme and faithfully carries out the theme in using the Queen's Guards to watch the starboard entrance, a colorful carpet with London themes throughout and phone booths and double-decker busses to house slot machines. The casino was much more open feeling than the one on the Golden and was far less smoky than what we experienced on the other ship.
-Crooner's Bar: Deck 7. The bar wrapped around the atrium and was styled with Rat Pack images and themes. It was a very nice bar to congregate in before a dinner or during the evening for live piano music. Crooner's also had frequent drink specials during the cruise, including $3 martinis from their "Bond Collection". This was a menu of traditional and more contemporary martinis that were delicious. Service was excellent at Crooners.
-Princess Fine Arts Gallery: Deck 7 aft. We really enjoyed the art experience aboard the Coral. The Art Gallery itself is an intimate space with works from all eras and artists. The collection did change from day to day although major pieces remained in place. We enjoyed talking with Michael, the Coral's Art Director, and picking up bits of knowledge about the pieces aboard. We would frequently attend the art auctions (mainly held on sea days) and would definitely recommend previewing the art beforehand (approximately 1 hour before an auction a wide selection of art was displayed in the Explorer's Lounge and made available to be requested for auction). We ended up purchasing two pieces of art during the cruise (Jean Vollet's "Soleil Sur La Seine" Zamy Steynovitz's "Musical Bouquet in Paris"). Both were signed lithographs that we felt were quality pieces and a good value. The art auctions were also a great way to drink on Princess! A champagne auction was held during the 1st sea day as well during the last auction on the 4th sea day.
-Bordeaux Dining Room (Personal Choice Dining Room): Deck 5 forward. We had selected Personal Choice Dining during our cruise and were not disappointed. Although we had wait staff that were wonderful and whom we'd like to have gotten to know better, our dining times varied extensively throughout the cruise. For us, it just didn't pay to have a reserved time or table. We got the sense during the cruise that people were eating earlier. We would often catch one of the earlier shows and then eat later. We were always immediately shown to a table and never had to use the pagers. The dining room itself reminded us a lot of what we saw on the Golden. One of the changes, however, was how tables for two were arranged. On the Golden, the tables for two were completely separated from other tables. A lot of tables for two on the Coral were actually placed in close proximity to other tables for two. We actually liked this a lot. There was enough space between the tables to suggest intimacy but they were close enough that conversation with neighbors was natural. We met some great couples dining this way throughout the week. Just a recap of some of the menu items we had during the week:
-Appetizers: Spring rolls, shrimp cocktail, crab quiche, smoked supreme of duck, escargot, prosciutto with melon, baked eggplant parmigiana, Turkish lamb and eggplant turnover, baked clams casino, asparagus with puff pastry, avocado boat with mixed seafood salad, Vol-au-Vent (creamed chicken and sweetbreads in puff pastry) -Soups: Pina Colada splashed with rum (chilled), lentil soup, yogurt and tamarind (chilled), fish gumbo, pumpkin and turnip puree, vichyssoise choid (chilled leek and potato), papaya and kiwi (chilled), capon broth with vegetables, pasta and fagioli red bean soup, Won Ton, tropical fresh fruit cream (chilled), lentil puree with garlic, apricot (chilled), lobster bisque, asparagus puree, pumpkin puree (chilled) -Entrees: SautEed filet of Zander (white fish), prime rib, medallion of beef tenderloin, salmon filet with dill sauce, scallops and shitaki mushrooms, pasta with salmon strips, roast duckling with orange and curacao sauce, glaze, roast center cut of pork loin, sea bass, shrimp flambEed in brandy and served with a spicy tomato sauce, veal chop with sautEed mushrooms, Thai snapper fillet, filet mignon and grilled jumbo shrimp, twin lobster tails, Beef Wellington, lamb chops, linguine with poached clams, Mediterranean sea scallops -Deserts: Profiteroles with mixed berries, Mohr im Hemd (baked chocolate pudding with glaze), apple tart, chocolate hazelnut soufflE, croquembouche, almond soufflE stuffed in baked peaches, Austrian chocolate cake with apricot layers, Princess Love Boat Dream, chocolate gateau with cherries, New York style cheesecake and a variety of ice creams in unique and complementary flavors (cinnamon, strawberry daiquiri, champagne, etc.).
We simply don't have a specific review for each and every dish we had aboard the Coral. In short, everything we ate was fabulous! Perhaps it's because we were not shopping, preparing, serving and cleaning up what we ate but everything was marvelous. In the days since we've returned we've come to the conclusion that the individual dishes that may not have tasted absolutely superb to us had less to do with the preparation and more to do with our own taste buds!
"Special Nights": Formal Night 1 (sea day 1), French Night (sea day 2), Italian Night (Costa Rica), International Night (sea day 3), and Formal Night 2 (Grand Cayman)
-Horizon Court: Deck 14 forward. We liked having the Horizon Court at the front of the Coral instead of at the back as we had on the Golden. This was truly a different dining experience. There are slanted windows in the Court at the very front of the ship allowing one to see forward from up high. This was especially popular during the Panama Canal transit. The Horizon Court also had a dedicated bar with bar stools and a stage for performances by a pianist or guitarist during different times of the day. We ate many of our breakfasts and lunches at the Horizon Court. Sometimes the offerings were better than at other times.
There were lunches when the pickings were very slim and we resorted to using the Grill or Princess Pizza for the main part of our meal. However, some standards that always worked for us were the selection of fresh fruits and cookies! Breakfasts were always good: enormous steam trays full of bacon and sausage daily, fresh egg selections (including Eggs Benedict and Eggs Florentine regularly) and plenty of breads. I was actually somewhat disappointed in some of the bread and rolls on the Coral.
I know it's difficult to maintain freshness in a buffet setting, but often the bread was hard. Not stale by any means, but not fresh tasting or in texture, either. Because the average age of this cruise was higher, there were difficulties in navigating the buffet. I was always looking over my shoulder or to my side to make sure I wasn't running anybody down. We also noticed that the Horizon Court was exceptionally busy between about noon and 1:15 PM. There were times when we simply could not find a table to sit. However, the longer you waited to eat lunch, the better it got! Finally: the coffee. I will agree with others who have said the coffee is not all that great but I did not find it completely offensive either. It comes straight from a concentrate (in a bottle that looks a lot like a motor oil container!). However, the coffee had a mild taste to it and wasn't as acidic as a lot of fresh-brewed options are.
-Fitness Center: Deck 14 aft. We like the Coral's gym! We managed to get up to the facility on 6 occasions during a 10-day cruise. I believe the Coral had more weight machines to work more parts of one's body than what we had on the Golden. They were also arranged much better so that there wasn't a traffic issue between the weights and the aerobic equipment. There were plenty of treadmills in addition to six low-impact aerobic machines and several more stationary bikes and stair-steppers. The gym never got entirely full or crowded. There were mornings when we spent more time on the weights waiting for an aerobic machine to open up but it wasn't excessive. Gym towels were available daily.
-Lido Pool: Deck 15 midship. We like the pools aboard Princess ships! We enjoy the fact that they are freshwater and deep! The pools aboard the Coral were no different. The Lido Pool tended to be the center of activity on Deck 14 for such things as wacky pool games, ice carving demonstrations, music by steel drum band Sugar Cane on most days and the Island Night party. We found that we could always find a lounger in the sun and we did not really see evidence of chair hogging or saving. Drink service was always available but wasn't intrusive. The one thing we noticed on this cruise was that the pool water temperature was brisk at times. I'm guessing that due to rough seas at some points during the cruise, the staff may have emptied the pools during the evening and then refilled them during the mornings.
-Lotus Pool: This was a very serene pool and also offering a place to be by the pool but remain out of the sun. We did notice the retractable roof in the closed position one evening and the pool deck nicely air conditioned, probably due to steamy conditions outside!
-Pelican's Pool: We never swam or even lounged around the aft pool. It is a smaller pool and does not have a deck ringing the pool (you have to go up one level to get to loungers). The deck above also has the ping pong tables.
-Alternative Restaurants: we never dined at Sabatini's or The Bayou Cafe. They appeared to be empty on most nights with plenty of tables available. We did like how each venue was distinctively decorated, however.
-Internet Center: Deck 8, midship. The Internet Center wrapped around the Atrium on Deck 8. We used it twice while onboard. We found the connection to be extremely slow but this may have been due to the ship's position.
-Library/Card Room: Deck 8, midship. Both of these venues were beautiful and cozy. Both had large windows for viewing the ship's progress at sea or during a port visit. The library had a pretty extensive collection and using the facilities was easy.
Entertainment -"Dance"/"Da Beat"/"Up Curtain"/"Tribute". I don't mean to shortchange any of the full dance and singing shows by lumping them together, but in short, they were all fabulous! The shows (either performed in the Princess Theater or Universe Lounge) were unbelievable! The use of the theater technology aboard is simply impressive. Set refreshes and props were delivered in amazing ways, the lighting and audio were flawless and the feel was close to Broadway. The dancers and singers aboard this cruise were wonderful. They were exceptionally talented and energetic. We probably enjoyed "Dance" the best out of all the shows during our cruise but each one is simply not to be missed.
-Billy Vader. Vader did a brief routine during the Welcome Aboard show but also did his own 1-hour act later in the week. He also MC'd the final show of the cruise. He is not to be missed. He is extremely funny and does a variety of stand up material, singing and impressions. He was a riot.
-Duncan Tuck. Duncan performed only one evening in the Universe Lounge. He is a guitarist/vocalist who does what he calls 'singing comedy'. He was very talented.
-Dan Horn. Dan is a ventriloquist who we had previously seen on the Golden. He used a variety of puppets. At times his routine seemed to stall but he more than made up for it when he brought up a passenger for a very funny scene.
The Ports of Call -Montego Bay, Jamaica: After a full sea day we arrived to Montego Bay. We had nothing formally scheduled for the port so decided to take a shuttle bus ($3 per person each way) to the main shopping area. We were dropped off at some jewelry shops that did not appeal to us. I could see the city center just a few blocks away and headed in that direction. A local calling himself Steve approached us on the street. Steve would not leave our side for the next hour. He would point out some of the main sites in downtown Montego Bay and led us to an outdoor craft market that was big but off the beaten path.
The market was made up of dozens of individual stalls, each selling the same thing! If you're looking for a wooden carving of Bob Marley's face (in a variety of sizes) this is your place! Each vendor would attempt to lure us into their stalls although they were very kind about it. Steve, of course, expected a tip at the end of about an hour and I gave him $5, although he was looking for more and suggested as much. We caught another shuttle bus from downtown back to the Coral. On the way back we let off some passengers at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville on Gloucester Avenue. It appeared to be a nice place and perhaps a better way to spend the day in Montego Bay! We were not all that impressed with what we saw in Montego Bay. Perhaps an organized excursion to Dunn's River Falls would have suited us better.
-Panama Canal: after another full sea day, we arrived at the Panama Canal on the Wednesday of our cruise. I awoke at about 6:00 AM and found that we were already in the 7-mile channel that leads to the Gatun Locks. I caught the sunrise over a very surreal and primeval-looking plain. There was a haze covering the plain and I could hear the sounds of birds calling to each other. It was far-less industrial than I thought and very, very quiet as the Coral made slow speed toward the locks. As we approached the Gatun Locks, we began moving around the ship for better vantage points. The doors leading to bow observation decks were open on Decks 10 and 11. We were surprised at how few people were actually on these decks that morning! Do not be intimidated by the "authorized personnel only" signs on Panama Canal morning - boldly use the doors at the front of each deck for a great vantage point! We had great views forward of the lock operations and all the activity laid out below us. We actually went up to breakfast (Horizon Court) during the transit between lock chamber 1 and 2.
The forward-looking windows in the Horizon Court were jammed with people but otherwise the crowds were tolerable. We had a guide on the bridge that was giving information over the ship's loudspeakers. We could just make out his narration while on our stateroom balcony but found that the audio was also being played on channel 35 in our stateroom. We simply cranked up the TV's volume and kept the balcony door open so we could listen to the narration. We were through the locks and anchored in Gatun Lake by about 9:30 AM. At that point, the excursions in Panama began to organize in the Princess Theater. That day's Princess Patter had listed approximate times for tours to meet at the Theater (based on actually Canal transit information relayed to the Coral the day before).
The staff were making announcements for various tour groups to come into the Princess Theater so entire excursion groups could be tendered ashore together. We actually could not hear these announcements in our stateroom so loitered around the Princess Theater even though all prior notices had suggested not doing just that. Once our entire tour group was assembled, we were led down to the tender deck and took one of the survival craft to shore - it was a very short tender ride from ship to shore! We actually used the piers at the Gatun Yacht Club to disembark the tenders and to organize into the various tour busses. We booked the Panama Canal Railroad tour. I had pre-reserved the Deluxe Car (dome observation car - $156 pp) very early on using the Cruise Personalizer feature on the Princess website. I would highly recommend pre-reserving this tour sooner than later as we talked to many people who wanted the Deluxe car but got closed out. Once we got ashore, everyone with deluxe accommodations was bussed together, separated from those who had booked the Executive Car (standard) excursion. One of the nice perks in booking the Deluxe car was that we were given preferential boarding on and off the train. Our group was the first to board the train in the morning and when we returned to Colon later that afternoon, we were the first group allowed to exit the train and re-board our bus for the short trip back to Cristobal. Our tour guide Maria was extremely friendly and knowledgeable. As we bussed to the train depot at Colon, she made an effort to point out the biodiversity of Panama, even stopping the bus at one point to let us look at iguanas lounging on rocks in the sun. The dome car was beautiful! Nothing I had read prior to booking the excursion did the dome car justice. Upon entering, there was a lower lounge portion with a bar and club-style seating. A short flight of stairs led to the observation portion of the car. Seating was in booths along both sides. They were tight accommodations.
Even though it was a bright and sunny day, the air conditioning did a good job keeping the car cool. However, it was always cooler in the lounge portion downstairs by the bar. We had 3 girls in the deluxe car serving as bar tenders and waitresses. We were offered complimentary coffee or could purchase sodas & juice ($1) or beer ($2). There were also snacks available for purchase. The local Panamanian beer was excellent (even at 11:00 AM)! The train tour along the canal took just about 50 minutes. Along the way, we paralleled Gatun Lake (and could see the Coral still at anchor), marshes (where you occasionally saw turtles resting on logs), rainforest and plains. The train moves away from the Canal at the Culebra Cut so you don't really see much of that portion of the Canal, which was unfortunate. However, we did get to see the Pedro Miguel locks in passing and did catch glimpses of several ships making the entire transit through the Canal during the train ride.
Once we got to Panama City the tour took a slight turn for the worse. We were loaded into tour busses (fully air conditioned and comfortable) and taken to the Panama Canal administration building and the monument to Goethals (the chief engineer during the American effort). This was okay as was our next stop to view the Bridge of the Americas at a park on the Pacific side. However, we were next taken to a nice-looking but practically vacant shopping mall for 45-minutes. The only retail store in operation was a large duty-free store that was nice...except it had much of the same merchandise you could buy on the Coral for the same price!! 45-minutes was simply too long to be there. We got some nice pictures of Panama City, but otherwise this stop was a joke. Once we re-boarded our bus, we were next taken to a large craft market for another 45-minute stop. This was actually a little better than being dropped at a shopping mall but each vendor tended to have the same items. And, the market was un-air conditioned.
At this point, many in our tour group decided to stay on the busses or find a spot in the shade near the market. You could sense that at this point in the day most on this excursion were either tired, hungry or both. Mercifully, the busses next took us back to the Panama City train depot where we were able to relax in the dome car. The depot actually has a nice selection of Panama Canal Rail Road merchandise, including high-quality t-shirts. In short, the highlight of the day was the train ride. However, the round-trip train ride made up only about 1 hour and 40 minutes of the 6+ hours we were away from the Coral. We felt the cost was excessive given that we were taken to shopping venues while ashore in Panama and did not get to see the Canal in operation up close as I had previously thought. I was glad that I had booked an excursion for Panama thus allowing me to step foot ashore. However, this particular excursion was a disappointment. I have since written a letter to Princess expressing my disappointment in this particular tour in the hopes that 1) it could be tweaked to have more focus on the Canal or 2) that the literature describing the tour is updated so folks are fully aware of what they're getting. Maybe one could simply lobby to stay aboard the train and ride it back and forth across Panama couple of times?!?! :)
-Limon, Costa Rica. We woke up the following day to the smell of smoke in our stateroom. I had no idea what was going on until I went to the balcony. Apparently, small fires around the port were used to burn either garbage and/or vegetation. Mercifully, the winds shifted a short time later and the smoke was directed inland. We had no formal tours scheduled for Costa Rica so stayed close to the ship. There was a craft market set up at the end of the pier and we ventured there in the late morning. There was a nice selection of goods, including beautiful hand-carved bowls made from exotic woods. We picked up a salad bowl carved from rosewood for about $60. Otherwise, our general thought about Costa Rica: hot! We literally dripped just walking around the pier and craft market and enjoyed most of day by the Lotus Pool. We did hear from folks who took organized excursions into the heart of the country. More than one couple said the Rainforest Aerial Tram was one of the best things they ever did! I heard that the guides were phenomenal and the sights unbelievable! I now know a return trip to Costa Rica is in order to experience the rainforest!
-Grand Cayman. We scheduled to anchor just offshore Georgetown but were diverted to Spott's Bay due to rough seas. I woke up that morning and tried to make the map of Georgetown I had received the night before match up with the view from my stateroom! It simply didn't work! Despite our detour, the tendering operations were extremely efficient. We were told that tender tickets were required for this port. Passengers were supposed to go down to Explorer's Lounge on that morning to get tender tickets. However, we were up and moving by 8:30 AM and were told there was no need for tickets to tender at that point. I believe as more and more people wanted to go ashore, the tender tickets were required. Even though we were diverted to an alternative anchorage, there were plenty of vehicles waiting for us ashore to take us into Georgetown. We got on a shuttle bus for $4/pp and took about a 20-minute ride into Georgetown.
The seas at the Georgetown tender piers were unbelievably rough and we considered ourselves very fortunate to even be on the island! I had actually scheduled a Stingray City snorkel tour with Soto's Cruises (http://sotoscruises.com/index.shtml) prior to departure. I had contacted them via e-mail several months before our visit and reserved two spots. They had asked for a credit card to hold the reservation only used the card as a security deposit if you failed to show up or cancel the tour without enough advanced notice. We were given clear instructions on how to meet up with Soto's representatives once ashore Grand Cayman. We waited about 30 minutes at the appropriate spot (right in the downtown shopping area). We never did make contact with Soto's while on the island and wondered if perhaps all boating excursions were cancelled due to the rough seas. I e-mailed my contact at Soto's after returning and confirmed that my credit card was not going to be charged but I never did get an explanation of why I never made contact while ashore.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the main shopping area in Georgetown. We found Georgetown to be very pleasant! It is apparent that there is money on Grand Cayman and I think it shows in how the public areas are kept up and how you are treated. We bought various souvenirs at several stores and even strolled into Kirk Jewelers to look around. According to my wife, Kirk Jewelers had an excellent selection of David Yurman jewelry (I wouldn't know David Yurman from David Schwimmer). We were on the way out the door when we spotted a good display of gemstone (Lapis) globes in the store's window. We have always loved globes and even considered buying them aboard the Princess Boutiques.
The clerk assisting us could not have been nicer. We were actually dressed pretty scruffily (assuming that our day was going to be spent snorkeling) yet we never felt put down upon. We were made to feel important and walked away thinking that Kirk Jewelers was a class operation. We got what we considered a good deal and the clerk assisted us in safely packing our globes for transport home. We had a light meal while in Georgetown at Breezes by the Bay. This beautiful restaurant had a 2nd floor deck overlooking the port in Georgetown and main shopping district. We had delicious conch fritters along with a great mudslide and a rum punch! Prices at Breezes were a little high but we know part of what we were paying for was the view. We very much enjoyed our stay in Georgetown and on Grand Cayman. Our only regret was not snorkeling with the stingrays and having to weigh anchor so early (3:00 PM) for an arrival in Cozumel the next day.
-Cozumel: We were securely berthed in Puerta Maya, Cozumel by 9:00 AM the next morning. We had previously been on Cozumel two years prior and were impressed with the changes to Puerta Maya. The port now boasts an entire shopping district and would satisfy most shoppers! We wanted to explore the main shopping district, just 3 miles (and $6 per taxi) away. As occurred two years ago, we simply were not that impressed with the main shopping venue. Even though it was a Sunday morning, vendors were already persistent in getting us into their stores to see their "almost free" wares.
Plus, there was nothing unique in the main shopping district. We had already decided to take one of the ferry lines on Cozumel across the 12-mile stretch of water to Playa del Carmen on the Yucatan Peninsula. We had previously visited Playa two years earlier and fell in love with the town. We caught the 11:00 AM ferry from Cozumel to Playa. We used UltraMar, which boasts a sleek-looking and very modern ferry. We were completely enclosed and enjoyed the stability of a catamaran hull. The ferry ride was extremely short (25 to Playa and 30 minutes on our return). The ferry docks on the south end of Fifth Avenue in Playa. The area surrounding the ferry dock hosts a collection of pretty typical Mexican souvenir shops and vendors.
However, as you walk further north along Fifth Avenue, the shopping and the restaurants get a little more upscale. We enjoyed window shopping along Fifth Avenue and killed some time before our main reason for being in Playa was fulfilled: lunch at La Parilla. La Parilla is an open-air restaurant on Fifth Avenue (kitty corner from a TGIFridays!). We grew to love the food and atmosphere two years ago and this year was no different. La Parilla has some potent margaritas and delicious food. We're especially drawn to their use of cactus in some of their dishes, which is delicious. On this particular day we had steak and cactus fajitas, fresh guacamole and plenty of refreshments! We enjoyed people watching on the streets of Playa and just soaking in the atmosphere. We took the ferry back to Cozumel and wandered the shopping area at Puerta Maya. We had more beers at the Crazy Pelican, an open-air bar set up right off the pier.
Disembarkation - Ft. Lauderdale Disembarkation is always sad but Princess handles it as well as anyone. We were initially given rose-colored luggage tags, which were meant for passengers who had Princess transfers. We went down to the Passenger Services desk and switched our tags for the standard tags designed for Dolphin Deck passengers: Aqua. We were told our disembarkation would be around 9:10 AM and it actually happened at 9:25 AM. We had a 12:00 PM flight and were not terribly worried about making our flight as we knew the airport was very close to Port Everglades. We cleared immigration very quickly and then had to retrieve our bags. We had neon luggage straps put around our two checked bags but, unfortunately, one was missing when we went to look for our bags. The bag with the luggage strap was easy to spot. However, I really had to search the Dolphin section for the other bag. Once all bags were collected, then you had to be cleared through Customs. The line for Customs was unbelievably long! It snaked throughout the terminal building. However, at the Customs table itself I noticed that porters were passed right through. Therefore, I hailed a porter and had our bags loaded up on his dolly. We were out of the terminal building and to a taxi in no time! This was well worth the money!
We definitely enjoyed this 10-day cruise. Our last cruise aboard the Golden was 5-days and simply felt too short. This was just the right length. Princess continues to impress us with her beautiful ships, warm and welcoming staff, fantastic entertainment and delicious food. While on board the Coral, we met with the Future Cruise Specialist, Jayne, and put down deposits for a future (yet named) cruise. We've decided that Princess is truly where we belong! Read Less