First off, I've never cruised with Princess so we were in uncharted territory. Furthermore, I'm not really a big fan of cruising as I prefer to travel more independently. However, transiting the Panama Canal was in the back of ... Read More
First off, I've never cruised with Princess so we were in uncharted territory. Furthermore, I'm not really a big fan of cruising as I prefer to travel more independently. However, transiting the Panama Canal was in the back of our minds for a few years and when it came up this year for serious consideration, the only option from our home port (Ft. Lauderdale or Miami) was to cruise on Princess. We did a 10-day round-trip partial transit primarily due to work obligations and also a lack of desire to cruise for 15 days as required for a full transit.
Never having cruised with Princess, but having cruised on RCCL and Celebrity, I relied on many reviews on this site to give me an idea of what to expect. A lot of what I read here turned out to be true of this itinerary: older crowd, older ship with a more "traditional" cruising experience but with the bonus of a roomy feeling on the ship due to its decent size, open area layout and relatively low passenger capacity. The latter can't be stressed enough. While we tried to walk up and down the stairs instead of taking the elevator, the elevators almost always were empty when we decided to get on one. You never felt like there was a crowd of people on the ship. Except for an advertised "sale" on t-shirts on the next-to-last-day, we never experienced a crowded feeling on the ship in any venue, including the buffet.
Back to the demographics, we certainly didn't expect to see much in the way of young families on a 10-day Panama Canal cruise in mid-November so the older crowd was to be expected, but on occasion we came across a smattering of travelers on the younger side of the adult spectrum, e.g., 40-50 somethings. There was a toddler or two but I didn't see any school-age childen or teens at all. That said, we are not party cruisers and appreciated the more laid back tone that this cruise was geared to.
There are a good deal of sea days due to the itinerary and the on board activities were aimed at an older crowd, e.g., unhosted mah jongg and bridge. There was an occasional poolside contest but it was the exception and not the norm. The evening entertainment never caught our eye on any day so I cannot comment on the quality of the entertainment. Seemed to be a typical representation and rotation of a production show, solo singers, small bands in the one or two lounges on board and a comedian doing impressions.
We prefer to walk around the ports on our own but took the excursion in the Panama Canal as that is the only way to go shoreside on the canal day. We're in our 40s and maybe there were a handful of others on our bus who were our age or younger. I thought the tour was poorly organized and the description should have had better warnings about the poor condition of the streets in Colonial Panama. There were numerous hazards due to the uneven pavement (and lack of it) on the sidewalks and many of the older people logically had to take extra precautions; others caught cabs back to the bus to avoid walking more. The weather didn't cooperate, which of course is uncontrollable, but I think they should have had a "plan B" for working around inclement conditions, e.g., reorganizing the order of the stops on the tour. Either way, it was worthwhile or else we would have seen nothing of Panama City but the tour wasn't well organized in general and I wouldn't recommend it. I will note that we had briefly considered taking the ferry tour which allows you to go through all the locks through to the Pacific, but after reading many of the reviews on CruiseCritic, I opted not to due to the many variables that can affect the ferry, notably the long wait times. I am glad we did not take the ferry tour as we ran into a couple that did and they said it was an uncomfortable and long day. The wait times were exorbitant to go through the various locks, the rain was coming down in sheets, they got soaked through the tarps and the chairs were plastic garden chairs without padding. The ship departed Panama hours late due to the length of the ferry excursion and the time they needed to get back to the port by bus in rush hour traffic. Our land-based tour to Panama City took 3 hours longer than normal due to traffic and when we departed Panama much later in the evening then planned, I figured it was due to the ferry excursion which was the only one that was scheduled to last longer than ours.
Back to the ship, there are not a lot of bells and whistles that you find nowadays on the modern ships competing for your cruise dollar. For as much as the ship was comfortable for this particular itinerary, I would not recommend this ship at all for active families or teens. After 10-days I was getting a bit bored as the options are limited. The options are adequate though for a few days for a low-key traveler: an occasional stop at the putting green (not mini-golf, rather a putting green), feeding coins into the casino, walking on deck, sitting on the balcony and watching a concert on the Movies on the Stars screen.
The food was where I was pleasantly surprised. I didn't expect much, but the pizza and occasional burger were very decent all things considered and we actually enjoyed eating in the MDR most nights (which we typically eschew on cruise ships for the buffet as the MDR tends to be stuffy or at the very least an overly long dining experience). We did avoid the MDR on formal night as we are casual travelers and there was no way were we bringing clothes to wear on formal night. My understanding is that they enforce the dress code.
Dining was definitely more traditional here than on RCCL or Celebrity. I'm not saying every night the menu appealed to us, but on the nights that we found something on the menu that sounded good, we actually enjoyed the food. Lunch in the MDR was much more casual and good. The buffet disappointed a bit. There was somewhat of a selection at the buffet but a lot of the entrees were heavy and I often ended up with just some salad on my plate after walking through it. We had club class dining so we never had a problem getting a table for two which helped us to enjoy the MDR more as the prospect of eating with others and being somewhat tied to not being able to truly come and go is not for us. Not to say we didn't engage in some ad hoc conversation with others in adjacent tables. The tables are so close that sometimes it's the natural order of things and for what it is worth, all those random conversations were pleasant and enhanced the dinner experience overall on many evenings. As for the food quality, it's so subjective, but we enjoyed most of what we ordered but I heard grumblings around where we were seated when the emcee (head of F&B) asked the crowd how the food was during a culinary demonstration and galley tour on the last sea day. I'm not a food snob but on the other hand bad food would be cause for a lukewarm review and due to all the reviews I read in the months before we sailed, I was pleasantly surprised how palatable it was overall -- except on the buffet. We noticed that many of the officers and F&B managers on our particular sailing were Italian, so perhaps that's why the Italian menu offerings were particularly good. Also, I think (but don't know) that some of what affects the food is where the ship onloads its provisions from. We embarked from Fort Lauderdale and perhaps due to the tropical location, the seasonal fruit was especially good.
The service in the cabin was very good, nothing to really comment on. Some very minor quirks were more for the cruiseline: supposedly there was a choice of mattress toppers (firm or plush) as per an in-cabin placard but when we asked, the steward said there was only the one that was on the bed, i.e., no other options. Also a curious inquiry about the pillow menu elicited the same response although we were able to change feather pillows for foam ones. Something odd worth noting is that the steward tended to oil the furniture on the balcony which I understand as it is wood, but on the other hand it was greasy when you touched the arms of the furniture or back of the chair and a shirt got stained with dark oil after sitting in one briefly. I understand an occasional wiping down with oil to help preserve the furniture (which I would think would be sealed to begin with) but it seemed to be an every day occurrence. We had to use towels from the room to wipe off the oil ourselves when we wanted to use the balcony furniture, something that gets slightly annoying day in and day out. It stained the towels pretty well but better the towels than our clothes.
The port lectures were history-oriented and not shopping oriented which was a pleasant change of pace from RCCL. Typically the lectures tell you which way to turn when you get off the ship to go to an "approved" shop. On the contrary, the lecturer was focused on history and was refreshingly honest in some instances where he said excursions weren't necessary in all ports and cabs could be taken to reach sites of interest, etc. It's not to say the in-room TV and leaflets don't push the shopping and act as if "EFFY" is a high-end "household" jewelry name (which if you're like me, you've never heard of before the cruise or since), but they don't accost you from all sides with the shopping opportunities and they are easily avoided.
The gym is well-appointed and more than adequate. This is where we tended to see a cross-section of adults from various age groups.
Initially, I was skittish about cruising with Princess on an "older" ship for such a relatively long cruise and although we had the option to sail to the Panama Canal a day earlier on the larger Caribbean Princess with more on board activities, we opted for the Coral Princess as it had so many devotees on this and other sites and also the Caribbean Princess was spending a day on the cruiseline's private island instead of stopping in Aruba -- and we preferred to go to Aruba. We are more itinerary-driven than ship-amenity driven. We really liked it and it was one of the more enjoyable cruises due to the many factors I listed above. I would sail Princess over RCCL any day of the week (I realize that Celebrity, a RCCL company, is Princess' direct competitor) but RCCL sails the mega-ships out of Ft Lauderdale, my home market, so that is the reason I make this statement. Celebrity is good as well and I would give them an another opportunity if the itinerary was right.) However, my opinion is that fun-seekers and families likely would get bored quickly, at least on this itinerary. The cruiseline likely changes the on-board activities for the Alaska season, but you can't change the fact that this ship doesn't have much in the way of "modern" bells and whistles so they are important to you I would look elsewhere. Read Less