Why we chose this Cruise: We selected this journey because we wanted to go through the Panama Canal during the winter time to avoid the cold weather. Our travel agent recommended the Island Princess to facilitate our vacation. The trip ... Read More
Why we chose this Cruise: We selected this journey because we wanted to go through the Panama Canal during the winter time to avoid the cold weather. Our travel agent recommended the Island Princess to facilitate our vacation. The trip started out terrific. The flight to Ft Lauderdale, the transportation from the airport to the Hilton, and transportation from Hilton to the ship for boarding was seamless and pleasing.
We are Experienced Travelers: We consider ourselves experienced travelers, thus our review is based on our experiences we've had on other cruise lines as a comparison.
Signs of Obsolescent: The Island Princess was built in 2003 and reportedly was refurbished in 2017. Its early December, 2018, and the Island Princess looks and acts very old and tired. Floors squeaked a lot, doors were difficult to open, and some of the furniture appeared to look like its ready for a second hand store or as if it just came from one. The last days of Holland-America's original Westerdam (a cruise we took many years ago) at least managed to have furnishings that was quite serviceable and not old or tired. Unfortunately, the Island Princess will continue to be used as a cruise ship until the public gets so tired of old at NEW Prices.
Poor Management: The Island Princess appeared to have an occupancy rate of about 75%. How did we know that and if so, why did the Island Princess have so many vacancies? Security-wise, my wife and my name was posted at our cabin entry, as well as all the other passengers at their respective cabins. Determining the number of vacant units was easy. Count the units without a name on the door, then multiply the vacant units times 2.
Data Mining: The Island Princess is a fertile ground for harvesting names of affluent passengers off each cabin entry, then research the names on the internet, then solicit the guests for the business or sell the data to other businesses looking for a quality database. For +- $6,000 per couple, which includes the basic food, boarding, and a database of 2,000 names would be a gold mine, business could be really lucretive. Over a 16 day period, that data could be harvested with at your leisure and without notice. Imagine what that database would be worth.
Risky Stops: One excursion stop in Nicaragua, the ship had a sign in English on the side of the ship telling all boats to keep X amount of meters away from the ship. We nearly didn't get off the Island Princess for fear for our own safety concerns. We quizzed an officer, who stated that sign is put up at every stop. We asked other guest if they remembered seeing that sign during any stop and no one noticed any sign being posted. The way the officer answered our query left us feeling he was not being truthful.
Excursions: We try, if possible, to book our own excursions as most lines tend to mark up the excursion costs to unreasonable levels and often take you to stops where the vendors pay the ship(s) a percentage of sales, or the ships own an interest in some of the shops. The only reason we would use a ship excursion is if the time to return to the ship is short or doesn't leave much wiggle if the excursion is running late. We carefully research the excursions and select ones that come highly recommended through several sources.
Money, Money, Money: This Island Princess made us feel like we were in the tv series "Green Acres," where the guests were the Douglass' and the Island Princess was Mr. Haney. You could choose different dining options, such as flexible or traditional dining, anytime buffet dining or specialty dining. In the flexible (and the traditional) dining areas, you are handed a menu with a normal selection of food, along with a flyer with various cuts of fish, meat and poultry from 20.00 per selection. If my wife and I ate in the dining room 2 times a day for the 16 days and each selected the "better choice of food", we would have added another $1,200 to the costs of the cruise.
Deceptive Pricing: We chose not to imbibe because the "added" food costs was deceiving as well as unreasonable. I get it the ship makes money selling alcohol and perhaps soft drinks, but also for food. The cost of soft drinks is so inexpensive that had they charged a more reasonable fee or didn't charge for soft drinks at all, the cost of their food costs would be considerably less as consumption would be less.
Slow Food Service and constant up-sells: The meals in the dining room would also take forever to serve. During the dinner wait, we would be approached several times to purchase expensive alcohol or soft drinks. They weren't selling much of either at any of the tables we sat at. Most resented the constant up sell. They tried a few times using a gimmicky shot glass drink for $3.00 including the princess shot glass. We often asked for ice tea or hot tea and several refills which was included at no charge. Truth be known, if the Island princess priced all the up charges in their price to begin with, They would be grossly overpriced compared to the competition.
The first Shore Excursion: The first stop was in Cartagena. We weren't scheduled to be in Cartagena very long and probably would have taken a shore excursion with Princess, except that none of the excursions interested us. Being from California, Humidity was not something we were used to and after two days of heat and humidity at sea, arranging transportation into town a back was looking much more appealing.
Overpriced excursion transportation: The Island Princess had the answer - a hop on - hop off bus that costs only $45.00 per person. Outrageous! We walked not more that a block from the ship and found taxis that escorted 3 or 4 of the guests into town for a total of $20.00 for the ride to town. The cab ride back was even less. We spent 15.00 for cab rides for the both of us for the day. We were $75.00 to the good in Cartagena by walking a block and not letting the Island Princess extract anything from our wallet. In fairness, the cab drivers did try through language diversion, to extract more fees at the end of the ride but when the word policia was mentioned, the issue disappeared rather rapidly. We heard one "non Island Princess based" shore excursion arrived late and the Island princess left without the four passengers. Do your homework on the excursions to avoid that kind of a debacle. I've been in situations with other cruise ships, where the ship's planned shore excursion showed up late and the ship waited.
One bright side in Cartagena: The best sight we enjoyed was the bird and animal attraction right on the port and the price was Free. They had a shop where you could buy soft drinks and other souvenirs, but not mandatory. We took extraordinary pictures of the exotic birds and animals. The relative short stop was just fine (do to our lack of handling hot humidity), although seeing the Fort more closely would have been nice.
Overpriced Products: Now, back on the ship sailing toward the Panama Canal, we decide to explore the shops and specialty restaurants. The shops were selling mostly upper-end, over-priced junk. The jewelry being sold was some one-of-a-kind, never heard of type stone. Unless you have more money than God, wait til you get home and visit your trusted jeweler. That isit will save you considerable dough and guaranteed the quality will be superior.
The trick to Specialty Dining: We checked out the specialty dining and was planning a nice anniversary dinner. We came across a phrase, “Requires Cover Charge (min $60.00 per couple)” We didn’t have a problem paying for a very nice dinner out but was highly offended with the ship’s usage of “Cover Charge.” If I wanted to have a financial migraine, we would have brought our financial planner along and try and watch where he was trying to stick us with nasty up charges and hidden fees. We were supposed to be on vacation relaxing, not waiting for the next pocket extraction, similar to a nasty tax audit. We chose not to participate in their food scamming extraction fees and use that money instead at restaurants with far superior reputations for food and service - and for a whole lot less. Most of those restaurants did not appear to be very crowded.
Excursion Lectures: The Island Princess scores an A++ rating regarding the Island Princess' ship moderator / expert Bill Fall concerning his lectures on the rain forests, tradewinds, Panama Canal and its construction and the various geo-political issues of the various countries. He was genuine, knowledgeable and interesting to listen to during his shore excursion talks.
Entertainment Talent: The talent employed by the Island Princess was a solid B+ to an A-. Nathan Foley, an Australian TV personality and musical performer sang many 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s songs. Nathan had his own TV show in Australia - just not well known in the US. Mike Wilson, a comedian did a decent performance. John Bressler, a pianist and singer played a marvelous piano with lots of fantastic tunes. Mark Preston, a singer and former member of the Letterman musical group, had the most powerful voice of all. The Princess Troupe that performed several musical acts was definitely exciting. All the talents were definitely fun and entertaining.
Other musical Entertainment: The talent displayed in the four-story lobby was soothing - similar to musicians used in real fancy hotels or elite shopping centers. It didn’t move us much. In fact, the noise created added to the noise factor of the ship. There were few places to spend your time if you wanted quiet or privacy. Our cabin didn’t have comfortable seating to read and study; and laying down to read wasn’t great if you were reading anything more technical than a novel.
Makeup of the guests on the Island Princess: The age of the average guest was around 75-80 years of age. I’m guessing about ½ of the guests were first time cruisers and the balance were exceptionally experienced. I don’t think there was more than 10-12 young kids on the ship. I noticed a few newly married couples but most were elder guests.
Misc Activities: They had a beginner and an advanced class on cameras that lasted no more than an hour. Why the pre-made camera presentation was teaching people how to shoot pictures in manual mode was beyond me. The class included an overview of all functions. The class did more harm than good. Most of the guests didn’t use their cameras enough to know how to make all the proper settings on the fly in manual mode. You guessed it. The Island Princess was selling cameras also. Photos taken throughout the cruise were very pricey.
Excursion through the Panama Canal and the port stop in Panama City: Going through the Panama Canal was fun, but then came the port stop in Panama City. We had to use tenders to explore Panama City. The way Princess handled this deserved an F+, and that’s being very generous. If we had made arrangements with a non Princess excursion company, we would have ran the risk of getting back late due to the hour lost clearly through their negligence. If we had made special arrangements to meet an outside shore excursion guide, we would not have been able to make the connection. Was this a punishment for not using their excursions? If you booked a shore excursion with the Island Princess, you got preferential treatment for the use of the tenders. If not, you had to wait to get a tender to go ashore. We waited an hour to get a tender. Kinda makes you wonder what would happen if you had to use the lifeboats to abandon ship, who would pilot the tenders. This was horrible and we’ve never had that problem with any other cruise line.
Dealing with Greedy taxis: Once on shore, we were ambushed by tons of greedy taxi drivers trying to charge 3 to 5 times more for a ride than what was reasonable for the area. However, after saying no walking for a block or so, we did find a taxi ride that was significantly cheaper. We got to see the old town and the Bio-Musio. Traffic in and around Panama City was horrible, but we knew that before we arrived. Princess’ atrocious mishandling of the tenders made it worse.
Comparing Princess to Norwegian: We considered Norwegian Cruise Lines to be safe transportation to get us from one port to another, with sleeping arrangements comparable to the Motel 6 of cruise lines, with safe food consumption comparable to MacDonalds of cruise lines. What we didn’t get from Norwegian Cruise Lines was the constant annoying up-sells for overpriced alcohol, food, soft drinks, merchandise, excursions, and transportation.
We found Princess’ food quality was slightly better than Norwegian Cruise Lines and Princess’ prices seemed comparable and reasonable, at least on the surface, but with all the nickel and diming we had to endure from Princess, its difficult to recommend any Princess Cruises to our friends and relatives. When you add the up-sell and excursion costs to Princess’ initial cost, you will probably find Princess is far more pricey than some of the classier cruise lines available, such as Viking, Holland America, or Oceanic. In addition, weigh the food and services passed on due to the excessive expense, that are normally included with the classier cruise lines.
Port Stop in Costa Rica: The stop allowed for a lot more time, so getting back to the Island Princess without worry of being left behind was not a problem. A number of us made prior arrangements with Odyssey Tours for the 10 in 1 Tour package. We spoke with other guests that took the ships excursion instead. Most of those guests were very disappointed and discovered their excursion didn’t come close to seeing the number of things our tour package did. In addition, their excursion was quite a bit more pricey.
Port stop in Nicaragua: We selected the ship’s excursion for Nicaragua, which included a trip to Granada and the rain forest. This excursion was excellent. We are concerned because we were being watched so closely by the civilian police. It felt like they thought we were up to something. In reality, I was carrying a very expensive camera and I was a target for thieves. At one point a local was ordered to distance himself from me. The political unrest is something you need to review prior to taking a future excursion here. I think the stop in Nicaragua was questionable on Island Princess’ behalf. The guide was very knowledgeable and insightful. The bus said free Wifi. When we asked how we could connect to it, the guide’s answer was it was disabled. We strongly suspect Island Princess instructed the Tour company to disable it, so we would be forced to use the ship’s Wifi system when we returned. Most of us didn’t use the ship’s wifi as it was atrociously overpriced.
Port stop in Cabo san Lucas: The Island hired one or two tenders from shore to transfer the guests to and from the ship to shore. In addition, it appeared the Island Princess also used 4 of its own tenders for transportation at well. We visited the city and our visit went without incident. The bonus was being able to take pictures of the Arch and the beaches from the ship, without having to hire a boat to take you to the landmarks.
Disembarking: We had argument with Island Princess’ personnel about delivering the three alcohol bottles purchased at the various port stops. The Island Princess wanted us to carry the alcohol off the ship and then place the alcohol in our suitcases. We argued we were not going to unpack and repack our suitcases to secure our alcohol purchases. The Island Princess finally agreed to deliver our alcohol, allowing it to be safely packaged in our suitcase.
Disembarking the ship was anything but seamless: We were told to leave our cabins by 8:00AM and wait in the Wheelhouse room until we were called for disembarking. After realizing that room was not big enough to hold all of us, they tried to get those of us that were leaving later to go to other parts of the ship. Oops!
Leaving the Ship: After our number was called to leave the ship, the Customs process and the bus transportation to the airport was seamless without further incidence. Read Less