My husband and I booked this cruise in December. Due to my precarious health we can only book vacations on shorter notice so we picked an item on our bucket list. Last year was a Tanzanian safari and generally prefer land trips so we can ... Read More
My husband and I booked this cruise in December. Due to my precarious health we can only book vacations on shorter notice so we picked an item on our bucket list. Last year was a Tanzanian safari and generally prefer land trips so we can spend more time in an area. We have found cruising to be a great way to explore and get a taste of multiple areas in one trip, thus we cruised the Mediterranean in 2011 and Alaska in 2015 and loved it, Since I do not keep current on the cruising industry, I give my review with consideration that everything I have heard and read leads me to believe things are not what they used to be, i.e., "the good old days". Had this been our first cruise, some of our ratings may have been better.
We booked our one way flight thru EZAir flying nonstop from TPA to LAX on our day of embarkation as we didn't find the need to spend extra time in that area. Our flight arrived 30 min early, we were easily able to find our Princess rep and make our transfer to San Pedro, arriving around 11 am. Embarkation was very smooth, we were sitting in the Bordeaux Room shortly after noon, enjoying a rather good bacon cheeseburger. After lunch we went to guest relations to secure the last spot for my husband to go on the Ultimate Ship Tour. We then went back to our cabin to rest a little, wait for our luggage and unpack, and allow shipboard life to begin....
We loved the size of the ship and fond it fairly easy to navigate once we got our bearings. Every once in a while we would find an elevator that didn't go to all decks. The elevator doors closed rather quickly so we always had to be ready to move fast to enter. I walk with a cane so I cannot run. We could tell this was an older ship but it seemed well cared for, nothing was in disrepair.
The mini-suite cabin selection available was very limited since we booked late but we were able to have our TA move us closer to midship after final payment when I noticed the availability on Princess.com so we were on Dolphin deck fairly close to midship elevators. I wasn't sure how I would feel with our balcony being open to anyone above us, but it was not a problem. The cabin was very clean, had plenty of storage, outlets, hangars. The couch was a sofa bed that was rather uncomfortable, glad no one would be sleeping on it. We found the two cases of water waiting for us when we arrived and put some in the refrigerator which had an ice bucket which our cabin steward kept filled for us. Despite saying we wanted robes when completing the booking forms, they were absent but promptly supplied wen we asked our steward. We wanted for nothing until tried to get out of the shower. I walk with a cane because all if the muscle surrounding one of my hips was destroyed by a faulty hip replacement. I have limited motion of one leg but the handicap is not severe enough to warrant a handicap cabin. I had read that the sides of the bathtub were high so I was somewhat prepared. The available grab bars made it easy for me to get into the shower but when I went to get, it was entirely different, The bottom of the bathtub was 4-6 inches higher than the floor making the step out impossible for me to keep all of my weight on my bad leg without moving enough that might dislocate my hip. The rim of the tub is very narrow, 2-3 inches wide, so I couldn't sit and get out. I needed something higher to step out onto. We came up with 2 options, 1 was an inverted trashcan and the other was to use the life vest. The latter turned out to be the perfect option, problem solved!
We usually ate breakfast at the buffet because we got moving too late for the dining room except for using room service on excursion days. We found the buffet to have a more than adequate selection that we were very happy with. We enjoyed lunch in the dining room but could not always go because of the limited time it was open (12-1:30). Lunch at the buffet was average at best, the selection was fair, they had run out of quite a few items, possibly because we arrived about 30 -45 minutes before closing. We had pizza three times (once from room service) and it was always very good.
I'll give dinner its own paragraph because that that is the reason for average rating. We had anytime dining which suited us well. We alternated between a private table for 2 and sharing a table with a group. The companions were always pleasant. Most off the time there were multiple appealing choices. There was no escargot which I understand is part of cutbacks which is no big deal. The Caesar Salad was watery and had little taste on the 2 times I tried it. The food was never served hot, we felt lucky if it was warm. The pasta was way undercooked, it always needed a few minutes additional cooking time to be classified as al dente. Lobster was offered twice and those that had it, enjoyed it. The beef was generally excellent and cooked to request, except that the cowboy New York strip steaks were very chewy. The red snapper, besides being cold, was very fishy tasting and did not seem to be fresh. many of the dishes may have been very good if served at the right temperature. The desserts were usually very good.
Service was excellent for the most part with no complaints and some surprises. We were asked when we booked if we were celebrating anything and I answered "our anniversary a few days prior to embarkation". On the second day of our cruise we found many pleasant surprises, balloons and a sign on our cabin door, a greeting card containing gift cards to the spas and shops, plus a letter to give to our waiters at dinner; they sang to us and presented us with a special dessert, bravo Princess Cruises! Everyone works so hard and their efforts are apparent. They were always pleasant to interact with. We have always has anytime dining so that we don't always have the same waitstaff, no problem. We did find the waitstaff on our prior cruises to be much more personable.
The purpose of the cruise was the Panama Canal which was awesome. The ports we visited were all new to us except for Puerto Vallarta which we visit on a regular basis so we did not get off of the ship. We were actually disappointed that the port had changed from what we remembered; there used to be a great flea market there.
In Huatulco, we didn't do a tour, We just went into the town, walked around the shops and town, watched birds in the park, and had lunch on the beach. We had a delightful day in area that turned back time compared to PV and Cabo. We would certainly consider returning for a longer period of time.
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua is a tendered port so we chose to do Princess tour. We only decided amongst those labeled as easy because of my limitations. We were fortunate to get to go into the port as it was cancelled on the three or four previous cruises because of high winds. I was very windy when we arrived but everything was a go. It was very difficult for me to get on the tender because of the rough waters but we made it. We took a full day tour on a big bus which was a bit of a disappointment as Princess advertises smaller groups. Evidently everything worth seeing is quite a distance from the port so we spent quite a bit of time in the bus, driving, The sights we visited were the Apoyo Crater, a volcano, the city of Granada, and Lake Nicaragua. The buffet lunch in Granada was excellent; we were given time to explore the area but, besides a cathedral across the street, everything worth seeing was 10 -18 blocks away, too far for me to walk in the midday heat. We did enjoy what we saw but do not feel the need to ever return.
The next port was Puntarenas, Costa Rica. We had arranges a private tour, the 10 in 1 combo Puntarenas Tour with Thumbs Up Tours who are highly recommended on Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor. Their website is the company name and they were a pleasure to work with. We were the first to contact them so they kept in touch until they had enough people to confirm the tour. as it turned out, enough people for two vehicles signed up so we were in a minivan with another couple and still charged the group of 12 rate of $65, no payment until the end of the tour! We got to see a lot of the Costa Rican countryside, monkeys, macaws, a toucan, and went on a safari boat door. We had wonderful buffet lunch at a restaurant in the rainforest with spectacular views and macaws. Gilbert, our driver and guide was terrific and we highly recommend this tour. We are interested in spending more time in Costa Rica.
The port of Fuerte Amador, Panama was another tender port so we chose a Princess tour on a jungle boat excursion through Gatun Lake to see wildlife and scenery found in this area of that Panama Canal System. Getting on the tender boat was again difficult as was the walk down to jungle boat; the tide must have been low so that the slope to walk down to the floating dock was VERY steep, it was difficult but I made it. We saw monkeys who came onto the boat to take grapes from the hands of some of the passengers, some birds, and crocodiles. The tour was fine, no need to revisit. The skyline if Panama City is spectacular.
Cruising thru the Panama Canal was an all day event giving everyone the time an viewpoints to see as much as they would like to see. The experience exceeded our expectations.
Our final port of Cartagena, Columbia was a pleasant surprise from the skyline of skyscrapers to the amazing city back to port terminal that contained an aviary and wildlife preserve. We did a private tour with Dora the Explorer who is also highly recommended on these boards. I think there was 16-20 in our group with stops at La Popa Monastery, the San Felipe de Barajas Fort, and a walk through the old city with its brilliant architecture. The walking in the heat and humidity got to be too much pain for me so Dora arranged for me to sit in an area where the others would catch up with me later. I missed the inside of the cathedral but that was it. I would consider visiting this area again.
All things considered, this was a trip of a lifetime that we are glad we did but would not go again because we wee well satisfied with our experience at the Panama Canal. This was our first Princess cruise and are not sure whether our disappointment with the food is company/ship related or the entire cruise industry. We have friends who are ardent cruisers who are going on their first Princess Cruise next month so we are anxious to hear what they will say. We have intentionally not given them any negative comments so that we can hear an unbiased comparison. Read Less