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This was, technically, our 4th, and actually our 3rd, cruise, so far all with Princess. It was hands down our favorite so far, with the others being Alaska on the Sea Princess and Honolulu-Tahiti-Honolulu (back to back) on the Dawn being 2 & 3. Embarkation was a breeze. We stayed over at the Hilton arranged through Princess, having flown in the day before from Hawaii. We went to the hotel gym, had coffee and joined up with the waiting group for transport in time to make the last bus to the port. The lines were pretty moderate by that time and we were about 45 minutes from arrival to on board. Our luggage arrived on board about mid-afternoon, but we heard of other folks who didn't get theirs until quite late, and one couple whose luggage never did catch up with them until we arrived in Aruba, the last stop before Ft. Lauderdale. Disembarking was also relatively easy, and, for a change, it seemed like everyone had actually done their customs thing when we were ready to leave, so it was just a matter of finding luggage and getting transport to our rental car, neither of which was much of a hassle. Ft. Lauderdale is a pretty easy port facility to get around in and they seem to have their act together so things went smoothly. We had a balcony cabin on Aloha Deck, which afforded about the only balconies with even a touch of privacy. All the others were quite visible from the decks above them. Ours was the top deck with balconies, so we had views of everyone else, but were less exposed than most. Service was generally okay, although we are of the opinion that the automatic tipping is having a bad effect on service levels, particularly in the personal choice dining room. Our wait staff service varied from excellent to surly and rude. One evening the waiter was so impolite that 3 of the 4 couples actively complained to the dining room captain, and the other one complained to the purser. We like personal choice dining, but will be more active about selecting a "good" table with a nice wait staff on on our next cruise (not until October, sigh...) and we plan to make use of the comment cards on the table to track and tip on an individual basis rather than allowing the automatic tip to be added. The Princess sponsored shore excursions were outstanding, and we did see, first hand, why it pays to book through your ship rather than independently. Two busloads of folks on a "rainforest" excursion in Costa Rica were unable to get back to the ship due to torrential rains that washed out the usual road and bridge and they had to take a much longer road back. All the rest of us had gathered for the usual drink for sailaway and the time came and went and we didn't move. Finally, about two hours late, the two buses arrived and were greeted at the gangway by ships' crew and hustled on board. The Coral Princess had the best entertainment we have seen on board so far. The Princess singers and dancers were young, talented, and enthusiastic and the shows were fabulous. The individual entertainers were also good, although the comics don't as a rule impress me much and the juggler/magician types leave me totally cold. The singers were very good as were the pianists and string quartet who entertained in the atrium and all the live entertainers in the bars. The lecturers were okay, both having books to push, and did more of that than providing any real insights, but the historian who boarded in Panama and spent the day providing commentary over the speakers was very good. The in cabin television also had several different documentaries about the canal which ran for a couple of days prior to our arrival, so we were well educated on the Canal before we started our journey through. It was amazing, start to finish, and, while very low tech, very impressive. We did snorkel tours in both Cabo and Aruba, and enjoyed both very much. Cartagena was eliminated as a stop due to concerns about security and safety, and we had extra time at the end of the Canal for a "shopping stop" and an extra half day in Aruba which we spent on our own looking through the numerous jewelry stores. Aruba is charming and a place we will likely go back to for a longer visit someday. Costa Rica was very impressive - scenic, historically complex, and socially and politically very interesting and advanced. The guide on our bus tour to the capital was very informative and clearly proud and happy to share information about his country with all of us. The Coral Princess is really quite lovely, and we found the facilities a cut above the "Sun" Class ships we had been on before. The show rooms and theater were state of the art, well designed, and the show room had entries on two levels, cutting down on the after show traffic jams. The only complaint I had was the very low temperature of the air conditioning, particularly in the Princess Theater. I've finally learned that no matter where you are cruising to, it is smart to pack a sweater to wear in the theater and public rooms. The alternative dining in both the Italian and the New Orleans dining venues was priced higher than the brochure or online listings, at $20 per person, and, perhaps because of that, were virtually deserted during our cruise. We passed by both on a regular basis and, other than a few people in the bar area of the New Orleans venue, which had good jazz/blues live entertainment, we rarely saw more than 5 or 6 tables out of probably 20 or 25 occupied. Those few people we spoke with who DID try them were favorably impressed with the food quality, and particularly the quantity in the Italian venue, but weren't all that enthusiastic, so we stuck with the dining rooms for the most part. Our balcony cabin was comparatively spacious, with ample closet and shelf space. In fact, they could easily have made more room for the bath (which was tiny, as usual) and we could have done fine with about half the closet space provided. The library was well positioned, and well used, frequently without any empty chairs. Likewise, the card/game room seemed to be very well used. The internet cafe stayed busy on a consistent basis. All of these are grouped close together, and much more visible than on the Sun class ships, which may account for the heavier traffic. The various training classes on all kinds of software were also well attended and well received by the passengers I spoke with who had taken them. Deck areas were well designed, but we missed the stern hot tub for sailaways. The stern pool was designated as a children's pool, but as we had very few children on board, it was used by adults as well, but it didn't take the place of the stern hot tubs with a view, sad to say. The Lotus pool and deck area afforded a place to tan under glass and with air conditioning, which was welcome as we approached the equator. It was also the spot where the resident potter set up shop and taught wheel based pot throwing. Very individualized half hour sessions were around $20 and if you liked the results, you could have your object d'art fired and keep it forever. It was great fun to learn, and I hope it is going to be a feature on other ships. Princess has gotten chintzy with their prizes for the trivia contests - our first experience in Alaska we got coffee cups, pens, nice key chains, and other fun stuff. On our last two cruises, including this one, they only offer bags and backpacks, both pretty cheesy. I still enjoy the trivia contests but now just for the challenge. Most of the time, I don't even play "officially" any more, having given as many people as I can the backpacks and bags... The art auctions, sometimes downright obtrusive before, seemed much more contained and discrete on the Coral than on other cruises. I think it has to do with the space design, as much as anything. The art folks have their own space, which is enclosed, rather than in an alcove type of open area in a walkway. It isn't my thing, but folks do seem to enjoy the auctions. The gym was well equipped, and was better run than we have experienced before. There were always ample towels, the equipment sign up sheets (for the treadmill) were there every morning for the next day, no matter how early we got there, and there were people around to help with the machines, provide instruction and support and they didn't seem to be annoyed if you weren't buying something or signing up for a paid class. This was a MAJOR improvement. Overall, it was our best cruise ever. We will be doing another back to back in October, 2004 on the Star Princess - Western and Eastern Caribbean.

Coral Princess - Central America/Panama Canal

Coral Princess Cruise Review by DonahC

Trip Details
This was, technically, our 4th, and actually our 3rd, cruise, so far all with Princess. It was hands down our favorite so far, with the others being Alaska on the Sea Princess and Honolulu-Tahiti-Honolulu (back to back) on the Dawn being 2 & 3. Embarkation was a breeze. We stayed over at the Hilton arranged through Princess, having flown in the day before from Hawaii. We went to the hotel gym, had coffee and joined up with the waiting group for transport in time to make the last bus to the port. The lines were pretty moderate by that time and we were about 45 minutes from arrival to on board. Our luggage arrived on board about mid-afternoon, but we heard of other folks who didn't get theirs until quite late, and one couple whose luggage never did catch up with them until we arrived in Aruba, the last stop before Ft. Lauderdale.
Disembarking was also relatively easy, and, for a change, it seemed like everyone had actually done their customs thing when we were ready to leave, so it was just a matter of finding luggage and getting transport to our rental car, neither of which was much of a hassle. Ft. Lauderdale is a pretty easy port facility to get around in and they seem to have their act together so things went smoothly.
We had a balcony cabin on Aloha Deck, which afforded about the only balconies with even a touch of privacy. All the others were quite visible from the decks above them. Ours was the top deck with balconies, so we had views of everyone else, but were less exposed than most.
Service was generally okay, although we are of the opinion that the automatic tipping is having a bad effect on service levels, particularly in the personal choice dining room. Our wait staff service varied from excellent to surly and rude. One evening the waiter was so impolite that 3 of the 4 couples actively complained to the dining room captain, and the other one complained to the purser. We like personal choice dining, but will be more active about selecting a "good" table with a nice wait staff on on our next cruise (not until October, sigh...) and we plan to make use of the comment cards on the table to track and tip on an individual basis rather than allowing the automatic tip to be added.
The Princess sponsored shore excursions were outstanding, and we did see, first hand, why it pays to book through your ship rather than independently. Two busloads of folks on a "rainforest" excursion in Costa Rica were unable to get back to the ship due to torrential rains that washed out the usual road and bridge and they had to take a much longer road back. All the rest of us had gathered for the usual drink for sailaway and the time came and went and we didn't move. Finally, about two hours late, the two buses arrived and were greeted at the gangway by ships' crew and hustled on board.
The Coral Princess had the best entertainment we have seen on board so far. The Princess singers and dancers were young, talented, and enthusiastic and the shows were fabulous. The individual entertainers were also good, although the comics don't as a rule impress me much and the juggler/magician types leave me totally cold. The singers were very good as were the pianists and string quartet who entertained in the atrium and all the live entertainers in the bars. The lecturers were okay, both having books to push, and did more of that than providing any real insights, but the historian who boarded in Panama and spent the day providing commentary over the speakers was very good. The in cabin television also had several different documentaries about the canal which ran for a couple of days prior to our arrival, so we were well educated on the Canal before we started our journey through. It was amazing, start to finish, and, while very low tech, very impressive.
We did snorkel tours in both Cabo and Aruba, and enjoyed both very much. Cartagena was eliminated as a stop due to concerns about security and safety, and we had extra time at the end of the Canal for a "shopping stop" and an extra half day in Aruba which we spent on our own looking through the numerous jewelry stores. Aruba is charming and a place we will likely go back to for a longer visit someday. Costa Rica was very impressive - scenic, historically complex, and socially and politically very interesting and advanced. The guide on our bus tour to the capital was very informative and clearly proud and happy to share information about his country with all of us.
The Coral Princess is really quite lovely, and we found the facilities a cut above the "Sun" Class ships we had been on before. The show rooms and theater were state of the art, well designed, and the show room had entries on two levels, cutting down on the after show traffic jams. The only complaint I had was the very low temperature of the air conditioning, particularly in the Princess Theater. I've finally learned that no matter where you are cruising to, it is smart to pack a sweater to wear in the theater and public rooms.
The alternative dining in both the Italian and the New Orleans dining venues was priced higher than the brochure or online listings, at $20 per person, and, perhaps because of that, were virtually deserted during our cruise. We passed by both on a regular basis and, other than a few people in the bar area of the New Orleans venue, which had good jazz/blues live entertainment, we rarely saw more than 5 or 6 tables out of probably 20 or 25 occupied. Those few people we spoke with who DID try them were favorably impressed with the food quality, and particularly the quantity in the Italian venue, but weren't all that enthusiastic, so we stuck with the dining rooms for the most part.
Our balcony cabin was comparatively spacious, with ample closet and shelf space. In fact, they could easily have made more room for the bath (which was tiny, as usual) and we could have done fine with about half the closet space provided.
The library was well positioned, and well used, frequently without any empty chairs. Likewise, the card/game room seemed to be very well used. The internet cafe stayed busy on a consistent basis. All of these are grouped close together, and much more visible than on the Sun class ships, which may account for the heavier traffic. The various training classes on all kinds of software were also well attended and well received by the passengers I spoke with who had taken them.
Deck areas were well designed, but we missed the stern hot tub for sailaways. The stern pool was designated as a children's pool, but as we had very few children on board, it was used by adults as well, but it didn't take the place of the stern hot tubs with a view, sad to say. The Lotus pool and deck area afforded a place to tan under glass and with air conditioning, which was welcome as we approached the equator. It was also the spot where the resident potter set up shop and taught wheel based pot throwing. Very individualized half hour sessions were around $20 and if you liked the results, you could have your object d'art fired and keep it forever. It was great fun to learn, and I hope it is going to be a feature on other ships.
Princess has gotten chintzy with their prizes for the trivia contests - our first experience in Alaska we got coffee cups, pens, nice key chains, and other fun stuff. On our last two cruises, including this one, they only offer bags and backpacks, both pretty cheesy. I still enjoy the trivia contests but now just for the challenge. Most of the time, I don't even play "officially" any more, having given as many people as I can the backpacks and bags...
The art auctions, sometimes downright obtrusive before, seemed much more contained and discrete on the Coral than on other cruises. I think it has to do with the space design, as much as anything. The art folks have their own space, which is enclosed, rather than in an alcove type of open area in a walkway. It isn't my thing, but folks do seem to enjoy the auctions.
The gym was well equipped, and was better run than we have experienced before. There were always ample towels, the equipment sign up sheets (for the treadmill) were there every morning for the next day, no matter how early we got there, and there were people around to help with the machines, provide instruction and support and they didn't seem to be annoyed if you weren't buying something or signing up for a paid class. This was a MAJOR improvement.
Overall, it was our best cruise ever. We will be doing another back to back in October, 2004 on the Star Princess - Western and Eastern Caribbean.
DonahC’s Full Rating Summary
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