Coral Princess Cruise Review by GleefulGirl
- Sail Date: November 2014
- Destination: Panama Canal & Central America
- Cabin Type: Balcony
*If you’re driving to the Port in Ft. Lauderdale, consider parking at Embassy Suites (no requirement that you stay there) at the parking lot operated by United Airport Parking. Only $4 a day, ten minutes to the port and includes free shuttle to the port. They’ll take you right to the ship. (www.unitedairportparking.com) Note that you must make a reservation in advance, and have your printed receipt to present to the staff when you arrive at the hotel. It’s much less expensive than parking at the port.
*Standard cabins have only one electrical outlet in the main cabin (and one in the bathroom). Bring a small power strip (we were very happy with our three outlet strip) if you plan to charge any electronic devices.
*If you plan to do your own laundry while on board (there are passenger laundry facilities on most decks) consider bringing along your own detergent to save money. Washers cost $3.00 per load, Dryers are also $3.00 per load and the cost is deducted from your ship account. So, no need for cash or coins.
*Bring a lanyard with you, or buy a Princess lanyard in the ship’s store. You can ask the staff at the Passenger Services desk onboard to punch a hole in your cruise card, and then you can wear it around your neck if you’re heading to the pool, to work out, if you’re just wearing an outfit without pockets or if you tend to lose your cruise card if it’s not fastened somewhere.
*Sabatini’s Restaurant serves Alfredo’s Pizza at lunch nearly every day of the cruise. There’s no extra charge, it’s delicious, and there are around seven varieties of personal pizzas (8” round pie = 4 slices) to choose from.
*Find out when The Crab Shack Luncheon is being offered (usually only twice per cruise) and served in the Bayou Café. There’s a $20 per person service charge, but you get appetizer (hush puppies and popcorn shrimp with two dipping sauces), soup (chowder), your choice of four pots of different steamed shell fish (includes mussels, clams, king crab, shrimp, snow crab) and dessert. It’s filling and really good.
*The Panama Canal (after all, this is why you chose this cruise!): Do not remain on one deck with one view for the complete transit. You will miss too much. There’s a unique perspective from each deck and different sides of the ship. Get up early so you can enjoy the entry into the Canal in the dark before dawn with the various ships in the Canal lit, and the Canal approach lit up like an airport runway. We got up early enough to be out on Baja Deck forward with our camera by 5:30am. A friend had told me it would be magical, he was right! See my Wednesday, November 26 entry for information about the not-well-known access to out-door viewing from the Baja deck (also available on Caribe).
*Are you a wine drinker? Consider the special wine package and you’ll save money. We chose the silver wine package (you can buy a 7, 10 or 12 bottle package) which allows you to purchase any bottle of wine valued at up to $29 a bottle. There’s also a gold 7, 10 or 12 wine package for wines valued up to $45 a bottle. This package can be used in any dining location (excludes bars and room service), and if you don’t finish a bottle with the meal, dining staff will cork and store it for you and bring it out at your next meal.
*If you’ve done a number of Princess excursions and would like to try something different, consider a private excursion at one or more ports of call. They’re much more personalized, flexible, frequently more interesting and usually less expensive. The reputable companies are just as concerned as you are with getting you back to the ship on time. See the description of our private excursion experiences in Cartagena and Puerto Limon.
*“Motor City” and “On The Bayou” were our favorite theatrical performances on the cruise. Try not to miss them! “Motor City” is a must if you love the music of Motown. The comedian Scott Wyler was very funny. It was essentially 45 minutes of non-stop jokes, and he had two shows with different material (one earlier in the cruise, and one on the next to last evening).
*You’re going to take a lot of pictures. I had brought an extra set of batteries for the camera and felt very smug about that until I had to replace that set of batteries with new ones. So, you may want to bring two sets of batteries along with you.
*Into Zumba? A 45-minute Zumba class is offered on all “at sea” days, and it’s free!
*Wine tastings. There’s a wine tasting that’s offered at the beginning of the cruise for $25/person, featuring top shelf wines, high-end small plates of food (e.g. caviar), linen napkins and the wait staff in dinner jackets. Towards the end of the cruise, there’s another wine-tasting for $9.50/person, featuring wines under $30 (except for one high-end red), cheese, grapes and a miniature cheese cake for tasting with the one dessert wine, paper napkins and the wait staff in more casual white linen jackets. We went to the $9.50 one and had a great time. Neither are advertised; your wait staff at dinner will tell you about it.
The Coral Princess is an older ship (I believe it was commissioned in 2003) with a friendly crew. It doesn’t have all the amenities of the larger ships in the Princess fleet but the public spaces are attractive, the Promenade Deck goes completely around the ship, and one of the large outdoor pool areas is protected by a roof (great for inclement weather or when it’s just too hot to be at the open pool). The Universe Lounge is a very pretty venue with seating on two levels. It’s very different architecturally from the show lounges we’ve seen on the other Princess ships and I really liked it.
One of the reasons we keep coming back to Princess is the food, and the Coral Princess did not disappoint. While Sabatini’s and the Bayou Café (specialty restaurants each with an extra cover charge) are fun to try, the evening dining room fare is excellent. It’s the same menu for dinner in both the Provence (traditional seating) and Bordeaux (“anytime”) dining rooms. The desserts are sinfully good from the flourless chocolate cake to the orange soufflé..
We are fish eaters and all the fish we tried were in every case deliciously seasoned and very fresh.
This was our first cruise with so many days at sea (there were four) and we loved them. There was lots of time to relax, read, enjoy a small project, work out, attend a lecture or a film and just enjoy the gift of time.
Our CruiseCritic roll call group sponsored a Meet & Greet aboard ship on our first full day at sea. Five members of the crew attended along with nearly forty CruiseCritic cruisers. It was a lot of fun and we made friends who we’ll keep in touch with long after the cruise ends.
The rainy season for Cartegena, the Panama Canal, and Limon runs from May through November. While the temperatures were in the mid-80s, the humidity matched the temperature. So, when the sun isn’t hidden by clouds, it’s hot. For this cruise, the weather gods were mostly kind. The small amount of rain we did have came in the late evening or early morning hours. There were occasional high winds, especially when in the open ocean. There were also some swells. Probably the day with the most rocking was our at sea day between Colon, Colombia and Grand Cayman Island (Friday, Nov 28). It was cloudy and relatively cool on Grand Cayman, and some excursions that involved boats or diving were cancelled due to strong currents or the water having been stirred up by the previous day’s winds and swells.
The Panama Canal was our favorite port of call, Cartegena was our second favorite. The old city has some gorgeous architecture (it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site) and there was so much to see. While we saw quite a few things in Puerto Limon, we were very happy to have an escorted tour. We would not have felt safe going off by ourselves beyond the confines of the port area.
The ship offers bottled water for port days (for $2.00/bottle plus gratuity). Take it with you to stay hydrated. We saw a few people bringing their own 12 -18 packs of bottled water on board on embarkation day, but that seemed a bit excessive to us.
Very efficient boarding. We arrived at the dock just prior to 12 noon and we were in our stateroom by 12:30pm. We took advantage of the sit down luncheon in the Provence Dining Room where they serve from noon to 1:00pm on Embarkation Day. Otherwise, the choice is Horizon Court. But the sit down luncheon with full service is a lovely way to start the cruise if you get on board early enough.
On the day we visited the Panama Canal, we decided not to take an excursion, but remained aboard the ship. More than 1100 passengers chose to do an excursion, but we did not regret our choice. We enjoyed observing the ship pass through the Gatun Locks twice. We woke up early in order to be on the Baja Deck with our camera at 5:30 am. We were through the canal and on Gatun Lake by 8:30am. The following is a quote from someone else’s posting, and addresses the matter really well.
“While the forward section has the best views of entering the Canal chambers, you don't want to miss the Promenade Deck either, as the ship different perspective of this Modern Marvel.
“Also check Baja deck forward (and Caribe deck forward) for an area not normally accessible to passengers. If you walk all the way forward on Baja on either the port or starboard side, there is a door at the end of the hall that is normally locked. It leads through a short hallway (forward of cabin B201 or B202, depending upon whether you are on the port or starboard side). The door at the end of the short hallway leads to an observation deck. It's a nice spot to watch the ship go into the locks and gives a good perspective of the size of the ship, size of the locks and any ships already in the locks in front of you. The observation area spans side to side (Port to Starboard) and is fairly wide. Not much protection though if it rains! It’s not a huge secret – but the door is normally locked, and unless you know it’s there, you probably would never try to enter since it’s not a cabin or general passenger area/location.”
We were blessed with a beautiful sunrise and a lovely sunny morning with sunshine and a gentle breeze. Being up on Baja deck while it was still dark out and with all the lights from the ships on made for a magical viewing experience. We had an outstanding view throughout the entire transit, and we were much more comfortable than the crush of people up on the Lido and Sun decks, especially because portions of those decks obscure the view (and picture taking) with tall glass panels. Seeing how the Canal gets the boats through was fascinating, especially knowing that Coral Princess had only two feet of clearance on either side of the ship. we also enjoyed watching the other ships go through ahead of us through both channels. This was clearly the highlight of our cruise, and we just LOVED it.
We later learned that two of the metal “mules,” the heavily fortified trucks that guide the ships through the channels, had a minor accident. One mule drove into the back of another at the rear of the ship. A cable became caught, and it took about a half hour to free it up. Then things proceeded as normal.
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